Teaching Business English with Snapchat | Webinar summary

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I use a fairly wide range of social media tools but Snapchat isn’t among them (I just don’t get it) so I was intrigued by Shelly Terrell’s recent webinar on teaching Business English with Snapchat. There’s something wrong with the audio in the middle bit of the recording so I sort had to decipher it using the slides and an accompanying article.

The crux of Shelly’s case for using Snapchat with learners is that it’s very popular and the number four app download (According to Forbes, it has 160 million users and reaches a plurality of users in the 18-24 segment in the US) and the fact it has lots of features that allow users to focus on the four skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking in a communicative way.

Snapchat features: adding friends, subscribing, photo chat, lenses, filters, stickers, draw, video chat, group chat, stories, snap map, custom stories, discover, our story

You can see where she’s going with this, but what about Business English? Shelly suggests that because Snapchat is international, learners can follow global events and look at snaps from people in a particular area and get insights. The example she shares involves studying non-verbal communication to get to know business stakeholders in Japan more effectively by exploring examples through people’s snaps.

She also believes that Snapchat promotes reading in segments with popular media channels like the Wired, Newsweek and Washington Post which apparently have interactive multimedia articles. Because of Snapchat’s format, media outlets are compelled to use small chunks of text with interactive images and video.

Some of the other benefits she cites include:

Learn from entrepreneurs

Study business culture in real time

Inside scoop on news and trends

Byte-sized authentic English

Understand the role personal branding

Connect with companies

Shelly references this article to suggest that following (some really obscure) business gurus on Snapchat might be a good idea but even the article introduces the topic by suggesting that well known business leaders like Elon Musk are unlikely to be on Snapchat. Some of the other things she suggests include how workplaces might be different, watching global conferences that business professionals you’ve followed may be sharing and exploring how organisations brand themselves on Snapchat. Shelly also touched on how HR Recruiters are using Snapchat to recruit potential employees – of course this is true for social media in general and not just Snapchat.

I tried to give Snapchat a go and attempted to follow some of the business-oriented media outlets such The Economist and WSJ that Shelly lists in her article.  I tried searching for these on Snapchat (which has an awful search function) but I couldn’t find most of them. So I tried looking for them in Google and adding them from there but this is the message I got:

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When I accessed the Discover feature within Snapchat, I got an extremely limited selection of generally tabloid-type media outlets to follow:

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I tried looking for Harvard Business Review, Strategy+Business, Deloitte, Bersin, Boston Consulting Group and Mckinsey but none of them seem to be on Snapchat. I did find a handle for Deloitte Singapore but it doesn’t look like it’s active.

I’m not convinced that Snapchat can be used to teach Business English or if it can, it’s still early days because there isn’t enough business content available on it yet. I see Shelly’s point about the immediacy of Snapchat content but it’s too random and unpredictable – it’s not like following a thought leader on Linkedin or a hashtag on Twitter. However, I think some of the Snapchat activities Shelly shares might be fun and effective in a General English course.

  • The T sets up a class account and gets students to add stories to it.
  • Students keep a vocabulary journal – Shelly’s idea is that they’d save snaps with Business English phrases but I think the probability of coming across those sorts of snaps is quite low. It might work for lexical items in general though. I’d adapt this idea to have students use vocabulary they’ve learnt in class by creating a snap that demonstrates real life use.
  • Annotation: Students can annotate a snap such as an article from CNN with text, emoticons, media etc. This might be an interesting way for them to process and/or respond to a news item. However, Shelly’s example with CNN wouldn’t work for me because like almost everything else in the Discover feature, it’s not available in my region.

From a first mover perspective, there are some interesting ideas in this webinar but I’m not sure how practical they are at the present moment. There are other apps such as Instagram which have similar features and have a stronger presence from the business community.

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Audio QR codes with Vocaroo | AR in the classroom

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QR codes are the most basic form of Augmented Reality (AR) and can be easily integrated into a wide range of classroom activities. Last year, I blogged about using QR codes to run a jigsaw caselet task. The premise of exercises like the jigsaw caselet is that we take a piece of written text and place parts of it within a QR code to reduce cognitive load, increase engagement, and allow the learner to store the text on his or her device for future reference. However, QR codes don’t need to only be about reading – you can also use it for listening. Here’s how:

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Vocaroo is a site that allows users to do audio recordings in three steps.

  1. Access Vocaroo and select ‘Click to Record’. You may need to allow access to your microphone if you get a pop-up.

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2. When you select stop, you’ll get the following screen.  Select ‘Click here to save >>’

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3. You’ll get lots of options. Select ‘QR Code’.

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4. The site will then generate a QR code as a PNG file which you can save and print.

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When students use their devices to scan the code (using a QR Code reader/scanner), they’ll be directed to the URL that contains the audio recording.

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Using audio QR codes in the classroom

Differentiation in listening activities 

Listening lessons generally entail having all the learners listen to an audio clip in a situation closely controlled by the teacher. By placing the audio clip or clips within QR codes, we can give control to the learners and they can listen to it on their own devices as many times as they need to and pausing where they want to. From an activity that’s done collectively, we can transform it into a genuinely individual exercise which the learner can adjust based on his or her needs.

This allows us to offer learners choices in listening activities. Borrowing from Agnes Orosz idea of ‘support’, ‘medium challenge’ and ‘extra challenge’, learners can be asked to select a listening activity based on the level of challenge and then complete it by scanning the associated QR code and listening to it on their phones.

Micro-listening

Listening using QR codes is particularly effective for raising awareness of features of connected speech and spoken discourse. Micro-listening activities can sometimes be painful in whole class settings. But by having each learner use headphones on their own devices, we can facilitate micro-listening in a more meaningful way.

Pronunciation

I’ve shared this technique with some teachers who have suggested that they would use it to teach the pronunciation of individual words. I don’t think that’s a good use of your time because there are lot of existing sites and dictionary apps where learners can look up and listen to the pronunciation of words. However, it might be more useful for highlighting sentence stress or intonation. Students practise saying some sentences to each other and then scan a QR code stuck on the wall to check if the intonation pattern they used was similar or different to the one embedded in the code.

Integrating listening & reading 

A typical reading format we often use (or more accurately that coursebooks use) has several people sharing their ideas or experiences within captions next to their photographs. This could be made more multimodal by including a QR code that contains an audio recording of that person sharing some additional information. For example, students read about each person and answer an inference question and then listen to the recordings and validate their inferences.

Logistics

Unlike QR codes that have embedded text, audio QR codes require data services from the user’s mobile service provider of WiFi access.  Unless you’re using QR codes for pronunciation activities, it would make sense for students to use their headphones while they do the listening activities to avoid disturbing each other. This shouldn’t be too much of a challenge because students tend to carry their head or earphones around. Students need to download a QR Code Reader or Scanner to scan the codes. There are hundreds available in iTunes and the Google Play Store but some are plagued by ads. For android, I really like QR Code Reader by Scan which scans quickly and doesn’t have any ads.

Socrative SAQs | Formative assessments

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Lately, I’ve been using Socrative for formative assessments. While Kahoot is engaging and brings gamification into the classroom, it’s sometimes good to run a quiet student-paced assessment which Socrative enables you to do. The other advantage that Socrative has over Kahoot is that it offers multiple question types within the same test and it’s got multiple choice questions (MCQs), true or false and short answer questions (SAQs).

I like interspersing brief Socrative based interactions through lessons. Students get instant feedback and I can track their progress – and everything is happening on their own devices (using the Socrative Student App). It’s also a useful affordance to have the ability to capture longer responses from the students using the SAQ feature and when coupled with automated assessment, it’s potentially a very powerful tool

I’m going to be focusing on my experiences with using SAQs in this post.

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What really excited me about the SAQ feature was that you could automate grading by feeding in a targeted response. This works well with:

  • Form based gap-fill for grammar items
  • Missing word exercises for vocabulary items such as collocations.

You can add as many correct answers as you’d like but this is where there’s a catch. The responses are case sensitive which you could perhaps proactively address by supplying different permutations like I’ve done in this example. However, if students leave a space before or after the word or have a typo, then they’ll get marked incorrect by the system. These kind of errors are unavoidable when students are typing responses on their mobiles.

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I haven’t really faced an issue with automated validation for gap fills but with exercise types that require students to type an entire sentence, it’s been really challenging. For instance, at a recent Business English lesson where we explored ways of reducing wordiness in emails, students were required to reword a sentence. I had two alternatives for the correct answers ‘We want to successfully implement this initiative’ with/without terminal punctuation. We’d just looked at masked verbs and how to uncover them as a way of reducing wordiness.

Socrative challenges

Here are the responses I got from the students:

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One of the students wrote “we want to successfully implement this initiative” but because the first letter wasn’t capitalised, she got it wrong. The next closest to my targeted response was “we want to implement this initiative successfully” but because I didn’t have it my list, she got it wrong! In a subsequent question, the rubric was really explicit but nevertheless, most of the students got it wrong on the system although their response was possibly correct.

There’s no easy solution to this. Plugging in every single permutation of an answer (including with and without punctuation & capitalisation) is mind-numbing. I could eliminate the correct response option (Socrative lets you do that) and have that question graded manually but that’s something I wanted to avoid and was in fact one of my principal reasons for using Socrative.

Until I figure this out, I’ll have to convert these exercises into MCQs which of course makes them a lot less challenging. The other option is to give feedback in a whole class discussion as I did when I discovered that the whole test was going awry.

Text Inflator | Make your text wordier

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Why would you use an online tool that makes your text wordier, right?  But there is possibly an instructional use waiting to be exploited. The text inflator injects unnecessary adjectives such as basically, essentially and literally along with multi-word phrases such as for all intents and purposes.

I reckon this site could be used in Business English and ESP contexts to get learners to explore how their writing might become unnecessarily wordy and it’s kinda fun. It could also be interesting in creative writing courses.

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Pumping up the desperation metre can, however, render the text incoherent.

Here’s the link and don’t forget to read the disclaimer at the bottom of the page.

Open Badges for CPD

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I’ve been a bit disingenuous in recommending digital badges for informal learning without properly investigating them. So I was truly surprised to discover that I’d already earned a badge for attending a webinar on speaking assessments.

What are badges? 

Think of them as alternatives to certificates. They’re proof that you’ve completed a learning activity or achieved some kind of outcome (such as a language level). Unlike a certificate which you download and which only sees the light of day when your supervisor demands evidence of CPD, the badge can be displayed in a gallery accessible by others.

I found my badge on speaking assessments at Open Badges passport which Cambridge uses.

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However, Mozilla Backpack appears to be a lot more popular.

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It’s also possible to display the badges in your LinkedIn profile.

How does it work? 

An organisation or institution designs and issues badges. They then allow participants who have completed an activity to add a particular badge. In practice, anyone can design badges using a site like Openbadges.me or Open Badge Factory. There is ostensibly some kind of quality control in place because the badge links back to the organisation or person who issued it.  Here’s a worksheet with some interesting questions for badge issuers to think through.

Badges for CPD 

Is there value in displaying the CPD activities you’ve completed or achieved? I think there might be. Beyond the obvious ‘feeling proud of yourself’, they can be useful in work contexts where performance appraisal systems require evidence of having completed a certain number of hours of professional development. I also think they provide an opportunity to members of a community of practice to check in on what other practitioners are doing and perhaps think about doing similar activities .

Badges in teacher training 

I was thinking about how badges might work for pre-service teacher training courses. Would we give badges (scout-like) for discrete skills like giving instructions or for achieving a certain number of hours of training practice or accomplishing criteria related to assignment? Or would that dilute the goals of a criterion-referenced course? It would be interesting to introduce new teachers to badges in a session like ICT where they could receive a badge on ‘Starting a class Wiki’ and encourage them to get more badges when they kick start their CPD plans.  Here’s a useful presentation on creating badges for your own course.

Badges & informal learning 

We know that a lot of learning happens informally through classroom practice, peer interactions among others. Digital badges perhaps imply that these informal learning activities don’t hold as much value because you can only earn badges for activities endorsed by someone else. I do see a link for ‘Apply for a badge’ in Open Badges Passport but I’m not sure why Cambridge or any other provider would let you have one of their badges if didn’t attend their event. And there’s always that danger of a learning provider subverting the system to serve its own interest which one major publisher has allegedly attempted.

Do you issue badges for your teachers or students? What has been your experience with using badges to promote CPD and learner autonomy?

Reviewing metalanguage using a Jeopardy-style quiz

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Love it or hate it, it’s difficult to get away from metalanguage and terminology in teacher training. I find metalanguage especially empowering for experienced instructors who’ve had very little formal training but that’s a topic for another post. It’s a good idea though to review terminology continually using interesting activities to reduce the cognitive load.

Sarah Priestly’s tweet from the TESOL Italy event jogged my memory about jeopardy which I’ve used frequently to review declarative and conceptual knowledge.

Have you ever seen Jeopardy? It’s a slightly addictive American TV quiz show where contestants select dollar amounts & categories from a board usually by saying something like “World capitals for 300”. Players are then presented with questions worded as statements which they must answer using the trademark formulaic phrase “What is _________”


Objective

  • Review conceptual information in a game show like format.

Materials 

  • Flippity quiz show board with your questions & answers
  • Laptop & LCD projector
  • Internet connectivity

Preparation 

  • Flippity works through Google spreadsheets so you’ll need to have logged into your Google account.
  • Access this template. It’ll prompt you to make a copy – the template will get automatically saved in your Google Drive before it opens.
  • You will see a 6*5 table with existing questions and answers.
  • Change the categories (row 2) to your own.
  • Replace the questions and answers with your own. Ideally, a question at 600 should be more challenging than one at 100.
  • You can’t have more than 30 questions (6*5) but you can have fewer. Place an X in the category column or question cell you don’t want to use.
  • You can add media to the questions:
    • For images, get the image link and insert it into this format: Ask your question?[[Image:http://blahblahblah.jpg%5D%5D
    • For Youtube videos, get the link from the share section below the video. Don’t use the link in the address bar: Ask your question?[[https://youtu.be/pFhSKPOF_lI]]
    • For Vocaroo audio clips, record your audio and insert the URL using this format. Ask your question?[[http://vocaroo.com/i/s1OEopSqfxQn]]
  • When your quiz board is ready:
    • Go to File and select Publish to the Web. Copy the URL
    • Scroll down and access the second worksheet ‘Get the URL here’
    • Paste the URL into the green cell
    • The Flippity link quiz will magically appear.

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Here’s my quiz on ELT terminology. The questions and answers in this quiz are sourced from Thornbury, S. (2006). An A to Z of ELT. Macmillan.

Procedure

  • Divide your participants into groups. Flippity lets you keep score within the app and allows flexibility in terms of number of groups.
  • Project the link so everyone can see it.
  • Groups choose a category and corresponding point denomination. Bring up the question – instead of getting just one group to answer, you could get all the groups to write down their answer before displaying it on the screen.
  • Award points to groups who got the answers right (the app will automatically increase the score by the denomination of the question)

Variations

  • While the display isn’t perfect on mobile devices, it’s manageable. You could have participants play against each other individually in small groups. All you’d need is one connected device per group and some way of sharing the URL (a shortened URL using goo.gl or a QR Code).

Coming back to Sarah’s tweet, I haven’t tried out Jeopardy Labs yet but it looks fairly straightforward and easy to use but I don’t think it allows for offline usage which would have given it a leg up over Flippity.

Jigsaw caselet | A QR code activity

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My learners often get bored with traditional text-based case studies. Presenting it as a jigsaw task explored using QR codes is one way of making it more engaging.


Objectives

  • Transform staid case studies into active, jigsaw tasks

Materials

  • Printed QR codes which you can stick around your classroom using Blu-tac or similar
  • Focus questions
  • Learners will need to have downloaded a QR code reader on their smartphones

Prep

  • Select a case study that you can condense into a caselet narrated preferably from different perspectives. For example, if the caselet involves a manager and her team member, chunk it so you have 4 bits of information from the manager’s side and four from her team members. Eight is a good number in terms of chunks for this exercise.
  • Copy-paste each chunk into a QR generator (I like using QRstuff). Select plain text from the panel on the left and paste the text into field. Download the QR code that’s generated.
  • Print the QR codes. I prefer to use coloured paper so they’re easier for learners to find.
  • Prepare some focus questions that learners will answer incrementally at they uncover the text in the QR codes.
  • Stick the QR codes randomly around the classroom.

Procedure

  • Signpost your focus questions and tell learners that the answers are hidden within the QR codes posted around the room.
  • Learners work in pairs to scan the QR codes and analyse bits of the caselet.
  • They need to answer a question after scanning and reading an odd number of QR codes (for example after the first QR code, the third one, the fifth one, and the seventh one). Make sure they write their answers down.

Debrief

  • Ask learners to share their reaction to the caselet. How did their perception of the issue change as they uncovered the perspectives of the people involved and got a fuller picture?
  • How do the different ‘agents’ feel?
  • How might this relate to their own work?
  • Get learners to discuss other context-specific questions based on the caselet.

Example

The caselet I’ve used is adapted from Bob Dignen’s session on Leading International Projects at the recent BESIG Annual Conference in Munich.

Focus questions

  • After scanning one QR code: What do you think is happening?
  • After scanning three QR codes: Who is at fault? Why?
  • After scanning five QR codes: What should be done to resolve the issue?
  • After scanning seven QR codes: How could this situation have been avoided?

Image attribution: QR_Code_in_HandCropped by @GwynethJones -The Daring Librarian!  | Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0