Becoming a Better Teacher MOOC

Becoming a better teacher

I am one of the educators on the upcoming Becoming a Better Teacher MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Futurelearn.  Many of my colleagues have contributed to this MOOC and there are a lot of insightful perspectives from practitioners on reflection and CPD.

So, what’s the course about: 

Keeping up with professional development as a teacher can be hard to fit into a busy timetable. It doesn’t need to be. This online course, broken into simple steps, will help you develop your reflective skills and improve your practice in the classroom.

And who is it for? 

This course has been especially designed for the needs of teachers in India, particularly those teaching in English or who teach English as a subject. However, it is also relevant for teachers around the world including those from other low-resource contexts.

The MOOC is free and will run for six weeks starting April 24. Hope to see you on the course!

A task-based approach to reading | Module 3 Reflections

This is the third in a series of posts I’m writing to review and reflect on my learning from this Coursera MOOC . This week’s materials analysed the application of insights from task-based learning to reading.

Task based reading.jpg

(Intensive reading is) the type of reading that happens in class, directed by the teacher using a text that learners would be unlikely to read successfully without assistance.  Macalister (2014)

The course suggests that we do too much intensive reading and often unsuccessfully, solely focusing on the linguistic aspect. And that by doing so, we imply to the learners that we read to mine for language i.e., the sole purpose of reading is learning a language, ignoring the fact that reading could potentially be an enriching and engaging activity from a non-linguistic perspective.

Building on concepts in module 2,  5 principles were introduced for effective reading.

1. Reading is a communicative act

2. Reading must be fluent and fast

3. We need to reach some sort of authenticity of task

4. Different learning objectives require different tasks (reading to learn a language,        learning to read, reading to learn content)

5. We must take into account the reading that learners already do

It was suggested that these result in a set of implications for how we ought to plan and teach reading lessons. We need to

1. Choose interesting texts

2. Make learners want to read a text

3. Focus on meaning

4. Focus on reactions

5. Offer choices to the learners

6. Provide narrow reading

7. Use electronic sources

8. Present text and activities that learners can cope with

At first glance, these implications make sense – who’d disagree right? But, I continue to see a paradox (see my post from last week) in what the course is discussing from a pedagogical and theoretical perspective and what it’s recommending in terms of practical classroom approaches. Last week was all about agency and letting learners bring in their own texts but implication one seems to do away with that. Take a look at this:

So we really need to make sure that at least at the beginning of a course, or the beginning of a year, we choose texts that are interesting and relevant to our learners. From there, we can move to texts that we think our learners should be reading and which are about topics that have values in themselves

… so we can move to texts that *we think* our learners ought to be reading!? Wherefore art thou, agency?

While I feel this is somewhat incongruent with what they’ve been preaching, the others seem reasonable and perhaps even pedagogically sound. For instance, the rationale for number four is that we often wait until after long drawn and inane comprehension questions to ask learners to react to text, and only when we’re not running behind time when we subject the reaction stage to the old skiperoo. The course recommends that we focus on reactions immediately after learners read a text.

Apropos principle 5, I recently ran reading circles at a teacher training program where participants were offered a choice from a bank of curated articles and they had to develop consensus among themselves for which text they wanted to explore. I thought this was very empowering. These democratic reading circles were with a group of teachers; I’m not sure how well it would work with learners.

I found the idea of narrow reading, implication 6, quite interesting. In narrow reading, learners read a series of texts on the same topic. As they go from text 1 to 2 to 3, they spend less trying to understand its content (because they’ve already done that in text 1) and can do a more nuanced reading and focus on how they might feel towards it. The course rationalised this by stating:

Outside the classroom we do this all the time by choosing what we read or following a news story over a few days. Or we have our own interests and we often read about a particular topic.

It was also suggested that narrow reading facilitates the learning of language because the learners don’t need to focus so much on meaning so there’s allegedly more incidental learning of grammar and vocabulary. Implication 8 is critical because apparently a reader requires knowledge of between 95-98% of the words in a text to achieve comprehension (not sure where they got these stats from) and that we ought to rein in our tendency to include or replace words to bring in our target language because it can be very frustrating for learners.

Intriguingly the course presented research that urged greater authenticity in task design but also suggested cases for avoiding it because some inauthentic tasks such as reading aloud, and re-reading multiple times have been found to be effective.

Subsequently there was a discussion about how the stages of a reading lesson (pre, while and post) seem to deceptively mirror a task-based learning sequence. However, there is usually no real life task, and if there is one there may still be multiple issues. The comprehension questions may focus on meaning but in a decontextualised way. There may be no communicative problem to solve and there is rarely a non-linguistic outcome.

Nevertheless, the course proposes that it;s possible to adapt a conventional reading sequence for TBL, illustrating this through an example from Reading Links by Marion Geddes and Gill Sturtridge.

The ultimate task which the learners have is to design a flag for an imaginary new nation … The initial groups receive different texts with different information about this new nation, its history, its geography, its people, and customs … Once they have read and reached an understanding of their text, new groups are formed with one person from each of the original groups. And the task is now to design a flag that will represent this new nation, based on the information from the different groups.

It’s a task/problem I suppose and a seemingly engaging one but how authentic is it? I dunno.

This week’s assignment involved constructing a jigsaw reading task where learners works in groups of three to read three different tasks on the same topic. I cheated a wee bit because I couldn’t find three texts on the same topic at a similar language level so I conveniently retrofitted my target learners to the text. A lot of the assignments I peer assessed stuck to largely conventional reading approaches and I questioned the authenticity of the task that their activities culminated in.

I am still waiting for a shift in focus from the status quo in terms how we deal with reading to a more thorough examination of how reading would work as a task-based strategy. Hope to see that in next week’s materials.

A task-based approach to reading | Module 2 Reflections

Task based reading.png

This is the second in a series of posts I’m writing to consolidate and reflect on my learning from this Coursera MOOC . This module’s content explored reading as a cognitive, communicative and strategic activity as well as looking into areas such as background knowledge and promoting reading fluency. The lead-in was an interesting online activity which asked course participants to post a picture of something we had read on that day or the day before in L1 or L2, on a Padlet wall. See if you can spot mine – it’s towards the bottom.

Reading as a cognitive activity

My own definition of reading was the ability to parse letters as words, phrases and sentences and interpret meaning from them. The course defined the core meaning of reading as “the activity by which we interpret language messages in written or printed form.” It was suggested that readers need to able to decode words and comprehend the connection between them and that the relationship between decoding and comprehension was not additive but dependent, i.e., strong decoding skills can’t compensate for weak comprehension skills or vice versa.

We read text through a sequence of eye movements that involve fixations and sacchades. The eye is still in a fixation and information is extracted. During a sacchade, the eyes move to the next point of fixation.

We can only extract information from the page while the eye is fixated. And we can only identify with certainty and clarity about seven to nine characters. This is because of the way in which the eye is structured and the structure of the retina, the part of the eye that receives this visual information … The average fixation time varies from reader to reader and from text to text. Some researchers suggest that it is about 200 to 270 milliseconds, although more recent estimates suggest that it is maybe 300 to 330 milliseconds … This means that we read at the rate of about 180 to 240 words per minute. So reading is a rapid process and it also needs to be an efficient process. During these very short fixations, there is a lot of work that our brain needs to accomplish.
Consequently, reading in L2 can be challenging because the nature of reading requires the process to be fast and fluent, with some automaticity in decoding text, “to leave cognitive capacity for comprehension.”
This point is conceptually explained here and here.

Reading as a communicative activity

While I focused on how reading provides the input for communication, in hindsight I realized that my thinking was constrained by the classroom. The course was more interested in how reading operates, to use the popular social media short form, IRL.

They suggest that reading as a process within and outside the classroom are very different. In the real world, the reader determines what he or she reads for the most part. They also get to decide the purpose for reading. We may also process the text in a very non-linear way, skipping, stopping and/or revisiting sections. Post-reading, there may or may not be a follow-up. We may frequently decide to do nothing after reading a text. If we do decide to respond, this response is usually in a spoken format and we often have conversations with people who may not have read the text, in which case we may present a short summary. For example, you read a news article and comment on it to your partner who hasn’t read the article. The follow-up may also be an action such as instructions for taking medicine, following a recipe, or responding to an email or text message.

The situation is completely inverted in the language classroom. While reading in real life is marked by a strong sense of agency on the part of the reader, reading in the language classroom is characterised by a loss of it. While students may be expected to do an initial reading to get a sense of the text, the principal objective is to “dissect it linguistically.” This is referred to by Tim Johns and Flo Davies as the text as a linguistic object (TALO).

The process of reading in the classroom is also highly linear. Students are required to read the entire text. They are not allowed to stop or skip. Skimming and scanning almost always prepare the way for a more detailed reading. We have been indoctrinated to believe that the extension task that follows is sacrosanct because we must the skill into production. Where follow-up is mandatory in the classroom, things are not so rigid in the real world.

Reading as a strategic activity

The strategies I teach are really the usual suspects: pre-reading, skimming, scanning, intensive reading, and critical reading, mostly in a highly stylised sequence which I haven’t actively questioned.

Reading skills are “information processing techniques that are automatic, whether at the level of recognizing grapheme-phoneme correspondence or summarizing a story.”

Reading strategies are “actions selected deliberately to achieve particular goals.”

 Paris, Wasik & Turner (1991)

The course suggested that skimming, scanning and guessing words from context were the most common strategies used by course books but that they present an incomplete picture of reading. Unlike some ELT colleagues who are skeptical about the value of skimming and scanning, the course doesn’t downplay their importance but proposes their utility is in very specific contexts.
They also implied that guessing meaning from words is treated too simplistically in the language classroom, suggesting that it’s a far more complex process dependent on multiple factors. They evidenced this using research from Margot Haines who found that readers were able to guess the meaning of unfamiliar words more accurately “if the clues for the meaning were local, near the unknown words.” Research by Paul Nation proposed that the frequency of the unfamiliar word in the text, the proximity of the occurrences to each other, the number of clues, the density of other unknown words, familiarity of content, among other factors all contributed to the ability of the reader to guess meaning from context.
Grabe’s 14 strategies were introduced as a richer range of processing techniques with the caveat that they may not be as specific or well-defined as the ones we are familiar with in terms of classroom procedure.
Strategies used by engaged readers

1. Reading selectively according to goals

2. Reading carefully in key places

3. Re-reading as appropriate

4. Monitoring reading continuously, being aware of whether or not they are comprehending the text.

5. Identifying important information

6. Trying to fill in the gaps in the text (through inference & prior knowledge)

7. Making guesses about unknown words

8. Using text structure information to guide understanding

9. Making inferences about the author, key information, and main ideas

10. Attempting to integrate ideas from different parts of the text

11. Building interpretations of the text as they read

12. Building main-idea summaries

13. Evaluating the text and the author and as a result forming feelings about the text

14. Attempting to resolve difficulties

Grabe (2009)

This section was concluded with the disclaimer that effective readers don’t use strategies in isolation, as they are often encouraged to do in the classroom. “Instead, they use multiple strategies in a flexible manner, choosing from their repertoire of strategies to make sense of the text according to the purpose of their reading.”

The role of background knowledge

A lot of the approaches discussed so far have been bottom-up but we have to acknowledge the role of compensatory processes as well. If you have some degree of familiarity with the topic, you may be able to compensate for a lack of linguistic knowledge
In this respect, schema are claimed to help readers in the comprehension, retention and inferencing of texts. Schema are

Previously acquired knowledge structures. Carrell and Eisterhold (1988)

Related sets of knowledge linked together in an established frame.  Grabe (2009)

Background knowledge could take the form of:

  • general knowledge of the world
  • topical knowledge
  • cultural knowledge
  • specialist expertise knowledge

However, background knowledge can also cause interference. This was attested to referencing a study where American and Indian test subjects were asked to read two letters, one about an American wedding and an Indian wedding. The readers misunderstood, mis-remembered or forgot facts and details from the wedding whose cultural context they were unfamiliar with.

Background knowledge interacts with other areas such as language proficiency, motivation and purpose to enable the reader to process texts more effectively. However, the significance of background knowledge is currently underplayed among researchers but the course seemed to suggest that we ought to be paying it more attention. In easing learners into a text, we often focus on linguistic scaffolding through the pre-teaching of vocabulary. However, preparing learners to face unfamiliar topics is done minimally through brief pre-reading discussions.

Automaticity and word recognition

The module started off by suggesting that automaticity is critical for effective reading and concluded by focusing on some research in this area. Akamatsu (2008) conducted a study in which she presented participants with word strings, each containing 5 words with no spaces:




In each training session, participants were exposed to 150 words or 30 strings and they had 90 seconds to recognize individual words. There were seven sessions over seven weeks with one session a week and students were able to improve their word recognition ability significantly.

Greta Gorsuch and Etsuo Taguchi focused on the effectiveness of repeated reading in their research. Participants were asked to read a section of a short story while timing themselves. They then reread the same section two more times while listening it to be read aloud. They then read the section silently two more times, once again timing themselves. Lastly, they wrote a brief report on the text they’d read.

This week’s assignment sought four specific actions for improving reading at your institution based on this week’s material. Here’s my submission:

A lot of the concerns with reading as it is currently taught and conducted, are issues that I am familiar with and have discussed and debated with peers. While I acknowledge the problems with the linear, stylised way in which we treat reading activities, I continue to use the often seemingly mindless sequence of prediction, gist reading, specific reading and extension task. Why? I’m not really sure but I suppose it’s all boils down to what’s practical. Of course, I want my learners to read things that they select for themselves. But that sort of Dogme-style approach doesn’t always work out IRL! Only 4 out of 10 will bring in a text and of the four at least one might be inappropriate for whatever reason. And what about the fact that not all learners want to bring in texts. Providing choice in how learners to process a text sounds great conceptually but in practice may lead to readers who lose attention and might not get the maximum value from the lesson.

Paradoxically, the assignments that I peer-assessed prescribed actions from the standard ELT guide to reading … from now on, at my school, I will do a prediction exercise, then make my students skim the text, then scan … You see this where this is going. It felt like we were on different courses. I suspect this might be because a plurality of language teachers use an even more traditional approach to reading such as the one that’s prevalent in Indian schools: one student reads aloud while others follow along with their finger (the finger is very important). Then, students work individually to answer comprehension questions. If this constitutes a reading lesson, a more conventional ELT approach is perhaps quite innovative. However, the course seems to be suggesting something completely radical. It remains to be seen if this theoretical direction will be translated into realistic task types in the upcoming modules.

A task-based approach to reading | Module 1 Reflections


It’s the beginning of the second week on this Coursera MOOC offered by the University of London and I’m already slightly embarrassed at the gaps in my knowledge. Here are some latent assumptions I discovered I’d been carrying around. I …

  • associated TBA with group work
  • used TBA primarily for speaking or writing-based outcomes
  • referred to activities and tasks interchangeably as if they were the same thing.

I do know the distinction between tasks and activities and was able to identify it accurately in one of the reflection exercise (before they displayed the answer, I swear!) When I introspected, I realized that it might have something to do with the connotations of the words – activity & task- and how I presuppose my clients perceive them. I suspect they see activity as a filler, something frivolous and fun, that provides relief from learning rather than facilitating it. Task seems to have so much more gravitas.

Technically tasks are a type of activity that facilitate learning linked to core outcomes. So, what exactly makes a second language activity a pedagogic task?

Traditional classroom activities often involve decontexualized language use and often focus on a particular aspect of language such as grammar or vocabulary (Skehan, 1996)

In contrast, pedagogic tasks are characterised by four features.

  • meaning is primary
  • there is some communicative problem to solve
  • there is some sort of relationship with real-world activities
  • the assessment of task is in terms of a task outcome

With pedagogic tasks, our primary focus is on whether the communicative purpose has been achieved, not the quality of the language. For example, describing an illness to a doctor, telling a story based on pictures, listening to an academic lecturer, or writing a cover letter for a job application. The course facilitators suggest that we often incorrectly believe that tasks can only be used for oral outcomes and that in reality, tasks can cover all four skills.

Many typical classroom activities can be somewhat deceptive because they seem communicative and task-like on the surface. For example, a ‘you say, your partner says’ type template for having a conversation is not a task according to Rod Ellis because learners are only required to identify appropriate language to convey meaning which is already provided in the exercise. This activity doesn’t lead to a non-linguistic outcome and the focus is on grammar instead of meaning. There is also no communicative problem to solve.

However, exercises with purely linguistic outcomes could be adapted to incorporate the affordances of pedagogic tasks. The course illustrated this through the example of a restaurant role play using a menu. The existing activity gets Ss to use a structured dialogue to order some food. The only choice they have in the activity is the food they order. If there was no task input by way of dialogue and learners had to work with some constraints such as a limited budget or allergies, we may have the frame for a task where the emphasis is on meaning and problem solving. The language used during the task may then mirror an authentic conversation.  Another example of tweaking a communicative activity to make it more akin to a task is to ask Ss to prepare a summary of findings after a ‘find someone who’ activity in the form of a graph or a report. The course facilitator suggested that although this activity is partly focused on meaning, in execution, Ss tend to focus on the form – past perfect or question forms instead of engaging in real conversation.

Types of tasks 

I could only recall three types of tasks that I generally use: guided discovery tasks, structured sharing tasks, and application tasks – and I’m not even sure if the first two are technically tasks. The course, however, presented many, many more. They come in pairs and I’ve summarised them in this table:

Target tasks are those that people do in the real world e.g., writing an executive summary if you’re a business professional. Pedagogic tasks are graded versions of target tasks that language learners work on in a lesson e.g., filling out only the personal details section of a job application form (complete a target task with pedagogic objective).
One way tasks are those where one participant has all the information to be conveyed.

This individual does most of the talking or writing, e.g.,, one S talks to the other S where to place some items on a floor plan, as if instructing someone from a moving company

Two-way tasks require all the participants to participate equally for the communicative problem to be solved e.g., a spot the difference task.
Open tasks have no predetermined outcome that the Ss need to achieve e.g., Ss take random pictures and form a story sequence. Closed tasks require Ss need to reach a predetermined solution which is often the correct answer e.g., an objective ranking exercise.
Convergent tasks get Ss to to reach consensus about the task outcome e.g., how to allocate funding to community projects. Divergent tasks don’t require Ss to agree about the task solution e.g., learners discuss pros and cons of issues such as ways of tacking pollution.
Unfocused tasks do not have a predetermined language focus. Focused tasks are constructed to induce the use of particular linguistic constructions e.g., in a spot the difference exercises, Ss ask each other questions.
Input-based tasks do not require production. Learners are expected to primarily engage in listening and reading during task work e.g., listening to an airport announcement and reading for a project. Output based tasks require Ss to produce language, that is, to engage in either speaking or writing.

It seemed as if most of these distinctions were sourced from Rod Ellis. Although I wasn’t familiar with the nomenclature, I use all of these tasks types regularly except open and one-way tasks which I use very rarely. The focus of this MOOC is, as the name suggests, on input-based tasks.

I did find the repeated references to spot the difference and story sequencing activities odd. I don’t see how they mirror real world tasks or indeed fulfill the four part criteria that was shared early on in this module.

What role do tasks play in your teaching?

Tasks play a significant role in my curriculum design. I tend to build my lessons around tasks rather than content items. My approach is influenced by an elearning design methodology called Action Mapping by Cathy Moore which essentially involves visualizing the tasks (although Moore refers to them as activities) that would enable the learner to accomplish the course’s objectives. I then think about how I might want to scaffold the experience which I might attempt by designing and incorporating relevant activities.

The course suggests two approaches to how tasks could influence curriculum design.

In task-based syllabi, the basis of this syllabus is not linguistic constructions … it’s predominantly pedagogic tasks that drive syllabus design. In traditional language teaching, course content is usually specified in terms of linguistic items such as grammar, vocabulary, and functions. A grammatical syllabus for example, might be defined in terms of constructions, such as the present simple, present progressive, and so on.(In task-supported syllabi), tasks play a key role but are not the primary basis for organization. The syllabus may be guided by other elements such as grammar, functions, or lexis. The assessment is not or not entirely defined in terms of tasks.

How do you typically structure a task-based sequence?

I usually have some kind of exercise that activates topic schemata along with a model for how the task could potentially be carried out either in the form of a written or listening text or a video or a demonstration. Learners then carry out the task in a pairs and groups and report back through whole class feedback. Language work or skill-based feedback happens as a post-task stage.

The course in turn presents a fairly conventional Ellisian approach to a task-based sequence:

  • Pre-task stage: activities that enable the Ss to focus on both language and content. This could included language focused activities that introduce new language or recycle exisiting linguistic resource. They could also be content-focused activities which engage learners with the topic of the task. They could do this by rehearsing the same or similar task or observing the performance of a parallel task. The T might allow for planning time and might frame the task by explaining procedure, outcome or by providing background knowledge. The T could also introduce or mobilize task share event language (a fancy term for pre-teaching useful vocabulary).
  • During-task phase: Ss perform the task. The T could adopt a passive or active role.
  • Post-task phase: Ss repeat the task before their peers which might compel them to use a more formal register and more complex structures. Ss could also also be asked to report back to the class about their task outcome. The T may also choose to engage Ss in explicit language focus activities which are referred to as ‘focus on form’ activities by Michael Long. These could potentially target linguistic features that Ss found challenging.

Interestingly, Peter Skehan and Pauline Foster’s research suggests that informing students of such a post-task requirement prior to the performance of the task could induce more attention to form in the during-task phase.

The assignment from this week was to produce an information sheet on tasks and their benefits. Here’s mine:

Lastly, I’m really to happy to see that the course is presented (and perhaps also moderated) by NNESTs and quite impressed with the course overall. Thank you Sandy Millin for recommending it!

The course recommends the following sources for additional reading:

  • Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based language teaching and learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Long, M. (2015). Second language acquisition and task-based language teaching. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Samuda, V., & Bygate, M. (2008). Tasks in second language learning. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Van den Branden, K., Bygate, M., & Norris, J. M. (Eds.) (2009). Task-based language teaching: A reader.Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Upcoming MOOCs for educators | Jun to Aug 2016

I haven’t done a single MOOC since the start of the year but I can dream right?! Here are some upcoming courses that might be up your alley. All free.



Blended learning 



Have you done any MOOCs this year? Which ones do you recommend? 

Powerful tools for teaching and learning: Web 2.0 tools | Week 3

This week’s focus was on creativity tasks and tools. The course facilitators spoke about how creativity is an important 21st century skill and that research suggests that there are long term positive benefits of fostering creativity such as the fact that creative people are more likely to get promoted, be satisfied with their jobs, be in better physical health and be more resilient.


As usual, the course recommends that Ts understand the nature of the task to select an effective tool and they offered a creativity continuum to do this.

word <-> visual <-> visual + word + sound

  • Word: Being creative with words such as using Visuwords to graphically show the relationship of a word to other words. Wordle create word clouds and Tagxedo allows you to create word images in different shapes. These tools are useful when you want your learners to be creatively engaged with words.
  • Visual: Students look at given pictures or collect pictures in bookr and use these as prompts to write stories which finally converted into a digital book. Sketchpad allows users to create sketches and drawings. Graffiti Creator lets Ss create text that looks like graffiti.
  • Visual + word + sound: Ss can use WeVideo to select pictures, text, video and audio clips to create a digital story. Alice allows users to learn computer programming in a 3D environment. StoryJumper lets Ss create stories in a comic-book style/format.

Using creativity tools to learn programming

Hour of Code is celebrated in classrooms every year to get Ss to see the creative side of computer programming but most Ss are usually not interested. Ss feel disengaged because they can’t visualize and hear the code which just remains lines of boring text of them. Scratch allows Ss to understand the basic concepts of programming by using ‘code building blocks’. As Ss select new pieces of code, there are changes to the object that they are programming. A similar tool is Squeakland which can be used for creative and critical thinking skills for programming through visuals, sounds and words.

  • Realtime Board: A shared whiteboard where you add can ideas, images and videos. Manage group projects and creative contributions – as an alternative to post-its.
  • Simple booklet: Ss select a layout template and add media to create an online booklet. It could be used for student-centred instructional strategy as an alternative to rote-learning and promote collaborative and deep learning. For example, a history class that’s learning about the US constitution.
  • Magisto: It turns video clips and photos into edited movies quickly. Review concepts and terms by getting Ss to create a music video where lyrics draw on study material.
  • Evernote: A tool for taking and organizing notes including stuff from the web. Here’s an example.
  • Thinglink: Creative interactive images – designed for classroom use so – Ss login IDs can be nested under the teacher. Here’s an example.
  • WeVideo: A cloud-based video editing tool. Ss can upload media from their computers or from cloud storage and edit these in a number of modes. Here’s an example.

The tools for exploration this week include:

My picks are Tagul which creates really nifty word clouds and Playir which seems to have some engaging features.

This week’s reading

Here’s one more video based on Chickering & Gamson’s principles specifically encouraging active learning. The video’s creators list a series of responses from educators: rewards & peer pressure, practical problems, assessments, academic rigour and feedback, games and fun, pacing Ss with quizzes, respect, building community through group discussions and posing challenging questions. They summarized these responses an androgogical approach to engaging Ss and relating content to real lives.

Finally, here’s a video about a primary school teacher who used free cloud-based apps to get Ss to work on creative digital projects for an authentic audience.

Image attribution: Flickr | Creativity is Not Device Dependent by eliztesch | CC by 2.0

Powerful tools for teaching & learning: Web 2.0 tools | Week 2

This is a summary of week 2 of the Coursera MOOC – Powerful tools for teaching & learning: Web 2.0 tools. This week’s focus was collaboration (look up last week’s post to review the skill-lens used by the course to analyse and categorise Web 2.0 tools).

Collaboration tools

Once you’ve identified your instructional task or issue for collaboration, the next step is to discover the nature of the collaboration problem.  The course facilitators presented the categories of collaboration needs in the form of a continuum.

Collaboration continuum

project management  <->  co-creation <-> resource management

The continuum shows three forms of collaborative tasks. It’s also a way to group web 2.0 collaboration tools.

Project management (setting up projects and streamlining work)

  • Assign a day: a calendar that can be shared with Ss and their parents about latest assignemetns & due dates.
  • Doodle: an easy way to set up group meetings dynamically.
  • Todoist: allows you to manage tasks and then go about collaborating on setting and working on these tasks.

Co-creation (collaborating to create, edit & develop ideas)

  • Conceptboard: develop concepts for a group assignment.
  • Google drive: real time collaborative eding on documents, presentations and spreadsheets. A video example of peer-collaboration through Google documents.
  • Mindomo: allows for collaborative brainstorming.

Resource management (providing access to a communal resource page)

  • Symbaloo: a social bookmarking tool to share links
  • Dropbox: a shared storage space for documents and media
  • Wikidot: allows users to create real time editing space for both text and multimedia files

Some of these collaboration tools also serve as communication tools and indeed many of the tools suggested in this course could be used for multiple instructional issues. These include tools such as Google Docs,, Google Groups, Cacoo, PB works Wiki, Diigo and Creately. It’s critical to recognize the type or nature of the instructional task in order to choose the best possible tool for solving an instructional issue. Here are some more that were discussed:

  • Wikisend: A file sharing platform with a 100 MB limit. It doesn’t require you to sign up
  • Meeting Words: easy to use and doesn’t require registration. Ss can work collaboratively on documents.  Meeting words is a web based text editing tool that allows up to 32 people to edit simultaneously but no functionality for images or charts. Individual contributions to a project can be tracked through colour coding of user comments and a time slider. However, the tool requires access at least on a weekly basis or you will lose your work – you can however export in a variety of forms. Here’s an example. Google docs may be a better alternative because it has far richer features.
  • Cosketch: visually sketch ideas with the ability to document/track individual collaboration on an online whiteboard.
  • Stormboard: online brainstorming and collaboration for group projects with the ability to document/track individual collaboration.  Add sticky notes to a board which can have images, videos, documents or sketches. Users can vote to prioritize ideas as well as commenting on them. The final product can be exported in various forms. Here’s an example.
  • PBWorks: A binder where several people can contribute and edit content. It keeps track of all user activities and provides a mechanism for peer-feedback.
  • Creately: Collaboratively design flowcharts, idea maps and diagrams. Here’s an example.

The tools for exploration this week include:

  • Doodle (scheduling meetings collaboratively)
  • Trello (collaborating on and organizing tasks)
  • Zoho Docs (creating, storing and editing documents)
  • Wikispaces (communicating with Ss through a virtual classroom workspace for writing projects)
  • Mega (storing files on the cloud)
  • Wunderlist (organizing a shared list of tasks)
  • Papaly (sharing bookmarks)
  • MindMeister (brainstorming using mind maps)
  • Taskworld (tracking colleagues’ tasks and giving them performance feedback)
  • PrimaryPad (word processing collaboratively on the cloud)

Despite the annoyingly cheerful music, this video has some insights on meeting the challenges of facilitating online collaboration between Ss through one of the principles – developing reciprocity and cooperation among Ss –  in a framework of seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education by Chickering and Gamsom.

This week’s reading

Lots of tools this week that I’d never heard of before but what I really appreciate are the simple frameworks such as the collaboration continuum that can make edtech accessible to Ts in a more manageable way.

Image attribution: Flickr | LT – Google Drive- Collaboration by Matt Cornock | CC by 2.0