Thursday, January 29, 2009

Podcasts and language learning

Recently I listened to a podcast version of this video-blog.
It appears that Steve and I have the same interest in language - learning language in order to communicate :-)

While I agree that podcast-only methods of learning a language are not sufficient, I disagree with Steve's thesis that a podcast that has a dialog in a foreign language followed by explanations in the native language is not a good way to learn. It may be true that it's not his preferred methodology (and yes, I have studied ten languages too), but it does work. It doesn't work alone though.

Steven talk about jus using the language, and learning that way. While immersion into a language work, it's a the 'swift-kick-in-the-butt' method of learning, so it may not be the best method of learning a language, again it depends on your wired way of learning.

If I were to give someone who doesn't speak Greek a URL for weekendgeeks or vrypan|net|radio (Greek news tech podcasts that I listen to), they will most likely be lost for quite some time.

If I were to let them borrow DVDs of my greek movies, they may grasp what is going on from the visual queues.

Now if I were to take them and dump them in Greece, they will learn the language faster. Why? Because when people see that you don't speak the language well they will slow down, they will simplify their vocabulary, and they will use more body language to communicate - something that doesn't happen in passive media.

Language learning is also culture learning. You do get acculturated by watching and listening passively, but sometimes someone needs to explain some history, some background of a custom or idiom.

In language learning podcasts, my take, is that the podcast is only the beginning. It's situational language. You are learning how to interact in certain situations, you learn the vocabulary, and the significance behind it. It doesn't matter if the person on the podcast is a Brit speaking Greek, or if it's a Scot speaking Spanish, or an American speaking Japanese. What matters is command of language. Getting native speakers to speak is one level up from here where you get to hear more difference.

After the podcast, in order to really learn a language you need to use it!
How do you use it? Well...
1. you do exercises
2. you write in it
3. you speak/drill
4. you speak with others
5. you test your listening comprehension skills
6. you receive advice from natives

Language can't be learned in isolation, but you also can't really become fluent and acculturated in a language by skipping to the speak to people, get advice. It's all of the above that work together to help people get language down.

I am not defending established business models of language learning here, nor am I defending the ChinesePod, JapanesePod101 and CoffeeBreakSpanish (I've listened to all of them for a long time). What I am saying is that the views expressed seem a bit simplistic to me as a fellow language learner.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Start of a new semester

Back to classes!

This semester I am back to my norm of three classes a semester. After last semester's relatively relaxed atmosphere (because I only had one class), I wonder how I will cope with being back to full speed.

This semester, again, I am focusing on applied linguistics, taking two core courses (one for the core of the program, and one for the concentration), and an elective course on English grammar. Sounds interesting!

Can't wait!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Teaching Terminology

Recently, while clearing out my Google Starred Items, I ran across this article on the Linguist that I meant to read - but it slipped through my radar.

I do have to agree with Steve on some points. If you are strictly a linguist, the teaching terminology is jargon that just doesn't make sense. This is one of the reasons I decided to do a dual master's degree in Instructional Design and Applied Linguistics. While I have learned some teaching terminology in Applied Linguistics, most of it I learned in Instructional Design. Linguistics terminology has mostly been about...well languages and linguistics.

I don't know if it's me, or it's just "d'uh" knowledge, some of these terms give a name to phenomena that I have observed in the last ten years that I have been a university student. The fact that these phenomena have names mean that I can converse with others in the field about said phenomena and to be able to understand research written that utilizes this vocabulary.

On some level, I find the distinction between pedagogy and andragogy (the names, not the underlying theory), as silly. Perhaps it's because in Greek, pedagogy (παιδαγωγία) is used for education regardless of the age of the learner. If you want to be an educator and want to keep learning and improving your skills, the jargon is something you need to know. This is no different than knowing library jargon if you work in a library, management jargon if you work in the management field, and computer jargon if you work in the technology industry.

There was also a comment on this post that said something to the effect that language teachers want to keep you dependent. While I think this may be true of some individuals, most language teachers I had were eager to expand on what was covered in class afterward and to suggest resources for individual study. These teachers have been a role model for me. Even though I don't teach language, I do teach tech, and if students want more info, I am ready to give it to them.

The question is asked:
How important are these compared to the natural ability of the teacher to inspire, encourage, guide and stimulate the learner, aptitudes that are not necessarily learned at teachers' college.

A teacher's ability to inspire, encourage, guide and stimulate is really important. Some people are just born with it. Others are like coaches at the end of a game. They watch the replay after replay, they see what may have gone wrong and they formulate a strategy for future lessons.

Theory is important to shed light on learners that aren't receptive to your teaching style

Jargon is important for conversing with others in the field and applying new theory to the class.

Finally (don't want to make this a long post)
The bulk of language teaching today takes place in a classroom where students are taught a curriculum, which follows a prescribed time-table. The students are required to do regular tests to demonstrate how well they are able to perform according to that time-table.

While this is indeed true, it's not because of theory. This is where theory and practice diverge. The theory can be applicable, but the current classroom practices are practices of yesterday. It's like a train trying to slow down (or stop) to change direction - it takes time.

The problem may not be the instructor per-se. It is probably the organization that sets and approves the curriculum. If inspired instructors were allowed to change the curriculum and the testing methodology, I think you would see more improvements in language teachin

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Presentations & the grad student

I've been a graduate student now longer than I was an undergraduate. One of the hallmarks of graduate education are presentations, many, many presentations.

Granted my first presentations stunk royally, but I've made it my personal goal to be a good presenter by the time I am out of grad school. Blogs like Presentation Zen and classes like Visual Literacy do help, but there is also an element of posture, showmanship, and owning the room that come with practice and feeling confident about yourself - this is the element that many graduate school students are missing.

These graduate students use PowerPoint as a crutch to distract themselves from the main issue which is confidence. I came across these older videos of Steve Jobs, a great presenter by any measure, but he isn't using electronic means to get his message out. He is using a whiteboard!

These videos are quite interesting (total run time is 18 minutes). Sometimes I think that it would be worthwhile for undergraduate students to take courses in public speaking and presenting before they graduate. This is a skill that comes in handy many times over.

Part 1

Part 2

Monday, January 19, 2009

The role of grammar in language study

Recently I had posed an open question to people out there to see how much they remember from their intro language courses. I then stumbled upon two relatively recent starred items in my google reader that I had not read yet:

The role of grammar in language study
More on grammar.

I have to say that I agree with Steve on both his posts, and this comes from personal experience. As an undergrad I spent a lot of time in language courses despite being a computer scientist. The reason I wanted to take language courses was communicative. I wanted to be able to communicate with natives in a spoken and written format. The curiosity about linguistics was a secondary factor.

My professors were great, but I find that the format was rather formulaic and of a different era in language teaching. From what I gathered, my professors were literature people, not strictly foreign language pedagogy people, In Italian this wasn't a problem as I had already had French and I could translate my language acquisition skills to that language easily.

This was however an issue with Russian and German where we had to memorize tables of declensions for exams and such - not very useful.

Before I wrote my previous post, I had been throwing ideas around with my wife about language learning (she is a language geek too). The consensus was that (in addition to requiring people to minor in a language as an undergrad) it would be more useful to focus intro classes (101, 102) on communication skills, vocabulary building and some grammar - but not too much, focus the intermediate classes on speaking and writing, and introduce more grammar that is relevant, and finally spend the advanced classes refining grammar points while still practicing reading, writing and speaking.

Thus in the end, by the end of intermediate classes you are ready to be unleashed in a different country and you can function.

Don't get me wrong, grammar is important. You should know grammar to be able to write and speak without sounding off, however it shouldn't be the main focus. Memorizing declensions does no good when you can't apply them!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Instructional Strategies: What Do Online Students Prefer?

I read this study on the Journal of Online Teaching and Learning recently and it brought back memories of my two online classes last summer, and of the courses that friends of mine had to take online at other colleges and universities.

Based on this input, I know what my preferences are for online learning:

1. The class needs to be asynchronous. If I have to be in Wimba (or other teleconferencing tool) every Monday from 8 to 10pm, then I would prefer to be in class. Even though our tools are better, regular synchronous classes are not for me. Having an asynchronous class allows me to look at discussion boards during my lunch hour, or while waiting for the train (on my N800 internet tablet). You just can't emulate the classroom experience in Wimba and I find that I would prefer to be in a physical location if I have to do this anyway.

2. Podcasts all the way! Instructors will often write an introduction to a topic before they let you do the readings and respond to the discussion board's question of the week. I think podcasts are a great way of providing a lecture that is portable and easy to access on the go, and easy to listen to again and again. It also allows the instructor to enrich the lecture with personal ideas and anecdotes that may not be as good in written form. It may also allow the instructor to interview people in industry and have the students listen to this person's wise (or not so wise) words!

3. Discussions! I love discussions. Sometimes my eyes glaze over at the sheer volume of text (blackboard isn't properly threaded which makes it difficult), but I enjoy reading other people's thoughts, ideas, a history on a given subject. Collaborative learning is a good method for me.

4. Peer Review. I admit it, I don't always read everyone else's contributions. In a class for 20-30 students, I am just not able to read each submission! I do save them though for future reading. Now peer review is a great tool because it forces people to look at other people's work and provide constructive critique, or, as I have done in some cases, borrow some of my classmate's great ideas (with attribution of course) to enrich my projects.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Multilingualism and the economic crisis

Hot off the heels of my little rant (and recommendation) on LANG101/102 for high schools and universities, here is a fairly recent video blog from a linguist blog that I subscribe to.

I thought it was interesting, it's worth 10 minutes :-)

Monday, January 12, 2009

How much do you remember from LANG 101/102?

I was reading Revising and Defending the Foreign Language Major on InsideHigherEd the the other day when I had a small flashback to recent conversations that I've had with former classmates about their language learning experiences and the language retention that they have.

In high school, I was required to take two years of a foreign language in order to graduate. I elected to take 4 years (coming up to an intermediate-advanced level). Had I started French in 8th grade I would have had the opportunity to take 5th year French (AP level).

When I went to college as an undergrad, I was required to take two semesters (101 and 102) of a language in order to graduate. I elected to minor in Italian (6 or 7 courses if I remember correctly) and I almost minored in German (took 6 out of 7 courses). My interest in language is cultural and communicative - not literature, and that 7th German course would have been a German literature course in english (so I couldn't even practice the language) and it would have meant one extra semester to graduation - no thanks, I said. With French, German and Italian I am conversant to various degrees (depending on the language)

Now I also took 101 and 101 of Japanese, Chinese and Russian. My recollection of these languages is very limited. I can say good morning, hello and thank you, maybe even "my name is..."

I have asked classmates in those classes that only took 101/102 with me if they remember much beyond that and the response was negative. In other words, wasted time, wasted money, wasted credits! What is the point of requiring someone to take x-amount of classes in a foreign language if they don't see a benefit from it? At least with Art, Sociology, Psychology and Philosophy the way you look at things, the way you think, the way you process is altered in some fashion. Language is a communicative process. We learn language to communicate with others, so requiring so-many-courses and to have nothing to show for it is not good.

So here's my modest proposal: Require every undergraduate to minor in a language and pass a proficiency exam before they can graduate, and no one is exempt! You know Greek and English? Excellent opportunity to pick up Chinese, or Russian, or Japanese, or Spanish or whatever! You only know English? Excellent opportunity to learn more about another language and culture.

A minor is six or seven courses. Within the confine of 18 to 21 credits students can become conversant in a foreign language, learn a bit about world history as it relates to that language and culture, learn a bit of its literature (don't overdo the literature, after all the focus is communication), and be able to communicate well in an oral and written manor!

Now, if high schools were the same, if all students were required to have four years of English and four years of another language (plus pass competency exams), the time spent in the classroom would be well worth it because we would come out with tangible outcomes!

-just my two cents on the issue

Friday, January 9, 2009

Teaching in Virtual Worlds

It's really hard to determine how well a presentation was from a simple powerpoint file. Nonetheless, here's an educause presentation on Teaching in Virtual Worlds.

From my ventures into second life, I have to say that it is interesting, but trying to shoehorn it into the curriculum (just like shoehorning an LMS into the curriculum) won't work. A virtual world is a unique pedagogical environment (and I use pedagogy broadly, encompassing all types of *-gogy) and an instructor needs to design around it.

One can't simply create a virtual classroom in Second Life, tell people to come and take a seat and call it a day. This is simply boring and it defeats the purpose. From my point of view, if I were to use Second Life for teaching something, I would use it like a field trip. In language learning for example, if enough cities and municipalities had virtual versions of themselves, you could use that to learn about culture, geography, and language in innovative ways.

The problems addressed in the PowerPoint presentations are a serious reality which, at the moment, impedes the serious 15-week-long teaching of a subject - in my humble opinion.

The other problem I have with Second Life is this: unlike the internet, you can't setup your own, free, server to serve your content. In addition, you can't model your plot of land offline and upload it when you are done, it all needs to be done online. There is also no facility for backup. If something borks the SL server that your info is on and their backup does not work - that's it. Paying money for this is like throwing money down the drain.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

When the academic world and the real world meet

I saw this article over at the NEA journal. (click here for the full PDF)

Having recently visited my dad, a person who is very intelligent but, who like the dad in the article, didn't go to college (heck my dad didn't even go to middle school). This story reminded me of a conversation I had with him about his work and salary versus mine (i.e. being the same) despite my education.

I've heard a lot of banter over at blogs like the brazen careerist about not learning concrete skills in college. My undergrad experience has been more of a "learn how to think" lesson. Learn to be critical, and analytical, and calculating, and have that rounded learning that everyone covets. When I first graduated I felt like the early-20-somethings on brazen careerist, like my college education was almost a waste of time because I did not learn concrete skills.

I kinda learned java, and kinda learned C, but I wouldn't be readily employable by a company. In recent years though my undergraduate education has surfaced many, many, times in the oddest of places! Those computer science classes that I thought were useless are actually useful. The only thing that I wish I had was a required internship.

In the article we see some advocacy for required internships, or hands-on learning where when you graduate you don't only have theoretical skills, but also have employable skills. A mix of academic and vocational training is a good thing.

My father was born in 1911. Like many from that era, he left formal education before completing grade school and went to work helping support his family. He never learned to read well. When I was a child, it was my father’s Sunday morning ritual to gather his kids around him on the sofa and read us the comics from the just delivered Milwaukee Journal. It was an act of love for his children, but by the time I was in third grade, I could read the “funnies” more quickly than my father. I am certain he would have failed any exam I have ever given to my students.

But my father was an excellent automotive mechanic who owned and operated
a Ford-Mercury dealership for over 40 years, and owned and operated the
school buses in my small central Wisconsin hometown for nearly 30 years.
Between both businesses he typically had 30 to 40 full- and part-time employees.
He was one of a handful of individuals instrumental in building the first hospital
in our community, was president of the hospital board for many years, served locally
as president of the Chamber of Commerce, and statewide as chairman of the
Wisconsin School Bus Owners Association. He made considerably more money
than I do as a teacher, but he worked far more hours, and year-round.

An accomplished and intelligent human being, my father lacked the sophistication
that comes with higher education. His abilities would have appeared marginal
by most of the measurements used in academic assessment. Those who worked with him knew better of course, but the point is that our concepts of what
it means to be educated or intelligent are often inadequate. Just as important, my
father’s abilities would have meant nothing had they not been supported by his
attitudes—his deep humility, simple approach to life, and unwavering commitment
to those around him.

I tell this story because it relates to the students I now teach and to issues I
believe need to be addressed. To better understand this, it might be helpful to tell
the story of my own journey through the educational system. It would probably
not be noteworthy, except that I hear variations of it from many of my students.

Monday, January 5, 2009

8 Experts Predict How Web 2.0 Will Evolve In 2009

This is a repost from FastCompany
Original Article: click here

It's pretty interesting.
GPS is nice, but I think Data Portability will be the major issue. No one likes their data to be held captive by a company.

8 Experts Predict How Web 2.0 Will Evolve In 2009
| posted by Allyson Kapin

2008 was the year that Web 2.0 became more mainstream. More ad agencies, businesses, and non-profits used Web 2.0 tools as a way to build community and relationships, cross promote products and issues, and integrate their online and offline marketing strategies. Some like Zappos were extremely successful and nailed their Web 2.0 strategy while others like the makers of Motrin were burned by mommy bloggers for not doing proper research on their target audience.

With the economy in a slump and budgets being cut in traditional print and TV advertising campaigns many will be looking to the Web 2.0 world to reach their constituents. So what should be on your Web 2.0 radar for 2009? Web 2.0 gurus give you the low down.

Chris Brogan: New Marketing Labs
“2009 sees a few things: site mergers/acquisitions for some of the weaker social network platforms, and a stronger push towards identity portability and friend (social graph) portability. We love our social networks, but why should I suddenly develop amnesia when you and I join a new one? It should know we're friends and treat us accordingly.”

Mary Hodder, Founder of and VP of Product Development, Apisphere

“The future of social media is user's owning their data, deciding who to send it to. Look for more companies that currently host the user's identity to have less control over that, as things like Open ID take over and more companies try to compete by giving users more control over themselves. Look for ways users can own their own data, and companies that might offer that, sort of like a personal information bank. The changes may seem subtle but I think we'll see companies now, like Facebook, who try to be everything to you: your bank account for info, your identity, your tools for publishing, and your bar/restaurant for socializing, having to give up some of those roles or hold them less powerfully. And I don't think it's natural for one company to hold all that power. It leaves you with very little control over your online self.

Of course, Facebook will fight this to the last, so they won't be the first to give up some of this control. Others will and eventually to compete Facebook will follow. But they are the great example of the problem.

The other big change will be in companies finally building for revenue in the social and any other space online, as they build for growth in their free or social products.”

Tara Hunt, Co-Founder Citizen Agency and Citizen Space
“Social Media will cease to be such an 'experimental' field in marketing and will start to become part of the main core of good campaigns. Web 2.0 is the participatory web - which means that the power of this time is that we are all producers. In former days of marketing, companies delivered messages and goods and customers were meant to consume them. Not so much any longer. Customers are major players in the arena of marketing - I would argue more so than the marketing professionals themselves now - so it is important to realize that and shift the marketing program to be more about how you interact and empower those customers rather than how you control and spread the message.”

Charlene Li, Consultant and Blogger
“The biggest innovation will be the opening of social networks so that they can exchange profiles, social relationships, and applications. As such, companies need to think about how they will "open" up their businesses. For example, rather than create your own community, could you leverage a community that already exists on MySpace, Facebook, or LinkedIn?”

Susan Mernit, Co-Founder, People Software
“I see social media in 2009 becoming more and more accessible to mainstream audiences. Twitter, seesmic, YouTube and other tools we saw as playgrounds for the young have moved into the digerati toolbox and are migrating to the mainstream. This means that everyone will experience what bloggers and gamers learned at least 5 years ago--following people online is a great way to virtually know and screen potential contacts and friends, as well as a tool to maintain connections. As for tech, I'm excited about personal devices--smart phones, integrated devices--I want to see them come down in price and go into wider distribution so people don't need to rely so much on computers.”

Rebecca Moore, Director of Outreach, Google Earth
“From a mapping perspective, you can expect to see much richer integration of "location-aware" services with a variety of devices. For example, mobile devices (such as those powered by Android) now commonly include GPS. Of course this can be used for applications like "find pizza places near me", but also can be used, for example, when a natural disaster hits. Imagine that local people on the ground will be able to easily map and share where bridges are out, roads are closed, or where emergency shelters and medical care are available. Keep in mind that in the developing world, people have far more phones than laptops.

In terms of social media, I think we are just at the beginning of "collaborative mapping" - people working together with friends and colleagues to build shared maps of places they care about. Also, the grassroots environmental organization Appalachian Voices has combined social networking and mapping in an interesting way on their advocacy site to end mountaintop-removal coal mining: here's a map of all the people referred to the site by actor/activist Woody Harrelson, including their "degree of separation" from Woody. We might be seeing more "social maps" like this in 2009.”

Nate Ritter: Entrepreneur and Web Developer
“The biggest changes have already started, but we'll see the tech take shape and make more money in 2009. They'll make money because they'll be forced to with the drying up of available VC and angel capital.

(1) Location based services will proliferate and become more useful to the end user.

(2) Aggregation services will change from just "drinking from the fire hose" to become very specific aggregation tools, perhaps with very specific use cases. The amount of data we can consume as humans stays limited, but filtering that data to become useful for specific reasons is not only something that's doable, it has an incentive... targeted customers. Those customers might be businesses or consumers, but the days of shooting from the hip with a shotgun approach are quickly ending. Shooting from the hip will stay, because it's fast, easy and cheap (and will get faster, easier, and cheaper) to build web applications. But being fast doesn't mean you're being smart.

I truly believe that 2009 is a huge opportunity. The bigger the threat, the bigger the opportunity.”

Richard Yoo, Founder of Hush Labs and former CEO of Rackspace Hosting
“I'm not sure that things will evolve the way people have seen in the
past. I predict that it'll mostly be about trying to figure out what users
really want and what they find most important then fine-tuning things based
on that feedback. The pace of evolution may really slow down by
comparison, but the user experience will be far better.

We'll also see a shakedown of Web 2.0 companies - some will survive,
but many will just shut down. The ones that survive will have figured
out a revenue model, or are simply critical to their user base's
day-to-day lives.”

Friday, January 2, 2009

What Counts as Assessment in the 21st Century?

here's an interesting read by by Ken Buckman

In recent years,there has been an ocean of ink poured over page upon page concerning the topic of assessment. I’m a philosophy professor in Texas where assessment seems to have its epicenter, so I think I have a unique perspective on the topic. Not only is assessment on the march due to misguided Texas legislative initiatives, not only is the Governor of Texas,Rick Perry,pushing an agenda of assessment and standardization,but the man who chaired U.S.Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education,Charles Miller,is in the vanguard of the advocates of assessment and is himself from Texas.

Assessment is one of those wonderful buzzwords that receivetraction every few years,accumulating a bandwagon of popular sentiment,but which remains so vapid and ill defined that it really has no meaning at all—except that it does have consequences. One serious consequence is that assessment often equates with standardized testing, and standardized testing is among the worst things one can inflict on education, let alone higher education. So, what counts as assessment as it emerges here in the dawn of the 21st century?

The motivation behind this assessment talk is unclear. University professors spend years of training becoming experts in specialized academic fields. They are in fact the experts in an area of study. Academic training, ideally at any rate, is directed toward being able to judge the degree to which those who follow also engage scholarly behaviors and standards. Professors are constantly assessing the extent to which students in their classes meet the standards created by the professors themselves,and this is accomplished in a number of ways.This traditional and time-tested method of assessment is challenged by those who maintain professors aren’t doing their jobs and those who do not like the outcomes of university education.

For more click here: Click