Wednesday, July 20, 2005

New blog - new address

I'm over at now - new site, new city, new blog.

Apologies for the lack of posts...2005 is shaping up to be one of those "life-is-a-whirlwind" years.

Come and visit!

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Fantastic resource for BE blogging

From Lesley Graham comes a link to Jeffrey Hill's excellent blogging overview for BE students (and their teachers) or anyone getting started with business blogging. Exploring this resource could be an early session in the "5-step plan" below. It gives us an overview of business blogging and what's out there.

Lesley specializes in medical English and currently is running an interesting blog project with her medical students.

Thanks for the comment Lesley. It's taking all my willpower not to spend the next 3 hours browsing through this blog.

In-company BE student blogs and corporate confidentiality

More on the confidentiality note/disclaimer in my last post here.
The point?

  • be aware and use common business sense
  • discuss with students (maybe I'll use the InformationWeek article linked above in a pre-blogging class? I'm going to Furl it just in case.)

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Using RSS & aggregation technologies for business English teaching

Since blogging itself has evidently made few inroads in BE teaching, it's not surprising that the BE community has so far paid scant attention to syndication and aggregation technologies as learning resources. It'll be interesting to see how these tools are eventually deployed, as they seem to offer enormous potential to both facilitate learner-centered teaching and to build learning communities.

How? Here's a five-step sequence for in-company BE teachers wanting to try out RSS and aggregation with their clients:

  1. To "seed" the process, have Ss list three critical areas for their professional growth and/or job performance; examples could range from "redesign product packaging for re-launch" to "improve presentation skills". Take a class and help them through the aggregator set-up, and show them how to search for feeds in English that correspond to their list. Popularity rankings such as those in Furl will help assure quality sites, and you can show the Ss a favorite blog or two (like my new presentions blog fave, Cliff Atkinson). But it's important that feed selection is student-driven, and probably best out of class. Now your Ss have relevant, timely, rich language resources streaming onto their desktop - language that has been selected by Ss and should therefore be of intrinsic interest. Ss will spend a few minutes a day reading independently, and you have a rich source of class material.

  2. Have Ss build their feeds by clicking through other blogs sourced/quoted in the "starter" feeds set up originally. Encourage Ss to select a "theme" for their own blog, from among these resources, focusing on whatever they feel most passionate about (note: this may well be a non-job-related theme), and encourage Ss to blog away, now that they have ideas to catch, expand, and reflect upon. "Themed" blogs are often both easier to write and of higher quality for readers. (NOTE: have Ss take care with proprietary corporate information. You probably don't want your client's marketing strategy on Blogger for the world to see.)

  3. Have Ss in a group (or among several individual classes, or among different groups) subscribe to each other's blogs via a feed exchange, and compare Furled resources. Encourage Ss to comment on other Ss posts. Develop class activities based on sharing, comparing, contrasting Ss interests and how they overlap or not. Focus on direct job application of aggregated resources.

  4. From your side, keep up with Ss work and Ss focus by subscribing to all feeds, and checking Furled resources regularly. Maintain a class blog as well as a personal blog and syndicate both to Ss. In both, post and link to notable student blog production, company news, or anything you note that will be of interest to your Ss. In your blogs, include learner training observations to prompt S reflection on learning process. Comment frequently on S posts.

  5. "Stretch goal": contact and link up with schools and/or teachers working for the same company, but in other country branches (e.g. if you teach in the marketing department of Acme International in Caracas, work through the Ss contacts, and hook up with the Ts of your Ss peers in Acme International in Sao Paolo, or Madrid, or Kyoto). Exchange feeds among Ss, nurture carefully with teaching peers abroad, and you've got a lovely online community based on true communication in the target language and focused on rich, relevant content.

Teachers or facilitators (or just teachers)?

Nice discussion over at Stephen Powell's blog on the alignment of software, teaching approach and student expectations. The ecology/farming metaphor:

The rainforest being the rich learning ecosystem where social constructivist philosophies of the software, teachers, and expectations of the learners are aligned. This is opposed the didactic software and teaching philosophy that acts to ‘dessertify’ any student expectation that is anything other than to be the passive receiver of information. Clearly, it is more likely that a mixed set of philosophies and expectations will be found and this manifests itself as either a free range farm with diversity of crops intermixed with weeds and bugs, to the monoculture of a apparently healthy crop but devoid of variety and kept ‘orderly’ by a tightly controlled regime of pesticides and herbicides.
The vertical axis reminds me of the teaching vs. faciliating discussion and Susan Mirandi's question as to whether, really, "teaching" is bad, and her observation that in her experience as a student many of her best teachers would today be considered pedagogic dinosaurs: authoritarian and on stage.

There are two points, and a question, that come to mind:

First there is a semantic issue: personally I'd like to reclaim the title "teacher", but with the clear understanding that "didactic" (as in preachy or instructing excessively) is left out. Stephen Powell's label in his schema is the correct one. What I'd like to be able to do as a teacher is take the appropriate role at the appropriate time for my learners (as a group, or individually). That may mean that at times I stand in the front of the room and lecture a bit. Along with Susan, many of the best teachers I've had were in-charge lecturers...they were engaging, electrifying, and were able to personalize the topic so that, well, I got it. These "lecturers" were perhaps better seen as practicing the art form of storytelling. Of course these were special teachers, and not everyone has this talent (but quality facilitating isn't easy either!). The point is that ideally we can do both.

The second point has to do with the synchronous e-learning technology we've been using in our EVO2005 Weblogging course. It's pretty amazing: voice and chat dialogue, private messages among participants, whiteboarding, application sharing so that the group can move throught the web with the instructor, community building tools...very cool stuff. And the instructors have been extraordinary as well. I think I speak for most everyone when I say that these sessions have been rewarding.

And you know what? The sessions are classic examples of "antiquated" pedagogy: teacher-centered, authority on the stage, learners as passive vessels listening attentively to the expert. And you know what else? That's OK. I learned a lot. Lectures can be good. Social constructivist facilitating is good too: let's figure out how to do it in an online environment, maybe with mini-groups breaking off mid-presentation for an IM-powered mini-project, then coming back to present to the group and instructor for discussion, or similar. Note: Nathan Lowell gets my post-of-the-week award for the original insight, although I think our conclusions may ultimately differ.

Last point (the question) and I don't even know exactly how to ask it, so help me out: in the context of teacher/facilitator roles and constructivism social or otherwise, how does the knowledge domain affect the implementation of these methods/philosophies? In other words, are the prescriptive results of our analyses and experience equally valid for Domain A (say, history) and Domain B (say, ESL)? Maybe it's simpler to ask: what (if anything) is special about language learning? Anyone with any insights or resources to share?

Monday, January 31, 2005


...I just saw that in Graham's latest post he's done the same thing I have: re-purposed the BESIG discussion group blogging debate.

Reply to the BESIG discussion group

I'm a member of BESIG, a special interest group within IATEFL. A couple of days ago, I posted a message to the list asking if anyone in the group knew of any business English blogs (looking for gist for my blog-mill)...much debate has ensued, much of it against blogging.

Here's my latest post to the list (BE = business English):

"Hey Eric, David, Graham and all Besig-ers...

Regarding the current mini-debate as to whether blogs are important for BE, I'd like to make three points:

1) I think email, traditional websites, and discussion groups are great. I think blogs are great. All have their place in any profession, and for BE teachers each one is a tool (whether for teaching or professional development) appropriate for some situations and not others. Either/or is not my point. And everyone has their own style and some may prefer discussion groups, and others may prefer blogs. Pluralism is good.

2) Please don't use my woeful blog as an example of a good blog. I didn't, and more importantly that would be a disservice to anyone following this discussion and pondering the points being brought up. And to use my blog as an example for what's wrong with blogging ...well, that's like looking at a draft of the first short story of a beginning writer, and then declaring "literature is a waste of time". My blog has been in existence for less than two weeks! I'm a beginner and am "finding my voice" as the bloggerati say. And when the comments are quantified and analyzed as Eric has done, I agree that they appear to be a poor example of sustained discourse.

Nonetheless my short stint as a beginning blogger has been very enriching for me professionally. It has pushed me to reflect upon and organize my thoughts the way discussion groups haven't (for me, see #1 above). And if you read and click through this debate you'll see that there has been some solid discourse. And Eric's right that this example is only a tempest/teapot thing, but on the other hand several hundred top education technology professionals read James Farmer every day, and I was able to speak with them in a public space, and for me (see #1) that is not somehow inferior to what is happening in this discussion group.

3) Last point: I agree with Eric (again!) that there is a fad/bandwagon effect going on. With blogs, I'm sure we'll see something similar to the internet bubble-crash-consolidation. And I really, really agree with Aaron Campbell's mantra "pedagogy before technology". But I believe that the core technologies of syndication and aggregation will form a central axis for the web (and are doing so already, especially in the perhaps-faddish blog form).

In many professional communities (e.g. software, design, marketing, journalism) thought leaders now use blogging as a (the?) central medium for information, brainstorming and idea interchange. So, back to my original question: does anyone know of any BE blogs?

(Eric, I wish that you would start one...I disagree with your conclusions in your last message, but your argument is stimulating and many points are solid. You'd be a great blogger.)

And, I spent too much time on this forum message, and thus haven't blogged today. So, re-purposing shamelessly, I'm posting this reply verbatim on my blog."


Saturday, January 29, 2005

Me 2.0

Here's the improved functionality for the new release:

From IE to Firefox (maybe, but this precludes some of the following)
From Google to A9
From Yahoo Messenger to...Jabber (?)
From landline to Skype
From "Favorites" to Onfolio
From Blogger to Drupal (incorporated into the web app we're building)
From learner-centered to individual-centered teaching
From learner management to open management

Though a big bang, all-at-once approach is tempting, we'll be doing incremental releases.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Excellent post on learning from the folks at Passionate

This may have been kicked around already, but if you haven't read Most classroom learning sucks, please do. Sample quote:

The best learning occurs in a stimulating, active, challenging, interesting, engaging environment. It's how the brain works. The best learning occurs when you move at least some part of your body. The best learning occurs when you're actively involved in co-constructing knowledge in your own head, not passively reading or listening. (Taking notes doesn't really count as being actively involved.)

People complain that their kids can't pay attention in school, then their kid comes home and spends two hours studying the elaborate world of Halo 2. Reading, absorbing, problem solving, using sophisticated mental maps, and on it goes.

When learning is "presented" in a push model, your brain says, "This is SO not important." You're in for the battle of your life when you try to compete against the brain's natural instinct to scan for unusual, novel, possibly life-threatening or life-enhancing things.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Blogging, pedagogy, and learner differences

As a participant in the weblogging group in EVO 2005, these last ten days have a been both a revelation and a total adrenaline rush. It's been a non-stop "'s the party...look at all the cool people and conversations!"

And one of the most fascinating conversations is at Barbara Ganley's blog. Her combination of enthusiasm, insight, and practical examples is Good Stuff. And when it comes to using blogs with learners, BG walks the talk.

Good Stuff example: BG links to Héctor J. Vila's blog Media Inquiry, where there is a comment by Carl Berger responding the question of how to integrate blogs into more traditional teaching. Carl worries that

it favors the typing literate rather than the vocal literate inordinately.

Boom. Showstopper for me: we can't forget the differences among learners and learning styles. We have to focus on, respect and validate the individuality in each learner. There is a danger with something as new, amazing, and revolutionary as learner blogs: that in our rush towards the New World we leave some learners behind. Following Aaron's mantra "pedagogy before technology" means that we must go beyond learner-centered (e.g. blogs) to individual-centered learning (e.g. blogs as a tool in our toolkit, and a more appropriate tool for some learners than for others).

I think of Juana, a student I worked with a couple of years ago in an intermediate level business English program. As a communicator, she was simply amazing; within minutes of meeting her you were talking with her as though you had been best friends forever. But this wasn't a result of her ability with words -speaking, reading or writing- in her L2 English or her L1 Spanish. It was that she had a special listening ability where she read your body language using some sort of kinesthetic empathy. It was her gift, but how would she practice her gift via CMC? As a teacher, how should I accomodate that gift in an OLE or blended learning environment?

(Actually, I can think of various ways. The point is: I have to remember to ask the question!)

"wikipedia meets hypertext"

Check this out vis-a-vis autonomous self-directed learning (warning: may cause catatonic reverie as mind grapples with ramifications for learning & teaching):

The web as we know it was invented by a British academic working in Switzerland. Is a Nordic academic working in Britain about to redefine it forever?

Frode Hegland, a researcher at University College London, wants to change the basic structure of information on the net.

Hegland's project, Liquid Information, is kinda like Wikipedia meets hypertext. In Hegland's web, all documents are editable, and every word is a potential hyperlink....

...Liquid Information takes Berners-Lee's ideas and runs with them. Hegland's experimental system is geared toward allowing users -- not just writers and editors -- to make connections. Instead of just viewing websites, readers can change the way information is presented, or relate it to other information elsewhere on the web.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


I have to say that the last paragraph of Aaron's post this morning is one of the most motivating things I've read in a long while.

The post also helps me see more clearly the how and why of the resistance to management and the value of subversion in this type of institutional context. Coming from the corporate training environment, I just couldn't get it (note to self: accelerate learning curve!).

From "management" to "open management": semantics and learning outcomes

One way to think of semantics is as the study of the larger system of meaning created by words, which as why I think the dialogue on the term learning "management" among James Farmer (and here), Aaron Campbell, and others is important as well as interesting. Words have power...what larger system of meaning do we refer to when we use the word "management"?

On the one hand management connotes rigidly stifling, top-down, centralized control from an authority (think: Mordor). On the other hand, it connotes goal-setting, resource gathering and allocation, task planning, and interim results monitoring....approaches that are empowering for both learners and teachers. But how can we speak of the latter good stuff without the Saurons of the former overpowering us with their orc-driven connotations? (Which would make WebCT and Blackboard...Saruman? the benign wizard that due to an inherent character flaw is seduced by power and becomes an evil minion?...)

In a wonderful comment to my previous post, Omar Johnstone offers an alternative for when we refer to the Good Stuff:

Expropriating a word is often a labor of Sisyphus, but the only alternative that comes to mind is 'husband' as a verb, and rather than conjure up the whole Herstory thing, I'd prefer to address your ultimate point...

...So what can a teacher do? My role, as I see it, is to facilitate a natural process. To help learning along by offering prudent advice, by revealing resources, and by constant encouragement. I cannot teach anyone anything, but I can help people in lots of other ways.

This, I think, is husbanding. It is what the Arabs call "tarbiyyah", the act of helping something to grow.
(I've distorted the comment by quoting selectively, so please go read it.)

With a nudge from Omar, I've been thinking about this and have decided that -provisionally- I'm going to hijack the term "open management" when referring to the Good Stuff. I think it conveys much of what we're going to do with our English360 application, while the qualifier "open" slays the orcs. So for learning platforms (which could be OLEs or purely analog learning infrastructures) open management refers to structures and processes that promote:
  • self-management skills that foster learner independence and accountability
  • self-directed inquiry - independent and/or collaborative
  • multiple assessment approaches with a focus on introspection/self-assessment
  • transparency: system and data are open to all stakeholders
  • learner-driven ("bottom-up") orientation
  • recognition and validation of all stakeholders (although traditional roles may change)

Over the next few weeks, I'll be adding, subtracting and fleshing out how I feel the open management term applies to language learning OLEs, and the larger system of meaning it entails for learner outcomes. Remember, I'm coming from the corporate language training space, and as always please help me out with your comments.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Liveblogging James Farmer's session on Communication Dynamics and Communities of Inquiry for EVO 2005

OK, I'm liveblogging a talk by James Farmer on "Communication Dynamics: discussion boards, weblogs, wikis and the development of communities of inquiry in online learning environments"
It'll be hard for a newbie (me) to quadruple task: listen, read slides, think, and write - but I'll give it a go. This'll probably reduce my participation level somewhat.

(Note: The session is held in Alado, in the WebHeads group, with live audio and slides (actually webpages). Participants can speak over a microphone or text chat in a window. Sound quality is good, everything works...but I have a rockin' broadband connection, and I wonder about those who don't).

6:04 starting out...Bee is introducing Andrew, who is the guy behind Alado -thanks Andrew!- and now James Farmer, and his multidisciplinary, provocative blog. Over to James...

(I think: JF makes a great presentation introduction, from a communication standpoint: he states session context, objectives, and organization: 7-slide presentation, then Q&A. Good signposting and metalanguage, in business presentation terms.)

Some important paraphrases from the introduction: "If we view educational environments as means to learner independence, WebCT and Blackboard are sometimes the opposite of this, really...too constrained, rigid."

"Our purpose is to ask, regarding Communities of Inquiry, how do we faciliate these communities, how do these dynamics impact our ability to facilitate them."

First slide: JF shows a model with three key, overlapping areas: social, cognitive, and teaching "presences"...and how they all interact. These form a framework for evaluating dynamics of CoI.

"But what's the medium, and how does it effect these three presences".

Main points here regarding mediums:

+ Lecture halls and long corridors -traditional school architecture- are not conducive to group work.

+ Email is good for 1-to-1 only

+ Discussion boards push anonymity - e.g. avatars that hide our identity. But, it's important for learners to project identity. It's hard to sustain discussion on discussion boards: are the messages read? When? With WebCT and Blackboard we don't know. And, responders don't know if you visit back and read their response. Discussion boards don't allow the sustained discourse that CoIs need. In summary, discussion boards and email are limited tools when teachers need to establish the three "presences". They may be better than nothing, but they just don't do a very good job.

JF stops here to ask for discussion from the group, but the comments are text only, as participants (about 25?) are 1. shy about speaking and 2. on a dial-up connection and/or without microphones.

6:22 JF continues (these are paraphrases) "Yahoo Groups has value, for example you can request email responses to particular messages, but it's limited, and hard to participate."

Now JF asks us whether he should move on, or are there any questions" (I think: again, good group mgmt, as we feel participative.)

6:25 Now on to weblogs...JF explains aggregators as "a huge improvement". (I wonder if has he explained what they are well enough for some of the newer-to-blogging participants).

He points out that blogs are chaotic and organic, instead of rigid, planned and structured (someone types in: like life?). A blog is owned by the blogger. It's very much your own identity.

Now JF showing us a slide of a model of 3 possible structures for learner blog relationship with LMSs:

+ keeps blogs walled off "inside" the LMS, for example the LMS Drupal (I wonder: can Drupal also aggregate from outside itself? I think I saw a comment that it could, somewhere.)

+ Or blogs (2 and 3) can sit outside the LMS, which acts as a more of a "mimimalist aggregator", managing the feeds and folders.

JF announces "penultimate page" (I think: he's doing a great job of using signposting/presentation metalanguage. I've trained hundreds of managers in presentation skills, and most are not nearly as good.)

Paraphrase: "How can weblogs help teachers create and nurture the 3 "presences". With blogs you you create an authentic persona.
+ For cognitive presence, you construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse.
+ For social presence: it's motivating, you have a conversation, with linkbacks, and a discourse which is sustained.
+ For teacher presence: you can influence the design, facilitation and direction of cognitive and social processes. Some ask: what if Ss don't subscribe? Answer: Of course they will. Or you can pre-populate the blogspace. The Ts voice, coming through weblog, is much better than email.

6:35 Final slide (my 2 fingers blur over the keyboard) Where to now? Slide has three logos:

1) Drupal: an open source community management system, blogs within the CMS

2) With Wordpress organization has own blog server

3) Schooltool has the potential to do administration (I wrote "freely" here?) and can integrate with Drupal and Wordpress. So we can have a sustainable -low/no cost- learning environment, very flexible, open source and not propriatary

OK, 6:40, time for questions (I think: what about wikis? Did I miss it?)

Question from Aaron regarding the challenges of implementing blogs inside a traditional, slightly rigid institutional there hope?

JF answers (I think: good Q & A technique: JF commented on the question ("Very interesting point Aaron") and and restated the question for the audience - two solid presentation tools). But, I don't understand JF's answer really.

JF asks Aaron: how is Japanese culture vis-a-vis adoption? Aaron answers: challenging; the culture values authority, so much depends on incoming orientation of learners.

(I'm listening to the discussion now and have forgotten to blog - drats!).

Susan Marandi asks a interesting question regarding how to incorporate blogging into the curriculum.

JF answers: journals are a good way. Before, learning/class journals were often filled out in the last 2 weeks of term. Because blogging is socially motivating -with the audience of peers and teacher- journals implemented as blogs are usually maintained throughout the term. Also, you can do private journals as blogs as well, if reflective learning is the idea, so then blogging is the best alternative.

Bee contributes an example here: showing a S's blog, which illustrates many of these points.

James summarizes by offering us a resource: the IncSub organization, which is a good support network for teachers who want to implement blogging, and he invites us all to visit.

We all thank James and we sign off.

(I think: this was great...a discussion led by a global thought-leader, involving interchange among two dozen participants around the world. Fascinating content, fascinating delivery medium.)

Saturday, January 22, 2005

In defense of learning "management"

In an excellent post James Farmer has started a dialogue on blogs and the future of online learning environments, making a most valid contrast between educational software designed to provide closed, centralized control (chorus of booing) vs. software that allows open, decentralized learner independence (delirious applause). In this context he also makes a critical point regarding the issue of learner blog “ownership”, which I won’t summarize here, but which really, really needs to be defined by both educators and their institutions.

Boy, do we ever need to move towards software that allows open, decentralized learner independence - all for it - and the post provides some cogent analysis and examples of how to do it. But I’m worried by how this contrast (closed, centralized vs. open, decentralized) has been framed, because closed, centralized control (bad) is equated with “managed” and management”.

So what's the problem?

The problem is that the concept of management is one of the all-time great things we humans have come up with. I know that in the post the word “management” is referred to in the context of current learning management systems and their limitations, but unfortunately the edublogosphere has picked up the meme “management = bad” from this post and I think it’s a mistake for educators to think that way.

Now I’d certainly agree that “bad management = bad”, or that “Dilbert’s clueless yet authoritarian pointy-haired boss = bad” or that “top-down, closed, centralized control = bad” (well, usually). And I hope that’s what everyone means. But reading this, I’m not sure:

We’re obsessed with management, I reckon. Managing our finances, managing our workplaces, managing our kids schooling, managing our expectations, managing our knowledge, managing things to such a degree that we have squashed personality, differences, argument and life.
If we understand management as visualizing a desired future, establishing that as a goal (say, the best schooling possible for our kids) then coordinating and scheduling resources and tasks to achieve that vision, then, well, management doesn’t squash “personality, differences, argument and life”, management empowers these things.

So for teachers, management is a pretty important ability to help students be able to achieve, because it helps students to be active, independent, and to have a voice. For school administrators, management allows teachers the freedom to focus on facilitating their students’ learning (bad management, of course, impedes this, as do clueless yet authoritarian pointy-haired bosses).

As a business English teacher/consultant in Latin America, I work with adult learners in multinational companies. The overall success rate of our learning programs is, basically, unacceptable. As a result, thousands of people feel stuck, frustrated, and voiceless within their own organizations, and one of the two main reasons for this is a lack of learning management (I’ll discuss both reasons in upcoming posts). Words have power, so let's not use the word "management" as a synonym for what's wrong with learning software or education in general.