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.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

New Year - new books

I spent a wonderful 30 days with family over the holidays - in Florida and Colorado - and returned to Caracas last week. The Colorado - Venezuela transition made for a striking nature juxtaposition: last Tuesday I was mountain hiking in Eldorado Canyon in the snow (starkly beautiful) and two days later I was mountain hiking in the Avila National Park in the jungle (lushly beautiful).


Also cool is...lots of new books. I can't get the reading I need down here, and shipping to Caracas is prohibitively expensive, so of course in the US I went wild with Amazon's free shipping (my luggage was heavy). Here's my take on the first two reads, both on entrepreneurship:

A Good Hard Kick in the Ass by Rob Adams goes over the tech company start-up drill from a VC's perspective. This isn't where my company's at; still, there were some useful points for me:

  • brilliant ideas are common - the only thing that counts is "execution capability" (significance for my project: my nifty language teaching software idea doesn't mean squat at this point).
  • you may think you know your customer, but you're probably clueless - know and validate your customers and your market, again and again (significance for my project: the fact that I've taught, managed, and consulted on business English with about 50 multinationals over the last 15 years doesn't mean squat, either).

See why the title is appropriate?

The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki - Only halfway through, but I can state with this book. Guy Kawasaki was on the original Macintosh team at Apple, and is famous for his brilliantly entertaining Silicon Valley conference presentations. Whether you want to start a business, a project, or a new learning technology initiative in your university ESL department, you're going to have to sell the idea to someone - and then get going on it....

Upcoming: Rod Ellis' Task-based Language Learning and Teaching (typically Ellis at 400 pages)

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

OK, here we go...

Hey! I'm Cleve, and I'm a business English teacher and consultant currently based in Caracas. Most of the time I'm running a software start-up; we're building a web application that helps English teachers improve the language performance of their adult students. I also teach classes and workshops, and consult for corporate customers on effective language program design and management.

So, why this blog?

Well, first off, I've just begun a short online course on using blogs for language teaching, either with students or as a reflective tool (so far, the course is great - a community of practice of 150+ professionals from over 30 countries). Starting a personal blog is one of the Week 1 assignments. So this is the proximate cause of English360.

But of course I've been meaning to start blogging for a year or two now. I have a lot of ideas about my profession, and I'd like to share them with you. Agree or disagree, both or neither, but share your thoughts in the comments section....