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?