Friday, 15 August 2014

Part I: One step towards going paperless - Studying a course without the traditional course book

Part I: Some highlights from the previous school year

I wanted to try something different with my students. So I asked them how they’d feel about the idea of studying the course without a course book, and their response was positive. I’d taught this course several times before, therefore I was pretty familiar with the contents and objectives outlined in the curriculum and felt quite confident in saying goodbye to the course book for a while. Our course was called ENA7 Nature and Sustainable Development.

We had access to computers as well as iPads so I wanted to make use of them. The project for the students was to create their own website on a course-related topic. They needed to do some background studying, learn new vocabulary, find suitable photos and videos or create them by themselves. To make their sites more reader-friendly, they also created a glossary on essential vocabulary and added some questions for their peers to comment on.

As we know, a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are some photos of their work (they kindly gave me the permission to publish them here).

This is the home page with the students' topics on the left-hand margin.

An example of one site (a part of it)

Some students used word clouds to create illustration for the site.

An example of a glossary

Some questions for the fellow-students

I was really pleased to see the intensity of their studying. The students seemed to read more and with more enthusiasm than what they normally did with the course book (which, by the way, is awesome, too!).

Summa summarum, these were the benefits in my view:
  • Apart from a few texts I chose for all the students to study, they chose the majority of their own reading. This gave them an opportunity to critically evaluate the information offered. 
  • Being able to choose the topic for their project gave them a sense of ownership for their own learning. It was great to watch them work with their topics with such motivation.Everybody didn’t have to do exactly the same thing. I really liked the fact that the students could find the topics (within the course theme) that they found interesting. The learning process started from their own interests, and it was not something that the teacher decided for them.
  • They were in total control of their own websites and they could make them look as they wanted to. Again: ownership for their own learning.
  • Some of them wanted me to take a look at their texts before publishing them, this was easily done by sharing their work with me on Google Docs.
  • Later they studied the other students’ projects and gave feedback on them. I think it was important for them to get feedback from their peers. Since this was already their seventh course, they had had plenty of practice with this.
  • In case any of my Finnish colleagues are interested in knowing how the evaluation worked, this is how we did it: the project (100 points), the listening comprehension test (a previous year’s national exam 90 p.), vocabulary and grammar exercises and additional reading (110p.). So the students could gain max. 300 points of the whole course and those points were then turned into a school grade as usual.
Some other observations:
  • Young students seem to be using their smartphones and iPads a lot for entertaining purposes. However, I think many still need guidance and advice on how to use their devices for learning. There are some many possibilities for that!
  • I can’t put enough emphasis on copyright issues. As mentioned before, this was already our seventh course together, and I had started to talk about copyrights already from course one. For some reason, this theme needs to be covered again and again.
  • Sometimes it can get frustrating when the machines are not working. For example, the iPads seemed to have a mind of their own. Sometimes the reception was good and they worked well, but sometimes they didn't.

The technological side of things: 
  • We created the website with Google Sites. This worked out fine since my students have Google accounts from our school.  Google Sites also allowed students to comment on their projects. 
  • Some students used an iPad app called Tag Cloud to create word clouds for the website.
  •  Some students tried using an iPad app called Morfo for creating a video with audio (this was so much fun!).
  • To ensure theme-related vocabulary practice I created some Quizlet vocabularies which were a compulsory part of the course.  My students are pretty familiar with Quizlet and most of them create their own sets. How great is that!

  • Our school uses online platform called Fronter where I had prepared some grammar and vocabulary tests for my students. I created a course room on Fronter (this is how they are called) with the link to our website and to all other exercises. So this was the place where all the course information and assignments were gathered.

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