Saturday, 16 August 2014

Part III: Experiences with Tabletkoulu

Part III: Some highlights from the previous school year
Last year my colleague from another school and I decided to take a challenge. We started creating an online EFL course with a Finnish start-up company called Tabletkoulu. The pedagogy and underlying guidelines behind this company are inspiring to say the least. The courses are based on methods such as flipped learning, phenomenon-based learning, game-based learning, project-based learning, co-operative learning and self-directed learning. I have always been excited about the possibilities that educational technology has brought to language learning, so it seemed like a natural step to be involved in creating learning material that would benefit from these developments.

What fascinates me are the opportunities to make language alive through authentic learning material and learning experiences, the almost overwhelming world of interacting and sharing, and learning from others. In addition to this, I can see the potential that educational technology has in truly embracing all kinds of language learners with so many individually tailored ways to study.

In the spring term 2014 our course ENA3 Study and work was still under construction but I wanted to test some parts of it with my students. To cut a very long story short, here are some random observations on using the material:

  •  The students worked either on computers or iPads. They worked either on their own, in pairs, in small groups and at times I was instructing them.
  • This is what the table of contents of the course looks like:
    Table of contents
  • Because of the time restrictions we only had time to study sections two and three. In addition to this, we studied grammar whenever it felt natural. For example, the course material has several interviews with direct questions. They were easily converted into indirect questions, and we observed what it did to the word order. Similarly, when writing a CV or a covering letter, you naturally use adjectives. This is when we also studied how to use comparison and quantifiers.
  • Not all my students enjoy speaking in English, thus writing their comments on discussion forum encouraged them to use the language without being too stressed about the pronunciation, for example. 
  • The material has many exercises that encourage students to co-operate and get out of the classroom, for example, to make interviews, record them and use the target language. Each exercise has also a discussion forum. This turned out to be really handy because it made the conversation visible if needed. 
  •  I was surprised to see how engaging the exercises were. As the students were doing them, they were able to gain points after finishing each exercise. This motivated them to collect more points. Encouraged by this, we then decided that the exercise points would be added to their course exam points (course exam consisted of a listening comprehension test and four short theme-related essays). Thus, the actual work done during the course became a visible factor in the student evaluation. 
  • While some students were really quick in moving from one exercise to another, others struggled with them. I found myself being more aware of the difficulties the students had as I could follow their progress in their portfolios. As many students carried on doing the exercises independently, I had more time to help those who had difficulties. 
  • The platform allowed teachers to add their own material in it. This was a great feature! For example, when studying school related vocabulary, I thought it was important for my students to be able to speak about their own school in English. So I was able to add material that was specific for my students. The students themselves also participated in searching the material, for example, finding relevant vocabulary on our school English website.
  • The material also includes exercises which introduce the students to the use of, for example Twitter, LinkedIn and Khan Academy.
  • The platform also enables collaboration between the teachers who are using the same course material. You can start a conversation not only with your own group of students but also nationwide with all the users. I had no chance to try this out. It would be interesting, though and I very much like the idea of teachers sharing their ideas and experiences. 
  •  The theme-related vocabulary on study and work for the course can be found on Quizlet. Click here to see the vocabulary sets.
  • My students are big fans of Quizlet (well, most of them are :) At some point there was a huge race of the gold medal in Scatter and Space Race. The students got so into practising the vocabulary that it was their wish to have more vocabulary testing. For this purpose I used, for example, Socrative or pair work with word definitions.
  •  All in all, I enjoyed using the course material and the feedback from the students was mainly positive. However, some students told me after the course that they would prefer to have “something concrete to hold in their hands” after the course. Some of them printed the vocabularies on Quizlet to ease this anxiety.
To see how some parts of the course material look like, take a look at these photos.

The topic of today?
Surveying bullying

2.2 Schools abroad

What is studying like in ... ?

We can work it out!

The right kind of applicant

Professional working proficiency test
4.2. Learner profiles

Extrovert, introvert - does it matter?

By myself

Speaker's corner

Project: Education news

I love learning new words

Practice makes perfect

If you want to learn more about Tabetkoulu, check out their website here. The link is in Finnish but all the team members speak English.

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