Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Growing, Changing Syllabus

This is an exciting time to be a teacher!  The internet now allows teachers to innovate, collaborate on, and share ideas for using technology to meet learning objectives.  I have been teaching courses about the use of the Internet in second/foreign  language teaching through the State University of NY at Buffalo since 2004.  My course became an online course called Educational Uses of the Internet in 2006.   The present online course is called Technologies in Second Language.

Who were my students?
Since the course deals with ever changing tools for learning, I find myself updating the syllabus before  each new semester.  Before the upcoming fall 2013 semester, I thought it would be a good reflective activity to see how the course has changed over time.

What resources did we use?
In the beginning students from many different disciplines took my course because of a dearth of courses on using technology in their own fields.  I encouraged students to tailor each mod to their own interests and I felt that all the participants in the course learned a lot from having multiple viewpoints. At that time the text was Egbert and Hanson-Smith's (1999) CALL Environments: Research, Practice and Critical Issues  and articles which students could find on reserve in the campus library .

However, in 2006 I began to use Will Richardson's text  Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms.  His book was unique in that he discussed the tools in K-12 school contexts, giving many examples of what teachers had been done and could do with Internet tools in the future.  I used Richardson's text in its many revised editions until this semester (fall 2013) and supplemented it with online articles dealing with second language learning and technology. 

Unfortunately like all texts dealing with technology, Richardson's text became somewhat out-dated, so I have begun to use only online articles and videos.  There is no longer a dearth of information or courses on educational uses of the Internet, there is an explosion!  So I am now narrowing the focus of the course to second/foreign language learning.

What has gradually become more important?
Over time I have put more emphasis on the visual aspect of learning.  Throughout the course, the students use Voice Thread and, eventually, they create their own Voice Thread lessons.  They also craft digital stories using tools for creating photo-stories and comic strip generators.  They also have to include images in their blog posts  and curate website through Scoop.it.

Who did students collaborate with?
Another change that I can see is in my course is that over the years there has been a shift in the types of collaboration..  In the first few years my students interacted primarily with the other participants in the course.  For example, they created detailed webquests and gave each other feedback.  They were also encouraged to join appropriate listservs.  However, the emphasis in the ensuing  years has been on requiring the students to widen their own PLNs (personal learning network) by joining  Nings, following educational bloggers and attending Twitterchats.  In that way, they will be connected educators in the future and will be able to stay up-to-date.

What's the latest new thing?
One of the newest mods in my course is "Games in Second/foreign LanguageLlearning.  Although gaming has been a growing force in education for the last few years, little work was available on its application for language learners.  However,  that is beginning to change and there is now enough information  to include a mod on gaming.


These are the two biggest gradual changes that have occurred in my course:
  • An emphasis on having the students create an effective personal learning network.
  • An emphasis on having students learn about digital tools not only to use them personally but also to teach their own students to use them creatively.

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