Last weekend, my presentation entitled PLEs for Teaching ESL and Effective Practice went well. It was mainly an Alberta crowd, so it was a friendly audience. I was pleasantly surprised that there were about 25 people who turned up for the session. What was particularly interesting was the "women of a certain age"--a group of which I'm definitely a member--who spoke with me afterwards. They said that they found it empowering to hear these ideas and the information from someone female and from someone in their own age group. I put the presentation on a wiki (no hand-outs) to force people to go to the wiki and hopefully contribute ideas of their own.
I wasn't presenting on the actual tools and applications that I use in my teaching as I am rather constrained in that area, and I've been presenting on my blogs for a few years now. So my contribution to tools and applications for this week's #PLENK2010 discussion is also somewhat limited. The LMS is moodle. I am not allowed any hands-on role within that, although I can opt to ask for certain applications. I use tools and applications (other than the LMS) most often as enhancements in the courses I teach. Students can earn bonus points for participation in the blogs--not real blogs but activities using blog technology because I want to marry the idea of exercises with some social networking opportunities for students learning online. I have also introduced reflective online journals, using elgg, on some courses, and these are compulsory. They do the job I wanted them to do--make students reflect on their writing, the writing process, and improve their own writing. I also provide students with online resources that will enahnce the learning experience, and their learning, if they choose to use them.
Unfortunately there is no realistic way to to adopt PLEs into my courses. Students need to come out from these courses with certain writing skill sets, and they have to demonstrate their ability through assignments and a final exam. In turn, students often use these courses as requirements for entry to various programs at universities across the country. If AU is to be seen as a credible university, I have to maintain that standard. I can hope that students will start to develop their own PLEs and have the intellectual curiosity to pursue their learning for reasons other than strict necessity, but only a few students have exhibited such motivation. Without some incentive, I can't get students to participate in extra, online activities. With the blogs, I had to resort to bonus points for participation--without that, students can't see that there is any pedagogical usefulness, even though I won't add activities without having such a foundation. As it is, only 15 to 20% participate in these optional, online activities. I have come to realize that if I want students to participate in something, it has to be compulsory. After completing the online journals, however, it is gratifying to see the number of students who write very positive comments about the experience and what they have learned from it. They just don't appreciate it when they are presented with it at the start of a course.
I find a readier audience amongst my professional peers from whom I have learnt so much. The webheads-in-action group is the best! I only regret that I don't have the freedom to use many of the tools I have learned about because of the requirement that we use sites hosted in Canada (with a few exceptions); I have managed to use blogger because I don't collect student data, they only use their first names, and there's a warning video up front about the internet and privacy courtesy of the Government of Canada. I also try to spread the word to my peers--I've started groups within The Landing at AU for colleagues to work together and collaborate, and I present on various internet related topics and language teaching at conferences. I co-moderate a local CALL-sig and a related blog.
Sometimes it might not seem like much in the grand scheme of internet possibilities, but I also realize that I have come a long way in a fairly short time. My message to my audience is always "If I can do it, so can you!"