Tuesday, June 04, 2019

My Take on the JALT CALL Conference (June 1, 2019)

I presented at the JALT CALL Conference on June 1, 2019 with 4 teacher-colleagues from Bangkok. I presented how we customized Wordpress to serve as a Lesson Study App and its positive and negative aspects. The APP is used to facilitate student-teacher development and knowledge generation of teaching methodology. My colleagues presented about their experiences using the APP. We use this APP for a teaching internship done by my university in Thailand.

A grand total of two people 😞 attended our presentation. This was disappointing, but I understood the reason why. The majority of the presentations at JALT CALL seemed to be about online apps or activities that people could immediately make use of. I think that what I am doing is original, but only a wordpress expert would leave my presentation with something they could soon use. Perhaps, my presentation is best for the WordPress conferences.

Despite this, the conference itself and even the presentation were worthwhile. The presentation was a chance for me to consolidate everything my colleague (Simon) and I have done to convert Wordpress to a Lesson Study App. It was also a good chance for me to get on the same page with my colleagues from Thailand. I realize that it is now time to write up what we have done, I am hopeful that it will be useful to somebody and somewhere.

The conference exposed me to tons and tons of online tools for research and learning which I will summarize below. It was so exciting to know about all the options out there but overwhelming. Through experience, I have learned that adopting online education tools is a gradual process. First, you need to figure out what it can do, then you need to figure out whether the tools' features can help you accomplish your classroom learning objectives, lastly, you need to implement it. During the implementation stage, as my understanding of what the technology improves, both my teaching procedures and the way I use the tool change so that they begin to match each other. this process can last up to a year or more for me.

Having said all that, here are the exciting new tools I learned about at the conference.   

Research tools
Youtube studio can be used for free to transcribe interviews. I do not think it could be used for classroom interactions which has too much background noise, but the accuracy rate (which I cannot remember) seems to be equivalent to the software which costs money. If I had know about this when doing my PhD research, I probably could have saved a lot of time.

Learning Management Systems (LMS)
Before, I had primarily been familiar with Moodle, which is free, but an institution has to install it on their server, which requires time and money. Google classroom 
and Schoolology are free and all the data is stored on their cloud so one does not have to worry about server management. However, to use Google classroom your institution has to register its domain with them, which could be challenging bureaucratically. It seems that with Schoolology, individual teachers can use it easily. Also, it seems to be designed for students to use on their phones, which means you do not need a computer room. Supposedly, Moodle now offers a cloud service. I think these cloud services could potentially save time and money, but is it safe to entrust all your data to a third party?

Online Language Learning Tools
The keynote speech by Dr. Evgeny Chukharev-Hudilainen was very entertaining. He introduced his own language learning program, Linguatorium, which he says is supported by psycholinguistic research and empirically proven to work. However, it costs students a little bit of money. He had some interesting things to say about Duolinguo, which my son uses to study Chinese. I am also waiting for Duolingo to come out with the Thai or Burmese language. However, he said that Duolingo, to his knowledge, is neither based on the science of language learning nor has it been empirically tested. However, it remains very popular.

Dr. Hiroaki Ogata  gave a plenary on Learning analytics, discussing how software can be used to analyze and inform the teacher about a students' informal and formal classroom learning. The presentation was a little over my head, but the appeal of using technology to understand how each student is grasping with classroom learning is appealing.

Lastly, I saw Ms. Lorna Layantes Beduya present about using Metaverse in language classes. Metaverse is hard to describe but it looks to me to be kind of like an interactive trivia application that students can make to teach each other about a topic. For example, in my international understanding class, I could probably use Metaverse for students' country presentations.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Danger of Groupwork without Feedback

I was reading John Hattie's Visible Learning for Teachers, which is a readable summary of a meta-analysis on thousands of studies investigating effective teaching practices. I was struck by on thing in particular:

“Most of the feedback that students receive about their classroom work is from other students – and much of that feedback is wrong.”

 One of the reasons I do groupwork in my classes is so that students will support eachother. Usually, students work in pairs or groups of four. In my teacher education classes, the class sizes range from 24 to 30 students. It is difficult to monitor 12 to 15 pairs or 6 to 8 groups but I always assumed that students would be able to support each other. After reading Hattie, though, I thought that I needed to do a better job of monitoring groups.

In my "English Teaching Methodology 3" (ETM 3) class, we were reading about "Practice Activities and Tasks" in the TKT Course Module 1,2,3. I gave three questions to the class about the main ideas of the chapter and had them answer these questions in pairs. This time, though, in our Wordpress class blog, using WPDiscuz, I posted each question as a comment on the lesson page for that day. The groups then had to post their answers as replies to the comments (See below).

To my surprise, most of the pairs answered the below question incorrectly.
2.What is the difference between skill-based and language based activities? Can you provide and example from the New Crown or Sunshine textbook?

I actually thought the concept of skill and language focused lessons would be easy for students to grasp. Because I could see students' comments, we could discuss the issue deeper: I could understand what many of the students were thinking and they could understand what I wanted the to learn. I saw one way that technology could be used as a means for the teacher to understand the extent to which students are grasping comments and make the appropriate intervention.


Saturday, April 20, 2019

Wordpress Multisite for Education, Server Requirements, GoDaddy

The past few years, I have been using ePortfolios in my English Teaching Methodology classes. I experienced one incredibly significant problem for almost three years but because of my own stubbornness continued to use wordpress multisites. Wordpress multisites are a network of blogs; there is a main site and then under that, a “subsites.” Each student had their own site for which to create and publish an ePortfolio detailing their development over the span of two years of taking English Teaching Methodology courses (I am an English teacher trainer).

To teach students how to write in their ePortfolios, I would hold a class in the computer room. What happened was after 8 students logged in, the remaining students would receive a “cannot connect to server error.” This error is shown in the first picture below in Japanese. In order for students to be able to properly write into their ePortfolios, they need a good hour to work independently and receive help from friends or their instructor when they are in trouble. If they have this chance, they will understand how to use wordpress. However, when I experienced this “cannot connect to server” problem, I would have to ask students to write into their ePortfolios by themselves at home. Of course, some students just cannot figure it out by themselves, so a lot of students would have to meet with me individually, which took 10 times more of the time it would have taken if all the students would have been able to log in and edit their ePortfolios at once. Also, there were always some students who did not seek me out for help so they never learned to write into their ePortfolios 
correctly. If I could have conducted one class where everyone could edit their own site at once, I would not have had these problems.

The server provider, Godaddy, said that it was a university network problem. I pestered the university network technicians for a couple of years. At first, they were incredulous that it was a problem with the university network. At the same time, Godaddy seemed to be equally incredulous that is was a problem on their end. This is an important point: for IT, we rely on different service providers and when there is a problem, they are likely to point their fingers at one another. It becomes the client’s job to provide enough evidence to one of the providers that the issue is likely with them. 

I was able to confirm that the ePortfolio URLs were not being blocked by the university firewall. Additionally, the network administrator asked our network provider to come to the university and conduct tests. They confirmed that a signal was actually leaving the university network but not returning as it should. With this information, I called goDaddy support. The first time, the person on the phone said that he believed me but could not give me an answer why this problem was occurring. I called goDaddy support again about a week later, and the person on the phone said that I was on a shared server plan and the server cannot provide enough resources to have 30 people log in at once. BINGO. That was the issue we had been experiencing for over two years! Why did it take so long? Afterwards, I read “Wordpress for dummies” and it said that Wordpress Multisites will not work well on a shared server.  

After this two year odyssey, I wonder why it took so long to get this answer from goDaddy. Multisites should be hosted on Virtual Private Servers or Private Servers. Luckily, my university has provided a Virtual Private Server for me and I have moved the site from goDaddy to there using a plugin called All-in-one-WP-Migration . In fact, this plugin did a much better migration than the technician at goDaddy did when they had moved the site previously.

The morals of this story are

  1. If you want to do a wordpress multisite, for heavens sake, use a virtual private server!
  2. GoDaddy in my opinion is not knowledgeable of WordPress multisites. In fact, there were other instances of terrible or downright incorrect advice they gave me about multisites that I did not write in this entry. My colleague was able to resolve the problems that they would have charged me a lot of money to handle. Some of these problems were caused by them when they migrated sites (This is another blog entry). I do not want anyone else to suffer like I did. If you want to do multisites, GoDaddy is, in my brutally honest opinion, close to useless. 

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

I am alive

Gosh darn it has been a long time since my last post. The past four years I have finished my PhD, been continuing to work on various projects, and have been raising a family. I thought that writing a blog would take away from other things, but I am starting to realize that writing is a better way to learn something than just reading.

I have a new and improved home page here: https://logos.edu.iwate-u.ac.jp/jhoffice/james-m-halls-homepage/

That is all for now.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Taking a walk in Yangon on October 18, 2015

I meant to write this in my blog a long time ago. First, it took hours for me to figure out how to trace my path on google maps. After that, I weas so burned out that I did not think about this for a couple of months!

Anyway, on a Sunday in mid-October I took a 6 hour walk in Yangon and thought people could learn from my experience. When I am in Yangon on non-working days, I am usually by myself and can only go so long without other human contact. Invariably I am approached by people in Yangon and end up striking up a conversation with them. When I am visiting a famous attraction, a polite and usually articulate person will approach me with the intention of extracting money from me in some manner. In countries like Thailand, I successfully avoid these people; I have read about the scams in Lonely Planet, 地球の歩き方, or the internet, and I am confident in identifying scammers.

Myanmar, though, is different. It is harder for me to understand the extent of people's sincerety. I really have no references in the guide books about what to do when people approach you at famous attractions so I basically go with my instinct.

So, let me talk about my walk. I started near Boyoge Market at the Point A at the bottom of the map and walked to Shwedagon Pagoda. It took a little over 30 minutes. Basically, I spent 90 minutes walking around extensive grounds surrounding the pagoda and absorbing the atmosphere. The central stupa has altars (fountains and a stand for burning incense) representing days of the week placed arounds its perimeter. People will go to the altar for the day of the week they were born and pray. I used the available wifi to look up the day of the week which I was born, Friday. I was too shy to pray though because I did not know how. As I was about to leave, an elderly man with an official tour guide badge caught me at the exit. After some small talk, he offered to show me how to make a prayer at the "Friday corner" (See below). My tour guide walked very slowly and I wondered how he could take someone on a tour of the whole premises.

   Since nearly three months have passed, I have forgotten the exact order of procedures but I will recount what I remember. First, we prayed for my health and poured a cup of water over the head of the Buddha. After that we prayed for my success, love life, family, and something else followed by pouring water over the statue. The man was very erudite, and elderly.  He guided me in a very gentle manner and he seemed to be very sincere and genuinely interested in teaching me something as well as looking out for my welfare. He said that he was a former history professor but that the government had denied his pension. He was making a living by acting as a tourguide. He told me he needed about 10,000 kyat (about 10 US dollars) to pay off work-permission fee to the pagoda. I gave it to him and said good bye. The man stayed behind at the Friday corner to pray some more.

Next, I walked from Shwedagon Pagoda towards Boyoge Park. Below is a picture of the street near the rotary on the map. The way to cross the street is to run to the median strip when you can and wait there for an opportunity to cross the other side of the street. I usually run when crossing the street in these situations because it is difficult for me to judge how fast the cars are going and they don't really slow down or brake for pedestrians.

My goal was to walk to the reclining Buddha by taking some back roads. I had my iPad with me which seemed to show a way to take the backroads. However, I ended up getting lost on Ngar Ptit Gyi Pagoda Street. Below is a picture of the street.
To my interest, I ended up walking by a monastic school for disadvantaged youths. Little did I know that I would actually be visiting the school later in the day.

After walking for another 5 minutes, I realized that I was INCREDIBLY thirsty to the extent that I felt too weak to walk. Fortunately, I found a eating establishment on the side of the road and was able to get a glass bottle of pepsi. There is nothing like drinking cold soda out of a glass bottle in a tropical climate to wet a parched throat. After leaving the restaurant, some gentlemen on the side of the road told me I was going the wrong way. He said something and then pointed to a pathway. I wanted to go to Chauk Htat Gyi or the reclining Buddha. However, I realized that I had absolutely know idea how to pronounce Chauk That Gyi so I hadn't the faintest clue what the man was directing me to. I decided that it must be the reclining Buddha so I took the small path. The picture below is the small path and is represented by the small black line on the map (To the right of the hospital).

The path seemed to zigzag quite a bit and I really had no idea where I was. Eventually, I ended up on what seemed to be Shwegadon Pagoda Road. The Reclining Buddha was supposed to be off this road so I was close. However, my iPad was no longer able to show me my location and I could not get my bearings. Also, by this time, I was really starting to feel hot and tired. I am not a tropical person. My brain stopped working and I ended up walking in the opposite direction of the reclining Buddha. Eventually, I realized the error of my ways, turned around, and located the hospital so I knew I was close. However, the entrance to the reclining Buddha was not very clear to me, and I walked passed it. I decided to give up on the reclining Buddha and instead went to the Five Story Buddha or Nga That Gyi Pagoda (the namesake of the street I have been traversing earlier). My path there is represented by the shorter black line on the map.

The five story Buddha was actually stunning. Not only the Buddha but the ornately carved wooden screen behind it had me captivated. I say on a bench for about three minutes in a kind of trance until another elderly gentleman sat next to me and tried to make small talk. I was exhausted and really wanted to be left alone to admire the Buddha. The man said he lived on the premises and invited me to visit the monastery where he lived. I thought eventually I would be required to make some kind of donation and I was not up to it. I politely refused but the man sat next to me looking kind of sad. I took out my iPad and pretended to read my guidebook. He sat next to me for a few minutes and then said it looked like I was busy so he would leave. With a sad look on his face he said to me, "Have a nice life," which made me feel kind of like a modernist jerk. 

After a few more minutes of admiring the Buddha I stood up only to hear a voice behind me ask, "Where are you from?" The voice came from a fairly well-dressed man with almost impeccable English. He told me that he was an English teacher from a school and showed me the picture. It was actually the school I had walked by. He asked me if I would like to see the school and I said yes. I was wary that I would likely be asked for money, but because I am designing teaching materials for Myanmar elementary schools, I could not refuse the offer. As I walked out of the temple with the "teacher," the modest monk who I had been talking to before gave me a look like I had made the wrong choice. I had a brief tour of the school and was able to talk to some of the students, see a classroom, and learn about the kind of textbooks that they used. To be honest, I was not entirely convinced my guide was a teacher but he did have full access to the school, answered my questions, and introduced me to students. After my little tour, he asked for a donation. I gave him what I thought was a respectable sum for a mini-tour and to my surprise he asked me for more (This led me to doubt his credentials).

By this time, I had lost just about all my energy. I walked to the Clover Hotel near Boyoge Park and took a taxi to my hotel in downtown Yangon. It was around 2PM and I had left my hotel at 8AM. When I got back to the hotel, I went right to a restaurant which had western food and thus catered to a mostly foreign clientele. When I left the restaurant it was pouring rain and a girl who was about 10 was sitting on the sidewalk with nothing to cover her and begging for money. I went back to the hotel feeling depressed. Might my "generosity" (For example with the "school teacher" or see my March post) be misguided and doing more harm than good?  Hopefully in the end I can say that I did some good in Myanmar.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Foreign Language Education and Technology Conference at Harvard University

From August 11 to 15 I attended the Foreign Language Education and Technology Conference (FLEAT) at Harvard University. To the left is a picture of me speaking. However, the highlight of the conference for me was not my sparsely attended presentation about using ePortfolios in teacher education but rather the abundance of presentations about the latest and greatest technological tools for enhancing student learning.

A lot of these tools are pretty exciting so I have decided to make a record of the ones I can remember on my blog. I am doing this so I do not completely forget every thing I learned last week. I also hope this might be useful to anyone who might be interested.

Online multimedia creation tools
These all come from Keah Cunningham's presentation. If you click on her link, you can get directions on how to use the below programs:

Keep vid: You can download youtube videos on this website.
VLC Media Player: This application can be downloaded and used to extract media from a film on DVD. It's free.
Pic Monkey: You can edit images for free online
TwistedWave: Online audio editing.
JumpShare: An easy way to share files if you do not want to deal with Dropbox
Zamzar: Enables you to convert video, audio, document files to a variety of formats. Very good.

Online courses
Duolingo: According to the dean of eLearning at Harvard this site is the future of online language learning. You can study foreign languages for free.
Shaping the way we teach English:  A free online course for teaching English as a foreign language. It is run by professors at the University of Oregon but funded by the US government. Anyone can join.
American English: Tons of online resources for learning US English as well as culture.

Really cool online tools which probably require a little time to learn and might cost a little money
Thinglink: It allows you to make interactive images. For example, you can show a map of your neighborhood and mark your favourite restaurants. When the users click on one of the restaurants, they can see a description, a picture you took of the food, a video of you eating there etc. I definitely want to use this someday. It would be good for project work.

Voicethread: This allows you to make voiced over slide shows using multiple narrators.  It looks cool but it also seems like it would take a while to learn.

Padlet: This allows you to create an online bulletin board, interactive image, or wall. When I saw the demonstration at FLEAT it seemed really cool but I cannot quite remember it now.

I got some good ideas for other programs I can use for ePortfolios such as Wordpress or Weebly. I currently use Mahara but the new version runs incredibly slowly on my university server and I am considering switching to a more reliable and simpler program. Anyway, I will save that for another post.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Reading 日本人に相応しい英語教育 (Suitable English Education for Japanese)

I bought this book nearly two years ago and it had been sitting on my book shelf since. I decided that it was time for me to read it and I assigned it as reading for a graduate school seminar (for non-English majors) after we had read the book "英語教師のための第二言語習得論入門" (An Introduction to Second Language Acquisition for English Instructors) which advocated a communicative approach to teaching English in Japan. 
日本人に相応しい英語教育 (Suitable English Education for Japanese) by Hajime Narita strongly advocates translation and explicit grammar instruction as an appropriate teaching methodology to use with Japanese students.

Admittedly, I am more in the CLT (Communicative language teaching) camp, but I thought some of the arguments in this book were compelling. Professor Narita emphasises that a communicative approach might be appropriate for students whose L1 is closer to English because their grammar systems (verb tense, article usage, word order) are similar. The "linguistic distance" between English and Japanese is significantly greater and thus learners will need more explicit instruction because they will be unable to pick up rules through just input or communication. This made me reflect on how challenging it has been for me to learn to speak acceptable  Japanese. Language learning is not just fun, it is hard and sometimes tedious work.  In my teacher education classes I advocate a "communicative approach" but I worry that I could be misleading student-teachers into thinking that learning English comes from carefree communication. I have written about this before but it seems that so many teachers teach classes with either too much incredibly boring instruction and monotonous drilling or too many poorly conducted "communicative activities" rather than a pragmatic balance of both. Classes need to have a balance with concise and clear instruction, active and challenging drills, and engaging communicative activities.

Next up on my reading list will be "Effective English Instruction Appropriate for Japanese Learners" written by three of my buddies. Maybe they can point me in a better direction.