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.