Saturday, 13 February 2010

Informal Learning: Part Dos

Four weeks in and the Spanish class is settling down to some good work. Our tutor is continuing to bring written material for us to work on and the combination of reading outloud, translating on the hoof, chatting and discussing topics is going quite well. Most people seem to feel that we are actually learning more than we did previously (I certainly am)!

There has however been some discussion via email about the topics and format of the classes and whether they were suitable for everyone, and so last week we had a quick review to check everyone was getting what they needed from the process.

We have subsequently agreed to do more "every day" chat topics - to give those with a more limited vocabulary a chance to join in - and each person is going to bring an article or other piece of writing to share and discuss alongside the material that the tutor prepares.

It is no small feat really that we managed to work out all the costs, find a room, a tutor, get everyone to pay up front without major disagreements amongst nine very strong minded individuals and the very slight note of dissent about what we were doing in class has resulted in everyone getting more of a say in what we do in future.

********************************************************** also continues to be a great source of fun and learning. It provides a huge amount of vocabulary and subtle encouragement to explore grammar at the same time.

I really love the "gaming" feel of the site - right and wrong answers are signified by sound effects, points are awarded for completing sections of work and the learner's "homepage" is a garden where your trees grow and gifts are added as you progress.

You are encouraged to network by the award of a gold heart if you get lots of friends. Online chat is still a daunting prospect for me but I enjoyed a discussion in two languages with a young man from Mallorca the other day - he wrote in English and I in Spanish, and we corrected each other as we went along. Another time, I chatted in English to an Italian housewife who is trying to learn the language whilst her kids are at school.

I think the reward aspect is very powerful: even the element of competition (similar to Farmville I suspect). My partner , my son and I are all competing to get the highest number of points,(or busberries!) for example. The fact that this is encouraging my son to study French alongside his normal homework and revision is an astounding achievement. And even more amazing is the way it has completely hooked my normally technophobe partner who has never been on Facebook or any other social networking site.

It has made me start to think about how I could introduce more elements of gaming, competition, reward, networking and fun into the distance/e-learning programmes I manage - I am sure with some creative thinking it must be possible to liven up the VLE and make people want to log on for another dose of learning?

One of the other really good things about the site is the way you get instant feedback - not just automated right/wrong on the multiple choice vocabulary tests but in the form of corrections from native speakers (other learners who happen to be on line) - bringing peer feedback into the equation too! This has two effects - for the person being corrected, you get speedy feedback from an expert or experts (in the sense that they are native speakers of the language you are learning) - sometimes you might get two or more options for translating a particular phrase. Secondly, as you are also required to correct another learner's posts you get the feeling yourself of being an expert and of being able to contribute to someone else's development. Oh and those all important 5 busberries!

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