Saturday, 27 February 2010

A Virtual Revolution


I'd obviously be remiss in my devotion to all things virtual (well nearly all) if I didn't offer some reflections on BBC Two's The Virtual Revolution

I would recommend anyone with a passing interest in the Internet, e-learning, social networking - or even anyone with kids! - to take a look at this three part series.

I found it fascinating to understand the origins of the Internet and of the world wide web (and to understand the difference between the two) - and this in turn helped to explain something of the anti-authority, collaborative culture of the web.

The programme - and the website - also take a look at the generational differences in web-usage and there is an online test you can take to discover more about your web habits - which also contributes to research on the subject. I found out I was a web Bear


This could be a really useful test to offer new e-learning students as a way of understanding their own preferences and behaviours on line, and for e-tutors to assess the potential pace of an online activity....

However, I digress: the web behaviour test aims to provide data on what is happening to our brains as we surf, multi task, etc and to compare different age-groups' behaviours. I am looking forward to hearing about the results.

In the meantime, the programme explored myths and fears about the Internet (wheeling out Susan Greenfield- inevitably) but was equally optimistic about its potential benefits: for example, many South Korean children are afflicted by a new disease of Internet addiction but the country also has outstanding school results (South Korea was cited as the "most wired" country in the world).

The programmes have certainly made me think about my own web behaviours, the connections I make there, the "reality" of on line friendships, the authority, or otherwise of information to be found (Wikipedia was discussed) but also what all of this is going to mean for succeeding generations. Those of us who have come late in life to the web have a particular view of it based on our own paradigms of learning, knowledge, connection, etc. Those born with the web as their natural environment will inevitably be growing up immersed in entirely new paradigms.

This isn't necessarily the nightmare scenario that Greenfield suggests (infantilising etc). I think that inevitably there are difficulties and dangers involved in web use but we are in the learning and developing stage of a new-ish tool: our children, their children, may actually grow to be far more adept at managing not just the technology but also their online identities and relationships than we can currently envisage.

I always remember an edition of Radio 4's "The Long View" discussing video games that compared our current fears about their growth with 18th century moralist's horror at the vogue for reading novels.

It is unthinkable now that we would attempt to stop our kids from reading, but the Baroness Greenfields of the day were advocating just such remedies if parents were to save their children from intellectual and physical laziness, moral turpitude and a life immersed in unhealthy fantasy.....

something to ponder on!

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.

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Busuu.com 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!

Monday, 8 February 2010