Where to Publish Students’ Work?

Since I started using the web in my classes I have become a big fan of publishing and I have always been proud of some of mine and my students’ accomplishments in this arena. In the beginning I started blogging. At first, I wrote blog posts myself and asked students to post comments. I could see that this seemed to be a nice and interesting way of engaging students. It elicited a given structure or lexicon, and got their opinion on a given subject. However, it lacked initiative from the part of learners. I felt that I could not limit blogging to comments from the part of students only. Besides that, I found my posts a little predictable and missing the desirable originally.  To be honest, I started getting tired of listening too much of my own of voice as the conversation initiator.


photo credit: Βethan via photo pin cc

Once I realized that reducing blogging to students comment was not enough, I moved on to the second stage of my publishing efforts. This stage involved getting my students to create blogging entries themselves. As a result, my class blogs blossomed with creativity. Students used their own drawings and images to illustrate posts. Besides that, I could see that they were more interested in reading and commenting on what their friends had written. Comments were not always written, but they always checked and browsed their peers posts. Therefore, there was a change on the cyber landscape. At this point, I also could change my role and started being the one  reacting, giving feedback on my their work. Not only that but I also got some of my online friends to give feedback on my students published content.

However, as time went by, I started realizing that blogging also had some limitations of its own. For example, in a large, prolific group, one easily loses track of content. If you have too many posts, it becomes difficult to keep up with the time line. Posts that are quite recent are not visible and only the most recent ones are displayed on the first page. As result, your audience (students themselves and others) might feel a bit overwhelmed with content. To top it all, as the web evolved, blogging started losing its appeal to younger learners. Their interest moved to platforms that allowed adding peers as friends and all sorts of connections besides mere comments on posts.

It was after realizing that students needed a more connected publishing platform that I went for social networking. So, that is where I am now. I am struggling to find one that suits mine and my students need. Although I really like Facebook, I think it has the drawback of being sometimes too overwhelming for getting an audience to more reflective publishing. Facebook is good to connect a group, but it is limited if you want to teach writing or engage your group in a given activity. I might be wrong, but I think a barrage of posts and updates does not help teaching. Meanwhile I am still looking for a more suitable and “free” social netwoking platform. While I wait, I am using grou.ps. Here is what my students and I have been doing.


Project Based Learning – Some Challenges

Guilherme Viana Lima

In the last two years I started working with projects. It all started with online courses I took in the beginning of 2011 with UMBC called Teaching Young Learners and more to the end of the same year I took Methods II on Project\Problem-Based Learning with University of Oregon. In these courses, I developed projects for the courses themselves and tried to synchronize assigned course tasks and the ones in my teaching practice. In this post I will address some of the challenges posed by project based learning while working on some projects with my students.

In my opinion one of the greatest challenges of working with projects is the tight schedules we have in our institutions.  As a result, instructors are generally expected to teach a certain amount of content within a given time frame. In my case, most of the content is broken into units and lessons. Therefore, teachers know what lesson to cover in a given class or week. Besides that, a teacher has to keep an eye on the incoming test date which serves as a sort of time tracker that informs them that they have to squeeze content within certain deadlines. To cope with this limitation, the best approach is to work on mini projects, on something that will not take up more than two consecutive classes. A second solution would involve assigning tasks as homework. Doing so, the instructor  saves valuable class time and adds authenticity to a project.

A second challenge has to do with the syllabus itself and the textbooks we have to use. Most of the textbooks adopted by schools are content-based. Being a teacher myself, I know that some teachers would certainly agree that task-based course books would make the perfect match for a project-based learning approach. However, we do not always have the luxury of inhabiting such perfect worlds. Besides that, I have grown to believe that a task-based syllabus has its own limitations. To win the battle between content versus task, an instructor has to carefully plan tasks that smoothly integrate the content taught into projects he or she plans to carry out.  So, for every piece of content, we should try to think of a realistic task that could be inserted into a mini project. This approach makes the content more palatable and gets learners involved into more authentic activities.

 A third challenge is the sharing of these so-called mini projects. Therefore, once you and your students have invested some precious time and effort into something such as a class project, it seems reasonable to come up with a way for displaying\sharing the work done. If schedule is a little tight, it certainly poses some limitations to the usual group by group presentation scheme. A possible solution is publishing the final result on the web. Such approach allows for the class members and its immediate community (parents and classmates)  to check the outcomes beyond the classroom walls. Besides that, when you decide for this mode of sharing you force your student and yourself to acquire twenty first century learning skills (publishing and all the skills associated with this task). Finally, sharing project outcomes on the web also makes learners aware of the importance of building and online presence and is a valuable opportunity to teaching netiquette (some basic rules for good online behavior).

As a final remark, I would like to point out that this short post is in no way a complete inventory of all the challenges an educator might face when working on projects. I have

just tried to address some of the problems I had to deal with in my specific context – the one of an EFL instructor teaching at a binational language center in Brasilia – Brazil. Nevertheless, I do recommend setting aside some of your class time to work on projects. It is really rewarding and it does change the way you and your students engage with content and learn.

A Cyber Valentine





As valentines’ day approaches in Brazil (we celebrate it on June 12th), I decided to say a few words about mine and my students’ relationship with computers and technology in general. First I should say I have no pretense to sound as a scholar on the issue. This represents just my humble point of view. It is just an account of how I see the issue of using computers in the classroom. Valentines has to do with relationships and mine to computers seem to be, for me at least, quite an interesting story. Besides that, someone on TV today quoted a teacher admonishing Fall in love for a cause, find something you are passionate about. Love for a person can be temporary, love for a cause can last for a life time. I would say that using the web for teaching and learning qualifies as my passion and that is why I decided to talk about it.


Lets begin from the beginning. In my case, I can trace my story with computers and technology back to a crash course in word processing and related computer skills I took in 1999 before getting my masters in the US. Since then I have gone from downloading and printing everything to the cloud, from floppy discs, to CDs, to flash drives, to flash memory. I have also become mobile in many ways. I have gone from a desktop with so many wires and cables under my desk that looked more a butchered animal to only resorting to a tablet and a smart phoned for my computer needs.


Having said this, I would argue that my relationship to computers and technology has matured and grown into a full-fledged love affair, almost a marriage. I think that as a digital immigrant (borrowing from Prensky) I have been able to adapt. Nonetheless I have to admit that I am in no way as fluent in the use of technology as I would like to be. I still struggle to cope with the frenzy of updates and novelties that pop up on my screens almost every minute. Many times, to my disappointment, I spend hours trying to achieve a very simple goal.


However, when I think about my students, I really think I see a split in the way they view computer technology. Computers seem to be for fun only. This view also seems to be shared by some teachers who resist to giving control of the mouse to students (and to themselves) and make a more creative use of the web and its suite of tools. I guess this has a bit to do with traditional views held by some schools that imply that computers are for playing or only socializing, not for serious, meaningful learning, for integrating skills.  Some students report that teachers refuse to accept typed assignments under the excuse of preventing plagiarism. Plagiarism was not invented by computers or internet. So, banning typed essays is not going to solve the problem.


Being digital natives, students do feel comfortable with technology. However this does not guarantee that they have the necessary skills to engage in some activities a teacher might propose. This creates an opportunity for teachers to show to students and themselves that they are not so computer illiterate as they believe. Nonetheless, younger students are fast learners and would immediately start using whatever you teach with fluency in a matter of seconds. Sometimes they would hesitate in publishing content for fearing criticism, but once they overcome this initial shyness they blossom into an amazing creative frenzy.

To end on romantic note (since this is Valentines season), I think I may be helping my students to build their relationship with technology for learning. I do that, especially when I reassure them that much of prevailing paranoia about the web is not true.  Doing this, I show them the path of sharing and collaborating. If I mange to do this, I think I encourage them to take some steps towards integrating their existing passion for technology a bit more into their lives.



Still About Wikis

As I said in my previous post, I have been using wikis for quite a while. I have also promised to write a little about some of the disadvantages of using wikis.
What led me to use wikis so constantly, despite some of its glitches, was the successful experience we have had with this platform at Casa Thomas Jefferson, the school I work for. We have a wiki with 287 users and 7,605 files and counting. We use it as an intranet portal to post resources for classes (power point presentations, videos, lesson plans) and for communication.
Wikis, as I said at the beginning of this post, are not a panacea that solve every problem. Like any online tool, it has some problems. One problem I would point out is the fact that comments cannot be individualized for posts. Different form blogs, what wikis give the one posting is a page where many things can be posted, knot individualized, separate posts with the possibility of comments for each individual entry. This make it difficult for the reader to connect comments and posts. So, when commenting, it is necessary sometimes to indicate what you are referring to.
Another problem, especially if you choose to use Pbworks, is that editing is flash based. This can be a big drawback once it does not allow you to post or edit content on your iPad or iPhone. However the platform is constantly evolving, and with the announced demise of flash, I am sure IOS friendly platform will be soon available. I might be wrong, but from what I can gather from my experience with web 2.0, that is the way these things go.
Wikis are organized in folders if you want to create a page for every student. This makes visibility an issue. To view individual pages, you should first click on the folder and only then you will see a link to each individual page. I have solved this problem in one of my wikis by placing links to pages on the main page. However, this only works when you have just a few pages. In case you halve too many pages, folders are the only solution. In this case, name folders appropriately is extremely helpful.
I guess I would better stop here with the downs of wikis. I really do not want to discourage fellow educators from using them. On a last note, if you want to give wikis a try, pay a visit to my wiki where you will find an introduction to wikis and plenty of tutorials on how to post and create content.