Changes in habits scare people. Certainly the advent of the telephone, as well as the arrival of the television, must have met some kind of resistance among generations already adapted to their own established lifestyles.
Such has been and still is the nature of the reception computers have met worldwide. Yet, slowly but steadily, people are gradually realizing the vast array of information provided by the Web is unmatchable. The EFL classroom, however, has stayed relatively unchanged. Many teachers are already using Internet as a source of information, but most of them have been sceptic about the legitimacy of claims advocating the integration of CMC (Computer Mediation Communication) tools into Language Learning. And EFL Teachers in Argentina have not been the exception –not until 2011, when face-to-face and online seminars, as well as webinars are starting to be populated by dozens of English language teachers, including teachers of other languages as well.
Where to start?
The Internet is constantly generating opportunities to hone ICT (Information and Communication Technology) skills by allowing interaction between students and teachers using new programmes and applications which foster, not only individual production and growth of personal skills, but also the development of cohesive online Communities of Practice (CoP´s).
Unprecedented ways of getting to know like-minded people are being launched every day, allowing language teachers not only to meet other teachers of English anywhere in the world and socialize, but also to share views on common queries, problems, findings and experiences, using the English language.
We can now choose to join from a wide variety of Discussion Forums and Listservs, made up of teachers willing to carry out online projects with their students, both synchronous and asynchronously. And we can learn the how-to’s and techniques the use of different applications and programmes entail, becoming more and more ICT literate, so that by learning through doing ourselves, we can gain the necessary training to pioneer experiences in our own classrooms.
As members of Webheads in Action, Jennifer Verschoor and Rita Zeinstejer met online some five years ago, and decided to pool their knowledge and experience to work together from their respective cities –Jennifer in Buenos Aires, Rita in Rosario—to help their colleagues in their country integrate Internet tools into their classes.
Jennifer´s and Rita´s previous experience
Rita became interested in Technology and in exploring the tools it offers to educators after attending a course in Cambridge, England, on “The Use of Computers for Language Learning”, by Gavin Dudeney and Gary Motteram. From then on, she devoted her spare time attending seminars, both f2f and online, joining groups of colleagues worldwide, and doing research, until she decided to share her gains with colleagues in her home town, and to participate actively in Congresses in different countries, both as an attendee and as a presenter.
But Rita´s main concern has been putting her findings into practice, so she started integrating many tools into her own classes, as she worked with upper-intermediate students of English in a private Institute in Rosario, where both teachers and students have always directed their aims and methodology towards “learning English to sit for an international examination.”
Rita opened her first blog in the year 2006 at http://caeb2006.podomatic.com/ , where she motivated her students to participate using text, images and voice, also integrating some exam practice and some additional tools to enhance her first adventure. However, the richest experience was a Tandem project she organized with a teacher of Spanish in Ohio, USA, for their students to get together online using synchronous and asynchronous tools. The project was a big success, and all learners were delighted to learn about each other´s lifestyles, education and culture using English in Rita´s blog and Spanish in the blog opened by the teacher in the States.
As from 2006 on, Rita has tried different online spaces: blog hosts, wikis, virtual classrooms, to gather learners and help them realize that the language they have been studying for around ten years now gives them the chance to communicate with likeminded learners and teachers from all over the world.
In 1999 Rita opened the Multimedia Centre at ARCI for all teachers to have the necessary training to be able to integrate technology. The Centre is now a big success, catering for all levels, and aiming at the development of the fours skills.
These are some examples of online environments Rita has been housing her projects in:
- http://arciteachers.wikispaces.com/ARCI+TEACHERS+Home+Page+Wiki with teachers opening their first online environment
- http://caeb2007.podomatic.com/ with her 2007 group, where she carried out “The Serendipity Project”, which allowed her students to understand the potential of “Podcasting”, as well as the integration of moviemakers
- http://callsig2006.pbworks.com/w/page/13080809/FrontPage , a wiki she opened to share her knowledge with colleagues in her area, thus starting the first CALL SIG for teachers of English inRosario.
- http://ritamz.ning.com/ , a blog with 2008 students, where her project “Sharing Cultures” became one of the most memorable experiences as she plunged her students into the Korean culture
- http://caeb2008.pbworks.com/w/page/7576502/FrontPage , a wiki where she gathered ten teachers of English from different countries to interact with pairs of students on lifestyles
- https://sites.google.com/site/triptoengland2011/ a Google Site to organize a group of students travelling toEngland in January 2011
Jennifer became interested in the integration of technology while she was studying to become a University Professor at a local University in 2003. At that time the course was on distance learning and she joined the vibrant online community called Webheads in Action while doing a search online. The purpose of the community is to help learning professionals understand the potential benefits of the appropriate integration of available Internet technologies into their teaching practice by first experimenting and learning in a hands-on, low-risk online environment before engaging their own learners.
Jennifer created her first class blog in the year 2007 at http://colegioarmenio07.blogspot.com,
in order to show students a different way of learning English and with the main goal of stumbling the classroom doors by participating in International Project. Students participated in Learning Circles, a project-based partnership among a small number of schools located throughout the world, offered by IEARN International.
These are some examples of on-line environments Jennifer has been housing her projects in:
- http://www.vickylearningenglish.blogspot.com A blog created in 2006 for her daughter when she was 4 years old, to learn English and play at the same time.
- http://englishtraining.pbworks.com This wiki was created in 2008. Its purpose is to help Business English students to be able to continue learning online after their face-to-face class.
- http://arcall.pbworks.com The purpose of this wiki is to share and learn how to integrate technology in our classrooms to help increase the use of educational technology in EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teaching.
- www.igcseenglish.ning.com A Ning created for students to continue learning about the IGCSE English exam at home.
- http://avealmec.org.ve/ First online conference offered by two Latin-American CALL associations building online communities and social networks.
- www.web20digitalnatives.pbworks.com Currently using this wiki as an online platform for Kinder, Primary and Secondary school students.
How do Argentinian EFL Teachers prefer to learn about Technology?
Belonging to a Community of Practice has enriched both our professional knowledge and personal lives. Both of us have learnt about new programs which allow us, teachers, to manipulate different tools to create different tasks, aiming at weaning teacher-dependent students. We have added the use of new, most effective strategies to our teaching procedures. We have shared projects with students of English living in Kuwait, Venezuela, the USA and Portugal, learnt about their needs, exchanged cultural differences and reached conclusions with their teachers. We have sung a “tango” from a home microphone on an Argentinian Sunday evening for Taiwanese students in their language laboratory on a Monday morning. We have answered questions from a Mexican board of accountants willing to understand and witness the marvels of voice chat and implement it in their school curricula. We have carried out project work with my CAE students in Argentina and Japanese students of English in Texas, with students and teachers in USA, in Korea, in Brazil. We have given them the chance to chat with EFL teachers from other countries, and have spurred them into using English in safe online environments, using resources that contain authentic rather than scripted speech.
We have participated in virtual presentations, conferences and congresses, for free, attending lectures and posing queries on the screen, using text and voice chat, with teachers from different countries, from home, and could even watch the conference and all other participants having their webcams on.
Unbelievably enough to many, we have built up our own office online in a “moo”, an online building lodging private and common cybernooks to share with other members in the community, and furnished it our way, with excerpts and quotes on walls, and an open door to visitors… We have provided instructions to newcomers as helpdesk, and showed the way to students, asking for directions. And we have shared our work with colleagues from all spots.
However, little is known about CoP´s in Argentina. Language Teachers prefer to attend f2f workshops, where experienced colleagues will show them the how-to´s, and where they will find a supportive environment, with personalized guidance in a collaborative style.
Aware of the importance of having a paradigm shift in education in an era when the web has invaded all fields of knowledge, and when electronic devices are already extensions of our selves, both Jennifer and Rita decided to join forces working towards our aim together in a common environment, and thus opened http://techtools4educators1.blogspot.com/ , where we pool ideas and offer guidance and assistance to teachers –mainly in our country—and where we publish the dates and information about the webinars and workshops we offer in different regions in the country.
We have also been invited by SBS Argentina, a prestigious bookshop in our country, to give webinars, presentations and workshops in our area, and we opened this space https://sites.google.com/site/sbsworkshops/ , where we offer them for free. It is our main aim to meet teachers needs in everything connected with Technology and its integration into Language Learning, including the latest tools and gadgets online, and helping them become proficient in their use and implementation.
Both educators have won scholarships to attend Congresses, Jennifer in Japan and Rita in the USA, as shown in their respective CV´s.
Rita is also a Google Certified Teacher, after attending a Google Course in Manhattan in 2008, and is Steering for the CALL-IS TESOL 2009-2012 Committee, which she was asked to join to share experiences with colleagues in the States.
We may wonder how our ancestors reacted when they replaced face-to-face meetings with the telephone, until they got to see differences and advantages. Most probably, they found fault with the change the new means of communication started to imply, and rejected the idea of shifting away from deeply ingrained habits.
In a country where authentic situations are rarely met by learners in the streets, teachers need to overcome resistance to appreciate and resort to the magic of Internet, and to furnish students with the necessary instruments to communicate with the world, exploiting free sources and resources for genuine interaction. Only by plunging into real situations will learners succeed in using the language effectively, meaningfully and accurately.