Open Educational Resources (OER) are increasingly important when we consider the breadth and depth of material that are being produced by educational institutions, media production companies, and even individuals. Equipping my students with web-based resources allows both my students and I to have access to high-quality and up-to-date information, whenever we need it, wherever we are. This frees me from creating teaching material from scratch and enables me to focus on teaching in class.
For me, the most useful resource on this site is the section on APA Style. It contains sections on how to cite and reference for different reference materials, including print, web and recorded material. The information is presented in an easy-to-read format with clear examples for readers to follow. The information is also easily searchable which makes navigating a content-heavy website less onerous on the user. The Purdue OWL is a great example of how one educational institution creates and maintains educational resources and makes it available for free for educational use.
Howcast is a media production company that specialises in high-quality and entertaining instructional videos. The videos are usually no more than 5 minutes long but contains enough information to keep the audience engaged. I have used their videos on presentations, writing and questionnaires in my classes. My students usually perk up when the lights dim and the video comes on.
The YUNiversity is a blog (and more) on grammar tips presented in an off-beat, humorous and engaging manner, and is especially suited for the current generation of youths. They post on Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Medium and handle Q&As on ask.fm The YUNiversity is managed by an English graduate from the University of California at Berkeley and his wife. I share their posts on grammar tips with my students on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
It was Character Day on March 20, 2014. In celebration of, and also to facilitate discussion on character strengths, there was the global cloud film premiere of The Science of Character, “an 8-minute film that explores fascinating new research on character development and our ability to shape who we are” (Let It Ripple website).
The Science of Character – an 8 min film directed by Tiffany Shlain (Twitter: @tiffanyshlain)
Periodic Table of Character Strengths from The Science of Character
While the table is a neat way of categorising 24 virtues common across cultures and time, the VIA Institute on Character reminds us that character strengths were conceived as “dimensions and not as categories” and that “[p]eople have more-or-less of all the strengths and not simply a set of discrete strengths versus weaknesses” (VIA Institute on Character, para 7). This is an important point to note as the periodic table may lead to an inventory list ticking exercise, thus reinforcing a false dichotomy between what we are and what we’re not.
To begin to understand the complexity of the character traits, I started with Grit, a trait I see in myself developing over the years. As part of the film’s premiere, there was a series of Q&A sessions with the experts and I joined a Google Hangouts session featuring Angela Lee Duckworth, the expert on grit and how it contributes to student success.
Angela Lee Duckworth speaks on Grit
I first came across Angela’s work on TED. Today’s expert chat session on Grit brought up discussions on whether there could be too much virtue, and whether grit could be instilled on demand or something that simply needed time to be developed.
To help explain Grit, Angela provided a metaphor of the Christmas Tree where the various levels of goals are hierarchically organised, with the shining star as the highest and unchanging goal underlying Grit. For example, if my highest level goal is providing free education to poor children, my lower level goals could range from studying for a Masters or PhD, setting up projects, and networking. I should be adaptable and flexible with these lower level goals, for example, if I don’t succeed in one project, I can look at starting a new one. However, the overarching goal of free education to the poor does not change. If it did, I wouldn’t be displaying Grit toward my final destination.
The Christmas Tree metaphor is helpful in understanding why sudden bursts of energy for short periods of time does not really count toward Grit, but rather, a deep interest that you hold over a period of time does. The fact that Grit requires stamina and patience also means that older people will exhibit Grit more often than younger people.
I look back on my twenty-something self and see several bursts of energy and nothing close to Grit. Comfortably into my thirties, I have discovered what I’m passionate about and Grit will serve me for the long run.
Character Day may have come and gone but let the Character Conversation continue, with experts, with each other, with yourself.
Peterson, Christopher, and Martin E. P. Seligman. Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2004. Print.
Shlain, Tiffany & The Moxie Institute Films. “The Science of Character (a New 8 Min “Cloud Film”).” YouTube. YouTube, 20 Mar 2014. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.
TED. “Angela Lee Duckworth: The Key to Success? Grit.” YouTube. YouTube, 09 May 2013. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.
VIA Institute on Character. “Guidelines on Use and Interpretation.” VIA Character Use and Interpretation. N.p., 2014. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. http://www.viacharacter.org/www/en-us/viainstitute/useandinterpretation.aspx.
With the ongoing discussion of whether MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) is the next revolution in education, I decided to embark on a MOOC myself. My first experience with online courses was not Massive nor Open. It was with the Master of Arts in Teaching program with USC. It was a full-fledged master program conducted via video conferencing which meant real-time interaction with professors and classmates. Having thrived in such an environment, I look to MOOCs with great expectations of lifelong learning without a hefty price tag or any price at all if possible.
My first experience with MOOCs was a shaky one. I can’t really say I fully experienced it since I was never fully engaged with the course. There was one course I did with Open2Study and another with Coursera. Both courses were related to learning and education but somehow there was too much going on in my life in the time I was supposed to complete it. The Open2Study course was conducted at a pace which required almost daily attention that I quickly abandoned it altogether. The pace of the Coursera course was much better but I still couldn’t keep up with the myriad of activities that were going on and felt pretty much a non-student. Without a concerted effort and a “studying” frame of mind, those two MOOCs amounted to a faint memory of videos and catchphrases.
Still hoping for a better outcome with MOOC, I recently enrolled for a Coursera course, History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education, offered by Duke University and am now in the fourth week of the six-week course. This time I was more prepared to set aside some time to do the course. The first week, however, went by in the flash and I only caught up with the video lectures in the second week.
What got me hooked was the high quality video production with a friendly and engaging presenter (Professor Cathy N. Davidson) and useful presentation pointers appearing from the side. It a short period of 10 to 15 minutes, I learned important concepts and got thinking about the implication of technology in education. The videos were stimulating enough for me to anticipate the following week’s materials.
One of the tools used in the course is forums which drive a socially-connected and engaging form of learning. I was not, however, particularly drawn to the forums because I am inundated enough with articles, debates and discussion on Twitter (my daily feed of news and trends). Furthermore, as a non-fee-paying student, I am just not as motivated to devote time and energy to share and exchange ideas with strangers, even if it means learning new things.
To me, the outcome of watching the videos was immediate knowledge. I could watch the videos anytime and in between tasks and gained a lot from a relative short span of focused attention. Forums, on the other hand, required more thoughtful and time-consuming contribution which had a less obvious reward. There was no tangible carrot nor stick to motivate the more socially engaging aspect of the course. I am a full-time working mother with three young children, and this makes me evaluate how worthwhile any pursuit is on an ongoing basis.
Modes of learning aside, let me move on to what I have been learning so far: 1) We’re teaching like it’s 1992; 2) We need to teach for the future; and 3) Our conception of reality is created through the filter of our own mind and perception.
Technology and communication practices have evolved since 1993 but education seems to be largely stuck in the days of pen and paper, individual summative assessments and the like.
1) We’re teaching like it’s 1992.
The significance of 1992 was lost on me until I learnt that the Internet was opened to the world on April 22, 1993. Since then, anyone with an internet connection could communicate with one another, expressing what they wanted, when they wanted, how they wanted. Technology and communication practices have evolved since 1993 but education seems to be largely stuck in the days of pen and paper, individual summative assessments and the like.
Personally, I find this to be true in Singapore. National examinations are in the traditional vein of individual summative assessment of the highest order, to the extent of determining your lot in life (whether perceived or real). In post-secondary institutions, however, coursework is more prevalent, especially at the polytechnic. There is a mix of individual and group assignments, some more collaborative than others, but not quite exploiting the full potential of our current technologies.
One reason behind this phenomenon of teaching like it’s 1992 is the fact that educators have grown up in the world pre-1993 and were schooled through and through in the ways and sensibilities of the time before the Internet. I certainly was. Some are looking forward to the future but many are comfortable and used to the past. Whatever the arguments are for staying put and not rocking the boat, I think there are more compelling reasons to decide that we have to change and act on it.
It’s not about getting students through a course on digital literacies, it’s about practising digital literacies in and out of the classroom.
2) We need to teach for the future.
I believe that we need to teach our students digital literacies. The post-1993 generation was born into an Internet world of instant communication and gratification. Having taught such students for the past 5 years, I’m convinced that I am more digitally savvy that most of them. They may have the latest gadgets and apps, but most of the time they are too trusting of the first few Google search results, think that, in fact, Google is the originator of the information, and pay little attention to issues of privacy and ethics.
I don’t think students are mastering how to evaluate internet sources because there is a (wrong) assumption that they are naturally digitally savvy and so teachers pay scant attention to this aspect of learning. To put another perspective on this issue, if there are no grades or tangible rewards attached to being digitally literate, students will not become literate. It’s not about getting students through a course on digital literacies, it’s about practising digital literacies in and out of the classroom.
We can never teach our students enough content for the future, but we ought to teach them how to navigate the future with greater critical analytical skills.
3) Our conception of reality is created through the filter of our own mind and perception.
One major concept I learnt and find so true in all areas of my life is Immanuel Kant’s concept of how our perception of the world is filtered by our own preconceived notions and ideas. If we see our students as well-oiled machines, responsive to instructions and high in productivity, then our approach to teaching and assessment will follow suit. Standardised testing, orderliness and measurable results become drivers of education.
While I believe that such a filter is outdated today and that a new filter of creative and collaborative learners is more appropriate, I feel trapped in a factory of deadlines where incomplete or faulty products or tossed aside. Most of the teaching my own children are experiencing right now is highly segmented, time-bound, and considered a done deal by way of tests. Creativity is relegated to physical activity and art lessons or specific assignments.
True creativity and collaborative practice can only be achieved if they are part and parcel of everyday learning – something I have never experienced in my own schooling experience but a future I hope for my children and their children.
An online course can run like a factory if that’s the vision of the instructors. A traditional classroom can be turned into a laboratory of inquisitive minds if the teachers so wish.
So what about MOOCs?
Will MOOCs then be one of the solutions to instill creativity and collaborative practice in learning? MOOC is merely a vehicle. An online course can run like a factory if that’s the vision of the instructors. A traditional classroom can be turned into a laboratory of inquisitive minds if the teachers so wish. Granted that MOOCs has the potential of reaching out to more by using technologies that are innately collaborative in nature (e.g. forum posting, wikis, etc.), the challenge is to make use of that potential in a sustainable manner for a meaningful learning experience.
My own interaction with the current MOOC has been limited to watching video lectures so far. I have not set my mind on anything collaborative but I may if I find like-minded friends or colleagues who believe that it is a meaningful endeavour for their work or personal growth.
MOOCs can roll out its bells and whistles, but the choice is up to us to ride along with the revolution.
Apart from making your waiting (or waking) time less monotonous, 4pics1word is also a great vocabulary game.
People around me are hooked on this game – the office lady on the train, someone in the checkout line, my colleague, my boss. The addictive word game available on both iPhone and Android appears simple but forces you to think out of the box (or the four boxes for that matter) to figure out the answer. Apart from making your waiting (or waking) time less monotonous, 4pics1word, I have discovered, is also a great vocabulary game.
The basic form of the puzzle is identifying a common word that each of the four pictures (or part thereof) depict. It could be a noun, adjective or adverb, plain words most of the time, but trickier to guess as you move up the levels. The word association exercise teases your mind, making you wonder whether you’ve lost all common sense, but is also a vocabulary builder in disguise, whether you admit it or not.
For English language learners, this game teaches collocation, synonyms, antonyms, word parts, and lots of brainstorming on the go. Here are some suggestions of how to use the game in a teaching context.
#1 Just play it
Learners can be introduced to the app and they can figure out the mechanism of the puzzles on their own. More likely, however, they will grab friends (and very soon, innocent bystanders) to ask them to help them solve the puzzle. The nature of the game cultivates a competitive (or self-improvement) spirit and the desire to outwit a bunch of pictures will soon have players unconsciously devouring dozens of word associations and patterns.
#2 Break the ice
Teachers can use the game as a warm-up activity and use the puzzle as a teaching point. Some puzzles may have word associations that are too obscure or challenging for learners so explaining the reasoning behind the answer will not only help your students learn, but will also help them to be able to play the game more successfully on their own.
#3 Plan the lesson around it
Teachers can use the game as part of the lesson itself, getting students to explain how they arrived at the puzzles, asking them to keep a journal on new words and their explanations, and perhaps even getting them to compile a list of their favorite puzzles or the hardest ones to crack. Better yet, students could create their own 4pics1word puzzles for both classmates and teacher to solve.
#4 Make it an incentive
If students are already very keen to play the game, teachers could use it as an incentive and reward individuals or groups who solve the most number of puzzles and/or are able to explain their answers. So instead of just receiving virtual old coins, students can be rewarded with something more tangible.
4pics1word is a great example of turning a popular app into a teaching tool where students take to naturally and enthusiastically. While students can easily learn on their own (consciously or subconsciously) through playing the game, bringing their attention to word meanings and clarifying their doubts will help extend and improve their vocabulary.
If you have used the game in class, or if you’re an English learner and have benefitted from the game, please share your experience in the comments.
In the meantime, if you find yourself turning into an addict – skipping meals, losing sleep and ignoring crying children – do what I did – delete the app.
Teacher leadership is not reserved for the chosen few but a responsibility of all teachers. While school culture dampens the spirit of teacher leadership (Barth, 2001, p. 444), empowering teachers as leaders benefit students, teachers, administrators and the school (p. 445).
Who is the successful teacher leader?
The successful teacher leader is one who is committed to a set of beliefs about teaching and making a difference in the school (Barth, 2001; Ackerman & Mackenzie, 2006). She leads by example and thus begins to influence those around her. She perseveres despite obstacles (Barth, 2009, p. 447), claiming victories however small, and does not give up pursuing unrealized goals.
The unsuccessful teacher leader, on the other hand, is not focused in fulfilling goals and is overwhelmed by the daunting workload and critical colleagues. Ultimately, the teacher leader is unsuccessful because she finds greater comfort in remaining in her own classroom than stepping out of her comfort zone (Ackerman & Mackenzie, 2006).
Am I a teacher leader?
The initial years of my teaching career were characterized by the traits of the unsuccessful teacher. I was discouraged by colleagues who believed that leadership was reserved for senior staff and administrators. Their skepticism led me to think that I was better off focusing on teaching rather than leading, and that trying to make changes was a waste of time. For example, I suggested compiling video-recordings of student presentations but was quickly censured for creating more and unnecessary work for everyone. Now as I complete my Master of Arts in Teaching, I am convinced that my teaching career is a unique opportunity to be a change agent.
When I put myself in the position of a teacher leader, I am committed to producing excellent work, collaborating with colleagues, and helping our students succeed. While obstacles are real, I am reminded by Barth (2001) to enjoy “half a loaf”, that is, finding success in “incremental change[s] in the desirable direction” (p. 447). One of my weaknesses, however, is that my enthusiasm and energy can easily wear off, especially in the face of difficult colleagues or seemingly futile pursuits. Nonetheless, I must remember that Rome was not built in a day and that being a teacher leader is a journey in itself, and a rewarding one at that.
Rome was not built in a day and that being a teacher leader is a journey in itself, and a rewarding one at that.
Problem of practice
One powerful way of developing teacher leaders is through action research where teachers identify areas of concern and begin to take steps to resolve issues to benefit the school community. At my school, the business communication subjects are taken by students with varying English proficiency standards. While all students have received education in English as a first language, there are minority English language learners (ELLs) whose home language is not English and face challenges with using academic language. My action research project focused on this problem of practice and explored student identity and empowerment.
As an emerging teacher leader, I plan on sharing the findings and recommendations of my action research project at department meetings. In addition, the school’s staff development department organizes events where I will have the opportunity to share my research with a wider school audience. Through these sharing sessions, I will need to develop interpersonal skills such as gentle persuasiveness, especially when dealing with experienced yet resistance teachers. As Danielson (2007) notes, “[l]eading change within one’s own department or team may require considerable interpersonal skill and tact [and] the success of such an effort … depends on the teacher leader’s having established credibility and trust with his or her colleagues” (p. 17).
I anticipate most of the audience to be politely lukewarm toward the information I share as the teachers at my school are generally cautious in making changes, especially when there are no immediate and visible benefits. Unfortunately, the issue of student identity and empowerment is one that is complex; it requires effort and time in exploring identity and empowerment issues with students.
Here’s the plan
To counter skepticism among the crowd, persistence is key. First, I endeavor to take up every opportunity within the school, formally and informally, to share the importance of issues of identity and empowerment and how my own action research project benefits students. This entails identifying appropriate platforms to speak, as well as being aware of the barriers each audience brings to the sharing session. For example, if the audience is unfamiliar with terminology, then I will make the effort to modify my presentation in order to be clear, and more importantly, convincing. A teacher leader is committed first to her beliefs and second to harnessing people’s potential to take necessary action.
A teacher leader is committed first to her beliefs and second to harnessing people’s potential to take necessary action.
In addition, I must also show that my work is recognized by other educators, especially those with authority in the education field. Possible actions include publishing the findings of my study in an education or TESOL related journal and presenting my study at a local or regional conference. The process of publishing or presenting requires a keen understanding of the requirements of each, such as intended audience, paper length and writing style. Apart from the detailed requirements, I must also be aware of the approval process be prepared for rejection. As a novice researcher, the best result I expect is to having to resubmit my paper with changes.
Even if I am rejected, however, I view it as a learning experience. I anticipate mixed reactions to my leadership project. Teachers in my school are likely to have varying levels of commitment to address the needs of minority ELLs in our school, even if my study is accepted by a journal or conference. Whatever the outcomes, I aim to be open to feedback and use the experience to inform my next step in leadership. Success in teacher leadership depends on reaching out, modeling for others, and helping colleagues develop skills and understanding (Ackerman & Mackenzie, 2006, p. 68).
Success in teacher leadership depends on reaching out, modeling for others, and helping colleagues develop skills and understanding.
Never give up, never give up, never give up
Thus my desire is to work with the few who are willing and be focused on student success, without losing sight of the bigger picture of greater student empowerment through the actions and leadership of each and every teacher. Even if I end up being alone in my cause, may I continue taking risks “to provide a constant, visible model of persistence, hope, and enthusiasm” (Barth, 2001, p. 447).
Ackerman, R. & Mackenzie, S.V. (2006). Uncovering teacher leadership. Educational Leadership, May, 2006, 66-70.