Víctor gonzález


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Iskoodle is used by all international schools around the world so that it is available to all teachers who are members of ECIS. The following study was conducted in 2011and is part of my Master thesis in E-learning and Education for the UOC (Open University of Catalonia)

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Víctor gonzález

  1. 1.         
  2. 2. 
  3. 3.                 
  4. 4. 
  5. 5. 
  6. 6. 
  7. 7. 
  8. 8. 
  9. 9. ABSTRACT                                         
  10. 10. 
  11. 11.  1. INTRODUCTIONThis article considers the possible implications in which blended learning (a mix of onlineand face-to-face instruction) is more effective than traditional learning in foreignlanguage classrooms. It presents arguments for considering why web 2.0 tools enhancewriting, reading listening and oral skills to students that are learning a foreign languageand how these rich learning experiences can be incorporated into the curriculum.The main aim of this article is to stimulate debate and provoke thinking about whyforeign language teachers should shift from traditional learning environments to blendedlearning approaches. The broad use of Web 2.0 by adolescents has created new digitalscenarios for learning and future schooling where networking technologies are shapingnew social landscapes in which education is part of it. Being more effective by using web2.0 tools while learning a language provides the central argument of this article. Themain motivation is to convince teachers and educators that the use of technology in theclassroom is not only beneficial for the students but it also leads to better pedagogical 1
  12. 12. results. Learning becomes then more attractive, compelling and it matches the newchallenges of the 21st century.In order toWhereas Web 1.0 websites were static tools where interaction was not at its core, web2.0 has become the central headquarter for creativity and social networking. Youtube,Facebook, blogs, wikis or google docs are just some examples of user generatedcontent where collaboration and a constant activity of expression are shared withoutboundaries. In this way, foreign language teachers should take profit of these new toolsby constructing brand new learning scenarios in a ‘post- print’ world (Warschauer2007) in order to foster true education ‘ through the stimulation of the child’s powers bythe demands of the social situations in which he finds himself’ (Dewey 1897, p. 77) in amodel that embraces the vision of learning as a “collective intelligence” (Seragan, 2007),Ubiquitous computing, cloud-computing, social software and web mash-ups havechanged both the way we consume information and create and consume information(Mason & Rennie, 2007).Learning a foreign language includes a set of competencies that have to be tackled.That is to say, grammar learning, vocabulary, listening, writing, talking, and reading.During the 60s and until the beginning of the 80s learning a foreign language meantfollowing a behavioral approach. Audiovisual and audio-lingual course books in routinepattern practice flowed the market, the classrooms and all the spectrum of teaching and 2
  13. 13. learning a language. Language Laboratories in individual booths and systems of tapesand slides was a trend followed by teachers and researchers. In this way, it wasassumed that all human and animal behaviors were determined not only by learning butalso by reinforcement and repetition in which responses were reduced to associations.The book by B. F. Skinner, Verbal Behavior in 1957, stressed the fact that the controllingvariables of language were subject to the same controlling variables as any otheroperant human behaviors. This was of great influence in the way teachers and studentsstarted to learn a language. However, Skinner’s method was heavily criticized by NoamChomsky when he published his critique of Verbal Behaviour in 1959. According toChomsky, Skinner had only limited himself to study of observables, i.e., input-outputrelations. In this way, at the end of the 1980s, a more interactive and transactionalmethodology started to flourish in which an increasing amount of foreign languagespoken in the classroom was being used. Colorful teaching materials full of realia,photos, images, maps and games, flashcards, videos, tapes, CD-roms, schemes ofwork, computer back-ups and multi-modular text books were now part of the teachingmaterials of the students although teacher centered instruction continued to be the maintrend. After the transition from the analogical age to the digital age we have witnessedhow technology has changed the social, cultural and educational scenarios. Now, withthe increasing use of collaborative web 2.0 tools the whole philosophy of languagelearning has gradually changed towards a more constructive approach. Students, withthe right blended approach, are able to discover and create their own knowledge in acreative way using non-expensive digital tools that can put into practice all the areasrequired to learn a language. Films with subtitles, podcasts, comics, educational gamesor online writing contests are just a few examples of the digital content created by users. 3
  14. 14. In this way, blended language learning versus traditional learning would follow the threeP´s of pedagogy for the networked society: personalization, participation, andproductivity (McLoughlin and Lee, 2008).1.1 Main Objectives and methodologyThe main objective of our study is to let educators and teachers know the advantages oflearning a foreign language through a technological approach. The methodology used isqualitative focused mainly on interviews with international teachers within an heuristicapproach and questions related to their view of how a blended learning environment canboost the expectations and goals of the learnes.Our study focuses on international schools and its online foreign language moodleplatform. Moodle, an acronym that stands for Modular Object-Oriented DynamicLearning Environments, is a courseware package and learning system that allows manyinstitutions to conduct online courses. It can be used in both e-learning and blendedlearning course formats and has activity modules such as databases, forums and wikisthat allow administrators to build full collaborative communities of learning. Moreover,teachers can also deliver content to students and assess learning processes usingquizzes or assignments. Iskoodle, the name given to the moodle platform, is used byall international schools around the world so that it is available to all teachers who aremembers of ICS. The Council of International Schools (CIS) is a non-for-profit 4
  15. 15. organization of International Education comprising over 650 member schools and 450colleges/universities. Its main aim is to deliver the highest standards in InternationalEducation in order to improve the learning skills of students. In order to do that, aprogram of evaluation has been created , the International Accreditation Service, todemonstrate the quality of their schools, their resources, administration, teachers andinternational practices where technology is a key element for the enrichment of allsubjects throughout the curriculum. On Iskoodle teachers can share discussions,thoughts, files, course materials, conference information and speaker notes. It breaksdown into the different subjects taught at International Schools. The Foreign LanguageCommittee has decided to boost the site in 2011 by creating useful content for allthose foreign language teachers around the world that want to improve their blendedlearning approaches in the classrooms. Technological advances are a must in aninterconnected world and blended earning is becoming a trend in all internationalschools. This implicates a change of approach both academically and pedagogically anda vision towards future possibilities where web 2.0 tools and their practice have to beconsidered. The main aim is to re-examine and reconceptualise the question oflanguage teaching through the help of new educational practices where technologytakes a major role. This second generation web-based services give students theopportunity to for exchange and debate views, share ideas and make global connections(Lamb and Johnson 2006). Collaboration, extrapolation, analysis, projectiondemonstration and interaction are some of the skills needed in order to meet the 21stcentury educational needs of the students (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2009),opening a new window to the whole world, often foreseen not only but authorities butalso by teachers and parents who are not willing to implement a radical systemic 5
  16. 16. educational change in the classroom. In this way, our educational culture does not yetfully align learning to the realities of the 21st Century’ (Lemke and Coughlin 2009, 5).The foreign language teacher has an immense opportunity to show their students thelanguage they are learning by using multimedia platforms where video, text and soundsare constantly shared and uploaded. Knowledge production and innovation inubiquitous technologies permit adolescents to express themselves in a variety of wayswhere learner control is key for their own learning success since it affects outcomes(Lepper, 1985) . Language teachers have to develop strategies for exploiting the fluidnature of web 2.0 in order to generate innovative learning opportunities for adolescentswho are constantly operating (most of the time informally) in an online world.‘…only through communication can human life hold meaning. The teacher’s thinking isauthenticated only by the authenticity of the students’ thinking. The teacher cannot thinkfor her students, nor can she impose her thought on them. Authentic thinking, thinkingthat is concerned about reality, does not take place in ivory tower isolation, but only incommunication’. (Freire 1970). 6
  17. 17. 2. LITERATURE REVIEWOpen educational materials have endless possibilities for educators with exiting newpossibilities. The idea of learning environments to anyone, anyplace, anytime has beenproved to be an innovative approach for delivering interactive, well-designed, learner-centered, interactive and flexible learning environments (Khan, 2001, p. 3).Educational innovation within institutions in the 21st century requires a vision of change,teamwork, resources and time (Zucker, 2009) since it can be beneficial for theirdevelopment ((Fiedler & Kieslinger, 2006) . This vision of change has to becommunicated effectively to a school board, parents, teachers and students throughmeetings, websites, blogs and official school documents. In this way, the strategies fordigital integration in the language classrooms can range from delivering a singletechnology course, offering mini-workshops, integrating technology in all courses toeducation faculty of how to infuse technology throughout the school with specificlearning goals.The use of ICTs to foster new forms of learning through enabling new learningrelationships is indeed a challenge for many teachers who are comfortable usingconventional e-learning and teaching approaches within the learning managementsystem platform. In such learning environments content continues to be decided by theteachers and control is therefore still largely in their hands. In adopting the more recent 7
  18. 18. Web 2.0 technologies, decisions related to content and control are largely in the handsof the learners blurring the boundaries between expert or teacher and learner( O’Sullivan, )This cannot be though done without an improving student and teacher access tosoftware and hardware together with pedagogical goals given to teachers in order toavoid concerns about the implementation and classroom management of the usefulnessof for example web 2.0 games in education (Doering et al., 2003). International Schoolssuch as the one in Düsseldorf, repeated exposure to digital content in primary has beenimplemented with clear pedagogical goals and constant information to parents, teachersand the board of the school. Building content knowledge, enhancing problem solvingand experimentation are areas in which all the educators of the school have to takepart of in order to meet the pedagogical aims of blended learning.As far as Iskoodle is concerned, teachers have to be aware of the theoreticalimplications behind its philosophy. Constructivism is the main theoretical source forblended learning and Iskoodle is the platform that permits it to evolve. In technologyenriched lessons, teachers have to be dynamic and fully networked. They should striveto be creators, facilitators and supervisors in order to let students build their ownlearning styles and preferences with the aid of computer-mediated educational tools.According to The good language learner (Naiman et al., 1978), good language learnershave to be active, they need to develop the language as a system, they have to have the 8
  19. 19. technical know-how and finally, they have to practice and use the language in an activeway. Being self-evaluative, sociable and constantly looking for meaning are other keycharacteristics that could also be applied to 21st Century Learners. Students learn bydoing and not by only facing a static-centered classroom teacher. They have to be activein class, independent , self-reliant and share their knowledge with their classmates.They are, by nature, able to adapt fast to new forms of communication in a mash-upculture. In this way, language teachers should provide them with a wide access toworldwide information to nurture and expand connections through different learningresources in a society where up-to-date competencies and skills are a must. Thischange from lecture- to student-centered instruction is, however, not only a matter oftechnology, but also of being convinced about its intrinsic value in which the teacherplays the most important part. In the particular case of second language acquisition, amyriad of diverse hybrid working strategies such as online comics, podcasts orcustomized motivational posters are just some of the enormous possibilities web 2.0 canoffer without any additional costs. Teachers and students become then constructors ofknowledge within authentic learning experiences in digital-age communication. Forstudents, this is a challenge that enhances entrepreneurship, participation and criticalthinking and enables them to be more prepared in an economy that is in constantchange and needs creativity and flexibility.The road ahead is not a wasted land though. Schools and teachers around the world areworking towards the use and expansion of blended learning. IT teachers have now theresponsibility to offer the necessary tools the school needs in order to train their 9
  20. 20. colleagues in a fully technological environment. To do that, it is not only necessary thetime and the skills to convince those who are not willing to take the leap towardsmultisensorial learning environments but also the implementation of a good training inteaching making use of the technologies around us. The academic universe of mixedlearning needs to be conveyed to the teachers of the future so Iskoole is aimed at fillingthis gap. It has to be actively used by international foreign language teachers in orderto implement blended learning in their classrooms and spread the message of goodpractices. Similar experiences in digital environments have shown that computer-mediated communication (CMC) with language learning facilitates social interactionbetween the teacher and the students as well as among students (Caado, 2010; DeSmet, Van Keer, De Wever, & Valcke, 2010). Apart from a constant activecommunication, computer mediated communication is a motivational pool that engagelearners in meaningful communication in the target language, leading to effectivelanguage learning (Sun, 2009, p. 88). Meanings on misunderstanding during theprocess of learning a language are also solved anytime anywhere with the teacher in anactive and effective way (Kessler & Bikowski, 2010). Moreover, in CMC, the role of theteacher changes towards guidance with less control over how students behave in theonline learning environment giving them freedom in order to construct their ownknowledge and enhance their creativity (Fu, Wu, & Ho, 2009). On the other hand, themass of resources on the web also enables language learners to practice the languagein real communication with people who are beyond their reach such as fellow learnersor native speakers (Warschauer, 1995). Comprehension through interaction is thenbetter than without any interactions (Gonzales-Lloret, 2003) so a platform like Iskoodlecan help teachers to be able to participate in a community of practice when using its 10
  21. 21. resources in a proper way. The inclusion of tools and resources to create activities ormaterials for learners such as quizzes, online materials presentations, assignments, andtasks with question databases, feedback, scoring and tracking of students’ progress aresome of the characteristics offered by Iskoodle. Multiple choice, short answer, true/false,matching, or cloze exercises including multimedia files (audio and video) are some ofmany activities chosen in order to boost blended learning in the classrooms. Somesuccessful examples of moodle platforms integrated in the classroom practice can beseen in the studies of Zeng and Takatsuka (2009) when using Moodle in a coursemanagement system, to engage EFL students in synchronous text-based dialogues.The students, in a fully collaborative way, assisted each other in attending languageforms through dialogues ,which consequently increased and improved their languageuse in writing. 11
  22. 22. 3. WEB 2.0 TOOLSBut what are the main web 2.0 tools that allow students acquire competences anddevelop them in a blended learning environment? The main areas that should be tackledare reading, writing, listening and grammar. In order to practice them in a mixedenvironment the teacher has to be aware of the constructive approach needed so thatstudents can learn by doing, sharing their own knowledge with their school mates.Reading, writing, listening, oral skills and grammar can be revised and practiced byusing various online programs. Most of them may include some of these areas and,when they are not explicitly in the programs, the role of the teacher and his or her owncreativity making use of blended language learning goals can help to explore andpractice those skills that have not been tackled by the program itself.Xtranormal is a text to movie platform that allows students to create 3D films in a veryeasy way. In a blended learning environment, Xtranormal can be used with studentswho have previously created an original script with dialogues between variouscharacters (Xtranormal only accepts two). The teacher can introduce the characters tothe students in the foreign language studied in class, talk about their characteristics andgive some adjectives regarding their personality and physical appearance. The teachercan also give a topic to the students such as ¨superheroes in danger¨ or ¨The princewithout a reign¨ although he can also focus the topic on the vocabulary and grammarstudied in class such as ¨Daily routine (of a superhero)” or describing a past experience.With Xtranormal students can then edit their own film, embed sounds and music and 12
  23. 23. work on their sentences. The final result can be posted online and presented to thestudents and the teacher. It can then be linked to the blog of the teacher or posted on afacebook page in order to go viral. The outcome of the exercise is not only to write anduse all the relevant words studied in class but also to give a voice to the characters inorder to be creative and imaginative. After the presentation of the film, the students canvote for the best one, talk in the language learned in class about its pros and its consand give advice of how to improve it. Structures such as “ What I liked about the film is”or “ What could be improved is ” are just some examples of how to give an opinion. Theoral skills of the students are also then covered in a mixed environment and, at the sametime, students can listen in the language they are learning to all the dialogues createdonline.Blogs are also excellent tools to use in a blended learning environment. The teacher canset a task such as “curiosities” or the recollections and experiences of a fieldtrip. It isimportant to stress out the idea that students have to use their own words when writingthe text and, if possible, upload their own photos (especially if the blog is about their ownexperience such as in the case of the fieldtrip). Videos and even audio snippets are alsowelcomed in order to enrich the dynamism of the blog. Students then have to present itin the language learned in class with an auto-evaluation about the strengths andwitnesses when creating the blog (Image 1 and 2) 13
  24. 24. Image 1: Project ¨El Fracaso Escolar¨ on a blog by a native Spanish year 9 studentfrom the International School of Bremen. 2010.Image 2: Project ¨Fieldtrip to Granada¨ created with wordpress by a year 12student from the International School of Bremen. 2010. 14
  25. 25. Powerpoint, keynote or Prezi presentations are also good ways of practising a language.Students have to work not only on the grammar and vocabulary skills but also on theiroral skills. With a presentation in electronic format sounds and videos can be embeddedso the tasks and potentialities are endless. Creating an online poem for example (Image3) following the rhythm of a song, a musical video with images and its lyrics (Image 4)or presenting a field trip or a task following a particular idea and grammar structure suchas ¨What would you do to change the world?” or ¨The House of the Future¨ (Image 5)are excellent exercises that can be done by students to practice and work with thelanguage in different formats. Other constructive tasks are creating presentations aboutvarious regions of the country of the target language or the States with their cultural,linguistic, geographical and social aspects. The best presentations can then be sharedonline with free programs like slideshare so that students can share their knowledge andcreate quality content that can be used and practised by other students around theworld. On the other hand, with Prezi, the presentations are done online and publisheddirectly on their own platform (Image 6). 15
  26. 26. Image 3: Project ¨Create a Poem with Powerpoint¨. Example of a slide created by ayear 10 student from a German state school in 2008.Image 4: Project ¨Ground Control to Major Tom¨ created and posted on slideshareby a year 6 student from the International School of Bremen. 2009. 16
  27. 27. Image 5: Project ¨Mi casa del Futuro¨ created and posted by a year 9 student fromthe International School of Bremen. 2010.Image 6: Project ¨Mi Presentación¨ created with Prezi by a year 9 student from theInternational School of Bremen. 2010.Bighugelabs is another free web tool that allows students to practice their written skills.They can create posters for films (Image 7) , books or concerts (Image 8) ,advertisements or leaflets with the vocabulary studied in the classroom and then postthem on the blog. Coloseum Apocolypse for example is a project in which the studenthad to invent the name of a film, add the relevant credits, a sentence about the film and 17
  28. 28. post a picture he had made. The picture chosen is from the Colliseum in Rome when hewent on holiday with his parents.Image 7: Project ¨Mi Película¨ created with Bighugelabs by a year 8 student fromthe International School of Bremen. 2010. 18
  29. 29. Image 8: Project ¨Mi Grupo musical favorito¨ created with Bighugelabs by a year10 student from the International School of Bremen. 2009.Working with online comic creators (Image 9) is also a rich experience for students andteachers. Online comic platforms like stripcreator, give a set of tools in order to createcomics with a great variety of well-known characters. Students can write the dialoguespreviously with the help of the teacher and then construct their own comic that can beprinted off, sent by email to parents and friends and published on a blog. This idea of “letting the world know what I am doing” is an incentive for students to build up theirconfidence and artistic skills. Their work is in fact published for the whole world to see,something that it was literally impossible before the digital age. 19
  30. 30. Image 9: Project ¨My Comic¨ by a year 6 student from the International School ofBremen. 2009.These examples have in common the fact that both students and teachers can work in acollaborative way and spread their message throughout the world. In traditionalclassroom environments students are constrained into non flexible pedagogical toolsleaving them isolated from the rest of the world, a hindrance that can always be avoidedby an active and participative use of technology. 20
  31. 31. 4. HOW ISKOODLE IS ORGANIZEDIn order to build up a useful online platform for teachers to use it, we have to respond tomost of the needs that different teachers, students and learning contexts require.Web 2.0 services generate a great amount of data and services that have to becontrolled and aimed at a pedagogical useful level. Interaction and collaborative digitalexercises have to meet the needs of the learners so all the activities have to be carefullychosen to support all the areas of language learning. Writing, reading, listening andsome interactive oral activities should appear in most of the websites chosen onIskoodle within well-designed, learner-centered practices. The amount of vocabulary,grammar scope and activities have to be not only attractive for both teachers andstudents but also cover a wide range of grammatical points within an interactiveenvironment. Moreover, collaboration and independence have to be taken into accountin open, flexible and distributed learning environments. Students have to construct andexpand their own knowledge in a blended language lesson with the help of the teacherso the chosen websites should be used in a creative way in the classroom. All resourceshave to be stored and clearly centralized on the Iskoodle platform so that they are easyto find and use. In order to do that, a clear separation between languages has beenstated (Spanish, French, German), (Image 10 and 11). 21
  32. 32. Image 10: Iskoodle logoImage 11: Iskoodle external structureOn a second level, each website has a short description of its content so that thelanguage teacher can have some information about the website, a short description ofwhat teachers and students are going to find, the audience and the type of resources. 22
  33. 33. (Image 12)Image 12: Iskoodle internal structureIskoodle will also include some other links on the platform such as Digital AdvancedResources with websites that can be used by all language teachers such as comiccreators or platforms with interesting pictures, audiovisual materials and podcasts. It willalso have a link with some presentations made by students for the different languages,another one with the presentations made by the members of the Foreign LanguageCommittee and links to the official Foreign Language Committee Blog.The websites have been chosen from various sources. On one hand, there has been apedagogical research done by various teachers on other platforms such as Edu365 for 23
  34. 34. Spanish. Edu 365 is a repository from the Departament de la Generalitat de Catalunyawhere students and teachers can find dynamic resources for various subjects. In thiscase, Spanish language learning has been carefully adapted for the different levels ofinternational foreign language learners according to the activities and the level of thevocabulary. It has been stated that the content has to be attractive for both primary andsecondary students. The interactivity has to include videos, audio files and programs inflash so that it creates a truly flexible experience for both students and teachers. Theyhave to be easy to use and cover the pedagogical content of a certain topic (food,hobbies, verb tenses, idioms or specific exams for International schools such as theones for the International Baccaleuareat). In principle, it is not recommended to usewebsites that lead students and teachers to new links. The content has to stem from thewebsite itself so that it has a directed and focused pedagogical purpose. Avoiding pdf.and doc. documents is also an objective when looking for a good foreign languageplatform. In blended learning students have to use actively their computers in theclassroom or be able to follow the teachers’ lessons on an electronic digital whiteboard.Iskoodle .is also a central platform to gain visibility. The Foreign Language Committee istrying to extend its influence within resource repositories. Youtube, Flickr, SlideShare orScribd are free platforms that can be connected to create and expand content within forteachers and students. It is also important to boost the relationships within the ForeignLanguage Iskoodle website amongst teachers to spread the message and promoteblended learning environments. Contacts and groups of international teachers is key toincrease the expansion of Iskoodle. In order to do that, all teachers can take part of thewebsite by posting their picture, giving some information about their professional 24
  35. 35. background and stating their interests. The challenge is to make explicit the activities,presentations and all the useful digital tools to all the international community. Gettingusers connected and managing learning resources can only be done by boosting socialweb 2.0 tools.What activities can the teacher find on the resources from Iskoodle? And what are thecompetences foreign language learners acquire in a blended learning environment? TheBBC has a website with an interactive video drama in 22 different episodes called MiVida Loca to learn Spanish (Image 13). The activity includes the full details of theprogram, a user guide, the syllabus, the print outs and a comprehensive teacher’s guidewith all the relevant details. Students can complete Mi Vida Loca in twelve weeks with orwithout the help of the teacher and it is recommended for beginners. The videos take thestudent on an intrigue mystery adventure to Madrid so that they are curious about whatis going to happen next and why. The creators of My Vida Loca make use of thecliffhanger resource so that there is a mixture of TV entertainment taken from the idea ofthe sitcoms and language learning activities. Students learn the vocabulary andgrammar in each episode at their own pace, they can repeat the videos, listen to thedialogues again and complete the activities for practice. 25
  36. 36. Image 13: ¨Mi Vida Loca¨ online exercises.Students can choose their gender since they can interact with the videos at any pointand the videos are focused on the pronunciation and the translation of words andsentences with a very clear and user friendly interface (Image 14). 26
  37. 37. Image 14: Video exercise ¨Mi Vida Loca¨. Within each episode the action is stopped with an explanation of all the new words thathave been used by the main characters. The students are then able to listen to themagain in Spanish, listen to the translation in English and see how they are written. Thereading and listening skills are practised step by step in a very detailed way so that thestudent has a thorough understanding of the text, the environment and plot behind thestory. Since it happens in Madrid, there is a window to the streets of the capital city ofSpain, their people and the places, architecture and objects of the country such asrestaurants or taxis (Image 15) . The teacher can introduce areas of the Spanish societyto the students so that they are aware of the differences and similarities with their owncountries. The vocabulary can also be introduced and then practised with the program 27
  38. 38. and then, individually or in groups, prepare a presentation about some characteristics ofa Spanish city, the food or the architecture. The videos can also be a good starting pointto prepare similar scenes for a video that can be filmed in class and the presented toother students so that the vocabulary, intonation and pronunciation is actively practisedin a constructive way.Image 15: ¨Mi Vida Loca¨ VideoMi Vida Loca uses in most videos the voice of the narrator translating every singleword and expression in English. This can be regarded as negative when learning aforeign language since the students are not impregnated by it. On the other hand, El Instituto Cervantes offers a free program in flash to learn Spanishcalled Mi Mundo en Palabras. Mi Mundo en Palabras is constructed entirely in Spanishin order to improve the intonation, the pronunciation and the vocabulary of the foreignlanguage learners. It is based on the life of Carlos, his family, hobbies and everyday life, 28
  39. 39. introducing new structures and vocabulary that have to be practised by the studentsthrough interactive exercises where writing, reading and oral skills are a must. Thewords are written and pronounced mostly by Carlos and the student can repeat them asmany times as he or she wants in order to imitate the pronunciation ( Image 16).Image 16: ¨Una foto de mi familia¨ exercise.Students can also record their own voice by answering directly the questions posed byCarlos and his friend on the videos. This helps them pronounce and use the Spanish inan active way (Image 17). 29
  40. 40. Image 17: ¨Mi Familia¨ oral exercise.Other exercises include explaining the ending of a story, summarizing a certain idea,recognizing the structure of a text and describing landscapes and characters with a wideuse of adjectives.Escrilandia is a similar program to ¨Mi Mundo en Palabras¨ in a way that it uses a flashprogram with colorful characters and clear text. Its focus this time is on writing so thatstudents can practice a variety of reading and writing activities that can be done online.The website has a complete detailed guide and a didactic guide with numerousexamples and activities (Image 18). 30
  41. 41. Image 18: ¨Escrilandia. El Mundo de los Escritores¨.Whereas the introductory character on ¨Mi Mundo en Palabras¨ was Carlos here it is ¨LaCigüeña¨ or the storch. It is followed by four sections with many activities that can beprinted off and used in the classroom. The students can modify online a character usingmost parts of the body according to a given description in the original language or writeabout its common characteristics. In a blended learning environment the teacher can seta task to the students by creating the character of their choice and then present it to therest of the classroom. 31
  42. 42. Apart from character descriptions “Escrilandia” , students can also follow the instructionswritten in Spanish to construct a landscape with rivers, mountains, lakes, shapes andcolors. The vocabulary can be previously introduced in the classroom by the teacher sothat the students are familiarized with the pronunciation and the meaning. In“Escrilandia” students can also write in a constructive way their own story illustrating itwith the images given by the program. The final result can be very attractive andcompelling and it can be sent as a gift to parents, friends of even the classmates. Anoline postcard (Image 19 and 20), similar to the one in “ Mi Mundo en Palabras” isoffered by the program with the particularity that the student can travel online to a certainplace and describe it. It can be sent online or printed off and the students can use it as areference for future writing exercises.Image 19: ¨Aprende a escribir una postal¨. 32
  43. 43. Image 20: ¨Instrucciones aprende a escribir una postal¨.In order to practise the listening comprehension students can use online story tellingwebsites. Clic Clic Clic Cuentos Interactivos offers stories in Spanish with a thepeculiarity that the voice of the narrator is combined with the text of the plot thatappears on captions and bubbles as he speaks. The vocabulary is simple enough to beunderstood by average Spanish learners and the grammar combines the simple pastand the present perfect with dialogues between the characters in simple present.Although it is aimed at children who are native speakers in order to enhance theirreading and writing skills, Clic Clic Clic Cuentos Interactivos is a good tool to be usedwith non-native Spanish learners in a blended learning classroom when the teacher haspreviously introduced some of the most complicated vocabulary and when the studentsare familiarized with simple past and present perfect structures. Clic Clic Clic Cuentos 33
  44. 44. Interactivos has no exercises, grammar games or a bank of vocabulary. The teacher canthen generate content by creating activities based on the stories in order to practise thewords and structures learned from the website (Image 21)Fig 21: Clic clic clic cuentos interactivos.Online foreign language games are also a good tool for the students and teachers to usein a blended learning environment. Edu 365 has created a great number of games toimprove the spelling and grammar of Spanish students. They are based on particularobjectives such as getting into the pool if the complete an exercise with success orhaving a digital watch in order to see how much time the students need to finish anexercise (Image 22 and 23). Although it is aimed to improve the spelling skills of the 34
  45. 45. students, in a foreign language classroom new words from the program can beintroduced so that the vocabulary can be enlarged and practised to a great extent.Fig 22: Online exercise. Palabras con mb y mp 35
  46. 46. Fig 23: Online exercise. Palabras y significados.The possibilities are endless but it is important for the teacher to be familiarized with theprograms on Iskoodle. A structured pedagogical plan before using the websites with itsobjectives within the lesson are important for the success of the international learningplatform. 36
  47. 47. 5. THE HEURISTICS APPROACH OF ISKOODLEIn order to validate the usability of the resources on Iskoodle we are going to followJakob Nielsen’s ten principles for used interface design called heuristics. Two foreignlanguage teachers have been using a blended learning approach in their languagelessons throughout 2011 with students from grade 8 and 9. Their experience andpractice with the students coincide in both cases and the resultant feedback has beenpositive. The shift from a traditional foreign language learning approach to a moreblended and constructivist goal has helped to improve not only the performance of thestudents when using Spanish (reading, writing, speaking and listening) but also theconfidence of the teachers and their creativity. The students have changed theirpassivity in a centered teacher classroom into an active role where the construction ofknowledge has been manifested by the constant production of activities done by thestudents with web 2.0 tools and the digital world. Taking into account Jacob Nielsenheuristic approach, we will comment on each of the points he tackles from the point ofview of the two foreign language teachers. 1. Visibility of system status: Is Iskoodle keeping users informed through appropriate feedback within reasonable time?According to the teachers interviewed, Iskoodle sends feedback from all the messagesposted by foreign language teachers. The updated websites are not known by the users. 37
  48. 48. They have to log on in order to see what’s new on the Foreign Language Section. Inorder to keep teachers and students informed the Foreign Language Committee hasdecided to launch a blog with all the new websites, presentations and articles posted onIskoodle. The blog will be linked on a facebook fan page of the Foreign LanguageCommittee. 2. Match between system and the real world: Is the system speaking the users’ language with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user? Does the information appear in a natural and logical order?Both teachers have agreed that the information given is simple and direct. The wordsand expressions used are functional. The division website, description, audience, type ofresources is clear enough for international teachers an no more is needed in order tobrowse the websites. 3. User control and freedom: Users have control and freedom throughout the platform so they have the chance to leave those places that are considered unwanted states 4. Consistency and standards: According to both teachers interviewed the consistency and standards throughout Iskoodle are present so that all users know beforehand what they will expect. The 38
  49. 49. layout and the amount of information is sufficiently clear to be followed within the same platform conventions. 5. Error prevention:Although all the links and the information posted on the Iskoodle platform work, theteachers have not found an error prevention structure when a URL doesn’t work. Thisshould be improved from the moodle platform. 6. Recognition rather than recall: Objects, actions and options are all perceived as clearly visible by the user. All the chosen activities and instructions are also easily retrievable. 7. Flexibility and efficiency of use: The teachers have not seen any use of accelerators on Iskoodle in order to speed up the interaction for the experienced user. One of the teachers commented that the layout was simple enough for both inexperienced and expert users to use fast. 8. Aesthetic and Minimalist Design 39
  50. 50. The Iskoodle design is seen as minimalist and aesthetic by both teachers although oneargues that the combination of the colors are too plain. The units of information aresimple enough to find,    10. Help and documentationThe teachers have not found any help or documentation. Both should be developed onIskoodle in order to provide more information about the pedagogical goals of the linksprovided.The overall impression of Iskoodle is positive. Teachers have commented they arewilling to use the platform although there are still many things it needs to be done. Bothof them discussed the fact that there should be an extra section with detailedexplanations of how to use the online activities. Guidance with a constructive approachcan help teachers to prepare and set goals to the activities presented on Iskoodle. 40
  51. 51. As far as traditional learning versus blended learning is concerned, both teachers agreethere has to be a steady change towards blending. In order to do that, software andhardware have work well in the schools with good technological advisors andpedagogical councelors. Without their support, the support of the parents and the headsof the schools teachers can face difficulties that would hindrance the development ofblended learning in the schools. Another important point tackled is training. Bothteachers stated that a good pedagogical training aimed at the subjects they are teachingis a must. A good software/hardware environment is not enough when teachers don’tknow how to create blended language activities with specific learning objectives in theclassrooms.Last but not least, discovering a new world of teacher creativity through technology is anadvantage posted by both teachers. This does not mean that the figure of the educatoris left behind, on the contrary, blending means having control of the technologicaldevices that allow students get connected to the outside world in order to learn alanguage more effectively. Avoiding the chaos of the net by following certain patterns oforder within a constructive approach can only lead to success in the process oflanguage learning. 41
  52. 52. 6. CONCLUSIONBlended learning is more effective than traditional learning in classrooms where foreignlanguage is taught when teachers are aware of the implications and the constructivisttheory behind it. With the amount of web 2.0 tools available to be used for free form theonline world, reading, writing, listening and the oral skills of the students can beimproved when they take active part in the construction of their main knowledge. Brandnew learning generated scenarios have appeared with user generated content wherethe spread of collaboration and a constant activity of expression have led to a moredemocratic and interconnected worlds of users. Innovative approaches towardseducation in flexible learning environments requires a vision of change, time, resources,teamwork and a lot of supports from parents, teachers, the heads of the schools and thewhole educational community. Hardware and software, together with concretepedagogical goals and a good training for teachers and education are components thatcannot be left behind in order to lead the blended learning approach to a successfulterrain. This vision of the future responds to the need to a new marketplace whereworkers have to be able to multitask and do their jobs in different environments andsituations including the digital world.Iskoodle wants to be the online link for all teachers from international schools, a placewhere discussions, thoughts, files, course materials, conference information andspeaker notes can be shared on its moodle platform. A fully networked teacher will be 42
  53. 53. able to use the platform in order to facilitate knowledge to the students and help themfind their own learning styles with interaction in a community of practice. Thephilosophical approach behind it is constructivism so a dynamic teacher will play the roleof supervisor letting students have control of their own knowledge. In this way,worldwide information has to be shared and used in the classroom for both students andteachers. A blended learning approach also permits teachers to find new information toenhance a myriad of diverse hybrid working strategies, an approach that cannot bedone in a traditional learning environment. Up-to-date competencies are also key for thesuccess and development of 21st century learners in the new economies so the digitalworld has to impregnate every pore of the classroom, Web 2.0 tools permit learnerspractise their listening, reading, writing and oral skills by being in constant contact withstudents and teachers all over the world. With programs like Xtranormal students notonly create an online film but they also have the chance to listen to the characters’speech, a feat that could not have been done by drawing the comic on a piece of paper.Sharing their work make students more confident because they see that the result oftheir creativity can be seen by anyone boosting their confidence and interest. We havealso seen how powerpoint, keynote or prezi presentations can be used in a variety ofways (like creating a poem or a presentation about a given country) in which allstudents can benefit from them. Bighugelabs can be very helpful to create professionallike posters of a film, a book or a certain event. All of them can be analyzed and sharedby teachers and students building up a truly bank of resources that can always be usedby teachers around the world. 43
  54. 54. The organization of Iskoodle is mainly focused on how international teachers work withcontent for primary and secondary students. All areas of language learning are tackledin a creative and interactive way with videos, text, flash animations and sounds so thateducators can use the resources within a fully blended learning environment. Thedivision between Spanish, French and Germany has been enlarged by adding otherlinks such as Digital Advanced Resources or the Foreign Language Committee blogtogether with connections to Youtube, Flickr and Slideshare.The resources on Iskoodle exploit actively all types of activities with videos that can bereviewed a practised over and over again such as in La Vida Loca or the possibility ofrecording students´ own voices such as in Mi Mundo en Palabras where users can listenand compare their own pronunciation with the native pronunciation of the nativespeakers. Revision and comparison using all formats outside the walls of the classroomis possible with a good internet connection at home so that students are able to go backto their lessons and work with their vocabulary and grammar tackling all the relevantpoints of grammar, listening and writing. As stated before, publishing a good piece ofwriting has never been so attractive as before. With Escrilandia for example the creationof a digital postcard can be very appealing to both parents and students since it givesthem a tool that can be digitally manipulated and then sent to anyone in a matter ofseconds. Blended learning is not only more pedagogically rich but it also makesstudents and teachers aware that with the new technologies they can be creators,producers and distributors of their own knowledge. The use of language games or digitalstories amongst other digital activities open the doors to dynamism, entrepreneurship 44
  55. 55. and a truly architecture of participation. It is multitasking critical thinking and constantadaptation in mixed environments, a road that has to be taken by the teachers of the21st century.The performance of the use of the language inside and outside the classroom isenhanced with the new technologies. We have seen how, from Jacob Nielsen´sheuristics point of view, Iskoodle matches its system with the real world with theinformation arranged in a natural and logical order with simple language and shortsentences. The user has control over all the information with the necessary freedom andflexibility to roam about its platform in an efficient way. Consistency and standards arealso met with no errors found and objects actions and options have been perceived asclearly visible with retrievable activities. It is important to stress out the aesthetics ofIskoodle with its simple design, sometimes regarded as plain, since it helps its users toeasily find the units of information and understand at every level what they have to doand how they have to do it. Help and documentation is still an area that should bedeveloped so that teachers can make use of extra pedagogical resources for thedevelopment of their lessons.Traditional learning versus blended learning. At the beginning of this article we stressedout the importance of the vision of change. 21st century teachers should gradually movetowards technological centered classrooms presented the information in multifacetedways. . Communication in ICT-enhanced lessons permits to take the leap from static 45
  56. 56. text books to the fluidity of web 2.0 boosting students confidence through constantupdating, self-development and participation in society (Gonzalez, 2010). Expandingconnections through different learning resources in a society that demands up-to-datecompetencies is a key element for the success of the students. Blended languagelearning, with sturdy pedagogical goals behind it, is the answer for students’performance both inside and outside the classroom.Blended language learning is a fascinating field to be discovered. Experimenting withnew activities, from the constructive approach, can be regarded as a leap towards theimprovement of good pedagogical practices. More research should be done in order tocompare, contrast and show real teaching experiences to the educative community. Theroad ahead looks, by all means, fascinating. 46
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