Laura Loves Languages

A place for many opinions

Brief Hybrid Workshops: Live from MERLOT

Steve Gilbert, Ray Purdom and the TLT group presented on the 5 minute workshop. Faculty developers make 5 minute e-clips to introduce a new instructional strategy or concept.  These e-clips can be used alone, online and f2f. E-clips are easy to make and they are the central element of brief hybrid workshops which can be online or face to face. Here’s a blueprint for the workshops from the TLT’s site:

We looked at a video and did a very brief Think Pair Share which is part of the brief hybrid workshop, reacting to the content in the video. The final activity was an individual reflection on a 3×5 card to help the presenters refine their workshop and to help participants conceptualize the workshop.

August 8, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MERLOT 2008- e-portfolios

First day of the MERLOT conference in Minneapolis and I’m in a session on e-portfolios done by  folks from the CSU system. I can definitely see the application of this type of project to show employers the competencies and skill sets our students have. For language students these portfolios can include work in the target language, showcasing their language skills and evidence of their cultural awareness through the posting of photographs, digital video and their own voice samples.  Many products are available for this work. Students can easily use a  blog format which encourages reflection on the part of students that reveal aspects of their personality to potential employer. The presenters showed various institutional e-portfolio solutions a few of which I ink beow.  In a video that they showed, one employer said that he felt like he knew a candidate before he arrived, based on his portfolio. The presenters spoke to the growing acceptance of e-portfolios by employers. Promising for getting known worldwide.

No more paper resumes!

August 8, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

O Museu da lingua portuguesa

First, it goes right to my heartstrings to find a museum dedicated to a language (as the name of my

Photo by Bee Dieu

Photo by Bee Dieu

blog might suggest). That it’s my heritage language, ainda melhor. I almost did not even make it to this gem in the Estacao da Luz in Sao Paulo, except for Bee’s tenacity on the last day of our visit. We had no idea it was the Day of the Portuguese Language, June 10, chosen because that was the day Luiz Vaz de Camoes died 428 years ago. Wikipedia has a very good page  to whet your apetite but you really just have to go, queridos.  How do I describe what we saw? A small auditorium where a ten minute multimedia presentation on the Portuguese language opened up into a planetarium-like space. Only in this room, the stars were words, verses and snippets of unbelievable literature pronounced by actors and poets and little children. Portuguese, indigenous and African words shot across the dark ceiling like shooting stars. Nothing is more delicious to me than a language in it’s natural beauty. This was one of those priceless moments for someone who love languages, like me.

August 1, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Que Saco!

Laura is a tool

Laura is a tool

Summer 2008 is fleeting fast. It seems like an eternity since my wonderful time in Paraty, Brasil in the southeast of Rio de Janeiro last month. There I visited the Saco do Mamangua, clearly one of the most beautiful places that I have been in 50+ years….. So what if I capsized my canoe in the mangrove, all my valuables were safely in another canoe with  paddlers with skills. All I had to do was not move (or breathe) and I made it safely to shore in Paraty Mirim. Will never forget the hospitality of Dona Gracinha, the little barquinhos made of caxeta wood that I brought home with me, and the utter beauty of the Atlantic rainforest where beautiful orchids with their roots extending in the air were attached to the trees. I saw pioneer vegetation growing timidly on land being reforested.

On the way to the rain forest with biologist, Paulo Nogara.

On the way to the rain forest with biologist, Paulo Nogara.

I hope to be able to find the book by Paulo Nogara, our biologist in residence from the tour,  who paddled our canoe like a gondolier. His love for this country was so evident. He was an excellent teacher who raised our awareness of both the beauty and the fragility of our surroundings. In retrospect, it was a great exercise in self-control to surrender to the movement of the boat. I finally “got it” Type A as I am. Mentally, I can still go back to the peace of the setting sun in the beautiful sunset of Paraty Mirim.

P.S. The little painted caicara boat that  I brought home from that day is sitting on my dining room table today. It helps me go back there in my mind.  When I think about the locomotion involved in it all- bus, boat, hike, canoe and  the plane ride home, the barquinho gave me a real workout then and now a lot of peace.

July 17, 2008 Posted by | Languages | , | Leave a comment


I cannot tell you all how wonderful it is to attend an e-learning conference online, as gas prices hurdle to $4.19 at my local gas station and the comfort of my living room surrounded by my dogs replaces airport gates and runway waits. (Ha ha! sorry for the pathetic rhyme.)

At any rate, a number of us on the MAN (MERLOT Africa Network) are attending e/merge and I thought it’d be very interesting to leave comments on this blog about what we all learn there. Today, I listened to the narrated presentation by Irene Ficheman of Sao Paulo, Brazil who compares today’s learning environments to digital ecosystems. We are reading many of the same people- Prensky on Digital Natives, Paulo Freire on learning theory and some new names for me which I will look at soon.

At any rate Ficheman talks about how learners, teachers, content and software act and interact (or not)

so that students can gain knowledge in a dynamic learning environment. We have a good opportunity for reflection on the roles of teachers and learners as actors in this environment. For deeper learning, it seems that the more interaction the better. (So, let’s speak up.)

Anyway, I look forward to checking into this Digital Ecosystem discussion tomorrow and to hear the voices of MAN colleagues so that we can all later interact with the digital ecosystem that is e/merge. I am honored by the privilege to learn from colleagues, Bronwyn and Maggie, who taught us netvibes yesterday.  Earlier in the week, they showed and Facebook. During the  portion, I came across George Siemen’s  Connectivism presentation  from 2005 and, coincidentally, also his blog post about the recent e-learning Africa .

July 13, 2008 Posted by | e-learning | , , , | Leave a comment

e/merge 2008

What a week!!!

I began it at Carnegie Mellon University for a workshop sponsored by the Open Learning Initiative. I got to know their French Online course up close and in person. It was a fabulous f2f experience and  I am thrilled about the prospect of continuing to connect with my new colleagues there. It shows the longevity and proves the utter logic of OER that after all these years of OCW and OLI, we are building a network that aims at providing more access. Even more important to me as an individual practitioner, this work provides us a forum in which we can discuss what really constitutes quality in online teaching and learning. I really need to have these conversations. To have them with  language educators was real ‘icing on the cake”.

One interesting point that came up here regarding instructional design of online courses was the study on the expert blind spot. (Nathan and Petrosino 2003 . Preconceived notions on how concepts should be presented can cause a disconnect between teaching goals and learning outcomes.  five days later, I keep hearing the message “You do  not think like your students and they do not think like you”. When we build and teach our online courses, we need to keep this difference in thinking in mind.

The rest of this week, I have been participating in a superb online conference sponsored by the Centre for Educational Technology in Cape Town, South Africa: e/merge. From the website:

“e/merge 2008 – Professionalising Practices is the third virtual conference on educational technology in Africa and builds on the e/merge conferences in 2004 and 2006. e/merge 2008 will take place online from 7 – 18 July 2008.”

So far, I really enjoyed a presentation by Howard Rheingold, whose work I have followed since his book  The Virtual Community years back. He now has a very interesting course going on at UC Berkeley called Visual Communications/Social Media. His class as explained on his online syllabus is super participatory with subheadings like “Participation mandatory”, “Leadership required”. He has students interacting in ways that immerse them in collaborative tasks while using all the new tools,blogs, wikis, etc.. .  Anyway, he was a keynoter at e/merge and his talk was followed by a robust discussion by educators around the world.

This virtual conference is employing every kind of new technology to connect participants. As much as I love to visit  places physically, it is wonderful to be able to experience so much collective  expertise without leaving home. This is particularly true since air travel has recently become so difficult, grueling and painfully inconvenient. (Hear my anguish??) I see no reason why we can and should not greatly augment the online component of all major conferences, partly as an access/inclusion issue for people who cannot attend f2f , as well as  for many other very good reasons.

July 11, 2008 Posted by | e-learning, Languages | , , , | Leave a comment

e-learning Africa -First Pan African Forum on Open Educational Resources

Gerry, Moustapha, Laura of the MERLOT Africa Network

Gerry, Moustapha, Laura of the MERLOT Africa Network

At the AICC conference center in Accra, talking about MERLOT in an African context. Catriona Savage from UNESCO Education Sector, Paris, France presented first on Open Educational Resources. Open educational resources are educational materials and resources offered freely and openly for anyone to use and under some licenses to re-mix, improve and redistribute. Open educational resources include:

  • Learning content: full courses, course materials, content modules, learning objects, collections, and journals.
  • Tools: Software to support the creation, delivery, use and improvement of open learning content including searching and organization of content, content and learning management systems, content development tools, and on-line learning communities.
  • Implementation resources: Intellectual property licenses to promote open publishing of materials, design-principles, and localization of content.

She spoke about the UNESCO perspective on the international OER movement. The OER movement began in 1998 with the term ‘open content’ coined by David Wylie. In 2001, MIT Open Courseware became the first large OER project. She talked about Rice University Connexions intiatives that provide a response to the limitations of traditional textbooks and the University of the Western Cape Free Courseware Project. Health OER is a project between South Africa, Ghana and the University of Michigan dealing with Health education resources.

UNESCO themes include Education for All-Building knowlege societies. With Hewlett Foundation support, the OER movement has been growing as has the availability of free educational content worldwide. Ms. Savage addressed the priorities of the UNESCO OER community. In Africa, some of the priority issues are:

  • Awareness raising
  • Communities
  • Capacity Development
  • Sustainabilty
  • Quality Assurance
  • Copyright
  • Learning support services

Raising awareness through community building and network development are highest priorities.

The OER Wiki

Dr. Bakary Diallo, rector, talked next about the African Virtual University, (AVU) begun in Washington, DC at the World Bank and now based in Nairobi, Kenya. The topic was to increase access to high quality higher education in Africa. Barriers:

  • Limited classrooms
  • Outdated curricula
  • Teaching and Learning Methods
  • Research capacity
  • Access to OER
  • Bandwidth

The AVU seeks collaborative partnerships for the creation, design and dissemination and utilization of OERs. Dr. Diallo stressed the importance of addressing the issues surrounding working in an African historical, philosophical, psychological and cultural context. AVU is establishing collaborative partnerships with MERLOT and the MERLOT African Network. There is a plan to release 73 AVU Math and Science modules as OER.

Dr. Moustapha Diack continued with a talk about “Open Solutions” to increase the availability of OER, to promote free access to scientific literature through Open Access and to adapt open source solutions for learning design and community building. Global and regional policies need to be aligned in this movement to promote truly open access. Diack promoted MERLOT as a premier e-learning community and the MERLOT Africa Network as a means of facilitating networked partnership between US and African institutions affiliated with MERLOT. Open Access resources he mentioned included:

  1. Directory of Open Access Journals
  2. The Hinari Program
  3. The Agora Initiative

I came all the way to Ghana to hear Vikram Savkar, the Publishing Director of Nature Publishing Group, who also happens to be the son of my dear colleague at NOVA, Reva Savkar, Professor of Chemistry at the Annandale Campus.  He spoke about the importance of tertiary science education in Africa. Without access to current quality science research, it is a challenge to provide good education and build capacity. Among solutions to the challenges alluded to by all speakers were: Open (Me-learning) & print materials, centers of excellence and private and public partnerships. Vikram Savkar hasworks on the Nature Science Education library of searchable, reusable digital content, a community of teachers and learners who can collaborate online and tools to permit the community to interact with each other and the content. The key theme in all of these presentations today, including Vikram’s is partnerships- academic, industrial and government partnerships.

Questions and Answers followed: What is the best opportunity to promote OER? Catriona Savage mentioned “talking about OER , telling the story of what works and what does not.” Gerry Hanley of MERLOT talked about “planning for action”. He encouraged the forum participants to have dialogues in their countries after experiencing MERLOT firsthand at the afternoon workshop. Dr. Diallo stressed the importance of addressing different needs and different perspectives.

A question from the audience was about interpretation and translation needs of the OER movement as well as training material about how to effectively use ICTs for teaching and learning. How will we adapt materials for different cultures? Panelists all recognized the needs for multilingual solutions.

Another question raised was about how we will keep track of quality in ICTs? Community built around the content, peer review and user comments, as in MERLOT, were all promoted as means of making decisions about quality.

All speakers talked about the critical need for faculty development in the area of teaching well online. The participants were encouraged to join MERLOT and start making use of the free and open library.

This afternoon, participants in the forum will attend our MERLOT hands-on workshop and get a chance to start to build their own personalcollections of learning objects.

May 28, 2008 Posted by | e-learning | | 2 Comments

Banku is news to me

Goes great with Ghanaian stews.

Goes great with Ghanaian stews.

We got to Accra very late. Our hotel is charming. I feel very at home here. Folks are so nice and the landscape is like Belem.

 I have tried a new food called banku. It is a starch. You’d love it, Vegan.  Check it out.|It goes very well with okra and fish stew which I also had. Funny and a little, just a tad awkward was when the waiter brought me a pot of water to go along and I asked him what it was for!! Apparently banku, and the stew that accompanies it, is eaten with the fingers. I didn’t know, but proceeded to apply my first lesson learned, day one in Accra.

May 27, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

On my way to Accra

Sitting in the Amsterdam airport, a remarkable place in that it contains a Van Gogh museum and a casino in addition to all the shops and things you’d come to expect. But best for me is that I have this wi-fi connection . I’m sitting outside this area called “the communication zone” and it’s a joy to be able to communicate. So  y’all keep that in mind when you need to connect somewhere. I wish we could get out and actually SEE Amsterdam, but that’ll be another day.

Rick and I are on our way to Ghana for the first Pan-African forum on Open Educational Resources. With my colleagues from the MERLOT African Network, Dr. Moustapha Diack, Dr. Gerry Hanley, who is also the Executive Director of MERLOT, and Dr. Solomon Negash, we are all going to give a MERLOT workshop for educators from all over Africa and the world. Hard to put into words what a great thing this is.

OERS are really taking off and it’s about time to acknowledge the hard work folks have been doing to increase access to technology-enhanced learning materials.Look at all these portals on Wiki Educator .  The bottom line is they are all making  very good materials available for free. Why? Cause it is the right thing to do.

Over the next several days, I hope to  be blogging the conference from Ghana. Please check back here for updates. I expect this trip will be a wonderful adventure.

May 26, 2008 Posted by | Languages | , , | 1 Comment

NECTFL 2008: languagelabunleashed

Big props to Felix Kronenburg to come to the Marriott Marquis in NYC  all the way from Pomona California to introduce East Coast language educators at NECTFL to languagelabunleashed, a professional development gem on the web that is so much more than a blog. One of the topics that came up during a very insightful and comfortable conversation about technology-enhanced language learning was how to engage the many FL faculty who never make it to a professional conference for whatever reason.   LLU regularly hosts informative sessions and live webcasts where listeners can join in easily  both to listen and  chat . Tech o’ Tuesdays feature tech tips on topics like recording skype, file conversions and new 2.0 applications. Other webcasts cover topics like using skype for language exchanges, Wikipedia in the classroom and a very interesting show that I heard myself on foreign language learner anxiety. The beauty of these programs is that they are archived and serve the PD needs of all the FL teachers who have the LLU URL.

In addition to the live broadcasts, the LLU team are seasoned backchannelers. They go to conferences and blog about sessions while they are sitting in them. This is a very inclusive approach to sharing ideas at conferences linking those who were there to those who were not. In effect, it extends the conversation and the networking well beyond the original talk so that a multitude of participants can potentially benefit. However, live  backchanneling, that makes conference proceedings available in real time, presupposes an Internet connection in the session room which is not routinely available in many conference venues. When broadband connections become truly ubiquitous, more teachers will be able to join in the discussions -some in the session room and some in blogs. It is up to all of us to imagine the kinds of discussions that technology will enable to make professional development available to all.

April 6, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment