Thursday, September 17, 2009

I know this post is not relevant to computer-assisted language teaching, but I thought this will help educators like me to manage their gradebooks easily and in a  secure environment.

I have heard of engrade a while before from many educators on my PLN like twitter, Classroom2.0 … . So now I decided to give it try as I was concerned about the continuity, sustainability, security, and privacy of engrade since it is free for educators ( we always have the feeling that free means insecure:)
The interface of engrade is great and it really engages the teacher, student, and parents in the ongoing student assessment. Teachers can have students and their parents see their grades on engrade by supplying them with student access only. In addition to its excellent computational assistance of grade averages, engrade enables teachers to :

  1. upload files for students and parents

  2. comment on a particular student’s academic progress for students and parents to see, as an ongoing evaluation. This makes parents more envolved in their children’s academic endeavours.

  3. Construct classes as much as they need

  4. send direct messages to parents/students

Here is another registration demo screen casted by  an educator.

OK Then, What about Security, Sustainability, and Privacy?
Website says that thousands of teachers have used it and not a single breach was reported. They claim that their servers are secure and that website will continue to be free. The people behind the website also claim that teachers’ classes and grades are absolutely private. How about that :) . You can access their security policy here and their privacy policy here.
Teachers and administrators should be cautious though as to keep their passwords secure and change them once in a while.
I was informed by my educators on my PLN that they have used engrade for quite a time now and that it is secure, safe, and engages parents and students in students’ assessment.
Try it and tell me what you think! If you had the chance to try engrade before, please do share your experience to inform us.
I will definitely go paperless this year and use engrade for a change from Excel and Microsoft’s free Classroomgradebook.

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Posted on Thursday, September 17, 2009 by Ammar Merhbi

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I am sure all of you by now know Wordle and its great implications in ESL/EFL. Wordle- a word cloud that displays words of a text, website, or Delicious visually and according to a word's frequency- has become a favorite tool for English teachers to teach text genres, vocabulary building, and much more. Teachers all around the globe build activities around Wordle to result in enhanced language learning. If you would like to read more about Wordle and activities that can be built around it, I recommend you read Nik Peachey's Post. He also provides a tutorial on how to start with Wordle.
However, there is another web-based tool that is based on vocabulary acquisition theories rather than technical aspects. This web-based word cloud tool is

.  Now, to be honest wordsift is not visually appealing as wordle is and it is not customizable with regard to 1- words displayed in word cloud, 2- word cloud appearance, and 3- options of text input. Yet, it does render a great way to enhance vocabulary learning based on methodological framewrok.

Getting Started with Wordsift

As with wordle, worsift does not need any registration. The video below demonstrates how to use Wordsift.

As you have noticed in the video above, wordsift renders excellent representation of a particular word in text.

1- Frequency of each word in text is represented by its size.

2- Marks the words present in frequent word lists of AWL, lang.arts, Science, math, social studies

3- Word associations and definition of the chosen word are displayed in the virtual thesaurus .

4- Still photos associated with the chosen word "freedom" are displayed.

5- Videos associated with the chosen word are hidden so as not to distract the student unless the student chooses to watch the videos to have a better understanding.

How to Use It with Your Students

  • You can have students look up a particular word from an article they've copied and see how this word is used in context or how the meaning of the word differs from one sentence to another by examining the occurrences of the word in context.

  • You can have students utilize the words associated with the chosen word in the virtual thesaurus ( synonyms, antonyms) by replacing the word in context to see if it makes sense or choose the best synonym to replace it.

  • You can, for example, have students analyze the genre ( speech, poem. academic article, scientific article..) of an unknown text by looking at the word frequency and examine whether this text contains words that are listed in the AWL or math word frequency lists.

  • You can get creative and have students explain a particular word using the the visual representations in wordsift and another design tool such as glogster to poster a representation of the word with media.

The activities that you can do with wordsift are endless. As I always stress, the teacher is a designer who can create various activities that target various linguistic skills utilizing a particular tool.

Theory Behind Wordsift
Wordsift was developed by Stanford University ELL Resources. The theory behind wordsift states that
“ Vocabulary is a central arena in which the discrete skills of reading (decoding, sight-word recognition, reading fluency and accuracy) come together with top-down cognitive processes involved in comprehension
deficits in vocabulary knowledge and the semantic knowledge that it represents may be the most widely shared problem among struggling adolescent readers…
WordSift thus attempts to address one of the greatest challenges facing educators of English Language Learners: how to grow and enrich the academic vocabulary of their students across the grade levels, and especially through academic content instruction. Educators specializing in English Language Learners are faced with a substantial group of students who are “stuck” at the intermediate level of English language proficiency, leading to labels such as long-term ELLs or “lifers”.
Language development needs to occur in context, and content area learning provides the best context for it to occur.
A key challenge is to help content teachers define a new identity for themselves -- as a language teacher of their discipline. “
You can access the full text of the theory here.
If you have any comments, inquiries or you want to share you experience on wordsift your comments are most welcome.

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Posted on Thursday, September 17, 2009 by Ammar Merhbi

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Monday, September 14, 2009

This post is a contribution to c4lpt’s call for learning professionals to contribute their Top 10 Tools for Learning. Well, here it goes, not in order of preference.
  1. Mindomo is a an excellent online mind mapping software that supports critical thinking. It is highly customized for education. Educators can embed their own maps in any website or blog. Students can use it with ease due to its user-/student-friendly interface. Students and educators can share and organize researches in an “interrelated form”.
  2. Etherpad is a great web-based word processor. The great thing about it is that you can edit the same document in real-time and you don’t need to register. Just invite and share the unique url. This is great with regard to teaching and learning in real-time. Teachers, colleagues, and students can collaborate on the same word processor in real-time. Another great feature of etherpad is that you can export or import to and form MS word, PDF, and Open Document. (scriblink is another real-time WP sharing but not as  flexible as etherpad).
  3. Twitter doesn’t need an introduction and is the most well known microblogging platform in the world. A lot of learning projects were based on twitter. The implications for learning in twitter are endless, both for the professional and student. Jane Hart has a list of 10 twitter resources for classroom use on her blog if you wish to explore the learning implications of twitter.
  4. Wikispaces is still my preferred tool when it comes to collaborate on projects. This wiki platform makes it possible for the teacher to engage students on a wide range of projects. Wikis in general tend to be chaotic so the teacher should be a constant regulator of the wiki project. 
  5. Diigo is a web-based social annotation software that I have included in the top 10 tools instead of delicious due to its learning implications. Diigo users can annotate any piece of information in any website and share their notes and comments. This has great implications for online critical reading skills.
  6. Simplybox is a relatively new tool where a user simply boxes an info. on the web he wants to share and add to his account to share and annotate with other users.
  7. Hotpotatoes  is a free authoring software that produces highly effective interactive exercises and quizzes, especially for language learners. It has been and still is my favorite authoring tool. It is also SCORM compliant.
  8. Microsoft’s free Learning Content Development System is yet another great authoring tool that produces professional-looking courses online (SCORM compliant) or on CD’s.
  9. Google Docs should not be excluded form this list. Google Docs makes it possible for users to create, share ( link or embed) , and edit documents, presentations, and spreadsheets with great easy. Google Docs is highly efficient with regard to teaching and learning. Google Docs also makes it possible to conduct an online form. Great tool!
  10. Pageflakes is an RSS reader very similar to netvibes and igoogle. Some call them the PLE as they are customized to the preference of the learner following website and blogs. What I like about pageflakes is its great user-friendly interface, customizable pages, and pagecasts that you can share with anyone. You can see an example of one user’s pagecast here.
Well, that’s it. This is my top 10 learning tools list for 2009. Of course other tools are abundant and probably deliver the same learning outcomes as the ones mentioned above. The main notion is that what you, as an educator, can do with these tools to enhance learning.

Posted on Monday, September 14, 2009 by Ammar Merhbi


Friday, September 11, 2009

I was approached by many educators in my teaching context asking about web2.0. What is it? Why is it called web2.0? Intuitively because there was a web 1.0 :)
To explain what web2.0 is, I should show you what web1.0 is and how they differ and how web2.0 affords an innovative learning based on collaboration and sharing of knowledge.
The model below roughly shows how web1.0 differs from web2.0.

Web1.0 refers to :

  • slow connection (modem)
  • HTML websites
  • One to many communication
  • Static Websites
Web1.0 companies present on their websites and users read the information with little communication between the two.
Web1.0 was used in  education and  language learning for drills and practice. The “drill” and “practice” nouns lend themselves well to behaviorist theory of learning. It can be seen as the PP approach too where PP refers to Present then Practice. The website Presents and learners, especially language learner, Practice but with little or no third P (Produce).
Web2.0, however, has arrived due to technological advances.

Some of web2.0 features are:

  • fast internet connection (dsl, fiber optics, cables)
  • Websites based on Advanced coding and languages such as XHTMl , ajax, Ruby on the Rails
  • many to many users ( The website supplies the platform and users create content)
  • dynamic websites including comments features, sharing files and multimedia
  • rss aggregation
  • little knowledge of html on part of the users to be able to supply content

An impressive range of web2.0 collection of websites can be found at .
The most important feature of web2.0 is that users can collaborate and build on each others’ knowledge. If you access the internet now, you would find unlimited amount of information that would not be possible without users pouring  their contents;Therefore the term, user-generated content!! Website companies then rely on the user for their success. The more users generate content, the more the website company is successful.
I am sure that all of you now generate content in the web2.0. Social networking websites such as facebook, myspace, and ning; photo sharing websites such as flickr; social bookmarking websites such as delicious and diigo; professional netoworking websites such as linkdein; video sharing websites such as youtube and vimeo and much more rely on the user, you, to ensure their success. In fact you can hardly now see any website that is static termed as web1.0.
The following collage shows some of the most famous web2.0 applications. The collage was created using Picasa, a free photo editing  application owned by Google.
 youtube logo

How Is Web2.0 Used in Education and Language Learning?
The increasing presence of the internet in schools and at home encouraged educators to harness the power of web2.0, which is web based and needs access to the internet. The good thing is that web2.0 applications are free!! At least most of them are:)
Students can collaborate on projects, create images, edit videos, write blogs, and share bookmarks using web2.0. Yet, web2.0 is a tool and teachers should know how to harness its power based on methodology and research and not on technological aspects. Moreover, like any tool, web2.0 tools are diverse and each tool lends itself to a language skill or, in case of overall education, lends itself to particular subjects.
The following table lists a sample of some of the most famous established and emergent web2.0 tools and what linguistic skills or any other skill each tool affords, under the guidance of the teacher.

( Click each logo to link to its website).
Web2.0 Tool
Implications for Language Learning
Wikis wikispaceslogo

A wiki is a website where it is possible for members to modify content easily. Members can edit and modify each others’ input.
Wikis usually are chaotic so it is advised that the teacher moderate it and modify what is not relevant or inappropriate.

Students can use it to collaborate on projects. For instance, they can start a book project where they initiate the idea of the book and edit for each other, add content, correct, and collaborate. Wikis lend themselves specifically for writing skills. The final product can be made public for the world to see. This gives motivation for students in learning.

voicethread logo
A website where users create and upload podcasts. Podcasts are audio recorded by any digital recorder or using a pc and a mic. Major universities and educational institutions have podcasts ready to download.
Language teachers can use it with their students to enhance pronunciation, communication, and motivation. Students can, for instance, interview any of their classmates, teachers, staff, or any other person on a certain issue. They can even start a school radio station as some schools have lately done. The audio input on the pc can be edited using an audio editing software such as audacity, an open source free audio editing tool that rivals commercial editing software. Podcast can be shared on the internet and downloaded to PCs or mobile devices such as iphone. Teachers can also podcast whole lessons and lectures for their students to listen on-the-move is a directory for most podcasts (also called internet radio)

A blog is the blending of two word web and log.Posts by users appear in a reverse chronological order .Blogging needs no html knowledge and some of its features are the ability of commenting on posts, installing plugins and widgets, embedding videos…
Websites can install a blog onto their servers now to make them dynamic and interact with users. The best known blogging software is the free wordpres.
Language teachers can have students start their own blogs. Each blog should discuss a certain issue ,e.g. hiking, music, tv shows, technology, and much more. Teachers can also set up a class blog and make students members so they can post and comment on each others’ posts. Students can share learning resources, aid each other, and share links to websites.
Blogging helps students with writing and reading skills. It , as well, provides students with real international audience who can comment on their posts.

edmodo logo
Microblogging is blogging with a limited number of characters. The best know microbloggin platform is twitter where any user can tweet a 140 characters. The simple question of twitter is “What are you doing now?” Tweeting can ranger from silly updates such as “ I am sleepy now” to significant tweets such as “ US Department of Edu. research finds that online learning beats f2f (link to website)”.
In twitter, the user can follow the updates of whoever he or she wants. Twitter has become so famous that even Oprah, President Obahama, and Queen Rania tweet.
Students can tweet on their current status and can share what they discovered on the WWW using the link feature or even reflect on their own learning. They can be given the choice to follow their favorite singers’ updates for example then create a report on their current lives. Microblogging has been proven by research that it enhances writing, and cognition.
Edmodo is a microblogging platform designed specifically for education. If you wan to know more on edmodo read my earlier post.
Social Networking
facebook logo

These are websites that provide platform for users to create their own network of friends and other users of mutual interest. Users range from professionals to primary school students. Each user can share, discuss, and comment on their connection’s activities, updates, blogs, videos, or photos. Users can share files and multimedia form all over the globe. one example of a ning professional network is classroom20 where 25000+ teachers share and collaborate on issues related on using technology in education.
Students can create their own social network in facebook and myspace. They can interact with other users using features such as commenting, updating, tagging photos and videos. Ning is a social network that lends itself to education more than the above ones. Teachers can setup private networks or public where students meet and collaborate on learning issues. Social networking not only enhances learners’ writing and reading skills but also it motivates them and increases their interculturality.
 The above table lists only a slim portion of the available web2.0 tools. I shall list a more comprehensive web2.0 tools in a later post. Teachers should be aware that students should be trained on the above tools before including them in education and the language curriculum. Web2.0 technology has been proven to increase learner autonomy, creativity , and interactivity.
I hope this post was useful to language teachers and educators who are novice at implementing technology in their teaching contexts.
Your comments are always welcome. If you want to share your own experience of any web2.0 tool in your teaching context please do share !!!

Posted on Friday, September 11, 2009 by Ammar Merhbi


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

edmodo logo
I’ve been aware of edmodo for quite a time now though I have never had the chance to use it with my students yet, as the scholastic year did not start yet.
What is Edmodo?
We all know twitter as a social networking platform and a microblogging platform for language learners right!!! The thing is that twitter does not have the security that our students need for safe microblogging. This is where edmodo comes in with its enhanced new features.

Simply put, Edmodo is a microblogging platform for education. You notice this on the home page of edmodo where there you can sign up as a teacher or a student.
edmodo home page
Once you enter as a teacher you have to create an account to use edmodo. Your pesonal page contains all the features you need to connect with your students. You can upload assignments with files, link to urls, embed videos, or post a note.
The security in edmodo is that you have to create a group to connect to. Once this is done, you are given a code which in turn you give to your students. So, when your students enter edmodo as “student” they will be asked about the code which they should insert.
The following video is a tutorial to introduce you to the features of Edmodo.

How Can You Use It with Your Students?
  • You can make it as means to deliver assignments and notes
  • Students can use it as a microblogging platform. The same as twitter. As a result, you can build a task around it. For example, you can assign a task for students to accomplish such as researching on the internet and share what they found out using the link , embed, and file sharing features.
  • It is great especially for absent students. You can share the worksheet done in class and deliver the assignment at the student’s fingertips so her or she would’nt fall behind.
Try Edmodo now and share you ideas if you have an other creative use for it with you students.
Your comments, as always, are welcome.

Posted on Wednesday, September 09, 2009 by Ammar Merhbi

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