Social Media and ESOL learners. February ESOL webinar

Wordle_ELAre you happy to use social media with ESOL learners? That was the question that we started off with in this month’s webinar. Interestingly,over 50% of the responses was not sure.The reality is that there are indeed many challenges that ESOL teachers face if they want to dabble in a bit of social media and a look at the Google doc that we put together collaboratively show what the positives,as well as the negatives,of using social media with ESOL learners are.Click here to see (please add to it as well!)

So once we put out there what worried us a bit about it all Tanu Varma from WAES told us how she uses Facebook in her teaching and learning.This included how she creates closed class groups,as well as the success she has had with learners who are not familiar with social media.She showed us how Facebook helps her learners achieve their learning outcomes.I particularly liked the way learners were encouraged to take photos of the lesson’s learning objectives from the class’s whiteboard and then upload them for classmates who were not there. Though some of us were wondering if absenteeism actually increased because of this but Tanu felt that it worked more as a tantaliser by making everyone realise just how much they really do miss if they don’t come in.

Tanu also told us about the privacy setting she uses with her groups, as that is one of the major concerns.The group is secret so only members see what is going on,membership and all group posts must be approved by admin ( the teacher in this case). She also mentioned how important it is to lay down ground rules about how to behave online but then I think we also lay down ground rules about how to behave in class.Tanu’s enthusiasm for her use of Facebook was certainly infectious and quite a few of the participants took away the action point of wanting to try it with their learners so hopefully we will hear more about that in the future.

Next, we had a  look at Twitter.Jo Gakonga pointed out what an excellent tool it is for teacher development, particularly #ELTchat, which is is a PLN (personal learning network) for English Language Teaching professionals.They hold a twitter forum every Wednesday and they choose their topic based on poll responses and votes so really worth checking that out. However,it does not seem to be very popular as a teaching tool in itself and I thought it would be interesting to look at Twitter as a concept rather than as a tool to begin with. Twitter related stories are so prevalent in the media and learners should be aware of what it is all about even if they are not actively using it. Lessons could be around introducing lexical items such as twitterati, tweetosphere, trolling, twittercide or maybe looking at funny and interesting tweets by famous people.Here learners can expand on the tweets by developing the story (a bit like  expanding newspaper headlines where learners create a full text from a headline by putting the grammar back in) and then possibly comparing their expanded texts with each other to see if they understood the same thing. I also liked this idea from the Guardian newspaper on Saturday where they got famous people to write a story in just 140 characters.Getting learners to do this means that they would have to think carefully about each word and how they convey their meaning. Lastly, another idea could be sorting tweets into the right order to create a linear story.

All of these things could be done without going near Twitter but if learners are happy to go onto it, then it is quite easy to create a class account and get them to create individual accounts and follow each other. For those learners who are a bit shy about going onto Twitter you can send the link via email or post it on the V.L.E. so that they don’t miss out.

Throughout this session one of the main barriers cited about using social media with learners is the fact that many colleges and institutions block it. Building up an informed argument that might be strong enough to persuade IT departments or senior management that these things may be of a benefit to everyone,particularly the learners,could prove important. With this in mind Evan Dickerson ( RSC London) talked about how to ensure that learners are safe online.There are loads of resources out there to help individuals and organisations do a good job such as the Jisc infokit resources as well as  a series of safeguarding learning objects on Jorum, created by Worchester college of technology and Birmingham Adult Education Centre. Furthermore, Jisc Legal has also just launched a new social media for staff policy template to help organisations develop a strong social media policy.

Finally, we finished off by looking at this really fun app ( though that didn’t quite work on our webinar screen) Google story builder. It allows users to create short video stories that look like they have been created inside a Google Document while collaborating with others. To me the most obvious thing for this is to get learners to create a dialogue or maybe to set up a writing homework by scaffolding the process of adding adjectives and linking words into a basic text for instance. However,I have not really managed to think beyond that but I am sure lots of fun writing activities can be created here so do let us know if you have done something with Google story builder.

Join us for the next webinar on the 7th March  Using Video and collaborative communication tools with ESOL learners.

For recording and resources click here

If you have any ideas that you would like to talk about email