ESOL and VLEs

accessbilityA packed webinar on VLEs and ESOL. One of the reasons I personally was keen on this theme was the hours spent trying to get learners to remember their college passwords and then trying to do an ‘interesting’ activity. By the time I had managed to get around to everyone and got them to re-enter their password for the third time it was already the end of a rubbish lesson. But I still think of the ‘ideal’ VLE as a place were learners (and staff) have the chance to interact and learn creatively. What I have picked up from talking to curriculum and e-learning staff is that a consistent institutional and curriculum team approach, as well as meticulous planning, is needed. Technologically facilitated delivery can offers great benefits, such as accessibility and flexibility, but there does need to be a lot of attention to detail.

That brings me to Sally Betts’ presentation about ‘ VLEs for all’, an ETF funded project to develop the accessibility of Moodle for all learners. Here there was that attention to detail and some strategies that would have been really useful for me as I struggled with my classes. Keeping in mind some of the points that people mentioned in the pre-activity; Sally talked about ideas such as communicating with IT support to override the automatic password creation and then developing a class plan for setting up passwords that are individual yet have some common prompts that the teacher can use to remind all learners. Sally also mentioned creating groups by using the group function in Moodle for differentiated learning. Also mentioned was Poodll, an audio and video-recording tool specifically created for language learning, though you will need to get your technical support on board with this as it is a Moodle plug-in.Infact, one of the initial questions we asked on the webinar was how supported people felt with their technology, if they had someone to turn to in a moment of technological need and it was very nice to see that the majority did feel supported; certainly communication and co-operation with technology support is vital. Lastly, we ourselves can also bring external tools in and embed them into Moodle such as Padlets but also, Xerte learning objects (all mentioned before in a previous ESOL webinar click here). Another major concern that  people expressed in the pre-activity was how clunky and unattractive the design of their Moodle was, so to help with this we heard about Xtlearn; a great visual way of putting resources onto Moodle and another good tip is using Moodle’s picture grid format for easier navigation. To find out more here is a Xtlearn collection from Sally with a summary of the useful tips she suggested: VLES for all.

Next, for those of us who do not have access to Moodle or want to try something else, Diana Tremayne told us about her use of Edmodo. There has been a lot of clamouring for a presentation on Edmodo as people have heard how easy it is to use. Indeed, the overall impression is that Edmodo’s friendly interface is great for both tutors and learners, particularly at lower levels. A bit like Facebook, it is a free web based tool and one of its winning point is that you do not need an email to sign up, which is often a barrier for some ESOL learners. Furthermore, it is easy to post onto and it has lots of assessment tools such as polls for instant feedback and quiz functions, which seem easier to set up compared to Moodle. There is also the option to use Open Badges (Click here for our December session where we talked about Open Badges) and also a great place for teachers themselves to share resources and ideas. Edmodo is available as a mobile app as well! Though someone did point out that even if it is such a great tool some institutions are not too keen about using external learning platforms; the line between ‘institutional’ and the outside world is blurred and concerns are raised about who is in control of what. However, maybe using something like Edmodo could be a strategic way to get lower level learners comfortable with the concept of on-line learning before slowly transitioning them onto Moodle and its higher functionality. Again highlighting the importance of communication as it is a question of balancing the risks that would need to be discussed across the organisation. Russell Stannard’s Teacher Training Videos has some good tips about setting up Edmodo.

It is good to know what else is out there and to prove that Moodle is not the only major VLE in town we got some input from Richard Calderdale about the state of the art latest generation VLE called Canvas, which does look impressive. I had heard about Canvas in a presentation from a South African school with SEN learners and how effective it was, particularly in terms of accessibility. Richard used screen share for a quick tour and it certainly looks very smooth with a clear layout; again familiar functionalities are there like setting up groups, quizzes and so forth. In addition there are other features such as an integrated video function that has great potential to be used as a ‘language lab’, it also has a conferencing tool with whiteboard. It would certainly be great to be able to experience Canvas within an ESOL context.

Finally, the last presentation was from Colin who told us about a start-up project at Strathclyde University called Micro-phonics; an ESOL pronunciation tool that can be integrated into Moodle. Pronunciation seems to be one of those things that newer teachers often do not feel very confident teaching. Yet even if someone does use the right grammar and a lot of vocabulary but does not use any sentence stress, for instance, it can really affect communication and comprehension. This web based tool has been created to help teachers and learners with this and to increase the effectiveness of ESOL teaching overall as it uses video, animation and images to blend individual elements of speech together to teach letter-sounds as well as handwriting. There are various functionalities including one for learners to record themselves and it also has loads of lesson plans and quizzes, all with a word database dictionary. You can find out more or if you want to get involved with the University of Glasgow research then do contact Colin@micro-phonics.com.

This was a quick overview that in no way covers it all so if you do want to hear more then click here for recording and presentations of this webinar (and past webinars)  available until December.

Next webinar will be on the 14th November ESOL in the community