Thursday, January 31, 2013

Week 3, Part 2: Web Resources

As an NAU GTA, I have the opportunity to teach both L1 and L2 writing classes.  Many of my students are not excited about writing, either because they think they're not good at writing (and have been putting off fulfilling that English requirement) or because they think they learned everything in high school AP classes.  To increase motivation, I encourage my students to view writing as exploring.  In my L1 class, I encourage students to propose a change to the prompt if they have a good reason (e.g., it fits the kind of writing they'll do in their future careers) and especially if it encourages them to explore something new.

Yesterday in our CALL class we viewed several web resources for presenting work in creative ways.  I plan to try a few of them myself, and I will be sending these links to my classes (both ENG 105 and 205 require a presentation to accompany one of the writing assignments).  The options for technology use in the classroom can be overwhelming, as we learned from our readings this week, but they can also provide opportunities for exploration.  I hope I will not be viewing 34 student PowerPoint presentations this semester (though PPT is a great tool).  Instead, I hope students take the opportunity to explore new ways of presenting their ideas and research.  Thanks to Dr. Smart and all my classmates for the plethora of web resources!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Week 3: Digital stories

Digital stories:
This week we received a variety of websites for creating digital stories.  Cynthia and I were assigned to use GoAnimate, and in the last ten minutes of class, we played around with a few templates.  If you don't find the dialogues we created funny, don't worry-- we don't either.  :)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Week 2, Part 2: Evaluating a non-ESL website

At the end of class last Wednesday I worked with Jena and Nourredine to come up with a list of criteria for evaluating a non-ESL website.  We have all used news clips (from websites such as CNN or YouTube) in our classes, so we decided to consider some criteria for evaluating authentic videos for listening activities.

Here's our list of evaluation criteria:
Vocabulary, speed/pace, voice clarity/background noise, interest level, content, authenticity, register, length, cultural awareness, visuals (visual input in a video may give viewers too much information, so that they can figure out the story line without having to listen to the dialogue, or there may be no visuals to support comprehension), copyright

I went to and clicked on one of the top stories: "How America's top general came to endorse women in combat."  You can find the video here:

I chose to evaluate this video because it's something I would have clicked on last summer while teaching a PIE level 3 CBI class on protests.  One of our units was on the fight for gender equality, and we were always looking for video clips to show in class.  Although the story relates to class and CNN provides authentic listening material, this particular clip is not one I would use in class, and here's why:

Content: The topic of this piece is what drew me to it.  It relates to the content students are covering in class.  However, a major issue associated with women in combat is sexual assault.  I'm not sure I'd want to tackle the topic of sexual assault with level 3 students.  Additionally, this piece is a debate.  In making their arguments, both women bring up issues that students may not be familiar with (even I would need to do some research to be able to catch everyone up on the issues, and I don't think that's a productive use of time).  Also, the fact that this is a debate means the conversation got heated at times, and...

Pace: ... the conversation was often fast-paced.  Although the video had a professional quality without distracting background noise, the speed of speech may have been difficult for level 3 students to comprehend.

Visuals: The pace was quick, and there were few visuals that would aid in comprehension.

Cultural awareness: In the midst of the debate, one woman says, "that's the approach they've taken in Iran or Saudi Arabia.  I don't think that's where we want to go in America." This could be insulting to students from Saudi Arabia.

Length: The video is almost 8 minutes.  That's a bit long for class use.  I usually try to find clips that are no longer than 3 or 4 minutes.  If I were to use only part of the video, I could use the first 30 seconds (before the debate begins) just to introduce students to the topic. However, it would probably be wise to return to the drawing board and look for a more appropriate clip.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Week 2: Evaluating resources

One aspect of evaluation I've been thinking about is the role of the instructor for a particular application (see Table 2.2 in DuBravac, p. 26).  DuBravac notes on page 29 that, "adopted applications should be able to reduce the amount of work for instructors in comparison to what they would do without the technology."

This seems somewhat obvious, but it is not always easy to predict how much time and work a teacher will spend using a particular application.  And if an entire program decides to implement an application, some teachers will likely use the technology more efficiently than others.  In my L2 composition class, I use several BBLearn features, such as the discussion board and online submission tools.  This will be my fourth semester teaching L2 composition, and each semester I move toward a more "digital" format for class.  I'm still not sure if this creates more or less work for me, but maybe I'll figure that out by thinking through some pros and cons.  Here it goes:

Con: Clicking through a set of homework assignments takes longer than flipping through a stack of papers.  For the most part, if I'm going to ask students to take the time to write, reflect,  research, or peer review something, I need to take the time to offer feedback (qualitative and/or quantitative), and for me, BBLearn submission takes more time for short assignments.

Pro: There are no disagreements about whether or not an assignment is late or whether or not a teacher lost something.  BBLearn lists the deadline as well as the student's submission time.  Students can see all their missing assignments.  And, students can still submit even if they're too sick to come to class.  This places more responsibility on the student to keep track of deadlines and missing assignments and saves me from digging through stacks of papers when a student thinks I've lost an assignment.

Con: "I tried to submit, but.... BBLearn wasn't working!"  This usually means I have to make a new homework assignment, or extend the deadline on BBLearn, or download homework assignments in my e-mail inbox.  Technology is not always reliable.

Pro: Students can do peer review at home using the discussion board.  They don't have to come to class at 7:55am, and neither do I.  Everyone wins.

Con:  I make up for it when I have to untangle all the threads upon threads of discussion board responses.  It gets messy.  And, although we go over the peer review directions in class the day before, many students do their own thing.  Or review the wrong person's paper.  Maybe they have questions about peer review, but they can't ask me on the spot.  Because I wasn't monitoring the peer review process as it was happening, I now have to decide how to fairly grade the variety of peer review formats I've received.

Pro: Students appreciate opportunities to become familiar with BBLearn.  This class serves as their "bridge" to the university, and students say they feel better about using BBLearn after taking this class.  I am also (slowly but surely) learning the do's and don'ts of BBLearn.

Although this list is not exhaustive, I think the final "pro" listed is one of the most important.  It fits with our class goal of serving as a bridge and preparing students for the university.  And while the discussion board feedback may be messy from a grading perspective, it's a reality of "composing in electronic environments," which is one of the WPA outcomes for the class.  The time an instructor spends using technology must be considered alongside the skills that may be gained.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Week 1: The basics

To my fellow classmates taking Computer Applications in Linguistics: Hi!  And welcome to my CALL blog.

If you don't know me, my name is Karen Lenz, and this is my final semester in the MA-TESL program.  Before coming to NAU I had the opportunity to work with a variety of ESL learners in a variety of programs (e.g., adult ESL, family literacy, workforce English) in Nebraska.  Now I get to teach ENG 105 to PIE students and ENG 205 to American students at NAU.

My experiences with technology in the ESL classroom deal mostly with the basics: in workforce English classes we would teach students to set up e-mail addresses, create resumes in Microsoft Word, and use Google Maps.  In family literacy classes, parents learned to access the websites their children were using at school.  In my PIE section of ENG 105, students have requested that we do our free writing and reflective writing during our lab days so they can practice typing.  We also spend quite a bit of time learning to format papers.  Students also appreciate the opportunity to practice using basic university resources such as BBLearn and NAU's library page.

These "basics" require a lot of energy and patience.  In the workforce English class, for example, many students had never used computers before.  Technology can raise students' anxiety levels and increase the potential for a chaotic class.  But for ESL learners living and studying in the US, the ability to master these basics and also learn to use new forms of technology is, I think, a prerequisite for academic success and employability.

Jena Lynch and I presented on the topic of making the most of limited technology last fall at the AZ-TESOL state conference.  Part of our presentation incorporated ideas from Egbert and Yang (2004), who encourage teachers to consider whether or not the use of technology promotes L2 interaction (and negotiation of meaning), learner autonomy, and a healthy stress/anxiety level.  Rather than using technology for its own sake, Egbert and Yang offer a reminder for teachers to return to the basic principles of second language learning and teaching.  Other considerations they mention include deciding whether or not a particular use of technology in the classroom provides learners with enough time and feedback, whether or not the tasks are authentic, and whether or not the activity allows learners to produce creative and varied language.

My experiences thus far with technology in the ESL classroom have given me respect for teaching "the basics," whether it's the basics of using a computer or the basic principles for second language teaching.  However, aside from brief introductions to English language teaching software and websites in our listening and speaking methods class, I do not have a lot of experience with computer applications in applied linguistics.  I hope to gain a better picture of the technology available to second language teachers and researchers as well as important considerations in implementing these resources.


Egbert, J., & Yang, Y. (2004).  Mediating the digital divide in CALL classrooms: Promoting effective language tasks in limited technology contexts.  ReCALL, 16, 280-291. doi:10.1017/S0958344004000321