Monday, January 2, 2017

You’re invited to the Electronic Village Online Session on Flipped Learning!

Every year, TESOL* educators around the world gather online for a period of 5 weeks with the intention of getting the best professional development, for free! This year, we, the flipped learning team, want to invite you to participate in our session, and why not in some of the other sessions offered. 

But what is EVO?

As stated in the EVO informative wiki, “The Electronic Village Online was first conceived as a project of TESOL’s Computer Assisted Language Learning Interest Section (CALL-IS)”, and it has promoted hands-on workshops sessions given by TESOL experts around the globe since 2000. EVO sessions are free for all participants and feature a variety of topics for teachers who want to enhance their language classrooms with the use of technology.

On January 7th, 2017, the following EVO sessions will start:
  • ·         Classroom Based Research for Professional Development
  • ·         Design Thinking
  • ·         Developing Intercultural Competence Through the Use of Online Resources
  • ·         DIY Online Assessment
  • ·         EVO Minecraft MOOC 2017
  • ·         EVO ViLLAGE 2017
  • ·         Experiential Learning
  • ·         Flipped Learning
  • ·         ICT4ELT2017
  • ·         Moodle 4 Teachers
  • ·         Non-native English Speakers in TESOL
  • ·         QR Codes in Action
  • ·         Teaching Listening: Principles, Techniques, and Technologies
  • ·         Teaching Pronunciation Differently
  • ·         Techno-CLIL
  • ·         TEFL2YL

Volunteer moderators from all around the world offer high quality sessions and tons of learning to people enrolled. All of the offered sessions use a variety of platforms for communication with participants and for storing readings, videos and other resources and for holding synchronous sessions and adding the extra human component to the sessions! Sites like Schoology, Moodle, ANVILL and Blackboard are used by different sessions. Also, social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus offer a great array of communication opportunities between moderators and participants. And last but not least, synchronous communication also happens in some of the sessions via Zoom, Blackboard Collaborate, WIZIQ, etc. So, as you can see, by joining an EVO session, you’d be adding yourself to a global discussion around educational issues of today in the teaching and learning of languages.

Flipped Learning EVO session 2017

The flipped learning EVO session has run for 3 years. It was started by Helaine W. Marshall from Long Island University (current member of the FLN board), John Graney from California, Jeff Magoto from the University of Oregon, Khalid Fheti from Morocco and Kevin Coleman from Kansas but located in Colombia. Then, in 2015, Carolina R. Buitrago from Colombia joined the moderating team and in 2017, Martha Ramírez also from Colombia, has. Martha and I have been active contributors of the FLN blog and we plan to continue being so this year. Lots of learning opportunities and amazing experiences with flipped learning in our country..

This year in our session, we plan to invite teachers to explore the contents of our session through the lens of the four pillars of flipped learning proposed by the FLN (2014). We will invite participants to lesson plan their own flipped learning class considering their context and limitations, we will also peer-review lesson plans to build knowledge together. We will explore in-class flip or in-flip as an alternative when technology is not available in students’ homes. And we will use our Google Plus space to discuss some pressing questions for EFL/ESL and TESOL, in general.

We will also have weekly synchronous sessions to discuss the week’s topics and highlights and we plan to have some amazing guest speakers this year. We have already gotten confirmation from Jon Bergmann, flipped learning pioneer, for January 22. We also plan to  have Helaine Marshall (member of the FLN board) and Robyn Brinks-Lockwood (Stanford professor and author of Flip it! Strategiesfor the ESL classroom  and we are hoping to have Ken Bauer (President of the FLN) again this year.

It would be a great honor for us, the flipped learning session team to count on you for our session. If you want to join, please click here before January 8th (Anyway, late enrollment is not a problem!). We look forward to having you there!

And we thank the Flipped Learning Network for supporting us and allowing us to share this information with all of you, the flipped learning community!

*Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages 


Thursday, November 3, 2016

Flipping my EFL classroom at ÚNICA

Answering Bergmann and Sams' critical question when implementing flipped learning (2012) in EFL has brought me great discoveries and has given my students fabulous opportunities to live English as a foreign language and not just to study it. The question goes: what is the best use of my face-to-face time? Thinking of answers to this question in an EFL context is not easy, not because the answers are scarce, but because of the opposite reason, there are too many things one could be doing to make the best use of the "group learning space".

So, in order to optimize the time and space in my EFL course I decided to take explicit grammar instruction outside of the classroom by creating and assigning peer instruction videos to students (A post on this particular topic coming soon). In EFL contexts, time is usually spent going over grammar minutia leaving little room for language use and spontaneous production. So, what I did was to "get rid of" the grammar in the classroom and free up the space for experiential and active learning.

This semester, I have done several projects and activities in my English 3 class (an intermediate EFL course) to make the best possible use of the classroom time and to implement flipped learning and in-class flip purposefully. Some of these activities have been successful, others not so much. Below, I will describe some of my favorite tasks and I hope you can connect with these ideas and perhaps implement them in your EFL classrooms. If you do, don't doubt to leave a comment in the section below. 

It is worth mentioning that at Única, the teachers' college where I work, we use an EFL textbook (Life 5 by Cengage Learning) as a guide in our EFL courses and that the topics we have studied have been connected to the thematic units in the book.

1. Story creation with Storybird.com

Unit two dealt with storytelling. The book invited students to think about different aspects of storytelling and to "write a story" as part of the unit's contents. The supporting grammar structure for this unit was a review of past tenses. However, I wanted to take the unit a bit further and added a task: creating a story on Storybird (thanks @martharamirezco for the suggestion). 

In the interest of working in a flipped fashion, I had students read stories for homework to discuss their features in class. They did. We then worked on the grammar structure though a video and students started thinking about the topic they wanted for their story. We went to our computer lab to work on the pictures provided by Storybird. That's when we ran into our first roadblock. The internet connection was dreadful and students could not easily browse the site to find the images they wanted for their story. If you know storybird, you might be aware of the richness in imagery offered by this site. That's why I thought of working with the images first and then on building the story from the images chosen, but it didn't work quite well that day due to the internet glitches. Anyway, students prepared their story at home and posted them to our class website (Coursesites). 

Even though students liked the task and came up with really nice stories, I felt the whole activity was an epic failure. However, after asking students what they have like most from the course, the vast majority have mentioned the use of technology, especially tools like Storybird. Funny thing.

Here you have a couple of samples of students' finished products (stories shared with permission from the students):
1. A very tough life

2. Where fear ends

3. The tree of my life

Lessons learned
From this activity I learned a very important lesson about planning. I used to have much more technology where I worked before. My new workplace has limitations in connectivity, and that's okay (it is actually the situation in most of my country), so what I learned was to plan my computer lab time more thoroughly and never forget to have a plan B. I have to use that place for less connectivity demanding tasks like word processing. Also, I have learned to value what I'm doing since students like my work and that's all that matters after all. 

2. Cyberbullying workshop
The second activity I have been able to do thanks to the newly acquired free time in the classroom is the Cyberbully movie workshop. Unit 3 in the book invited us to think about Science and Technology. I thought as part of this great unit I could have my students reflect abput this hard and dangerous topic. My students are still young (17-20 years old) so I thought they could really benefit from reflecting about this issue.

As we took direct grammar explanations outside of the classroom in my flip, we have more time for discussions, debates and even movie workshops. We watched the short movie Cyberbully (2015), and solved some listening comprehension and critical thinking questions I prepared for my students in a workshop. We discussed the topic and students even shared terrible stories they have lived because of an irresponsible use of social networks.  The activity served the purpose of having students think about how responsible they need to be when making a comment, or sharing a photo via social networks. This far, students have assessed this workshop as one of the most interesting activities in the course.

Lessons learned
I had a great experience using this movie in class. I rarely did something like this because I thought movie watching in class was a waste of time. However, being able to stop the movie, talk about the plot as we went, comment on language use, and discussing the issue with my students made for a very productive class session. We would have not been able to make it if I had to explain grammar everyday in class as I had always done. 

3. Street art 

Unit 4 was about art, in general, but I emphasized on street art, hip-hop, rap, graffiti and related topics. My students live in backgrounds where walls are plagued with graffiti and murals, thus, this was a very meaningful topic for them. The class project was to create a street art video presentation. We had one class session for walking around the downtown area taking pictures of murals and graffiti on the walls. Students later used Power Point combined with Screencast-o-matic to create their videos and shared them with us in the class site.

What made this workshop flipped was that because of the freed class time and space we had, I had the opportunity of bringing a real muralist to our clas to talk to my students. Kaleto Taki, a local street artist came to my class to talk to my students about his painting techniques, his inspiration and the materials he uses.

We also had time to go to the Centro Colombo Americano Art Gallery, where my students had the opportunity to see a local photographer exhibit (for many of my students, this was their first visit to an art gallery ever).


This unit was very rich and students liked it a lot! It gave them opportunities to use English in very different contexts to the regular classroom, and gave them the chance to express their feelings towards art and its representations. 

Lessons learned
There's more than meets the eye. I learned how complex and rich my students' lives and contexts are and how much they have to bring to the classroom every day. They showed me their passions and what they are capable of when their likes, needs and realities are considered. 

Here's a sample of their street art videos (the rest are to shy to share).... 


In short, flipped learning has invited me to think about making the classes for my students more meaningful and rich every day. It is not only thinking about the videos that I will create or curate but about creating "fertile learning spaces" (Marshall, 2016) for them to flourish and exploit all of their learning potential!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Research belongs to researchers regardless of their work context

During the 51st ASOCOPI conference in Bogota, Colombia on October 13-15, professor Rocío Monguí from Abraham Lincoln School did an inspiring plenary where she presented the amazing work she and her research group TicALS are doing in order to strenghten the use of technology at her school. It was very inspiring to see how a school teacher is so engaged with research, and how she has managed to impact her community so strongly. They even have a scientific journal, Revista TicALS, where teachers are publishing their research reports and pedagogical reflections.

Teachers at Abraham Lincoln School are working on Flipped Classrooms in Math classes, Digital Citizenship, Using Clickers, Using multiple Web 2.0 tools (Classcraft, Classdojo, Mindmap, Bubbl.us, Goconqr, Chamilo LMS, Kahoot, Padlet, Wikispaces, MyEnglishLab, Video maker, Camtasia, etc --the list is long), they are also documenting the work and presenting it in academic events along the country.

I have no affiliation to Abraham Lincoln school or Professor Monguí, I just think as a Colombian teacher technologist engaged in the use of information and communication technologies in the classroom, I have to recognize the work of colleagues who are pursuing the same goal. Professor Monguí inspires me because she is working at a school, making a huge difference in a group of teachers and students and helping them grow and inserting the school in the discussion around technology that is happening mostly among Universities in the world. It is admirable how she would do all this from her school classroom and position.

In Colombia, research normally happens in Universities or it is somehow controlled by Universities (through MA and undergraduate thesis projects), but to see such a robust research group created and functioning merely within and for the school is rare. That is why I have decided to write this post, because I think it si a great and brave idea. Situating research in the school setting would really make a difference in our country's education.

We need more people like professor Monguí!


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

UNICA: Where the magic happens!

I have just embarked on a new academic and work adventure at a Colombian teachers' college called UNICA and these first couple of weeks have been a wild ride and have kicked me out of my comfort zone. I had already started at the beginning of July, but I was just planning, thinking and organizing myself. These last 2 and a half weeks, I started teaching and what that has done to me is amazing.

I can summarize the experience I've had these days with the image below... I had seen it many times, but it had never proven so true to me as now. Right now, I feel I'm in the zone where magic is supposed to happen.

Image link: http://outofcomfortzone.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/outofcomfortzone.jpg

Allow me to explain myself, I had been working as an online/blended learning MA professor for over 3 years and I had limited face 2 face contact with my students; only four times a semester. As a result, I had  forgotten what it was to walk in the classroom every day! I had forgotten the rush of lesson planning for a day's class every day. I had forgotten the need for attendance sheets, and warm-up activities thought on the spot. I had forgotten the urgency that having a class every day implies, and the need for an active mindset. I thought I was active and I thought I did new things every day, but I didn't. Even though I enjoy my online teaching a lot too, what I'm doing now really excites me!

Another aspect that has challenged me these days and has made me reflect is my love for active learning and the need to make my classes different every day. As a flipped learning enthusiast, I can't conceive classes where students are not active at all times, and where I'm not the "guide on the side". That's pretty easy to do when you have only 4 classes a semester.  However, now that I have class every day, it is not that simple! I have struggled to plan my classes and make them active, student centered, energetic, and on top of that, to create the videos that have to go with my lessons. I have had to start to think differently, and to use different resources (other than videos) to give instruction to my students. I have had to reinvent myself in order to flip. I have been talking the talk for some years now, and now it is time to walk the walk.

I'm not complaining, don't get me wrong.  I'm just saying that now I can really say I'm flipping! And now I appreciate the work of my fellow flippers in the world much more. Aaron Sams, Jon Bergmann,  Crystal Kirch, Ken Bauer, Kate Baker, Brian Bennett, Laine Marshall, Robyn Brinks Lockwood and all the other flippers I have heard of or read about are really amazing! It takes a lot of planning and hard work to pull this off on a daily basis. Crystal Kirch's book, Flipping with Kirch, has been a great tool to stay focused and motivated through these harsh days. Reading her book has inspired me to write this post and the ones to come as a way to examine my own flipped learning/teaching practices and why not, come up with my own book!

Another challenge I have experienced these days is the lack of technology I'm facing. I mean, I have spent the last 9 years or so of my life learning how to teach with technology, but I hadn't devoted that much time to thinking about how to teach without it. Surprise! There are plenty of contexts where technology is not pervasive and where it is actually a luxury of a few, now I belong to one of those contexts. I've had to use my technology mindset to think outside the box and come up with solutions to my classes without the use of devices but still with lots of collaboration, cooperative work and active learning. I can now relate closely to my MA students, and tell them that all the things I said in class actually work, even though you don't have the resources! More posts to come about that aspect.

I have been tremendously challenged these weeks. I feel somewhat overwhelmed, but the feeling that all of what I'm experiencing will just energize my mind and make me come up with interesting ways to handle the difficulties I'm now going through is a motivation booster! I'm out of my comfort zone and I love it! Because as portrayed in the image I chose to illustrate this post, the magic happens outside of your comfort zone. I know I'm struggling now, but I know it is because I had already managed to live through the day with the certainty of what to do. Now that I don't know what's going to happen, or how I will make it happen, I feel uneasy. But energized!

Monday, July 25, 2016

I'm an active teacher/professor. Period.

It'a weird how lately I have felt my teaching style attacked. Indirectly, of course, and not by students, of course.

I'm planning my new course "Pedagogy and Second Language Acquisition" and reading through the course content, I came across an article called "a letter to my freshmen students". Even though, the article's intention is good: make freshmen awarene of the difference between high-school and college, fine, it also makes the case for the I-won't-change-my-ways-just-because-students-are-bored type of professor. He actually mentions he is not paid to make sure students learn, or well, that he'd actually be paid even if thry don't learn. I see his point, but I digress. And he goes on saying that because these uninterested students refuse to work whereas they are entertained, flipped learning is a buzzword favoring activity over the boring lecture. Yeah. True. His problem with flipped learning is that he thinks listening skills developed by lecture listening are disregarded.

Well, I have heard it a couple of times now. It is not only in that article. "I'm not here to entertain students", a friend said. "They have to learn to listen to lectures", said another. "Oh, no, I'm not going to have them jump up and dows, this is not kindergarten", said another teacher friend. And my favorite, "they can't have fun, this is an academic program"...All of these comments have been responses to my enthusiastic sharing of x or y flipped learning reading. So, why does it have tp be like that?

I'm not in the classroom to entertain students, that's true. But also, I'm not there to bore them to death and to give them the indirect message that teaching/learning are painful, horrible endeavors. Teaching and learning are the most life-changing activities for me, and for that reason, and perhaps because of my own learning style, I'm all about active learning. Students are not expecting clowns, but either tyrants.

I have also read it everywhere, we can't teach 21st century students with old, boring ways. We just have to accept that. We can't tie them up to the chair and habe them "really listen", nope. Not in my class. They will have plenty of classes with boring teachers who will help.them with their "listening skills". In my class, they'll have to think, to act, to move, to breathe, to create, to apply, to select, to work, to solve, to ressolve...they'll have to learn by doing.

They'll listen to me, sure, in small group work, in writing conferences, in videos, in podcasts... but even though the author of the article for freshmen mocks it, I have to and will be the "guide on the side", not the "sage on the stage". Not because it is a trend, or because I want to be on the hype of flipped learning, but because I believe learning is active, and because me, as a learner, will just jump of a bridge if I had to go through 8 hours of daily lectures ever again.

Learning is active! Period.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Training foreign fellows to teach English in my country

Last week I had a great opportunity to participate in a training session for foreign fellows (FF) in our country. It felt nice to be a part of such a big project and of something that promises to "change students' lives the country over". I have some thoughts about the general idea behind this initiative (that I will share here), but I also learned a lot about the people behind the project in the past few days.

The National Ministry od Education has put the "Foreign Fellowship Program" in place in order to support the teaching and learning of English in the country. It consists of bringing foreigners (not necessarily native speakers) to co-teach with Colombian teachers in targeted urban and rural schools located in different regions of the country. They travel to the different cities and towns and make a life there for four months (which they can extend to a year if they want to).
In general, I think there is a great place for foreigners in our classrooms. After cillege graduation, I participated in a foreign fellowship program myself. I was a FF for 1 year at a University in the States and the whole.experience really changed me. I can imagine how the lives of the FF visiting Colombia will change after this experience.

Last week, I "taught" them about vocabulary teaching, a book use and warm-up activities. While in the classroom, they were really interested in learning about teaching, but also about Colombian kids, our culture, and tips to make a good relationship with their co-teacher.
I tried to share my expertise with them during these days, and one of the things I'm the most proud of sharing was respect. I know that the whole idea of bringing foreigners to practice English is very motivating and interesting for students. However, I can only imagine how intimidated might teachers in the schools feel when they see the tall  blue-eyed, blonde and young fellow that will support them for four months. I can just imagine their hearts breaking at the sight of their students running towards the FF and their great activities and games. So, I thought it was convenient to advice them to walk carefully and respectfully in front of teachers.

They were really concerned about their co-teacher not liking them or not getting along with them. So, I adviced setting off on the right foot by showing them respect and appreciation for the job they've done for the past 25 or more years. I really liked the fellows' receptivity towards this suggestion. It is good to see they value what teachers have tried to do with their students in very poor conditions. 
I can only wish the best of luck to all the fellows. I know most of their lives will change, but I seriously hope the lives of their stusents and co-teachers also change positively. I wish they see the reality of our country and they experience first hand the recently signed peace. I also hope the co-teachers take advantage of these kids and teach them lots! Because even though the fellows can "teach" English to the co-teachers and hopefully to the students, the co-teachers can definitely teach the fellows about life, about struggling and about thriving.

During this past week I had lots of fun, I taught one or two strategies to the fellows, but I also reflected a lot about my role in this project. About how as an English teacher and a teacher trainer I can help my country, and about how good my decision was. I'm experiencing new things,

Friday, May 20, 2016

Book review: 101ways to flip your online class

101 ways to flip your online class by Barbi Honeycutt, PhD and Sarah Glova was the last book I read. I thought of writing a post on it since it connects smoothly with the topics I talk so much about now: flipped learning and online learning.

The book is rather simple. The author presents 101 short and concise ideas of how to "flip" an online classroom. In this particular book, the flip is understood as a space where student engagement and involvement is at the essence.

The 101 ideas are simple but effective. I had personally tried most of them in my own courses. Creating welcome videos, appealing to the person, introducing IMing and creating a course syllabus scavenger hunt for students to find crucial information about the course are just a few of the 101 ideas mentioned in the book.

However, the activities are not completely explained. The author mentions them but doesn't give much detail as to how they could be set up and implemented (a flaw in my opinion, I would have liked more detail in some of the activities). If you want more of a cookbook full of recipes, this is not quite the book for you.

Anyway, the book makes you reflect on how to construct interactive spaces within the online classroom and gives you ideas as to how to connect to your online students satisfactorily. Besides, it is a tremendously fast read.

If you are an online instructor who feels blocked about what to do in your course and want to get some quick tips on how to engage students further, this book is a great point of departure. However, if you are more of a flipped learning expert, or a "curious" online instructor, this book might be too basic for you. Anyhow, it is worth reading. I assure you, you will find at least 5 new ideas to take to your online classroom as soon as possible.