Contextualized teaching and learning

A lot has been written in the ESL literature about taking into account the social and cultural context of the learners, however very little has been said about the pedagogical implications of contextualized teaching and learning. Education has never been a sterile endeavor, separated from society or from the culture in which it takes place. In fact, the purpose of education is to form responsible, highly skilled members of society hence the idea that cultural and social values do not belong in the classroom is proving to be unrealistic and even detrimental to the success of the teaching and learning process. Nevertheless, incorporating cultural and social knowledge in education remains a challenge particularly in an era of intense globalization and massive standardization. This challenge is even greater in the case of English language teaching where oftentimes internationally published teaching and learning materials have to be adapted to the local context. So how can an international language be taught effectively by incorporating the local context? Here are a few ideas:

a) Go “glocal”. This means that international materials can be adapted to the context by association, comparison and contrast. Thus when a global issue such as pollution for example is discussed it can be referred to as both a global and a local problem by providing examples from the international and local arena.

b) Develop a cultural awareness.  As educators we have the duty to keep educating ourselves about the culture and society we work in. This in turn helps students relate to the issues we bring to the classroom and enhances their motivation and involvement. It also ensures the building of good rapport between teacher and learners.

c) Go for gradual exposure. Education is about learning new things and broadening minds but this cannot happen overnight. Research into retention in learning has shown that activating prior knowledge also known as schemata is the first step in introducing new ideas and involving learners in discussions on global issues.

Finally, learners are very much anchored in the 21st century which means they expect more from their educators in terms of individual attention, knowledge of their learning styles and the use of technology. Education is no longer about knowledge but about what one does with knowledge, how it is used towards one’s personal and social development. Learners have the right to know why what they are being taught is important or why it should matter to them hence grounding education in a local context while keeping a global outreach is the way forward. Contextualizing teaching and learning is about remembering that we, either educators or learners are ultimately citizens of the world, the different bits and pieces of a global tossed salad  and not the unidentifiable ingredients of a melting pot.

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Using Google Docs to give instant feedback to English language students

Live comments on a document

Live comments on a document

In a recent classroom session, Mohammad Tanveer (referred to as Tanveer), one of our lecturers teaching English Language to foundation level students (usually native Arabic speakers) used Google docs to facilitate a writing activity. Prior to the session, Tanveer put the students into groups and created a document shared with each group (we use Google Apps for Education, so students already had accounts). They were assigned a topic “Poverty” and given a few pointers to inspire their writing. The students then worked on individual computers, but on their group documents.

As the groups were constructing their documents, Tanveer sat at a computer with all the group documents open in different tabs. He was constantly switching between these documents to check the progress and adding comments to highlight any mistakes. These comments would pop up instantly in front of the students, and they would make the correction and click on the comments “resolve” button to make it go away. Tanveer could see the corrections being made live on his screen, often before he had finished writing the next comment.

This activity meant students could receive instant feedback on their writing, make corrections and in the course of the session create a document of grammatically correct English. The added advantage of this approach is it encouraged students to keep writing because they knew their progress was being monitored.

Overall this was a very successful session; however it was not without its challenges. It was the first introduction to Google Docs for most of the students, so there was a slight learning curve, and it took a bit of time to get going waiting for them to get over the novelty of seeing multiple cursors simultaneously writing a document!

Integrating classroom and online activities – in practice

Dr Tulika Mishra teaching with the aid of Moodle (on the screen)

Dr Tulika Mishra teaching with the aid of Moodle (on the screen)

After previously looking at 5 steps towards true blended learning, in this post we look at some strategies adopted by English Lecturer Dr Tulika Mistra to try and integrate the two learning environments for students of Poetry

  1. As recommended in “5 steps towards true blended learning“, I get the ball rolling in the first week itself with an Ice Breaker activity. Before the semester starts, I post the Module handbook and the Icebreaker Activity. In my first lecture, I introduce the students to the Moodle page which not only makes them comfortable about accessing the module page, it makes them acquainted with the lecturer, their colleagues and gives them a feel of writing online on a topic which is generic in nature on the module that I teach. For example, I ask them to post their favourite poem and state the reasons for that being their favourite. This does break the ice in the first week itself.
  2. A snapshot of the student/lecturer interaction on Moodle (seen on a mobile device)

    A snapshot of the student/lecturer interaction on Moodle (seen on a mobile device)

    Each prescribed poem of the course is uploaded on Moodle and after each face to face session and a live discussion in the class, discussion questions are uploaded online. The students post their answers and each of them are given feedback almost immediately. This gives them the freedom of time and space; they do not have to wait until next class to show me the answers. As their lecturer, I benefit by seeing the depth of their understanding, level of writing skill, and the most importantly, the points related to the content which needs to be repeated and emphasized for a better and critical understanding in the next lecture. The answers of the students are in nested form and they are visible to each student. The feedback to one student automatically enriches others and they could also learn more from each others’ reply.

  3. The audio links of the oral recitation of each poem is uploaded beneath every prescribed poem by experts. It helps the listeners attain better understanding of rhyme, rhythm and alliteration. It aids them with understanding of assonance and consonance too.
  4. There are discussion topics uploaded in the open forum section of the module, which are indirectly related to their course. For example, a famous quote from a poem is put to them to critically analyse or sometimes an unseen poem is uploaded and their understanding of the lines are sought through discreet questions. This helps build up their analytical skills and critical thinking skills. The students take active part in it since it is like a free writing exercise which otherwise is not normally enjoyed due to assumptions of being wrong in content based question.
  5. Quizzes are another exciting tool which are appreciated by the students. They help attain the learning outcomes in an utmost stress free manner. The best part of this tool is that they can be taken several times and helps to know the finer nuances of the topic/ concept.
  6. One of the most important tools to integrate classroom teaching with online learning is the use of videos. Poetry for example deals with history of English Literature. After the detailed deliberation of each historical age, a viewing of a YouTube video on the similar topic helps enhance memories of the details presented in the class during a lecture. It transports them into the age that they are supposed to read. To make them understand Shakespearean sonnets, a video on the Elizabethan Age was uploaded which provided recreation to the students and helped me save time for content delivery in the restricted hours of the class.
  7. Moodle helps the introverts the most. Students who are otherwise quiet and seemingly inactive in the class surprise me on the online module page of Moodle. Their confidence level leaps up in the secure atmosphere of their private spaces without any hindrance of being intimidated by others. The communication channel is enhanced manifold between the lecturer and the students, thus providing more comfort level amongst both.
  8. Sometimes, the students are made to do things a little differently- since poetry has a correlation with fine art, the students who are good at painting are asked to draw on the theme of the poem they studied. At times, an online essay competition is uploaded and the students very actively take part in it since there is nothing to lose (in terms of grades) and a lot to win (like prizes and appreciation)

Its commonly misunderstood that elearning portals would make teachers redundant. In fact, the success of elearning or any other mode of self-access learning could be facilitated by teachers alone. The trick is that there shouldn’t be a division between online and classroom learning, it is all part of the same learning experience.

Let’s hear from you? How do you break down the divide between online and face to face learning experiences?

5 steps towards true blended learning

blended-learning-divideWhen working towards a true “blended learning” environment, it is common to see more of a “split learning” approach with very little “blend”. It’s easy to segregate the different learning environments in your mind. It’s also easy to assign differing importance to each element according to the environment in which you are delivering them. You can end up observing some or all the following attitudes:

  1. online activities = optional extras for the keen students
  2. online = a repository of resources for the module
  3. online = optional; face to face sessions = mandatory

These may be subconscious attitudes, but they are certainly attitudes that can be observed in a lot of staff and students. The reality is, learning is learning whether online or in the classroom, and each environment contributes unique learning opportunities that the other doesn’t offer, or offers poorly. A key skill of the 21st century educator is to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of the learning environments available to them, and create the most effective and holistic learning experience that they can. This is true blended learning.

If this post we will present a 5 practical steps we have found helpful in removing the division between online and offline learning. Continue reading