iTDi Interview Follow-up

Last Tuesday Steven Herder, of the International Teacher Development Institute, or iTDi (itdi.pro, YouTube, Facebook) was nice enough to include me on the list of people interviewed for their Teacher’s Room series. Steven interviewed me online using Zoom conferencing software. It ran almost exactly an hour and was really exhilarating. I started to realize I may just have some things that are worth telling people.

I went on far too long about my own history of language learning and teaching, how I discovered at 11 years old in Mexico that there were some people who did not speak English. I didn’t get to tell the story of watching Batman in Spanish, and how two little bilingual kids about half my 10 years of age could translate the dialog on the fly, all the while giggling. I wanted to do that. So you can go through my notes if you don’t want to watch the first 30 minutes.

More interesting was the last half where we talked about teaching and learning languages, along with tech (I am a tech guy). We did a few minutes at the beginning on RSS feeds and (one of many readers) Feedly software and how to use that to collect (aggregate) blog posts from across the world. I didn’t have time to note that after 20 minutes of Facebook, I am angry, and after 20 minutes of RSS (Feedly) I am enlightened. (Facebook is like porn, which, as Bruce Springsteen notes, “Just makes me mean,” because the enticement is there, but no real interaction.)

But after my history of junior year abroad in Barcelona, returning to teach English, studying for DELTA (in those days RSA Dip) and working my way into the field, my move back to Chicago for an MA (under Elliott Judd, great mentor), then to the TESOL meat market to get a job in Tokyo, meeting my wife at work, China for a year then daughter and university job 3 days apart 34 years ago, we finally got to the real discussion.

We talked about influences like JALT as a professional development network, but I did not talk about the Tokyo PC Users Group where I learned how to learn with other people and without a textbook (there were no guides to PC use in the early 90’s, things were moving too fast). The thrill of arguing about the best way to improve speed on the BBS software (a precursor to the Internet) to avoid high telephone bills when using a modem at 300 “baud” was eye opening in that we could create our own knowledge and help each other as a group. Following the Hacker Ethic has guided my teaching too. (Look it up. Hackers were good before some went to the dark side.)

Now a list of links because I was too excited and talked too fast about too many things, so you can follow up here. MIT Conference on Connected Learning netted a new tool for Augmented Reality software (for iOS) and Interactive Storytelling ARIS. We talked about Stephen Downes and his contributions to MOOCs and Connectionism. Do note that right now, he has just started a new MOOC taking it to the next step, E-Learning 3.0. Do take a look. The future of learning with tech. We talked about the JALT CALL SIG and how that paralleled my experiences of the TokyoPC in that we were (and still are) creating new knowledge, this time about teaching languages with tech.

We talked about frameworks for teaching. Steven liked that we had come up with similar ideas about having a variety of approaches to vocabulary learning, some with tech, others not. Developing a set of tools is something the learner has to do on their own, with support of course. I talked about using small groups and having students teach each other. Here are slides from a presentation I made last year on the topic. I didn’t get to talk about Socratic Circles (pdf) where you ask questions in the SIR order (Summary, Issues, Relevance) and SOLE (Self Organized Learning Environments of Sugata Mitra) to develop learner autonomy.

Language learning is 90% motivation, 10% autonomy. If I am doing my job correctly, students will not see most of my work, which is developing and fostering an environment conducive to learning (languages).

More in upcoming posts.

Short URLs: Goo.gl going under

Graphic from Strategic Planet

News today (and not it is not April Fool’s) is that goo.gl URL shortener. Here is the message:

Starting March 30, 2018, we will be turning down support for goo.gl URL shortener. From April 13, 2018 only existing users will be able to create short links on the goo.gl console. You will be able to view your analytics data and download your short link information in csv format for up to one year, until March 30, 2019, when we will discontinue goo.gl. Previously created links will continue to redirect to their intended destination.

I have hundreds of shortened URLs. They are good for making easy links for students. And everyone else. And I have a year to continue, and the links will continue after that, so not such a big deal.

Alternatives: I like bit.ly better in many ways, you can make a custom URL. But they don’t do QR codes. All my students have phones, and using QR codes makes things even easier for them. Here are some alternatives (Thanks, Richard.)

I have discovered tiny.cc, which looks like a spoof of tinyURL, one of the first shorteners. It looks a bit iffy, but Web of Trust says they are moderately safe. The neat thing is that they incorporate QR codes right into the process, making it perfect for me. The add-ons for a pro account looks like they may be monitoring traffic a little too closely. Will keep you updated, but this is the direction I am looking for now.

Kind of reminds me of the problems with RSS readers, but that is for another post.

Media Monday: A dilemma. No. Two dilemmas.

Up today: New and interesting Media finds. First dilemma: Which one first, and why are there only 24 hours in a day?

  1. A Netflix documentary about movie directors doing documentaries during the second world war. Sam Adams over at Slate magazine lets us in on a new short series (3 episodes) dealing with 5 famous directors (John Ford, Frank Capra, William Wyler, George Stevens, and John Huston) and how they “embedded” with the military before embedding was a word, during WW2, to make documentaries about the war, some having great political influence. The series comes with links to source materials, some of the original documentaries and more, so you can get lost for days.
  2. S-Town, a new podcast from This American Life’s Ira Glass and Serial’s Srah Koenig and it is better than both. An odd farmer writes an email to a journalist complaining about a coverup of a local murder. The journalist visits. The plot thickens. The local characters are beyond colorful. It is a podcast done right. Even Ira Glass and Sarah Koenig say so. Just finished the first chapter, you can download all seven. I have to wait for the weekend to binge.
  3. Out April 25: Walkaway, a novel by Cory Doctorow. He has been writing young adult fiction and non-fiction for years, but I like his fiction. One of the founders of BoingBoing and who I consider the most interesting poster on the most popular blog in the world, Doctorow is all about digital rights. This book is a departure, but the advance notice has been really good. I even bought a real hardback book, one signed by him.
  4. Out April 25: What Remains of Edith Finch. This is an utterly enticing mix of game and fiction, short stories about relatives of Edith, all of who end up dead, each leading to more discoveries, and to the inevitable end. Edith is the last one left. Read this Motherboard review that has me salivating. Second dilemma, it only works on Windows PCs or PlayStations. I have neither. Which should I get?This is good enough to buy a new platform.

Games in Class

I have two games lined up for classes when they begin next month. I have been reading and exploring on ways to up the experiential level in a boring class setting.

Classcraft looked cool at first. Making classroom behavior into a group-based RPG fit right into my small group structure for teaching and interaction.  I considered my audience of college women and started to doubt whether they were familiar with MMORPGs. They could always ask their brothers, or even fathers. I asked in my class and happily about 25% (6/24) had played a similar type game on their Playstation or phone before. I was also wary about the thing being just a juiced up behaviorist trick, with the gold stars wrapped up in a pretty package. Not after the research. It is used in 20,000 schools. Granted, most of those are Jr. hi and HS, but close enough. The features lead to team-building and if my students can do that in English, perfect. I can build in using English as part of the settings as well. There are random events which spice up things, and make them more real. The only thing that still worries me is the reliance on competition, of which my students don’t have much of. Yet. Good for my first-year speaking and listening class.

Fantasy Geopolitics is a game to stimulate conversation about the world, about geography, and mostly about the news. I know my students are not familiar with Fantasy Football, but the concept I think they will latch onto quite easily. Instead of making up a team of football players at the beginning of the season, students choose a “team” or collection of countries (for my class, each student can pick 6). Then each class thereafter they can trade countries instead of players during the weekly “draft” at the beginning of class. The neat thing is that the countries are all rated by how much they appear in the New York Times. So instead of getting a hot running back for your team, you will be looking to see which countries have wars, revolutions, economic upheavals or other reasons to get in the news. After the first 3 weeks or so, goes the research, students start looking for signs that a country is ready to burst onto the newsfront, an embroiling scandal or whatnot. Each week, students are then rated on how much their exposure goes up or down. This means students need to keep reading each week. We use Newsela for graded reading access to news, but students can also look at authentic headlines in the NYTimes. The developer started with a Kickstarter campaign, but now the game resides at FANschool.org. They have other version of politics in general, and one for elections, but my students need geopolitics more.

Both of these games were featured in one of the best games for education books I have read in years. The Game Believes in You by Greg Toppo has a dozen chapters, each using an exemplary software to show how games belong in and improve education. I will show my colleague who teaches English Literature the endless runner game Stride and Prejudice. Still in development is Eoghan (pronounced owen) Kidney’s VR (virtual reality) adaptation of Jame’s Joyce’s Ulysses. This has been in development for 3 years since getting money on FundIt, similar to Kickstarter, and it looks like a group at Boston U is starting up something similar called Joycestick (get it?). We can learn empathy and great storytelling through Inanimate Alice. Another way to center your thinking and do literature at the time is the game Walden, a game, now out in Apha ($18). We live in Thoreau’s world and learn to become more self-reliant and negotiate society on our own terms. Finally, we learn how to throw trucks and run like a chicken using our brains and an EEG collar as the only interface. What this really does is work like Ritalin or Adderall (the games are still in trial) to focus attention.

Each of these games is an example of a different kind of software, each addressing a different kind of learning. The book is highly recommended. As soon as I finish reading the book, off I am to develop the first two to fit into my class, and have fun with the others.

Moving to Medium

mediumlogoThere is a new blogging platform, one that I think is better than WordPress, and I am moving there for future posts. I will add pointers here, but the content will be there.

Why am I releasing total control over my feed here, with my own domain name and wordpress installation? Two factors, curation and convenience.

Medium was developed by one of the co-founders of Twitter. Understanding social media and applying it to content, Evan Williams put together a platform that allows any user to blog, limits the format options to make the content the draw, and allows for readers to decide easily what should be highlighted and promoted each day. Add to that paid authors of note, like Steven Levy on Crypto War Redux, to draw the public.

There are other alternatives to Medium, outlined at Lifehacker, but they don’t put the author at the center, supported by the readers, in a symbiotic relationship that is an evolution from what publishers used to do. Medium acts as a medium, but is, in its current state, almost invisible. Something I like.

As an occasional blogger in the days of fading RSS use, I cannot expect people to come to my domain to read what I have to say; it gets lost in the shuffle of a million other blogs. With Medium, I have a chance that they may get linked or looked at more often. As well as the convenience of web-based posting. Find me at https://www.medium.com/@tokyokevin

UPDATE: about a year later. Medium is going through some changes. I am back here. Sorry about the leave.