Be Audacious with Audacity

Dandy Kitty

Audacity is a free, open source software for recording, editing, mixing and exporting (in many formats) audio files. And beware, because its quality is comparable to other professional level softwares! It does not require any sophisticated technological set-up; once the software is installed on the computer, an integrated microphone works well, and any other microphone with a USB tab will configure itself automatically. The basics of Audacity are very easy to learn, and tons of online tutorials may help non tech-savvy teachers. As for the students, I would recommend giving them time in class to explore the tool without any specific purpose in mind, so that they familiarise themselves with recording, importing, and exporting various audio tracks before having them use the tool for a given project. Consequently, everyone starts on the right track and has time to ajust before getting down to the real stuff!

So here it is, the real stuff that can be done in an ESL classroom using Audacity:

Reflect on language use: By simply recording themselves speaking English and listening afterwards, students may assess their language proficiency. It allows them to check stress, intonation, pronunciation, and the quality of the words they use. (+) The teacher could also provide them a track of well-spoken English utterances and have students repeat after the speaker, recording themselves for evaluation (sort of a CAN-8, DIY style). Anyhow, phonetics are often put aside when learning a language, yet remain essential to understand spoken languages and improve oral fluency. Audacity quickly allows this kind of practice in any classroom.

Proofreading: Sometimes, revising a written production by reading it over silently is not an infallible technique. Any student, even one who is not of the auditive type, may find it helpful to hear oneself reading a text in order to find possibly forgotten errors. One is forced to be more attentive when hearing a text rather than mentally reading it. (+) This calls upon metacognitive skills. (+)

Digital storytelling: Audacity can be used to add an audio track to visuals. Students could tell a story over a series of images of their choice (a sequence edited on iMovie or Windows Movie Maker, for instance), describing the images or using them to suggest elements in the story. (+) This sort of activity puts students into a very engaging environment, constantly practicing the language, and encourages creativity.

Record a play: In teams, students could record a play of their choice (or their creation), using multiple tracks on Audacity. Students may record their lines one after the other, adopting the character’s proper intonation, and add sound effects and background music by creating separate tracks. Alike digital storytelling, this kind of project is very engaging and absolutely fun!

Listening comprehension: For lower level learners, listening to authentic audio material such as radio shows, news reports, conferences, or scientific capsules may be challenging, as the pace is often too fast for understanding. Well, Audacity solves this problem! After playing the audio file online and recording it simultaneously using Audacity, the excerpt can be slowed down. This technique is great because it does not prevent students from feeding their mind with more complex information, even though their are beginners. (+) Similarly, it exposes students to a variety of resources in the second language. (+)

Creating podcasts: One of the most praised uses of Audacity! Podcasts may cover anything from news reports to album reviews, readings, interviews, and more. (+) Furthermore, it makes students do a little research before recording the final product. Creating podcasts is awesome because it draws from things people do in real life, which is very exciting for students. Oh, and why not record a fake radio commercial along the podcast? (+)

Possible language learning activities using Audacity are literally infinite. Anything created using this tool will end up corresponding to teachers’ pedagogical objectives and appealing the students. In this day and age, technology is a really big part of kids’ world. They are always grateful for teachers who encourage the use of technology for their learning, whilst the fun of it pushes them to go further, and be curious!

“Am I StudyBlue?”

StudyBlue is different from any other web tool I have examined so far, for it has a more specific purpose and its possibilities are more constrained. Yet it does not make it less potentially useful in a classroom environment! This free web tool that syncs with the mobile application is a digital backpack meant to ease all study sessions. One can log on from Facebook, Gmail, or any e-mail address to create a profile. After that, one is invited to join a school, and then join classes. For a class that would be new to StudyBlue, the teacher could create a class (for exemple, English 101) and have all students join in from their account. The StudyBlue interface is basically the same for both teachers and students. It consists of a Backpack to fill with materials, that is different classes, flashcards, and any type of file. Each class’s folder can contain its specific flashcards and files as well, so that teachers and students can organise the study material according to their various classes (English, Spanish, Math, etc.) Any material may be shared with classmates, which promotes mutual aid. Setting alerts, resuming saved study sessions, and contact classmates are other useful features of StudyBlue that allow better self-supervision of one’s learning and studying process. (+) Not to forget: one can connect an Evernote account to a StudyBlue account. A new notebook is thus created in Evernote, which allows to transfer notes taken on Evernote to StudyBlue and transform them into flashcards. (+)

Texts, images, voice transcription, and even equations (alright, these may be unrelevant to language learning) can be used to create flashcards. Digital flashcards are awesome because they help spare time on cutting out and writing paper flashcards (+), so they may encourage students that are more lazy when it comes to studying (me, and many others) to actually take a few minutes (because it is really what it takes) to type those up and start revising seriously. There is no reason not to, for one can create them anytime-anywhere through an iPad, an iPhone, an iPod, or an Android device. (+) Therefore, one can also carry them everywhere, which is so much more convenient in the bus than hundreds of cardboard cards. (+) Furthermore, one can search for notes sets of flashcards created by any other StudyBlue user. For instance, it would be great for a student looking for notions that she or hewould not have taken sufficient notes on, or a busy teacher wanting to enlarge a bank of expressions rapidly for her or his students.

Review sheets and automatically-created practice quizzes based on the flashcards are great for self-assessment. They give a true idea of a student’s mastery of certain notions, and can be taken an infinite number of times. Every quiz grades are saved in order to see how a student progresses. This confirms the effectiveness of a study session, or indicate if further revision is needed. Again, students will either take pride in their progress or understand that their objectives might not yet be attained. As quoted in this article, teacher Tammy Howell affirmed that “since repetitions and reinforcement increase the familiarity and comfort of study material, [StudyBlue] is the ideal learning tool that allows for an increase in student achievement.” This web tool may not be appropriate to study more abstracts notions or broader concepts, I confess, yet is certainly well designed to fulfill the needs of lower and intermediate level language learners. Cognates, idiomatic expressions, proverbs, verb tenses, singular-plural forms, pronunciation, words and their definitions, written form of numbers, adjectives, terminology, and short facts regarding absolutely any subject in the world are only a few of the multiple aspects of language that can be mastered using StudyBlue.

Prezi, or How to Offer a Little More than PowerPoint

I decided to use Prezi for the first time this semester. Like everyone, I wanted to explore an alternative to the more than popular PowerPoint presentation, which is known to easily bore students (although certain teachers do have aesthetic concerns about the delivery of content). Prezi is a free presentation tool available online, and its simple design makes it easy for anyone to use it, computer skills or not. What is great about Prezi (BBC Active approved) is that it does not prescribe a linear way to show material. Videos, images, maps, texts, and graphics may be presented in any desired order, even simultaneously, for Prezi is more like a giant online poster to scan than a series of chronological course notes.

Before adding content to a Prezi, one must decide to start from a totally blank page or from one of the inspiring templates given. For the purpose of my presentation, I decided to use one of the templates, for I did not want myself to be trapped in the fun of endlessly polishing up the visual aspect. I took too much time anyways, yet it was worth it! My secondary four students (and I, too) loved how dynamic the visuals appeared on the SmartBoard. They may not have participated as much as I expected, nevertheless the presentation did catch their interest and made them want to learn more. I never lost anyone’s eyes during the period: there always was something new to examine on the board. As mentioned in this article, students positively consider teachers who are up-to-date with technology. I know, I am still one! Teachers who try out multiple tools in class demonstrate an interest in improving and varying their teaching approaches. Furthermore, because I conceived the presentation to have the students discuss in teams about their opinion on images and videos, Prezi allowed me to focus on certain details, while going back to a general view of the exposé. This possibility to go from specific to general in one slide is one of the most interesting features of Prezi (+). It can be useful in an ESL class to describe the different aspects of an image, to gradually reveal a correction key, to access specific areas of a tableau, or to read a story sentence by sentence.

Another advantage of Prezi is the possibility to access it online, which makes it viewable anywhere and saved automatically, so no usb key or dropbox worries! Since presentations remain online, students may also access them when allowed via e-mail address (+). It may as well be interesting to suggest students to build a presentation with Prezi, especially when working in teams. All team members may contribute to the presentation and be aware of its modifications in real time.

I think it is worthless to use Prezi if one only expects to transfer its point-form notes onto it, without modifying the approach to presenting. Prezi will be used at its full potential only if educators explore new ways to present material in class. It allows one to go deeper into the subject and think outside the box. More complex notions may be easier to understand using a multi-faceted mindmap, or accessing multiple types of media in the same presentation. Therefore, Prezi must be explored intelligently and with a clear purpose in mind, otherwise notions can be transmitted using another tool.

What are you waiting for? Go try it out with your students and see the magic for yourself!

Gimme More Edmodo

Louise Brooks, 25 May 1926

Edmodo is a free web tool praised by numerous educators. It is also available as a mobile application. It basically consists of a class’s social network that the teacher, the students, and even the parents can access to with their own code, but no one else. Safety is indeed one of the distinctive aspects of this tool: it is password protected and one needs the class’s code to join the group. It makes it a better alternative to wider social networks such as Facebook or Twitter, where students may be exposed to classroom-innapropriate content (+). So Edmodo is definitely more centred on the classroom, and the content that students and teachers upload is secured and only accessible to the desired people. Also, the fact that the parents can see what goes on allows more control as well as awareness of what their child is up to at school. Speaking of control, as opposed to Facebook, students cannot send private messages to each other, stressed Mister Miller, which prevents from unnecessary conflicts to occur. All in all, Edmodo is probably the most polyvalent and classroom-appropriate tool that I have studied so far.

Now, let us see what it has to offer.

As suggested in this article, Edmodo is best used as a “community building platform” where students and teachers can interact with each other and share learning resources. Therefore, anyone may post, comment, upload, or reply at any time in order to stay connected. Similarly, Edmodo has a calendar that the teacher may organise so that the students and their parents keep track of what is coming up (exams, due dates, presentations, holidays, etc.) Students may also add their personal notes to the calendar that are not visible to the rest of the class (+). Furthermore, unlike good ol’ paper syllabuses, one can update it as the year advances. Another very practical aspect of Edmodo is the digital library. The latter is a virtual backpack in which students may upload documents, resources and assignments and therefore access anytime-anywhere. The teacher has a digital library too. When writing a post, one can pick something from her or his library and share it to all! On the whole, these features really contribute to giving a sense of responsibilities to students. Once they understand how the system works, they do not have to depend on anyone to show them what exams to prepare or what projects to work on after each class, because all the information and resources they need are located in one place.

Although Edmodo is already very polyvalent on its own, it still allows the incorporation of many other web applications (+). For instance, Google Drive is directly accessible from Edmodo, which allows access to even more material that one prefers keeping on Google Drive. Teachers may also give assignements to students via Edmodo. When it is completed, students can submit it have it annotated online. Quizzes may also be created from A to Z (+). Possible types of questions include multiple choice, true or false, fill in the blank or short answer. Even a time limit can be set! The teacher can see who turned in the test as it is completed, grade it, and at last have an overview of group or individual results. Again, the teacher does not have to rely on an external tool to grade his students’ work, but can preview it and correct it directly on Edmodo. The newest cool aspect of Edmodo is the ability to create polls (+). Quick, anonymous surveys are often very useful to either have an idea of the class’s opinion or initiate easy and fun interrogations on certain notions. And this is something that the students can do to, for their own knowledge or, why not, as a weekly assignement. It is a simple feature that may change a student’s perception of the class, as it allows him to contribute to the evolution of the class, and have his voice heard. Shyer students especially could surprise more than one.

I think that the biggest advantage of Edmodo is that it centralises everything that a class needs. It is perfectly suitable for any kind of educational purpose, and offers infinite possibilities for teaching, learning, evaluating, understanding, analysing, creating, etc. It keeps the student (and the teacher too!) aware of what goes on in the course, and what is to come. Edmodo may also create a more communal dynamic in class as everyone is connected online and contributes to one another’s learning experience. All in all, a very positive addition to any classroom!

iPad, youPad, wePad

Grilled Cheese iPad

I mentioned the use of the iPad in my previous article about Evernote, a super app for students and teachers. The integration of iPads in classroom­, that is one for every student, is becoming more and more popular in language classes: the lucky teachers (whose affiliated school finances the integration of the iPad) who cannot imagine their class without it make all the poor others drool in front of this sleek, lightweight and bright technology. Nevertheless, before diving into a technology-oriented pedagogy, educators must know how to use it.

For teachers only, iPad can be a great everyday tool. The teacher I observe in my practicum, apart from using it as an agenda, uses his iPad to take attendance. Since the format is electronic, he can easily record the percentage of absenteism of every student or go back to any given class to know who missed an evaluation, an oral presentation, and so on. Another daily use of the iPad would be to make quick research. Instead of turning on the archaïc computer from the dark corner of the class and wait ten minutes to gain the information, the teacher can access the world* at the tip of his fingers. Students may do the same with their own iPad. Anne Laure Bazin, Assistant Head Teacher at Mounts Bay Academy in Cornwall, observed a great improvement in communication when using iPads in class. Indeed, the substitution of paper tasks with virtual tasks allows teachers to centralise information about students and to accelerate exchanges of materials with students, parents, and colleagues. Therefore, students must not wait too long before receiving feedback on their work, so they do not have time to forget what the work was about and may revise it more regularly.

Yet this mainly represents the augmentation level of Dr Ruben Puentedura’s model (SAMR), when web applications serve as a substitution for analogue tasks, and a functional change is observed. It is a bright move to use the iPad to replace all those time-consuming analogue tasks, but teachers must be aware of its infinitely creative potential as well. The Padagogy Weel keenly illustrates the multiple pedagogical possibilities of the iPad and its numerous applications. At the modification level, a significant functional improvement is accountable in the classroom: computer technology becomes necessary. For instance, using Taposé on their iPads, students could have to write an essay on a specific subject—doing research on the side—then be asked to record themselves reading it, and finally present their recording to an authentic audience (other groups or their parents). Here, the students learn similar writing skills, yet the use of technology becomes necessary to carry out the task (that is editing the text, recording the presentation, and receiving feedback). Still, a higher level is attainable, according to the SAMR model, that is redefinition. At this level, computer technology (in this case: the iPad) gives the opportunity to create new tasks that were initially inconceivable through analogue tools. In her article, Lisa Gernsey recounts her journey at Zurich International School, in which an iPad was given to every student from grade one to grade eight. At first unsure of how much of her observations of a private school with money could be beneficial to public schools in the United States, she then realised ZIS’s uncommon iPad philosophy: “The teachers cared most about how the devices could capture moments that told stories about their students’ experiences in school. Instead of focusing on what was coming out of the iPad, they were focused on what was going into it”. Gernsey then observed a redefinition task in which a girl—to assess her understanding of “systems”—chose to illustrate a type of system using Explain Everything, which allowed her to arrange images, tables, charts and so on, to support the concept chosen. The final step was to record her explanations over the images created on the iPad, something she did all by herself! This task is an example of how iPads should be used to support the students’ learning, to challenge their ease with technology, and to develop independence skills.

One concern identified by Anne Laure Bazin in the BBC Active article came from the parents who feared that their children would loose handwriting skills in a technology-centred classroom. The teacher at Mounts Bay Academy explained that the iPad was used as an extra tool that would not entirely replace textbooks and paper assignements, her colleagues not being ready to give up traditional teaching. I also believe that paper ressources—especially novels, magazines, comics, illustrated books, and other realia—should remain available in classes using iPads. For the purchase to be worth it, I would nevertheless suggest teachers in iPad classrooms to explore the potential of this tool as much as possible, remain creative at all times, and keep in mind the pedagogical value of the projects initiated in the classroom. (And for nature’s sake, to minimally use this technology to reduce paper consumption. Something that may force teachers to be even more creative!)

Here comes the downside of using iPads in classroom. In his article, Michael Oliveira mentions a survey (taken from this study) about the use of iPads in class, in which the majority of the Quebec students interrogated found the tool disturbing. Moreover, a third of them were honest on the fact that they played games during work time, and only a few students admitted finding the tool helpful in their learning. The results of the report indicated that providing an iPad to every student is a “worthwhile endeavor” for teachers who are ready for a monumental pedagogical change. This conclusion was nevertheless nuanced by one of the authors of this study, Therry Karsenti, who observed that, in numerous cases, teachers are in fact unprepared to the arrival of this new technology. I think this is by far the most unfortunate situation, and it was observed in the study: 70% of the teachers admitted that they had “never or very rarely” experimented with the iPad prior to its implementation in their classroom. Imagine the teacher and the students receiving their iPads on the same day: the kids-already familiar with the tool-log in on social networks or start gaming in about five minutes, while the teacher has a hard time figuring out how it works. No wonder the kids quickly loose interest in the task, for they are more knowledgeable than their instructor, who fails exploring the potential of the iPad.

 

*A few limitations may apply.

Forever Evernote

They say there is an app for everything. Well, Evernote is the one that literally gives you the memory of an elephant.

Evernote is a note-taking app downloadable on any electronic device. It allows one “to copy, sort and annotate information, either from the Internet or direct input” (+). I got to experience it on my MacBook, and quickly realised: “I should have started using this a while ago.”

Since I write all sorts of lists in all possible formats, scattered everywhere on my hard disc (and among real paper documents), trying to regroup them on Evernote from now on will probably change my personal life. The good thing is that at any time while working on my laptop, I simply need to click the elephant head in the upper toolbar to start taking written and/or oral notes (yes!), taking complete or partial screenshots and send all of this directly to my Evernote. Apart from that, I naturally investigated some of the pedagogical uses of this app, and here are my findings.

In this article is promoted the use of Evernote as a student portfolio. In a hypothetical ESL classroom in which every student would own a tablet, this app would allow them to basically gather evidence of their learning process. This, of course, may be shared with teachers, classmates and family via URL, e-mail, social networks, and Evernote itself. Moreover, with a premium account, one is able to edit and comment the shared documents. Notable uses suggested by this article are:

– The ability to evaluate speaking abilities by asking the students to record oral-notes on classroom experiences, team discussions, reading assignments and so on.

– Using Skitch to photograph surrounding people or objects in order to annotate these images (label body parts, objects in a room, world maps, etc.), and sync them with Evernote afterward.

– To create checklists from brainstorming on-the-go to setting language learning goals for the semester/year. (+)

– Other evidence of learning that can be added to an Evernote portfolio: Prezi slideshows, students’ video footage uploaded to YouTube, and various photos of “poster-tasks” or “field-trips”. (+)

– For teachers exclusively, Evernote may be used to record spoken examinations, for absent students to take the test anyway, without the assistance of the teacher. (+)

Again, Evernote is one of the many tools that improve one’s organisation and reduces (eliminates) paper consumption. Oh! and when looking for a specific note/doc/video/checklist, the search bar resolves it instantly (time saving!).

Drive me Crazy, Google

google, drive me crazy

I have just recently been introduced to the pleasure of using Google Docs. Frankly, if it was only of me, this single argument would be enough to have you, devoted teachers and assiduous students, add it to your toolbar: Neither printer nor paper needed anymore, but only a computer and a little electronic magic! At last, a tool that allows teachers to give assignments, and students to hand them in without multiplying the quantity of paper traveling from home to school.

Still, let me illustrate several possible uses of Google Drive in the classroom (for I cannot conclude my article here):

  • If the teacher builds her lesson plan on Google Docs and shares it with her students, any update will simultaneously be seen by them.
  • The teacher may easily and surely share documents with the parents by simply sharing the same document to multiple e-mail addresses (and allowing “Consultation” only).
  • Using a spreadsheet, one may coordinate sign-ups for group activities, parent-teacher meetings, oral presentations, etc. (+)
  • Google Docs is the best tool for (messy) teachers to get organised! Especially the ones with several groups/courses/levels in different schools. When all documents stay at one defined place, bad surprises (Where’s the exam? Where is Johnny’s assignment?) are less likely to occur. (+)
  • When sharing a written production on Google Docs and allowing “Comments”, the students can receive specific feedback from the teacher (or other classmates) directly on the page, and refer back to it anytime.
  • Google Forms, another function of GD, is perfect to create all kinds of tests and surveys. I would use it to learn more about the students’ interests, to keep track of their readings, to build formative tests, opinion surveys, and much more! (+)

Not convinced yet? Google Docs is available 24/7 and its storage capacity is UNLIMITED. How about that?