Excellent perspective on the future of “books”

April 22nd, 2009

This made me think about the “Future of Coursebooks” thread on the IATEFL Cardiff forums. Steven Johnson outlines where he sees e-book technology taking us, and how it will change some of our most basic ideas about reading and reading behaviors. I think his analysis shows clearly the limits of the “one content – many media” re-purposing, where an ELT publisher takes print content, or CD-ROM content, and puts it on the web: while it’s often OK, the content wasn’t developed to take advantage of the social and collaborative nature of the web. Thus, opportunity lost; it’s like turning off the picture on the TV and using it as a radio.

Anyway, Johnson outlines where ebook technology will take us. In bullets:

1) Reading will change from solitary to social:

As you read, you will know that at any given moment, a conversation is available about the paragraph or even sentence you are reading. Nobody will read alone anymore. Reading books will go from being a fundamentally private activity — a direct exchange between author and reader — to a community event, with every isolated paragraph the launching pad for a conversation with strangers around the world.

2) Book-length content will become granular:

Readers will have the option to purchase a chapter for 99 cents, the same way they now buy an individual song on iTunes. The marketplace will start to reward modular books that can be intelligibly split into standalone chapters. This fragmentation sounds unnerving — yet another blow to the deep-focus linearity of the print-book tradition.

3) Google PageRank will fuel sales:

Writers and publishers will begin to think about how individual pages or chapters might rank in Google’s results, crafting sections explicitly in the hopes that they will draw in that steady stream of search visitors.

Individual paragraphs will be accompanied by descriptive tags to orient potential searchers; chapter titles will be tested to determine how well they rank. Just as Web sites try to adjust their content to move as high as possible on the Google search results, so will authors and publishers try to adjust their books to move up the list.

Fascinating stuff. The “social” and “granular” themes are what English360 is all about, and I think that this will bring us a step closer to the goal of radically personalized learning learning content.


Community as curriculum: the “rhizomatic model” of learning

April 14th, 2009

“In the rhizomatic model of learning, curriculum is not driven by predefined inputs from experts; it is constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process. This community acts as the curriculum, spontaneously shaping, constructing, and reconstructing itself and the subject of its learning in the same way that the rhizome responds to changing environmental conditions.”

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New blog find

April 14th, 2009

Peter Thwaites in Oman has some interesting conversation happening at his (new?) blog:  A Look at Language Teaching.

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Capitalism 2.0

April 9th, 2009

Interesting article by Nassim Taleb that would be great input for a class for financial English. And here’s a blog post discussing it.

Hat tip to Andrew. If you go to the Taleb article from his post you won’t need to register at the FT.

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Making coursebooks more relevant

April 7th, 2009

Very useful post (as always) from Karenne Sylvester over at Kalinago English.

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Are you fluent in “corporate-speak”

September 24th, 2008

Here’s a cute online game that points to the empty sloganeering of corporate PR folk.

Might be a fun activity for some business English students. You could put them in groups and have each group discuss/decide on an answer, then compare/explain answers, then check actual answers. Then have them make on for their company or for their department or position. For fun they could do a ambiguous “sloganeering” style (like the examples) then maybe a direct and clear explanation.

You could contextualize it as a writing task to practice the “clear” and “concise” goals of biz writing/email writing.

Sadly, I got 7 of 8 correct.

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The “mysteries of teaching in all its variety”, and corpora questions

September 22nd, 2008

Nice series in the New York Times Magazine yesterday on different perspectives on teaching today.  There’s a nicely-detailed article on a multi-cultural negotiations workshop, and another on lectures on YouTube.

There’s also an interesting William Safire article on changing trends of slang expressions on campus.  Evidently “hot” isn’t hot anymore, and “fierce” is.

Fast-changing slang usage made me wonder…do corpus researchers limit date ranges when doing statistical modeling of lexical frequency?  I ask because I’m (very) peripherally involved with a project re-purposing a “corpus-informed” coursebook for online delivery. The corpus influence on the coursebook series is actually very well done and useful, but I wondered about a section titled “Posting to a website”…do 22-year-olds post to a “website” (more importantly, do they say they do)? Or do they post to a MySpace “page”, or a “forum” or “thread”, or their Facebook “page”, or their “blog”?

I wonder about the relative frequency of these collocations, and how this frequency changes over time, and how the the corpora analyses are time-bound to follow fast-changing language about uses of technology and slang.

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Authenticity + teachers-as-learners = action research

September 3rd, 2008

This morning’s blogroll had a lot of good stuff, but Will Richardson was the highlight for me.

Will’s frustrated with our profession. In addition to voicing the need for teachers to catch up with the rest of the world, he points out two issues that are obsessions with me: authenticity and teachers as learners.

On authentic learning:

That’s not to say that there aren’t more silos or islands or whatever metaphor works of teachers and classrooms with teachers who are letting students do real work for real purposes and real audiences.

…”real work for real purposes and real audiences”   …hallelujah.

On teachers as learners:

For most educators, “back to school” means “back to teaching.” And that can be good work, but it remains obvious to me that very few see it as “back to learning.” For themselves, that is, along with their students. I’m not seeing much change since I wrote this two years ago.

I hate to generalize, but the thing that seems to be missing from most of my conversations with classroom teachers and administrators is a willingness to even try to re-envision their own learning, not just their students.

This is why we designed the English360 platform with a single interface (or view): students and teachers all see the same thing. We want to keep everyone on the same page, so we only have one page. Teachers have needs assessments as well and, like students, the teachers’ needs assessment sits front and center on their dashboard. The point is: we are all learners.

Regarding Richardson’s point about authenticity: with e360 we’re working hard to connect the students’ learning with actual, real life language performance. Since our students are adults learning English for professional and career purposes, these “performance events” are usually the normal on-the-job use of English: conference calls, training courses, negotiations etc. Nothing new here really.

But if we also have a strong commitment to “teachers as learners”, in a flattened (or at least dynamic) hierarchy, then what would our teachers’ “performance events” be?

It seems pretty clear that for a teacher, performances happens in the classroom, and that, for a teacher, a performance event is a class.  And for a community of teachers working on the e360 platform, collaborative, peer-based learning using performance events (classes) as input…what does this mean?

It means collaborative action research. So one way of looking at the e360 platform is as an action research community.

This is the logical overlap of Richardson’s emphasis on authenticity and teachers as learners.

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Explanation of Web 2.0

August 15th, 2008

There are many definitions including the O’Reilly one, and much debate on whether the phrase “web 2.0″ actually has meaning, or is nothing but useless hype.

But here’s the best definition I’ve seen in a while, from the brilliant Jessica Hagy:

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In-company language training in 1915

August 9th, 2008

ESL instruction at Ford in 1915

The Ford Motor Company provided language instruction to immigrant workers 90+ years ago. A major  objective was worker safety at the factory…the same goal of a project I did for an energy company several years ago.  Evidently the teachers used a direct method similar to Berlitz.

From the .ppt A Brief History of EFL Instruction on the CAELA resource page (4th bullet down).

Hat tip to Larry Ferlazzo.

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