Shadow Puppet

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Shadow Puppet is an application that can be used to tell stories or personal narratives using photos. It’s a free application for the iPad or the iPhone. Once downloaded, the application can be opened and the user will find find three videos: a how to video that outlines how to use the application, a sample video made by a child, and a sample video made by an adult. It’s really simple to use. Users can import the photos they want to use from their photo library and start recording their voice while each photo is shown. Voice can be recorded photo by photo (recording and pausing) or recording can be done continuously by clicking on the arrow to change the photo while recording. A great feature is that the user is able to pan (gliding fingertip over screen) and zoom (double tap to zoom in and double tap to zoom back out) while recording. While on a photo, the user can tap once which makes a little sparkle appear to give a specific area or item in the photo special attention. Shadow puppet videos are best shared online (i.e. on Shadow Puppet, on Facebook and on Twitter). It should be noted that Shadow Puppet created videos are not intended for airplay via HD screens because the videos are in 400 x 400 pixel-format.

The use of a storytelling application such as Shadow Puppet offers high school ESL teachers a way to evaluate C1 (Interacts orally in English), C2 (Reinvests understanding of texts) or C3 (Writes and produces texts) depending on how it is implemented. As Keith Caldwell points out in his blog, Storytelling as a Pedagogical Tool :

“[Storytelling] is not only a potent tool for the teacher as a way of organizing information, but as a dynamic means for students to express what they have learned.”

If a teacher were to give an impromptu speaking project such as having students use some photos to tell a story by creating a video using Shadow Puppet, it could potentially be used for a C1 evaluation, as long as the speaking task is not prepared for ahead of time. A task could also be given to students where they would have to retell a story (i.e. a story or piece of literature they have already read or listened to in class) from the perspective of different characters, asked to explain why the characters acted as they did, or asked to make up an alternative ending to the story. This could be considered C2 because it allows students to demonstrate evidence of understanding of texts, to demonstrate their use of knowledge from texts in a reinvestment task, and to demonstrate their use of strategies and resources. If students were given a task where they had to produce an outline or script in order to carry out the creation of the video, this is could be evaluated as a C3 because students would be demonstrating their participation in the writing and production processes which involves content and formulation of the message, and their use of strategies and resources. Digital storytelling, in particular, as noted by Prasanna Bharti in her blog, How Can English Teachers Benefit from Digital Storytelling Tools, “is a great way for students and teachers to share their knowledge. It offers new ways to combine several medium such as animation, website, audio, graphic, video to create powerful stories to hear and see.”

As with any technology, teachers need to be aware of its limitations and know how to manage any issues that arise. One pertinent aspect mentioned by Jennifer New on her blog, How to Use Digital Storytelling in Your Classroom: Empower student creativity with affordable and accessible technology, is that :

“Kids are not used to the kind of freedom they’ll need to do great creative work. Some will thrive in that environment, others will require close supervision to make sure they complete their projects.”

 

Because of the versatility of how digital storytelling applications can be used pedagogically, I myself as a future ESL teacher have reflected on them and now see many potential ways to use an application like Shadow Puppet, even with high school ESL students. I am concerned more with high school level, so, at first glance, I didn’t see an application like Shadow Puppet as having any potential use in the high school classroom. After further research, I have changed my perspective of this tool. It, surprisingly, can be used to achieve many language competencies and used an evaluation tool as well. I know this will have a crucial impact on which activities and technological tools I choose to use in my ESL classroom. Further, using Shadow Puppet would be considered to be at the Modification or Redefinition level of Ruben R. Puentedura’s SAMR Classification  depending on the way in which it is used.

Sounds: The Pronunciation App

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Sounds: The Pronunciation App is an application that has been produced by Macmillan Publishers that can be used by teachers and students as a pronunciation aid. The app is available for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Android devices. The application is free, however, the free version has limited features compared to the premium version which costs $6.99. The free version includes an interactive phonemic chart (available in British and American English) where each phonetic symbol can be tapped to hear the sound that symbol makes. If the user taps and holds the symbol, a word can be heard that uses that phonetic sound. It also includes practice and quiz tasters (which give the user a glimpse of the practice and quiz features available with the premium version). There is an ‘Instruction’ section which explains how to use the app and a six-minute YouTube video that gives a guided tour of the chart. The premium version includes many more features such as a vocabulary word list (with over 650 words), phonemic transcriptions and audio, ability to record the users’ pronunciation, practice activities (Listen, Read and Write), quizzes, and tips for students and teachers.

Does Sounds: The Pronunciation App deserve a place in my ESL classroom?

I could see introducing the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to my students as a tool that could aid students’ pronunciation of words. According to Laura Elias, Pronunciation Coach:

“Knowing the Long-vowel sounds and Short-vowel sounds of English can help you be better at pronouncing new words and deciphering spelling patterns, but it also helps to be aware of the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) symbols for the vowels. Some people learn IPA symbols when they first begin to learn English, but others have never seen these symbols before. Either way, it can be useful to refer to them for some aspects of English pronunciation.”

Pronouncing words in an understandable way is one way students can expand their personal language repertoire that allows students to achieve one of the three main characteristics of MELS’ (Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport) Core ESL in Secondary II: Interacts orally in English (C1). If students were to have the Sounds app, they would be able to use it as a resource for pronunciation. Further, an understanding of the IPA allows students to gain an understanding of pronunciation (not just in English but any language) and when faced with a word they do not know how to pronounce, they will be able to implement the strategy, use of resources, to take responsibility for their own learning by looking up the word in the dictionary and then using the app to help with the pronunciation of that word (based on its phonetic spelling). By teaching students how to find out on their own, the pronunciation of an unknown word, students are being taught to solve problems and improve their learning. Also, it is beneficial a student be able to find out the correct pronunciation of a word in English, particularly when the teacher may not know the pronunciation or may be teaching students the incorrect pronunciation themselves (depending on the teacher’s competency in the language they are teaching). I have often been told by ESL students that for years they had been pronouncing a word in a certain way because it was how they were taught by their ESL teacher.

Adrian Underhill, an editor of the Macmillan Books for Teachers, author of Sound Foundations: Learning and Teaching Pronunciation and an advisor in the development of Macmillan English Dictionary, identifies an important aspect in regards to language learning and pronunciation:

“Language learners may know how a word should sound, they may hear it correctly in their head, perhaps even in their own inner voice. However, what they know about the language differs from what they can do with that language because they don’t yet know or haven’t yet mastered how to use their muscles to produce the correct sounds. Using the phonemic chart, as Adrian suggests, we can help learners to reconnect with the muscles used for the physical actions of producing sounds, and by doing so enable them to better engage these muscles to manipulate the sounds.”

Everything considered, I think that the premium app offers a lot more benefits for both students and teachers for long-term use in the ESL classroom. There is one feature, in particular, I think is extremely useful for a language learner; the voice recorder where the user can record his/her voice to compare pronunciation. As mentioned in by Tomasz P. Szynalski and Michal Ryszard Wojcik  :

“This technique helps many learners see where their pronunciation is different from the original and lets them gradually make it more native-like.”

This could be very valuable for students to hear the difference and self-correct their pronunciation. However, the free app also offers positive potential benefits that could be used as a language resource for students and teachers. In this respect, teachers would be helping students to develop language strategies which are key in MELS’ ESL strategies. The app in this case, would be used on an individual basis as a language resource. It is a useful tool for students to learn about and that they could use in any language course.

Periscope

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Periscope, the newest live broadcasting application, put out by Twitter has been making news headlines in recent days. All of the controversy really got me interested in what it is all about. So after some preliminary research, I found out what the application has to offer. It is a free app that allows its users to broadcast live from anywhere, watch other users’ live broadcasts and comment on them. Basically, it’s kind of like Facebook but in real time with video. There are some special features such as while watching a live broadcast, users can click on the screen to give that person hearts. The followed person can also see who has joined their broadcast, see how many hearts they have been given and respond to any comments in real time. It’s being compared to its counterpart, Meerkat, which is the same kind of application but Periscope is thought to be leading ‘the app race’ because of some of its unique features like being able to replay broadcast recordings and for its Twitter Social Graph and Following connectivity. One down side with both of these applications, is they are currently only available for iOS.

But how could I use Periscope in the ESL Classroom? According to EdTech’s Team’s Blog, Twitter is Not Just for Text Anymore – Say Hello to Livestreaming via Periscope, Periscope can be applied in the classroom by :

  • Broadcasting lessons for those students who might not be able to attend because they are sick or away from school.
  • Broadcasting plays and performances happening at school for parents who can not attend due to other obligations.
  • Broadcasting students doing work/projects in class for parents to see – this could help spark conversations at dinner and allow parents to see the culture of the classroom.
  • Allowing students to broadcast their speeches or team questions to help them find people who might be able to offer a better answer.
  • Giving students a soap box to broadcast their speeches, learning or ideas.

For me personally, I immediately thought of school trips or school excursions. I thought about how Periscope could be used by students to present places during a school trip. For example, before departing, students could be given a short assignment to broadcast live at certain locations. Another way I see Periscope as being highly valuable is as a tool to broadcast classroom to classroom throughout in the world. When I was teaching ESL in Japan, we tried something like this with Skype between two classrooms (one in Japan and the other in the United States) but there were so many technological issues like long delays, poor sound, and screen freezing that it ended up being a technological nightmare rather than a cross cultural experience. For that time, it was a very exciting idea but would have been more effective with today’s technology. The reason teachers should be using technology like Periscope to aid students’ learning is because a simple activity, like a live broadcast with another classroom would give students a sense of purpose for having a conversation in English and allows students to use their English in a natural and authentic environment. In reference to Ruben R. Puentedura’s SAMR Classification, this type of activity would be considered Redefinition, whereby this type of technology allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.

Other benefits for use in the classroom are overwhelming; it is an experience that can only be had using this kind of application. However, as a future educator, I also have some serious concerns in regards to the application and its downsides, which are somewhat serious. As Jeffrey Bradbury, the creator of TeacherCast.net, points out in his blog, Is Periscope Appropriate for Education?, through real experiences using the application, he found that followers’ comments can quickly turn from positive to negative and because he didn’t know how to block those followers, the comments quickly spiraled out of control. Contrary to Jeffrey Bradbury’s experience, another teacher, David Beaty, who experimented with Periscope was pleasantly surprised by the responses to one video that was being broadcasted by a garbage collector on the job.

It’s what makes the whole thing truly social. I noticed immediately this was not  your typical “Eating a sandwich” stream with people making comments like ” you suck”. People were actually asking real questions of the driver. “Are you union?”, “How long does the route take you?” Things like that. I found myself wishing I could have a whole grade 1 class next to me!

One thing I found out in regards to blocking users is that it is relatively easy to block users from your broadcasts, but nonetheless is an issue that needs to be dealt with immediately and teachers need to ensure students using the application are aware of these negative aspects of social media applications and how to manage them in an educational setting. Jeff Dunn’s blog, Live from … your classroom! Here’s how Twitter’s new Periscope app works, highlights some issues that any educator thinking about using Periscope in the classroom should consider before making the decision:

  • It’s live. That means people can swear and act crudely. Know which stream you’re going to watch!
  • Seriously. It’s live. Beware using this in an educational setting. Not for beginners.
  • Your students WILL be using this app. They are already using it. You can actually watch them and they likely won’t notice, too.
  • Try it out on your own and then use it with friends and colleagues. Take your time. Don’t jump on the ‘hot new app’ train just because it’s being discussed a lot. I can’t stress that enough.

Although I agree with Jeff’s concerns, I think he has missed some quite serious concerns such as privacy and security. There is a lot of talk around these issues regarding Periscope. Brad Reed brings attention to a major security flaw in the application in his article, Twitter needs to fix this potentially dangerous Periscope flaw :

“I knew that Periscope showed my general position— Brooklyn, New York — but I did not know until then that one could zoom in to see the exact location, with street names labeled. I imagine that other many Periscope users are not aware that their locations are pinpointed and viewable in this way.”

Through the use of this application, students would be experiencing authentic real-life learning. Although Periscope is the hottest thing in the app market, I’m not sure if I am 100% convinced as a future educator to use this application in the classroom. I would be curious to test it with a small group of students but I think there are so many other applications that offer just as many opportunities and less headaches in regards to issues that have to be seriously considered before using it in the classroom.

Camtasia

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Camtasia is a video editing tool that allows users to create videos. Users can either use the screen capture tool or import video, photos and music to create a video. This blog will focus on the potential uses of creating a video using its screen capture feature. Screen capture is a tool that allows you to video record your computer screen. If you are interested in creating a video by importing video, photos and music, please refer to my previous blog, Videolicious.

Using Camtasia’s screen capture tool offers many potential teaching and learning opportunities in the ESL classroom. I would like to mention that while numerous tools are available with similar features (i.e. Jing, Screen-cast-o-matic, screenr, etc.), I will focus on Camtasia because it is the first time I have heard of and used it. Camtasia can be used to visually demonstrate or explain pretty much anything like a specific website or software (i.e. features of SmartBoard software). It can also be used to explain the steps to solve a problem (i.e. in Math or Caluclus), explain a photo, or even to give correction or feedback. Further, it can be used to create video lessons that may be a part of a flipped classroom lesson.

Taking all of these mentioned possibilities into consideration, I thought of my future ESL classroom and how students would benefit using Camtasia. One possibility, asking students to create their own screencast videos. For example, getting students to investigate and explain useful websites for learning English or to explain something using screen capture. Lorna Costantini brings forward some thoughtful implications of using screencasts in the classroom for teachers, students and parents. In her screencast on YouTube, What is a Screencast and Why Would I Use One?, Lorna mentions that there are several educational benefits for students who make their own screencasts:

(1) it reinforces their learning by reviewing and explaining concepts; and

(2) it develops skills of students like collaboration, presentation and technological skills.

She also points out two aspects related specifically to learning language:

“first, screencasts serve as an excellent tool for developing and practicing language skills because of repeat conversation; and second, when teachers use screencasts as a means to give feedback, it can help language learners for correct pronunciation and usage.”

One other positive benefit concerns parents; they can follow along the student’s progress. This is something that would not be possible in a traditional classroom setting without the use of web-based tools like Camtasia. Parents can even use the feature, voicethread, to make comments on their children’s work.

There are also some downsides of screencasting that should be mentioned. As identified by EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative’s (ELI) article, 7 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SCREENCASTING, one of the most highlighted downsides of screencasts is they are not interactive. The type of information being demonstrated must be carefully considered before choosing screencasting as the means to disseminate that information. Considering all points, I agree that a teacher-made screencast for students to view is not interactive. However, in a task where students are asked to make a screencast, I can see many valuable learning aspects for students. If students had to make a screencast in pairs or groups, this would change the whole dimension of interactivity. The final product may not be interactive as such but the project process in creating it, would be. Further, if students were encouraged to provide feedback using voicethreads, it could greatly increase the interactivity. Also, in order to make a screencast, students would be carrying out the same process that a teacher-made screencast would involve. It would be vital that students follow this process as outlined in Kathy Schrock’s blog on Screencasting for educators :

  • Identify prior knowledge and learning goals
  • Decide how to chunk the information and introduce small bits at a time
  • Develop a sketched storyboard of your ideas
  • Write the script out, with your notes to yourself included
  • Gather all the URLs and images collected before you begin
  • Practice to get the timing and voice right
  • Determine how to host and distribute the completed project

In this respect, students would be completing a task similar to that of the writing process but for this type of project, they would have to plan and organize the technological aspect as well. This type of activity would be best served by completing these steps before carrying out the actual production of the video in a way that the students would be leading the activity and it would not become a technology-led task. This is always a vital consideration when integrating the use of technology into a task or project.

Everything considered about Camtasia (as a screencasting tool), I see a multitude of potential benefits if it is used by students to produce a product rather than a teacher-produced video for students to watch. Another point to mention, is due to its classification as a Redefinition activity in regards to Ruben R. Puentedura’s SMAR Classification, it has even more impact in the classroom because it allows for creation of a new task, previously inconceivable.