Site/App review: “Weebly: Create Free website Free blog

 

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A few decades ago, when the Internet was not as popular as today, creating your own website and building on it could be a far-fetched activity or it was even a dream especially when you did not have the knowledge and skills to do so. Today, thanks to especially social networking websites, people can easily create their own pages and organize them within the possibilities of those environments or platforms. If you want to be more independent, and create your own page in mostly in your own way, you can still do so by taking URLs on some hosting webservers. Although most people think that this requires a lot of skills and knowledge of codes, HTML, CSS and so on, it is not the case most of the time thanks to these hosts where you can publish your own page or blog. Services like WordPress, Blogspot, Edublogs and so on are really popular to create your own page or blog. Recently, there is another popular service provided by Weebly with which you can easily create your own page/blog or even your class as a teacher with the ease of some clicks, and drag-drop. I will describe Weebly more below by also elaborating on its intended audience, how it works and how it could be utilized in an instructional context.

  1. Description

As also described in Wikipedia.com, Weebly is a web-hosting service that allows the user to “drag-and-drop” while using their website builder. As of August 2013, Weebly hosts over 20 million sites, with a monthly rate of over 1 million unique visitors. The startup competes with Wix.com, Webs, Yola, SnapPages, and other web-hosting and creation websites.

Name  : Weebly

URL    : http://www.weebly.com AND http://www.education.weebly.com

Use     : Intended Audience

The intended audience of this tool is simply everyone who wishes to exist online with an individual webpage, blog or also a store. Furthermore, this tool has a specific focus on education and teachers can launch classes on Weebly and create websites or blogs for their students with simply their names when students do not have their own emails because of age problems. Students are also the intended audience of Weebly education and they can create their own pages or portfolios where they upload their assignments or else. As a result, although general public is the intended audience of this tool, specifically educators and students are aimed with Weebly education.

  1. How does it work?

drag-and-dropIn fact, one of the claims of this web-hosting tool is that building a website has never been easier, and it is possible to say that it has a point since it is really easy to create webpages on Weebly. First, you need to sign up, or you can even sign in using your Facebook and Google accounts. Afterwards, you take a URL under weebly.com for free or take your own domain by paying a certain fee. Later on, you can go pro and get some additional features like changing favicons, opening an ecommerce/store site or connecting your own domain. Actually, even for free users, there are so many features like uploading photos, files with the ease of drag-drop; uploading videos, changing themes, appearance, fonts with a full customization of your page. Furthermore, the page you have created will also be tablet or mobile device friendly without an extra effort. You can also check your page stats and do many other things by using Weebly mobile apps.

  1. Further suggestions on how the tool might be used & Limitations

logo_edWeebly seems to be a tool, which makes your job really easy by several practical and convenient features. You can do many things based on your aims, or creativity when you can easily create a page/blog or class of your own online. The things you can do with your own page and blog are clear and will not be elaborated further. However, as teacher, when you use Weebly education, it serves like a course management system as well. It is also an option that you can set your students free and create their own pages, but Weebly education gives an instructor full control by assigning pages to each student, or group of students and you can easily keep track of their progress on the same page. Blogs are strongly recommended for educational purposes, and I really like using them in my class as a student diary since it makes students confident since they are able to share their ideas with public.

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 9.00.08 PMYou can do the same thing with Weebly education where a maximum of 40 students can enroll in your class for free, and you can keep track of their progress, view their pages and give feedback. Students create different pages on their own site, and submit their work and assignment create portfolios so that you can easily check and grade them. In fact, for hands-on projects and activities, guiding students to create some work online since they are already motivated for it; they actually like showing off their work; check productions of each other and give peer feedback; complete their assignment and access to them whenever they want and so many other benefits. Therefore, Weebly, especially Weebly education could be really useful both for teachers and students especially in language learning classes where students mostly enjoy doing projects on different topics such as travel, business, entrepreneurship, music, art and so on.


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Site/App review: “Stoodle: Instant free virtual classroom”

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As it is widely known, online classrooms have gained popularity although there are still people who believe that the luxury of meeting in a physical classroom by having a face-to-face communication outweighs the effectiveness of having a fully online course.  Regarding online course like MOOCs, it is not possible to conclude that fully online courses can replace traditional classes; however, considering college courses in which the total number of participants do not exceed 30s, we may assume that they can be effective as well. Moreover, tools or websites such as Skype, Google Hangouts, or more specialized ones like Blackboard Collaborate can enhance the effectiveness of fully online courses.

On the other hand, when we consider using this kind of tools to support face-to-face classes for various purposes such as giving feedback and/or supporting our students outside classrooms, we might increase their effectiveness more and more. At this point, tools like Blackboard Collaborate or Google Hangouts with which a teacher can display his screen to all, remote-help his/her students, and communicate with them visually or auditorily might be a little difficult to set up since they might not be free, or require a sophisticated set-up process. Therefore, Stoodle is a tool to fill in this gap in a very easy and free way so that one, as a teacher, can instantly collaborate with students on a virtual whiteboard with as many pages as needed. Throughout the rest of this review, you will be introduced to this tool followed by further ideas and suggestions on how to make use of it effectively in addition to its limitations to illustrate how it could be developed more.

1. Description

Name  : Stoodle: Ultimate Online Learning Experience

URL    : http://stoodle.ck12.org

Use     : As cited from its website,  Stoodle aims “to help bridge the national achievement gap with a free and comprehensive online learning experience.”  Moreover, the features of the tool are as follows:

  • Real-time collaboration on a virtual whiteboard with infinite pages
  • Real-time communication through voice conferencing and text chat
  • Permanent storage of all classrooms for later access
  • Support for image uploading
  • Access to basic drawing tools and colors

2. Intended Audience

Stoodle, as can be seen in the previous section, is intended for mainly instructional or educational purposes. Teachers and tutors are the main target group to use it to hold online office hours, review sessions, provide flexible or individual feedback, and organize illustrated review notes. On the other hand, students can also benefit from this tool by working on homework with their peers, illustrating problems and inviting teachers for help, and finally by creating group study guides.

3. How does it work?

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Simply hit ‘launch a classroom!” and that is it!

Explaining how this tool works might be the easiest part since it is one of the strongest claims or promises of Stoodle. One, either as a teacher or a student, needs to visit the website, and simply hit ‘launch a classroom’. Then, it is all set with a whiteboard in front of you with so many options. Whenever you launch a classroom, you can save it and share the link in the address bar with anyone you would like to collaborate with.  It is a big advantage for virtual classrooms on Stoodle to be stored for later access, too. After you have started a virtual classroom and share the link with others both as a teacher and student, these are the things you can do on a whiteboard:

  • joining the session by writing your nick/name,
  • instant chat with other participants,
  • voice conferencing,
  • uploading images from your computer or any cloud service,
  • taking your pictures and recording videos,
  • sharing links or other videos on the Internet,
  • drawing lines, shapes in different colors,
  • typing and inserting texts,
  • undoing/redoing your actions,
  • creating as many pages as needed on the same whiteboard,
  • sharing what you do on Twitter, Facebook, or via email.

As it is mentioned above, there are several tools and possibilities that you can have using Stoodle in spite of its being free, and not requiring any complex set-up process. Within the following section, I will present more information regarding how this tool can be used for instructional purposes; and then further explain what limitations it has and how it might be developed more.

4. Further suggestions on how the tool might be used & Limitations

First of all, as repeatedly mentioned so far, Stoodle is a very effective tool to create instant virtual classrooms for teachers and their students to interact. Therefore, it is best to use it for an improvised tutoring session or class reviews. Exceeding the boundaries of a classroom or an office, a teacher can hold sessions to provide additional support for his/her students.  Say you would like to give feedback for a student’s writing and you do not have enough time at school. With the ease of a click and launching a virtual classroom on Stoodle, you might upload the whole essay on the whiteboard as an image or simply text. Then, you can set a certain link for each student all through a year and share it with him or her. When both you and your students are online at a certain time, you can explain things and give feedback by drawing on the board, through instant chat or voice conferencing. It is really efficient to be able to store all essays or those feedback sessions so that you can easily monitor your students’ progress. There are so many other ways that you can use Stoodle, but it seems that is best to use it to support your actual class to hold office hours, give feedback, and monitor students’ progress. It is actually possible to appeal more to productive skills like speaking and writing which most students lack while learning a language.

Secondly, a teacher can motivate and guide his/her students to use Stoodle in many different ways.  There are so many telecollaboration studies in which students who speak two different languages, and who are from different departments or countries help each other to teach what they are good at. Stoodle could be a great tool for them to connect with one another. Furthermore, students can use Stoodle simply to work on their homework or assignments outside the school. For instance, for assignments requiring a process work such as brainstorming, developing an idea, creating concept maps, or solving a problem, Stoodle can certainly offer various options for the task to be completed effectively. Besides, they can always store their activity for later access and keep track of their performance.

What is really convenient about Stoodle is that it can be used on any browsers and tablets as well. Today when almost everybody owns either of them, Stoodle can offer lots of opportunities for presenters or educators leading professional development or having sessions at conferences.

On the other hand, although it is a really great and effective tool to launch instant virtual classrooms, this does not necessarily mean that Stoodle is a complete tool in itself with nothing to improve further.  One of the biggest limitations of the tool, especially from a teacher’s perspective, is that nobody is leading the session. It is not possible for a teacher to manage a session. Everybody with the link can join, do modifications on the whiteboard or talk. Regarding tools like Blackboard Collaborate, it is possible for a teacher to administer a session by allowing students to participate, say something or simply join the sessions. However, on Stoodle nobody has the control, which might cause a confusion or a chaotic situation since what you store there might be deleted by anyone with the link.

Moreover, although Stoodle is iPad or tablet-friendly, it seems that it has problems regarding voice conferencing when accessed with an iPad. I personally tested it on two different computers and had no problem regarding voice conferencing. However, when accessed on an iPad, I could not hear the person accessing with a computer, or the person with the computer did not receive my voice from an iPad. Therefore, despite being convenient, it seems that there are still issues with tablets and mobile devices.

Finally, regarding all the features offered by Stoodle, it seems a really effective tool. However, it might be improved more if following features are also added with its future versions:

  • video conferencing,
  • file-sharing,
  • remote desktop and remote control,
  • tabbed chat,
  • typing texts live (normally you type it in a pop-up window and it is inserted somewhere on the whiteboard),
  • better bandwidth, voice quality and echo cancellation,

All in all, Stoodle is certainly a very effective tool for instant virtual classes with the ease of a click, and it certainly serves its objectives well with several great features. However, in order to improve it more and offer as many features as other similar free tools like Google Hangouts, or paid tools like Blackboard Collaborate, it seems that we need wait for newer versions. Regarding the objectives and mission of its developer team, Stoodle is surely going to meet all and even more of these expectations in the near future.

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Summary chart for “Stoodle”

IMPORTANT: This time, you can send me your feedback following this Stoodle link:) You can explore the page and then leave your comments.

One Approach, Two Ends: Blended Learning as “the Best of Both Worlds” or “the Worst of Both Worlds” within the Hands of Educators

20131016-181703.jpgAs Prensky (2001) enthusiastically puts forward, on the one hand, “it is amazing […] how in all the hoopla and debate these days about the decline of education in the US we ignore the most fundamental of its causes. Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach.” On the other hand, VanSlyke (2003) argues clearly by stating that he finds “it hard to believe that neurological structures could change to such a dramatic extent from one generation to the next.” He continues by explaining that “yet even if we grant that Digital Natives think and learn somewhat differently than older generations, we may be doing them a disservice to de-emphasize “legacy” content such as reading, writing, and logical thinking, or to say that the methodologies we have used in the past are no longer relevant.” Although it has been over ten years since these sentences were produced, the debate still keeps its temperature and people are yet to discuss about concepts like ‘digital natives/immigrants, computer assisted language learning (CALL), web-enhanced/ blended/ hybrid or fully online education etc.’ Those stakeholders, who are not still sure about the definition of the terms, keep discussing both the advantages and disadvantages or the challenges of the integration of technology into our classrooms. In fact, literature provides a variety of definitions for ‘blended learning’ and similar concepts, but it can practically be defined as “a combination of face-to-face (physical) and online (virtual) learning environments” (Stacey & Gerbic, 2009). It seems that there is still time to lessen the debate on technology and its effectiveness; nonetheless, as a person who is interested in this marriage of technology to language learning or education, I believe that technology in the form of blended learning can benefit to all stakeholders from parents to managers and of course including teachers and students when incorporated and administered meaningfully. Therefore, I actually agree with the claim that “blended learning is emerging as a ‘the best of both worlds’ for schooling” since “traditional brick and mortar programs may fail to embrace the opportunities available to us in this digital age and full-time online schools can’t serve every student” in our world (Anderson, 2011). Regarding the question above and the blended learning environment, the advantages which make it a “the best of two worlds” will be discussed. Later on, the challenges and concerns which keep people and stakeholders away from it will also be focused on.

First of all, it is apparent that the generation today, or today’s learners and children might not be so extreme as Prensky puts forward, but it is also really clear that they are not as the same as the generation of a few decades ago. Although it might be unrealistic to put them all under a certain category or label, we, as educators, parents and older people, can observe everywhere that today’s learners tend to be dependent on using their mobile devices all the time, stay connected on the Internet, explore on their own and play games. They have their intrinsic motivation to a great extent concerning the things listed above. Therefore, instead of putting a ban on using their mobiles within the boundaries of classrooms, keeping them away from the Internet and such related technologies cannot do anything rather than killing this intrinsic motivation and their energy instead of channeling it into more educational activities. Vander Ark (2012) proposes that three students in a coffee shop rather than a physical classroom environment may still be deeply engaged in learning activities unlike anyone has ever experienced. In that case, successful amalgamation of tools like blended learning is the thing which provides educators with this opportunity.

Secondly, regarding the time constraint in schools and the fact that learners are not there all of their time, easily having opportunities like meeting their teachers and spending a great deal of time to practice what they have learnt, technology when skillfully applied, can be a tool to empower both teachers and institutions. As also mentioned above, directing learners’ energy into some teaching tools and keeping them engaged online with meaningful activities can make our learners autonomous in real sense and help spend valuable time that they might not in real classroom environments. Then, the time that will normally be spent on such activities or practice could be spend on various tasks which require more face-to-face communication in real sense. To illustrate, it is actually an undeniable fact that our learners might not have enough chance to practice their listening and speaking skills in language classrooms. However, when a variety of software programs, tools and tasks are integrated in harmony, learners could easily have chances to perform what they have learnt and improve such skills as those requiring more practice. As also portrayed in Grgurovic’s case study, even students who were not very engaged during class pair work would work on speaking tasks in the lab. Moreover, the teacher also believed that working on online materials in the lab helped less attentive students control their learning better than in the classroom (Grgurovic, 2011).

Another important need to integrate technology into our teaching is games. As Prensky repeatedly underlines, today’s learner spend a considerable part of their time on games, and they are also very attractive even for adults who actually could be regarded as digital immigrants. One professor, as quoted in Prensky’s article (2001b), states that digital natives have really short attention spans especially for the old ways of learning, but not for games or for anything else that actually interests them. At this point, to actively engage learners in our language classrooms, we can try to figure out ways to make use of technology and blending it into our teaching rather than solely a focus on conventional teaching methods or inventing still-to-be-discovered tools. Games might be really effective regarding different learning styles, as put forward by Kolb (1984), Gardner (1995), Fleming (2007) and Jackson (2005), since they appeal to a variety of learning styles from visual to musical, or from social to even kinesthetic styles. Hence, instead of avoiding them or ignoring their effects on teaching and learning, educators should consider the ways of utilizing them to benefit more from games. On the other hand, it should be noted that this does not necessarily mean that every game can directly be an effective and magical teaching tool all at once. Prensky explains that if some games do not produce learning, it is not because they are games, or because the concept of ‘game-based learning’ is faulty; instead, it is because those particular games are badly designed. Therefore, as also stated and underlined above a few times, what is in fact really vital is a successful and meaningful integration of all technology-related tools into our teaching.

As for the advantages of blended learning and reasons why it is portrayed as a ‘best of the two worlds”, there are many more to jot down, but due to space constraints of this paper, one more benefit will be explained prior to challenges and maybe disadvantages. It is widely accepted that the competitive nature of our world today and far-fetched expectations from institutions and educators seem to put a heavy burden on both. Their responsibility is to equip learners with necessary and relevant knowledge which will help them to be successful in their later life. As language teachers, our burden is even heavier since learning a language can be affected by individual differences and their motivation. Therefore, instead of allocating most of our time to catch the attention of our learners and do more than our best, we as educators can also channel a considerable part of this energy into looking for the ways to blend technology into our classrooms and spend our time and energy even more wisely. To illustrate, giving feedback might not be most challenging part of our jobs, but it is certainly one of the top time-consuming tasks of a teacher. Instead of consuming most of our time on marking and writing comments, we can create tools via various learning environments and they can easily take some of the burden from educators. Software and online packages of various course books are a good example for this. Teachers can focus on content in classrooms and do a necessary amount of practice, then these packages can do the rest. Since they are also customizable, we can adjust the feedback, comments, and grades in the way we want and learners can do the rest studying online. For the ones who are not happy with allocating their financial sources for such packages, there are even freeware programs and learning environments to achieve it. As a result, it all depends on how we as educators modify the nature of our course and how we plan it. We should, in fact, plan it so meaningfully and conscientiously that we can gain from all those advantages listed above.

Although not as many as its advantages and benefits it provide, there are also a few challenges regarding blended learning. Firstly, the individual differences both from teachers’ and learners’ perspectives are one of the few challenges to deal with. In fact, as one cannot guarantee that all learners today, called digital natives, bear the same characteristics which make them all active, social, dynamic, and technology-literate people; similarly, there are also discrepancies among educators’ both personal attitudes and professional knowledge. As for both the learners and educators, some of them might even dislike using technology in almost all phases of their life including education. Therefore, the challenge which educators today come across while teaching in technology-blended classrooms is trying to consider such individual learner differences in order to win them all. The assumption that all digital natives bear the same characteristics will probably end up with a failure and it has the potential to make it a “the worst of both worlds”. As stated by Van Slyke, a typical classroom is much more diverse, with students coming from a range of backgrounds; many do not have computers at home, some have disabilities, and some are simply not interested in computer games. Hence, blending technology successfully with conventional ways of teaching means taking into account all those factors in our teaching plans. Furthermore, thinking about the other side of the coin, teachers might not be similarly equipped with the necessary knowledge and background regarding blended learning classes. Especially, at institutions where blended learning classes are encouraged and even forced to be used, teachers might have potential problems and could be dealing with spending a considerable amount of their energy figuring out the ways of achieving it, which instead could be used more productively when channeled into something familiar in the short run.

As for the planning blended learning classes and equipping institutions with state-of-the-art technological inventions, another point would be to give a thought to critical pedagogy. First, the decision-makers who want blended learning classes might not be the ones who actualize teaching in the real sense. Real teachers might not be asked about their opinions regarding both equipments and planning blended learning classes. Finally, what institutions expect their teachers and students to study and get familiar with might not represent the reality. To illustrate, there are still a lot of countries where primarily teachers and also students know what a slide projector or a computer, of course, is; however, they might not have access to such tools in their classrooms or personal lives, which will possibly create a discrepancy between what is real and ideal.

Last but not least, a strong and improper focus on technology and, not maybe blended learning classes, but dependence on designing fully online courses assuming that everybody adores them might result in a society or generation who has not had a chance to socialize. Prensky claims that digital natives are even more playful and sociable compared with previous age groups since socialization or sociocultural development is not solely based on face-to-face contact and since digital natives have several online game groups which make them sociable. However, this kind of socialization could be asynchronous most of the time and it could even be monotonous since the focus is usually the same. In this sense, regarding Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, we can assume that a limited level of social contact with others and peers as a result of too much focus on technological devices could affect personal and cognitive development phases negatively since factors like mediation and ZPD would only be limited to online interaction.

All in all, regarding all the discussion and related advantages, benefits and potential drawbacks of blending technology into classrooms, it can be easily grasped that it requires a very careful analysis and successful planning. Provided that both teachers and institutions have a say in designing blended learning classes and buying relevant equipment; as long as learners’ individual differences are taken into meticulous consideration; and finally on the condition that all this process is carried out thoroughly and skillfully, it is possible to conclude that blended learning can be portrayed as a “the best of both worlds” where face-to-face (physical) and online (virtual) learning environments are blended in harmony. Otherwise, it really does not require extra skills to make it a “the worst of both worlds” where neither educators nor learners would have an idea of what is being done.

References

Anderson, A. B., & Amanda S.. (2011). Blended learning: The best of both worlds. http://www.dkfoundation.org/sites/default/files/files/BlendedLearning-BestOfBothWorlds-Feb2011.pdf (September 27, 2013).

Ark, T. V.. (2011). Getting Smart: How Digital Learning Is Changing the World. http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=jKjViK5jgq0C&oi=fnd&pg=PT11&dq=Getting+Smart:+How+Digital+Learning+is+Changing+the+World&ots=zDwmsVY1aM&sig=kJuwhnPMSGTSrpgItAi1crX0fFI (September 27, 2013).

Fleming. H, & Amit J. Shah (2007) Using Learning Style Instruments to Enhance Student Learning. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Educationdoi:10.1111/j.1540-4609.2007.00125.x

Gardner, D., & James W.. (1995). Learning styles: Implications for distance learning. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 67.

Grgurovic, M. (2011). Blended learning in an ESL class: A case study. Journal, Calico 29(1): 100–117. http://www.u.arizona.edu/~mpolat/articles/Grgurovic.M.2011.pdf.

Jackson, C. J. (2005). An applied neuropsychological model of functional and dysfunctional learning: Applications for business, education, training and clinical psychology. Cymeon: Australia

Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. ISBN0-13-295261-0.

Prensky, M, and BD Berry. (2001). Do they really think differently. On the horizon. http://britannia-spb.ru/downloads/Prensky-Digital-Natives-Digital-Immigrants-Part2.pdf (September 27, 2013).

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants Part 1. On the Horizon 9(5): 1–6. http://www.emeraldinsight.com/10.1108/10748120110424816.

VanSlyke, T. (2003). Digital natives, digital immigrants: Some thoughts from the generation gap. The technology source. http://depd.wisc.edu/html/TSarticles/Digital Natives.htm (September 27, 2013).