Introducing a tech-friendly journal: Issues and Trends in Educational Technology

These days, I am back in Tucson and it is around 100F here; however, thanks to monsoon, heat becomes more tolerable, if not humid, though.

Of course, after a considerable length of time of not being able to post on my blog, I will not be allocating all of my post to weather and my summer holiday back in Turkey; instead, I would like to introduce a very tech-friendly journal supported by the University Libraries at the University of Arizona. I thought it would be a good idea to briefly mention this new journal since I know there are a lot of students and researchers at every level out there who wish to publish their research and spread their word.

ITET Webpage
ITET Webpage

Issues and Trends in Educational Technology is a peer-reviewed open access journal that covers the theory, design, development and assessment of educational technology. It is supported by the University Libraries and uses the Open Journal Systems platform.

Issues and Trends in Educational Technology(ITET) covers design, development, use and assessment of educational technology in innovative ways, and features articles about research and theory as well as book, serious game and article reviews. The journal takes full advantage of its nature as an online publication, and authors are encouraged to submit material that would be unsuited for traditional print publication, such as video, high-resolution color images, software, and interactive data visualizations.

ITET archive by authors

What I like most about this journal and what makes it more tech-friendly in addition to the things above is the fact that ITET publishes articles as they are ready, twice a year. That means there is no need to wait for a specific day for the journal to come out in print or to be published online, which makes it really flexible.

 

One of the missions of ITET is to provide access to exemplary graduate student work. We highly encourage submission of distinguished student papers (course projects, papers written as part of a graduate coursework, grants, etc.).  Graduate student work is presented in a separate section of the journal, with a distinct and clearly-articulated review process.

Then, if you are a student or a researcher who is looking for a peer-reviewed journal that covers design, development, use and assessment of educational technology in innovative ways, and features articles about research and theory as well as book, serious game and article reviews, I am sure ITET must be the right place for you. You can still visit ITET’s website or write to the editors for further information.

Thank you for reading this post.

PLEASE share this post with your friends or reblog it for the people who might be interested.

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Interactive Videos? Come on!

Today in one of my technology classes, we were just discussing about the videos and how much real-life they were. Lack of interactivity was one of the aspects that make videos less real-life and maybe less authentic.

Interlude-Video At that moment, I was thinking of the future of videos and the possibility of adding interactivity component where you can interact with the video by changing plot, or deciding what will happen next or how it will happen.

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Sergio Ramos signing the ball for me!

Then, I came across this feed on Mashable tonight which immediately made me create a second blog post within 24 hours since it amazed me very much pertaining to the possibilities not only now but also more importantly in the future.I recommend you to try it for yourself and see how you can change the plot of a video by even writing something on the video and see it there immediately. Below is the link for this news and the ad of Pepsi. Believe it or not, Sergio Ramos asks your name in the video, then you write it there and he signs it for you.

Afterwards, I visited the website of the company producing Interlude Videos, Treehouse, now taken over by Eko, behind this project and found even more amazing stuff I just want to share here. Compared to the Pepsi ad, the interlude videos there seem even more amazing and seamless. You can explore the website and sign up even to create your own interactive videos!
Just try it for yourself and think about the future of videos and how it is applicable in education, specifically language teaching…


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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.


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.

Two dramatic videos on ‘education’ + a bonus hilarious one!

I would like to share two videos today which I have watched many times before and I also showed to my students and colleagues to heat the debate on education. Therefore, I also wish to share them here on my blog so that you can watch and share your opinions about the videos as well, if, somehow, you have not seen them before.

The first video is by Sir Ken Robinson who is a person of admiration in terms of his thought-provoking ideas and talks. For his full bio, you can refer to Wikipedia or his website, and for his other videos you can also refer to TED.com by clicking on the related words. Briefly, this video discusses ‘education today’ and existing challenges and problems related to the current system, our students, market, teaching methods, and etc. Here is the TED quote for the video:

In this talk from RSA Animate, Sir Ken Robinson lays out the link between 3 troubling trends: rising drop-out rates, schools’ dwindling stake in the arts, and ADHD. An important, timely talk for parents and teachers.

The most striking two things in the video for me is the fact that we do not give sufficient thought to the big picture of education and do not reflect much on what we are already doing with the power in our hands. Secondly, the possibility of the first fact, mentioned in the previous sentence, decreasing our students’ creativity and ‘divergent thinking’ since we struggle to standardize them through tests and other stuff. For this situation, the Finnish case can give some ideas to reflect more. Through the Finnish case link, you can access to 3 more videos showing a BBC report on the success of Finland in education.

The second video, I have played many times in my class, is another popular and well-known video showing things mentioned by Sir Ken Robinson from students’ perspective in an extremely dramatic way. The facts are written on boards, signs, even walls and posters held by students with a really thoughtful and sad face, which might easily help the audience sympathize with those students. Here is the short video and related video info published below:

a short video summarizing some of the most important characteristics of students today – how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime. Created by Michael Wesch in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University.

Two videos to help you reflect on your classroom activities, experiments as a teacher; what to expect from teachers and institutions as a students, how to evaluate existing system and what to do as a parent, maybe. I have shared the videos since I though they are really thought-provoking and have always made me question my teaching and learning experience so far. As said above, you can also use those videos in class to guide and motivate your students to discuss on the topic ‘education’. I actually did it many times and I remember spending almost an hour discussing about the second video with my dear intermediate students repeating the same class a few times.

In fact there is no need to be pessimistic; I am sure and I know there are also creativity, innovation, divergent thinking, art, literature, real-life things going on in our classes around the world, and these videos might only help us ‘to think’, which we need a lot in teaching in this technologic era.

Finally, as an example of what is already going on in our classes and to boost your mood on a Sunday, I want to share one bonus video which displays a creative teacher integrating technology into his class to amaze students. Here is the video: if you somehow have not seen it before, I guarantee a ‘wide open mouth’ while watching the video.

Thank you for reading and watching!

WebQuests: not a state-of-the-art tool, but an effective one when designed carefully!

ImageAs also stated in the title of this post, WebQuests have been around for some considerable time and been reinforced thanks to the arrival of Web 2.0 or other innovative environments. In fact, in an age when every single thing could change dramatically at the blink of an eye, WebQuests still could be an effective tool in various fields, especially in language teaching. Progress through hyperlinks have always been a fun exercise for me since you might not guess where to end and since it enhances multi-modality. WebQuests could be a good source for this and they may empower teachers by keeping their students active outside the classroom as well.

Although, depending on the environment you are preparing a WebQuest, it might or might not take a long time, it could be simply done on a word processing program, too. Actually, what is preferred mostly is to publish them on the Web so that they might be accessible to a high number of people at the same time for very long and even forever!

Wikipedia defines WebQuests as an inquiry-oriented lesson format in which most or all the information that learners work with comes from the web, and this is what makes this activity meaningful and effective for language learners.As a matter of fact, I am posting this for two reasons; (1) although it takes a long time to prepare WebQuests, especially when you publish it and especially when you are way too perfectionist!, they are pretty useful learning tools without bearing a question and I wanted to share this opinion and tool with you, (2) I personally experienced creating a WebQuest today (which could be accessed through the link here) and I wanted to share my experience when they are still fresh in my mind. ImageMy WebQuest is about ‘travel’ and it has been prepared as part of LRC530 course which I am taking this semester. Thanks to this course, I am also working on other technology and Web tools about which I am going to post as much as I can.Thank you for your time. I appreciate your comments and feedback both on my post and my WebQuest, too.
Link to my WebQuest: http://www.u.arizona.edu/~mpolat/webquest/wqindex.html

Just after the October-22 event of the fruit company, Apple!

Hey, finally as its second event in fall, new iDevices have already fallen  out of  the fruit company, Apple. Personally, devices seem to be below what I formerly expected, but it is an Apple tradition. Still, apparently, they seem to be the top-notch devices among the other non-Apple products on the market although the same cannot be said for their prices. Anyway, the biggest thing Apple announced yesterday, October 22, seems to be the new iPad, which is iPad Air, but not iPad 5, probably due to a big reduction in its weight. For the ones who are interested and thinking of buying any new iDevices, here is a comparison compiled by redmonpie.com and I hope it might give you an idea about which one to buy.

Apple cannot resist coming through with the confusing names, and now we find ourselves with the iPad 2, fifth-gen iPad Air, iPad mini, and the new iPad mini with Retina display. With so many options both old and new, allied to Apple’s almost arbitrary naming patterns, it may be a rather confusing state of affairs, so here, we take a close look at the four Apple tabletsincluding features, specs and prices.

The main, full-size iPad range now consists of the iPad 2, which Apple continues to sell despite its age, as well as the iPad Air, which should perhaps have been given the iPad 5 moniker. The differences between the two, in both specs and price, are glaring, but while those simply looking for an iPad to run iOS 7 and enjoy general use can still rely upon the trusty older model, those in search of something a little more cutting-edge and up-to-date will want to check out the new iPad Air.

iPad-Air-iPad-mini-2

At a full $100 cheaper than the newly-released iPad Air, the iPad 2 is still a relatively appealing prospect, and although there’s no 4G and only 16GB of storage space available with both the Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + Cellular models, it’s a very good value tablet.

The antiquated iPad 2 is now the same price as the current gen iPad mini and outdates the first-gen iPad mini, which was first released around this time last year. Both are rather similar technically, the iPad 2 and the first-gen iPad mini, using the same A5 processor and offering identical display resolution. Apple’s pricing makes a great deal more sense than the naming scheme, with both the iPad 2 and iPad mini seemingly on an even keel; leaving the consumer to make a judgment based purely upon preference.

Obviously, both the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display offer a sharper visual experience, and since each also includes the A7 processor and M7 motion coprocessor, those looking for a higher-end experience will want to grab one of the premier devices.

One very interesting thing about the chart, when you see each iPad side-by-side, is that now, the newer iPad mini is actually just as good as the flagship iPad Air, and although the latter is more expensive, the up-take on the compact model is likely to be, in my opinion, significantly higher than that of the full-size model.

iPad-Air-comparison

Having seen each in a concise, official manner, which iPad will you be picking up? Do share your thoughts and comments below!

Here are the links to acces to different and up-to-date post on innovative devices or else.

http://www.apple.com/ipad/compare/

http://www.redmondpie.com/ipad-air-vs-retina-ipad-mini-2-vs-ipad-mini-vs-ipad-2-comparison-chart/

Social Networking Sites: A Modern Hypocrisy or A Simple Portrayal of Real-self

Below is an interesting piece of writing in which I have mainly written about social networking sites/communities and identity construction. Well, it is at least interesting for me since I am actually laying myself on table and discussing my own online identity in detail as objectively as an individual can do when writing about oneself. I am not sure how far you can possibly go and read, and whether you will enjoy reading it, but I could say that I enjoyed writing such a piece of paper since it makes me feel that I am both the subject and the researcher. I might also suggest you to try doing such a thing and see what happens. You may end up somewhere up there where you may feel a total stranger to your real-self or online identity; or you may also realize how integrated these identities could be. If you do so, and share your comments here, I will be really pleased to publish and read them.

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The role of language in the formation and expression of identity is necessarily huge since people express themselves and communicate their ideas through words and sentences, namely language. In the past, the discussion used to be concentrated on language use through words, gestures in terms of various receptive or productive skills. Still, regarding language use, similar things are being discussed by many; however, there have been really radical changes, especially in terms of media through which message is conveyed or the environment where they are transmitted. Therefore, the importance of language still remains intact, but identity and the platform where it is being constructed have gone through significant changes. As a matter of fact, just as language is used to express face-to-face self, it is also used in online social networks to a considerable extent. An individual’s face-to-face self did not use to endow one with unlimited opportunities to wear or build various identities and does not still do so today, but thanks to today’s online opportunities particularly on social networking environments, one can present him/herself in a number of dissimilar ways. As a result of all this discussion and current radical changes, within this paper, I will briefly focus on firstly the close relationship between identity and language use with a reference to its short historical progress, and then explain how my language use in online social networks has shaped or is shaping my identity. Finally, by giving examples from my case, I will also touch upon how one’s online identity gets closer to his/her real identity as a result of an intense integration of online world to our real life.

To begin with, technology has made a dramatic transformation on concepts like language use, literacy and identity. Today, a great amount of language learning process takes place through new media and learners are exposed to language input especially on online social networking communities. As they are doing all these activities as part of their personal interests or professional status, they are also guided by educators to benefit from or directly use those tools like Facebook, Twitter and etc. for academic purposes. Therefore, as also quoted by Blattner and Fiori (2011), Downes explains that being ‘literate’ traditionally meant to be able to read and write; however in modern society that definition has expanded. Our reliance on technological means of communication and especially Web 2.0 tools has dramatically impacted the way individuals interact and socialize with one another. In fact, as also discussed in Mills’ (2011) article, in addition to the cultivation of motivation and engagement, some suggest that the development of online profiles within social networks has a direct influence on the reinforcement of an individual’s identity since identity is co-constructed by both language use and socialization. Slater further suggests that the expression of online identity is performative and that you essentially ‘become what you type’ (Mills, 2011). As a matter of fact, this claim seems really far-fetched to me since online identity is just a part of one’s personal self, and people not only type but also speak their ideas or express them in many different ways. Moreover, the gap between the online worlds and real world gets less and less as individuals integrate technology and online communities into their face-to-face life. In fact, this issue is going to be discussed more at the final section of this paper, but what is commonly accepted by many is that people build their identities in a different way on online networking communities through the language they use when compared to their face-to-face self in real life. As a result, identity characterized as a very broad concept and shaped by many instruments is also constructed through the language we use. Since a considerable amount of language used today seems to be happening within online social communities, they might give a big clue about one’s sense of self and identity. Therefore, in the next section of this paper, I will reflect on the connection of my online identity and language use.

As for my online identity, it seems that it is mainly divided into two categories. On one hand, there is my identity within social networking communities like Facebook and Twitter, although I do occasionally use the latter. These two, especially me on Facebook, currently do not differ a lot from my face-to-face self in real life, the reason of which will be generalized and discussed later in this paper. On the other hand, I have my own website and blog which have been created recently, and which do not reveal a lot in terms of my real self and communicate my academic identity more. To start with my personal website (u.arizona.edu/~mpolat), one might only have some limited idea about my real self through some pictures and images, but regarding the overall concept and the language I am using there portrays me as a person who is highly academic. The language is totally in English and there is nothing in Turkish although the latter is my native language. Personally, I mostly use Turkish in my everyday life with my family and friends except for the ones who do not know Turkish, but my identity which has been constructed on this website seems to be really different since the target audience aimed there is my colleagues, employers and professors who are in the same field as me and a considerable number of whom do not speak Turkish. Afterwards, regarding my blog (imustafapolat.wordpress.com) where I am posting recently seems not much different from my website since the target audience is almost the same. However, regarding my academic tone, and register, it seems that I have made my identity just a little less academic (except for one post about ‘blended learning) and more intimate since blog-writing mostly requires such a language use in order not to bore the reader with a highly academic tone. To briefly refer to my twitter account (twitter.com/muspol), there is not much data to reflect on my identity there since I mostly use this tool to keep up-to-date with very recent news (like news about traffic) through its ‘discover’ tool. However, referring to my specific tweets, it seems that they were mostly in English at the beginning, which is interesting since all my followers were Turkish at the time, and later on, tweets are sent in both languages, but mostly in Turkish although there are followers who do not speak Turkish. Regarding the tone and register of the tweets, it seems that they have been written in a way as if I am talking to someone specific such as a politician, an authority figure or a TV channel although the intended audience are mostly my friends and family. As a result, as for my identity on Twitter, it seems that there is no identity built completely by taking all my tweets into consideration. Finally, as Reinhardt and Zander (2011) state, four hundred million people (the number is over even 1 billon regarding the current updates on social networking websites), approximately 6% percent of the planet, are active users of Facebook, the most popular of social-networking sites (SNSs). The average user spends more than an hour on the site, which is more than most of the activities done through an ordinary day. These numbers make Facebook a very effective ground for the members to portray their own identities. In order to do so, there are so many instruments like posting images, videos, sharing music, messaging, calling people and etc., almost all of which require people to use language. As for my Facebook account (facebook.com/summacumlaude), it seems that it is a little interesting and it portrays my online identity in a way which is more similar to my real face-to-face self compared with other online environments such as my personal webpage and blog which have a highly academic tone and not much information about my everyday life. To start with the differences, one interesting difference is again posting things in English especially when I first signed up for Facebook just like I used to do on Twitter, and the most probable reason for this is that Facebook used to be in English, not in Turkish in my country and there were only few contacts who can also speak English at that time. After family members and close friends or contacts were added as contacts, it seems that this difference has become less obvious. Moreover, as quoted in Mills (2011), consistent with Slater’s (2002) suggestion that you become what you type but just because of the tools in use on Facebook, it seems that my online identity is a kind of person who can express feelings instantly and on spot such as anger, happiness, and etc. by specifying even the relevant names although it is not the case in my real life most of the time. What’s more, regarding how I express myself, multimodality plays a very key role within social networking communities like Facebook. To illustrate, I often post pictures, sometimes videos, rarely songs on Facebook; however, it is not the case regarding face-to-face self that I show people pictures, share videos and songs with them. Therefore, at this point one becomes a kind of person within the limit of the opportunities and tools offered on a specific platform. Another difference between my online identity on Facebook and my real self is that the language I use on Facebook especially regarding instant messages which could be regarded as similar to spoken language in real life is a production of careful consideration although it is not the case in real spoken language. One important reason for this is that you have a chance to revise what you have written and correct your mistakes in spite of its being instant, but you cannot have this opportunity while speaking in real life. Hence, my online identity might be being reflected differently since it is not instant in real sense. One final difference which might also currently go under similarities is that, especially when I am posting on Facebook, my target audience is all the people in my contact list, so I have always this feeling that I have to pay attention not to bother anyone or argue with people and I try to avoid conflicts since a big part of communication is composed of face-to-face contact and body language. However, when I am talking to someone in real life, my target audience is not too large to think about what I am going to say twice, three times or more, and this necessarily causes a lot of differences in terms of language use. In fact, as it has been just mentioned, regarding the final difference stated above, the gap between my face-to-face self and online identity gets less and less evident, and I certainly believe that it is also the case for many except for the ones who have created false accounts. In the final section of this paper, then, I will discuss this situation and how it has become so.

Today, it is really apparent that technology is intertwined into our lives and rather than a world separated from the real world itself, it is as if it completes one’s face-to-face self. In other words, except for the false accounts especially on Facebook and similar social networking communities, people have similar contacts and they are creating a sort of timeline of their real life. As a result, with only some exceptions like easily joining various groups, people have similar identities both within online communities and their real life. To illustrate, regarding my own Facebook identity, it is not like I have different face-to-face self and considerably different online identity since I have the same contacts I have in my real life and I am always aware of the fact that I will seek those people’s company when I switch to real life. Therefore, it cannot be said that online identity of one is considerably different from his/her real self because the former is so intertwined into the latter that most people are aware of the fact that any possible clash between these two might cause some conflicts in their lives.

All in all, language and identity are closely linked to each other both in one’s face-to-face life and within online communities. In the past, prior to the advent of technology, identity used be constructed in a different way; however, today our identity is shaped in different ways as a result of online communities and multimodality. Depending on one’s purpose in these online communities and their target audience, individuals construct their identities differently as a result their communicative activities such as posting images, sending messages, sharing things, and etc. Personally, it seems that I have been constructing a different identity regarding my webpage and blog with strong focus on my academic self. However, as a result of a strong integration between my online identity on Facebook and face-to-face self, I cannot claim that it differs to a great extent from my face-to-face self as, I believe, it is also the case for most people using technology today,

References

Blattner, G, and M Fiori. (2011). “Virtual social network communities: An investigation of language learners’ development of sociopragmatic awareness and multiliteracy skills.” CALICO journal 29(1): 24–43. http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&btnG=Search&q=intitle:Virtual+Social+Network+Communities+:+An+Investigation+of+Language+Learners+’+Development+of+Sociopragmatic+Awareness+and+Multiliteracy+Skills#0 (October 18, 2013).

Mills, NA. (2011). “Situated learning through social networking communities: The development of joint enterprise, mutual engagement, and a shared repertoire.” … Theories, Technologies, and Language Learning ( … 28(2): 1–24. http://works.bepress.com/nicole_mills/33/ (October 18, 2013).

Reinhardt, J, and V Zander. (2011). “Social networking in an intensive English program classroom: A Language Socialization Perspective.” Calico Journal. http://www.u.arizona.edu/~jonrein/pubs/reinhardt_zander_2011_short.pdf (October 18, 2013).

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).