Monday, July 21, 2008

***Discussion #3

This will be our final online discussion for the course - it will be posted in our BlackBoard section soon and should be responded to there.
Posted on BlackBoard - 7/28/08

As using Blackboard is part of our course content, please respond to this discussion there. If for any reason you have trouble doing that you may place your post here to make certain you get credit for participation and then please email me a description of the difficulty you encountered at

The authors of Meaningful Learning with Technology begin in Chapter 1 by establishing a framework in which standardized tests that assess decontextualized skills are seen as definers of instructional efforts to be avoided. On the other end of the spectrum, project-based learning is presented as a contextualizer through which meaningful learning may be fostered. There may be much territory that lies between the two extremes that is not explored or explained in this book.

Below are some types of technology-based resources that are either commonly used in our schools or which are becoming more and more commonplace. These are either touched on or not explored fully in the book.

How do we fit the following types of resources into our concept of worthwhile technology applications used for instruction with ESL students? Are they more aligned with the goals of the standardized testing culture, or with that of the project-based learning philosophy?

Review enough of the resources below so that you are sufficiently informed to enter into the discussion, then give your opinion to the above Questions.

I. Simple Games and Quizzes
Activities for ESL Students
Free Online Games Develop ESL Students' Language Skills
Linguistic Funland

II. Virtual Reality Games
Second Life

III. Student Response Systems


Mr. Gaulke said...

Hi Professor Gura,

I hope you've had a nice weekend and that you will wield the blade of justice without mercy.

Should we post our responses to discussion 3 here, in lieu of Blackboard?


Bob Gaulke

Mark Gura said...

I would prefer to use BlackBoard for this one.


Carol Pincus said...

These particular resources definitely seemed aimed at the type of low-level thinking and decontextualized skills addressed in standardized texts. These are the “old-fashioned” computer resources that aim to teach by simple positive reinforcement.

But for the subjects many of these resources target – grammar and vocabulary – I think they have a place in education. Ideally, students would “acquire” English grammar naturally by means of comprehensible input. But that didn’t seem to be happening in the high school where I student taught. The students socialized in their native languages, and they weren’t reading nearly enough in English. I found myself wondering whether there was a place for old-fashioned grammar drills, where students could develop automaticity in grammar. But the classroom where I student taught had no technology, and paper-and-pencil grammar drills are deadly. These computer resources have the potential of engaging the students and giving them practice in a skill like grammar that doesn’t involve higher-order thinking.

Teaching Perfection said...

In reviewing Activities for ESL Students , which is a very detailed website with some fine material very usable for our Ell’s I find it fits the mold of the more traditional type of standardized education. I personally don’t think that this is a bad thing, I feel it has merit and educational value. It has some semblance of real life by the mere fact that examples and questions are based on concrete everyday examples that are probably and can possibly take place.
In reviewing Free Online Games Develop ESL Students' Language Skills, I find this website has little educational value apart from being something fun that can possibly be used as a reward to motivate the children to complete their assignments and behave and cooperate. It can also be a way to introduce the field of game designing to students. This might be a connection to a real world job field which is rarely explored in the classroom.
Virtual reality games, the next section, is something that I believe would motivate Ell’s to learn English quicker so they can play these games. I personally play a game called Age of Empires on my spare time and there are many players from all over the world who I interact with in order to organize the games. Most of them are not from the US, they are in Mexico, UK, Portugal, Poland, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Japan, France, etc. They are from almost every country. Some speak very little or no English at all, yet here we are, playing this strategy game based on real historical tribes, spanning a timeframe of a thousand years, from the fall of Rome through the Middle Ages, developing from the dark ages to the imperial age in combat and economy. It is a great way to introduce children both to history, cultures and the English language. I would consider this a good project based learning strategy. It can be a good extra curricular activity as in a club or after school activity, which would promote learning and good cooperative learning relationships.
Student Response System is a good way to take a quick statistic to vote on anything the class will agree on, gage understanding, and get feedback. Since the teacher is not GOD, he cannot respond to everyone individually, it could become very overwhelming in my opinion. This is definitely cutting edge technology being introduced into the classroom. I believe it is only useful in a large sized classroom as in a university. Children of elementary, and middle school do not have the maturity level to handle or appreciate this technology or see its value. Only some high school students will not goof around and only in certain situations where they are gathered in large numbers can make use of this technology in my opinion. It can certainly be tied into project based learning and real life statistical situations.

andrea said...

Like the others, I think there is a time and place for everything. While some of the activities certainly fall in to the “drill and kill” category, the point is some people need that and learn that way. Also, by disguising these drills as fun games, it doesn’t seem as tedious and uninteresting.
As we teach our students about roles, responsibilities, and communities, virtual reality games can help make the experience more authentic and enticing for everyone. Of course, this requires a great deal of supervision, but again I think there is a time and a place for all three of the categories you have listed. It is about knowing your students, what they need, and what will work for them.

Julia Kravchik said...

Drills are considered evil nowadays, and not looked upon highly. However, I think they still have a place in education today and should not be considered outdated and avoided like standardized tests.

Studies say that students must be exposed to something several times in different ways before they acquire and learn that knowledge. Drills can be used to help expose students to vocabulary and grammar. I don't think that they should be the only tools used, but a teacher can incorporate them into his/her lessons in order to help the students learn the new words or grammatical structures. Using online drills/mini-quizzes can be fun for students to do and can be seen as games. Games, even educational games, can be fun motivators for kids to practice or learn a skill, and can make drills seem fun. I don't think simple online games/quizzes should be used on their own without formal instruction and other activities that the teacher has prepared about the topic. They should be used as supplements to help build and strengthen the student's knowledge on a topic.

I think that simple games/quizzes, virtual reality games, and student response systems can be aligned well with the project-based learning philosophy and can really help our ELL's work on their literacy skills. I think they are worthwhile technology applications if used right and not presented as stand alone models. WebQuests incorporate little games/quizzes to help students learn content-specific vocabulary. Students can use second life to visit different museums/places around the world to work on Social Studies projects. I like the idea of having students build their own games, and then posting them up for other students to try. One of the links mentioned that one site allowed students to write little introductions about their games for people to view before playing, and then had the option of people being able to comment about the game. This blog type commenting creates a real opportunity for students to not only share their games, but also to be able to practice writing to a real audience. These applications can all be incorporated into project based learning.

Alison Smolin said...

I have to agree with the rest of my classmates who have stated that most of these websites, games and exercises seem to be aimed towards traditional drill and kill, decontextualized learning tasks. I would have to argue however, that they can be used in very beneficial ways depending upon how they are integrated into a unit of study. Taking the grammar quizzes and games as an example, if a class had been studying grammar through content such as literature or social studies, if these websites were used as supplements or homework, then they are not acting as the primary instructional resources. We have to remember that practice is an important part of learning and if these types of online resources are used as just that, in my opinion, there really isn't any harm being done.

sewai yam said...

I agree with my fellow classmates regarding the "drill and kill" nature of the sites featuring grammar and vocabulary exercises and their minimal amount of value in the classroom. In particular, the quizzes which only give two options take little thought in creating as well as answering. And while I do agree that students need to be exposed to concepts from different angles, I would like to extend that statement to include that these experiences must be meaningful. As educators we would like to move our students beyond survival, beyond the rote scripts of these types of exercises. In consideration of this, I think that virtual worlds and MMORPGs have real potential to become an important part of PBL projects. In my review of the many different applications of Second Life in the classroom, I found that the variation of activities, lessons, and social learning possibilities to be aligned with the tenets of PBL.

Anna Janssen said...

I agree with my colleagues above that there is a time and a place for everything. Hopefully the bulk of the education we deliver will be meaningful, but it's also good to have some variety in the day. Anything can become monotonous after a while. Some kids who struggle in another area might find the simplicity of drill and kill to be quite rewarding. As teachers, it's important to focus not only on what we think is best, but on how ALL of our students perceive the education we deliver.

That said, I'm a huge fan of using of using MMORPGs to promote language development. Overseas, I encouraged my middle-schoolers to play more of these popular games, my one condition being that they had to install the English version. I personally used the Chinese version of WoW to increase my reading speed and vocabulary.

I can imagine using AoE in a high school history class to teach concepts. Students would get very excited if they had the opportunity to team up together, or to turn on each other and take over another classmate's territory. I have heard of other teachers using The Sims in their classes. There's no end to the applications popular games can have in our modern classrooms...and once we get them hooked, they'll spend endless hours of their personal time playing the game (and improving their English). Try getting the average student to show that same devotion to an English grammar workbook!

Mr. Joel said...

I appreciate the comments that have been made about these and other more traditional tasks, in that, there is a time and place for everything. The nice thing about teaching ELLs is that almost anything can be made into a learning situation, and taking items from pop culture are not only motivating to students, but simply more effective because that is how students learn.

The biggest problem that I see in using these new types of learning tools is convincing principals that a room full of students playing Second Life will help them on the school quality review. All joking aside, administration might be incredibly wary of these new types of technology. Teachers need to be prepared to answer the hard questions from them, as well as prep students to make observable contributions and final products that administrators will be comfortable with. This will certainly change as the next generation of educators comes into the fold, however, for now we need to make sure that our virtual ducks are in a row before we start a classroom task.h

Ms. Jones said...

I am so looking forward to recreating a historical time period with my students using simulator. Rosalind, I am curious about the Age of Empires. So many students lack a connection with ancient history and I wonder if simulations will give them an opportunity to create a link and build interest in them. These games are tools and many can be used to reinforce content area instruction. We seem to be in relative agreement that the drill and kill method has value and games can be subverted to our use in that regard. Some things really must be memorized and our ESL students need as much exposure as possible to the material. If it takes games to build schema, why not use them.

Born 2B Bloggers said...

Since more and more schools are using computers in the classroom, I am not surprised that we have so many resources like the games, activities etc to promote language development being used in the classroom. Are they effective for the students? I think yes and no.
Yes, because they is eductaional value in these links. Another advantage of using these games are our ESL students are having fun on the computers and keeping engaged and motivated while they are being drilled on Voc and grammar. Its also a great new way to teach these skills rather than our old fashion way. I am a fan of my students learning and having fun at the same time.
However, some of the websites mentioned, I did not find to be meaningful in the classroom. I think there needs to be a real value of the games being played in the classroom.
I agree with Joel, I am not sure how it will look if the Principal walks in to the classroom.

Mike Chrzanowski said...

My use of technology in both middle and high school was limited to these "drill and kill" type games. Oh, I also played a lot of Oregon Trail and Carmen Sandiego (dysentery is a pain in the ass! please pardon the pun and the vulgarity). Seriously though, there is a time and a place for these types of activities:

Time: Afterschool
Place: Home

After years of backlash from the "drill" mentality, we may be seeing a move towards the reintroduction of these kinds of tasks in education, but we're not there yet. If I had computers in room, I certainly wouldn't want my AP walking in on my students using them for this stuff. I'm not completely discrediting the use of these activities, but I do feel they are much better suited as extension work that students can either do as assigned homework or just during their free time. If you introduce them during class and present them in a fun way, who knows?!? kids may actually learn while they're playing online.

Jillsensei said...

As many of my classmates have said so well, many of the resources out there, especially, are of the "drill and kill" nature and prepare students for standardized tests. Although some of the websites seem fluffier than others (and I'm still not certain how virtual reality or simulations prove educational), I too see a place for these sites in our classrooms.

I think these websites would prove most useful in differentiation, which our administrators want to see. For example, Petey still can't get the simple verb "to be" down and so I'd send him to work on, a "Who wants to be a Millionaire"-type game that truly engaged him. Petey HATES English. And then Gabriela really struggles with her prepositions so I'd let her work on, which gives her instant feedback, too. The rest of us worked on something else. (I've mentioned my love for QUIA before, with the multitude of formats and skills: If you can tell your administrators exactly why you have students on that website, chances are they will not criticize you, maybe they'll even be impressed.

The Student Response Systems are excellent, and are not necessarily geared toward standardized testing, but rather a type of formative assessment, gauging if the students do indeed understand the material. I think all of these have great value in our classrooms. (Still not sure about Virtual Reality, though).