Saturday, 26 December 2009

How to learn or teach online using a free platform

It is not easy to find the right time for training teachers in technology. Teachers are usually very busy teaching, marking tests, filling reports, correcting homework or preparing classes. So, Saturday mornings or some evenings are the only possible meeting time, but these are not the most popular times. Teachers – usually women – also have a family, dinners to prepare or children to look after, so virtual meetings may be an interesting possibility to solve this problem.

WIZIQ is a web based education platform powered by teachers who continually improve it in response to its users’ feedback. This collaborative web conferencing environment is amongst the best online teaching solutions in the world, and it integrates the following set of online tools: synchronous (happening at the same time) and asynchronous teaching through virtual classrooms, online tests and a content sharing and messaging system.

Pros: Wiziq is absolutely free of cost for teachers and students; it enables participants to communicate synchronously using audio/video or only audio broadcast or through text chat; all classes are automatically recorded and you can download the recordings; pdf, doc, xls, ppt or flash files can be uploaded easily; teachers are in full control of the environment: they can share the online interactive whiteboard (IWB) with multiple tabs, simple click start and stop functions and full-screen sharing; teachers can allow students to speak or activate their webcam,

and they can also disable the chat to make students concentrate on the class.

Wiziq members can participate in community discussion forums where they get connected with members from around the world, participate in discussions, learn from the experiences shared by other members and/or ask questions and get answers in community discussions. The platform also has an official blog where users can read about its latest updates.

Another interesting resource is the fact that teachers can create tests and students can attempt and get their score. One new feature is that images can be uploaded and included in tests now. Here is the link to an example for testing basic English level:

Seeing that this platform has so many advantages, I decided to try it myself with a group of co-workers (four). I would play the teacher’s role and they, the students. I invited my students via mail a week in advance the virtual class in order to give them time to get registered. This is very simple from Wiziq website  Once the user has completed some enrolling steps, one is ready either to give or take a course.

I set a date and then sent an invitation to my “students” with the link to the corresponding virtual classroom. I prepared a class with slides to make it more interesting, but when the date came and I wanted to upload the slides in advance, I realized I made a mistake: I did not book the classroom 10 minutes before the starting time, so I did not have access to it till the exact moment. This fact is important to have in mind to avoid losing time: reserve the classroom some minutes before your class in accordance to the material you are going to use, slides or weblinks, or for other reasons such as socializing or checking audio/video. 

Another thing to make it clear in advance is how long the class will be and which netiquette rules you will follow to make the class more organized. Remember you will give a virtual class and in spite you can see your students if they have a webcam, you cannot solve some situations as you do in a face to face class. For example, you can see students are not following or understanding you very well from some face gestures. Working as an online teacher is quite different from working face to face. You are not just doing the same thing using a digital tool. Online classes have their own characteristics (Perhaps this is a topic for another article).

The final thing I would like to recommend is to have a set of headphones – not speakers- and a microphone to get the best kind of communication. The incorporated microphones of a laptops or netbooks seem not to have the best quality for this particular purpose although they may be exceptions, of course.

Summing up, I can say the results of my first experience as a teacher* were very good. My colleagues did not find much difficulty even though they are not digital experts. We used our webcams and microphones and the platform did not collapse during one hour class, but I must point out that it takes some seconds to change the mic or web permission to students. It is advisable to use mics in turns so as to avoid sound interference. I could uploaded slides and display them very easily and played on the IWB. The platform saved a copy of the class automatically. Wiziq may be considered an inspiring resource for creative teachers and curious students with little time for face to face classes.

* I have used this tool as a moderator in the Social Networking Congress (visit this link ) as well as participant in many online events.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Isn´t this website cute?

I am taking an online workshop leaded by Nik Peachey and this morning, while I was checking mails coming from my workshopmates, I came across this Web 2.0 tool which looks  a really interesting storymaker called StoryBird

StoryBird  is really simple and speedy. You must get registered (it takes a couple of minutes), and after exploring it in a few seconds, you can start writing. The artwork available is great. Have a look and tell me your opinion in comments :-)

Storybird Quick Tour from Storybird on Vimeo.

If you are fond of children's literacy and literature, you cannot miss this blog:

The Book Chook

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Do you like this PC?

While I was twittering this morning, I came across a video about a very interesting computer. I am planning to include it in my letter to Santa :) 

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

An example of Augmented reality: "Sixth Sense"

If you are reading this post, you must be fond of technology. If you are fond of technology, I guess you must be interested in science fiction. Aren´t you? I am. I loved reading Bradbury or Issac Assimov or watching Star Wars and Matrix saga as well as AI (Artificial Intelligence), not only for their special effects but because I like having a look at a possible future.

Years ago, the gap between science fiction and real technological achievements was quite big, but this gap seems to get smaller and smaller. The speed at which technological advances are taking place is really amazing: in 2004, we were talking about Web 2 as something incredible and today we are talking about Web 4: augmented reality, mirror worlds, virtual worlds and lifelogging.

The issue of this post is a mixture of movies and TIC. Do you remember the movie "Minority Report" starred by Tom Cruise? Do you remember Tom Cruise using a computer by clicking on the air? Well, at TEDIndia, Pranav Mistry demostrated several tools that help the physical world interact with the world of data - including a deep look at his SixthSense device and a new, paradigm-shifting paper "laptop."

Pranav Mistry is the inventor of SixthSense, a wearable device that enables new interactions between the real world and the world of data. Doesn´t it remind you of "Minority Report" movie?

Enjoy it! Oh, by the way, please don´t keep your mouth open in astonishmet for a long time, a fly can get into  it and flies don´t taste nice :D

Friday, 4 December 2009

Virtual Educa 2009 in Buenos Aires (better late than never)

VIRTUAL EDUCA 2009 : What are teachers doing with technology in Latin America?

At the XIV Iberoamerican Summit of Heads of State and Government (San Jose, Costa Rica, November 18th-20th, 2004) approved the assignment of PROGRAM FOR VIRTUAL EDUCA Iberoamerican Summit. San Jose Declaration, signed by the Heads of State and Government of the twenty Latin American countries, states in clause 36: "We warmly welcome the inclusion as a project officer from Ibero-American Summit Virtual Education Program, an initiative that exemplifies the relevance strengthen the distance education and the use of new communication and information technologies in our region".

Virtual Educa is a converging space for the exchange of experiences and the implementation of projects linked to the Society of Knowledge. It organizes international annual forums, and in November 2009 it took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The hosting university, UCA, which is situated in a very beautiful and fashionable place, organized the event very well.

I attended it with great expectation because educational institutions and specialists from all Latin America were gathering there and some online friends (Pablo Bongiovani, Dolors Reig) . Most participants were well equipped with their laptops, netbooks or smart phones which they used for blogging, taking notes or communicating with colleagues via Twitter.
(Pablo Bongiovani and me)

As Information and Communication Technology (ICT) manager of the a school of languages, I was anxious to share my experience in the forums and learn about the latest ed tech trends in a workshop I was enrolled.

The congress started with workshops on different topics. I attended the workshop about “Metaverse” - a complete new word for me- given by Ruth Martínez . Although metaverse was coined by Neal Stephenson (1992), it is used to refer to the four dimensions of virtuality: Augmented reality (AR), Lifelogging, Mirror Worlds and Virtual Worlds. 

Augmented reality refers to all the gadgets used in the classroom to expand the real world, i.e. an interactive whiteboard. The goal of lifelogging is to share with your contacts what you consider important: photos, websites, music (Flicker, Twitter). A mirror world is a virtual replica of the real world along multiple dimensions (Google maps). A virtual world consists of a virtual environment where people can interact and socialize via avatars. The most popular one is Second Life. 

On the following three days, different universities (UNED, UOC, Monterrey University) showed how they organized their online graduate and postgraduate courses. All of them pointed out the importance of articulating and managing the three basic areas involved in online projects: technological area, educational area and material designing area. They also noted the fundamental role of tutors in online courses. Collaborative work is also significant. Learning will be possible if there is 50% of dedication on the part of the students and 50% of the tutor’s work.

I am quite familiar about using technology in language learning, but Virtual Educa gave me a clear idea of how Spanish speaking countries are incorporating digital technology in the curricula of different educational proposals. I really enjoyed the event and now, I am looking forward to attend Virtual Educa 2010 in Santo Domingo.

About Mirror Worlds [Nov.,2009]
About Augmented reality

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Graham Stanley was present in VI Education Session

Graham Stanley spoke about the educational use of Twitter via Wiziq. We had some technological problems, but fortunately Miguel Mendoza (Venezuela) helped me online.
Thank you, Mike!!!

The session was a completely new experience for the audience - around 25 teachers of different languages - who were not very much familiar with the use of Web 2.0 tools.

Here is a link to Graham's presentation. Enjoy it:

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Get your own Virtual Classroom