September 2004 — Volume 8, Number 2
Professional Development: The Electronic Village Online
of the TESOL CALL Interest Section
Elizabeth Hanson-Smith, Computers for Education/Command Performance, Sacramento, California, USA
Christine Bauer-Ramazani, Saint Michael’s College, Vermont, USA
EVO moderators contributing descriptions of their sessions: Teresa Almeida d’Eça, Aaron Campbell, Nigel Caplan, Gary Carkin, Rebecca Dauer, Anne Davis, Dafne González, Elizabeth Hanson-Smith, Maria Jordano, Joe Luft, Mike Marzio, JoAnn Miller, Susanne Nyrop, Christine Parkhurst, Sandy Peters, Marmo Soemarmo, and Judy Trupin
Teachers find it increasingly necessary to expand or refresh their technological skills and to find out about new ways to incorporate technology effectively in their teaching. One of the best ways is, of course, to take advantage of the myriad presentations and workshops offered at the annual international TESOL convention and/or the conferences organized by the regional/international TESOL affiliates (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, http://www.tesol.org). However, great distances, lack of funding for conference travel, or conflicts with professional commitments often prevent teachers from being able to further their professional development through these means. In recognition of these constraints and by taking advantage of recent technological developments in distance education, the Computer-Assisted Language Learning Interest Section (CALL-IS) of TESOL has found an avenue to address such concerns of ESL/EFL practitioners all over the world: the Electronic Village Online (EVO). Instead of having teachers come to the conference, the conference can come to them! EVO extends the life of TESOL’s annual professional convention by giving participants opportunities to engage in debate over colloquia that will be presented at the conference, learn new technology skills, or simply discuss issues in language teaching–all outside the land-based conference.
The Electronic Village Online (EVO) takes place entirely over the Internet and follows the procedures of most professional online workshops. The first step for moderators is to send in a proposal. Each year in September, a call goes out to TESOL members and to professional e-lists for proposals for the Electronic Village Online. Surprisingly, a number of proposals come from teachers who are familiar with the Internet, but who have not yet taught online. Since EVO veterans lead a pre-session training workshop for all moderators, the annual sessions have become an important means to help teachers “get their feet wet” in the vast ocean of online teaching.
The EVO volunteer coordinators encourage one and all to offer 6-week sessions, as long as the proposer has some basic computer and Internet skills and is a TESOL member. The proposer needs to be sponsored by an Interest Section or Caucus of TESOL, but the coordinators can help make the appropriate connections. Necessary basic skills for moderators involve familiarity with:
- Internet-based accounts requiring ID and password
- uploading and downloading files, and
- sending and receiving e-mail from a list.
Beyond these basics, proposers must participate in a training session in November and December to familiarize themselves with the Yahoo! Groups interface, the pitfalls of online teaching and learning (particularly in non-credit courses) and how to avoid them, and how to motivate and inspire participants. An excellent body of knowledge, resources, and short readings has accumulated over the past several years of collective experience providing training in, for instance:
- forming an online community, with step-by-step illustrations
- readings about online teaching/learning and the nature of online groups
- tips on “netiquette”
- getting the most out of online discussions
- using voice and Webcam for chat
- sharing information about online teaching with experienced moderators, etc.
The sessions themselves take place during the months of January and February and lead into the conference by allowing participants to discuss and develop topics that will be presented at the annual convention. EVO groups often form around specific sessions at the TESOL convention. For example, at the Salt Lake City convention in 2002, the CALL-IS Academic Session, on the theme “CALL and the Human Spirit,” was preceded by a “run-up” EVO session, The Human Face of CALL (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Human_CALL). In 2003, a colloquium for the Adult Education Interest Section was supported by an EVO session Reading Online (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Reading_Online). Other sessions related to general technology issues included the very popular session (repeated in 2002, 2003, and 2004), An Internet Workshop for Beginners: Using Existing Activities and Designing your Own, which quickly led participants from easy to higher skill levels, such as writing their own HTML pages. One group, Webheads in Action: Community Formation Online and its Role in Language Learning, has maintained extensive activities ever since late 2001 (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/evonline2002_webheads). Its members from all over the globe continue to offer collaborative online courses, joint presentations at conferences (often with online components involving voice and video appearances by remote guest presenters), and weekly gab fests at several online chat venues (most notably every Sunday at noon GMT at http://www.tappedin.org/-ed.).
When the free EVO sessions start up in January of each year, participants register from a vast number of countries on most continents. They find out about the EVO sessions through announcements to TESOL members in the electronic newsletter TESOL Connections, on electronic lists such as TESLCA-L (http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/~tesl-l/) and NETEACH-L (http://hunter.listserv.cuny.edu/archives/neteach-l.html), or through the announcements on the TESOL Interest Section and Caucus e-lists. To enroll in the EVO sessions, participants need only to have a Yahoo! ID (http://login.yahoo.com/config/login) to join the session(s) they are interested in. Although a large number of participants sign on initially, a smaller group commit to completing the entire session. This phenomenon is characteristic of free online courses but is most likely also due to the fact that the subscribers to these sessions are busy teachers.
After getting to know each other in the first week by posting biographical information and pictures, participants are quickly introduced to the fascinating adventure of communicating with teachers from all over the world. They discuss the readings in the syllabus, and depending on the type of session, they may also download files and activities, upload their own creative projects, and post newly found links. Some sessions make use of the many free computer-mediated communication tools available on the Internet by holding regular chats or even trying voice or Webcam-enabled chats. The participants learn a lot from the material, the session moderators, and each other about topics of interest, and in many cases, how to incorporate those tools into their teaching.
Back in 1999, TESOL CALL-IS members began to envision a life online for the CALL Interest Section’s Electronic Village. An online Electronic Village could serve as a means to develop a cadre of online teachers and thus support TESOL’s developing awareness of the potential for online Pre- and Post-Conference Institutes, summer Academies, and online courses. Many teachers were moving to online venues, as evinced by the increasing popularity of the Internet Fairs at the TESOL convention’s Electronic Village and by the numerous proposals related to cyber-teaching, not just by CALL-IS, but by almost all of the other interest sections in TESOL as well. It seemed only appropriate to take the Electronic Village itself to the World Wide Web.
The original concept of an EVO session called for short informal, online discussions before and after the TESOL Convention, as well as ongoing discussions during the conference. This format was first implemented in the EV 1999 Online discussions using WebEx, and then again, in 2001 in the Electronic Village Online sessions, which were delivered through the free but rather slow version of Blackboard. In 2002, EVO switched to the popular and free Yahoo! Groups, thereby keeping participation in the sessions open to all teachers at no cost. Based on feedback from the participants and moderators, the original 8-week sessions were shortened to six weeks in 2004. In the four years of the EVO’s existence, many of the TESOL Interest Sections and several Caucuses have participated with a variety of topics—Computer-Assisted Language Learning, English as a Foreign Language, English for Special Purposes, Speech/Pronunciation, Teacher Education, ESL in Higher Education, English as a Foreign Language, Video and Digital Media, Non-Native English Speakers, and the Drama E-Group (see links to the 2001-2004 sessions at http://academics.smcvt.edu/cbauer-ramazani/TESOL/EVOL/portal.htm).
The EVO offerings for 2004 are discussed in more detail below. A brief overview and description of each session may be found at the EVO Web page: http://www.geocities.com/tesol_evonline/; see Figure 2).
Session descriptions: http://www.geocities.com/tesol_evonline
Nigel Caplan, Gary Carkin, and Judy Trupin
TESOL-Drama, an electronic group numbering over 100 teachers interested in using drama techniques for ESL/EFL, was excited to offer a workshop as part of the 2004 EVO. The group was organized around the process of staging a play with ESL/EFL students. The session was conducted largely by e-mail, with over 300 messages generated in the session. The introductory week was spent discussing the rationale for using drama in English language teaching. Forthe followingweeks, the process of play production was divided into sub-topics with one or two discussed each week: warming up, choosing or writing a script, rehearsing, performing, staging, and evaluating student work. In order to distribute the work of moderation and ensure wide participation in the session, each week’s discussion was led by one or two members of the TESOL-Drama group, overseen and supported by the three moderators. Participating volunteers wrote a comprehensive summary at the conclusion of the week’s work. The summaries were posted first to a blog, and now reside permanently on the TESOL-Drama Web site (http://www.msu.edu/user/caplan/drama; see Figure 3). The session also experimented with real-time chats with some success although, given the global audience, it was difficult to find mutually agreeable times. Both experts and newcomers shared ideas, experiences, and challenges in this lively and educational workshop. Everyone—moderators, discussion leaders, and participants—came away with new techniques and new inspiration to take into their classroom.
For more information about TESOL-Drama, please visit http://www.msu.edu/user/caplan/drama. TESOL members can join the e-group by sending an empty email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting TESOL’s Web site (http://www.tesol.org/mbr/community/managesubs.html). You can also email the moderators (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org).
Christine Parkhurst and Rebecca Dauer
This session, based on a general topic, oral skills, was similar to Oral Communication Skills for Professionals by the same moderators in 2003. Both attempted a balance between a formal course, with a syllabus and set topics, and an informal discussion based on topics participants responded to from their own experience. One challenge of asynchronous discussion is that if one misses part of the discussion due to lack of time, it can be hard to get back into the flow. Dividing the weekly discussion topics into self-contained units helps people jump back into the discussion if they miss a week. In addition to time pressure, inexperience of participants can also be a factor, and since discussions are often shaped by ideas shared in previous weeks, the moderators posted summaries at the end of each week to help people catch up. Participants appreciated the “personal touch” of mentioning each contributor by name.
As with all discussion lists, a balance between the opinions or “knowledge” of the moderators and the ideas of participants had to be maintained: if the moderator doesn’t allow enough room for participants to come up with their own ideas, they may feel ignored, or conversation may be stifled, especially if the moderators present their own ideas first. The solution is to post questions, provide links as needed to fill in background, and postpone extended answers until participants have a chance to think them through. Just as in a “land-based” classroom, the moderators created an atmosphere of respect so that all participants felt free to contribute. Having two moderators also allowed for more flexibility of opinion, as well as sharing the burden of scheduling and finding resources. A number of participants commented on the comparison between online and face-to-face discussions:
“In face-to-face discussions, all too often one or two people dominate.”
“Face to face discussions tend not to be as focused, nor do they allow time to reflect and respond thoroughly.”
“It was very helpful that I could participate from my house, at whatever time was convenient for me and that I had the time to go back and re-read what other people had said or that I had much time to think what I wanted to say.”
“[What I liked was] the time to re-read and reflect upon the questions, answers, and techniques from contributors, and to print and save those most applicable to me for future consideration.”
“I prefer to meet people face to face, but this way we are able to connect with people from a much wider range of places and experiences.”
English for Everybody: All Gain, no Loss?
Ulrich Bliesener, Jane Hoelker, Joyce Kling, Keiko Abé-Ford, Christine Coombe, and Valerie S. Jakar
Mahatma Gandhi said, “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”
Some people think that if mankind uses one language (i.e., English), disagreements will be solved and strife and military conflicts will be resolved through friendly negotiation. Today English is the tool for global communication. In fact, the number of people using EFL for communication far exceeds the number of native speakers. Non-native speakers come from different countries and cultures. As such, they use English against the backdrop of their cultural socialization. This can result in miscommunication, sometimes with dire consequences. In addition, English-for-all gives native speakers an enormous lead in power and influence over non-native speakers. So we see that there are many aspects at play in the use of Global English: the political or power aspect, the cultural aspect, the linguistic aspect and the educational aspect.
Our discussion topic, centered on the notion that teachers must understand all these aspects of English in order to prepare our students for international communication, prompted hosts of responses, comments, and observations. But above all, we got to “meet” a great bunch of caring people. Our group continues the discussions, even though the session has ended. (You may join the group at the above address.)
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/EVObasic_internet/ (no longer a valid YahooGroup in September,
This workshop was designed to help inexperienced Internet users learn how to develop bridging activities (similar to homework, but beyond fill-in-the-blank), class projects, or even class activities in the computer lab. The session covered what is available on the Internet that can be used in class, how to find information, how to incorporate these ideas into class activities, how to make original activities and how to develop a Web site where assignments could be posted. The more than 80 participants read articles and shared their comments and the activities they developed for their students. Introductory activities early in the session helped participants get acquainted with each other. Subsequent weeks examined search engines and how to use them efficiently, and explored activities and useful sites, such as Filamentality (http://www.kn.pacbell.com/wired/fil/; see Figure 4), which was used for Hot-Lists and Treasure Hunts, and the Discovery Quiz Center (http://school.discovery.com/quizcenter/quizcenter.html), where they learned how to develop different kinds of quizzes and how to write basic HTML. The final week was dedicated to learning how to create a multi-page Web site in Geocities (http://geocities.yahoo.com/home/), a free service. Participants enjoyed working together as Web techniques from simple cut-and-paste to image linking and homepage development were demystified.
Dafne González, Teresa Almeida d’Eça, Susanne Nyrop, and Maria Jordano
Our aim, as veteran members of Webheads in Action (WiA), was to get the participants familiar with and use some of the Web-based communication tools we consider useful for language teaching and learning. Three weeks before the official opening of the event, the four of us, together with other “senior” Webheads, started welcoming participants from different parts of the world (see our interactive map at http://www.geocities.com/bawebhead/bawmap.html; Figure 5 below).
Figure 5: Becoming a Webhead members came from all over the world
So that participants could get a real “feel” for the collaborative construction of knowledge, we created a Web site with basic information and added new pages as the session developed and participants contributed their questions and ideas through the Yahoo! Group mailing list. We chose a different topic every week, suggested articles and papers to be discussed asynchronously, and gave our participants not only the opportunity to talk directly via chat to our guest speaker specialist in the topic (http://www.geocities.com/bawebhead/chatsessions.html), but also the chance to create a little project with the tools spotlighted that week. As a result of the interaction of the participants, some subgroups were created to deal more in depth with topics matching their interest.
At the end of the session, we had a symbolic synchronous “Graduation Ceremony” during our regular Webheads in Action Sunday chat at Tapped In as a way of welcoming the new Webheads into our online community. Many of these participants are now active members of the ongoing Webheads in Action group (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/evonline2002_webheads). The Becoming a Webhead site remains open, and new members still join us every month! (For a more detailed report of the session, see Gonzélez (2004) in the Autumn issue of Essential Teacher.)
Elizabeth Hanson-Smith and Mike Marzio
Real English Online began in 2003 as a response to an assignment in an EVO session for Internet beginners (see above) to set up a Yahoo! Group. Since Mike Marzio and I had already been discussing the videos he had created for his language school in Istres, France (http://www.real-english.com/), we decided to create a group for teachers who use video and audio online. After almost a year of operation, the group already had almost 600 members when the EVO session began. We created a separate folder at our YahooGroup portal to hold our syllabus and assignments for the newcomers, but encouraged “older” members to join the e-list discussion. As did many of the EVO moderators, we created a Web page with the photos and introductions of the “newbies.” This helped to make them feel at home and enabled shared interests to emerge. One of our “newbies” immediately created a poll to find out what the group thought of a sound file he had made. In addition to the mailing list, we held several live text chats, some with Webcams, in conjunction with our sister group, the Webheads in Action, mentioned earlier. One of our goals was not only to collect new resources for video-using teachers, but also to support teachers who wanted to try out Hot Potatoes (see http://web.uvic.ca/hrd/halfbaked/), a shareware that enables the creation of Web-based exercises that can include video and audio prompts. Towards the end of the session, we attempted to create subgroups, but perhaps didn’t allow enough time for the proposed activities. However, the very interesting collection of Web-based exercises, new hot sites, and other great resources for video online collected or created by this group can be readily accessed, as the Yahoo! Group is still very active. As one participant wrote in the follow-up evaluations:
I’m interested in producing my own audio/visual/video stimulus material which can be used to develop online exercises with HotPot [Hot Potatoes] and other programs. . . . This session was terrific in that I have seen the work of other people and a wide range of things that they’ve created which show me what’s possible and inspired my creative process.
Anne Davis, Sandy Peters, Aaron Campbell, and Joe Luft
This workshop explored issues involved in using Weblogs in ESL/EFL environments. Unlike traditional Web sites, Weblogs (more commonly called blogs), provide instant, type-and-click publishing that can be posted anywhere, anytime and from any browser. Blogs thus offer educators and their students an interactive and immediate publishing tool. Educational possibilities for Weblogs are seemingly limitless.
Each week a topic was presented and discussed. We began with an overview of Weblogs that included definitions and features common to the many free Weblog services. During week 2, the group explored blogs designed specifically for EFL/ESL, as well as other educational Weblogs, and read and discussed relevant articles. Week 3 kicked off with a list of suggestions for items to think about before creating Weblogs for use in ESL/EFL environments. Careful planning is necessary to determine the pedagogical purpose for using Weblogs. Week 5 had participants creating their own blogs, after examining various links to free blog software. Participants had access to a chart focusing on the features of various types of blog software. Week 6 took the group to further study of how to enhance their Web logs and stressed the importance of both students and teachers finding their writing voices and building a community. The Yahoo! Groups interface was used along with a class blog located at http://anvil.gsu.edu/ev.
On Web logs throughout cyber space many teachers’ voices are being raised and heard. Colleagues are finding new ways to network and share their ideas on educational issues. Once teachers enter the blogging world, they will no doubt experience these two phenomena. Our group experienced this world by discussions on the Yahoo! mailing lists and with the comment feature on the Weblogs they created. This led to a realization that teacher voices, as well as student voices, can create a stronger sense of classroom community. The group also made many new discoveries about the teaching and learning processes. Finding our writing voices and building a community is one of the most exciting aspects of blogging.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/tesolflashmx/ (no longer a valid YahooGroup in September, 2004)
Macromedia Flash MX allows language educators to deliver interactive language lessons online that incorporate text, graphics, sound, and videos. Flash MX particularly excels in sound, so it is ideal for bringing to life listening comprehension activities, such as those modeled on Jack Richards’ “Tactics for Listening.” This online session was intended for more advanced users: courseware developers and teachers interested in enhancing their Web pages and presentations with text, animation, video, and interactive speech exercises. Participants created online presentations and interactive exercises.
The session began with an introduction to Flash MX capabilities. Participants then planned a teaching unit, discussed it, and collected the content—text, images, and audio—before executing their projects. Comments from the participants indicated that it takes time to develop attractive courseware that will inspire and motivate students, but the mini-session was highly motivating towards that goal:
- “This has been the most useful workshop I have taken in years, and what I have learned here is much more than I could ever expect. “
- “The lessons, explanations and .fla files you provided us with were really educating and easy to follow. I’ll keep them all for future reference—they are like a Flash Bible to me.”
- “Thanks for making your workshop so hands-on and easy to follow.”
- “Although I have not been as active as I would like to have been, I have been learning from this session.”
Although the Yahoo! Group site is now closed, interested readers can access the session materials at the moderator’s Web site: http://www.ohiou.edu/linguistics/soemarmo/flashmx/ (see Figure 7).
The EVO has by now become an annual tradition. Some participants report that they are more eager than ever to go to the annual convention just to meet the people they have first been introduced to online. And certainly, the creation of “community” is an important aspect of the online experience. It should be remembered that the EVO is staffed totally by TESOL volunteers and has no budget. One common theme expressed in the evaluations is that participants tried to take too many sessions at the same time and could not devote as much time to them as they would have liked. However, another theme is the feeling of connectedness to others around the globe. As one participant stated:
I’ve really appreciated these online courses. I do feel much more connected to the "big picture," after hearing from so many folk around the world, and getting some individual feedback from a couple, some threads . . . may continue after this. It gives me such a feeling of being a part of things. Thanks so much. This was very important for many of us who are teaching around the world, I think.
The coordinators of EVO are looking forward to another successful year of offering professional development through the Electronic Village Online sessions. A call for proposals is issued each September on professional e-lists and at the CALL-IS Web site (http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~call/). Moderators for sessions must be TESOL members with the sponsorship of an Interest Section or Caucus within the association. Participation is open to all worldwide .
 All external links open in new windows.
 The call for proposals for the Electronic Village Online 2005 appears at: http://www.geocities.com/ehansonsmi/evo2005/evo2005.html
González, D. (2004). Bringing colleagues into web-based learning and teaching. Essential Teacher, 1, 4 (Autumn), 22-25.
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