Language Lab Unleashed!

it’s not your middle school language lab…

October 17th, 2006

Pictures from BlogHer: EdgyBlogging?

Thank you Laura for sending this photo on… taken at BlogHer 2006. Take a look at the topics that were following us after our presentation in the Woodside Room and you will see why we felt a wee bit like fishies out of water, and why there was some logic in the response BG got when she told a participant she was an “edublogger” and the person thought she heard “Edgy-blogger.”

PS: Yes, I know, NONE of the embedded images are working on our blog right now. This means that Erin has left the State of Ohio and the servers are rebelling.

October 12th, 2006

Upcoming LLU webcasts!

Here is the fall line up for our Language Lab Unleashed’s webcasts. All shows broadcast over the internet LIVE from 8 p.m. - 9 p.m. EST (unless otherwise noted)

Click here for information on how to listen or join in!

10/16/2006: NOTE CHANGES!!!

October 26: Note: this show will begin at 9 PM EST A conversation with Janet Swaffar, UT-Austin, Dept. of Germanic Studies, and author of “Remapping the Foreign Language Curriculum: An Approach through Multiple Literacies” (MLA Press, 2005) Broadcasting live from Harvard University!!!

November 2, 8 p.m. EST: A conversation about Foreign Language Podcasting Initiatives. Guests include: Julio Rodriguez, Director of the Language Studies Resource Center at Iowa State University; Noelle Isenberg, Director of the Foreign Language Podcasting Studio and Director of the German Online Initiative at Penn State University, and others

November 9, 8 p.m. EST: A conversation with Dawn Skorczewski, Director of University Writing and Associate Professor of English and American Literature at Brandeis University and author of “Teaching One Moment a Time: Disruption and Repair in the Classroom.” (UMass Press, 2005)

November 16, 8 p.m. EST: Blogging and Assessment: A follow-up conversation: Checking back in with Geoff Andrews, Superintendent of the Oberlin (OH) Public Schools, Mike Baker, IT Evangelist of Polaris Career Center and Brian Alegant, Professor, Oberlin Conservatory of Music (all of whom participated in our somewhat chaotic LLU #12 show on September 28, 2006) and all of whom talked about their blogging initiatives, the messy work of assessment, and teaching with technology.

November 23, 8 p.m. EST: no show: Happy Thanksgiving. Watch football and eat turkey instead.

November 30, 8 p.m. EST: Skype: Teaching Tool or Network Nemesis?

December 7, 8 p.m. EST:Teaching Languages Across the Curriculum: Jan Marston, Cindy Evans

December 14, 8 p.m. EST: Do you Moodle? Using Moodle for Foreign Language Curricular support

October 11th, 2006

Pardon our dust!

Our little experiment with Moodle has come to a close…although it’s great software for certain purposes, it’s not great software for doing what we want with our website. It’s just too big and unwieldy. Lesson learned - back to Wordpress we go.

Over the next couple of days, you may notice that not quite everything works, or that things work in ways you might not have expected. We’ll have it all cleaned up soon, I promise. In the meantime, feel free to email us if you have any questions or concerns. Thanks!

October 7th, 2006

U Vic bunnies

Barbara is sitting in Seattle airport trying to stay awake for her 12:30 a.m. flight… here are some recent pictures from her visit to U of Victoria (Canada)

U Vic Bunnies directrix291’s U Vic Bunnies photoset

October 2nd, 2006

From the mailbag

I received this email from one of our language textbook reps today.

Technology can revolutionize your classroom in the following ways:
* Students can participate in the classroom.
* Student performance and outcomes improve.
* You can easily assess your students’ understanding of a concept in the classroom.
* You can assess what your students already know before they enter your classroom.
* An automatic tool for grading that can be easily delivered into your grade book.

We offer XXXXXX a personalized online diagnostic and tutorial tool and XXXXXXXXXX- a student response system using PowerPoint and clickers.

Powerpoint and clickers? Are you serious? Aaaaargh! Does anyone else sense a disconnect here?

October 2nd, 2006

The messiness of it all: Assessment

I am involved in the writing/evaluating of a grant request for a local school that would, as part of its request, consider using collaborative learning tools to promote learning inside and also outside of the classroom. There was interest from the teachers in using tools such a blogging, wikis, Skype and even Second Life as tools for learning.

In one of our meetings there was genuine excitement from the staff about the possibilities they perceived these tools could provide for deep, collaborative work between the students as well as outside the walls of the school.

And then, almost immediately, the bubble burst and the excitement just melted away. Why? Because someone asked about how we –grade– these things, and how do we make sure that these grades reflect reality and even more than that, that those grades “mean something” on the kids’ transcripts…especially if they are applying to college in the near future.

Read the rest of this entry »

October 2nd, 2006

Reflections on NITLE

This weekend, I attended a NITLE conference at Wabash College and blogged live during all of the sessions (of which there were many). I’ve since removed those chunks and phrases that make little sense to anyone but me from the front page, but I’m hardly done talking about the topics that resonated with me; those notes will evolve into several posts which are in my to-do queue on the back end of this blog. First up, coming sometime tomorrow, will be a reaction to Andrew Ross’ talk from Saturday evening. I am always impressed by a speaker who gets stuck with the end-of-a-long-day post-dinner slot and still manages not just to keep me awake but to engage me. (His promise of five Powerpoint slides only - which he kept to - certainly helped make his the best presentation of the weekend.)

In the meantime, some general conference reactions:

Quality vs. quantity. Fifteen minutes, and no Q&A session, is really not enough time for anyone to present what they’re doing in a way that their audience can grasp -and- retain. A tight schedule with little to no room for decompression meant that my brain had checked out by around 2 pm…with several more sessions left on the agenda. During one particularly bad presentation I couldn’t even continue taking notes and had to go take a walk outside. It’s not fair to the presenters or to the audience to maintain such a hectic pace. Choose quality over quantity.

Details, details. Friday night started out with a bang right after dinner, with Carl Blyth’s thought-provoking presentation Pondering Learner Preferences (to which I’ve already responded). But I have some issues with the way this presentation was handled on the part of the conference staff: Carl had to turn his back on the audience to see his slides; there was a large supporting column in the center of the room which got in the way of several audience members, especially during the Q&A session which followed the presentation; no coffee or tea or water was served after Carl started, and I had to leave the room to get water from the fountain in the hallway, thereby missing part of the presentation. (Also, this is petty but I’d like to say it anyway: not all of us drink coffee. If you serve coffee, please also have tea available.) These seem like small details, but they add up and can make or break a conference experience.

Post-session networking. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with people are the ones where you’re sitting at a bar or just walking around town, away from the structure of the conference itself. I went out with a small group of folks on Saturday evening to blow off steam, but we didn’t know where to go, really, and we ended up at a rather seedy tavern. Provide your conference-goers with some information about the town (a town map in addition to a campus map, for example) so we can make good decisions and not put ourselves in potentially dangerous situations. Also, let us know what our options for transportation are, especially in the post-dinner hours, and especially if there is a peculiar lack of the things one might expect (say, for example, taxis).

More upcoming the next few days!

September 30th, 2006

NITLE: first impressions

This morning the man in front of me in the breakfast line was wearing a with Taz saying the following: “Me dad. You kid. ME RIGHT.”

Things are just starting to settle down a bit in Hays 104, the room we’ll be spending the day in. It’s a lecture hall, which is great for technology (power and wired internet, in addition to wireless, are available at every seat), but tends to stifle discussion. Interestingly enough: the room looks like it’s been recently remodeled, except for the green chalkboard (yes, chalkboards, not whiteboards) at the front of the room. Weird.

News: Last night’s session is available online, apparently, but we have not been given a link yet and a quick google search brought up nothing. You’ll know as soon as I do… (Today’s sessions are not being recorded, fyi.)

I’ll be available all day on Skype (username erinbrazell) and email (; feel free to contact me with questions, comments, concerns…

September 30th, 2006

NITLE: Pondering Learner Preferences

I’ll be blogging live this weekend from Wabash College, where I’m attending a NITLE-sponsored conference (Pedagogy and Digital Technologies: Language Labs in the 21st Century). Keep an eye on this page for frequent (read: unpolished) updates throughout the day tomorrow and Sunday morning, and I’ll post a more complete and fleshed-out recap early next week.

Tonight’s report: Carl Blyth, Pondering Learner Preferences: The Role of Formative Evaluation in the Development of Digital Materials.

A quick tip to conference organizers: never, ever position a keynote speaker’s laptop so that he has to turn his back on the audience to see his presentation. It makes it hard for them to read from their slides. (How insensitive.)

A quick tip to keynote speakers: it makes me cringe when I see you open Internet Exploder Explorer on your laptop. Please, for the love of humanity, Get. Something. Else. Anything else. And, just because you can read from your abstract and then read from your slides does not mean you should.

I walked into this presentation skeptical of the ability of a state-uni prof to offer much to us at liberal arts colleges, and walked out even moreso. We don’t have $500,000 (the amount committed by UT-Austin to the three projects discussed in the keynote). We don’t have design teams or programmers. The head of Prentice Hall doesn’t ask us what he needs to do to get us to adopt his brand-spanking-new textbook. I’m glad that -you- do; I wish that all educators had the money and the people and the time and the influence they needed to get their jobs done. But when you work in an environment of plenty, and have for over a decade, how can you possibly imagine/remember what it’s like to work in the trenches with whatever you can cobble together in your “copious free time” and little-to-no money?

For example: one of the conclusions was that we should build our own materials. It’s true - language textbooks and the materials that accompany them generally suck. They’re expensive to produce, and as a result have to aim for the lowest common denominator, which in turn means they work equally poorly for everyone. Revamping them takes time and money, of which most language technologists have little. –What’s that you say? Intercampus collaboration? It makes great dessert talk but only when you avoid the most pertinent issues: who’s going to foot the bill? Who’s going to oversee/host/manage/maintain said collaboration? Besides, if I had time to collaborate, I wouldn’t need to do so.

Another topic that we’ve touched on repeatedly here on LLU, the student-centered curriculum, also came up this evening. From the presentation’s abstract:

While formative evaluation results in a more learner-centered curriculum with more user-friendly technology, it also presents thorny challenges. For example, do students really know how they learn best? How can developers discern when student wants indicate legitimate needs? And what about the wants and needs of the developers?

I’m glad that you have developers. I wish we all did. But the wants and needs of developers are completely and absolutely irrelevant in this situation. As for students: do they really know how they learn best? Maybe so, maybe not. As my colleague Ines (a German faculty member from Oberlin also in attendance) and I discussed, students often come to college lacking basic language learning strategies. As educators and as technologists, our job is not to determine which approach will work for each student, but to present students with many different options and let them decide for themselves.

I do need to give credit where credit is due; at one point Carl stated that we can never be sure what students want unless we ask them. That is absolutely true, and something that a lot of faculty and technologists don’t get. But for him, students’ wants and needs are still discrete groups:

Through the process of formative evaluation (i.e.,learner reactions and developer responses), the developers tried to strike a balance between what students said they wanted (i.e., more decontextualized language practice) and what developers believed that students needed (i.e., more contextualized language use).

Students know when a strategy does or doesn’t work for them, even if they don’t have the background in theory pedagogical vocabulary to express it.

Speaking of pedagogy - what’s the effect of all of this on student learning? When posed with the question, Carl announced that the materials really helped on the “attitudinal scale” and that enrollments were positively affected (which made a good selling point to the administration, apparently). But he also admitted that the effect on the learning of the students who used the programs was negligible. So what’s the point, then, of continuing the program? And if a program with an abundance of resources can’t successfully take textbook materials and make them into something that actually helps improve learning, why should I try the same?

September 25th, 2006

Mapping the blogosphere

This is only one piece, of one conversation, at one point in time… but never before have I seen a more accurate depiction of blog-based conversations and communication than this graphic.

This is Matthew Hurst’s interactive map of the blogosphere. Mr. Hurst is Director of Science and Innovation, Nielsen BuzzMetrics; co-creator of BlogPulse. (according to his blog, Data Mining, Text Mining and Social Media)

Note… it is an interactive map, which means each dot is an actual hyperlink to a blog. Drag your mouse over the dots and see where it links. The truly geeky (or unadventurous impatient) can search the source code of the page for specific links.

…and no, we did not find LLU anywhere on this map. Pshaw.

An interactive map of the Blogosphere