November 11, 2008

Making Students Masters of Their Own Learning

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

Most of you know me as the English side of Profweb, but I am also an ESL teacher! As I move out of departmental coordination, I have had the pleasure of again teaching, and I was determined to use as much of the IT in education that I had learned about in Profweb as I could.

A Tool to Help Students Interact With Each Other

Although I have a website at my school, I decided to open another website in the Personal Space of Profweb to take advantage of the easy-to-install Phpbb Forum. It really took less than an hour, and Jonathan-Marc Lapointe, Profweb’s technical advisor, was great. I had my students read a book and then post questions about it on the forum. Answering questions written by other members of the class enables students, through IT, to interact with one another to build their knowledge socio-constructively.

The book selected was Guns,Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. Suggested by my colleague at Montmorency, Rebecca Baker, for its universal theme, it was an excellent point of departure for students to discuss their own field of study, an important aspect of all second semester ESL courses. The advice about making unique writing assignments, such as the links between this book and students’ fields of study, from Nicole Perreault’s report on on-line plagiarism, played a part in book selection. That lesson was repeated in Laurie Nixon’s story on a similar theme.

Monitoring Student Work

Student written production was on a website of the student’s creation. My cegep hosts student websites, but because of a technical glitch most students wound up posting elsewhere. On-line text transfers directly into the marking software that I use called Markin. At various intervals, students received a Markin file of their work which not only indicated where errors occurred, but explained the nature of the error and listed the number of similar mistakes. Students learned where they needed to improve. You can link here to an example of a Markin file. With the website as the medium, it is easy for students to make corrections, and sending Markin files over the internet dramatically reduces the delay between the creation of a text and receiving feedback from the teacher.


Each week’s class has its own on-line guide. It functions as a portal to other resources and documentation. Each guide has a ‘Getting Started’ section which often features a keynote video or other resource to introduce the week’s theme. Profweb’s resource listings are great for finding exciting audiovisual content! I discovered some excellent resources about writing on the Learn Alberta site from listings in Profweb supplied by our partner, La Vitrine Technologie-Éducation.

I find students are most enthusiastic when they are in charge of their own learning, and IT fosters this approach.

YouTube is also an interesting resource. My students saw a production of ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ by Tennessee Williams at the Segal Center in Montreal. Important excerpts of the play and fascinating discussions, mainly by the cast of the all black Broadway revival in 2007 have aired right in our class!

One of my most exciting uses of the internet, however, came when we had a number of visiting students from Germany in our school who spoke no French and so were auditing English classes. I found a scene from a German production of the play and then found the same scene in English. I showed both scenes and then had the German students discuss the quality of the translation with my francophone students in small groups. What an effective way to introduce the translation aspect of the course!

Recently, Raymond Cantin of La Vitrine Technologie-Éducation came to my school to talk about podcasts. Here was a solution to the difficult problem of the lengthy time required for oral presentations. With podcasts, students recorded their presentations in small groups in the language lab. My using Audacity shareware to edit the resulting mp3 files to include my evaluations was a real advantage for students because stage fright was eliminated, and the delay between production and evaluation was significantly reduced. The small groups were vocally supportive which was impossible in class presentations. Our audio player below has the first podcast I made which was sent to the entire class and an example of a more specific evaluation.

Lessons Learned

Following are some conclusions drawn from my semester’s activities:

  • Always have a Plan B! Frequently, things don’t work, and if you use IT, you have to be able to make do when your planned activity doesn’t;
  • Make sure that your use of IT actually enhances your teaching! If you can do the same thing without technology, don’t bother using it;
  • Make your teaching student centered! I find students are most enthusiastic when they are in charge of their own learning, and IT fosters this approach. Not letting students discover enough on their own is my greatest weakness.

I am truly thankful for my experiences with Profweb which have expanded my horizons. I invite you all to explore our pages and carry the fruits of your discoveries into your classrooms. Share your experiences with us using the Reader Response Feature below.

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