Now that most of you have settled into your classrooms and gotten to know your students, I would like to offer up Part 2 of my series describing the free web apps I hope to use this year in my classroom. (That is to say, claiming that I intentionally waited over two weeks to accomodate the beginning of school makes me feel less guilty about neglecting my blog!)
If you missed my post about the Core Apps for my classroom, you may want to read it first.
The Supplementary Apps:
Knovio: For those like me wishing to try a "flipped" classroom, at least for a few sessions, but who don’t have the money for a more expensive screencasting solution like Camtasia or Screenflow, Knovio seems like the perfect, free solution (assuming you already have a webcam). Knovio allows you to upload a presentation file—it must have a PowerPoint extension to work with Knovio but may be created through PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Docs, Open Office, etc.—and then record a video of yourself narrating the presentation, giving you full control over coordinating slide changes to match up to what you are saying. Note that Knovio is still in private beta, but they seem to be sending out invite codes within a day or so of the request.
While one obviously has more freedom in the types of content and manners in which to present it in a normal screencast (i.e., you can open up any software you like, show students how to find things online in your browser in real time, etc.), it is easy enough to accomplish most tasks in PowerPoint. It just takes a bit more time and creativity; for example, you might have to screenshot the steps to locating something online, and drop those into a presentation. Particularly in the case of learning a foreign language, I greatly appreciate how Knovio integrates the video of the presenter speaking rather than only offering the audio. As any of you who has had to conduct phone calls in your second/third/fourth language can attest, just being able to see your interlocutor does wonders for comprehension. I also feel this is a much more personable way of giving a “flipped” lecture in that students still associate a human image with the knowledge in your presentation rather than just a voice and a cursor seemingly moving of its own accord.
The program I will be working in prefers that classroom time be devoted to real communicative tasks rather than explicit grammar lessons. Students are expected to study vocabulary and grammar on their own time to be able to work together during class on developing more “real-world” language skills. While I agree that this is the most appropriate use of the group environment found in the classroom, I also felt a bit worried prior to discovering Knovio as to how to best assist my students in learning the grammar concepts. I didn’t really want to just say, “Read pages 127-134 before the next class to learn about conjugating in the preterit.” Even being the crazy grammar nerd that I am, I know that it was a bit daunting to read all of the grammatical explanations in the textbook when I was learning Spanish, and I almost always felt I understood better after the professor reviewed these concepts in person with me.
The Knovio medium will not only allow students to review this information in a more human way, it will also allow them to review the instructor’s explanations as many times as they like, pausing or fast-forwarding as needed. The addition of PowerPoint (or one of its alternatives) also makes it even easier and faster than writing examples on a whiteboard and allows for color-coding, erasing, striking out, images—which are no doubt better and more authentic than me trying to sketch quickly in class—and more.
As you can tell by my rambling on and on about Knovio, I’m very excited about its potential and think it is an excellent app. Now, if only the developers could somehow combine it with the next app on my list, it would be absolutely PERFECT.
Prezi: Prezi is a bit like PowerPoint on steroids. It allows you to break free of the constraints of individual boxy slides to present material on one “canvas” in almost any way you could imagine, from timelines to mind maps. Combining video, audio, images, and text with panning, zooming, and unique design capabilities, Prezi creates a much more engaging presentation, at least in my experience in classroom and conference environments. If you already have PowerPoint or Keynote presentations of the content you wish to share, Prezi even offers the option to upload and “Prezify” your existing slides so you don’t have to “reinvent the wheel.” Prezi offers free “Edu Enjoy” account upgrades to students and teachers with school e-mail addresses, which gives you the option to make your presentations private and quintuples your available storage space to 500 MB.
I’ve embedded an example of a Prezi I made for a Peninsular Spanish Literature course earlier this year for those of you who haven’t yet encountered a Prezi. For much more creative and impressive examples, see Prezi’s public gallery.
I hope to use Prezi whenever I am making in-class presentations, such as for explanations of certain facets of Spanish-speaking cultures. I also plan on having students do individual presentations at some point in the term and hope to have them use Prezi to this end. I suppose I won’t require them to use Prezi rather than PowerPoint, as there is a bit of a learning curve—particularly if you want to control every design element yourself rather than use a template—but Prezi certainly offers that “wow” factor and is, I think, the direction professional presentations seem to be going in. Given the latter, it may be useful for students to become acquainted with it now.
Tal como suena: OK, OK, this is more of a free online course supplement than an app, but it is excellent. Oftentimes explicit instruction of proper pronunciation is swept under the rug in the language classroom in favor of learning more vocabulary or grammar concepts, even though it is perhaps what most obviously reveals one to be a non-native speaker. Tal como suena: Explorando la pronunciación española is a series of six modules created by Dr. Gillian Lord, professor of Spanish linguistics at the University of Florida, to help students understand how to pronounce Spanish properly.
Within the six modules, there are pages and pages of explanation, graphics, audio samples, and videos of Dr. Lord teaching the lessons. After each sub-section of Tal como suena, there are understanding checks that the student must complete correctly before being allowed to move on. At the end of each module, the student must complete a final assignment: a voice recording, such as reading a fragment from Borges’ “Emma Zunz” in the first module, and a written self-assessment and reflection of this recording. The written portion of the final assignment for each module is submitted automatically to the student’s instructor via e-mail.
Obviously the completion of voice recordings requires some additional equipment beyond a web browser. However, based on an informal poll of some colleagues at various systems, it seems to me that many schools already have a language lab with microphones that tend to be underused. What’s more, most recent laptop models have a built-in webcam with a microphone, so some students might be able to complete these assignments at home at their own pace—especially if they belong to a system with a 1:1 program.
Brief.ly: This simple yet brilliant service allows you to share multiple links all in one short URL. All you do is enter the URLs into the dialog box along with a caption for each link and press the create button.
Here’s an example I whipped up with six links about stem-changing verbs in Spanish. My bundle includes a homework activity from the textbook’s website, a song cloze activity (courtesy of Zachary Jones at Zambombazo), the audio file for the aforementioned cloze activity, and three additional pages with explanations of each of the changes being discussed for optional supplementary review in only 15 characters. As I will have a course website, I could just list all six links for the appropriate day on the course schedule. But I personally feel that this is more concise AND will also make it very simple to reference a day’s homework assignment(s) on Twitter (For more about how I hope to use Twitter, check out this post). For those days when the homework I’ve assigned isn’t on Google Docs or involves multiple parts, Brief.ly seems to be a straightforward solution.
webdoc/Jux: One of the projects I want my students to be able to do this term is to make a website on a cultural topic. Previously, making a website that was free, easy to use, and visually appealing was much more difficult. Now, with services like Jux, webdoc, and others, it is simply a matter of dragging and dropping media. I think it is important that students complete a project like this, as it is a straightforward way to add a sample of their foreign language learning to their personal learning portfolios.
Of the two services featured here, I would say that webdoc is the more fully featured. With webdoc, you can not only include text, photos, videos, and music but also interactive apps like games, polls, real-time widgets from services like Twitter. Webdoc is also fully integrated with Facebook and Twitter, meaning you can share your webdoc with all of your network. Other webdoc users can respond in traditional comment form or can respond with a new webdoc of their own, all on the same page.
Jux produces a much more professional-looking end product, offering a fullscreen, magazine-style experience. In Jux, you choose a full-sized photo for the background of each slide-like page and can then add either just a caption for the photo, a quote, an article, a video, or a countdown. You can also make a slideshow from the photos. Jux may have fewer features, but it is much easier to use and the templates are far more polished than those in webdoc.
The more social feel of webdoc and the ability for others to respond with their own docs seems to fit better with the general ethos of the language classroom, allowing students to build on each other’s knowledge. On the other hand, Jux’s more professional look lends itself better to a learning portfolio. At this point, I don’t know which I will end up using. Perhaps I will show examples of both to my class and let the students decide which to take on.
CaptionTube: The integration of authentic video is a simple way to increase student engagement in content in the language classroom. For beginning learners, though, it can be difficult to find authentic videos (or readings, for that matter) rather than ones created by textbook companies for language learners that are transparently “watered down” What’s a language instructor to do?
In my experience, I’ve found that captions in the target language can make otherwise inaccessibly difficult videos comprehensible (if only its global message). The CaptionTube service allows you to enter your own captions for any YouTube video, whether you own it or not. CaptionTube makes it easy to place captions at the exact moments you would like them to appear via a video editor-esque panel of controls. You can even go back later and edit captions once you’ve submitted them.
Obviously this is not a particularly convenient route to take in providing your students with content, but it certainly opens some doors. If you’re like me and have movies or clips you’ve used in the past for higher levels that you would love to be able to share with your lower-level students, this is a great solution!
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