Materials Writing SIG Conference Session 4 – Writing Skills for Effective 21st Century Materials

After the lunch break, we reconvened with Heather and Julie’s talk on Writing Skills for Effective 21st Century writing.

Julie started by giving us a bit of background into their research over the last few years, explaining that the work informing today’s session continues to build on what they have talked about at past conferences e.g. IATEFL last year.

Materials development should be at the interface of theory and practice but actually it isn’t: it takes a long time before theoretical recommendations can become pedagogically recognised. Findings from conversation analysis could help us to write more natural sounding dialogues, research into pragmatics could help us teach politeness, so there is lots of potential but…

“ELT is not a matter of bridging the gap between theory and practice, but closing it” (Widdowoson, ELTons June 2016).

“With Web 2.0 came technologies that afforded online interaction and user created materials and these altered the authorship paradigm, as well as blurring the line between materials and the tools that produce them. (Mishan and Timmis, 2015, p.79)  – We put lots of things online, we see possibility for communicative interaction between students, but what are we going to do with all of that?

The study

When doing this research, for ‘digital materials’ they took a very broad definition – any materials that use technology in some way. Their methodology involved use of focus groups and individual interviews and spoke to 8 writers and 11 editors/publishers.

Research questions:

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These were used as a springboard for discussion with their participants rather than something rigid to be stuck to. The discussions were very interesting and yielded lots of rich data. We discussed some of the statements drawn out of the data:

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The findings fit into 5 main categories:

  1. Technical differences
  2. Pedagogy
  3. Management of process
  4. Possibilities of digital (this category had more positive things)
  5. Commercial considerations (business issues, marketing issues)

Technical Differences

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First of all, a lot of people talked about working within parameters. Writing to a particular template/brief. There are a limited number of activity types within digital – these tend to be closed activities: drag and drop, gap-fill, matching, YES/NO…  This is also because they tend to be self-study materials so need to be accessible to a student not mediated by a teacher. People also talked about mobile/tablet use and repurposing materials. You might not have long texts but three shorter texts, for example, in order to avoid too much scrolling on the smaller screen.

Mobile items can be quite bare and limited:

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Secondly, often print material is being converted to digital materials, rather than people writing directly for digital. Materials can look the same in the course book as on the screen. However, activities designed for use in the classroom need to be changed to work in a digital format. The issue of feedback provision: What will you say when they provide the right answer? “Yay! You got it right!” vs. “Correct.” and what about when it’s wrong? Are you going to tell them why? If yes, it’s going to be very expensive because all the possible answers and reasons together with feedback would need to be input. So feedback needs to be cost effective. Having a variety of different acceptable answers is great but very expensive. To get around these issues, more sophisticated authoring tools are needed and therefore a lot of investment. The level of the product is low, very basic stuff BECAUSE of the limitation to the closed style questions, for the reasons of cost effectiveness already discussed.

Thirdly, you need to think in great detail about how the student or teacher will use it, what will be there on the screen? What will they need to do? What will be on the screen at the same time? You need to be able to visualise it (which requires experience of using it?). Scrolling issues add to the difficulty of reading comprehension and text length.

Lots of scrolling:

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Finally, you need to think about layout issues. E.g. on a tablet when you tap for the keyboard and it takes up half the screen, will important things be obscured? When you offer the choice of answers, will the answer choices hide the question?!

Layout can be tricky:

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Rubrics also need to be extra clear so that students can access them alone. Fonts need to be sans serif Sego to make it informal in ESOL materials. Colour is also important. Standardisation between publishers in template use would be nice!

Pedagogy

Again, we discussed selected statements from the data:

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Before hearing about the findings:

People were debating the usefulness of digital and what value it adds. Is it just about practice? Receptive skills? But how rich is the input to learners from these materials? Obviously it depends on the particular material but these were some general concerns. It could be useful for lower levels to be able to click on a video and hear instructions again, or hear a recording in shorter chunks as scaffolding. Are the the tasks types and questions too repetitive or do learners like that?

Lesson flow was another issue. Two pages of a coursebook can demonstrate some flow and some understanding of where you are going but if it is divided into 20 screens what happens to that? Feedback is an issue if something is marked wrong but is actually right because there is a stray full-stop, for example. Productive skills can also be problematic, because it is difficult to enable practice speaking or writing through digital materials. Students can record themselves but what do they do with that? What happens to the social aspect of the activity? People learning together and collaborating? Will the cost be increased? There are possibilities such as forums, chat rooms, blogs but the question surrounding all of these activities is that they are quite open activities – is that a problem? Would the learner see it as developmental or be disappointed as not getting a score after spending half an hour in front of their screen? The context of use and how that impacts on pedagogy is important here.

Cognitive load can, it was perceived, make certain listening tasks more difficult. E.g. listen and match/type/tap a box. All the tapping and typing as well focusing on the actual language. Therefore it is important to make the activity cognitively engaging but not the technical aspect of doing the activity!

Tablets and classroom management also came up. If you haven’t taught in a classroom where tablets are being used, then it is difficult to visualise the issues around it. Classroom management is affected – you need to control when the tablets are used and when focus is on teacher. If everyone has a tablet, activities could be differentiated quite easily, according to level or learning style. With listening, will you play it from the front or have students listening individually with headphones. That makes a big difference in how the activity is going to work. There are lots of possibilities to consider – how are they being used but also how COULD they be used?

Student engagement/user experience is important to consider as with some digital materials, there is no teacher to draw students in and engage them. Students might need more changes of focus than in the classroom, where interaction with other students and the teacher helps.

Adaptive learning was also something that came up in the discussions. It needs more thought for it to work properly. Adaptive learning also loses the “flow” mentioned earlier with course-book pages.

Is there too much material? It could be overwhelming but it could be a good thing, differing opinions – also depends on how it is exploited and the quality of the materials. Converting print to digital expands material as you have to build in extra scaffolding. It means that you end up with a huge body of material that can become quite unwieldy to produce and manage. You also have to consider the teacher training element – teachers are not trained to use all tools effectively because they don’t exist everywhere so it can’t be a standard element of ITT.

Finally, how are students actually learning from these products? What are they learning? Is it the most effective way to learn? This needs to considered, both for digital and for print. Why don’t we know? Access to classrooms is difficult for researchers, teachers don’t have time to look at it in detail themselves. End user experience is as important as the content itself. But it also requires longitudinal studies, which have their issues of expense and time and resources.

Some of the criticisms are equally applicable to print materials, if we consider print self-study materials as well. So it’s not just about print vs. digital.

Management of Process

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Time started getting short at this point so we launched directly into hearing about the data:

Delivery – keep it simple, stick to the brief and be aware of the functionality of the software from the outset, as well as the style guidelines. (E.g. 24/7 in print but 24-7 in html). The template developer role is important. In an ideal world, the author would receive a sample unit of examples of activity types so that you could know exactly what you were aiming for and how it would work. It would also help if discussion was possible so you could check if things would work.

The scale of projects is ever more massive. The number of people and volume of material involved is greater than print which was already huge. Yet, schedules are tighter for digital as the student book is produced first but the digital package needs to launch with it on completion (!)

People expect digital to be quicker to produce but it is not so as there is more content required (videos, adaptive learning, assessment criteria). And, of course, the “editorial eye” is just as necessary, even if writers are writing directly into a template. Mistakes can happen and you need someone with an overview to pick up on those, which makes a huge number of screens to check.

In terms of self-publishing, you need to be thinking along the lines of detail required by a publisher’s book proposal form.

Possibilities of Digital

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There are lots of opportunities:

  • Plan Ceibal in Uruguay: Every student has a laptop, and there is the classroom teacher but also a remote teacher. This kind of thing impacts the materials developer role as you need materials for the remote teacher, support for the local teacher, materials that will go on the screens…
  • British Council Nexus Project: Getting lower level learners online. Helping them developing digital literacy, self-confidence and motivation.
  • Gamification – making things into games. Games in the classroom, apps outside the classroom, on laptops… Badges? Levels? Can be motivating.
  • Augmented reality – second life type things, but also writing stories, producing scripts for animation on students’ screens in class (half the class see one thing, half the other).
  • More writing opportunities for freelancers but… the downside is that some of the work is not particularly interesting or challenging, can be quite mechanical and set fees are becoming more common than royalties. Working just for a fee may impact motivation – what is your incentive to go off promoting the product in your time?
  • It can be career enhancing to create online resources. Putting your own things online for people to use can get your name known and lead to other things…

Commercial considerations

<Missed that picture! Going full steam now!>

When publishers talk to customers and do market research, the customer can’t tell them what they want in terms of digital because they don’t really know what’s possible, which makes it difficult for them to articulate what they want and so for publishers to provide. Then there is the issue of predicting the market when technology is always changing, it is difficult to ‘future proof’ digital products. And what if a new game-changer comes out, so your new product suddenly looks dated as it launches? The issues of payment also arose in this category – should authors get royalties? Should the author role be promoted? The community of practice adds value to project, e.g. through the author promoting the product etc.

Conclusions

There is a lot of scope for materials (print and digital) to be more research informed. More research needs to be done into user experience of materials (funnily enough I was reading about this issue a few days ago in the intro to a mats dev book I borrowed from the ELTC library…edit: English Language Teaching Textbooks – Content, Consumption, Production edited by Nigel Harwood and published by Palgrave Macmillan)

A better quality of materials in digital would be good to see, going beyond the ‘workbook feel’, something more satisfying. Perhaps by incorporating different kinds of technology, making use of new possibilities.

Teachers need to be encouraged to research their own classrooms in this area. Training is also needed for how to integrate digital and print in the classroom. It’s really difficult for busy teachers to explore all the digital stuff and work out what would work well together in the classroom in terms of blending the digital and the non-digital.

Heather and Julie recommended How to write for digital media and How to write ESOL materials, both published by ELT Teacher2Writer and finished by showing us their reference list for this talk:

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Another very interesting session with lots of discussion to get our teeth into! During this session I was sitting next to Antonia Clare, so it was really interesting, in the discussion elements, to hear about things from a long-time published author’s perspective.

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Materials Writing SIG Session 3 – Looking after number one

Bev Alderson led the third session of the day. She tells us we will learn about the impact of too much sitting and take away tools/techniques to help counter this. Bev used to work in IT Management – 18 years – and learnt firsthand what it’s like to have a high-pressure desk-bound job. She pushed herself to the point of being very unwell and so life made her stop and learn how to work properly and look at wellness in a different way. She starts with the question “What do I want to achieve? What wellness techniques can I implement to help with that?”

Sitting burns 1 calorie where standing burns 3, sitting compresses digestion and breathing, so nutrients don’t travel so well. The average person spends 9.3hrs a day sitting – watching telly, drive, eat, work etc. This has an impact. Mind and body are in the same vessel, mind gets less oxygenated blood when sitting. It takes 90 seconds of standing for muscular and cellular systems to kick back in. They work purely by taking our bodyweight.

So, one thing we can do is interrupt our sitting. Stand up and move. Scientists reckon sitting for 6hrs a day = smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. However, there are three key things we can do to help:

  1. Ergonomics
  2. Preventing/alleviating symptoms of sitting
  3. Wellness plan

Ergonomics

The human body was designed to move not sit. We need to think about that and how our desk and chair work. Our spine was meant to be straight: Sit closer to your desk and you will sit up straighter. This will also line up shoulders and elbows. If people hunch over their desks for too long, the spine will curve permanently. The head weighs 5kgs. Hence the aches in the shoulders and upper back from incorrect carriage. Ideally have a chair that provides lumbar support to support the spine. A rolled up towel or cushion is an option. Don’t hold the mouse when you are not using it. It pulls your shoulder forward. Don’t cross your legs for too long as the alignment of your hips will go out and the spine will adjust to that and then will continue to do so.

*Being busy slows down pain receptors…

Your arm rests should be adjustable so that they support your arms. A wrist support is also useful. And for your eyes, every now and again look off into the distance then come back, to give your eyes a rest.

Preventing and alleviating symptoms

But even with a perfect sitting position, you still need to MOVE!! So interrupting your sitting is good. Bev showed us a series of exercises which it was very pleasant to do on a day that involved such a lot of sitting still! Below:

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These help to alleviate the structural changes that sitting unfortunately pushes.

Wellness Plan

You decide what to do to recover. What are the few doses of wellness you can do on a regular basis to support body and mind so that it works optimally for us?

What will you do every day?

  • You need to look for ways to move more.
  • Need to be active in moving body position throughout the day.
  • Food is fuel or fun? 80% fuel, 20% fun.
  • 10 minute walks
  • Use a water glass. Keep going to refill it (especially when your room is up two flights of steps…). Keep going to empty your bladder!
  • Do you need to be sat down for all your activities? Can you stand instead? Standing all day is also no good but breaking it up is good.
  • Do something fun every day! A dose of daily wellness! (Hobbies, socialising…)
  • Rest: take breaks.
  • Use breathing exercises to reset nervous system

Materials Writing SIG Conference Session 1 – Working smarter not harder…

Today, 20th February 2016, is MaW SIG Conference day: New Ways of Working for New Ways of Learning. I have nipped down for the day and the venue is thankfully near to Kings Cross-St Pancras, meaning my train got in from Sheffield at 09.30 and I was in very good time to register before it was due to close at 09.55, having picked up a pot of vegan porridge at Pret for breakfast! (I won’t tell you what time I woke up this morning…)

Rachael Roberts kicked off the day with some introductory remarks. She feels the following quote sums up the push to digital: ‘provides a good sense of what the gold-rush must have felt like – people moving into frontier towns with little idea of what they were getting themselves into’. She went on to say that perhaps now the dust has settled, we can start to look at what is going on and the various impacts digital has had. The sessions today will do that from a variety of  perspectives.

Very quickly it was time for…

Working smarter, not harder: the nine characteristics of the Productivity Ninja (!)

The first session of the MaW SIG one day conference has an exciting title. Time to learn how to be a ninja!

@thinkproductive

#ProductivityNinja

Graham Alcott started his company, Think Productive in 2009. Says he is not a naturally organised kind of person. The inspiration for this business was going from having a very nice team of people around him to suddenly being freelance and being his own boss. You have to be your own boss and responsible for your own productivity and this forced him to ‘get good at it’! His background is in the charity sector but people were interested in the productivity stuff, which is how it all happened. Turns out quite a few people have been on time management courses, not something I could put my hand up for!

Apparently, a lot of time management books tell you to aim for perfection and everything will be fine. Graham says no one does it perfectly, not even the book writers, but we all have something to teach and something to learn with it. He thinks the idea of time management is dead, but attention management is its successor, and it is much more controllable. He has a book called Productivity Ninja.

The rest of the session was spent looking at the characteristics referred to in the session title.

1. “Zen-like calm”:

If you have a deadline, you know you have to focus on something and finish it by a particular time. You are present and in the moment, not thinking about dinner and social plans. Deadlines give you permission to focus. But what about having that sense of focus without having the stress of the deadline? Well, probably most of us don’t feel that way…

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Yet, the mind is for having ideas not holding them. So getting stuff out of your head is key. Hence why writing lists makes you feel better when you have a lot of things to do e.g. pre-going away! Information is raw material. We have moved from the industrial age to the information age. Putting cherries on buns is very predictable, and you know what success looks like. But when we are putting cherries on our own buns, we have to define how big the cake should be, how fast the conveyor belt should go, whether cakes are the way forward or cocktails would be better…

You are simultaneously boss and worker. Neglecting the boss or the worker too much isn’t good for productivity.

2. Ruthlessness

Sounds a bit scary but don’t worry. We are talking to-do lists: are you jumping on it or is it 4pm and you are winding down and you are not feeling capable of engaging with it? We probably have 2-3hrs a day of being able to give full attention to something. So we need to be ruthless with how we deal with those 2-3 hours. That time when you are really switched on. If you manage that time/your attention really well, then the rest of the time doesn’t matter so much. That 2-3 hrs done well means you don’t have to be ruthless about giving away an hour later on for a meeting etc. Not every hour is the same in terms of your resources of attention. Know your hours! Graham was ruthless with Facebook. Gave his password to his wife and got her to change it. This was in order to avoid procrastination. Be ruthless with yourself, know your foibles and temptations. Make it impossible to be distracted when it is your 2-3 productive hours.

3. Weapon-Savvy

Use the tools that are most useful to you, don’t be sucked in by coolness. Your thinking is more important. Psychology before technology. But, the Ninja needs a second brain. To download all the projects and actions we need to remember, that are “off the page” in terms of what we are doing/should be doing in the moment. There are many ways to do this!

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All these apps are cross-platform and you can download app versions on to your tablets etc.

But the task function in Microsoft Outlook works perfectly well too. Graham likes it. As does…pen and paper! Whatever you are comfortable with. It should be useful, not a distraction… A second brain that frees up your own brain to be creative and ‘add value to information’.

Email can be disproportionately stressful for what’s actually in there. You CAN get it to zero and then it’s easy to keep it there rather than let it build up again. It should give you a sense of completion and clarity, I hear. (I won’t tell Graham I have 24, 638 emails across my inboxes…) Apparently a much smaller number are actually “on the plate” or “critical”! (I guess that’s why I ignore the other 24, 630!)

4. Stealth and camouflage

Tactical hiding. The digital age is starting to become more culturally difficult/unacceptable to be unavailable. “Going dark” is the two days before a new piece of software is launched: developers make themselves deliberately unavailable in that period before the deadline. We need to create that. “Write book” on a to-do list won’t happen. You break it down. But it still needs a different level of focus from everything else. How do you get the space to write the book? Graham went to Sri Lanka…! A month of ‘stealth camouflage’. The idea of disconnection and focusing on stuff without the ‘white noise’ of distraction. (No notifications! No social media! No emails! No other people!) You don’t need to book tickets to Sri Lanka to do that. But you need to find your own Sri Lanka. A sense of complete disconnection even just for an hour (I guess ideally for your 2-3 productive hours of the day?!). Can be as simple as “A meeting for one” in the diary – protected time. Often seen as being a luxury, but it is important. Investing an hour off the grid will probably save you a few hours further down the line.

5. Unorthodoxy

Very easy, whether in the publishing world or in your car, to look at the competitors and try to copy them. Instead, try to take inspiration from unusual places. E.g. person who goes to the same set of cafes on a rotating basis, cuts down on making the decision of where to eat: recognising decision fatigue as a barrier to productivity. When you have a story to tell or a point to get across, try to view it through different lens e.g. 5 year old child, my mum etc.

Experiments – Graham did a bunch of productivity experiments. E.g. a month of email Fridays – only checking email on Fridays for a month. A month where any procrastination on decision-making was solved by a throw of the dice. Someone said you get a third of your decisions right, a third wrong and a third don’t matter. The dice-throwing gave momentum to the process. What all of the experiments came down to was playing around with the assumptions of how we work and day-to-day routine. Looking at what you do and flipping that. If you always have email etc. turned on, try having it off. If you walk to work a particular way, go a different way. If you look at email in the morning, do it in the evening. We are creatures of habit but messing with it can be a good thing! Doesn’t have to be as extreme as Graham’s experiments, even little things can have a big impact!

6. Agility

The two-minute rule: if anything can be done in less than two minutes, then when it comes in, do it straight away. You will spend more time putting it on lists etc. otherwise! And it also makes your to-do list more streamlined, so you can see the wood from the trees, if you don’t add every single little thing that you could have just done instead. The same applies to email: it’s very easy to delay responding if it is something a bit annoying but just do it quickly and then it’s done. Then if you have something big going on, when you come back to your to-do list afterwards, it’s easier to cope with, less unwieldy.

Context is king: Have different lists. A phone-calls list; a thinking list etc. Set up lists based on context – where you need to be, who needs to be there. So when you get interrupted, you can use the opportunity to tick things off the list that require that person. To-do lists app usually has “context” or “categories”. Use it! Or, different colours, different sections… (This I can do: I have used different colours on my sticky notes since our session at the ELTC on time savers! 🙂 )

7. Mindfulness

Came out of the time spent with the Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka. Graham asked a monk about mindfulness and how to do it, wanting some kind of app recommendation. The monk said “you just sit”. In 2011, Graham including mindfulness in his book was a risk. Nowadays it’s a buzz word. Graham asks, how often do we experience a sense of presence, of where we are, when we are sitting at work?

Lizard brain – the fight or flight part – is an important friend of ours but also a mortal enemy when it comes to productivity. You can have an amazing to-do list, be really organised and still be really scared of pitching your idea. Writing a book is 20% writing and 80% lizard brain management. Lizard brain wants to avoid risk and blend in, not let you put yourself in a place where you won’t survive. Lizard brain is also very critical, “no, that’s rubbish, don’t do that…”. Acknowledging that that is Lizard brain, not rational brain, is important. As, then you can access logical brain whispering away too…  It won’t go away but you can focus on your morning routines and be mindful about it. By starting your day on the email/FB etc, you are starting your day with everyone else’s priorities, not your own. Make space to think about YOUR day…

8. Preparedness

If you are not a naturally organised person, doing all the folders and colour-coding etc seems pointless. But, to be proactive (that New Year’s Resolution!) you need preparedness and mindfulness. “Preparedness is a service to me in the future” 🙂

You need a way of actively managing what you plan to do.

9. Human, not superhero

Recognise that some of this is difficult and you are human. But if you manage your productivity well, you can LOOK like a superhero. Although you are still a human being, no magical powers. There is no secret source or shortcut, you need to do simple things consistently and well. You’ll still screw up but that’s ok. Human beings and ninjas recognise that wrapped up in the culture that we have of need to succeed and be super-heros is failure and guilt about failure. Let it go.

Periodically, have a done list! Have a point to celebrate success. Lists are usually about the past (not done yet…) or the future (needs to be done by Friday, eek!). Looking at what is done is a way to be in the present moment.

The secret to success (according to somebody who’s name I lost!) is “Send thank you cards and book theatre tickets” – As a human being, recognising human connections is important. Say thank you. Book theatre tickets – gives you a constraint. If at 3 you know you are going to the theatre at 7.30, you have a constrained window to complete everything. Life deadlines help you manage the transition between work and life rather than letting work take over.

Graham finished by inviting us to choose one thing to change and do something physical with it (put it on a list…) so that you actually try and do it! I think for me it will be the “disconnect” one (‘Go dark’), to avoid the self-distraction undertaken to avoid having to think! (To quote one of the audience members who also wants to try the “disconnect” one.) I am self-distraction queen sometimes so this should be good. My proactive attention time is definitely first thing in the morning. I was good at using that when I was doing my M.A. – maybe it’s time to get it back! I also want to get back in the habit of starting the day with yoga rather than computer! (I did this morning 🙂 )

The most important gift you can give someone is not your time but your attention – thank you for yours: a lovely ending to the session. 🙂

Little question for my readers: Of all of these tips, which do you think you would want to implement or experiment with in YOUR life?

Materials Writing SIG Conference Session 2 – Working in a digital space

The second session of the morning is by Antonia Clare, co-author of Speak Out. (Also Total English, ELT Writers Connected and Free and Fair ELT – I picked Speak Out  as that is what comes to mind first when I see her name…) She says she has been writing materials for a scarily long time – when she started, the internet existed but she didn’t have access to it. She would go to the library with a notebook in hunt of texts. She wrote with J.J. Wilson – he would provide lunch, she would travel there and supply the computer. They would submit drafts, then they would wait three months, do life stuff, and then receive the drafts back with red pen all over them. Every now and again, a writer would come to her school but other than that or the odd publishing event, no day-to-day conversation with other writers.

The first question is what has changed since YOU started writing? (My answer is quite short given I have only just started… 😉 )

For Antonia, the existence of the collaborative coffee shop – even in Norfolk! She doesn’t need to lug heavy reference works and dictionaries around. She can be in touch with co-writers over the world. She also notes the following changes with the move to digital:

  • less paper, a lot more screen time
  • in the last few years, more online collaboration than face to face
  • content and skills have changed – more multimedia content, and the skill set needed therefore has also changed: need awareness of different tools and apps
  • expectations (deadlines – no more three months between drafts! weekly deadlines not uncommon, small chunks of material rather than whole drafts of books; payment – no more royalties mostly; the role of writer has also changed – more to come on this)

According to the title of a Times Higher Ed article, “Everyone’s a winner in this digital space”. This title struck Antonia as this is the narrative we often hear in relation to digital – it’s better, smarter etc than old ways. In education, in publishing, in business, in government. Need to take a step back and look at that critically. Are we being snake-charmed? Or can we really add value to what we are doing, if so, how?

Online collaboration

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What struck Antonia – average office worker checks emails 36times an hr. 9hrs a week is used searching for information. More than a billion people using Facebook so we are all accustomed to new streams and other such tools, so such elements appear in online collaborative tools. The tools that production companies use for online collaboration will also generally integrate with well-known tools like Google drive.

Antonia gets up, does her work, reaches the point of no more for today, sends it to J.J. in New Mexico who is just getting up, and goes to get her kids from school etc, while he has a look and sends it back with his thoughts ready for the next day.

She reckons that it offers us opportunities and makes us keep learning, which is motivating.

A couple of projects that have grown from coffee house conversations that Antonia has worked on

Some others she is aware of:

  • The MaW SIG e-book
  • ELT teacher2writer – database for writers and publishers; series of e-books with tips on writing materials in its different aspects
  • iTDi.pro – online teacher training, for teachers by teachers
  • The Round – founded by Lindsay Clandfield and Luke Meddings
  • TEFL Commute – podcasts for English Language Teachers
  • PARSNIPS – some ss want to address taboo issues, so a group of teachers came together and wrote a set of lesson plans dealing with each of these issues.

So, lots of exciting, innovative projects going on as a result of talking – online, at conferences, in coffee shops real and virtual.

Collaboration tools

  • Dropbox
  • Google Docs/Drive (for sharing and editing docs)
  • Skype (useful for regular talks with co-authors)
  • Slack (you can set up channels for different projects, discussion and file sharing; cuts down on emails!)
  • Google Hangouts (For a Skype-like conversation with too many people for Skype)
  • Trello (for keeping tags on how a project is developing)

These can be useful for the sort of projects referred to above.

Publisher Content Management Systems (CMS)

These are huge spaces for documents relevant to a given project to be shared. Useful, tricky when the system goes down, difficult to access from a beach (if you need to work while you are on holiday – those weekly deadlines). Antonia doesn’t want to give the lesson plan to Pearson/the system before it has been back and forth between her and J.J. so she arranged to download it, do the back-and-forth then upload it at the end of that in time for the deadline.

Antonia’s Concerns

  1. virtual distance
  2. content control
  3. screen time

1. Technological interaction is replacing face to face interaction. And there is a lack of ‘depth perception’. Collaboration is more than passing data backwards and forwards. It is achieved through ongoing, meaningful discussions. Relationships. Antonia thinks online collaboration should be supplementary to face to face interaction, not a replacement.

2.Antonia thinks content should be an important driver of how the material is delivered, rather than the how dominating. The process is all separated out into components – needs to come together more. She thinks the future is being part of a collaborative learning community.

3. We spend too much time in front of our screens. We needs to find ways to get up and do something different. Stretch, shake, move, walk, play the piano, 10 minute burst of housework, weed the garden, eat goji berries, swim, shift device/medium, meditate for a minute, go and get a drink and don’t take it back to the computer, do something else while you drink it, take an hour for lunch… (How lovely – Antonia had us doing the twist like we did last summer! 🙂 )

We need to be savvy, careful and not lose sight of the content, then there is the opportunity for all to win.

 

My ELT Book Challenge (Update 1)

About a week ago or so ago, I invited you all to join me in an ELT Book Challenge. Judging by the number of comments it attracted (much more than I had expected), I’m not alone in looking at my collection of ELT books and thinking “I really should open you more” …!

It’s been a bit of a juggle this week (and will continue to be for a while!), as I had already borrowed two ELT theory books from the staffroom library: Garton, S. and Graves, K. (2014) International Perspectives on Materials in ELT  published by Palgrave Macmillan, and Roberts, J. (1998) Language Teacher Education published by Arnold. I chose the former because it’s come out since I did my M.A. ELT and read All The Books about materials development, which I continue to be interested in, and the latter after being inspired by the Teacher Education Scholarship Circle. However, in order to fulfil my aim to pick up also one of my own books, I decided to continue with Eggins, S. and Slade, D. (1997) Analysing Casual Conversation published by Equinox, which I’ve been meaning to read for ages – since I dipped into it for my LSA4 speaking skills essay, in fact!

Pleasingly, my choice of books spans not only a large time range (1997 to 2014) but a nice spread of topics – materials development, teacher education and spoken language analysis. I say “pleasingly” as it feeds my hunger for variety!

In terms of materials development, so far I have read the introduction of the book, Materials in ELT: Current Issues, which, as you would expect, situates the book, and the first chapter, The ELT Textbook, which was by Jack Richards and opens Part 1 – Global and Local Materials. (This is an edited book, so each chapter is by a different author and on a different topic, making it nice and easy to dip in and out of!) Richards looks at the role of the textbook in language teaching, making reference to McGrath’s (2002) metaphors for describing teacher relationships with textbooks and exploring issues such authenticity and representation (this is something I explored in my research module, as I looked at phonological representation in that well-known course book series Cutting Edge), as well as the process of choosing a textbook, distinguishing between analysis and evaluation (including pre-, during and post-use), and, briefly, adapting it. This was quite a general chapter, and for me was a useful revision of aspects of materials use that I studied in the academic year 2012-2013. I imagine those who are doing the course now would probably find it a good starting point, as it is brief and general, and would be able to use the bibliography to go into greater depth on the various elements explored.

As for Teacher Education, I am still on part one (in my defence, it goes up to page 61!), which looks at theories of learning and teacher education and is titled thus. This is an interesting read, as it revisits the theories of learning that I looked at as part of my Delta and M.A., but relates them to teacher education. So, there is a little bit of revision but also adds something new. So, it considers the behaviourist approach, where trainees are expected to follow a particular model of teaching, with no deviation, so that learning to teach is an exercise in imitation; the humanistic approach where change is enabled rather than directed by other people, giving the trainee more control; the constructivist approach, which draws on Kolb’s theory of experiential learning and draws on a trainee/learner’s existent knowledge and experience, so they are no longer a blank slate but somebody who brings something of value to the table; and finally a socialisation approach, where as well as the trainee’s own experience and background, influences on the trainee are also taken into consideration e.g. the school, the community, the education policies in play etc. According to the contents, the author is going to conclude that a social constructivist approach is the best, but I have not yet read the conclusion (that is the point I have reached!) so I am not sure exactly what reasons he will put forward. (Though, I could probably guess at some of it, as when I was studying, I, too, became a big fan of this approach in language teaching!)

Finally, as far as Conversation Analysis goes, I’ve read chapter 1, called Making meanings in every day talk, in which the authors demonstrate that language is “used as a resource to negotiate social identity and interpersonal relations”, giving examples of conversation and showing how we can begin to guess at the type of speaker (gender, class etc.) based on the language they use. Apparently what’s special about casual conversation is that it seems trivial and yet is anything but trivial. It is carefully constructed even though that careful construction is achieved without the speakers thinking about or being aware of that construction.  Casual conversation is different from transactional or pragmatic conversation (e.g. buying something) in a variety of ways, including length (casual conversation tends to be longer), formality (casual conversation is generally more informal) and use of humour (casual conversation uses humour). In the second chapter, which I have only just started, the authors start to discuss the different approaches to analysing conversation, which are sociological, sociolinguistic, logico-philosophical, structural-functional, critical linguistics and critical discourse analysis. As I have only just started, I can’t tell you the difference between them all for now, but I assume I will have a better understanding of this by the end of the chapter.

As is usual at the beginning of a project, excitement and motivation were sufficient to allow me to not only do the theoretical reading but also use one of my more practical/methodological books. I had planned to use two, but ran out of time and cut my use of the second one, though I think it will fit nicely into next lesson.

The first book I used was part of the Delta Publishing Teacher Development series: Morrison, B. and Navarro, D. The Autonomy Approach. This is a book that I discovered at IATEFl last year, and was delighted because it reflected and extended the approach I had been using with my learners in Palermo, in terms of helping them become more autonomous. The great thing about this series of books is that they combine theory and practical ideas for implementing it. In my case, I had gathered a lot of the theory during my M.A. and set about trying to implement it once I returned to teaching. I’m quite glad I didn’t discover this book until after I had tried to do that, as it was a really interesting and rewarding process to go through, but would nevertheless recommend this book to anybody with an interest in learner autonomy and its development (which surely should be most, if not all, of us!).

I chose an activity for reviewing resources, as I have been encouraging my learners to choose different activities each week to try. This activity can be found on page 67 of the book. The heart of the activity is a set of questions that encourage reflection on the use of a set of student-chosen resources. In my case, it was student-chosen activities rather than resources, but there is some overlap, as the activity tends to specify the use of a given resource. I decided to do it as a speaking ladder activity, as I wanted it to be reasonably fast-paced and I wanted the students to talk to as many classmates as possible. Why? Well, students had chosen different activities to try, so hearing about what classmates have tried could sow seeds of interest and inspiration for future weeks. I did the activity at the start of the lesson, and it certainly lifted the energy levels in the room, ready for the rest of the lesson. There was potential for chaos, as the questions didn’t explicitly ask students to tell each other WHAT activity/resource was under discussion (the activity assumes sustained discussion with the same group of people) but students are not stupid, and indeed they quickly explained their activities to their partner before launching into the discussion of the particular question at hand. There were enough questions that they spoke to some people twice, so then there was familiarity with partner’s activity and a bit more depth was gone into via the additional question.

The second book I chose to use (but didn’t get round to using) was The company words keep, another Delta Publishing special. However, as I didn’t get on to using it, I will save it for a future post!

Have any of you started the challenge yet? Have you blogged about it? If so, either link to your blog post below, or use the comments to share your thoughts on what you have read or tried. I look forward to seeing what you have all been up to! 🙂 Not sure when my next update will be – hope to strike a balance between too often and not often enough, though!

My ELTon-winning materials have gone live on Onestopenglish.com!*

*well, some of them have anyway! The rest will hopefully follow suit in due course…

Some of you might remember that I rather unexpectedly (so much so, that I found myself writing the speech I didn’t make after the event!) found myself standing on the stage at the ELTons award ceremony in May 2014.

Macmillan winner 3

In the interview (which you can see here if you click on the The Macmillan Education Award for New Talent in Writing tab on the right-hand side of the video screen), I explained that the materials were as yet only available on my hard drive.

Fast forward a year and a bit, to September 2015, and I can, with great pleasure, announce the appearance of my ELTon materials, the fruits of my dissertation project labour of love in 2013, at Leeds what was Metropolitan now Beckett University, on Macmillan’s Onestopenglish website! I have been working with Sarah Milligan from Macmillan to prepare my materials for publication on this website, which has been a great learning opportunity for me.

You can find the materials by clicking on either of the photos below:

Compass!

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– I hope you enjoy using them – let me know how it goes if you do! (And yes, I know, yet again my name has been misspelt: good job I’m all too used to it! 😉 Correction hopefully to follow!)

MaW SIG May: Cleve Miller – ‘New Publishing’ : a summary/write-up

Cleve compares the old internet to a pipe. We would passively consume content that was very much top-down, expert-created, static. It was a continuation of how publishing had worked for the last 500 years. Since 2002 we got what we call the new web, though it’s not new anymore. This is an open platform where we contribute, collaborate and create content. This is where need to locate ourselves as content creators, as materials designers.

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The content continuum – the fundamental driving force behind the way materials design is going. On the one extreme, we have traditional publishing (the old web, the “pipe”) and on the other extreme we have a bottom-up self-publishing model. To allow this bottom-up stuff is the advent of web and web-technology. With a blog, we can publish to thousands of people, for free, in a very short space of time.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both. The top-down model is expert-created and high quality, but it is also a generic, one size fits all. 5 year publishing plans are normal. And it runs into a barrier. The bottom-up model is faster, up-to-date and isn’t restricted to a 5 year plan. It can be specific to language culture and student need. It is the difference between generic content and specific content, along a continuum. There are times when the top-down model is appropriate, and the one-size fits all is fine, this isn’t to knock publisher content. But there are also opportunities on the other end of the continuum, which Clive wants to look at with us.

The power of open platforms. 

E.g. Encylopaedias: on the top-down side, we have Encyclopaedia Britannica, on the other end we have Wikipedia. Wikipedia contains multilingual, user-generated information, meaning that for example things that don’t have much coverage in the traditional encylopaedia can in Wikipedia. It is much more localised.

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ELT also has a general to specific continuum. From General English to English for Chemical Engineers or any other ESP or more specific e.g. English only for Brazilian students. Most specific would be materials designed for an individual student to meet their needs.

Screenshot of slide - Clive's ELT self-publishing matrix

Screenshot of slide – Clive’s ELT self-publishing matrix

From a self-publishing perspective, let’s imagine you are going to design, on your own, some materials. How do you focus what you are looking at? If you are looking at low tech, general English, that is the difficult to succeed area because that is what publishers know how to do really well and they have lots of money to put into it. If you try and make an app for General English, then it’s still difficult because you are competing against the publishers, with all their money. There are platforms you can use, but it is tough and expensive. If you move towards the more specific end of the spectrum, then making an app is still ambitious but you at least will not be competing with the publishers when you are aiming towards something more esoteric, so it is ambitious in  terms of technology rather than competition. In the middle of both spectrums is the sweet spot (not too hot, not too cold), if you get more specific, then the market is much smaller e.g. English for chemical engineers, but it is needed.

There are of course exceptions to all the above. E.g. the case study that we will look at. Which is by Vicki Hollett. She started with the difficult to succeed, scary area. She already has content published in traditional models but she is doing this anyway. And her content is multi-modal. Online teaching, you tube channel, website. Her revenue model for You Tube is the advertising.

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What are the success principles for Vicki Hollett?

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The next case study is English Success Academy by Jaime Miller. It’s one exam. Nothing but TOEFL prep. She is engaging, has lots of videos, a well-designed website, she does one-one teaching her content is multi-modal. Her revenue model is premium price e-books.

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What are her success principles?

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The third case study is Deborah Capras. She wrote a book and is delivering it on Amazon. Very specific topic. Business, politics, small talk. Her revenue model is print book sales. And the mainstream publishers then took notice of her.

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What are her success principles?

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The final is Claire Hart. Blended English for Engineering. She used English 360 platform. There is an online component but then there are also face-face lesson plans and all the handouts you need, for the university department customers. Importantly, she copyrighted it. She can sell it by way of other channels. Claire can take the content and repurpose it into a print book on Amazon, or put it through YouTube as videos, she can use it in any way.

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Her revenue model is revenue share between Claire and the platform who takes 40%. If you use a platform with a good user base, the marketing is there for you.

What are her success principles?

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“Self-publishing”

  • Rather than thinking of self-publishing, you are thinking of developing a new product. So you are an entrepreneur. You need to think like a business person. You need to think about “sales-y things”. The hardest part is the marketing. How many videos are there on youtube? How many books are there on Amazon?
  • You need to get an editor. Very important, indispensable, in order to maintain a good level of quality. Clive thinks that peer editing could be an interesting possibility. So that there is a network of self-publishers that support each other.
  • You need a niche. Be the very best at one specific thing. That is the most powerful way to move forward. E.g. Ros with regards to English for Medicine. There’s a lot of ways to get specific. Combine your teaching with it. Niches are much easier to market to. Go to professional associations, look on LinkedIn. If you market to a niche, it’s not expensive, if you narrow your focus it’s not and you can do it.
  • Pull everything together on a website or blog.
  • Think outside the box for customers. For example, can you add value to a Business?

To summarise, the future of materials design is bottom up. That doesn’t mean top-down will disappear, but bottom up is the way forward because it can be more specific than any top-down model can be. Britannica doesn’t have the resources to produce 17 pages on Salina, Wikipedia enables that.

In the Q and A time, Sue Lyon-Jones reminds us:

“Keeping your copyright doesn’t always mean you can publish your work elsewhere. Some contracts may grant publishers exclusive rights to publish in specific formats or for a set period of time, for example. Make sure you read and understand the small print, folks!”

When you use a platform (e.g. Instagram, YouTube), lots of times you give up control. So be aware.

To contact Cleve for more information about any of this: cleve@english360.com