Barbara Sawhill Comes to Middlebury!

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In a convergence of Barbaras (and a stroke of pure genius), Barbara Ganley (yours truly) invited Barbara Sawhill to Middlebury College to give a workshop on using Web 2.0 technologies in second-language teaching. So for once, instead of skyping or blogging, we sat in the same room, and it was quite a pleasure to listen to her talk about how blogs, wikis and skype have informed her teaching. I blogged the session and recorded the first half of the workshop (on a wee iTALK, hence the fuzzy quality), so I’ll get out of the way and let her do the talking via my notes and the audio files:

I. Introduction
Barbara opened the workshop with a writing prompt: “If you could change one thing about your language class, what would it be?”

“I am a teacher and a technologist–and I put those in that order,” she continued:And indeed, I know from having heard her talk before and from reading languagelabunleashed, that she grounds the technology deeply in the teaching; she tries out the tools in her own classrooms before introducing them to her faculty. (This is the wisdom of educational technologists having a foot squarely within the classroom, sharing the experience of the teachers they are trying to reach–teaching technologists or techie teachers? She can speak to teachers from the authentic successes and failures of her own classroom, and that makes all the difference in her understanding of the relationship between technology and teaching, and in her ability to reach faculty.)

She also pointed out that she uses tools that have been out there for 4-5 years and are quite stable–what’s new is using them in foreign language teaching, not in other ways. She wants others to try the tools out, tweak them, inprove them before she hands them to her students or to her faculty.


II. Looking at the Technologies
She took us through a look at “disruptive technologies,” a term she likes because it points to a different way of looking at learning and relationships between teachers and students. She framed the overview of the tools with the following questions: What is it? Who is doing it? How does it work? Why is it significant? What are the downsides? Where is it going?

* Wikis (She uses Wikipedia; talks about textbook creation on wikis, using an example from a French class at Skidmore (an interview with the professor–an excellent use for a classroom).

*Blogs & RSS She used her blog from her Spanish class as an example)

*Podcasts

*Skype

She played a nice loop of images of her students working with the technologies. Questions arose about how to get faculty to thread this work into the pedagogy, how to get them to understand why this enhances language instruction.
Transparency and pedagogy: she asks her students what they want to learn.
She handled a question magnificently about whether these tools have been proven to make a difference in language proficiency–she called upon studies about contact time with languages.
A question about evaluation–do you test them? Her answer sounded a whole lot like what I had to say about evaluation in my previous post. Evaluation was done by the self, and through modeling and group examination of the work. Q & A:

She brought us a rich array of resources and examples from her classes, and she set up a wikiwith some helpful links.

During the dinner break we talked about the challenges of teaching with technology within our institutions, about how to help our faculty, our students and ourselves. We talked more about how much or little we teachers need to read what our students write on their blogs, about textbooks and about teaching languages and motivation.

After dinner there was a long playing-around-with-the-tools session and talking through the ways in which in of the attendees could tailor the tools to their own needs. Skyping Barbara’s husband, Graham Stanley in Barcelona and and a colleague in Mexico was a highlight for the group.

We ended by coming back to the original question–is there anything you saw here today that will help you meet that challenge? In response, the group seem genuinely excited AND confident, as though someone had finally explained these tools and their application in language learning in a way they could understand and embrace. Barbara, in her usual gracious, generous way, has invited the group to “reconvene” via Skype in another month or so to see how it’s going–to swap stories and to ask questions. I heard one teacher saying to her as she was leaving that it had been the best technology workshop she had ever attended.

Indeed! She’s a terrific model for what can be done with Web 2.0 technologies in any classroom, in any community. Of course spending three days together meant that Barbara and I have cooked up all manner of possible collaborations for the future, one of which blossomed the very next day when we traveled down to the other side of the state to meet with the staff andRob Fried, the author of the The Passionate Teacher, The Game of School, and The Passionate Learner, the new Executive Director of the Upper Valley Teacher Institute, (of which I am a proud alum and have written about before. And along with Laura Blankenship, we’re heading to BlogHer in a couple of weeks to learn about what other women are doing with blogs, and to share our experiences as women blogging in education. But more on all that soon. These past few days are proof of how enriching this engaging with a community of practice out in the blogosphere has been for me. Lots to think about…

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