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Published February 9, 2011 | English (Second Language)

IT Boot Camp Bears Gratifying Results

At Collège Laflèche, we are preparing to improve IT skills for our students (and teachers!). There seems to be a global amount of IT instruction needed to be taught in order to reach our IT requirements, and the college is looking for the English Department to take on part of what is required.

IT Boot Camp

Currently, I have resources for my classes stored all over the college, and I don't know whether students can open them or not. If students are in a lab at the college, they can work on information that I am providing generally as a .pdf file. A particularity of our system called Net-Storage, however, is that when resources are on my private folder, students do not have access to them from home.

Increasingly, I have been using a website hosted on Profweb's Web Space to get around this problem. It was the result of a gracious initiative by Norm Spatz of the Profweb staff to show me how the Personal Space worked and how to get started using Dreamweaver, YouTube and Audacity during a short stay in Montreal last summer. I left those sessions having created a basic website which I began filling with resources over the last semester. I've developed over 500 links with a concentration of sites on writing CVs and improving grammar.

Website for the Department of Modern Languages

A Site for the Entire Department

I recently applied for and was granted release time from College Laflèche's Fonds de développement pédagogique in order to create a departmental website where students could have access to information from anywhere. Furthermore, using a website would give our students access to appropriate materials available on the web.

As a resource for the entire department, I could collect links from all our teachers, creating a greater variety of material for everyone. The result would be a large selection of student friendly material that would be level appropriate and subject specific. Teachers could post resource suggestions online. Norm Spatz suggested using a teachers-only wiki, but my first reaction was that I wasn't that confident about using the technology, and given that there are only four teachers in the department, we didn't really need a lot of technology when the information could be sent as a note or an e-mail or we could talk in the hallways, which we do constantly.

Getting Started

Now that my idea has been accepted, my first step is to make an appointment with the IT service to see what can be done to make the site more complex. Dreamweaver could be my key to making a better site, but I have to get savvier about how to use it. I would like to have split screens and potentially use dynamic images. I also feel that the graphics on my current site could stand to be a little more dignified.

The other teachers in the English Department are expecting me to build the site, and then they will just go in and add things as required. I'm going to start by adding my own courses, then, I'm going to do a presentation and then hopefully, everyone is going to want to join in. I know that my enthusiasm about my current site is pretty contagious as I've got the results from this semester to back me up.

Gratifying Results

I have found that since I started the initial teaching with my site, my students are so much more involved in their own learning process. The increased student engagement, reflection and interaction are especially beneficial for second language instruction. Lab time is used going to the different links for reading, writing, and learning. Students have to highlight the errors that they made writing basic texts, and then I have the luxury of referring them each to exercises online which target the concepts where they made the most errors. I used ESL Blues a lot, but there were also many other sites which are all listed on my website. Afterwards, students write a simple text explaining what site they worked on, what they did, and what they learned by working on it.

My students just seem more involved and really happy to access the information. They wrote me that they had never realized that this information was available. One student spent a lot of time learning about slang and realized for the first time that it existed in English. I didn't get any negative comments from students about this project.

Final Words

One problem that I have found is that I have to update links, and I must go back regularly and check things. I had a link to a project on Brave New World on YouTube. The content, however, was changed, and when I went back to show the site to my students, I was in the embarrassing position of realizing that it had transformed into a bad production on the use of SOMA.

I have learned to roll with the punches. After seeing the video, I told them that we were going to have a YouTube competition using special content from Brave New World and that the video they were watching was an example of what not to do. Now I have to post their resulting work on YouTube. They've signed releases, and afterwards, I'm going to link this year's work on my site for next year's students.

If it had not been for my IT Bootcamp with Norm, this project would never have gotten off the ground. He is a very valuable resource at Profweb, and through my experience with him, I now better understand just how important the work of an IT Rep is in stretching teachers' IT technological skills. I would appreciate hearing about your experiences hosting your own website. Use the Comments feature below to share your experiences with your colleagues.

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