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Published September 7, 2009 | English (Second Language)

Reformed by the Reform

My evolution into IT as a tool in my classroom was very gradual. Years back, the teachers in our language department at College Lionel-Groulx were faced with developing courses appropriate for "B" block students. We faced the dilemma of how to respect course criteria which stipulated vocabulary and texts that target students' individual programs and career choices when each class had students from many programs. We wondered which textbooks to use and how those textbooks could possibly be appropriate. That is when I and others decided to use magazines and online sources.

A Solution of Convenience

Up until 2002, technology for me was just an online library and not a pedagogical tool. Only after a two-year leave to start my own business in British Columbia did I really begin to explore the Web by creating websites using Tripod, a user-friendly-cut-and-paste type platform. Upon my return to the college in 2005, I began to teach ESL for "B" block English groups using website creation. Students worked to create websites with personal profiles, resumes, and descriptions of links related to their programs, fields of study, or future careers. I too used the Tripod platform to post a blog for students and to communicate weekly activities. I also began to become very familiar with the many online interactive grammar activities. Eventually, students could complete online grammar activities following the links from my Tripod site. Best of all, there were no more book concerns.

As it happened, I was paired up with a new teacher in our college, Mara Simon, who was very comfortable with computers and programming. We worked together to perfect the 102 "B" block course. During the winter break, Mara had come to me with information about new classroom-management software that permitted us to advance in the development of our material and classroom management. I have used IT ever since and can't imagine going back.

A Full Range of Features

As a classroom management tool, IT is limitless, especially with the modular platform that I have chosen. Teachers can personalize their Web-based tool to suit their needs and priorities. For example, I have equipped my site to contain the following features:

  • A virtual office where students can book appointments
  • Links to online dictionaries and other course resources
  • An instant messaging system
  • A reminder calendar of due dates
  • An attendance recording system
  • A news forum
  • A marking book that students can consult
  • A quiz module that self-corrects
  • An assignment module where students can consult descriptions of assignments given in class and their assessment criteria, upload documents to be evaluated and finally, receive the evaluation for those activities
  • A resource center where handouts can be downloaded or simply consulted.

I have chosen these particular modules, but I can always add other features. This screenshot of my 102 "A" block course at right shows all assignments and due dates as well as the descriptions of the first two weeks' activities.

Patti Holter's website

Sweat Equity

I won't try to tell you that setting this site up for several levels didn't take a lot of work! What I can tell you is that once the work was invested, I really haven't had to go back and spend too much time on it. For example, it took me about 3 hours to program in my midterm grammar exam with all of the questions and responses to autocorrect. This time was well invested because now I never have to take the usual three hours of time to correct the exam again. The computer corrects the exam, gives the students immediate feedback, enters the marks in my grade book, and figures out all of the statistics related to the test and each question. With the information that I get from the final results of the exam, I can eliminate an invalid question and focus on fine-tuning the instrument.

Evaluation grid

Not only is this platform flexible for content, but for evaluation. A teacher can decide what elements to evaluate as well as their marking system. Evaluating writing has always been a bit problematic for me. I have always worried about being consistent from one student paper to the next. Because of this IT tool, these worries about consistency have been resolved. Each activity has an evaluation grid where I have entered the elements I wish to evaluate and the weight of each element. I now just have to decide where the students' work lies on the scale and the computer designates the actual number grade.

The Ultimate Reward

Ultimately, IT has made me a better teacher. After more than 19 years in the profession, I feel that tools like Moodle make it easier for me to spend more time on pedagogy. In spite of the limited number of times we see them in class and their busy lives outside of the classroom, I am reaching out to students through IT!

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