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Published November 14, 2010 | English (Second Language)

To Learn Through Teaching

As an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, I am always looking for an activity that could be designed to motivate and challenge students in the advanced English level IV courses where the goal is to develop job specific language skills for students in varied programs who often feel they have little to learn in ESL. Based on the precept of Seneca 'Qui docet discit' (Who teaches learns), the Multimedia Writing Project took place with myself encouraging students to use their knowledge and skills with available resources in their respective programs and the college to learn through teaching.

Building upon their fluency in English communication, the Multimedia Writing Project cast these students as experts within multidisciplinary teams where they could build on and incorporate not only knowledge acquired through their program but also knowledge gained through English sources in general. Within the 15 weeks of the semester, students would be required to build a tool or a learning object (audio, video, interactive web page or document) for the benefit of students at lower levels of linguistic competency. The process included a needs analysis, an identification of learning objectives, design and development as well as peer and teacher review. If students so desired, a permission to broadcast form could be signed, and the tool could then be distributed and broadcast as part of our H.E.L.P. in English Learning and Practice Learning Assistance Repository.

Carrying Out the Activity

At the beginning of the semester, the challenge to students is launched, the project explained and the multidisciplinary teams are created. Each team chooses or is allocated a target English level. An initial analysis of teams' chosen learning objectives is made. The teams also choose which skill or skills to target (reading, writing, listening or speaking). They then carry out a needs analysis and identify learning goals. While doing these initial steps, students are encouraged to consult professors and students from the target skill level.

Various tools and resources are presented during the design and development phase. An awareness of copyright is made. At mid-term, students and teams submit written and oral progress reports about the project and teamwork including at least one sketch, storyboard or prototype. At semester's end, those same teams present the final product and sign broadcasting releases.

Student Results and Benefits

Many students mentioned that they had acquired a better understanding of and respect for what a teacher's job actually entails. Others mentioned that the process had been a rich learning experience, not only in terms of improving the depth of knowledge in English on notions such as false cognates, describing processes and giving instructions but also for teamwork and the design process.

Everyone appreciated the problem solving structure which allowed them to exercise their creativity, and to become aware of technology's role in their fields as well as for teaching and learning. They also mentioned that the project integrated knowledge and skills acquired in English and their fields into a diverse array of activities and products. Of course, everyone was very proud of their final products.

For a teacher who wants to integrate technology into their teaching, this project is among those where 20% of the effort expended is from the teacher who then receives the other 80% from the students. Integrating technology should not require more work than other pedagogical rhetorical strategies. The Multimedia Writing Project permits the teacher's role in the process to remain that of coach and facilitator. This process truly adheres to the rules of constructivist teaching strategies in that the student builds on knowledge from his field and in English to produce or create.

Ultimately only 7 team projects were able to be broadcast and can be viewed here. Be advised, however, that these are student productions and may contain errors!

Difficulties Encountered and Ways to Deal with Them or What I Have Learned

Despite an initial focus on the issue of copyright, this question surfaced again during the midterm project progress reports. Copy and paste images were improperly cited or linked to an author's site, and this remained a problem even late in the project. Some very well done final products could therefore not be released and broadcast. More emphasis could perhaps be made here on copyright issues; however, I do not believe that a misunderstanding of this issue is the root of the problem. A focus on professional ethics may be needed.

Students used the tools and resources that they felt most comfortable with and had the easiest access to. However, some students used external sites to build websites. Unfortunately, the professor had no administrative access to these and could not correct linguistic errors in the product. The solution obviously is to require a script of all instructions and content of the production to ensure language quality.

Final Recommendations

  • Reassure students who are not comfortable with technology, and who are afraid at the beginning of the semester.
  • Encourage team members to take stock of their skills, knowledge and the time that they can spend on this project from the start.
  • Inform everyone that all work must be original.
  • Submit all linguistic content to the teacher to verify and ensure the quality of language of the broadcast material and do not finalize the project before it is returned to the team
  • Use standard tools such as Word, Explorer, Firefox and Google for creating Web pages or sites to facilitate correction and extend the life of the product.
  • Submit Web pages or Web site to allow correction and adjustment.
  • Encourage the use of Creative Commons licenses to clearly indicate the conditions of use.

Please share your experiences with multimedia projects in ESL with your colleagues from around the province.

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