Monday, April 21, 2008

Native speakers vs. Second language speakers

I have recently been talking with friends about who makes the best ESL teacher. Is it the native speaker or the second language speaker? I have heard that some professor at Laval University thinks that in a perfect world native speakers would be the only ones to teach English. Personally, I strongly disagree with this person. I am pretty sure, in fact, that second language speakers are privileged in some ways that native speakers are not and vice versa. For example, second language speakers had the chance to learn the language being taught and therefore are more aware of the difficulties of learning the language. On the other hand, native speakers naturally have a perfect syntax and speak at a normal pace with proper stretches.

Regardless of teaching skills (such as the ability to explain), I would like to know what people think about this matter. Therefore, this post is an attempt to discuss the pros and cons of being a second language/native speaker. Please, use the comment section to do so. Thank you for participating!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Forums to leverage education

For a few months, I have been using the language forum on Since then, whenever I have a translation or a grammatical question, I go on the language forum, and it works really well. For example, I've asked a question on the use of There is and There are because I've heard one of my teacher use (many times) There is with plural-countable nouns (i.e. There is two players). According to what I've learned in the past, this use was incorrect, but my teacher was a native speaker so I doubted my knowledge. After a short discussion on the question with other members of the forum, I found out that, according to prescriptive grammar, she was wrong. However, these people told me that native speakers of English frequently do this mistake orally but rarely on paper. The best explanation I was given for the occurence of this error was "I think it's because it flows off the tongue easily". Indeed, second language learners are often more aware of what they say than native speakers, which is probably why I was shocked by that mistake whereas native speakers did not react.

That upper paragraph was simply an introduction to how forums can be used as an educational tool. The one I talked about is worldwide, which means that there is a good sample to go over the questions being asked. If someone does not tell the right thing, chances are that someone knowledgeable will correct the mistake. Plus, moderators make sure that discussions remain focussed.

During the last week, we have been asked (in my Computer Applications in ESL Teaching class) to post in Mark's forum in order to know how to use a forum and discuss the relevance of implementing its use in teaching. For my part, I believe the idea isn't that bad. Often, students are more aware of their difficulties than the teacher is; this is because they themselves had to get over the difficulties. Therefore, letting students answer to other students' questions on a forum is certainly a great idea.

Similarly to the case of students, some studies show that second language speakers are better language teachers than native speakers since those teachers too understand the difficulties of the language being learned. Definitely, learners are the one that should teach to other learners.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The PROTIC environment vs. Non-specialized programs

When I was a High School student, I used to play Insaniquarium during my Computer class. I must say that this game was very entertaining. Still, I did not learn much in this course. Some schools offer special programs such as PROTIC (École secondaire Les Compagnons-de-Cartier) where students have to work on personal projects using technological tools. Since adolescents seem for the most part to like those technologies, this project is certainly extremely motivating for them. However, there is a downside to using technology in a classroom, and I am one good example of it; it is very hard to make sure that every student works on his or her stuff.

At Les Compagnons-de-Cartier, students are chosen according to different factors: (1) motivation towards technology; (2) personality; and (3) tests. Therefore, it is not very surprising to hear that their program is successful; students are chosen to fit with the program. For this reason, it is very hard to claim that using technologies in usual High Schools can be as effective as in PROTIC. Indeed, students do not all share an interest for technology and have differing personalities. Since I haven't heard of a program that works with non-specialized programs and haven't tried using it yet, I remain sceptical towards using technology as an educational tool.

Upon looking at PROTIC, I deduce that projects have to be interesting (or motivating) and must allow students to personalize what they do. I believe in prevention over punishment, and keeping students motivated is probably the best way to deal with Insaniquarium.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Cooperative learning is the only good technique… that we are taught

Shut your recipient mouth and keep up with your eyes opened. After talking with a few fourth year students, I realized that pedagogy classes in the BEALS program are going to revolve around cooperative learning, for the most part. Come on! It’s my first year here and I’m already almost fed up with it. As some fellow fourth years pointed out to me, there are other techniques just as good as this one but we just don’t learn about them. You know why? Cooperative learning, cooperative learning, cooperative learning. That’s it, that’s all. Many teachers at Laval are doing research in this field so that’s what we are taught.

Cooperative learning is a good technique, I agree. I have put it to the test in my practicum and it worked very well, or should I say perfectly. However, I was teaching 6th grade primary students. From what I have learned in my Intro to L2 Teaching class with Darlene, we have to adapt our techniques to the group we are teaching to. This is not what we are shown; we are merely shown to adapt our groups to cooperative learning. We NEED to be more knowledgeable about the many existing techniques in order to become good teachers. If we are not shown these, my fourth year mate argued, we ought to look them up on our own.

I have my own theory about cooperative learning. Even though I have no big research on motivation to support it, I think it is still worth considering it. Basically, I think that cooperative learning only works with younger students. From Secondary 3 on, you might encounter some problems with its use. You know why? Students’ goals vary from one to the other. Some may want to do a master’s degree; some just want to get their diploma quickly; some are heading for the PhD; some continue studying even though they don’t know why; some don’t give a shit, and the list goes on. Acknowledging this, I truly believe cooperative learning can’t always work. Just picture this: while one student is heading for the PhD, one just doesn’t give a shit; put them together and our PhD buddy kills the other one. I’m not even kidding. When students start thinking about their future, this technique just can’t work; one’s future is a personal decision, not a group one.

We will be teaching children, adolescents, pre-adults, adults, seniors, or even babies? I don’t care if the program is oriented towards primary and secondary teaching; that’s not the only reality for English teachers. As my fourth year buddy told me, adults have no time to waste on games. Listen to the witty and ingenious fourth year student and start looking up for other techniques on your own. For reasons unknown, I believe Darlene was right; we do need to adapt our teaching to different classroom situations.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Open Source Debate at Laval

There is currently a huge debate within the community of Université Laval and, interestingly enough, the topic of Open Source is an important factor that is discussed by all players. As the debate evolves, we can easily see that a huge controversy is beginning.

Firstly, there was the proposal to raise technological fees from $1.65/credits to $5.00/credits. The university said the objective was to modernize Université Laval's information systems in order to improve the quality of distance learning and in class courses, practicum management, the developing systems of collaborative networks and the diffusion of pedagogical resources. This increase was known at the very last minute and the CADEUL, surprised, asked the university to survey students on whether they would agree or not with this decision. Such a demand was in accordance with previous arrangements made between the CADEUL and the university.

Suddenly, the university asked them to answer the survey within a five-day period. Since it was pushed to do so, the university sent to the students an email informing them that a consultative referendum had been called. And so the students were surprised. From then on, they had to understand the whole debate, which was not an easy task in fact. Indeed, there were many elements to consider before actually understanding what the debate really was. One of the arguments was to use an open-source software instead of building a privately owned system, which, as stated in my previous article, is costless and way more effective. On the other hand, the university firmly stated that we really needed the money to proceed.

The students whether did not feel any need for such an improvement or thought that an open source might have been a better choice. Indeed, amongst the impressive 12% of students who voted, 80% said they were against increasing technological fees. Nevertheless, the referendum was simply a student consultation. Therefore, the university was not forced to listen to the students.

The university having decided to implement the new fees anyway, it is surprising not to have seen any general strike movement rising given the high interest demonstrated by the students. My opinion is that students did not feel confident enough to support such an initiative when the university surveyed them. However, they now probably do not feel confident enough to go against it. Indeed, the information that has recently been sent by the university makes it very hard to understand the actual debate. Here's what they had to say: "Des étudiants ont porté à l’attention de la Direction de l’Université la possibilité d’utiliser un logiciel libre, donc moins coûteux, que la solution prévue. Le logiciel en question [Pixel, which is entirely built by science students] héberge présentement 200 sites de cours à la Faculté des sciences et de génie, sur les 1 600 hébergés par l’institution [...]. Cela dit, certains éléments du prototype [Pixel] seront utilisés dans l’environnement ENA [what the university proposes], lequel fait aussi appel, dans ses composantes, à des logiciels libres".

What is hard to understand is their claim that an open-source would cost more than the partially-privatized system they defend. Moreover, we should wonder what part of the project is actually given to open source; why can't an open-source meet the needs for the community while their system could; and why did they survey the students so quickly, without making sure that they actually understand the debate. These questions are the many missing pieces to the puzzle, and what I feel is that the university does not want the students to get too much involved into the university affairs.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Control for the Money, Freedom for the Show

I have read quite an interesting article by Michael Tiemann on the Open Source movement: Software Industry vs. Software Society: Who Wins in 2020? While reading it, I realized how an Open Source is a natural outcome for any serious business; at least, for a business whose goal is not to sell the program. Basically, an Open Source is a free program that anyone can have access to and edit the information at any given time.

Businesses like Microsoft spend much time working on controlling who has access to their software, which, in fact, is quite normal. Indeed, the best way to sell a product is certainly not to put it free on the Internet. However, the amount of time they spend on security negatively affects the quality of the product itself. As a matter of fact, "85% of all quantum innovation is user-driven," which, in other words, mean that a company like Microsoft offers one-sixth of the quality Open Source software may offer.

The questions that should be asked are relatively simple: who initiates such a software, and why doing so. Not surprisingly, the answers to both questions are closely related; companies usually initiate those software. Indeed, as seen in the article by Tiemann, these very same usually lose billions of dollars due to quality problems. Therefore, improving quality is certainly not a bad investment, which is why they create along with other businesses software that will correspond to their needs while being bug free and up to date. These quality standards are very realist and easy to attain since anyone will immediately fix a bug as it comes up.

This new movement will certainly shift the competitive market of money for a market of real needs, which in turn will improve both businesses and users satisfaction. In the end, the only losers will be businesses like Microsoft whose goal is not to reach quality standards but to make money.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A technology that helps?

Technology can obviously help improving the quality of education. As future teachers, it is quite important to know how to use it in a correct fashion. Indeed, as a student, I often like to go on my teachers' website to get the information on homework or research projects. Moreover, when I have a question, I like it when they know how to use their email address.

However, I am very sceptical considering Video #2 that is posted on Mark's blog. Briefly, it claims that teachers should use technology as often as possible. For example, they could send quizzes on their students' cell phone. This is ri-di-cu-lous. Does anybody have a sense of equal opportunity in there? The authors of this video seem to assume that students are all rich while it is clearly not the case. Some people work very hard in order to send their children to school. If they have to buy them a cell phone on top of this, they should quickly sell their soul to Satan because they will need money.

As I said before, I like it when my teachers use technology to leverage education. However, there are some limits to it. This limit is very obvious to me: 1 - supportive technologies must not bring any additional cost to tuition fees and 2 - such technologies must be available at school such that it is not necessary to buy it. If these two conditions are not met, technology widens the separation between rich and poor people.