martedì 19 maggio 2009

My Personal Learning Environment

We started this semester by looking for articles, books and blogs about the so called Personal Learning Environment. The vague idea I had of it then, now has a clearer 'shape': that of my own PLE mindmap.
To develop my personal PLE, I started from a definition suggested by our teacher in her blog: “a combination of the formal and informal tools and processes we use to gather information, reflect on it and do something with it, which is essentially what we mean when we talk about learning” (Martin, 2007).

I decided to divide my map into two main branches: formal learning and informal learning. Then I made a brainstorming of all the activities and tools that I use, consciously or not, to learn, both in formal contexts, namely at university, and in my everyday life. Of course, as this mindmap refers to language learning, I tried to focus on language acquisition activities and tools. Many of them seem at first sight to have nothing to do with language learning, but when I write, for example, "Online newspapers" or "Movies", I obviously mean that they are in English (or in French).

After this first step I tried to categorize these activities and tools according to their function. One group is made by those tools I use to "gather information", and the other one by those that help me to reflect on this information and do something with it. I think this second phase, which I called 'processing information', is very important in the process of learning. When you 'do something ' with the information you have, you absorb it, that is, you fully understand it and you remember it. For example, there's no point in reading and learning by heart a lot of grammar rules if you don't apply this knowledge by writing and speaking, making mistakes and correcting them.

While building my PLE mindmap, I realized that there's one tool that has a major role in my learning, at least in the last years. Of course, I'm thinking about the Internet. This is why I chose to visually separate it from the other tools and to link it to other, more detailed, subbranches. The posts of this blog explain why I consider the Internet an effective learning tool. I included my personal blog among the 'processing' activities because it is where I reflect upon what I learn.

Creating this mindmap was itself a way of 'doing something' with what we learned in this last English course. It reminds me of what is called Metacognition. "KNOWING HOW TO LEARN, and knowing which strategies work best, are valuable skills that differentiate expert learners from novice learners. Metacognition, or awareness of the process of learning, is a critical ingredient to successful learning." (Julie Halter, SDSU)

Although we are at the very end of our university career, we will keep on learning thanks to different experiences in our lives. Regardless of the amount of knowledge that we gathered during our school years, we can now claim to be 'expert learners'.

domenica 10 maggio 2009

The dark side of the Web

After exploring the infinite opportunities of the Web, we should consider as well its dangers and threats. We often came up in class with the question of safety in the Web and this week we tried to see more into detail what the problem consists of.

Users may run into the crime identity theft which is called Internet Fraud when it is made through the Web. Moreover, we are not always aware of the amount of personal information we enter in the Web when using tools such as social networks or when making operations like online purchasing.

It is true that in these cases attentive users should know the risks they are running because almost everybody know of the existence of Internet criminals and hackers. What is really worrying and disturbing is that we are literary spied on the Web. For example, Facebook Beacon is a part of Facebook's advertisement system that sends data from external websites to Facebook and from Facebook to other websites.

This underhand trade of information makes me quite mistrustful of the Web. However, I use the Internet a lot for many purposes and will keep on doing it. I can imagine the Web as a parallel and virtual reality in which, like in the 'real reality', there is criminality and illegality. What I can do to be part of this online community and to defend myself from frauds is exactly what I would do in the real community. The main defence is knowledge. We need to get as much information as we can about who are dealing with, what are their purposes and how they operate. Secondly we need to know that there are tools and behaviours to prevent frauds. The Internet itself is a good source of information on prevention, (see for example this site).
Finally, we should always use our critical sense and our experience. Indeed, the more we get acquainted with the Internet, the more we learn to recognize what is unreliable and dangerous.

domenica 3 maggio 2009

Google Docs

As the course goes on, I am realizing that SHARING is the 'fil rouge' of the various acrivities we are doing and of the different tools we are using. Google Docs is another example of the possibilities people have to exchange information and collaborate through the web.

Thanks to Google docs you can keep your documents online and share them with others who can in turn work on it and edit them. Here again, as for Delicious or blogs, there will be a small community of users interacting on subjects of common interest.

This system can be useful for students who have to collaborate for projects and work groups, or simply may want to check each other's works. It would be great if teachers too learned to use this tool to communicate with students, to correct their texts and send the feedbacks, for example for the final thesis.

I have to admit that I still need to practice using Google docs, but I think it will be a useful resouce for my future work, whatever it will be. Although I have the impression that this kind of tools are still perceived as too informal or 'uncontrollable', I believe they represent the future of communication, which is destined to become more and more open and dynamic.

mercoledì 22 aprile 2009


MLA and APA are two styles used (I suppose most in the US) for referencing, both for in-text citations and for the Works Cited List, i.e. the bibliography.

I haven't found many differences between the two; the APA requires the date of publication for all in-text citations, while the MLA doesn't. I found the APA website much clearer than the other one. For example because there was a division between the different cases of in-text citation: summary, paraphrase, direct quotation of short or long passages. Both styles require to provide the number of pages if you are not citing a whole work or the main idea of an author, but a specific passage of a work.

As for the bilbliographic referencing, the two styles slightly differ in punctuation, capital letters and other minor elements. However, in both the essential information is: name of the author, publication year, title of the article, title of the journal, volume number, pages.
It is interesting and useful to see how both websites dedicate a careful analysis of the different kind of sources that you may have to cite in an essay, including all sorts of online sources.

As for my BA thesis, I followed the instructions of my professor. I always had to provide the author's surname, the date of publication and the page:

Little (2006:167) identifies three reasons why...

In this perspective, when writing down his/her reflections (...) and reviews it in the freedom of not having to act on it in real time (Raya 2006: 131)

As Kohonen (2000:9) points out, “direct quotation."

the bibliographic reference was a mix of the two styles:

Little, D. (2006). “the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Content, purpose, origin, reception and impact”. Language Teaching 39, 167-190

I can conclude by saying that even though I find referencing annoying, it is a convention matter linked to IPR respect. The best thing to avoid freaking out when writing our eferencing is to choose since the beginning of our research a certain style to follow, and to bear in mind what its rules are.

Well, see you on Wednesday!


martedì 21 aprile 2009

Step 2: Make your writing readable

I chose an article about subtitling because last year I attended an interesting workshop during the French course. This article deals with the language learning possibilities linked to subtitling and captioning.

I am going to analyse its structure to see if the article is 'readable', that is, well structured, logical, cohesive, clear, precise, concise and coherent.

The essay does have an hourglass structure: as we immediately understand from the introduction, after an overview of the benefits and limitations of Audiovisual Material, the author moves to more detailed studies dealing with the relationship between second-language acquisition and captions. Finally, the essay broadens again to a more general perspective that is also a sort of conclusion.

There is a logical flow of ideas both in the macro-structure and inside the different parts of the body. When making a claim, there is always supporting detail conveying reliability and evidence.
For example:
"In addition to comprehension, captions can help with word recognition and
vocabulary building. [claim] Neuman and Koskinen conducted a nine-week experiment with 129 seventh and eighth grade ESL students..." (data)
Arguments are linked through metalinguistic signaling devices such as however, indeed, in addition, in short, thus etc.

The article is cohesive as it follows a reasoning and makes the effort of bringing the reader through this reasoning, so that he doesn't get lost. This is made possible thanks to references to previous ideas : "In spite of the beneficial aspects described above, captioning may not be suitable for..."
As for the logic, the metalinguistic segnaling devices are fundamental for a text to be cohesive. They can be found both inside and between sentences:
"All over the world access to vast amounts of culturally-rich, enjoyable material is
bound to increase with the expansion of satellite television and the Internet, as well
the development of multimedia and DVDs. However, immersion in a flow of foreign
utterances, especially if they are far above the students’ listening comprehension
level, may do little to improve the viewers’ language skills."

The pattern 'claim-data' makes the text clear, without generalizations that usually make the reader cofused, especially if, as in this case, the text is an exposition of many different ideas.
Each paragraph introduces an idea and then develops it with supporting and/or opposing arguments.
The lexicon is precise, as it is supposed to be in academic (and then scientific) articles. The three main terms (subtitling, captioning and multimedia) are repeated when necessary and no synomyms are used.

The audience is composed of academic researchers dealing with pedagogical issues, especially with language acquisition. I can understand it from the lexicon, which is quite technical; from the references to specific authors and studies. Moreover, the author gives at the end some advice for further developments of her reasearch, addressing to the academic research community:
"It is hoped that current interest in multimedia will lead to the development of language curricula and self-learning programs integrating captions and subtitles while encouraging in-depth pedagogical research on their most effective use."

The article I chose is a good example of academic writing. I think however that those criteria should be applied to all kind of writing, even to blog posts. If we want our blogs to be readable, then we have to be concise, coherent and logic, otherwise our audience will get bored and above all confused. I personally will try to be more reader-oriented: I know that my audience are my peers, and that they know what we are talking about, what the subject is and what the tasks are. But I know that reading a post which is too long or that goes beyong the main theme can be annoying, so that we stop reading it even if there might have been something really interesting in it.
I'll do my best to make my posts as readable as possible :-)


domenica 19 aprile 2009

Intellectual Property Rights: how to respect them.

The issue of IPR and blogs is quite controversial to me. For example, it's common use taking pictures from the web and posting them on a personal blog, on Facebook, anywhere. In such a case, I think those who really think about copyright and plagiarism are very few, especially in Italy, where this problem is not regarded as relevant. I have to admit that I'm not really aware of the problem either. At least I wasn't until this experience with blogs and wikis. On the one hand I think that if someone puts somethig on the web it's because they want to share it. So why prohibiting other people from using it? On the other hand, I started viewing the problem from another perspective as I read this:
"We bloggers generally pride ourselves on uniqueness and creativity. We get a rush when we see others linking to our posts and reading our feeds, since it usually means that they find value in what we have to say. Unfortunately, not everyone who reads your blog does so for legitimate reasons. Some unscrupulous individuals in the blogosphere are only out to scrape your content for their own websites, ripping off your material and claiming it as their own." (DailyBlogTips. Retrieved from on April 19, 2009)
The new perspective I was talking about is MY perspective, that of the blogger who creates something. As the passage above states, I would be very proud of seeing my blog appreciated and used for some purposes, but in a legitimate way. This means that there should be the aknowledgement that I am the author and so a clear reference to my blog.
I think then that respecting the so called Intellectual Property Rights guarantees the 'fair play' in the blogoshpere. As I whish to be a fair user I need to know the rules to avoid plagiarism. I know that referencing is fundamental to give aknowledgment to the original source. This is the case for quotations, paraphases and summaries of written texts.
Things get a little more complicated with pictures and videos. Indeed, I still have a doubt: if these contents are covered by copyright, is it totally forbidden using them or can I use them if I provide a clear reference of the source? The question is rather trikcy. However, I am discovering helpful tools. For example last semester I got to know Creative Commons. Now when I need some pictures to put on the web I always look, usually in flickr :-), for pictures covered by cc licence.
I think the general rule to avoid plagiarism is trying to make most by ourselves, to be creative, to use the blog as place where we can express ourselves, our ideas and our reflections. What we find in the web is of course fundamental because we are interacting with the other web users. As fair users we have to be respectful towards each other.

domenica 5 aprile 2009

Can I trust you or not?

We began this week's lesson with a reflection on a comment written by a teacher on a blog. The question is: is this comment authoritative? who is this person? is she an expert in her field? Moreover, is this blog a reliable source of information? For some this is not the case, for example for Andrew Keen. He argues in fact that Web 2.0 is not a source of reliable knowledge because from his perpective knowledge is only produced by authoritative people. I think this idea is not totally wrong because we need to know who says what, and sometimes we don't in the Internet. But this doesn't mean that what is not written on paper and in strictly academic or formal contexts cannot be considered authoritative. We need criteria to evaluate. If we apply these criteria to the material we find in the web, we will have at our disposal an almost infinite online library for our researches.
While looking for articles on Personal Learning Environmemts I found a very interesting one entitled "Learning networks and Connective Kowledge". In the abstract the author (-itative?) states that his idea of e-learning is based on the theory of Connectivism. I think this is somehow the opposite view of Keen: connectivism, which asserts that knowledge -and therefore the learning of knowledge - is distributive, that is, not located in any given place (and therefore not 'transferred' or 'transacted' per se) but rather consists of the network of connections formed from experience and interactions with a knowing community. (Stephen Downes,
Learning Networks and Connective Knowledge. October 16, 2006)
This idea of knowledge is realized in the Internet, especially in blogs and wikies. As for all sources it's up to the reader selecting reliable and authoritative information.