Saturday, September 29, 2012

Ning - A Social Networking Site

    Are you looking for an online tool to build a community for your volunteers, students, followers, customers, readers, supporters or fans? Ning could be a great choice. As an educator, Ning has drew my attention as a valuable tool to build a learning community in the classroom or in the school. is a social networking site which is similar to Facebook environment but more suitable for school usage. In China, Facebook is blocked, and Ning could be a useful alternative networking site for educational use if it could be accessed.

    Ning is very user-friendly and no technical skill is needed. This will be a great advantage if elementary students would like to use this online tool. The creators could decide the site’ func­tionality, appearance, and whether they want it to be public or private. Another important feature of Ning is its social integration. The built-in integration to other social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube makes it easy to maximize the reach and connect to people who don’t use Ning. For example, as a university teacher who sometimes teach senior students, I always find it difficult to reach all students as senior students are usually busy with internship, job-hunting, graduation paper writing and etc. In this case, I do not need to bring together all of these students who have different schedules and may probably scatter in different places. All I need to do is ask them to use their current social network tool to link to my Ning.  

    Ning provides a great opportunity for academic use. For example, like The English Companion Ning, People could form a new community wtith those like-minded. By building a community around a specific topic or project, Ning could let students create their own social networks and learn how to cultivate and sustain a community of users that might resemble professional contacts and relationships. 

Stay Connected

    A learner is like a stockbroker. In what aspects does a learner resemble a stockbroker?
    First, I would like to explain by raising a question. What is the most important thing for a stockbroker? The answer is Timing! When it comes to buying and selling stocks, nothing is more important than timing. Even a delay of a second will make an entirely different story. The same is true for learners in today’s world. As Siemens mentions in the article Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, "the half-life of knowledge is shrinking rapidly". Information development has more than doubled in recent years. Knowledge is growing exponentially and what is new today becomes obsolete much more rapidly than a decade ago. Thus, in order to keep abreast with the society, a good learner should stay alert to new knowledge as a stockbroker to the changing stock market. Timing is important for learners of information age. 
    Second, like a stockbroker, a learner today is never an isolated individual. An excellent stockbroker always keeps connected to the market and to other stockbrokers in order to stay well-informed. Likewise, learning is no longer an individual and internal activity. As Siemens talked in the video The Network is the Learning, “what we know today is not as important as our ability to continue to stay current.” If we are not continuing learning, we will become obsolete in a particular field, or within a particular knowledge space. And "nothing is more effective or adaptive than a network" (What is Connectivism, Siemens) as knowledge is networked and distributed today.
    As learning experience is increasingly aided by technology, learners today need to respond to these changes. Stay connected and remember that timing is very important!  

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Human doing or human being?

The name of the blog post I commented is called If You've Got a Pulse, You've Got a Purpose   in the blog Cool Cat Teacher Blog . I love reading Mrs. Davis's blog because she not only reflects on education, but also on life. As she was busying writing and discussing with teachers of the Flat classroom group one day from five in the early morning till seven in the evening, she began to reflect that she was so busy "doing" that she was not "being"! In the hustle and bustle of modern day life, we are so busy working from eyelids open till eyelids shut that we unconsciously miss a lot of beauties in our life. Passions are gone and days become repeating routines. In fact, a lot of teachers are at this risk when teaching becomes a set pattern of lesson planning and homework correcting. 

    I really like the five steps Mrs. Davis wrote about regaining the "being".

    1. Are you so busy doing that you're not being?    
    2. There are beautiful moments in every period of life 
    3.  So, right now I'm noticing 
    4.  Just take a minute to breathe in and out
    5.  Find the meaning in this moment and your life will have meaning. 
Behold the beauty in this day and you're days will come together to make a beautiful life. 

 Life needs passion, career needs enthusiasm. Don't allow "doing" to take over your "being". Take every chance to enjoy the moment you have, we need to live in the moment. 


Monday, September 17, 2012

My Web World

    I used to joke with my friend that I was “web-proof”. I was never the person who would take an interest in trying out new web tools like facebook, blogs, and twitter when they were launched. Till today, I still prefer paper books to nook or kindle. However, the power bestowed by internet has forced me to realize that if I don’t progress with time, I am going to be tided out!  

    The only online social network that I have kept updating since I was a sophomore is called RenRen, the Chinese version of Facebook. Originally, I used it to find my classmates and old friends whom I have lost contact. Later on, it also became a platform to make new friends. As the number of old friends and new friends begun to accumulate, I started sharing some pictures or writing some posts on it. It was not until I started my career as a university teacher that I realize RenRen could also be used to socialize with my students and even share some education resources with them. My first Master degree which I got in China is about interpretation and cross-cultural communication. Thus one of the courses I taught is “The Basics of Interpretation”. As is shown in the picture below, I sometimes would post summary about a recent press
conference which my students could refer to if they need. They could like it or share it if they find it useful or interesting. In this way, my post could be viewed by more people, even if they are not my students. 

    On reflection, this could be called the fledging form of what is described in the Networked Students video. The social media revolution is on its full swing right now. Yet, education in China still remains on the edge of all these powerful web tools. The majority teachers in China still think that locking students in a classroom with an adult for several hours a day is still the best way to learn. However, if we don’t grasp what the internet could offer us, we are going to miss a whole world of education resources (From Educational Change Challenge)  

Friday, September 14, 2012

Technology in Today's Classroom and Standards

    When cyberspace is part of everyone's life, education could not survive if online technologies are not utilized in classroom setting. As an English teacher in China, I have seen the struggle of English-learners. Ten years ago, when I started to learn English, I have never heard about computer, let alone internet. Library books and old-fashioned tapes were the best tools for English-learning. More than a decade later, now with computers becoming household necessities, I still feel that students are using the same old tools to learn English. They know how to make friends online, how to play games online, and how to search information online, but they don't know how to use web tools to learn English. What's worse, teaching faculty is much less agile with those internet tools and they stick to those old ways of teaching English.
    Now the transition moment has arrived. As far as I am concerned, web tools could be made to great use in classroom instruction and students will benefit a lot by exploring those web tools. Take blogs for example for both the teacher and the students, blogs could become

    1. Online filing cabinet

    With everything from national grid bill to online purchase receipt going green, class could also go paperless. Students can use blogs to post their homework and teachers could also make comments directly online. This not only saves teachers the trouble of carrying home a heavy load of homework, but also saves time as submitted homework could be viewed anytime anywhere. Besides, blogs could be used as an online archive which will never be accidently tossed into dustbin like paper work does.
    2. Collaborative space

Teachers and students can post relevant materials or information online. And the information is now available to all students all the time. Supplementary materials could also be created in a separate post so that students who read more if they have free time. Blogs can also become a place where students help each other solve problems. For students body which consists of people from different cultures, bloggs can also serve as a out-of-classroom platform on which students could share their different cultural experiences and stories.   

   By using blogs in this way, at least two learning standards could be met. I draw the standards from ACTFL.

Communicate in Languages Other Than English
  • Standard 1.1: Students engage in conversations, provide and obtain information, express feelings and emotions, and exchange opinions
Develop Insight into the Nature of Language and Culture
  • Standard 4.2: Students demonstrate understanding of the concept of culture through comparisons of the cultures studied and their own.