Don’t Miss the Bus!

Regardless of how you’re keeping track, the 21st Century is almost one-tenth over. Remember all the hoopla for the new millennium? Can you believe that was 10 years ago? An entire decade? We were worried about what the “millennium bug” was going to do to our computer systems, and educators were being encouraged to help students develop “21st Century skills.” Well, a decade pretty much places us into that new century. Are we there yet?

My November TechTips article explored the 21st Century theme from a broad perspective, and I’m glad to say I received some great feedback! Some asked me to “just tell us how to do it,” with “it” being technology. Others wanted to know more about “just what these 21st Century Skills are.” Over the next few months I hope to provide some more specific strategies to help world language teachers not just get ready for the 21st Century but put them square in the driver’s seat in their 21st Century classrooms. We’re already there, after all. That bus may be on the road, but there’s still time to get aboard. I’ll explore some of the “its” but also have contacted several exemplary teachers whose stories I hope to share in subsequent articles. If you know of some additional exemplary teachers, please contact me. I’d love to talk with them.

“It” Is All About Learning

I get the “just show me how to do it” response a lot in my line of work, and I have to admit I’ve been guilty of saying it, at least in the past. I sympathize but want to shift that line of thinking just a bit. As I’ve mentioned, the “it” that most people want me to tell them about is technology, whether a laptop, a podcast, or some other application. They want me to tell them which buttons to press, which menus to use, which steps to follow, but technology varies, and it all changes so quickly.

I recently developed a workshop for a school that had just gotten new laptops running Windows 7, so I upgraded to that operating system and created some step-by-step handouts with screenshots from the latest version of Microsoft Office. What I didn’t know was that they didn’t have the latest version of Office, just Windows. My handouts didn’t look like their screens or have the same steps. What to do?

This is a pretty common occurrence in technology, actually. Trying to tell people how to complete a task in common software, like Microsoft Office, varies depending on which computer you have, the version of the operating system on that computer, and the version of the software. In a single workshop I can have Macs and PCs, two or three different versions of either operating system, and a similar range of application versions on each. All of these differences change the steps to follow. What I do—or try to do—is to focus on the learning, not the technology.

In this case, I took an activity like inserting an image into a document and I turned it around on them. I showed them some common places to find images. I demonstrated how I would insert an image on my computer, highlighting some common commands or menus to look for. We even talked about when and why to insert an image. Then, I told them to work together. They had to figure out how it worked on their computer and then share it with the rest of us. They could go online and find tutorials or ask me for help, but mostly they shared with each other. We revised the handout together which they could then use with students or other teachers in their schools. I got new handouts out of the deal, too.

That’s a simple—and true—story of 21st Century skills in action. It also demonstrates shifting the focus from teacher-directed to student-centered instruction. Instead of telling them what to do, walking through a handout step-by-step, ending up with cookie cutter products that all looked the same, my teachers had a very real-world problem to solve. They were going to have to teach these skills to other teachers in their district after I left! It was an authentic problem that required them to do a little critical thinking along with communication and collaboration. And some of their results were more creative than my solution, including one who posted her handout to her blog.

Beyond the Handout

Moving from teacher-directed to student-centered instruction can be a hard shift if you’ve never been given autonomy as a student. I started out teaching the way I was taught, and probably so did you. But just like my handout story above, you can take small steps and don’t have to give yourself over to full-scale student autonomy—at least not right away. Digital resources make this easier, because we’ve gotten to a point where there are more high quality materials and applications that are available 24/7. These give you more opportunities to interact with or engage your students in language acquisition in and beyond the classroom.

While sometimes a handout or two may be helpful, I’m encouraging moving beyond relying solely on prescriptive activities in instruction—whether that instruction involves teaching teachers or younger students. Think about when we use our own language skills. Maybe you’re trying to figure out a train schedule in a foreign country, or you’ve been asked to talk with a new parent who doesn’t speak English, or you’re going to chaperone a student group to another country. How often will you have to fill in a blank or answer a multiple-choice question in that setting? Now consider the situations where your students will use their language skills.

As I mentioned last month, it’s not all or nothing. There’s no cosmic switch that will help a teacher magically transport to 21st Century teaching and learning every lesson of every day. And sometimes, you may not want to. Language acquisition, like all content areas, requires foundational skills and knowledge, and sometimes students have to practice those. But we can move to more authentic and relevant instruction for our students, often relying on the many free digital resources available now.

What would I suggest if you wanted to do that? What would I do if I wanted to move to more 21st Century teaching and learning? Following are a few suggestions.

Set a goal and monitor your effectiveness.
Remember, it is generally understood that teachers progress along a continuum as they learn new technologies. One of the best strategies to move forward is to set a periodic target to incorporate technology that promotes 21st Century skills (e.g., creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, or communication and collaboration) until you feel more comfortable and they become second nature. You can start a class discussion list or blog. You might incorporate a weekly podcast, that you or your students create or find. Or have students create newscasts—print, web, or video—in the language they are studying. You may want to conduct one of these activities once a week, or maybe try a longer activity once a month if you have limited technology access. If your students have access to laptops, I’ve seen technology experts recommend once a day.

Use what you have. We don’t all have access to interactive whiteboards or a laptop for every student, but that doesn’t mean we can’t create more authentic learning opportunities that rely on the digital technologies at our disposal. Using one computer a teacher can still create concept maps, digital stories, or explore web resources during whole-class instruction. It can become a student center during small group activities. When relying on a lab, plan ahead and prepare students in during class before getting to the lab, so time is focused on applying language skills and knowledge, not the technology. Technology is not required to create 21st Century teaching and learning, but in this century we use technology for everything from shopping to finding medical breakthroughs. Technology is the way we do things in the 21st Century, so use what you’ve got.

Practice, but you don’t have to be perfect. I know, as a teacher, I want to be the authority and don’t want to look like I didn’t know something in front of my students. But when I visit and interview exemplary technology-using teachers, they all tell me, “I learn from the kids.” All of them. Remember, technology is going to change. I planned a workshop on Delicious, the social-bookmarking website, which I have been using for years. When I got to the workshop, I discovered that Delicious is now owned by Yahoo! and registering was much different than when I had first created my account. You’re the learning expert. Keep the learning goals in mind, and when technology throws a wrench at you, use it as an opportunity to learn along with your students. You’re modeling valuable 21st Century skills when you do.

Find a buddy. You don’t have to do this alone. In fact, research on exemplary technology-using teachers shows that they don’t. These teachers have a network they can rely on to learn new things, bounce off new ideas, and even try new technologies and techniques with. It’s nice when your buddies are in your own school, but with technologies like webconferencing and web-based resources, including those from the NCLRC, you can find a buddy around the block or across the globe. You can communicate through webconferencing (e.g., iChat, ooVoo, or Skype), jointly create documents (e.g., using GoogleDocs, TypeWith.me, or Scribblar.com), and share your results (e.g., creating a podcast with Audacity or GarageBand or even uploading a video to YouTube or TeacherTube).

Technology Tip: Getting Your Act Together

In an effort to comply more with the “just show me how to do it” requests, I want to offer this real, bonafide technology tip. In the 21st Century, we have to deal with a lot of information, and now a lot of that information is found on the web. It can be hard to sort, store, and find when you need it. In order to deal with that information, I encourage you to set the goal of using a social bookmarking service, if you are not already doing so. It should help you get started in moving up the continuum.

Many of us are used to bookmarking information on our own computers, but what happens when we have to use a different one, or we buy a new computer? Yes, you can transfer bookmarks to new computers, but a more useful solution is to use a social bookmarking service. Essentially, this service allows you to store all of your bookmarks online, so you can get to them any time you want to, from any computer with an Internet connection.

They allow you to create tags, or groupings, so you can organize your bookmarks in different categories. Then you can share them (or not) with others. Coming up with the tagging scheme may be the most complex aspect of using them. You may want to do it by general categories (e.g., travel sites, government-sponsored resources, language practice, etc.) or organize them by lessons or units. This latter arrangement will take more planning and is probably something you might accomplish over time.

In homage to 21st Century skills (which encourage you to be creative, solve problems, incorporate critical thinking, and communicate and collaborate), I’m not going to tell you how to do it step by step. Each site contains tutorials and answers to frequently asked questions that provide that information. There are three social bookmarking services I know of, two that I use routinely and one that I have read reviews of that seems to be promising. You can decide which one works best for you, but I encourage you to use one of these free services to organize information for your language instruction and to model 21st Century skills for your students. Already use one? Be a buddy and help someone out who doesn’t, or check into one of the other ones. They may offer functionality you didn’t know about.

Social bookmarking services:

  • Delicious (www.delicious.com) One of the earliest bookmarking sites with an easy-to-use toolbar you can add to your web browser. You do have to create or use a Yahoo! account for this service. Unfortunately, if you have more than one Yahoo! account, you’ll have to switch back and forth, which is cumbersome. This is my problem because I have a Yahoo! personal e-mail account and one I created just for trainings.
  • Diigo (www.diigo.com) Another easy-to-use service that has really ramped up its social networking aspect. It also allows you to annotate websites, so you can highlight the most important information on the site for your students. There is an educator version (www.diigo.com/education) that allows you to share your bookmarks with a class and does not require students to have an e-mail account. Unfortunately, because it does have this social networking aspect, which I think can be pretty useful, you may have to get it unblocked on some school networks.
  • iCyte (www.icyte.com) I have only read about this service and viewed some of the tutorials, so I admit I’m not an expert on this one, but maybe you are and can let me know how you use it better. iCyte claims to be more than a bookmarking site, but both Delicious and Diigo are constantly evolving, so if you find a feature you like on one, chances are it will be on one of the others—if not now, then soon. Like the others, it appears to be very easy to use, allows you to annotate, and you can install the iCyte toolbar on your favorite web browser.

Creating and maintaining a social bookmarking site is a good way to get started with moving along the continuum towards more 21st Century teaching and learning, and it will help you organize all the information you collect, from the NCLRC and elsewhere. If you’d like to see one in action, please feel free to review the sites I maintain at the links below. If you do need some more help to learn more about social bookmarking, want to suggest additional topics, or just send some feedback, please feel free to contact me. I appreciate all the advice I’ve received.

My Delicious account: www.delicious.com/tltbookmarks
My Diigo account: www.diigo.com/user/tltbookmarks

Moving Beyond the 18th Century

I had the pleasure recently of visiting several middle schools that are participating in a one-to-one laptop initiative. I was part of a team that went into classrooms to observe teaching and provide feedback to the schools and district. We visited several foreign language classrooms—both French and Spanish. The classrooms I visited were fairly ripe with technology, not just the laptops every child sported, but interactive whiteboards and many digital resources. These are what many people might consider rich “21st Century classrooms,” and our visitors included administrators from other schools and districts who may have been a bit jealous about the preponderance of technology. Unfortunately, the teaching I most often observed took little advantage of the wealth of technology. The instruction could have occurred 100, 200, or even many more years earlier.

One member on my team was a principal who had been a Spanish teacher. He concurred, but also said it was representative of how he had originally been taught how to teach. What we saw was very traditional, teacher-directed instruction that took little advantage of the available resources. Primarily, teachers lectured at the front of the room, using print-based handouts that had been digitized so they could be displayed on the interactive whiteboard. Students could access the forced-choice and fill-in-the-blank handouts on their laptops, but most used the paper-based versions even though their laptops sat unopened on their desks. Students were passively engaged and called upon one at a time to give their answer to questions that related to vocabulary recall, sometimes going to the front of the room to write an answer on the interactive whiteboard. That novelty didn’t seem to engage many students, though. That’s pretty passé to someone who can spend hours a day online pitting their skills with others from across the globe in a multi-user videogame.

These were language classes, and in the 45 minutes we visited each, there was very little language going on, especially when considering language consists of reading, writing, speaking, and not just listening. The students might have read 10 sentences total and underlined vocabulary. The worksheets had an opportunity to write out approximately 20 isolated vocabulary words, and the listening—besides the language immersion approach the teacher should be commended for—consisted of a digital recording that required students to “check off” whether spoken terms were masculine or feminine, so very little written language occurred, too. Students might have been called upon once—at most twice—during the entire class to respond, so there was very little speaking going on, and none in context, as they merely reported their vocabulary responses. It’s reasonable to assume that these students spoke no more than one or two words in their language of study in an entire class period.

You’re Not Just On or Off

In our discussions following the classroom visits, we considered ways to better monopolize on the digital technologies now available, so we can break the paradigm of the teacher-directed instruction we saw that provided so little opportunity for engagement in language (and other content). We did usually see a variety of activities within a 45-minute period, but if I had to sum up the instruction we observed using a single word, I’d say it was boring. I was bored. The kids were obviously bored.

The key is changing the instruction, not providing more tools. The tools are nice, and provide some unique opportunities, but most classrooms now have at least one Internet-connected computer that would allow teachers to bring the world to their classroom, if they felt comfortable changing their instruction. That change has to occur in more places than just that classroom, though.

There are several continuum theories applied to the adoption of technology in instruction. That’s important because it’s not like you are or aren’t a 21st Century teacher. You’re not on or off. Most of these theories suggest that teachers begin using technology by replicating what they are familiar with. That’s what we saw with the workbooks and handouts—that were just as effective either as paper or digitized—and the heavy reliance on response and recall of low-level information. But higher up those theories are stages where teachers create instruction that utilizes the technology in such a way that the instruction could not otherwise happen. The technology provides access to activities and information that are not feasible or not practical in an analog classroom.

Knowing when a teacher is at a lower stage of the continuum is important for supporting professional growth. You can’t expect these teachers to leap to the end of the continuum. But it is reasonable to expect them to move to a higher level of the continuum, maybe the next level at first, and then going on. It takes some skill training, obviously, but perhaps most importantly it takes an environment in which teachers are willing to take risks and are given the opportunity to practice new pedagogies and give up some of the control they may feel in more directed lessons. To a teacher, the term “student-directed” implies “I’m not in charge,” and that can be the hardest change to make.

I know these types of lessons may not happen every day, and building basic foundational skills is important, but we were invited to see the very best “21st Century lessons” from these teachers, not 18th Century lessons with 21st Century tools. So, what would we have liked to have seen?

It’s About the Skills, Not the Tools

To me, the workbooks and handouts obscured the real purpose of the class. They were not the best means to an end. They were an end to themselves. Why do students study language? To use it. They should be able to read and write the language and use it to communicate with others. Ultimately, we want them to be able to engage in language at a level where they are thinking and responding from the new language. How reasonable is it that these kids will go to an area where these languages are used and complete a fill-in-the-blank worksheet? Or to check off which words they hear are masculine or feminine?

Digital technologies allow you to bring the world’s resources to your classroom, not just scanned worksheets. You can bring in newspapers and video broadcasts from across the world. You can access images, audio, and video from government organizations, travel services, and educators from across the globe. You can find podcasts in many languages for students of all ages, or you can have your students create their own with free tools like Audacity or GarageBand. You can also store and organize all of these resources on a class website, a school file server, or using a social bookmarking site like Delicious or Diigo, so you’re not recreating lessons every year.

Real life is engaging. Walk through the halls of your local middle school when kids are changing classes, and you’ll hear lots of language and engagement. Bring it into your classrooms. Have your students apply their language skills, either with their own classmates or with those from another class. You don’t necessarily have to sign up for an electronic pen pal in another country (although it can be fun and engaging to do so). You might just want to pair your students in different classes, or with students in other classes in your district, just to give them an opportunity to apply their language skills with other kids their age. Focusing on their lives makes the instruction more relevant to them and will increase engagement.

They can participate in real-time interaction through common webconferencing tools like iChat, ooVoo, or Skype or they may create asynchronous interactions. If you have limited access to computers, consider broadcasting you streaming web video to the front of the class and using different students each time to lead discussions with those at a distance. Consider creating a class website, blog, or wiki, that allows students to communicate to each other during class and beyond. Students can journal or blog about their day-to-day lives using their growing language skills. You don’t have to share them with the whole world if you don’t want to, as students can create digital journals or portfolios that are only shared with other students in their class or with their teacher, such as developing a dialog journal in which teachers provide formative assessment of language use. And digital journals can include audio and video files to build language use in other areas.

If you do want to use worksheets and handouts, which do provide a level of practice that can be important for building vocabulary and other foundational knowledge, consider new ways to incorporate them. The students I observed went through three pages of forced-choice or fill-in-the-blank responses in 45 minutes. It should have taken about five. Have students share their responses with others and identify the most common misconceptions, or put them in a dropbox so you can monitor them but spend your instructional time on actual language production. Expose them to foundational information, but use class time to apply that information as much as possible.

The Format is Not the Test

After visiting many classrooms, and not just language classrooms, one of the visiting administrators verbalized a common concern. Teachers feel pressured to prepare students for end-of-course tests that are usually presented in forced-choice formats. True, but the catch is that these assessments—at every grade- and content-level—still address higher levels of cognitive demand. They’re based on standards and the standards in all grades and content areas go beyond identification and recall tasks. Teachers who simply use the forced-choice format but who do not present instruction or even find or generate questions at the appropriate level of cognitive demand have not prepared their students for these assessments. The format is not the test. How well prepared were these students who filled out three worksheets but might get only one opportunity to speak during an entire class period?

Yes, these formats are easier to grade, but you have to mix it up. If language requires application, you have to find opportunities for students to apply language in authentic contexts. If you’re shooting beyond application to synthesis and creation, you need additional opportunities, and creating forced-choice assessments at these levels is difficult and time consuming. In these cases, teachers can apply different assessment methods.

One quick and easy way to guide and evaluate learning is the use of checklists or scoring guidelines. These are often based on the presence (or lack thereof) of critical attributes. Did your dialog use at least five of this week’s vocabulary words? Did you find three relevant news stories? What is the level of accuracy of your translation? These make great job aids or guides for students and can be posted on a class website, file server, or other shared space where students can access them both in and out of classroom.

Rubrics are also popular, especially in more open-ended activities supported by technology, but take more time to develop and can be difficult for novice teachers. It’s hard, sometimes, to know exactly what makes a response a 3 vs. a 4, or basic vs. proficient. Having students co-create rubrics can be a great learning opportunity, but can take away from limited instructional time. Sometimes you may want to include them, and sometimes not, depending on how much time you have available in your curriculum. I am a strong proponent of sharing the rubrics up front to guide student learning and for ongoing self-assessment and monitoring, but one teacher we visited last week says she has found it helpful to let the students get started on their projects first and then introduce the rubric in the early stages of work so they are better able to understand what are the most important aspects of the rubric. In a complex rubric, they may place inappropriate attention to some categories over another.

If you’re new to rubrics and want some help, the best resource I know is RubiStar (http://rubistar.4teachers.org/). It provides rubric samples or allows you to quickly create your own. RubiStar has rubrics in many categories, not specifically foreign language, but reading, writing, and other language-appropriate categories. You can also access RubiStar en Español (http://rubistar.4teachers.org/index.php?skin=es&lang=es&).

What Goes Around…

I want to conclude by giving some kudos to these teachers. They were doing what they thought was appropriate. They were using methods they were familiar with from their own days as students and perhaps from their language methods courses. And they all showed willingness to try new technologies in front of people they didn’t know! (Being observed always causes some anxiety.) I just felt like they were missing opportunities that the powerful resources they had access to could provide to their students. Given some guidance and support, though, and I think they’d all begin moving up that continuum.

If we’re going to move beyond 18th Century lessons with 21st Century tools, we need to provide our teachers with different examples. We need to engage them as we’d like them to engage their students. They need to see authentic instruction models and be given an opportunity to develop and practice them on their own. We can’t all get to the end of that continuum right away, but we can all move forward.

Please let me know if you’d like to explore any of these topics in greater detail. I’ve contacted a few exemplary teachers and some programs that incorporate technology in language instruction and hope to share some of their stories with you. I’d be glad to hear yours so we can all work together on determining what is the best way to use technologies to support instruction. As my good friend and colleague Joy Runyan says, “we’re all in this together.”

Getting More from What You Have: Making Powerful Points

I spent a good deal of my time this past month preparing for and presenting workshops for two different groups of educators I have been working with, one of which is a cadre of language coaches who work with teachers to address the needs of English language learners. We’ve been exploring different technologies to support teaching and learning, and I focused much of our work on the process of creating digital stories using presentation software as a means to learn about using multimedia in the classroom. In others words, we used Microsoft PowerPoint to support teaching and learning. Even though it wasn’t designed for educators, it’s a really powerful tool that has the potential to support a variety of teaching needs. It’s also an application most teachers and students have access to, so I thought I’d share some of those ideas with you as a continuation of my series on using what you have.

Before we get started, let me say that I use both Windows and Macintosh Operating Systems and am familiar with PowerPoint, Keynote, and OpenOffice. You can accomplish most of the tasks I’ll present here on any of these applications, but perhaps because PowerPoint is so widely accepted in the business world, there are a few additional things you can do with it that you can’t do with the others, yet. I’m a big believer in the idea that if a technology feature is popular in one application, you’ll soon find it on others. I am also not going to include step-by-step instructions, but will try to guide you towards key menu items or functions to look for. The steps can change, even over subsequent versions of the same software. When in doubt, try two things: 1) right-click on an object to see what options you have, or 2) search the help menu.

Learning from Stories

I use digital storytelling as a framework for helping teachers learn about multimedia because it’s easy for people to relate to. Teachers often use or tell stories in their teaching. As a young teacher, I had to learn to tell fewer stories, or so my students would probably tell you. But you don’t necessarily have to follow a formal digital storytelling process to use the techniques associated with it (Leah, perhaps you can link to my previous article on Digital Storytelling from March). You might consider keeping a journal, a digital portfolio, or even a lab journal in science as storytelling. Following are just a few ways you can use presentation software to support teaching and learning based on skills you can learn from creating digital stories.

Conduct research and organize information. When I’m wearing my instructional designer hat, I use presentation software to create storyboards that present and organize information. I can keep notes, including pertinent research, either on a slide or in the notes field with a more formal reference list on the last screen. And by displaying the slides in the “sorter” view, I can reorganize my information easily. For long projects, I will color-code the slide backgrounds so I know which slides correspond to which topics. I put major concepts on the slide and the detail in the notes. After my research is over, I finalize the text and images on my slides for my formal presentation.

Revision and reorganization are common to many research projects, and presentation software makes it very easy. You can provide templates to students to support a project, either a formal research project or a more personalized story, and they can keep all of their information in one place. Presentation software will support images they’ve found or have created with a camera or scanner, notes from primary resources, URLs for pertinent websites, and even audio and video clips.

Create or edit graphics and images to augment written or spoken text. There are several standalone photo and image editors and design tools available, but the learning curve for some of these can be steep. Most teachers and students are already familiar with presentation software, and can use it to quickly create custom graphics. You can insert an image or clip-art graphic to a slide usually through a simple Insert command. Graphics that support learning often include labels or guides to focus the learner. You can add arrows, highlighting, shapes, or text to a graphic easily. You can also usually change the style, color, or opacity of an image to make text or other information stand out. (See example 1)

URL image + Student at Computer +
Student at Computer 2 + MP3 Player =
Image edited in PowerPoint

Example 1. Images from MorgueFile.com combined and edited in PowerPoint

It’s easy to find images online, but make sure you are following copyright or licensing requirements. Two websites to visit for images you and your students are likely to be able to use for free are Wikimedia Commons and Compfight.com. You can search Wikimedia Commons and each picture on the site will include a statement about how it can be used, such as whether you need to provide attribution or whether you can edit it or not. Comfight.com searches all of Flickr, the popular photo-sharing site, for images based on keywords you enter. In your search, select the “Creative Commons: ON” setting to find images you are most likely to be able to use. No matter where you find your images, make sure you check the copyright or licensing rights.

Presentation software, like PowerPoint, often comes with several different clip-art galleries installed, but there are many others you can download for free from the Microsoft website. Clip art is actually a combination of drawn elements (lines, shapes, and fills) that you can actually ungroup and edit (this function can often be found in the Arrange or Grouping menus). You can delete sections of a clip art graphic, recolor it, or combine elements from one clip art graphic with another (see example 2). Clip art also usually resizes better than photos, including enlarging, with very little loss of fidelity. I won’t go into the reason here.

Clip Art Example 1 + Clip Art Example 2 =
Combined Clip Art Image

Example 2. Clip-Art from Microsoft edited and combined in PowerPoint

After you’re done designing your graphic, you can export your slides as images (either one at a time or all of them at once) that you can use in other applications, such as on a class website, a presentation on an interactive whiteboard, or inserted into a document. They can also be used for more “video-like” digital stories created in PhotoStory, MovieMaker, or iMovie. And the export process tends to reduce the file size of your image, making it more practical for use online. In PowerPoint, you can export a single slide by first grouping all of the elements on the slide, right-clicking on your slide, and select “Save as Picture.” Of course, you can also export your entire presentation as shows that cannot be edited, but these may not be able to be shown online, especially since they may be quite large files depending on how much media you’ve inserted.

Address multiple forms of language representation. Obviously, presentation software supports written language. You or your students can create text elements on the slide or in the notes area that can be read individually or in group settings. But you or your students can include audio to provide support for listening and speaking or to augment the written text onscreen.

Some presentation software allows you to record directly into a presentation, either on a slide-by-slide basis or as a narration across slides. Narrations are harder to pull off, as you usually have to go back to the beginning of a narration if you make a mistake. Inserting sound by slide is easier to control and edit. At the very least, you’ll have a shorter section to re-record if you make a mistake. You can have your recorded sounds play automatically or force the viewer to click on something (look for an “automatic” vs. “on-click” setting) to hear them.

You or your students can also record or edit pre-recorded audio clips in an external application, which gives you more flexibility in terms of editing and the quality of the recording. The free application Audacity by SoundForge is very easy to use and is cross-platform. You’ll want to export your Audacity files into something your presentation software can use, such as a .WAV or .MP3 file. GarageBand is a free application on the Mac OS that allows you to create sound files that you can import into iTunes and then can be pulled into KeyNote or exported for use in PowerPoint. The best advice I can offer is use a microphone you plug into your computer, not the internal microphone.

If you record your audio in an external program, you can actually insert multiple audio files on the same slide in a presentation that you can trigger by different actions. You can create multiple buttons (by adding a shape) and link a different sound file to each (the sound is usually considered an “animation”). That means you can record a soundtrack in multiple languages, or have audio clips from different people to demonstrate different dialects or accents, and your users can pick the most pertinent one. Students can even record themselves speaking and use different presentation files they’ve created over time as a digital portfolio of their growth in language development.

Differentiate learning by providing scaffolding. The idea of providing optional audio is one aspect of scaffolding learning for different levels of ability. You can record examples or create an audio glossary for critical vocabulary within a presentation that students can access only if they need to. Having audio tracks both in English and a student’s native language can support English language learners or those learning a foreign language.

Presentation software also supports hyperlinking of objects and text. You can embed a link to a URL of related website to a text or a picture in your presentation that will open on your computer’s browser. You can also link to other screens in the presentation, or even different documents, so that students have greater control over their learning. You can link students to an assessment after completing a presentation, or have supplementary or enrichment material for those students who need them. Students who have already mastered concepts in one part of a presentation can follow a link to a later part of the presentation, or others may want to return to previous information for additional practice. If you’re creating a set of linked information, make sure to keep them all in the same folder or relative location when you distribute them. Otherwise you might break the links and your presentation won’t be able to find the appropriate document.

And don’t discount the value of your students creating their own multimedia presentations to differentiate their learning needs, whether they create reports about a country of study, personal stories they create on their own, or support for oral presentations. Based on your students’ ability levels—both language and technology skills—you can allow them all to address the same content standards but to do so with great flexibility in terms of student products.

Focus on Your Outcomes

In closing, I need to offer you the same caveat you might want to share with your students. Playing with these features can be a lot of fun, but can become time consuming. You can really get caught up in the technology. Stay focused on your teaching or learning outcomes, and don’t let the technology take precedence. Only use what is necessary to get your point across, but do have some fun along the way.

I hope you try some of these ideas to support teaching and learning in your classroom. If you’d like to see a short digital story I put together for these workshops, you can view it at http://teachlearntech.com/blog/?page_id=87. The example was created in PowerPoint and Audacity first, imported into MovieMaker, and exported for display on the web. Please feel free to contact me and let me know if you’ve used these or other ideas with presentation software. I enjoy getting feedback from you and will try to respond to additional requests for information through e-mail or future editions of this TechTips article.

Resources for more information

Audacity by SoundForge
Free, cross-platform sound editor
http://audacity.sourceforge.net/

Compfight.com
Search tool for Flickr. Make sure you select the “Creative Commons: ON” setting.
http://compfight.com/

Morguefile.com
Free images.
http://morguefile.com/

Wikimedia Commons
Media in a variety of formats that you may be able to use. Files use Creative Commons licensing.
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

Microsoft Clip-Art Galleries
Free images for school use
http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images/