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IV JORNADAS CETA "Teaching English: emotion in motion"

 Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad de Córdoba

April 25-27 2003

Webheads in Action:

A Community of Practice for

Language Teachers Professional Development in CMC

                              Web page: http://dafnegon.tripod.com/wia/cetaintro.htm

 

Dafne González

dafne_gonzalez@yahoo.com

Universidad Simón Bolívar

Caracas, Venezuela

   

 

Abstract:

Many Language Teachers around the world are incorporating online components to their face to face classes to offer  students the opportunity to interact with  speakers of the L2. E-literacy is needed in order to take this challenge. Educators  should learn to take the best from the web tools available. Webheads in Action  is a virtual Community of Practice comprising language teachers worldwide, with the purpose of exploring a/synchronous and web-based multimedia communications formats, and the best way to use them for the benefit of their learners. In this presentation, we will  show how this community works,  with the live online participation of Webheads located in different countries via synchronous modes (text chat, voice, and webcams). Web pages product of the community collaborative work will be shown.


 

 

            I would like to welcome you all, those physically present in this lovely Cordoba, and those who are following the presentation online from different places in the world.

            It is a great pleasure to be here in Cordoba for the first time. Cordoba has been in travel plans for many years, but it is now when I can make my wish come true, and it has been possible due to my meeting Maria Jordano in the Community of Practice which will be the topic of my presentation. I have to thank Maria for introducing me to CETA, bringing me to Cordoba, and for being my helping hand today.

Introduction

            The theme of this event is “Teaching English, emotion in motion”, a very expressive phrase that sums up most of the content I will be focusing on today. Emotion is a feeling, and all feelings denote emotional engagement; and motion means movement, action, and that is what teachers need, a deep engagement expressed in actions  to keep themselves updated and offer the best kind of learning opportunities to their students.

Language Teachers around the world are, little by little, incorporating online components to their face to face classes to offer  students the opportunity to communicate with  speakers of the language, at the same time that they are getting them prepared in the use of web tools, which is an added value for their future, our future. To take this challenge, teachers need to be computer literate, or e-literate, and learn to take the best from the web tools available and apply this knowledge to their educational settings.

This may seem like an impossible or log term task to achieve. Most teachers do not have time to go back to a university to study, or the courses offered in the field are too expensive, or simply, we feel we got late to the Computer Mediated Communication era.  These were also my thoughts in January 2002. You can see what were my feelings and concerns before joining Webheads.

When I was asking myself all these questions, and with so many others flying around my head, I read a post to the ESP list about the EVOnline 2002 sessions, and after pondering which of the sessions I should take. I do not know why I decided on Webheads in Action. Maybe the word "action" set the trigger. Or perhaps the description of the session, which promised to engage participants in "forming and maintaining robust online communities", and exploring synchronous and asynchronous tools, so this was my lucky choice.

            Today, I will try my best to explain Who are Webheads, where we are located, why joining Webheads is a great alternative for language teachers professional development, what we do to be “in action”; and finally, we will have the opportunity to virtually meet some Webheads who will be online, from different places in the world, to chat with us, and answer our questions.

  1. Who Are Webheads?

     Webheads  was born as a group of  language teachers and students who started to get together online 5 years ago, the former to help students with their language learning, and the latter to practice their L2 language, coordinated by Vance Stevens. With time, Webheads has diversified in two groups, one with language learners and teachers Writing for Webheads (W4W), and more recently, since January 2002, Webheads in Action, which started as one of the TESOL Electronic Village Online (EVOnline) sessions. I will be talking about Webheads in Action (WiA).

Webheads in Action, as stated in the description of the session that brought us together, in a Yahoo Group, comprises a group of language teachers who  help each other learn about forming and maintaining robust online communities through hands-on practice with synchronous and non-synchronous text and multimedia CMC (computer mediated communication) tools.”

As a result of the 8 intensive and gratifying weeks devoted to this session, the learning we felt we had acquired, and how it had influenced in our teaching, we decided to continue working and learning together, and now, one and a half year after we met for the first time, we consider ourselves a Community of Practice (CoP). An ubiquitous place in cyberspace where we learn from and share with colleagues, reflect in the practice and on the practice, and all this under a friendly atmosphere, where friendship bonds have also developed.  

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  1. Where are Webheads?

Webheads in Action is a real multicultural community, people from different countries, different languages, different religions, but what is important here is our desire to learn, and to share our knowledge for the benefit of our community and their own zones of influences, which could be our colleagues, or our students, in search of a better educated world.

      For this presentation, and wanting to show you how we are spread worldwide, I created 
an interactive map and asked webheads to get themselves on the it. Our Webheads from China 
have not been able to open the page, because some servers are forbidden there. Which shows us 
that we need to take advantage of our freedom, and use it to help those who still live under oppression. 
We really look forward to having more members from Africa. Regarding the map, Arif, a Webheads 
from Turkey said, at our last Sunday meeting at Tapped In: 
               "I think Daf's map w'll be very valuable for us to see how the community develops 
                 and scatters around the world"
3.      Why Join Webheads?
               When I first started reading about the use of technology in the classroom, I found the following 
comment in a booklet published by TESOL, it was made by Elizabeth Hanson-Smith, citing Claire Brading, 
(both Webheads) which has remained in my mind since.

“Computers will not replace teachers,

but teachers who use computers will –inevitably-

replace teachers who do not”.  Claire Bradin

                                                   (Cited by Elizabeth Hanson-Smith (Technology in the Classroom, 1997).
               And recently, Arnold,  another Webhead from Holland, while discussing about how being 
in WiA has influenced the teaching practices of most of us, said the following:
“Teacher development is an exciting thing nowadays
        with unprecedented possibilities” Arnold Mühren
        I personally share Claire’s opinion, and I have found that what Arnold said is also true, there 
is a world without borders awaiting for us, with the possibilities expanding day by day, we need to get 
started. I should point out here, that I have also found  the first quote as being said by Ray Clifford 
 of the Defense Language Institute.
          By now, you may be wondering what is it so special in Webheads, that we have so many members,
 and that we feel the need to share it with other language teachers. Regarding my own experience, the first 
aspect that kept me motivated and working was the way the e-moderator handled the group.  This is what 
I said during our 2002 WiA EVOnline session:

“I think Natalie brought up 2 crucial issues in creating communities: topic relevance and the role of the coordinator…(…)… I can talk about my own experience. I am completely new to this field, but I am highly motivated to learn because of personal and professional reasons, so I get involved and try to absorb as much as I can. But at the same time, what has kept my initial motivation has been the responsiveness of the coordinator (in this case, Vance). Vance has taken care of all of us, he has been there to answer individual and group questions, he has taken the time to organize all the contributions made by the members in a structured syllabus, he has shown us the way to get in touch with other members, and, at the same time, we have not felt that he is the "owner" of the group. He has shown us the road and we have followed his lead”.

Teresa, another Webhead from Portugal,  added the value of collaborative work:

Knowing that you have a community of colleagues to exchange ideas with is also great.     Or just reading some of their postings and finding out they are going through the same problems you are can be comforting. You don't feel alone!

The most fundamental assets I have found in WIA are:

·         Interaction with experts and non-experts from all over the world. This is one of the most amazing aspects of WiA, the possibility to interact with colleagues from all over the world. The exposure to different cultures, to different educational systems, but, as I said before, a goal in common, learning and sharing.

·         Learning from and with others. The fact of having together different levels of expertise, makes the teaching-learning process a horizontal and rotating experience. The mentor at one time becomes the student at another.

·         Practice with tools, with social scaffolding :Zone of Proximal Development. The way we learn in WiA is with the help of others, daring to explore what we would or could probably not do on our own. 

·         Construction of knowledge with reflection in and on action. Reflection is undoubtedly, a core step in the learning process. We reflect in the action while exploring new tools, making use of our  previous knowledge or of our colleague’s knowledge. Then, we reflect on the action, when we analyze and evaluate these tools regarding our context, our practices. We usually report the product of both kinds of reflections to contribute with the community knowledge.

·         Collaborative and friendly atmosphere. The affective factor is what makes our bonds stronger. Our Sunday meetings at Tapped In are the right space to share not only academic matters, we share personal concerns, learn about each others’ families, hobbies, and interests. Many of our joint projects having born during these friendly meetings.

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  1. Webheads in THE Action

How are these factors expressed in the praxis? Reporting what Webheads have done since January 2002 would be a non-ending task. The number of messages in the Yahoo Group list is 3.823 at the moment I am writing this document, and I am almost sure that Vance has done some house cleaning at some point in the way. Web pages, blogs, Power Point Presentations, chatlogs, and many other documents abound in our files. Some attempts have been done to keep track of them all, with relative success, we might in the near future have a data base to incorporate all this knowledge reported in these documents.

Today, I will show only some examples of how we learn with some of the tools we use: chats, web pages, discussion boards, Yahoo Group distribution list. Different activities ask for different tools since each one has its advantages for some and its disadvantages for others, and this we learn while trying and exploring them. Many active members have reported their  reflections about their learning in WiA.

  1. Where to Meet Webheads?

Webheads meet synchronously and asynchronously, depending on the purpose of the meeting. Our live regular meetings are at Tapped In, every Sunday at noon GMT, while chatting there we usually engage in multitasking, which might involve “webcaming” and/or voice chat through Yahoo Messenger, and lately in Wimba Voice Direct, in a beta version. There are individual or group contacts through different instant message services for academic as well as for socializing purposes. However, the contact with all the members is done through our Yahoo Group distribution list.

  1. Meeting Webheads Live

My first intention was to have voice and webcams incorporated to this event, as we do in most of our hybrid presentations, but I was informed that it was not possible, and we will only be text chatting from Tapped In, where some of our Webheads are following this presentation.  As we see who are present today, I will show you their pictures, if available at our photo gallery.  They will be delighted to answer your questions, and to give any information that I have not covered here today.

Conclusions

I will let you all make your own conclusions about this talk. It has been a real pleasure sharing with you all, and finally, I would like to invite you to join the get in motion with us, in Webheads in Action. If you have comments about this talk, you can post them to my Discussion Board, and we will answer them.

Thanks all for making me feel welcome and many thanks to Maria for all the help she has provided, another  proof of Webheads collaborative spirit!  

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Dafne Gonzalez, April 21, 2003.