Our collective writing – Similarities Between Traditional and Online Learning

The following essay, stating the similarities between traditional and online learning, was developed collaboratively. The introduction was written in class, by the teacher, shaping students’ abundant contributions into a coherent piece and ending with the stipulated thesis statement. Then, also as a whole-class, the main similarities were brainstormed and the three most relevant ones were selected. Students were divided into groups and each group wrote one of the development paragraphs, which were later typed by the students in our collaborative wiki, where all the group members had the chance to revise their paragraph and make changes to make the text more effective. Finally, a student who had missed the class wrote the conclusion. Of course, since it’s a collective essay, it may perhaps sound a bit artificial or present an overuse of transition words. The point of the assignment was to put into practice the techniques learned in the chapter about comparison essays and use the cohesive devices proposed. It was an interesting experience of sharing and negotiating thinking and composing processes.

 

There are two different environments of learning – face-to-face and online. When people think about these two, they naturally consider their differences. For example, virtual classes are claimed to be less engaging than face-to-face ones, or less demanding, for that matter. Conversely, the fact that the former have a more flexible schedule than the latter is generally highlighted. In sum, differences favoring one or the other environment of instruction abound. What many times is overlooked is that, though e-learning and face-to-face learning are different in many aspects, there are also some relevant similarities.

First of all, contrary to what many people think, both online and face-to-face learning require a lot of work. Both demand, for instance, considerable planning from the teacher and studying from the students. Furthermore, the students’ participation is equally necessary and effective; likewise, class management may be essential for achieving great results in the classroom and online. Also, teachers and students know that giving and receiving feedback is important in both environments. In the same way, assignments are a huge part of the learning experience, since it is great practice for everyone involved.

As unbelievable as it may seem, online classes can be as entertaining as face-to-face ones. Although it is not possible to move chairs around or to have talking corners in an online environment, it is just as possible to include songs, movies, games, discussions and other entertaining activities. Besides, technology by itself can serve as a source of entertainment, because when you use a video chat or an app like Songify, students can have as much fun as in a face-to-face class.

Moreover, e-learning can be as effective as face-to-face learning. People can achieve satisfactory results in both environments, since these are able to host discussions of the same level. Usually, online classes are underestimated for their lack of personal interaction. However, this preconception is being left behind with the rising popularization of social networking resources. Nowadays, there are many technological tools capable of allowing students to interact with their classmates and teacher. Good examples of virtual interaction artifices are Facebook, the Moodle Platform, Wikispaces and Skype. All of them are social media devices used in online classes to minimize the distance between students and to make online classes as interesting as face-to-face ones.

As seen, e-learning can be as great as the face-to face learning environment. Students can benefit from the interaction teachers can provide in the forum they create presented in the online environment. They can have fun with games, activities, quizzes and also videos that contextualize the topics proposed by teachers. These facts show that students will benefit from online classes as well as they already benefit from face-to face classes. In summary, an e-learning environment is certainly another good way to help students improve and develop their skills.

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My views on the blended course

 

The Internet has made its way into classrooms around the world. As time passes by, it is more common to see entire schools adapting to on-line activities, such as reading articles from websites, sharing less with friends, giving feedback on portfolios, and posting compositions in platforms. In this Teaching Development Course, it was not any  different and I believe this e-learning technique was the highlight of my entire Casa Thomas Jefferson experience so far. Since, for now, there has been nothing like it in any other semester of the T.D.C., it is of extreme importance that this blended course not only survive but also spread over the semesters, making it a natural environment where students and teachers can learn a lot from each other and from this amazing tool called “the Internet”.

Initially, I was not so sure about this whole idea of being in classroom once a week; however, it did not take me more than a week to realize it would result in a great experience. Writing the essays was incredibly fun, since there was constant feedback from my classmates and teacher. This way, all students were able to learn how to listen to different opinions, how to choose the correct words when giving feedback, how to be flexible enough to change what they are told to. Had it been a classroom-based course, all of that might not have been in our package, for it would all be concentrated in the hands of the teacher. Thus, this democratization was one of the greatest things the Internet brought to the Writing Course.

Besides, looking back at all the assignments, the time factor was equally important to the quality of my essays. The fact that I could, with ease, write, edit, and send my essays whenever I wanted to not only saved me time but also gave me a sense of freedom. Furthermore, when it came to sharing, having this on-line communication was fundamental. I could receive feedback as soon as somebody read it, being this right after I posted it or in the middle of the night, while I was asleep, which would never happen as quickly if this method had not been not implemented. There is no doubt that the amount of time we all had in this Writing Course contributed to all my drafts.

Some might say the blended course took a bit of the oral practice away from the students, since some of the classes that were supposed to be spent in the classroom were spent behind a computer. However, from now on, depending on how it is done, the verbal skills can also be developed in connection with the writing. For instance, a student has finished his/her essay and, instead of receiving textual feedback, he/she receives an audio file containing opinions and suggestions from his/her peer.

All of the points above only serve to show how important it is to have this blended course going on forever. The Internet’s influence will invade the classrooms anyway; so, the ones who use it for their benefit will be the smartest. Sincerely, I had never thought I would enjoy this course as much as I did. The online classes gave a big twist to the entire learning experience, and I cannot see the Writing Course happening without the Internet anymore. It was a real pleasure, XOXO.

My first experience living in a foreign country by Heloisa Dourado

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I have an aunt who has been living in the United States since she was eighteen years old and she used to invite me to stay with her many times. One day I decided to go. Staying with her and her family was one of the greatest experiences in my life. Besides learning a new language, I made new friends and I really got into the culture of a great and beautiful country.

When I arrived there, I got very excited. First, I was excited because it was my first time in a foreign country, and second because I was going to live something really new in my life. On the other hand, learning English wasn’t an easy process because my aunt used to speak just Portuguese with me; I used to take English classes just twice a week and all the students were foreign too. My experience of learning English in a regular course was limited to this little experience and a short period taking English as a Second Language at the local College. Thus, from that period until de end of the time there, I learned the language with the people from the city and the new friends I had met.

Besides the experience of studying a new language, making new friends was the best aspect of living abroad. I had a girlfriend who lived in a beautiful city by the Pacific Ocean and I used to spend every weekend with her. We used to go out often and in one of these times I met my first American boyfriend. He was handsome and very kind and we had a great time together. He took me to many interesting places and showed me the authentic American way of life by introducing me to his family, his friends and his culture. Moreover, going out constantly and talking to him helped me to improve the skills with the language and mainly to be familiar with the American people and their habits and customs.

Another great experience I had was working as a babysitter. Once I read in the newspaper an advertisement looking for a foreign girl to take care of two children. At first I got really scared with the big responsibility of taking care of two children, but I decided to live this new adventure. The family’s house was in a very nice place by the ocean and the children were very cute and curious about my “weird accent”. In spite of the fact that this new experience wasn’t easy due to my lack of practice at that time, everything went well and the whole situation was very meaningful to my life.

During the time I was living in a foreign country, I realized that living abroad does more for you than just being bilingual; it enables you to live new relationships and to learn about the real culture of a country. I never returned to the United States again, but I will never forget this memorable experience in my life.

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Students’ benefits in blended courses by Juliana da Silva Mello

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People started using computers and the Internet to perform all sorts of activities. In that sense, education has also been incorporated to this online invasion. One of the popular class formats nowadays is the blended course, a mix of face-to -face and online class, which has been intensively adopted among many knowledgeable educational institutes. Much has been said about this kind of learning environment, for the good and the bad. What not to deny is that the advantages are many, for both students and teachers.

One aspect that helps blended courses to be so popular nowadays is the flexibility. Once blended classes are divided into class discussion and online work, students face another reality. This environment gives them the chance to adapt and create their own studying time. Some of them feel comfortable doing their tasks either in the morning or in the afternoon. It is a great way to arouse the sense of responsibility in students, having them develop their own schedule. Personally, this flexibility helped adapt and manage my schedules, both at work and at school. With this flexible schedule, I could balance the class day with my other duties during the week.

Another positive aspect of this type of class is the task production in the sense that, from one class to the other, there will be certain time available to think over the topics discussed in class and do the tasks proposed by the teacher in the face-to-face meeting. Some assignments asked and performed in class may not be as thorough and complete as the ones researched, prepared and reviewed by the student at home. It is favorable to students, who will have time to prepare their assignments with more dedication, as well as for teachers, who can use the opportunity to demand more of their students, once they have more time to dedicate to these tasks.

Despite these points mentioned above, blended courses may favor the isolation and lack of interaction between students and teachers. According to SchooX, a website which contains many topics about E-learning environment, outgoing people can feel challenged to withdraw their personal characteristics, while thriving to adapt to this online experience. In contrast to that, introspective students, who have difficulties getting along with others, find in the blended courses a way to participate in discussions and expose themselves more due to this evident distant the computers impose on us . They may feel comfortable to take part in all the tasks proposed and be more open to express their opinion.

Blended courses are here to stay. They were projected to facilitate people’s busy, demanding and tiring life style. These courses offer students the flexibility to attend (less) fewer face-to-face classes, which helps them insert this activity into their professional and personal life. Besides, blended courses facilitate the task(s) performance, once students have more time to dedicate to and enrich the quality of their assignments. They are a great tool for introspective people that can benefit from this physical distance to be more participative and express their point of view. The balance between face-to-face and online classes is a great way to promote education and reach students in and out of the classroom.

Socializing and becoming fluent in a second language: my journey in Australia by Aline Fidelis

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Learning a second language is a big endeavor. In order to apprehend a foreign language, it is necessary to learn the language structure, its phonemes, expressions, possible collocations, and other intricate aspects related to it. More than the mere linguistic aspect, cultural and social facets should be considered. Therefore, I was fortunate to have this opportunity to live in Australia for a couple of years. Being totally immersed in the Australian culture took my language acquisition journey to an unexpected level.

Joining Bible College in Sydney was a dream come true. Besides the fact that living in a beautiful English-speaking country is a life-changing experience, becoming part of an enormous Christian community like Hillsong College granted me the chance to develop my communicative skills in English. On a daily basis, I had the opportunity to be around hundreds of students from different countries. Most importantly, I was given the chance to be around some remarkable friends who were native speakers. They treated me like family and encouraged me to speak the language out fearlessly.

Those amazing friends, especially my roommate Kaitlyn, daily took the time to chat with me and gently correct me. These generous actions helped me to develop some of the conversational skills that were very limited at that time. Every night, a different visitor was invited over and the conversations went on and on, even when we all had classes in the following morning. Thus, as I interacted to various people with diverse backgrounds and accents, I assimilated the language without even noticing the process involved.

Therefore, I believe that it wouldn’t have been possible to become fluent in English so quickly if I hadn’t had these lovely people around me. Socializing can really contribute to the language acquisition process, once social interaction provides natural practice and it includes the values and behaviors of a culture. Living abroad allowed me both continuous practice and immersion in an English-speaking environment.

After a few months, chatting with friends or talking about my life back in Brazil wasn’t really an issue anymore. I finally started to feel comfortable using my second language, finally reaching a point when I felt confident to give my opinion in class. I can clearly remember the day I had to perform a song to my class, as part of my assessment evaluation for the Worship Music course.

Singing a song in front of amazing musicians wasn’t a real challenge for me, but presenting the background of the song in English was. I slowly introduced myself to the class, explained the story behind the lyrics and announced the singer’s name. Then I described my interpretation of the song and the musical arrangements that were modified. As I saw the reaction of the audience, cheering and nodding their heads in agreement, it felt like reaching the top of a huge mountain. Finally, I overcame an enormous obstacle. Indeed, I was able to communicate my message in a second language, not only because I knew the right words, but also because I was acquainted with the culture.

Obviously, living in a country where you are exposed to English continuously can really contribute to the learning process of the language. However, what made my experience in Australia count were the colors, the flavors, the affection, all the cultural exchange that I got from living there. All of those aspects are incrusted in my memory, resulting in a natural and effective language production, which came out of constant social interaction and practice.

Keeping Teenagers Attentive and Participatory by Louise Ferraz Catunda

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One of the greatest challenges teachers can face during a class is to control teenagers’ demeanor and to have them pay attention to the lesson. Moreover, the learners are supposed to show that they’re interested by participating when called and volunteering when asked to. However, most students are not very eager to learn, for they’re more interested in talking to their friends and playing around. Therefore, here are the steps to an effective game teachers can use in order to keep students attentive, participatory and not disruptive.

The first step is to divide the class into two groups with the same number of students and explain to them how the game works. The teacher can choose which students are going to be in each group or he/she can leave this task to the teenagers. Then, each group is given ten points that are to be written on the board. Under the points chart, the teacher can write the words “English”, “sit down”, “pay attention” and “raise your hands”. After that, the teacher tells the students that every time a person from a group doesn’t follow what’s on the board, one point is taken from the entire group.

Following that, the real action begins. During the class, every time a student doesn’t follow the rules, the teacher points at her/him. Whenever that happens, another student from the same group who is paying attention usually notices the teacher’s action and tells the other one to stop doing whatever he/she was doing to disturb the class. If the teacher points once and peace is regained, everything is fine. However, if the disruptive teenager keeps disturbing, one point is taken from the whole group. That’s how they lose points and the prize.

The final step is the delivery of the prize for each student in the winning group. At the end of the week (or the last class of the week), the game ends. The winner is the group with the highest number of points. Usually, the prize teachers give to students is candy. However, after some time winning candies, the teenagers can feel bored and not play along anymore. The solution to that is to change the prizes to something they find more interesting, but still simple. Some examples are chocolate; basic school supplies, like pencils, pens, erasers; and some other little things they appreciate, like key rings, stickers, note pads etc.

This activity brings students together at the same time that it makes life easier for teachers. Since the teenagers appreciate getting prizes, they will make an effort to follow the rules and not lose points. In order to do that, they have to work together and give tips to their classmates related to what they can or can’t do. Moreover, the teacher doesn’t have to call their names all the time or threaten to call their parents if they don’t behave. Their good manners will come automatically after some time. This means extra free time, fewer worries and less stress.

A Decision for a Lifetime by Carolina Martins

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My entire life was shaped by a decision made by my parents twenty four years ago.In 1988, my father was awarded an amazing opportunity – a scholarship in order to further his studies, paid by his public job! There was just a little problem… He would have to move to far off Wales, to study at the Bangor University. My mother wasn’t too happy to go abroad for who knew how many years, especially since she spoke very little English and I was only three years old. After a few conversations, she decided thatit would be worth trying, even though we were all very close to her family and would need some time to adapt. She supported my father and we left Brazil three months after he had gone to Bangor to establish himself and get everything ready for our arrival.

 

The flight itself wasn’t too terrible, as far as I can remember, but the arrival left me bewildered. I couldn’t understand a single thing those people were saying! My parents explained that I would learn English, the main language spoken in Bangor. They treated learning as a very good opportunity, not only some temporary necessity caused by our need to live there for a few years. My mother did her best to help me settle down, and by the time kindergarten started, I could even introduce myself properly. Yet I sensed this invisible language barrier, and not many of my new Welsh classmates tried to cross the bridge between us and be friendly. I was actually somewhat relieved when the school started offering us, the little foreigners, some separate lessons – but that relief only lasted until I noticed that while we were studying more English, the local children were having a break and watching the telly!

 

During the following months, despite missing my family, immensely disliking the school’s food and having few friends, I got quite used to Bangor, and more importantly, to English. At first, when I couldn’t communicate as well as I would like to, I drew for the school’s contests. This became an important tool for me, and I kept drawing even as I became fluent – a process that didn’t take long. While I was experiencing all this at school, my mother was helping me at home. She gave me extra classes herself and did everything she could to give me the much needed incentive in my studies in both languages that were an active part of my life. By the time I was four, I had learned to read in English; things clicked together in that language much quicker than they did in Portuguese.

 

This was a major turn-around point for me. As I started reading, I noticed that I really enjoyed it. Perhaps it was some sort of escape valve for my stress, but reading became my main hobby and through it, my English became much better. I soon reached the point where I even began dreaming in that language. Portuguese took the backseat and I discovered, much to my dismay, that I actually liked English. I needed it to communicate, sure – but it had also become “my” language, the language of my imagination, thoughts and plans.

 

We spent almost four years abroad before my father was done with his studies. He went back to his job, my mother got a new one where she could practice her much improved English and I started taking English classes. Until this day, I am very glad that my parents didn’t simply let me idle and stop studying the language since it was no longer vital – the way they dealt with things, immediately looking for an English school while enrolling me in a regular Brazilian school, didn’t allow me enough time to forget anything I had learned.

 

Unfortunately, I finished the advanced course too young and, given the option, I chose not to study English formally anymore in high school. I still read in English, of course, and I watched everything I could without the subtitles, but by the time I was 15, my English was no longer as good as it had once been. My native accent had faded away a long time before and by then my vocabulary had also started to dwindle. Worse, I lost the very firm grasp I once had on certain structures – but I never really lost that ability to “know” that something sounds awkward, grammatically speaking, when it’s wrong. Noticing that my English skills weren’t being used enough, and approaching that time in life when you have to make a career choice that might as well change your whole future, I decided I would go back to studying English in college. When I told my mother this, she was fine with my decision, but couldn’t bring herself to support my possibly becoming a teacher… Which led me to apply for Translation instead.

 

Studying Translation, I became much better at writing than I had been before, and I favored creative writing over all else in precisely the same way I had always favored fiction over all other books. I also became good at translating things quickly and my vocabulary dramatically increased – but it took me less than a year to notice I wouldn’t enjoy living the life of a translator unless I could work solely in certain areas, and that managing to work like this wasn’t very likely. I would much rather do something more dynamic and interesting. I began to feel haunted by uncertainty, and kept to the path I had designed for myself, until one day I admitted that I would prefer to follow my heart and become an English teacher. I started getting part-time jobs on just about anything that let me lose my natural timidity, while still doing freelance translations and studying, so that by the time I finished college I could think of teaching without having to get a different degree. Meanwhile, I forgot something very basic; it didn’t occur to me that I lacked a deep understanding of English grammar or, even more important, that I had never made an effort to learn how to teach.

 

After I left college, I noticed my mistake. I spent a while working with translation, learning how to deal with clients and wondering if I should get a Teacher’s Degree or try to learn how to be an effective teacher through practice. I remembered my past teachers, the good and the bad, and came to the conclusion that the ones who influenced me the most were the Welsh teachers that had taught the foreign children with creativity, innovation and kindness. I thought that maybe these characteristics had more to do with a person’s own self than with any formally learned knowledge, and set forward to getting a teaching job and learning the rest in any way I could while practicing these qualities I liked so much. Eventually, I arrived at Casa Thomas Jefferson and soon learned more in a month than I had learned in the previous six! This was both a bit frightening and absolutely exhilarating – and it still is. Now I dream of specializing in teaching children and helping them acquire a second language in a way as close as possible to what my old teachers did for me back in Bangor.