Fatal conflict: Teacher 2.0 and Student 1.0


Issue: Incompatible integration of module Teacher 2.0 with multiple versions of Student 1.x

Type: Bug

Priority: Major


Since September I’ve been working with first-year nursing students on a series of language tasks to improve their professional knowledge of English. I used our online platform moodle.hz.nl as an interactive learning space to present new material in the form of texts, videos and audio files, and to practise the target language in a range of interactive activities, including discussion forums, collaborative glossaries and group wikis. Each week, I had four one-hour sessions with four groups of 25 students in order to clarify issues, highlight key learning points and give individual feedback and coaching.

All well and good.

When I reviewed the online analytics, I was often impressed by the amount of activity, especially during times that are typically non-learning moments, that is, after 10 pm and during the weekends. The final language products were generally satisfactory — students showed they had mastered new language and could use it in a realistic setting (presentations, brochures, guides).

However, there was some discontent about having to come to class for the one-hour coaching session. Very few students wanted to come after 3 pm. Their primary concern was to get home earlier. This is a local issue because most students still live at home, and many have to travel over 90 minutes to get to university. This combination means that students are overly concerned with being at home, and university is literally second place; hence the desire to leave for home as soon as possible.

Flipped classroom infographicAs a result of the unpopularity of the “late” afternoon classes from 3 – 5 pm, I accepted a student proposal to have two one-hour plenary sessions from 1 – 3 pm, which would take the form of a traditional lecture, followed by two one-hour coaching sessions, where students would work on the language tasks, following the idea of flipping the classroom (see infographic left).

To make the lecture a little more dynamic, I displayed a tweetstream with a custom hashtag for the session. We started with a short pop quiz to review what they had learned previously. I tweeted on their progress — “Which is the hardest question?”, “Who will get the highest result??” — and watched my own tweets cycle round … in the two hours only one student tweeted, and that was only the hashtag, no text!

I asked how many students actually used twitter — fewer than a third raised a hand. Maybe they don’t associate learning with tweeting?

I wish I had taken a picture of the lecture: one student had her head on the table, another was texting under the table, and three other groups had formed chat circles. Everyone laughed when I pointed this out. At the end of the session, I also highlighted how little interaction there had been: I had spoken directly to maybe ten students, and most of the time it was a short question and answer. How much English had they used in the hour? Almost nothing.

After the lecture I had the first coaching session. Three of the fifty students turned up. One had to resolve an administrative issue due to missing classes last year, and then left immediately, so that she could make the train(!). The other two were pleased to show they had already started work on their language task, but instead of looking at the preparation material — step-by-step building blocks — they had gone straight to the end product. The mindset was still: “What do we have to do to pass the assessment?” Not “How can I learn new language and use it in an authentic situation?”

Empty classroomFor the second coaching session at 4 pm, I was totally alone with Fred, the anatomical dummy (see right).

Does this mean that everyone has just gone home early? Maybe they studied the background reading on the train? Yet according to the online reports, almost half of the students have not even visited the online course this week.

So what’s the problem? On one side we have an educational approach that promotes flexibility in learning time and place; learner-centred activities; authentic materials and realistic outputs; promotion of collaborative projects; and interactive learning tools.

I have the sinking feeling that many students would actually just prefer the old-school approach of a teacher-centred lesson, verb gap-filling exercises, memorizing vocab lists and mock tests.

Just so long as they can get a C grade and be home before 4 pm.




New oxymoron: Legitimate rape

The outrage following congressman Todd Atkins’ comments about “legitimate rape” was racked up again when he corrected himself (sic):

I was talking about forcible rape. I used the wrong word.

For those latecomers, the controversy began with an interview in which Atkins’ compounded his oxymoronic thinking with the purely moronic:


During the interview for KTVI-TV on Sunday, Mr Akin was asked about his no-exceptions view on abortion, a highly charged issue in the US, and on whether he would like abortion to be banned even if the pregnancy was the result of rape.

He replied: “It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that is really rare.

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

“But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”

(Source: BBC News, Video courtesy FOX 2 KTVI)

Note that Atkins sits on the House Committee on Science, the one that believes in magical ladyparts and leprechauns.

Atkins’ clarification today is not intended to be a correction in meaning — it’s just replacing one offensive oxymoron with another, possibly worse –, rather it is a crude attempt to reattach himself to Romney leadership that had tried, half-heartedly, to distance itself from his statements. “Forcible rape” was the term used in a bill, co-sponsored by Atkins and (wait for it, Romney VP nominee) Paul Ryan, from last year that in name attempted to block taxpayers funding abortions, but in fact tried to redefine rape by excluding cases where the victim might be under the influence of alcohol or drugs … or be mentally handicapped.

How does one even begin to respond to this?

Perhaps satire is the only way:

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Rape Victim Abortion Funding
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

Feuilles volantes

While waiting in the basement for the washing machine to finish, I picked up a book from the open boxes stacked under the stairs, the remainder of our unpacking from … almost two years ago *gulp*. The book was a well foxed paperback of Victor Hugo’s Choses vues, a sort of memoir of major and minor events from 1830 to 1846. On a whim I riffled the pages, looking for today’s date, and got a hit within seconds — and what a great one for a language lover:

At a meeting of the Académie Française held on this day 168 years ago, the members, or immortels, were discussing spelling reform (dropping double consonants so as to give ateindre instead of atteindre), and whether to bow to current usage. This was odd even then, for the Academy normally resists changes to the language, especially those from common usage. Hugo confessed his ignorance of such usage — indeed it is pretty odd — and refused to accept the idea. Fellow academician Victor Cousin responded by suggesting that such changes were part of the natural shift of language, which always tends towards decline.

Hugo replied:

“I would add that language shift and decline are two different things. […] Since its very first day, language has been in motion; can we say that it has been in constant decline? […]”

Cousin: The decline of the French language began in 1789.

Hugo: A quelle heure, s’il vous plaît ?

Boo-Yah! In! Your! Face!

It’s refreshing to read how pompous egos could be so neatly slapped down in 1843; and if he was around today, Hugo would be a regular guest on the Daily Show and Colbert Report.

Meanwhile, the Académie Française is still fighting a rearguard battle against any perceived threats to the French language. After the fight against franglais in the 1990s (software => logiciel, email => courriel), the Academy more recently protested the inclusion of regional languages in the French constitution (Read more …)

*beep* *beep* *beep*

Laundry’s done. Back to work.

A slew of …

In a CNN Money article yesterday about the Facebook vs Google+ rivalry, my editor’s antennae started twitching when I read

“But defensive moves are not Zuckerberg’s style, and in September, at the company’s F8 developers event, he unleashed a sea of new features that alter the current service radically.”

“A sea of features”?

A sea change, yes, in a different context; better still, a raft or slew of new features.

My preference is for the latter, derived from the Old Irish, sluagh, meaning “army”.

“A slew of” — it sounds violent, cool and sophisticated in one shot.

Give it a try today!

I’m pink, therefore I’m spam

Cogito ergo sum

Fern dust detailDescartes’ dictum states that humans are conditioned to rationalize their experience … even to the point of maintaining ideas that contradict other accepted theories.

A case in point: fern seed. In earlier times, the fact that ferns did not appear to have any seeds was a puzzle for naturalists. They concluded, counter to all other experience, that fern seed was simply invisible. In the popular mind, this idea was transmuted into contagious magic, that possession of fern seed could make one invisible.

As one thief says to another in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, part one:


We steal as in a castle, cocksure; we have the receipt
of fern-seed, we walk invisible.


Nay, by my faith, I think you are more beholding to
the night than to fern-seed for your walking invisible.

(II, i, 95–98).

[Read more from A natural history of ferns]

Thinking fern seed was invisible was not an isolated incidence of bad science – history holds other examples of faulty reasoning, from the theory of phlogiston to the contemporary misguided attempts to pass off Intelligent Design as science rather than religion.

Pass note: It’s creationism with a college degree.
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Why attribute the wonder of the world to some greater being?

Isn’t it wonderful enough to consider the world as it is?

Fern dust reflection

The best thing about fern seed is that it can make great tattoos.

Castleton Gardens, Jamaica