My introduction in EVO´s Collaborative Writing

I am Bertha/Berta Leiva from Venezuela where I have taught EFL English for about 30 years. I have a B.A in Modern Languages from Metropolitan University, Caracas, and a Master´s in Education (Policy, planning and administration) from Boston University, MA. I am also a certified public translator in my country.

I have taught EFL English in different settings (in-company courses in Italy and Venezuela, to professionals at the training center of the national oil company and at three universities). For the past 16 years I have worked in the Language Department of Universidad Simon Bolivar where I have also held different administrative positions (Coordinator of Freshman studies, Head of Department, etc.) I think I already mentioned to the group that I am currently associate profesor but just submitted my promotion thesis to full profesor on socioculturally oriented EFL writing by means of web 2.0 tools. It is still under evaluation and I owe all I know about this research area to EVO, and especially to the Webheads in Action.

When I saw this session, I got really excited and immediately signed up. I expect to meet colleagues from all over the world who would like to take part in international projects where students from different cities could be able to practice writing in a collaborative environment and to learn together about new possibilities in EFL writing teaching and learning in a sociocultural environment.

The photos? Too many, right? I am very visual and love pictures. My office on the upper right, collage of reading and writing students (in computer lab) last July, our main library building, student protest in 2007 in favor of democracy and against the present government, and finally two students with me during consultation hours last term.

I am bleiva2003 in yahoo, gmail, skype, messenger, delicious, etc.

I am excited to be here with all of you. Let the learning begin!!!

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Using Word Processors in the EFL classroom

By Sheila and Bertha

Having read both the articles, Vance Stevens and Renata Chylinski, the idea of teaching word processing and writing skills together is quite surprising, although it seems to be a valid idea.

As Kenan and Sedat have mentioned, students with no connection to Internet could benefit from word processing since it is an excellent way to handle collaborative writing and if the task is motivating to them, they will enjoy working together. However, in some cases if they don't have access to Internet, chances are they might not have access to a computer either, unless the institution provides them with space in a computer lab or if they work in the teacher's office. So it might not be very effective to use Microsoft Word in all cases.

With regard to Renata's piece, the same activities could be achieved with Hot Potatoes or any other tool where one can play around with graphics and words to fulfill a specific objective. The use of word processing for the particular tasks Renata mentions does not seem completely pertinent.

We both feel this approach is not relevant for our own students. Most of them are adult learners who use computers and so practice word processing in their native language at work all day. Their English is generally at the B2 level and above. We are convinced that they know already how to use the basic functions of Microsoft word or other word processing programs. They probably know more about them than we do, especially on German computers in the case of Sheila. In Bertha's case, her students have preferred Googledocs once they know it works online. In individual teacher-student conferences, she has learned a great deal from her students and has been able to enjoy sitting next to digital natives at work. They pick up everything related to technology really fast and use tools well.

There are nice activities in Vance's article that can be followed using Word as a tool. Vance's article, however, seems to have been more relevant for students in the late 90s or early 2000s. Students nowadays might not be so in need to be "taught" word processing skills while learning English. Of course each group of students is different and maybe it would be good to have them share their tips on how to use Word while writing collaboratively on a topic and sharing will probably come up naturally.

One or two of Vance Stevens ideas could be used, particularly the ones from Claire Bradin. (By the way Sheila could not get that link to work in Firefox). Students could work on the group's errors, though they would have to do this for homework as there are no computers in the classrooms. Peer correction is not popular with most of these groups as they do not like to criticize a fellow student, but if the errors were anonymous then they might be prepared to correct them.

Sheila can see a possibility of using cross class interviews especially across cultures if this were possible, this might work well in a blog.

Another exercise to use with exam classes might be jumbled texts where occasional sentences have to be replaced. This could replicate an exercise in the exam and could prove very useful, again for peer correction.

Having PC’s, especially with internet connection, in class is a dream for Sheila, the best they get is her laptop and her personal connection stick to give the students access to an online dictionary.

Some of the activities that could be assigned - either using Microsoft Word, Googledocs or any other collaborative tool- are the following:

- narrate an event where both students were present (another class, Election Day, a national celebration) mixing their experiences in the texts.
- write a poem on a topic they agree or disagree with.
- write the editorial of a newspaper on top areas to be improved in their community, institution, country, the world, etc., and ways to achieve this.
- write an ad about their country trying to persuade readers to visit it.
- write about things they wish they had known about when they were children.

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Changing my format to new Blogger

I started this blog in 2006 and there have been many changes from the times we had to edit the HTML code in the Blogs´templates to add widgets, widen spaces, embed in the sidebar and so forth. Now Blogger provides us with easy ways to achieve all this and more but what should I do with this old time friend? Will my old posts be messed up? Should I leave it as it is?

I noticed I cannot embed in the new Blogger the slideshow of 2006 participants because there is no function in the header of the new layout to write html codes, so I will probably lose the slides I love so much from participants in these two EVO sessions ... Maybe I should delete it completely ... We´ll see. I feel it holds dear memories from one of my first blogs. The first I ever opened (2005) only has one entry, ha, ha. I never wrote in it again. The second fulfilled important administrative purposes as the site for onlline institutional reflecttion on our university´s freshman programs. It was quite successfull at its time.

I have opened blogs in Motime and Wordpress but Blogger is still my favorite as it is the easiest to set up, it is free, has no limits as to the number of pictures or videos to upload, offers a lot of technical support, requires little skill for students or teachers to use them, it does not crash or is off service for long, and so many other advantages that one does not realize until one tries other services.

Although I had set up personal blogs, it was a year ago that I decided to have a class blog for my reading courses. Here is an example of the one my students and I are using at this very moment: http://usbreading2.blogspot.com/

I intend to post a couple of entries while I participate in some EVO sessions this year ;-)

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