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Blended Learning

Review of Blended Learning, Using technology in and beyond the language classroom Pete Sharma & Barney Barrett, Macmillan Books for Teachers, 2007 (reviewed by Margaret Horrigan)

Without a doubt the most innovative changes have occurred in the field of information technology in the last two decades. It has been moving so fast that it has been a little difficult to keep up. To a certain extent a generation gap of technophobes and technophiles has been created and this has never been more evident than in the workplace. Teaching should go hand in hand with technology- we embraced the tape recorder, the video, the DVD but, somehow, the computer, as an all round language learning tool, has escaped us. Perhaps this has happened because it is such an ocean of possibilities and knowing where to start is not easy.

If you have a natural talent for computers and just simply like sussing out new software programs you are quite lucky. More essential than a natural talent, however, is the physical time to sit and learn by doing and this is where Sharma and Barrett’s book is very useful indeed. At first blush I thought the book was not going to throw out much new information for me; I confess, I am an avid computer user. However, there were so many little gems of advice and solid computer basics covered that I was won over in about 20 minutes.

The book takes the most technophobe teacher on a clear, essential journey through all things ‘blended learning’. Each chapter gives an overview of a specific concept, example lesson plans related to the concept and case studies. There are a number of useful handouts provided at the end of the book and a useful index of essential terms used throughout the book. I was a little surprised that Youtube or Teachertube didn’t make the grade here though and that a glossary wasn’t provided either!

The strength of Sharma and Barrett’s book is that it is aimed at us, language teachers. This removes all the pain for those of us who quite simply need to sit down and get to grips with computers in our teaching. The writers provide some sound advice on how to use key words in search engines and refer to the staple diet of online resources such as those provided by One Stop English and the BBC sites. Some good arguments are put forward in favour of online dictionaries, podcasts and interactive whiteboards but the argument in favour of concordancers just didn’t convince me as it seemed more effort than it was worth to train learners into using this type of text analysis tool.

Chapter five provided an excellent general overview of Microsoft Office software and I’ll be lending the book to my colleague Elizabeth to quell her fear of PowerPoint! The case study in this particular chapter about PowerPoint was pretty innovative and taught me something new! One glitch I did notice in this chapter, however, was the absence of any reference to the Open Office suite of tools which are providing Microsoft with some really healthy competition. Maybe it’ll make it in the second edition?

For the technophiles among us chapter seven gave an excellent account of portable devices and threw out some gems such as taking a digital photo of the white board at the end of a lesson and emailing the photo to the learners. My mind raced at the possibilities here and I’ll certainly be trying a few things out from this chapter!

Chapter eight provides a very broad overview of computer mediated communication and briefly describes the use of chat rooms to encourage real time communication but also raises awareness on asynchronous and synchronous types of exchanges and how these can be used to help students become fluent or to reflect on their language. The ubiquitous SKYPE is covered in the same breath as video conferencing and, to be honest, I’ve been having a hard time to crack this egg and the book doesn’t help much here.

Blackboard and Moodle are mentioned in chapter eight also but, again, very quickly and to be fair each item covered in chapter eight could probably fill a book of its own and, indeed, does ! This chapter may perhaps appear a little superficial to the technophiles but it couldn’t be otherwise given the nature of the tools covered. This chapter will certainly provide food for thought for the technophobes out there.

The strength of Sharma and Barrett’s Blended Learning is that you can dip into each chapter for ideas or to refresh your memory on a specific area without having to plough through the entire book. It’s an excellent buy for technophobes and will certainly provide some useful tips for the technophiles out there.

* Litzinger, V. (2003) BLACKBOARD GUIDE for Faculty, online.vsc.edu
* Williams, B.C (2005) Moodle, for Teachers, Trainers and Administrators, Free Software
Foundation, Inc., USA
*Kipar, N. (2003) What is the Blackboard VLE and how can I use it in my teaching?, LTEU, England

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