Friday, January 27, 2012

New Technologies, New Can Do Statements

A report recently on Bayern 2 about how Twitter and Facebook are developing languages similar to the telegraph in the 1800s got me thinking.  For the sake of coolness, let's ignore the fact that I was listening to Bayern 2, the dry public radio station for intellectuals in Southern Germany.  But they made an interesting point.  So I started thinking about how workplace software is changing communication, and how I should adapt.

First, most of my students use Microsoft communicator in the work place to carry on simple question and answer communication events.  This real-time communication medium introduces a couple of things.
  • One sentence requests for updates and one sentence responses.
  • Short descriptions of what is happening around them.
  • Talking about events in the immediate future.
  • Spoken grammar in written form.
  • Use of emoticons to replace body language and facial expressions.
In fact, the communication method is exactly what we used to do in school before texting.  We wrote notes on paper and pass them around the class when the teacher was writing on the chalkboard.

I have been using strips of paper for years in the classroom to help scaffold telephone conversations and meetings.  But now I see that reenacting real-time communication with note passing could provide engaging supported practice in all kinds of situations.  In fact, it wouldn't even be unrealistic... we would in fact be practicing a skill they use everyday.  Speaking with communicator.

To many teachers this will be nothing new... you are probably using SMSs and Facebook for this, but to be honest... my aging, privacy-rights obsessed learners are not willing to take that kind of leap.  Using it as a supported practice exercise facilitates the main goals and trains this kind of interaction.

Second, many students now work in some kind of virtual team.  For the most part, I do not have trouble adapting to the fact that my students will probably never meet their English speaking contacts (goodbye greeting visitors!).  But, in my opinion we need to introduce a few skills to our traditional toolbox to suit of their special requirements.  Most are based on the fact that students must not only use the IT system to communicate, but also talk about the IT system.  Here are some proposed 'can do' statements.
  • Can ask for and give virtual directions in an IT enviroments (tell someone how to find a document on the server/internet, ask where they should send the updated document in the workflow, direct users through an application)
  • Can ask questions to fill out a form  Can describe how to complete a database form.  (Think about when you call customer support and they tell you to go to the website and they will walk you through the fix online.  This is not limited to solving IT problems.)
  • Can describe documents and document formats, including spreadsheets, word processor features, presentation themes and layouts (most virtual teams must decide on and follow certain reporting formats and structures).
  • Can find detailed information using appropriate search terms in knowledge database or search engine.  (This is sooo difficult in L2)  This goes beyond websearches and trains them how to build search strings and filter results.
  • Can understand and participate in a collaborative discussion board to solve problems and make decisions.
Can you think of anymore we should add to the list?

Note, these are not exclusively for IT professionals, rather tasks all workers must perform on a daily basis in English.  Sadly, the most formal material I have seen in coursebooks doesn't go past introducing 'copy, paste, delete'.  We can do better.  I will have to test some lesson ideas on these and I will keep you updated on the effectiveness.  But I would love to hear your thoughts.

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