The Global Education Conference 2010 is now two weeks behind us but with the 400 1 hour sessions archived on their site, the conference has the potential to easily continue throughout the entire year! I was involved in the conference as a moderator and participant but now I’m enjoying mining the site for topics of interest – you can too, the archived webinars are online.
In one of the webinars I discovered the skyping tutor. A little digging on google and her YouTube Channel gave me a good idea about the techniques she was using:
There were two other Skyping Tutor videos I viewed intently: Personalized Sight Word Practice & The ‘at’ Word Family. As you can see from the videos, the “skyping tutor” name is a bit of a misnomer since the techniques used go beyond skype where little more than a talking head from a webcam can be seen. To do the tutoring effective, there needs to be access to a screen sharing/webinar such as: yugma that works in parallel with skype (or forget skype and use webinar software that includes an audio option – see below).
To think deeper about online tutoring, I’d like to first share this slide from Bernajean Porter’s, webinar (session archive) at the “Leading our way forward event” from the Edmonton Regional Learning Consortia .
When technology is added to an educational activity, Bernajean urges that we see, in the least, an adaptive application that alters the way the learning takes place but ideally we should make the technology transform the learning so that something new occurs.
After seeing the Skyping tutor’s use of technology to provide reading interventions, I’d say the use of technology hovers mostly around an adaptation but there are a few glimpses of the transformative nature of the techniques shown. Let me explain. In the first video, the Skyping Tutor has switched an actual book for one that is shown on the computer…this is an adaptation – a traditional book has been replaced by the computer. What is gained by doing this? Two things I can think of right away are:
- A tutor could have an enormous number of books available without needing the physical space to store them.
- A child who has a visual impairment can be accommodated easily by enlarging the text on the screen.
The online nature of the interaction is not transformative, at least from a learning standpoint, but perhaps from an administrative angle, it is transformative! Many schools ‘share’ Specialists. Think about the time lost in transportation and set up when a specialist must move from school to school. Now consider what happens when it is just the child who must move…more focused learning time! The specialist can work around the best times for the child and the classroom teacher rather than the Specialist’s booked time in the school.
There are other ways, a virtual literacy support programme could aid student learning strategies in a school. The Ontario Ministry of Education provides the following characteristics for successful interventions:
No one intervention works for all children with reading difficulties. However, interventions that succeed for many children have several characteristics in common. Typically they involve more instructional time for children, but extra time is not enough. Other characteristics include:
- carefully planned assessments that allow for continual monitoring of the child’s response and lead to modifications of the intervention when indicated
- teaching methods that are supported by research on how children learn to read and how they should be taught
- considerable attention to the materials used (e.g., predictable, patterned, easy-to-more-difficult texts), with a focus on interesting and enjoyable texts at appropriate reading levels
- an array of activities (e.g., word study, reading, rereading, and writing)
Successful interventions generally occur on a daily basis and may occur in focused, short blocks of time, or in longer blocks, with appropriate accommodations in classroom instruction.
A virtual literacy support programme helps to meet the Ministry’s criteria by providing additional instruction time; assessment opportunities through running records and the like; easily monitored and tweaked teaching methods to suit learning research; and effortless unobtrusive recording of online sessions so there is documented evidence of a child’s progress and home-support ideas for parents/guardians. Given all these ways a virtual literacy intervention programme can support struggling students, how it is best used to address a particular student should be decided by the specialist team, the classroom teacher and parents/guardians.
For a school to launch a virtual literacy support programme, a few staffing, equipment and physical room changes may be necessary. If I was providing online language interventions from afar, I would not only like to see the child’s face but also a view of the entire child and computer from the back so that I am aware of and can manage fidgeting or inattentive behaviour. This would mean having a second computer available with its camera set up to capture the room/child’s computer and registering this “dummy” computer into the online reading support environment. I would also like access to an adult near the area the child is working in and I’d like that adult to have easy access to me. This can be accomplished through a skype backchannel or texting on the mobile phone. An ideal set up would have a parent-volunteer or other support person in a computer lab where 3-6 primary students with literacy difficulties are working individually with their own specialists for a 15-20 minute focused, directed, session. Another option may be to try one online specialist dealing with 2 to 3 students. It is important to mention, that this virtual intervention, set up as it is, would only be a part of a child’s planned intervention programme.
So beyond the adaptive advantages and possible administrative gains, what are the transforming features of the online tutoring? I believe the transformative nature starts to take hold in the techniques that can be used to assist the child in decoding difficult words. When a physical book is used, there is a tendency to keep it pristine for the next user. However when reading an electronic book, there are no issues with marking up the text either by the student or the teacher! One can write anywhere on the screen and not ‘hurt’ the book. It’s powerful to intervene in situ as seen in the screen capture from the Skyping Tutor video.
Another transformative possibility is the ability for the student to become the producer/author – Either by adding his/her audio words, written words, pictures, or even just a name – It is very easy to re-work any electronic text so that it becomes personalized, thereby motivating the student to want to read more.
The problems? For one…what comes ‘out’ must be ‘put in’….meaning, the reading material must be made available ‘electronically’ – This might mean buying electronic books – there are many out there but are there electronic graded readers? Current books could be scanned and inserted as slides in a PowerPoint – this is a technique used by the Skyping Tutor . Here are three other tutorials sharing the production methods:
(It’s best to check on “Fair Use and Copyright” rules, before scanning books for reading interventions). There is a vast array of electronic stories and books already available online you just need the time to find suitable ones to meet the needs of the struggling student:
One last thing to look into is the technology of the Virtual Literacy support techniques. As I mentioned earlier the visual is as important for the intervention to work as the audio. In addition to skype and the products that use skype for the audio portion, there are many many free (or low cost) webinar services that could satisfy the needs of an virtual language intervention program: Elluminate (a free Vroom set up would work in this instance) or Adobe Connect or any of the free services such as DimDim, ZoHo Meeting, Freebinar, mikogo, vyew , yuuguu and don’t forget the opensource offerings mentioned in this blog post by the elearnqueen. Ideally, you want the ability to share screens so that the student can interact with their mouse when appropriate. Screen writing is another technique that is common in virtual literacy interventions and although most, if not all, webinar programmes include a way to write on the screen, there may be times when sharing a screen that you want to highlight something with a mark or two. There are two programmes that I know which allow this:
Both of these programs allow you to write on the screen, print it off, save it, etc. One point, if you’re planning to do a lot of screen writing, it’s probably best to look into using a pen and tablet for writing rather than a mouse.
Do you see a move to online support in your school boards? What issues do you see with the strategies I’ve highlighted? Knowing that school reform should be based on strong research, I am interested in pursuing this idea further. Contact me if you would like to participate in a study of a virtual literacy support programme in your school or you have information from your own experiences in the fray.
Creative Commons image: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/42/Wacom_Graphire4.jpg byAlex S.H. Lin.