Diigo for Language Instruction

Filed under EdTech, Foreign Language Learning

Read on for a way language learners and teachers can use Diigo in a way that can seriously jumpstart authentic language learning exchanges.

I recently taught a course to masters students in the GSTILE (Graduate School of Translation, Interpretation, and Language Education) TFL (Teaching Foreign Languages) program at Monterey Institute of International Studies. We did much, MUCH more than explore specific tools, but more on that later (and more on how incredibly powerful it is to co-design and teach with another teacher). One of the tools that I discovered as a language learner, and that I shared with my students, to great excitement, was using Diigo’s annotation features (specifically highlighting and sticky-note comments) in language learning and instruction. For those who are not familiar with Diigo, it is one of several “social bookmarking”/knowledge management utilities (Delicious and Evernote are others) that allow you collect your own internet bookmarks and other bits of “knowledge” online, and interact with others around that information. (Diigo has nascent tools for educators and schools that I am just now exploring)

I started using Diigo’s annotation features for my own learning when an Italian language exchange partner I met on polyglotclub.com sent me a link to an article he thought I might like to read in Italian. I started highlighting words or phrases I stumbled on in the article, and adding clarification in “sticky notes” attached to each. This in itself has been very powerful as self-learning tool. I then realized there were some that Google Translate couldn’t help with, and I needed help from my native Italian speaking exchange partner. So, I started highlighting words I needed help with in a different color, with questions “stuck” to them, and now we can easily find and offer help on troublesome language issues in each other’s online reading through a shared Diigo Group, where we can see each other’s annotations right on the web pages we are learning from.

Below is an example of a section of reading I have highlighted in an online article (note that the screenshot is also taken with and stored on Diigo):

And below is a how the sticky notes appear when you click on the comment boxes next to a word (or when you create one). Note how the note is color-coded to match the highlight color chosen.



So what do you need to be able to do this?

  1. Each person needs a Diigo account
  2. Create a Diigo Group that you both need to join
  3. Share the webpage you will be getting help with to the group
  4. Start highlighting and “sticky note-ing” (you will need to install a browser plugin to use many of the features beyond basic bookmarking)
  5. Set up some system for notifying when corrections/feedback is entered and ready (group notifications, change the color to a third color meaning “answered,” or some other method. A simple email can work.

And have fun! Please comment with any other cool language uses you find for Diigo or other such social bookmarking tools.




Reflection on Persuasion – Teacher Edition

Filed under 21st Century Skills, Curriculum Development, Pedagogy

This post relates to an exercise we did in the Communication and Media Literacy course I offer to new students at my high school. We are beginning to look explicitly at persuasion, and began by discussing persuasion in general, using these prompts:

Why do we try to persuade people?
Who do we want it for?
What do we want to persuade people of? (to do something [policy], to believe something [fact, value]). Examples of each type? Examples of people trying to persuade you?
Examples of you trying to persuade other people?

I then asked that each of them reflect on persuasion in their ePortfolios, using this prompt:

On your ePortfolio, add a page: “Reflection On Persuasion”
Post link to Forum by next class.
200-400 words
Share something interesting about persuasion in your life.
Link to something interesting related to persuasion, and relate what important ideas it brings to mind for you.

I offered my own reflection on persuasion as an example, which I link to here, the same place I sent the students. I explicitly put this on my own blog and directed them here in order to pierce the veil between the real world and school; to demonstrate that there is real value in the thoughts we have.


Reflection on Persuasion

Filed under 21st Century Skills, Instructional Design, Pedagogy


This reflection on persuasion was done by me as part of an exercise in my Communication and Media Literacy class.  (You can find the Teacher Edition here).

“On Persuasion”

When I think about persuasion, I realize that we are always trying to persuade people to either do things or believe things. Often, it is ourselves we are trying to convince. And people are always trying to persuade us to do or believe things as well. What strikes me is that we need to be careful — to be full of care — by being clear on why we are trying to persuade people of things. Often, when we are trying to persuade others of things, it is for our own selfish benefit, even if we habitually try to persuade ourselves it is for the benefit of the other person. So we must take care. When we try to persuade others for our own benefit — which is okay, by the way; it is not something to be ashamed of in and of itself — we do need to be careful that we are clear to ourselves who we are doing it for, and to be ethical in our methods. Persuasion can fast become manipulation if we are not ethical in our methods. What are some guidelines to keep us from moving into manipulation territory? Well, I have a few ideas, but I decided to look into what some other people think on this, and found this post by Jonathan Fields, that I thought discusses the line between persuasion and manipulation pretty clearly and insightfully. According to the author:

The difference between persuasion and manipulation lies in:

1) The intent behind your desire to persuade that person,

2) The truthfulness and transparency of the process, and

3) The net benefit or impact on that person


I’ll definitely ponder this further, and examine some of the “persuasion” situations in my life. I’m hoping the audit is favorable to my character :-)



Measuring the Impact of Technology on Learning

Filed under 21st Century Skills, EdTech

Another post prompted by a query from a colleague at another school, who was looking for information on how to demonstrate the impact of technology on learning. Below are my thoughts

To measure the impact of anything, benchmarking of pre-defined metrics is critical. Here are two primary areas where I think technology impacts learning, and within which I recommend defining some measurable outcomes to track.

1) Technology can save us time. Are there tools your teachers are using that save them time they can otherwise use on other things? Evidence or examples of this?

2) It can help us learn and do more. For example, it can connect us to others around the world, it can process information in ways we cannot without it, it can engage students, it can allow us to publish easily, to iterate faster, etc.

So we use technology for the purposes above, but then there is also literacy of the technology itself, and a related idea I like to call “technology attitudes.” I think metrics in these areas — e.g. facility with technology, comfort with not knowing, ability to use technology to find and evaluate information, etc. (the so called ICT skills, some of which are attitudinal) — these are also important to measure.

I often like to think of technology today relative to technology of yesterday, especially the introduction of the printing press. If books were the new technology, we would want to measure how books helped improve learning, but we would also measure literacy as part of that, wouldn’t we?

Lastly, I think it is important to be broad in what we are measuring, i.e. if we only measure how many dates in history we can recall, maybe technology is not helping all that much. But we can DO so much more with technology, and since traditional metrics are of what we know, this can lead to a false impression that technology is not helping us learn.

Your thoughts?


Technology Idol Worship

Filed under 21st Century Skills, EdTech, The Big Questions

A tech director colleague posted to a forum recently inviting feedback on whether or how he should re-institute a tech committee at one of his schools. Teachers there had requested it, but his trepidation is understandable, and here’s why: tech committees are part of the wrong paradigm. Focusing on technology is educational idol worship—it is confusing a physical form for the ideas and beauty and power—for the spirit—represented by that form.

I’ve coordinated or sat on tech committees of various ilks and intents, and they always feel like a failure because they are doomed to failure—by design (except for those focusing on how to improve access to technology, or those described below…).

If we need committees at all, then what we need are communication committees; or information committees; or literacy committees; or learning committees; or better yet, we need to just do real learning in the real world, and then any technology that can help you will become part of what you are doing, and people will be—communicating; and informating; and becoming literate in critical skills including all of those that technology can be involved in; and learning; and doing.

When the printing press was revolutionizing and democratizing education, the powers that be’ed were afraid not of books, but of what books represented—of knowledge and therefore power in the hands and minds of the people they had so long controlled. Those in control of books and literacy held power because they controlled access to information, and communication. And that is what we need to be focusing on—information and communication, and learning the tools while we do that.

Our students and our teachers need to focus on the powerful things that technology allows us to do; on the spirit contained therein, and not on the body, or conveyance, of that spirit.

I’m constantly endeavoring to mediate that struggle, to get people using the tools they need, but try to re-route the conversation path so that it gets there through the lens of learning, and not through the lens of technology. For instance, in a course I teach for masters candidates for foreign language teaching, which is ostensibly about technology, we approach the conversation not through tools but through the essential components of learning, how those components manifest in language learning, and then on supercharging learning experiences to intentionally and explicitly leverage those components, through technology and otherwise, as appropriate. We also talk about the critical skills and attitudes that come with a healthy and productive use of technology, and how those are the same attitudes and skills that all of our students in every discipline need to develop so they can leverage technology in their lives in intentional and productive ways. In other words, we talk about 21st century skills, and 21st century learning environments, and try not to talk about technology as a specific thing unless our reaching towards a goal would be helped by it. And then we practice, and iterate, and share.