16 June 2013

Thinglink for World Language Educators and Learners

Photo credit link to Thinglink
Thinglink for World Language Educators and Learners

Traditionally, language teachers have given students vocabulary lists to memorize followed by pictures to label. While it is important that the students interact with visual content, a simple picture with a basic word or sentence does not engage a student at his or her fullest capacity. The knowledge provided for this task was teacher-centered and evidence of student learning involved regurgitation of the content. However, for deeper knowledge of vocabulary and grammar, it is recommended that students learn the concepts through contextual audio, visual, and spoken examples. Thinglink is a Web tool that allows students and teachers to annotate an image with video, audio, and textual tags. The tool is useful for educators who wish to provide a more thoughtful introduction to vocabulary, grammar, or culture with interactive (and student-chosen) elements. It is also an excellent assessment tool for learners as it requires them to demonstrate their comprehension of the concept beyond a basic translation.

In my example, I have used the idea of animal descriptions. This could be any thematic concept (tense, storytelling, vocabulary, culture). My 1st year students learn the verbs “to have,” “to be,” adjectives and verb conjugations through animal vocabulary. It is an engaging thematic unit for them as they are familiar with and interested in animals.

The expected outcomes of the unit are:
1. Description of animal body parts using the “to have” verb.
2. Description of animal size and personality with the “to be” verb.
3. Description of animal habitat and activities using appropriate vocabulary and a variety of verbs.   
4. Demonstration of knowledge of the animals that live in the local biosphere.
5. Demonstration of knowledge of endangered animals and their needs.
6. Discovery of new animals, vocabulary, and descriptive language.

In the initial introduction of animals, the teacher may choose to prepare 5-10 Thinglink interactive images as the “romance / enticing” activity that present the intended vocabulary and verb sets. The images should provide visual and auditory stimulation through Comprehensible Input (Krashengeared toward the appropriate level. Students are able to explore and discover the concepts in a “natural” fashion. While this is not the entire presentation of the vocabulary and verbs, it allows an initial and comprehensible introduction that will entice and not intimidate the learner.  Consistent repetition of the core concepts (have, be, verbs, body parts) leads the learner to interact with a basic overview of the intended outcomes.
In my example, I have used the “to have” verb with body parts. I produced a short sound clip through SoundCloud (think Twitter for audio, without the 140 character limit!) to describe a squirrel (It is smart, sneaky, small, etc.) along with common squirrel activities (running, jumping, eating, etc.).The embedded and subtitled video provides exposure to authentic language in a non-threatening, engaging, and amusing setting. Note that I have not included a grammar-based video describing the verb conjugations and adjective accordance.
Using a tool such as Thinglink provides a space for students to feel as though they are learning, but through a self-guided investigation.

For an assessment of student growth, teachers may assign 3-4 animals per student with a list of requirements for tags. In this manner, the student will demonstrate his or her speaking, reading, and aural comprehension by building a tagged image encompassing these standards. The task is personalized because the students choose the animals and the media. In my experience, students demonstrate their strongest work when they are given a structured task, but with the freedom to adapt it with their own knowledge and artistic styles.

When working with Web tools, I require that students write, review and rehearse their eventual demonstrations on paper and in person before they commit to the Web. Allowing free reign on the Internet without preparation may lead to plagiarism, Google translations, or direct copy/paste of a text. As always, teach students the basic steps that they should follow with any research and production. The fact that this project is Web-based should not detract from core standards and expectations.  

To guide you through your first Thinglink creation, I included screen captures of the steps as well as the Thinglink-produced SlideShare and links to the various media types. You should create your own account on which you experiment before introducing the students to the site. Providing the learners with your first few examples will allow them to conceptualize the expected outcomes and procedures. Demonstrate the basics of uploading a picture, Web-appropriate behaviors (digital citizenship basics), assessment of media (video length, language, appropriateness), and recording to SoundCloud.

Screen Shots from Picassa Web - Click directly on the slideshow (or HERE) to view a larger version in Picassa. Captions for the pictures appear at the bottom. 

Thinglink SlideShare

I suggest having one account for Thinglink and SoundCloud to track student work and progress. In the past, I have provided one password for the entire class for both sites. You may wish to have students (if age and district policy allows it) to create their own accounts for each site and have students share their work. If your district does not allow YouTube access, ask students to research videos at home and send themselves or you the link to the videos. The bonus to Web-based tools is that students may work on these projects at home as long as their work has been previously prepared and approved.   

Lastly, Thinglink has a new iOS app for iPods, Pads, and Phones. In my investigation of this free app, the user is able to add video and text to a picture, but I have not found (as of June 2013) a way to add a SoundCloud audio file.

I have built this lesson based on basic requirements and assumptions. If these requirements do not meet your realities, please contact me and we can discuss options and workarounds.

1. Access to computer lab OR iOS app (iPod/Pad/Phone)
2. Home access to computer or iOS device.
3. SoundCloud access with microphone or recording device. SoundCloud is available as an app on Android and iOS devices. A file may be recorded on the device, uploaded, and sent as a link to be added to the Thinglink image.
4. YouTube access for teachers and/or students at home or at school.

The 2D paper-bound textbook is fast meeting its end. The need for interactive and engaging replacements is a reality. Language teachers are usually granted the most freedom in exploration and innovation. Therefore, it is important to investigate the appropriate, easy-to-use, and FREE tools that are available that can be adapted to language learning and teaching. Thinglink is an excellent tool for both learners and educators. Please let me know if you have any questions, concerns, or thematic ideas.
Bonne chance et bon surf!
Catherine Ousselin

Additional blogs and references to Thinglink:
1. Free Technology for Teachers: Thinglinks Launches a Free iPad App 
2. AuntyTechIdeas: Educate with Thinglink

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