Friday, June 30, 2006

Should I be worried?

If you put "banging teachers" in Google you get my blog at the
top of the list. How weird is that? Click here. More strange
and illuminating facts courtesy of

Thursday, June 29, 2006

And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the land

One of the great things about summer is that I have more time (and perhaps more importantly, appetite) for reading. I've finished the World is Flat by Thomas Friedman and Freakonomics which were both full of interesting, left-field ideas about everyday life. Of the two, Freakonomics is the easier read (not to mention shorter LOL). It investigates such intriguing ideas as what Sumo wrestlers and cheating techers have in common and the economics of naming your child!

Unfortunately, the world is not flat all over as I discovered yesterday while booking my return flight to Greece on the internet. The actual booking part went smoothly and was completed in less than five minutes (hurrah Thomson!!!). However, when I got my confirmtion email it didn't mention anything about tickets, Indeed it said that I had to have my flight documents with me when I check-in. As this is the first time I've booked a flight via all through the internet I wanted to confirm that I had indeed got a place on the flight and ask about the procedure as far as collecting the tickets was concerned.

The most logical answer would be that I would pick them up at the airport. However, living in Greece for many years has taught me always to check such details in order to avoid any unwanted complications.

Golden rule - The size of an organisation is inversely related to the common sense it uses when dealing with people.

And then suddenly bumpy terrain. First, I made a phone call to their "help" line which produced first, an engaged line(20 mins) and then a recorded message that they were all doing training. Next, a vist to the local Thomson travel agency got me zero results. They said that they had nothing to do with the internet side of the business and that I should phone the help line.

When I told them I'd already tried that they reminded me that they had no connection with the internet side of the business (if this is all starting to sound familiar I went through this loop two or three times before I realised that I was in fact dealing with some advanced, prototype cyborg, rather than human being. Eventually she did offer to phone on my behalf. However, only if I gave her the phone number,

"You mean that you don't know your own company's phone number?
"But they are loads.
"And you don't have a list somewhere?
"Why don't you phone the helpline?"
"BUT I HAVE ALREADY...... never mind."

After appproximately ten more phone calls, including one to Kafka's long-lost English descendent, and another one to somebody who first refused to give my the number of the Thomson customer service department, and then denied that that Thomson even had a customer service department at all, did I manage to get the information I needed.

Does "No frills" have to mean "no brains"?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Staring out the window

Strange facts that you may be interested to learn about yourselves, dear Teacher Dude's BBQ readers.

1 80% of you use English on your computer, but only 2% know Dutch.
2 Only 11% of you use Macs.
3 However, less than half of you use Internet Explorer !!!!
3 Most of you are European (56%).
4 But 1% of you are from Peru.
5 One of you came across my site whilst looking for "aqualand corfu". I hope you read the article and choose a better hotel.
6 Today's visitors came from Poland, UK, USA, Canada, Greece, Australia, Serbia, Denmark, the Czech republic, Japan, Chile and Cambodia.
7 You spend, on average about eight minutes on the site.
8 One of you viewed this site from the Falk Laboratory school, Pittsburgh.

And you seem like such normal folks. LOL

BTW if you want to find out similar information about your own visitors check out and Geovisitors.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Taking time out to appreciate the flatness

One of the good things about being on holiday is that I can spend more time reading and surfing on the net. So, along with the fact that I temporarily (sigh) have access to a much faster connection means that I can enoy the "flatness" that the internet has been promising for so long.

Over the last day or so I have been doing nothing productive at all, which is tremendously liberating and has allowed me to come across some very interesting nuggets of information. So, please forgive the self - promotion, I'm merely doing it in order to illustrate a point.

Weird and wonderful facts that have caught my attention. Well, firstly, I have been sited as a source in an essay written by some student at the university of Harvard (sorry, the link has mysteriously disappeared from Google. No, seriously LOL), which is pretty mindblowing to tell you the truth. Secondly, and even cooler if possible, I got name checked in a podcast by David Noble who was talking about a Skypecast he organised, and which I took part in. Actually, I was in a park in Thessaloniki, mooching off somebody's wifi connection, if I remember.

Finally, and perhaps completely un-web 2.0, I got the chance to speak Greek in Bristol. Ducking into a cafe to get out of the rain I sat myself down at a table in the corner and found myself overhearing a conversation in Greek by the people next to me. I think I freaked them out a little when I asked them where they were from in Greek. They kept on asking me if I was really from Bristol and looking at my quizzically. I'm not sure they knew what to make of me. The city is not exactly a hotbed of language learning to tell you the truth.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The future's catching up with me

We Didn't Start the Fire

Last year I blogged about using this song as a basis for a video using a digital camera and/or images taken from the internet and edited using Window's Movie maker. Well, it seems my words have proven prophetic and a whole load of people have done exactly that. Cool!!

Check out the other videos here.

A history of the world in three parts

In the World is Flat Friedman talks about Globalisation 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 in order to show how computers, the internet etc are a continuation of older patterns of trade and contact. I think that this three-way division could also be used as far as technology and education are concerned.

Teaching and technology 1.0

This is the stage I'm at, as far as my teaching situation in Greece in concerned. The battle is all about access. Access to PCs, access to the internet, access to broadband. In each case there is not enough of these things and so our teaching practices can only use of the web indirectly. For example, I use material such as hand outs downloaded from the net or podcasts in the classroom instead of traditional listening materials. I can set up a class blog but can't access it at school or during lesson time. As a result internet use is merely a "gimmicky" extra which can happily be ignored by those who don't like it.

Teaching and technology 2.0

In this stage the practical problems mentioned above have, for the main, been solved. Access to computers and fast internet connections are taken for granted. Technically, at least, the barriers have been removed. Yet web tools such as podcasting and blogging still have to be approved of by educational authorities and teachers who are sceptical. The internet can no longer be kept out of the classroom, however, teachers can simply use it the same way they'd use more traditional resources and so nullify any effect it may have. An even greater problem is that internet tools have to be integrated into a traditional curriculum which values only "pen and paper" knowledge.

This seems to be the stage at which most of the teachers using the net I admire seem to be. It seems that as much of their energy is expended defending the new practices as is used actually using them.

Teaching and technology 3.0

Friedman's book talks about the how the introduction of internet technology into business in the mid to late 90's didn't immediately spark off a productivity boom. His main idea is that this technology didn't create these gains until people had started to organise themselves in new and different ways which allowed them to exploit the new web - based opportunies more efficiently.

I would argue that this is also going to be true for education. The internet will be so important to the way we teach and learn that educators will either have to embrace it or choose another profession.

Up till now it has been used as a way to augment or reproduce from afar the traditional classroom experience. What will happen however, is that the tools such as vlogs, podcasts, voip, blogs etc will introduce a completely different way of getting yourself an education. I have no idea what form this will take, but I'm absolutely sure it will not be anything like the way we are teaching today.

Ninja podcasting

Ask A Ninja: What is podcasting ?

Now, this is what I need to put on my Wiki space in order to explain podcasting. As the man says it 's all about making apple pies for whales!!!

It's that simple.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Joining the dots

As some of you may already know I've been reading The World is Flat over the last week or so and it has had a great impact on how I see the world and what I think I should be doing as a teacher in my classroom. However, I keep on having a number of historical "flashbacks" as I see an older pattern repeat itself. Ok, here is a pop quiz.

What do these places have in common ?

Lindisfarne, England - 7th century
Edinburgh, Scotland - 18th century
Manchester, England - 19th century
Kitty hawk, North Carolina USA - 20th century
Bangalore, India - now

Well, in short they are all centres of world changing events that in their time were considered to be part of the periphery. In each case these places played host to thinkers and visionaries who changed the world. In each case those who were not considered part of the intellectual mainstream, created ideas and concepts that changed (or will change) the very fabric of our civilisation.

And I see the same thing happening all over again with the next intellectual revolution to hit us in education. The changes are not being led by those at the pinnacle of the educational establishment, but rather by practitioners who are experimenting with the new tools of learning and forging ahead, irregardless of current shibboleths. Once again, it is those who are far from the centre, on the periphery, geographically, economically and politically who are showing people the way forward.

It's a wonderful example for those of us who feel that we are far from the traditional centres of decision making and who have, up till now, felt we must simply do what others have deemed important.

If you want to see what the future of education looks like, check out:

Now, this is just a tiny, tiny part of the wave on innovation that has been released by web 2.0. Just imagine what their students will be able to do!!!


I came across this interesting site which was mentioned on a class history blog. It's would be great if they could design it so that everyone could add their own slogans, something along the lines of FlagrantDisregard.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

My first international lesson - First impressions

Well, I finished my first phone lesson, albeit with a few hiccups and misfires. It worked pretty well, but it would not be my preferred way of teaching if I could avoid it, for a number of reasons.

1 Technical problems are still an issue with Skype. The sound quality is variable, which is ok if you want to talk to another fluent speaker of your language but makes thing much more difficult for learners.

2 Timing: as there are slight delays in transmission the delicate oral ballet that makes up a conversation is often disrupted. Once again fluent speakers can compensate but it can be difficult for less advanced students to know when to speak.

The "No gap - No overlap" rule that English uses doesn't hold true for other languages and so knowing when exactly (and since we're talking about 0.10 second time intervals, I mean exactly) to contribute is a skill that has to be practised.

3 My student was a little hesitant at the beginning of the lesson but so got into his stride and coped with the technology well. However, not everyone is as confident as he is and I think that this kind of communication would be too daunting for many.

4 Video would help these initial difficulties enprmously as being ale to see the other person furnishes us witha wealth of extra information and makes it easier to talk freely, at least with people we know.

Gazing Windows...

Gazing Windows...
Originally uploaded by Trapac.
Better than sending you all postcards, don't you think?

My first international lesson

In a few minutes I'll be doing a lesson with one of my students back in Greece. He is taking the ALCE exam on the 24/25th June. We've been preparing for this since September, however as he had exams at his state school and I wanted to get back to England to see my folks, we stopped doing lessons for a couple of weeks. So, to help him get back into the rhythm of things as far as English is concerned, I'm going to do some interview practice via Skype. Unfortunately, because of practical issues (connection speed, etc) we'll have to do this on the phone.

Still, from small acorns .......

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


I was just browsing through Flickr when I came upon this page. If you want to see Thessaloniki at it's best look no further. These images are better, by far than those I've seen in guide books, magazines etc there.

Adding to your blog

Once your students have got the hang of the basics of blogging here are some really fun things to add to their own blog;

1 Video: If you sign up with YouTube you can post any of their clips directly onto your blog.

2 Photos: Although you can add photos easily enough in most blogs Flickr allows you to post directly from their site, if you sign up with them. FlagrantDisregard also has a lot of fun applications which allow you to play with photos and then post them either on Flickr or your blog.

3 Counters: There are a plethora of sites that will let you add a counter. My favourite is NeoCounter which counts the number of hits you get, lets you know when somebody is visiting and tells you which country they come from.

4 If you want to see exactly where your visitors come from try Geovisitors, which allows you to zoom in on their location using either their own maps or Google Earth.

5 Audio: If you want to add an mp3 file then go to's Playtagger site. After you add their script to your blog's template you can link directly to any mp3 file on the net.

6 Skype: If you subscribe to Skype you can add a counter which allows people to call you directly from your blog. Click here.

All of these applications require to copy and paste some code into your blog's template. This may involves a bit of playing around to find out where they best go but you don't have to be a computer genius to get them to work.

If you know of any other good applications, please let me know.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I'm reading the World is Flat an I've been looking and listening to various podcasts and videos connected with technology and teaching. I get this tremendous sense that we are stumbling into brilliance, tripping over this new technology and landing not just on our feet, but into a some wonderland of infinite possibilities.

In a sense, I'm already annoyed about how the future will view this period, for them it will be yawn - worthy, hardly worth mentioning. Just as we take for granted clean water, electricity and mass communication.

The good news, however, is that we can use this grace period in a way that those before us couldn't. These developments don't depend on some power station far away or a transmitter beyond the horizon. It comes from the strokes on your keyboard. It will depend on what you decide to add to the net, not want some guy in your nation's capital or financial centre decided you thought you'd like.

Breaking out of the geek ghetto

While browsing Edublog's ....err blog I came across this link to the Guardian, which has an article on web 2.0 stuff and teaching in which some of the blogs he helped set up are mentioned. I tell you that boy's going places;

"Web's second phase puts users in control

The web's shift from a tool of reference to one of collaboration presents teachers with some rich opportunities for e-learning

Steve O'Hear
Tuesday June 20, 2006
The Guardian

Many believe the web has entered a second phase, where new services and software - collectively known as web 2.0 - are transforming the web from a predominantly "read only" medium to one where anyone can publish and share content and easily collaborate with others.

The "new" web is already having an impact in class, as teachers start exploring the potential of blogs, media-sharing services, and other social software, which, although not designed specifically for e-learning, can be used to empower students and create exciting new learning opportunities. These same tools allow teachers to share and discuss innovations more easily and, in turn, spread good practice."

(see here for the rest of the article)

Monday, June 19, 2006

EFL Course is go!!!

I've finished doing my EFL and Web 2.0 Wiki Space. I would appreciate any comments or improvements you have in mind and, most importantly feed back from anyone who has used the ideas in class.

Thanks in advance.


Clifton Suspension Bridge

A small taste of home. I was here today, once again taking in the local sights.

BTW this isn't my work (wish it were), it belongs to Timelapseman on YouTube.

The English Daily Show

Show 71 Monday 12 June

Show 77 Sunday 18 June

the Daily English Show

Watching the future pass you by

I just remembered that I posted something about students making their own music videos (see here for link).

Sometimes I feel like William Gibson, who wrote his cyberpunk novels on a typewriter. In the sense that I can see how all this technology can be used but I don't have access to it in Greece. My imagination far outstrips the technical means at my and my student's disposal. It's especially galling when you see how quickly these ideas are becoming a part of everyday life for so many people.

Still, let's end on a positive note. Things are changing and when I get back to Thessaloniki I absolutely have got to have DSL.


Just when you think that you have discovered everything you can about teaching EFL and the internet, you come across something that makes you think that you haven't even begun to scratch the surface as far as the possibilities of web 2.0 tools are concerned.

I've just discovered YouTube and the possibilities are endless. The videos are just so cool and utterly guileless in many respects. the first set of videos to catch my eye were on Daily English Show, produced by Sarah in Japan which features recipes. This could quite happily be written and produced by my students with Greek recipes. The potential for teaching is so huge.

Also check out Blog-EFL for some really great ideas.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Whoooosssshhhh (2)

The city I grew up in is changing so quickly that it seems breathtaking. The centre which used to be filled with truely awful 70's Neo-Brutalist architect is getting a makeover and the skyline is filled with cranes. I keep on getting lost as the old landmarks I used, in the past, to navigate by have disappeared, now just gapping holes in the ground.

I suppose that I should feel outrage or at least unease that so many of the things I grew up with have gone, yet I find myself full of joy and expectation. What will take the place of the dire buildings that have blighted the place for so long?

On another note I went to the centre and came across, I don't know what to call it, lets say a festival, designed to promote a some weird form, urban mutation of orientering. In addition to people doing their thing on skateboards and BMX(?)s there was live music. I've forgotten what rock/ music felt like. I mean literally feels like, the kind of stuff that makes your sternum resonate. I cannot convey how great it was. The band playing were all teenagers whose sound just blew me away.

See here for link

Friday, June 16, 2006

My first Skypecast (as host)

I'm hosting my first Skypecast today at 6.30pm GMT (London time). If you would like to take part, you can sign up here .

It's going to be about using web 2.0 stuff and teaching. So if you want to share the secret of your success or help others avoid potential pitfalls. I'd love to hear from you.

Other teacher/bloggers

I came across this comment by Ewan McIntosh on his blog today. It just sums up so many of the ideas that I have been working on in my own modest way. Click here to listen.

The wiki so far

The wiki (EFL and Web 2.0) is now finished. Click here.

An Introduction

The aim of this site is to provide EFL or ESL students with enough technical knowledge to use the internet independently to study. It covers a range of skills from basic file management to producing podcasts. It is aimed at those with limited or minimal computer skills and so often deals with very basic issues which may put off more advanced users. However, in classes with mixed levels of competence in computing the more knowledgeable can quite happily used by the teacher as a learning resource.

In terms of linguistic competence, I would argue that the course is pitched at upper intermediate students and above. (Common European Framework B2 to C2 levels). However, with enough linguistic support, it could be used with students at lower levels.

The course could also be used to introduce L2 teachers to the use of technology in their lessons.The lessons are designed to be as "hands-on" as possible. In every lesson the learner has to produce something tangible at the end of the time, be it a blog entry, short podcast, a Wiki etc. In addition group and pair work is absolutely vital if the skills taught are to be mastered.

At every turn I have made every effort to make the exercises collaborative, taking as much responsibility for learning out of the hands of the teacher and putting it into those of the learners.


1 Access to a PC with DVD or CD Writer using Windows XP OS

2 Broadband internet access (though a dial up connection is ok for most lessons).

3 One of the following;

A mp3 player with voice recorder
A digital camera
A mobile phone with mp3 capability and a camera (ideally, with the ability to connect to a PC)

Table of Contents

1 File management - learning to move stuff around your computer.
2 Internet 101 - A quick look at what the internet can do
3 An introduction to blogging
4 Using and creating Wikis
5 Using digital cameras in the classroom (1) - using still photography
6 Using digital cameras in the classroom (2) - using video
7 Using and creating podcasts
8 Ideas for using Skype.

1 File management

One of the most important things that any computer user has to know is how to move data on and off a computer and to know where it is on the hard disk. If students cannot perform these basic tasks then much of what follows in this course will be incomprehensible.The teacher should therefore cover the following areas;

1 Explain what a hard disk is, what it does and how you find it using MyComputer. Then show students how to;

2 Create and name their own folder.

3 Move information from an exterior source and into their folder. This could be done by giving each student a CD or DVD with mp3s and asking them to choose the songs and or albums they like and then put them in their own folder.

4 Find their folder gain when starting up Windows.

5 Move the data to external medium such as an mp3 player or mobile phone.

6 Students then swap computers and find music on another person's computer that they like and using an mp3 player or mobile phone transfer it back to their computer.

7 Show students how to move the data from the hard disk to an external medium by ask them to burn a CD with their favourite songs.


Students put the mp3s on their own PC. If you are doing this lesson with language students then ask them to review an album or write down their personal reaction to the music.

It is very important to remind students that mp3s are just the same as any other kind of data, be it Word documents, photos, music etc. That they can all be moved around in the same way.

If time permits show students how to how to use DVD Shrink (there is a very good page which explains it here).1 hand out a DVD movie and blank DVD to each student. Then using the site mentioned, go through the procedure for copying a movie. Also show students/teachers how to remove subtitles.


Students create their own DVD copy with only English subtitles.


Or internet skills for scaredy cats

In this lesson the main idea is to show people how to;

1 find a page by putting in its web address
2 find something on the internet using a search engine such as Google or Yahoo.
3 refresh a page
4 stop a page loading
5 go back and forwards between pages and bookmark a page
6 open up new tabs
7 get their own email address using MSN Hotmail
8 send an email
9 open an email
10 reply to an email
11 send an email with an attachment
12 get their IM (MSN Messenger) address
13 how to chat
14 how to download files from the internet and put them in their own folders.
15 the basics of internet safety.

Before doing this lesson the teacher should have taken the class's photo and have loaded it onto each of the student's PCs.In the beginning make sure that all the students are aware of how you can connect their PC to the internet i.e. which icon to click on and what to do next if they are using a dial – up.

For steps 1 to 6: This could be done as a whole class but I think it would be more efficiently carried out by students themselves in small groups each one headed by a more computer literate student. The teacher should only intervene if the students feel that they can't understand something.

Just gently remind those who know about this stuff that they should be sensitive to the fact that not everyone shares their love or knowledge of computers.

For step 7: The teacher should be ready to guide the class as a whole step by step through the MSN Hotmail sign - up, as this can be very confusing to a newcomer, however, keep the groups created beforehand to act as a backup in case some students don't understand.

Be warned this stage will take time as finding an acceptable email address which hasn't been already claimed may be more than one attempt. Also there will inevitably be lost pages, mis-starts etc.

It is also a good idea for the teacher to keep a record of the students' email addresses, user names and passwords, as there is a good chance that students will forget or lose these details. If students do not feel comfortable knowing that someone else has such information then explains to them this email address is only for the course and that they can set up their own personal email address whose details will be known only to them at the end of the lesson.

For steps 8 to 10: First get students to swap their email addresses with someone else in the class. Show them where to put the email address they are writing to, subject, the main body of the message, and how to send it. The students are then shown how to open an email and rely to it.Students then repeat this procedure two more times with two new addresses.

For step 11: It would be a good idea if you have previously taken the class's photo and loaded it onto the student's PCs. Then show students how to attach, send and read such an email. Get them to send a reply with an attachment taken from their own PC.Just make it clear that they realise that files should be quite small in size.

If necessary show them how to find out the size of a file.

For steps 12 to 13: Go through the procedure using MSN Messenger as a class and ask students to chat with two other people, preferably on the other side of the classroom to give a sense of added realism.

For step 14: Go to CNN podcasts page and show them how to download the latest podcast using the right click and “save to” procedure. Just make sure they know how to choose My Folder. Students then download another file on their own.

For step 15: students should be made aware of the dangers of ;

opening attachments from people they don't know.
downloading .exe files.
not using up to date anti-virus programmes.
giving out personal information such as phone numbers, addresses, credit card numbers etc on the net.

Homework. Send and reply to an email from someone in the class. Use IM to chat with another member of the class.NB I would recommend using Mozilla Firefox rather than Internet Explorer for safety reasons.

3 An introduction to blogging

Ideally, the introduction to the idea of blogging should happen in the lesson before students are asked to create their own. The first step is to explain what a blog is. The usual way is to say that blog is the combination of the words “web” and “log”, which, however, will mean little or nothing to most. Better way is to call a blog your own free-of-charge internet site. The “free-of-charge” part should get their attention.

Also remind students that to set up and run a blog requires no more technical knowledge than sending an email.

In the lesson before introduce the site. Explain to students that this is a place where they can find what people are saying in their blogs about various subjects. Ask them to choose something they are interested in e.g. teaching English, the World Cup, their favourite singer etc, put it in the search engine and find some blog entries. Encourage students to flip from one site to another.

Also ask them to find and make a note of a blog they like.(It would also be a good idea for the teacher to set up a class blog in advance. It can be used to post assignments and lesson plans for each part of the course. It could also be a forum in which students discuss any problems they have with the homework).

Alternatively, you could surf Technorati in the first ten minutes of your lesson.

Lesson plan

1 Students show the blog they've found and explain why they enjoyed it.

2 Take a photo of the class using a digital camera. Explain to students that one of the things they can put on a blog is a photo.

3 Students then take photos of each other. Explain that they will be needed later.This would a good time to put students into small groups with a more computer literate person in each one.

4 Take the students through how to set up a blog. I use Blogger (more because I'm used to it, rather than any innate superiority). This will be a time consuming procedure and be sure to not rush people through this. As with anything technical, allow the more computers - minded to help make sure everyone understands.

It is also a good idea to keep a note of students' blogs user name, password and blog title. It has been my experience that many students lose these pieces of information or fail to note them done in the first place.

5 Fill in the Profile Section on Blogger. Make sure the everyone, especially younger students, understand that this is a public forum and no personal information, such a surnames, phone numbers and details that could identify where you live, work or study should not be included. If working with children or teens, double check that students have not included anything too revealing.

6 Show students how to;

Post entries,
Add photos from the hard disk (using the photo that was taken earlier).
Add photos from the net.
Put in hyperlinks.

7 Student write a short biography where they have to add a link to the class blog, add a photo and a picture of the city in which they live.

8 For homework students should repeat their biography in the class blog and post another entry in their own blog on any subject they like. Just make sure that the post has a photo and a link. Also ask students to comment on at least one other person's blog entry.

In the weeks that follows students should try to post at least one entry with photos and links. The teacher could recommend a subject for the students to blog about or students could just choose stuff on their own.

9 Show students how to use RSS programmes.

10 If time permits, show students how to link their blog to other peoples' blogs and other sites. Make sure that everyone links to everyone else's blog in the class. Also show students how to add a visitor counter such as Clustrmaps or Geovisitors. I feel that if students get outside interest in their blogs the incentive to work on them increases enormously.

This is just the first step in a process which should last at least as long as the course and hopefully, much longer. The basic idea with blogging as with all the areas covered in the course is that you give people tools they can use to learn for themselves. It's the process, not the end result that counts.


Wiki or Wikipedia to use the full name is an encyclopaedia written by anyone who has an interest in a subject and access to the internet. Literally, anyone can write or amend entries. As well as being a great starting point for students doing research it can also be a valuable way for students to reach out to a wider audience.

Recently, there has been a lot of debate over whether the site is a valid source of information, the idea being that since anyone can add to it, who is going to control the quality of the content ? What is stopping people from deliberately adding untrue facts ? Indeed there have been cases where this has taken place but generally speaking, the quality of the entries compare favourably with the Encyclopaedia Britanica.

On a more fundamental note, the use of Wiki and the possibility that they may be wrong is an extremely powerful way to introduce the idea that no source of information should be accepted unthinkingly, as automatically correct. A very powerful idea and potentially troubling one for students who are brought up in educational systems where the teacher and the course book are seen as the source of all knowledge and are to be accepted without question.


1 Choose a subject that students are likely to be well acquainted with. A good source of such ideas are local or national celebrations. Ask students to find out what they can about the chosen topic on Wiki

This might be a good opportunity for you to revise basic internet search techniques.

2 Ask students to comment on the quality of the information provided and make any suggestions on what could be done to improve the entry. This could be anything from amending a spelling to adding new paragraphs or photos.

3 Show students how to;

register with Wiki,
the rules of use,
how to modify an entry.


1 Choose an article which needs updating and edit it.

2 Post an entry on your blog and the class blog which links to the Wiki page and explain what you changed and why.

3 Read somebody else's blog and comment on their changes.

4 RSS the page and see if your changes have been edited.


In this part of the course the students are going to add their own Wiki entry to the encyclopaedia. this would best be done in large groups or as a whole class as it is a challenging exercise.


1 Students decide upon the theme of their Wiki entry. I would suggest they focus on something local and connected with their immediate surroundings, for example their neighbourhood, school or class.

2 In groups either find or create their own content for the entry. In the case of a local entry most of this will have to be generated by the students themselves. (no bad thing, of course).

Ideally, the students should then go out and get photos to illustrate their article.

3 Each group then adds their entry to Wiki. This is best done in class time in order for the teacher to give as much technical assistance as possible.


1 Post a link to your group's wiki page on your blog and the class blog and explain in brief what it's about.

2 RSS the group's article and see what changes have been made.

3 Choose one other group's article and make one change that will improve it.

6 Using digital cameras in the classroom (1)

With the fall in prices in the price of digital cameras has become more and more affordable. The cheapest ones now cost less than 100 euros. In addition memory cards, which allow more photos or video to be stored has dropped equally dramatically. This coupled with the ever growing popularity of camera equipped mobile phones means that there are few reasons not to use them in class.

When you remind students to bring their camera or phone to the following lesson, also ask them to bring any connecting cables they may have. It wouldn't be a bad idea to have a USB cable on hand as well as a card reader.

Lesson Plan

1 Everyone takes a class photo and some photo of the others in the class.

2 remind students how to get the photo off the camera/mobile phone and into their folder on the computer.

3 Teach students how to;

Rename their images.
Resize images (so that they know how to shrink image file sizes so they can be used more easily on the net).
How to upload them onto their blog
How to send them as an attachment in an email.

4 Explain to students what Flickr is and then ask them to look at the site. Give them five minutes to find an image they like and get them to post it on their blog, download to their folder on the computer and email it to another student.

5 Explain to them ho they can set up their own flickr account. It is also a good idea to keep a note of students' Flickr user name and password. It has been my experience that many students lose these pieces of information or fail to note them done in the first place.

6 Get students to upload the pictures they have taken in the class, get them to add a label, tag and description. Also make sure the students to set up groups so the can easily see each other's pictures.


Post some photos on Flickr along with tags and descriptions.

Post a Flickr photo on your blog.

7 If you are working with teachers here is the time to brainstorm possible ways in which digital photography could be used in the classroom,especially ways in which it could be used in conjunction with the course book.

Below is an example idea for beginning and intermediate students.A book that I have used over the years with beginners and post beginners is the Longman Photo Dictionary by Marilyn Rosenthal and Daniel Freeman (out of print). Basically each page is devoted to different aspects of everyday life with photographs to illustrate things such furniture, fruits etc (see photo below). However, this book was published in 1987 and so is somewhat out of date.

The idea is that students use their phones/camera to create their own, updated version. This could be a great way for students to practice basic vocabulary. This could also perhaps form the basis of a Wiki page or be used to create a drum for use by all the students in class.


1 Divide the students into pairs. Give each pair a photocopy of one of the pages from the book. Deal with any vocabulary items they may notunderstand.

2 The students do the exercise on the page.

3 Now explain to the students that they have to produce their own page, using pictures they have taken themselves to illustrate the various vocabulary items.For example, one page is entitles Actions at Home and shows people;

combing their hair etc.

4 The students then use the picture(s) to create a page that does the same job as the original photocopy.

5 Students then use the internet to find photos of more exotic pages such as Winter Sports.

6 The various pages are all collected into one file which could be part of a Wiki page or left of the hard disk of a class computer.

Alternatively, each student could take a copy home with them on their mobile phone memory card, mp3 player or CDR. Homework: Post a lesson plan on your blog.

7 Using digital cameras in the classroom (2)

In addition to still images most digital cameras also have the ability to record video. The length of such video depend up the quality of the image and the size of the memory card that the phone or camera has installed. My digital camera has a 256 mob SD memory card which can store about 25 minutes of video. It most also be remembered that the quality of the video is not particularly good, however, despite these limitations there are plenty of extremely interesting uses for these video in the classroom.

Remind students that when they bring their digital cameras and/or mobile phones they should also bring any connecting cables that came with the device. Also it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a USB cable and a card reader.

Lesson plan

1 Get your students to take a couple of short videos of their classmates and remind them how to move the file off thecamera and into their file on their PC.

2 Show students how to move this file into Windows Movie Maker, then teach them how to;

Add titles
Cut from scene to scene
Add music
Add commentary
Edit down scenes.

3 Students then use the short video they recorded earlier to produce a short one - two minute film with titles and music.

Then why not try one of the lesson plans below with the class. If teaching beginner, intermediate students then does the Video your Course Book exercise.

4 If you are doing this with teachers then brainstorm other ways in which video could be used to help students learn.


Students do the Record a Journey exercise at home and bring in the video using your camera or phone as flash memory.

Teachers could try out one of the ideas they brainstormed with their classes and write a blog entry on what they did and how well it worked.

Video your course book

All the software used either comes as standard with Windows or can be downloaded free of charge from the internet.This is another idea I have shamelessly stolen from Video by Richard Cooper, Mike Lavery and Mario Rinvolucri. Basically, it involves using a video camera to practice various grammar points in your course books. In this case the present continuous rule.

Lesson Plan

1 Present the rule in whatever way you usually do it.
2 Ask one student to work the digital camera or use his mobile phone. The others line up in a row, standing, and the person at the one end mimes an action, e.g. brushing their teeth.

The next person asks them:

"What are you doing?"

The second student replies, "Lying";

"I'm eating an apple"

The second student immediately starts miming eating an apple.

The third student asks:

"What are you doing?"

The fourth student answers;

"I'm chopping onions."And so on and so forth.

3 The whole class views the computer screen.

4 Darken or turn round the screen so they the students can only hear. The students take dictation of each new present continuous tense.

5 Now use the course book to present the tense.

Recording a journey

What you do is that you ask students to record a bus journey (it could also be done by passengers in a car or pillion passengers on the back of a bike - or Vespa, in my case). The students could record a travelogue as they went, explaining where in the city they are, what they think about the places passed etc. Or more realistically, add it later using Windows Movie Maker.

The aim is to give a 10-20 minutes guide to the city which could be posted on a blog or burnt onto CD and shared with the other students.If the idea of holding a video/digital camera for such a long time doesn't appeal then students could take still photos and again use Windows Movie Maker to create a slide show and then add commentary, titles and even music.

A standard digital camera with a cheap 256mb SD card can record 20-25 minutes of video.

8 An introduction to podcasting

Once again there is not much point going into technical details when introducing podcasts to beginners, you'll just confuse them or put them off with a bunch of meaningless gobbledygook. So the best way is to say that a podcast is a radio programme you can save onto your computer and which you can listen to at your leisure. Also that they can put it on their mp3 players or mobile phones and so listen to it anywhere they like.

Remind your students that the content of a podcast can literally be about anything and just as the subject matter varies enormously so does the quality of the content. Basically, the only differences between a regular radio programmes and a podcast are that podcast are transmitted via the internet and that anyone with a pc, internet connection and a microphone can create one.

Lesson plan

1 The best way to introduce students to the idea is to give them a list of podcast directories e.g. Podcast Alley, itunes etc. to look at.

2 Show them how to download a podcast onto their pc.

3 Students then chose a podcast that they like and download it on to their pc. Remind them to make a note of its internet address.

4 Then show them how to transfer it to their mp3 player/mobile phone.


1 Listen to the podcast and write a short two paragraph review e.g. one paragraph on what they liked about it and one about what they didn't like.

2 Post this review along with a suitable image and the podcast link on their blog.

3 (Optional) Choose another podcast mentioned on somebody else's blog and download that.

In the next lesson students do one of the exercises mentioned below and collect the raw material for their own short podcast. I don't think it is realistic to ask students to do 30 or 40 minute podcasts on their first attempt instead this should be done collaboratively with each student or pair of students contributing two to three minute segments

Using podcasts in the classroom (1)

I came across the Guardian podcast travel page (see here) and downloaded their podcast on Athens. I thought that it would be a good for my private students to listen to it. They could compare their experience of Athens (the older ones usually go there at least once during their high school years) with that of the presenter.

Actually, I as loaded it from my ibook onto her mobile phone, which can play mp3s it suddenly occurred to me that this same phone could be used to create a similar podcast (with photos) about Thessaloniki.I know that I’ve mentioned this idea before in previous posts but I could now see how such a project could be done with equipment that many of my students carry with them, a mobile phone and then be transferred effortlessly to a PC where it could be turned into a podcast using readily available programmes which can either be download free from the internet or come with Windows as standard.


1 Ask students about their impressions of Athens. What did they like or not like and what they would recommend people see and do.This is probably best done by asking students to spend a couple of minutes jotting down ideas and then putting them in groups or pairs and comparing them.

2 If you do this in a private lesson then give the Guardian podcast for homework and ask the student to write down how it compares with their experience of Athens.If you’re doing this as a class, play a short three to five minute extract from the start and ask them to compare it with their own experiences.

Students then discuss answers and hear it a second time.

3 Ask students what places would they recommend a foreign visitor to go to here in Thessaloniki.

What is the place?
Why is it interesting?

Here you may encounter some difficulties as students may have never visited the tourist traps or have seen them so often that they are hard pressed to describe something they consider self-evident. You may need to work with them on how to “distance “themselves from their home town in order to see it afresh.

4 For homework ask students to visit one of the places described and write down a few notes in English and Greek (if necessary) on the questions mentioned previously. Also ask them to make a note of any difficult vocabulary items that might be useful when describing these places.

5 In the next lesson students discuss their ideas and ask for help with vocabulary etc.

6 Explain to students that they are going to use their mobile phones to record a short, five-minute podcast. Remind them that they can do this on their own or in pairs as a kind of interview.

7 Students then write down a brief outline (and make sure it is brief as we want a sense of spontaneity, rather than the droning lecture).

8 Check the outline and make suggestions, if necessary.

9 Students record their podcast for homework and if possible, take photos (again, using their phone).

10 In the next lesson transfer (hopefully, the phones should all have USB cable connections - check to see if you need any other kind of cable).

11 One idea is to use Audacity and Lame to join and edit the different podcasts. Alternatively, Window Movie Maker (which comes with Windows XP) could be used to add photos and titles to the podcast.

12 The final product could be put on a webpage or blog, burnt onto a cd or stored on the students PC for use in their European Language Portfolio.

Using podcasts in the classroom (2)


I Ask students ask about their favourite bar or cafe.

What makes it special?
Would it appeal to a foreign visitor?

2 Ask students what they know about Krakow, Poland. If you think that they'll not be able to answer then set this for homework.

3 Play one short extract from the first few minutes of the podcasts.

4 Students write down everything they can from it. They then share their information with each other.

5 Play the extract again. Students then discuss the differences between their favourite cafe and the one mentioned in the extract.

6 Divide students into two groups and explain to them that they are going to do something similar. One group thinks up questions and the other think about how to describe their bar/cafe.

7 Put the students in pairs and let one interview the other. If possible record the interview. It could become a great podcast idea.


Skype is a programme which can be downloaded free of charge from the net and it transforms your pc with broadband connection into a phone capable of making calls either free of charge or at a very cheap rate (as I speak, it is 1,7 cents per minute).

As with all of these lesson it does wonders to emphasise the fact that it's free and that it can save them a fortune if they make long distant phone calls. That, at least, should get their attention.

As with an ordinary phone the possibilities for communication are endless so whatever I talk about here will be the tip of the iceberg.

The most interesting ideas I have come across include;


This is basically, the ability to join in a phone call with one or more speakers from any Skype enabled pc on the planet. As well as being able to take part in other people's discussions you can set up your own. Once again there are no limits on subject matter, duration or number of people allowed to join.

However, be warned as the larger the group the harder it is to communicate coherently. In addition the technology is still quite new and the quality of the connections varies considerably.

The beauty of Skype is that the majority of people using English on Skype use it as a foreign language which means that your students are on a level playing field in which no one is automatically "right" or "wrong". This is a powerful incentive to students to practice who feel intimidated by the speed and complexity of native speaker's language.

Tandem learning


Phone a stranger

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Blogging in the wild, blue yonder

We're just crossing into German airspace and I'm bored so I decided to do a bit of blogging in order to kill time.It's been a couple of years since I last went back to the UK and in a sense it is a like one of those long, convoluted explanations of Relativity that I try to struggle through from time to time.

You know the ones where one guy gets in a space space that travels at almost the speed of light while his twin brother (why is it always a guy?) stays behind on Earth. The one feels that he has only been away for a few minutes or hours while years or even decades have passed for the brother left behind.

Well, that what visiting home is like for me. In my mind everyone is exactly the same as when I left them two years ago, so It always a bit of a shock to see what the passing of time has done. A little melodramatic I know, but that's really how it feels.

Obviously, there is no internet connection on the plane so I'll post this when I get back down to Earth.

BTW This was written a couple of days ago.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


There's nothing like fast internet connection to get you searching the web anew. I am using my brother's Pc which has broadband running at 2.2mbs, the words of Scotty the engineer, from the original Star Trek crew come to mind, "She'll no take no more, captain." and then some nonsense about dilithium crystals overheating.

Ironically, I came across a a series of podcasts for teaching basic Greek produced by the Hellenic American Union in Athens. I come to England and stumle upon a site like this on my first day. Like I said, not having to wait minutes to get to a new site encourages you to try more.

I'm just about to finish downloading the whole of Pride and Prejudice from Librivox. It took little over an hour as opposed to the last audio book I downloaded which needed the better part of a day!!!

tandem learning

I remember many years ago my then boss (and also my teacher of Greek) talking about something called tandem learning. The basic idea was that students learning each other's language could team up, taking turns to speak in their own language, then swop to the langauge they were learning. So, for example a Greek student would spend the first half of the lesson chatting or working with a German learning Greek and then in the second half of the lesson they would swop roles.

Now with the advent of Sype this is much more feasible proposition. All you have to do, as a teacher is set up a Skypecast with a school whose students want to learn your language and then divide the classes into pairs, based perhaps, on age, gender, mutual interests etc.

Here are some useful sites;

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Back to Bristol

BTW Did I say that I'm going back to England? No, I didn't think so LOL.

The photo was taken during the annual hot air ballooning festival, which will be between 10th and 13th August this year. I remember watching this as a kid. It was great fun, especially when thing didn't go according to plan and the balloons gently dropped to earth all over the city, ending up in gardens, parks and basically any open speace you can think of.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

T minus two

I've finished doing lesson plans for PC file management, basic internet skills, blogging and using digital cameras/video for my Wikispace, now I have to find time to do an intro to podcasting, Wikis and Skype. I think that this is going to take a bit longer than I expected.

Also just two days left till I go back to the UK. Don't worry dedicated reader I have been reliably informed they too have access to ye olde worlde net, so I'll be posting from there as well. Expect lots of photos.

My only problem is that now its the World Cup and everyone in Britain seems to have gone football (soccer) crazy, which as complete non-fan I find a bit worrying.

BTW Image manipulation courtesy of

Friday, June 09, 2006

Dude by David

My creation
Originally uploaded by teacher dude in Greece.
Teacher Dude By David Hockney (Late LA period)

Check out the Hockneyizer site.

Front page news

My creation
Originally uploaded by teacher dude in Greece.
I found a great site (see here) that allows you to do all kind of fun stuff to your Flickr photos. I had a quick look and made my own magazine cover. Cool!!!

A Flat Earth moment

I had another Flat Earth moment today when I took part in my first successful Skypecast organised by an American teacher of English with people from;


While there were technical problems (not least being the noise from the traffic from my end drowning others out - sorry about that). It struck me as utterly amazing that anyone with a PC and access to a broadband connection (which I don't have yet - hence the choice of the park as a wifi access point) can organise a meeting with people from all over the planet at absolutely no cost and with only minimal technical skills.

I'm starting to understand how people like Marconi, Edison and the Wright brother must have felt. We are on the cusp of a new reality, the consequences of which will be beyond our wildest imaginings. The possibilities of such cheap, planet wide communication will change completely so many of the economic structures we take for granted today.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Keeping you updated

I haven't been posting much on the blog lately as I have been devoting my energies to the Wiki space I'm developing. If you want to see how it's going click on the top link on the right of the page. Also I'm off to Britain in a few days and so I've been rushing around getting tickets and currency ready, not to mention trying to find out where I put my suitcase and passport.

Not that any of that has stopped me getting through a large part of the first series of West Wing. A crash course in the intricasies of american presidential politics hardly sound like diverting stuff, but it has got me riveted. How on earth did they sell this idea to the networks ? You can imagine the look of frozen horror on the face of some TV executive when somebody said,

"Hey, I've got a great idea. Let's make a serious drama series based on politics. "

Hard sell, do you think ?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Sources: NET - NET 105.8 - ANA

"The public opinion is numbed over the developments in the case of Alex Meschisvili, 11, who has been missing since 3 February from his home in Veria, Greece. As per the police, little Alex was murdered and a group of five children, aged between 11 and 13, hold the key to solving the case. A search is underway to locate the body of the unfortunate boy in the ruins of an abandoned house that was demolished a couple of months ago, as the juveniles indicated that Alex was buried in the house’s basement. Moreover, the foundations have been laid for a new building, just metres from the location. The Police are searching the premises assisted by an EMAK (Hellenic Rescue Team) unit with specially-trained dogs, while a Prosecutor and a Coroner have also arrived on site. In addition, by order of the Police Chief, the operation is being videotaped. A pair of shoes was found in the rubble earlier, but it was later clarified that they did not belong to Alex."

see here for the rest of the story

I thought long and hard about writing this post. I usually don't us this blog to talk about anything political as it is not the appropriate forum. However, sometimes things happen which make you stop and think about what the hell is happening around you. The murder of an 11 year old boy by his fellow students is one of those things.

For those of you who do not live in Greece the whole country has been watching with a kind of shocked horror the story that is coming out of the town of Veroia. Thankfully, such events are rare in Greece, however, the thing that makes my blood boil is the fact is that this is so obviously a hate crime and yet the media is spinning it as anything but. The fact that the five kids accused of murdering Alex were not all Greek seems to have blinded people to the obvious.

Yet, I would argue that racism, and lets do some straight talking here, is at the heart of the whole affair. It was racism, and not just Greek vs non-Greek prejudice that I believe help the "gang" decide upon their victim and it was racism that kept peoples' mouths shut afterward. If he had had a Greek surname there is no way a murder carried out in the centre of this small town, next to the town hall, in plain sight of hundreds of apartments would have gone unsolved for four months.

Believe me, anyone who has spent time in close-knit towns like Veroia knows that there is no such thing as a secret, that absolutely everyone knows everyone else's business.

I don't which is worse, a community that fills young peoples' mind with ideas of hate and prejudice or the adults who undoubtedly helped the children hide poor Alex's body and so prolonged a mother's agony for so long ?

I'm a parent too, and I wonder what the future holds or my daughter with her non-Greek looks and foreign surname. What kind of treatment awaits her in a society that finds it so hard to accept anyone different?

Also See Devious Diva's blog for her take on this.

Αθειρωμενο σε οσους κρυβονται πισω απο το δαχτυλο τους.

Getting Started

I'm in the first stage of creating a page at Wikspaces in which will later become the course outline that I talked about yesterday. So far all I have done is copy and paste ideas from the blog. I hope to edit and organise the space in the next week week or so. I realise that once again I'm at the bottom of another sharp learning curve. However, if I ever want to convince my students to use this stuff I have to be a confident user as well.

Well, If you like you can check it out here. (There is not much new for regular readers though).

Just remember that this is very much a work in progress, so advice and contributions would be most welcome.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Course outline

Over the next week or so I'm going to try and organise some of the ideas I've had on this blog into a more coherent form. What form these ideas will take and in which way I am going to put them on the internet, I haven't decided yet. The basic idea is that I want to design a 10 - week, ten - hour or so introduction to web 2.0 (and not only) tools which can be used with upper intermediate and advanced EFL/ESL students with limited technical knowledge. It could also be tweaked in order to introduce teachers as well to such concepts.

The ideas are already sprinkled about my blog in a haphazard fashion, so what I want to do is pull them together, give more teaching guidance and publish them in something like Wiki. I'll let you know more details when I have things clearer in my own mind (it's still in the scribbled notes stage).

The aim is to provide hands on introduction to;

basic internet (email, IM, safety issues)
file manipulation (i.e finding, storing and moving files on and off a PC)
podcasts (finding, using and creating ones)
Skype (An introduction to the main ideas and skypecasting)
Wikis (use, modification and creation)
digital video and photography using digital cameras and mobile phones

Sunday, June 04, 2006

BBQ tips

Another example of machine intelligence at work. Apparently, my blog is featured on Southern Recipes, as they've linked to one of my posts called Cpe Interview Tips.

Just remember kids, the secret to success in any exam is to have plenty of onions and don't forget to marinade. LOL.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Computers are set to take over the world, but not quite yet.

I came across a translation site for Greek/English, and vice versa, so I decided to try it out, using a story from

"Της εξωτερικής πολιτικής που ακολουθεί η κυβέρνηση υπεραμύνθηκε την Παρασκευή στη Βουλή η Ντόρα Μπακογιάννη, απαντώντας σε επίκαιρη ερώτηση του τέως προέδρου του ΣΥΝ Νίκου Κωνσταντόπουλου. «Δεν εγκαταλείφθηκε το Ελσίνκι» τόνισε η υπουργός Εξωτερικών, εξηγώντας ότι το 2004 δεν υπήρχε επαρκής προετοιμασία για μια προσφυγή στη Χάγη." (see here for the rest of the story.)

Here is the machine translation;

"The exterior policy that follows the government [yperamynthike] Friday in the Parliament [Ntora] [Mpakogianni], answering in topical question of his former chairman SYN Nikos [Konstantopoyloy]. “Was not abandoned Helsinki” stressed the minister of Abroads, explaining that in 2004 did not exist sufficient preparation for a resort in Hagen."

I don't see any professional translators losing sleep over this, to tell you the truth. Whilst the meaning in English is pretty clear to anyone who knows Greek, I suspect it means absolutely nothing to anyone else. Still, if you want to write some Yoda - style dialogue for you next sci-fi magnum opus then it could prove useful.

Anyway, here's my translation, let's see if I can't do a better job.

"Dora Bakoyianni continued to defend the government's foreign policy in parliament on Friday. In answer to a timely question put by the ex-Synapismos president, Nikos Konstantopoulos, the foreign minister stressed that Helsinki (agreement) has not been abandoned and went onto explain that the 2004 appeal to the Hague had not been adequately prepared."

Why not check out the translation site for yourself and tell me if it works better with other languages.

And teachers worry that computers are going to replace them in their jobs. Well, no time soon, judging from this. LOL

Friday, June 02, 2006

Friday Night

It’s Friday night, I’m on the balcony as it is too hot and humid to stay indoors. It seems that the everyone else in the neighbourhood has had the same idea. I can smell sovlakia and hamburgers bring grilled as Manoulis and Koula decide to have an impromptu barbecue.

In the street below there is a whole bunch of kids screaming and shouting, playing some game which involves a ball and a bunch of rocks piled up in the middle of the road. I’ve never been able to figure out quite how it is played.

To someone raised in the sepulchral quietness of an english suburb it is all very different indeed. Yet, in a strange way it is soothing, being able to watch and hear the world pass by and play, a reminder that we are not alone in this life, that we belong to a wider society.

As Thessaloniki grows more and more families are leaving such neighbourhoods to live in the comparative peace and quiet of the newer suburbs, such as Thermi and Retziki. While I can see the appeal of such places I wonder if the old addage,

“Be careful of what you dream of, it may come true”

might not be applicable here. Yes, you have more space and fresh air, but at at what cost ? Time will tell.


Today I took part in my first Skypecast, which for those who are unaware of the application, allows Skype users to all talk to each other. A kind of teleconferencing I guess, but completely free of charge. I happened upon some teachers in Japan who were themselves trying out the technology. I had a great chat with Mat, who teaches for an online school in Tokyo. Although the connection was less than perfect at may end, the whole experience got me thinking about how this could be used in the future.

On the most obvious level, the use of Skype could allow me to make up for private lessons I missed or to do lessons with students who are stuck at home etc. Great, but not exactly groundbreaking. However, if we take this idea a step futher, then the location of the teacher or the student ceases to be important. I could, with a fast internet connection, quite as happily give lessons to somebody in Beijing as the centre of Thessaloniki. Now you could argue that as I'm not based in China and know nothing of Chinese culture and language then my usefulness would be limited. In the case of beginning and intermediate students then you would probably be right. However, with more advanced students then this would be less of a drawback.

Already, American parents are using Indian maths tutors as a low cost alternative to teachers at home. It would be ironic indeed if Chinese and Indian lessons were outsourced to english-speaking countries such as the States and UK.


Theodoris and Maria

Originally uploaded by teacher dude in Greece.
A couple of students from the winter course.

student demonstration

Originally uploaded by teacher dude in Greece.
This was taken yesterday


Although I have more or less stopped my lessons it seems that my days are full and somewhat intense. Lots of images and chance meetings which fill up the time.

In the morning there was a student demonstation here in the centre of the city near the White Tower, they were protesting against proposed changes in the way universities are run. I won’t bore you with the details, just that about 10,000 people wandered by the place in the park where I was happily surfing on the net. Some of the university studentsI taught this year were in the march and came up and we chatted. Despite the size of the march and the seriousness of their demands it was all very good natured, more like a carnival than anything else.

Later on I found another wifi hotspot in the centre and I was trying to post something on Blogger when a guy came out of the cafe nearby and asked me if I was a “macas”, which I later found out was Greek for mac user. We started chatting about computers and how the wifi hotspot The one I'd stumbled upon was in fact his (but open to anyone one wanted to use it). He also offered to give loads of free software.So that was another great moment.

I bumped into another old student, again in the centre who had recently returned fron a six-month stint with the Erasmus programme in Barcelona, a city I have always wanted to visit. I told here how envious I was and she explained how wonderful it had been. Ok, now I really have to book a ticket, no more excuses.

As it got dark I took a shortcut through one on the small streets off Navarino Square, there I passed by a musical instrument store, glancing inside I saw a man giving a violin lessons to a young girl, no more than six. On the walls around the tiny room were hung violins and tools of all shapes and sizes. I was so moved that I stayed there and watched, entranced.

Finally as I went to find my Vespa I passed a young Greek Orthodox priest, with full beard and long, flowing black cassock stride by with ipod earbuds discreetly wedged just below his pillbox hat. I wonder what he was listening to ?

A full day indeed.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Speed vs Depth

This morning I read a very interesting post by Teacher in Development, which was itself a comment on another post by AJ. The main idea was that in striving to teach as quickly as possible we try to cover as much ground as possible in the language we are teaching, be it syntax, functions or lexis. However, such breadth of teaching is not matched by student achievement. That even after a year of lessons often students have made very little progress in the language.

To anyone who has taught in Greece this all sounds very familiar. In most schools there is obsession with covering as much material as possible. As a result teachers are required to squeeze 300 to 400 hours of teaching material into a maximum of 180 classroom hours. The outcome, as you can imagine, is a whole lot of half-finished books, harassed teachers and dazed students. Learning, of course does take place, as it does under any system, no matter how flawed, but a massive amount of time, money and effort are wasted.

So why does this system keep on reproducing itself ? Basically, I would argue that this depends on three things; Fear, ignorance and greed.

Fear. The competion between frontisteria - small, private language schools here is fierce. The number of schools has grown whilst the number of students has dwindled. In such an atmosphere everyone is looking to outdo their neighbour. So if school x teaches a course using four books, then we can tell the parents we are much more serious about learning as our students get through five books. And so on and so forth. Each school afraid that if it doesn’t follow this trend then parents will take their kids out of the class and enroll them elsewhere.

Ignorance. Unfortunately, this is widespread. The majority of school owners who have little or no teacher training. Teachers are often chosen on the basis of cost rather than aptitude or experience. It costs less to hire a younger, inexperienced teacher than an older one, like me. In addition with the wages paid, most experienced teachers get out of the system as quickly as possible, if they can.

Ignorance also extends to the parents who are often kept in the dark as to their children’s real performance in class. Year after year, the schools tell parents that their kids are doing fine, or if not fine, all that is needed is a little more effort on the part of little Maria or Yiannis. It is only when the students have to do external exams such as the Cambridge FCE that that truth comes out. By which time the owner has already made thousands off the hapless parents.

Greed. The big winners in all this tawdry story are the publishing companies, both Greek and foreign who make enormous profits from selling unnecessary, often badly thought out books to students. An average student preparing for exams here typically has to buy;

a course book
coursebook companion
one or two skills books
two or three exam prepartion books

Anything from four to eight books!

When you realise that each of these costs between 20 and 30 euros then you can see how much money is being spent each year, and most of it to little or no effect.

Once again fear of not appeasing parents and ignorance of alternatives drives schools to keep on pushing methodologies and approaches which fail half the students. That the others do learn enough to get some kind of qualification is testiment to Greek student’s determination to succeed rather than a glowing testimonial to the education they’ve had.

So where does that leave teachers who want to break out of this vicious circle? As Teacher in Development mentioned in his experience of preparing students for interviews, “depth” is the answer. I would, however, add that this “depth” is the stuff that touches students, that has meaning in their lives. We need to make that the starting point of what we teach them. To others this may seems very narrow but I would argue that such focus allows students to learn much more quickly and effectively.

I'm lucky enough to work in school that has both knowledge and integrity, where professionalism and experience are both recognised and appreciated. However, They are the exception rather than the rule, as I have often found out to my cost in the past.