lunedì 18 maggio 2009

My Personal Learning Environment

Click on the image to expand it

Hello everybody!

In the image above you can see a mind map of my PLE (Personal Learning Environment) , where I organised through various nodes the places, people, skills, technologies and materials that are involved in my learning process. From this activity I learnt that this PLE is personal, so I felt free to express myself in the contents and the layout. Since this map is the result of a long learning process through all my years of study, it took me time to think upon the main concepts to insert, but after a first reflection the building process was quite easy and straightforward.

Now I would like to give you a brief explanation of some choices I made while building my map that can help you to understand my English learning process.
First of all, you can notice that I highlighted with different colours the core branches of the map in order to have an immediate overview of the upper part (in red and orange) and distinguish it from the other (in green and blue), which goes into specific details. The subcategories for each branch are listed into white boxes in order to create a clearer impact on the viewer.
The two nodes Who’ and ‘Where’ contains the people who can contribute to my learning process and the places where I can find useful ‘information’ for increasing my language and cultural competence. At present, my ‘learning process’ is mainly individual or developed through the interaction with people, such as my classmates, American peers from the exchange and English professors at the University and on the Web; or improved with an interaction with people I meet when I travel abroad or when I work as a receptionist in a Youth Hostel. In the near future I hope to travel a bit abroad and find a job that allows me to enrich my language knowledge (e.g. translator, clerk in a foreign trade office).
The part below of the map was the most complex and difficult part to represent graphically as it contains the most variety of concepts. I decided to point out on the right part of the scheme the devices I usually use to ‘check’ (grammar books and exercises, dictionaries, software, etc.) and ‘store information’ (feeds, bookmarks, folders, and links in my blog), and on the left part I listed ‘how I can act’ on my language knowledge by making a distinction between the four main skills (listening, writing, speaking and reading).

In my University career I focused for the most part on the formal side of English in order to improve my language acquisition, but I must admit that in this last year I started thinking on more informal contexts, using new tools on computer and so enlarging my view of “Learning Environment”. Now that I can explore the virtual world, exchange ideas with foreign people and test my language competence, I’m keener on the use of technologies to learn a language.
To conclude, it was really useful to represent my own PLE. I was able to categorize the materials I usually have at my disposal and I realised that during our last English course on blog I learnt using new tools to improve my language learning. I am referring in particular to
Delicious, Bloglines, Google Docs that are clearly shown in my map. Now that I have developed my PLE and that I’m finishing University, I need to find out new ways to keep up my lifelong learning and to achieve those goals I haven’t fully met so far at the University.


venerdì 8 maggio 2009

Black sheep or computer addicted? Be critical!

Hi guys!
This week, during our Wednesday lesson we discussed in groups the risks involved in using the Internet. There came out some interesting crucial points, e.g. serious problems with viruses, Trojan horses, hackers, unconscious clicking, the issues connected with privacy violation, credit card cloning, copyright infringement, and the less obvious consequences of identity and addiction problems.

With my peers, I reflected on how the Internet can be a risky tool as it often affects security. We thought in particular about the problem of “email spoofing”, which can affect the security of a site and aims at getting sensitive information from the addresser, such as passwords. This fraudulent email activity is only one of the main problems affecting people who are working with a computer. A probable solution to protect yourself in this case would be the use of a regularly updated antivirus software and the elimination of any attachment containing vague and strange messages from unknown persons.

Personally, I am not very handy at working with the computer and Internet. I use it mainly when I have to retrieve some information from the Web, or when I have to learn something new for our English course. I usually use Skype and write emails only to keep in contact with Italian and foreign friends. Moreover, I have to admit that when I can’t manage the material I need at first and the computer works slowly and badly, it becomes annoying for me to deal with technology.
As far as privacy is concerned, I think that we should not avoid putting our personal information on the Internet, but only limit ourselves to what is necessary in order to work with our computer that is why I don’t like using Facebook. On the other hand, I am conscious that in our globalized world I am in a certain way “obliged” to use this tool, which can become very useful and facilitate my work if used properly.

After our discussion, I realised that many people can see the Internet as a sort of “evil”, but the thing is that anyone, me included, should become aware of the potentiality of the computer, and of how it can be advantageous if used correctly. This is why a proper user should learn how to use it responsively without abusing or avoiding it. To conclude, I can say that it is important to develop and maintain a critical awareness of what you are accessing on the Web.

That’s all for now,

giovedì 30 aprile 2009

Get started with Google Docs

Hi everybody!
During our Wednesday lesson in the lab we were introduced into the world of Google Docs, a free web-based tool. It functions like any basic word processor and allows us to have our documents always online in order to share and edit them with our peers at the same time.
Since we were already familiar with the wiki from our first semester, we pointed out the main differences and I finally found out that using Google Docs can be really advantageous.

  • It is a service available from any computer on the Web where you can write a text and save it online.
  • While on a wiki anyone can edit many different pages, with Google Docs you have to invite peers and colleagues to privately share documents.
  • While on a wiki, only one user can edit a page at a time, on Google Docs, you can work with other people, edit a document simultaneously and see the names and the changes of who is editing with you.

Once I realised the potentiality of this tool, I worked online with my colleagues to check a number of references basing on the APA style. I have to admit that this activity of finalizing an academic work was a little bit annoying and frustrating, as it is difficult for me to remember the right conventions for referencing, but I enjoyed using this useful new tool.
I don’t know if I will use Google Docs to share documents or to work with other colleagues, but this is another technological discovery for me, which may be fruitful if I have to save a document online.

See you soon,

mercoledì 29 aprile 2009

Reflections on Linguistic Feedbacks

In this reflective post I would like to point out the common mistakes that came out after my classmates' feedbacks. From their comments there appeared some crucial grammar errors upon which I have to reflect.

  1. I have to remember that “in order to” and the subordinator “because” are not preceded by a comma.
  2. It is better to use 'because' and 'since' when I have to explain the cause of an event since the conjunction 'as' has a lot of meanings and can be ambiguous.
  3. In the same sentence I forgot to put the subject, for example I wrote "now is time ..." instead of "now it's time". So I did not considered the old rule that in English there must always be a subject - be it impersonal or not.
  4. I have to remember the difference between 'can' and "to be able to' when they're used in the past and in affirmative sentences. While “could” is used to indicate general abilities, “was/were able to” refers to a particular situation.
  5. I have to be careful when I choose a preposition in English and if I am still not sure I should check it in a monolingual dictionary.
  6. Last but not least: since English is a reader responsible language, I must remember our basic rule to simplify the most as possible because sometimes I tend to write too long and intricate sentences. It is better to split a sentence into different parts to make it clearer, and to choose the correct word order to avoid ambiguity.

I must admit that many mistakes I made are caused by distraction, and I should be more careful in future in order to avoid them and write as clearly and in the simplest way as possible.
Personally, I appreciated the feedbacks my classmates gave me, and I think that they can be very fruitful for me.

Thank you all girls!

martedì 21 aprile 2009

APA style vs. Modern Language Association style

Hi everybody!
During last week, I explored two websites about two different referencing formats commonly used internationally: the
APA and MLA. I was able to reflect on the main striking differences that I want to point out here.
First of all I noticed a general difference in parenthetical in-text citation. When using APA format, one should follow the author-date method of in-text citation. This means that the author's last name and the year of publication of the source should appear in the text while MLA style requires you to mention just the author and page number(s).
A second difference concerns the authors’ citation. While the APA style lists all authors giving their last names and first initials, the MLA style provides the names of authors exactly as given on the work, and for more than three authors, gives only the first author or you may list all authors named in the work.
A third difference is related to titles, which are italicized, with a capitalisation of the first word in the APA system, and underlined and capitalized in the MLA system..
As far as the publication of information is concerned, the APA style uses full publishers’ names while the MLA style prefers abbreviations and descriptive words. If several places of publications are listed, the APA adds the abbreviation of the city less known while the MLA provides only the first place of a list.
As regards to periodical elements, the APA style lists the first page and additional ones while the MLA style lists the first page, followed by + to indicate that additional pages.
A further difference is about the dates. In the APA they always follow the author's name while in the MLA they're placed at the end of the citation.
Finally, in the APA style just the first line of each entry is indented whereas in the MLA style the first line of each entry is attached to the left margin, and the rest of the citation is indented.
When I wrote my BA thesis, I wasn’t aware of these two different formats, and I had unconsciously combined the two. I put my titles in italics with the first word capitalised, as the APA style suggests. When I had to write in-text citations I put the author's name, the date and the number of the page after a colon in parenthesis. As far as the references are concerned, I listed the author's name, the date of publication, the title in italics, the place of publication, the publisher, and the number of pages or the chapter(s) involved in my study. I remember that I made reference to other pieces of academic papers, and books in order to find the appropriate format for my thesis, so I hadn’t a clear idea and I didn’t know about these two international referencing styles.
Even if during my University career I usually write academic papers, I have to admit that I find referencing style not so easy to use, as it can be confusing to find a proper format for each different subject. After having read the two websites I feel more confident, as in case of doubt I can make reference to these specific rules.
I hope that this little study on formats will be helpful for my future thesis too.

Make your writing readable -Task on Handout 2

Picture taken from:

Unfortunately the full text of the article I found for last Thursday is no longer available on the Web, so I chose another article of my interest from Google Scholar that I shared in delicious too. The article I found is on “Personal Learning Environments”. I was able to catch the main topic of the paper from the abstract, that is a discussion on the dimensions which characterize current conceptions of PLEs, thereby defining a space of PLEs, providing examples of Personal Learning Environments. I immediately found the name of the author Mark van Harmelen, who is an Independent Consultant at the University of Manchester. The date when it was published online wasn’t available, but I found at the end of the article a list of references, which made me think that it is quite recent. As the author was linked to a School of Computer Science in a Manchester framework team and the language used was formal, I can understand that the article is reliable.
It provides a clear layout with the use of paragraphs and follows the hourglass structure, as it starts with a relatively spread introduction with alternative definitions, so it places the subject matter in context and introduces a position which is then developed in the essay. It goes on with the body, describing in specific details the term PLE and similar terms, discussing the dimensions of a space of PLEs, and giving examples of PLE implementations. The article finally offers some conclusions going back to the introduction.
The text is cohesive and follows a logical flow of ideas, and a certain order in presenting information. Moreover it is not unusual to find repetition of words or synonyms in order to keep always the attention of the reader alive. These consideration can be proved in the example below:

“…An open system may be extended easily, a totally closed system may not be extended at all. This dimension influences personalisation. Openness is highly desirable, and can be implemented via a variety of mechanisms. At the most basic level this may be provided by facilities for users to capture and use URLs to obtain extra facilities. Some commentators are of the opinion that an open PLE can be constructed entirely from various kinds of servers on the web. However, application interoperation is a problem in this scenario. Another more complex mechanism, as yet unimplemented in any PLE, would operate by resource discovery and subsequent resource use in a service oriented architecture”

In the article each paragraph contains one main idea with a series of sentences supporting it with details, so is precise and the ideas presented can be clearly understood. Even if sometimes there are some technical words with which I was not so familiar too, such as Virtual Learning Systems, and Learning Management Systems, the author provides us with a brief and concise explanation of the main terminology. A clear example is:

“A Personalised Learning Environment can usefully mean any environment that has been tailored for an individual prior to use.
A Personalisable Learning Environment is one that can be personalised at the time of its use, either by the user or by the system on behalf of the user.”

Since the type of language used is mainly formal, the article clearly addresses to a specialised audience oriented to this type of study, or to students who want to be involved in this topic in order to write a dissertation.
Personally I think that a blog post should have all these characteristics to be easily read, because a clear layout, coherence and cohesion can attract a reader and add a value to the writer’s work.