In the first lesson this week, I sent students into various areas of the CNN site for them to try out QuickTime. We'd had a lot of trouble downloading it in a much earlier lesson (the time lag, for one thing, plus a connection problem which cut many of the students' downloads before completion). We ended up with some students having the plugin on their machines and some without. To rectify this, I e-mailed the installer file to each student who didn't have it on her machine. Please note that this is probably in violation of download agreements, but it was the only time-effective way of doing it.
When sending students into sites, I accomplish this by sending them e-mail with the URL written out in full, plus instructions (if any) outlining what they should do. In Netscape, these typed-out URLs are live links. I recommend recent stories of interest, as well as the new almanac section of top stories from each year from 1980. As before, I let the students follow their own interests. It seemed to work well -- they were all looking at different stories or summaries. Some were using dictionaries to look up words. If they hadn't have exibitted motivation like this in earlier lessons, I would have seriously considered setting goals such as a written summary of the stories they had seen, etc. Some teachers would no doubt argue that this would have been somehow more desirable. In other situations, it probably would be.
In the remaining three lessons this week, I introduced them to Internet chat. I had downloaded the plugin for iChat from http://www.ichat.com earlier. For some reason, it took quite a long time to download (even though I downloaded the Macintosh version at home in 3 minutes over a 28.8 connection, the Windows version took about twenty minutes over our T1 line -- a slow net day, perhaps, or a local problem, or bottleneck somewhere). So, in a very probable violation of download agreements, I simply e-mailed the installer as an attachment to each student. Each student installed her own plugin, restarted Netscape, and went to a site I recommended.
iChat seems to be quite an easy program to use. They caught on to it quite easily, and had quite a fun time with it. It was much easier than IRC chat, which I'd used the year before with a different group of students during a pilot version of this course. In the second lesson, I had an outline of the screen on the board to show them how to send private messages, how to use the built-in emotion shortcuts (to laugh, nod, etc.) and how to move to different rooms. In the beginning, when all of us were in the same room, I pointed out a few of the shorthand words people used ("u" for "you", "lol" for "laugh out loud").
The students reported that they enjoyed this quite a lot. I would suggest that this experience would, over time, increase their reading speed (in that it would be quite a lot of practice in skimming for relevance). Their typing speed would also increase (no trivial matter, seeing as they all have to take an English typing certificate test as one of the things to impress future employers), yet it would be quite difficult to disentangle the increase due to chat from the increase due to typing e-mail, etc.
Some things I've learned since the lessons was that you can use a few html tags to enhance your on-line text during the chat. So far, I've found that <i>, <b>, and <u> are all acceptable (for italics, bold, and underline). Be sure to use the closing tags, too, as it seemed that subsequent text from others can be affected (at least on a Mac -- I haven't observed it on Windows). The font on the Windows verison is Comic Sans, which isn't the easiest to read. I don't know how to change that, but I suspect it might be in the fixed font preferences in Netscape. However, on Windows95 Japanese version (the only one I'm familiar with for Windows), I know that an html font tag for sans serif font yeilds Comic Sans, unless a different one (such as Arial) is specified. Perhaps there is no changing it.
(c) Bill Pellowe
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