I mentioned earlier that I was going to sign up a group of students to the photo sharing site Flickr.
They’re there now.
During the last two weeks or so, they’ve been busy uploading photos taken with their cell phone cameras and discussing these images amongst themselves in English. The
photo project gallery page here on Tawawa displays everyone’s most recent upload and provides easy access to all the other photos.
Obviously, this isn’t a photography class; this is about the conversations that can evolve around the images posted and about English as a medium of actual communication. Some students have already ventured beyond the immediate group of their classmates and they are communicating with some of the thousands of users that Flickr has worldwide.
Which is great.
I don’t want to lock my students into a “distance learning” course. Instead, I’m trying to give them access to the conversations conducted out here on the Internet. To me, photos seem as good a starting point as any, and Flickr as good and delightful a community as the best of them.
So this project is meant to be open: if you want to talk to my students, sign up for a free Flickr account and fire away!
Bonus link: Yukiko’s photos on Flickr.
Rudolf….this is fantastic! I had no idea you had proceeded with this project. Is this part of the coursework in one of your classes, or is this something extra curricular for the students?
Also, is there any way to track ‘conversations’ they have with other Flickr members?
Flickr is very much with it when it comes to making all the shiny new toys available. There are XML feeds both for photostreams and for comments. I had to poke around a bit, but I managed to put together a list of everyone’s comment feeds and I plugged that list into my Bloglines account. I’ve been toying with the idea of dragging those feeds onto the Web and displaying them in a sort of bulletin board interface, yet there may not be enough practical benefit to warrant the effort.
The feeds, obviously, only give me access to what happens on the student pages. If the students go out and talk to other Flickr users on other pages, I can’t keep track of that with the technology at hand.
However, during course sessions I ask the students to report on their activities, on the problems they have using the technology, on the joys and frustrations they experience. This gives me an additional handle on what’s going on.
And yes, this is a course. There’s no syllabus and it involves a fair amount of improvisation on my part, but it’s intended as a cross between a hands-on intro to the technology, a conversation and a composition class.
The technology part may be the most straightforward bit. These are freshmen, straight from high school, where no effort was made to teach even basic computing. So I’m teaching them how to save and retrieve files on their Windows boxes, how to link to URLs etc.
The conversation part takes place both online and off. The main idea is that the photos serve as starting points for “descriptions” and comment threads, thus creating an environment in which the students can jointly explore topics of their own choosing. Then there’s the, if you wish, meta-level of the mailing list and the Flickr Group I started, where we use a message board. And of course there’s the classroom where we talk about what we’re doing, which involves some straight old-fashioned instruction, but which I try to handle as a conversation as well.
Then there’s the composition part: right now I’m trying to impress a couple of formalities on them (no space before punctuation marks, one space after, etc.), but once everyone is reasonably familiar with the technology, I will insist they move from short captions to some extended writing.
There have been claims that the prevalence of cell phones creates a
computer literacy problem among Japan’s youth. I’m not sure such criticism places the blame where it belongs, but clearly the gap is there. I think my Flickr project can negotiate and bridge the gap: I’m meeting the students where they and their cell phones are, and I’m asking them to translate and extend their communicative skills, which they clearly do have, both into their second language and into a wider network.
Also: when you’re logged in to Flickr and go to your home page, there’s a Comments you’ve made link. This gives you a list of all the photos you’ve commented on and highlights the number of comments made on each picture since you commented; very nifty for tracking the threads you’ve participated in.
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