While completing my TESOL Diploma, I came to reflect upon my own learning strategies that had helped me to pass the course. These reflections led to the creation of a blog aimed at Diploma candidates offering practical advice and tips.[1] One strategy was experimenting with a variety of ICT resources to substitute for my lack of access to an ELT library and an in-person peer group to discuss with and consult at length, as I was taking a blended course. Blended Diploma courses, in which candidates interact with each other, the tutors, and learning materials via online platforms during most of the course, are becoming more common than completely in-person courses. The success of the blog gave me the idea of creating a website with learning resources for Diploma candidates.

Purpose of the site
This website is intended to provide practical, interactive ICT learning resources to Diploma candidates. They are interactive in the sense that they require you to act on them, test your knowledge and receive feedback. The site is also a place for you to exchange ideas about topics such as phonology and the use of the Internet to teach English.

Resource 1: British English Phonemes Flashcards
Unit 3 of the Trinity Diploma TESOL, the Phonology Interview, is a particularly daunting one for many candidates. It is essentially an oral exam including a phonological transcription and discussion of phonological issues drawn from a broad range of topics. To complete the transcription and enter into a meaningful discussion, candidates must first master a complex and specialized body of knowledge, including some basic anatomy, phonological theory and the 44 British English phonemic symbols. Mastery of this knowledge can only be achieved with considerable independent study and memorization. My experience was that this type of study is easily supported by ICT resources, thus my idea of creating the web-based Phonemes flashcards, which can be used on both mobile devices and stationary computers.

Resource 2: Essay-writing tutorial
The choice of an essay-writing tutorial as my other interactive resource was influenced in part by a request from one of my blog readers. The written exam gives you approximately one hour each to answer two essay questions on a wide range of topics. Essays must demonstrate awareness of current thinking in ELT; to do this, candidates are encouraged to use quotations from background reading. Preparation involves developing speed in formulating essay answers and recalling salient points from the literature to back up one’s own ideas.

Development and design of the site
There are a number of online hosts that provide free websites, wikis and blogs that I could have chosen for this website, such as Google Sites, Blogger, PBworks (formerly PBwiki), or Wikispaces. Having worked with each of these platforms at different times, I knew that they were all designed to allow users with minimal knowledge of website design to create, upload and organize content easily and quickly. In deciding which to use, my over-arching criteria was ease of use both for the creator and for users. I also had three specific criteria based on the resources I intended to create:
  • Easy site navigation
  • Ability to embed widgets
  • Ability to create interactive discussion forums

Site nagivation
Working with a Google website, I found organizing the navigation sidebar difficult and time-consuming. By default, a new page added to the site does not appear in the navigation sidebar; the user must remember to go through several extra steps to avoid having the new page hidden from view once she navigates away from it. In Wikispaces, however, a new wiki page automatically shows up on the navigation bar and can easily be tagged and organized under tag headings later. Modifying site navigation is far easier in Wikispaces, as an edit navigation option is always visible under the navigation bar.

Ability to embed web widgets**[2]**
As mentioned previously, interactive learning resources created using different web-based tools are an essential feature of the site. Each interactive resource is introduced with learning aims and suggestions for use. Next, a web widget allows you to do interactive exercises created with off-site web tools without leaving the website. Having my introductions and the interactive activities all on the same page gives you a far easier experience than having to open additional websites to make use of learning resources.
Both widgets I needed, Quizlet and Survey Monkey, were easily embeddable on my Wikispaces wiki, but only the Quizlet widget was allowed on my Google site. It is interesting to note that Google Sites prominently display a host of Google gadgets[3] by making them embeddable with just one mouse click from the embed menu. Some non-Google widgets can be embedded, but only through a longer and less intuitive process.

Ability to create interactive discussion forums
While each wiki page in Wikispaces includes a discussion forum feature, only registered users can comment. Google Sites also does not allow comments from non-registered users. My solution was simply to create a wiki page setting out discussion questions and inviting site visitors to use the edit button to enter their contributions and feedback. (See Appendix A for a screenshot of user feedback)

What about the EDIT button?
Even though non-registered users are not allowed to post to discussion forums on Wikispaces pages, any user can edit the wiki. This presents a danger that the any or all of my content could disappear at any time. However, each page has a view revisions function, which logs changes made to the wiki and allows previous versions to be viewed and restored. Therefore I found that the ability to allow anonymous users to participate easily in discussion forums outweighed the risk that the edit button could be used disruptively.

Implementing the site with learners
Although the site is linked to my blog, whose readers are potential users, it is not part of any regular course. It only offers optional activities to anonymous users. As I have no way of contacting users, I remain disconnected from them. A few candidates who I was in touch with briefly used the site and gave me positive feedback via email. Apart from this, I have had very little response.

Critical reflections and Conclusions
There is very little content on the website and the focus of the resources is on rote learning to a large degree. Lower-order learning was never intended to be an end in itself, but a step along the way toward informed analysis of teaching practice, synthesizing solutions to teaching puzzles and creating new approaches. To extend learning beyond memorization, the discussion forums on this site offer questions to help stimulate analysis as well as space to exchange ideas with other users.
The discussion forums have not been used, however. The website is very content-centered and not learner-centered. The phonological and essay-writing content is presented in a somewhat authoritative manner. Users are encouraged to interact with the resources in an isolated manner. Nothing on the site reflects the site visitors, except possibly, the discussion forums. In the absence of human faces and voices, without any evidence of a community of learners, it is not surprising that the discussion forums are empty.
If I were to do this project again, I would record screencasts introducing each main feature, giving the website a more human element.
I also could have worked more closely with Diploma course providers and surveyed a larger group of target users to determine exactly what kind of supplementary resources they needed. Cooperating with course providers may have resulted in having a link to my wiki on their course website, which in turn could have brought more feedback from users.

[1] Gorman, T. Walsh, P. and Deane, F. So you want to pass the TESOL Diploma?
[2] Web widgets appear as small windows from other websites and “work like mini-applications that provide games, search boxes or information to visitors on a website.” Embedding them to one’s own website involves “copying and pasting a snippet of code to display the widget, which is hosted on the developer's server.” (Source: Beal, Vangie. All about Widgets. Webopedia. Accessed: 15/3/2013.)
[3]Gadgets are proprietary widgets designed to work only on certain websites.