From mobiles to MOOCs in Malaysia

The Twin Towers, KL, Malaysia. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2015. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The Twin Towers, KL, Malaysia. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2015. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The Digital Education Show Asia
Kuala Lumpur
15-16 June, 2015

The third annual Digital Education Show Asia once again brought together educators from around Asia to discuss key themes in contemporary educational technology, from mobile learning to MOOCs, and big data to the internet of things.

In his opening plenary, What does learning mean?, Sugata Mitra suggested that the idea of knowing is itself changing, a point he illustrated with examples going back to his Hole in the Wall experiment in 1999 in India, which was repeated with World Bank funding across a number of other countries from 1999-2004. In every case, groups of unsupervised children working on computers in safe, public spaces were able to teach themselves how to use computers, download games, and learn some English. He found that generally they could acquire a level of computing literacy equivalent to that of an office secretary in the West in 9 months. Within 4-5 months after that, students had learned how to use a search engine to discover the right answers to questions set in their school homework. His conclusion was that groups of children using the internet can learn anything by themselves.

He found, moreover, that the process could be facilitated by an adult, not necessarily a knowledgeable one but a friendly one, who encourages the children. This is the grandparent approach, which differs from the prescriptive methods typically adopted by teachers and parents. The Skype-enabled  ‘granny cloud’, formed in 2009, doesn’t only consist of grandparents, but of a wide range of adults interested in the education of children. They are beamed into remote locations where there is a lack of good teachers. They don’t teach – they ask questions. This is effectively a self-organised learning environment, or SOLE, where the ‘granny’ amplifies the process.

A SOLE can easily be set up in a traditional classroom. The essential elements are broadband + collaboration + encouragement and admiration. The furniture gets removed and around 5 computers with large screens can be introduced, with students working in self-selecting groups to try to answer questions which are posed to them. This method began in Gateshead in 2010 and spread from there across England and into Europe, and by about 2012 it had gone viral across the world.

However, teachers complained that this approach doesn’t work well in the last few years of schooling, when they need to prepare students for final examinations where there is no internet available. Mitra suggested that the examination system was born to train office workers of the early 20th century in reading, writing and arithmetic; workers had to read instructions and follow them without asking questions. He asked: Why is the school system continuously producing people for a purpose that no longer exists? Nowadays, he said, employers are looking for creativity, collaboration and problem-solving, which are skills that reflect the office environment of the 21st century. Why should an examination be the only day in students’ lives when they don’t have access to the internet? Allowing the internet into the examination hall, he suggested, will change the entire system. He went on to discuss the kinds of questions being asked in exams, and suggested that many of them have little relevance to students’ future lives, and can in any case be answered easily with Google. The old system was a just-in-case learning system; but we don’t need much of this knowledge for our everyday lives or careers.

He used the analogy of cars doing away with the need for coachmen, because the passengers became the drivers. He asked whether it is possible, in the same way, for learners to become the drivers of their own learning. This, he said, is the idea behind the school in the cloud, or SinC. A number of these environments have now been set up to explore whether it is possible to implement SOLEs remotely around the world. Results so far suggest that: reading comprehension increases rapidly, students’ self-confidence and self-expression improve, aspirations change, internet skills improve rapidly, teachers change their approaches, and SinC works better inside school than outside school. SOLEs, he went on to say, also work for skills education, undergraduate education, and teacher training and professional training.

In his paper, Will learning analytics transform higher education?, Abelardo Pardo suggested that learning analytics can involve a wide variety of stakeholders: students, instructors, institutional managment, parents or policy makers. The term ‘learning analytics’ is usually used to talk about course or departmental analytics, while ‘academic analytics’ refers to institutional, regional, or national and international analytics: but these are different levels of the same process. One challenge is how to combine very different data sources for different stakeholders. Another challenge is finding the right algorithm to cover, for example, statistical prediction, clustering and profiling (identifying features of groups within a larger population), relationship mining, link prediction in networks, and text analysis. Finally, once we have conducted the analysis, we have to decide what to do about it: how will we act on the data? So we need to link stakeholders to data sources, forms of analysis, and actions to be taken.

Co-operation between different actors and sections within institutions is essential, meaning that leadership is necessary to set up a data-intensive culture which becomes a culture of change. The term ‘data wranglers’ is being used by some researchers to describe those who liaise between members of these multi-disciplinary groups. He finished by outlining 3 scenarios: a weekly student engagement report giving personalized feedback, strategic advice for the rest of the semester, and even advice for the year; a summary for instructors indicating what students have done over the week; and finally, feedback for the institution on degrees, infrastructure, and the student experience.

In his paper, Big data for the win, Eric Tsui suggested that institutions should not only focus on internally collected data, but should consider external, historical data. He extensively discussed the cloud, with its 3 kinds of connections: machine to machine, people to machine, and people to people. He asked whether we can draw more intelligence from the cloud. He gave illustrative examples of how systems like ReCAPTCHA and Duolingo crowdsource data. He also offered a detailed example of a cloud-based PLE&N platform using Google tools, which is scalable and robust. There are challenges in big data, he suggested, around privacy, what data to collect, and the fact that historical data haunts every instructor and learner.

In the paper, MOOCs – Where are we at now?, Dr. Daryono gave a list of reasons for implementing MOOCs, ranging from extending reach and access, through building and maintaining a brand, to innovation. He outlined the differences between cMOOCs (derived from the connectivist movement, linked to the development of OER) and xMOOCs (which are highly structured, content-driven, and largely automated). There are many types and versions of MOOCs curently emerging. In the future, more recognition is needed for MOOCs, and we should work towards collaborative, affordable, consumer-driven MOOCs.

In her paper, To MOOC or not to MOOC – Considerations and going forward, Dina Vyortkina noted that people who take MOOCs are generally not fresh to education, tend to be in their thirties or older, and need English to engage in the majority of MOOCs. Drivers for institutions setting up MOOCs include a desire to increase equitable access, to disseminate courses, to advance resarch, and to innovate technologically and pedagogically. From a global perspective, developing countries are underrepresented when it comes to the offering of MOOCs; government initiatives may help. Some see MOOCs provided by Western countries as examples of pedagogical or even cultural imperialism, with few local connections.

It has been suggested that MOOCs fit well with blended or flipped learning approaches. One German study suggests that bMOOCs – blended MOOCs – offer the best of both worlds, i.e., face-to-face and online teaching. However, it’s important that educators check the provider conditions, since some prohibit use of MOOC materials for tuition-based courses. It’s also important for educators to consider how the materials fit with their own teaching philosophies, and whether the content is entirely appropriate.

In my own paper, Creating the anytime, anywhere learner, I spoke about how capitalising on the full potential of anytime, anywhere learning generally involves exploiting a high level of affordances of mobile devices for learning, which correlates with a low level of affordability of those devices in the current context. Using a series of examples, I showed that anytime, anywhere learning may not be necessary in every context, but that where it is possible, there is considerable potential for transforming teaching and learning, and developing learners’ 21st century skills. (See the summary of my presentation recorded by the conference artist below.)

DigiEd2C

Summary of Mark Pegrum’s Presentation (2015)

In his paper, Mobile learning for language learning: Trends, issues and way forward, Glenn Stockwell talked about the challenges of mobile learning outside the classroom. He noted that learning in real-world contexts can bring external disruptions, but also disruptions from inside the learning device itself. He discussed pull and push learning; with pull learning, students need to take the initiative themselves, but in push learning, material is sent automatically to students and they are more likely to pay attention to it. All in all, however, teachers are more enthusiastic about mobile learning than students are, and some learner training (not to mention teacher training) is necessary. Based on research conducted with Phil Hubbard, he suggested that students need technical training (how to use mobile devices for learning), strategic training (what to do with them), and pedagogical training (why to use them). He reported on a study which showed that pedagogical training can dramatically increase students’ participation in mobile learning.

In her paper, How can mobile learning best be used for online distance learning?, Tae-Rim Lee outlined some lessons from the Korean National Open University, which has now progressed through three generations of mobile learning services, as devices and connectivity have evolved. It was found to be important not to depend on any one network or operating system. M-learning content has been shortened to be more atomic in nature; it was found that students preferred approximately 20-minute videos. Segmentation allows students greater control over the content through which they are working. Many changes have been implemented in response to student feedback.

Together with Glenn Stockwell, I moderated a roundtable in the final session of the conference, with the title of Driving success in mobile learning – Challenges and considerations. It was an opportunity to chat to participants in more detail about implementing mobile learning in their own particular contexts and, specific differences notwithstanding, to see that there are many similar challenges and considerations in this area across the globe.

All in all, this was a very enjoyable event, which offered a chance to hear the perspectives of educators from around Asia, and a chance to network with educators facing similar questions and issues around the world.

Conceptualising mobile learning

International Mobile Learning Festival
Hong Kong
22-23 May, 2015

Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2015. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2015. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

I was only able to make it to second day of the International Mobile Learning Festival in Hong Kong, hosted by Hong Kong University at the Admiralty Centre, but it was great to take part in this dynamic event.

I opened the second day with my plenary, Mobile Design: 21st Century Approaches to Learning, where I discussed the importance of teachers seeing themselves as designers of student learning experiences which are aligned with transformative pedagogies and 21st century skills, while always remembering to take their own, and their students’, technological contexts as a starting point.

In his plenary, Designing, Modeling and Constructing: New Learning Paradigms, Michael Spector suggested that learning design must always be accompanied by evaluation at every stage. He went on to say that technologies change, contexts change, interests change, but learning does not change (when it is understood as a naturally occuring process inovlving changes in what a person knows and can do). It is the best and the worst of times at the moment: there are so many technologies available, but it is challenging for learning designers. He gave a detailed example of the work of the US National Technology Leadership Coalition in using 3D printing to support Next Generation Science Standards, with some positive results. He suggested that there is a whole hierarchy of components to support learning and instruction, as seen in the image below.

IMG_6583

Designing, Modeling and Constructing (Spector, 2015)

It is important, he noted, not to over-promise on technology. The gains due to technology since 1950 are not that great. We must keep our focus on teaching and learning, with the technology in a supporting role.

In their paper, Authentic Mobile Learning, Kevin Burden and Matthew Kearney noted that we need to interrogate what is meant by ‘authenticity’ when it comes to mobile learning. Authenticity, they suggested, may not just be about the context (which ranges from simulated to participatory), but about planning and design (whether teachers pre-define the learning experience, or give students more agency and allow the learning to be emergent) and personal relevance (whether students are detached from the learning, or engaged in the learning).

In her presentation, Flipping the MOOC Global/Local Collaboration: Understanding the Visual and Verbal Metaphors, Yilin Chen spoke about fostering 21st century skills (like creativity and visual literacy) through a flipped course based on the work of Shakespeare. For example, when studying Romeo and Juliet, the students were asked to look at manga adapations. They were also asked to create visual representations of key images in soliloquys, before considering how these could be represented creatively on the stage. Students later did Skype auditions, following which scenes were rehearsed and staged.

In his presentation, Transforming Outdoor Learning with the Use of Location-based Technology and Rapid Authoring Tool: Singapore Experience, Png Bee Hin gave an update on the work being done by LDR on augmented reality learning trails in Singapore. He outlined the growth of location-based technologies, which are expanding particularly rapidly in the Asian region. Pocket Trips is LDR’s new web-based authoring platform that can allow users to create learning trails anywhere in the world using a variety of triggers (GPS, image recognition or Bluetooth smart technology based on beacons, which now have a battery life of up to 5 years); a simulator allows users to test the app on their mobile devices without going to the actual location.

All in all, I’m beginning to sense a shift in the themes of mobile learning conferences. While there are still plenty of (necessary) case studies being reported, more and more presenters are beginning to tackle conceptual issues. It’s an exciting time, and a sign of the coming-of-age of a field, when foundational theories start to take shape. This is a shift we should keep our eyes on over the next couple of years.

Technological moves in the South

Colombo Symposium
Bogotá, Colombia
14-15 May, 2015

Plaza Bolívar, Bogotá, Colombia. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2015. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Plaza Bolívar, Bogotá, Colombia. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2015. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The Colombo Symposium in Bogotá, Colombia, brought together English language educators from across South America and further afield under the theme of ‘Challenges to Educators’ Professional Growth’. It was interesting to note the extent to which digital technologies found their way into a considerable number of papers and presentations.

In my opening keynote, entitled Mobile Language Learning: Designing for New Pedagogies, Skills and Literacies, I spoke about the need for teachers to conceive of themselves as designers of learning experiences for their students. In a mobile digital era, Mishra and Kohler’s TPACK framework provides a good base for learning design, but that design must take place within a particular social context. Thus, we must firstly ask ourselves what mobile devices our students have access to, and what affordances those devices offer for learning, before moving on to our TPACK-based learning design.

In his plenary, Unleash Your Experience: Being a 21st Century Reflective Practitioner, Micah Risher spoke of the changing expectations of new generations of learners who have had regular exposure to new technologies, as well as the changing needs of contemporary workplaces which require employees with 21st century skills.

In her presentation, A Teacher Training Blended Course in Pronunciation Pedagogy: A Case Study, Martha Ramírez described a flipped teacher training course on pronunciation with a weekly structure consisting of online preparation activities, a face-to-face tutorial, and autonomous follow-up activities; the last of these involved teachers making recordings of their own pronunciation (the learning component) and designing student activities (the teacher training component). She found that the flipped approach provided a baseline for situated learning to take place, because teachers came to face-to-face tutorials ready to put their learning into practice, and later put it into practice in their own classrooms. Working in a blended learning environment also allowed individual needs to be better addressed in a differentiated way.

In her presentation, Multi-Modal Feedback: Successfully Reinforcing Teaching Presence in the Online Environment, Carolina Rodríguez outlined the problems of online feedback, especially in the context of orally focused, interaction-based Latin cultures, including the possibility of misunderstandings in text-based feedback. In an online environment, she suggested, it is necessary to take into account flipped learning, effective practices of online learning (such as e-moderation), teaching presence, and screencasting and audio feedback. She found that screencasting and audio feedback led to students engaging better with the feedback, so that assignments became a springboard for conversation. She showed clips of her video feedback to demonstrate the role that facial expressions and voice can play in responding to students. Overall, students were more engaged in their learning, and responded well to the more personal nature of the feedback.

In her keynote, Revitalizing Your Classroom through Action Research, Anne Burns argued for a move away from top-down professional development and towards personal learning networks and action research. While not necessarily related to digital technologies, action research certainly provides an avenue for examining how digital tools can best be integrated into classroom processes. Action research is a democratising process, Anne suggested, because it puts ownership of change into the hands of the classroom practitioners who will carry it out. It is research with rather than on people, unlike much other research. Because the researcher is part of the action, learners can collaborate as co-researchers. It is highly localised and does not aim for generalisation. Finally, it can involve a range of qualitative and quantitative methods. She went on to say that teachers should share their action research where possible, because it is informative and motivating for teachers to learn about other teachers’ classroom experiences.

In his presentation, Reinventing the Teaching Profession: Dealing with Information and Communication Technology in Teacher Development Programs, Romero Ricardo suggested that changes in technology lead to changes in the world. He spoke about the changes brought about by text messaging and social media. He mentioned, and largely endorsed, key items extracted from a list of 21 things that will go obsolete in education by 2020 (based on an article in The Daily Riff on Dec. 10, 2010):

  • Language labs
  • Computers and CDs
  • Homework
  • The role of standardised tests for admission to college (replaced in part by e-portfolios)
  • Differentiated instruction as a sign of a distinguished teacher (as this will become a standard expectation)
  • Paperbacks
  • Centralised instruction
  • Organisation of educational services by grade
  • Parent-teacher face-to-face meetings (because teachers will be in constant contact with parents)
  • Paper

He went on to say that we need to move from a traditional model of education towards learner-centredness, student exploration, extended blocks of multidisciplinary instruction, active and interactive modes of instruction, collaborative/co-operative work, and teachers as guides. He suggested that when it comes to language teaching with digital technologies, we need to go beyond traditional conceptions of discourse competence to consider: Procedural competence – Socio-digital competence – Digital discourse competence – and Strategic competence. Yet at the end of the day, ICTs are just tools, that is, just a means to an end, rather than an end in themselves. Teachers, he suggested, can empower students by becoming learners too, encouraging collaboration, enabling technologies, assessing students on their academic achievement and also on their effective use of ICTs, developing problem solving skills, developing media fluency, and promoting an interdisciplinary approach.

In my own workhshop in the closing session of the conference, Mobile Language Learning: Working Inside and Outside the Classroom, the participants and I workshopped several strategies for using mobile technologies to support English language teaching: using language learning apps as well as generic, productive apps; making multimedia recordings; and using QR codes to support situated learning. There was a real buzz generated in the lab as participants suggested and exchanged ideas on how to use mobile technologies in their own teaching. It seems clear to me that mobile learning is on the verge of going much more mainstream in English language education in Colombia!

All in all, it was fascinating to obtain a better sense of how mobile and other digital technologies are making inroads into education in Latin America, and to see that – as highlighted in other educational conferences worldwide – these technologies are becoming an integral part of our conversations around learning.

Connecting the digital dots

WUN Understanding Global Digital Cultures Conference
Hong Kong
25-26 April, 2015

Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2015. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2015. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The WUN (Worldwide Universities Network) Understanding Global Digital Cultures Conference took place on 25-26 April at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, bringing together speakers from the WUN network of universities around the world. The local focus on Hong Kong and Chinese digital culture provided a fascinating counterpoint to a range of local and global presentations.

In his opening plenary, Imagining the internet: The politics and poetics of China’s cyberspace, Hu Yong argued that the Chinese internet is a space where the government is not able to interfere completely; its decentralisation and partial anonymity have allowed it to become an arena for citizens to exchange ideas and opinions. The people are increasingly trying to hold the government accountable according to the rights given them in the constitution. The internet has become a stand-in for face-to-face gatherings.

The government is now attempting to exert further control over the freedom of the internet, with a ‘control first, develop later’ strategy. The government considers people with different opinions as imaginary enemies. There have been new laws created and more arrests of verified users. Sometimes local government is sacrificed for the sake of the central government.

In fact, censorship is an intrinsic characteristic of the Chinese internet, as it is in all areas of Chinese life. It is not mentioned officially, but in private people will joke about censorship. The citizens have thus turned the internet into a platform for sarcastic spoofing of the authorities – this can be seen as the ‘poetics’ of Chinese digital culture, much of it based on a play on words and sounds (see image below). Those who lack power have been empowered, and those with power have lost it; the more you try to crack down on spoofing, the more it proliferates. But at the same time, this spoofing operates within a culture of fear. The use of this spoofing and the metaphors that underpin it have also reinforced the doublethink of Chinese culture, which is a culture of public lies and private truths.

The Chinese internet is not monolithic but rather the site of conflict between different levels of government, various departments, and between the impulse to block and the impulse to monitor citizens.

Grass Mud Horse & River Crab. Source: Tactical Technology Collective. http://goo.gl/RCOeJs

Grass Mud Horse & River Crab. Source: Tactical Technology Collective. http://goo.gl/RCOeJs

In his presentation, The urban/digital nexus: Participation, belonging and social media in Auckland, New Zealand, Jay Marlowe spoke about superdiversity as a diversification of diversity, which requires an analysis across different kinds of social differentiation. Participants in the reported Auckland study of migrants said that the digital environment augmented their existing social relationships and made new relationships possible. Different digital platforms provided different ‘textures’, with Skype for example allowing synchronous contact, and messaging apps being used in local spaces. Participants reported a gradual normalisation of ‘platformed sociality’, with considerable pressure to participate online. There was also a sense that real-life experiences need to be presented and demonstrated on social media platforms.

Overall, there is a transition from a participatory culture to a culture of connectivity; existing networks are reinforced but relationships may have migrated from face-to-face to online interaction. Greater connectivity does not necessarily mean greater connection – but it can. The landscape of access also matters; digital illiteracy becomes a new kind of poverty. It was clear that the participants were digital learners and digitally distracted at the same time, which has implications for education.

In her presentation, Material-semiotic particularity and the ‘broken’ smart city, Rolien Hoyng used the example of Istanbul and the Gezi Park protests of 2013 to contrast the development of smart cities through digital technologies and the facilitation of protests through those same technologies. There is a struggle over data ownership between the state and protesters.

In the presentation Everydaymaking through Facebook: Young citizens’ political interactions in Australia, UK and USA, Ariadne Vromen spoke about how young people use Facebook to engage in politics. She spoke of Henrik Bang’s  concept of ‘everydaymaking’, suggesting that political engagement is increasingly local, DIY, ad hoc, fun, issues-driven and based on social change, but not necessarily underpinned by traditional conceptions of such change. A study was conducted to compare young people’s usage of Facebook for political engagement in Australia, the UK and the USA. In all three countries, the greatest predictor of using Facebook to engage with politics was that young people were already engaged with politics. Everdaymaking norms were important, but pre-existing engagement was more important.

When asked about discussing politics on Facebook, most young people said they would avoid it in order to avoid conflict. In particular, they were afraid of disagreement, offending someone, or having the facts wrong. On the other hand, a small group of young people were more positive about their political engagement on Facebook. Often, they were comfortable with likes and shares, and obtaining information through political pages.

Overall, social media erodes dutiful citizen relationships with politics, but young people are wary of politics entering their social space. It is interesting to note that young people associate politics with (digital) conflict, while the like button on Facebook creates consensus.

Referring to the same research project, Brian Loader gave a presentation entitled Performing for the young networked citizen? Celebrity politics, social networking and the political engagement of young people, in which he addressed the notion of ‘celebrity politics’, where politicians use social media. There is an increase in both celebrity politicians and political celebrities, and an overall personalisation of politics.

When asked what they thought about politicians using Facebook and Twitter, a minority of young people were negative, but most were open to it, though not uncritically so. It was very clear again, as in the preceding talk, that young people do not like aggression and negativity online. Generally the young people were also positive about celebrities using social media to raise important social issues, though there were concerns that they might lack expertise or unduly influence young fans.

Overall, social media will continue to be an important communication space for democratic politics. Politicians will need to share this space with celebrities who play an important role in opening up discussions. Social media also facilitate emotional evaluation of politicians, so they may need to show more of their human side. There would seem to be an indication that political use of social media is more inclusive for young people from lower SES (socio-economic status) backgrounds.

In her presentation, Affective space, affective politics: Understanding political emotion in cyber China, Yi Liu suggested that political participation in cyber China is highly charged with emotions, especially negative ones. Digital politics in China are extremely ambiguous – people have tactics to cope with constraints; there is a positive influence of commercial forces; there are conflicts within the state authority; and there is politicised but marginalised overseas deliberation alongside a vibrant but constrained local discussion. She is undertaking a study to investigate emotional discourse within the Tianya BBS, Kaidi BBS, and Quiangguo BBS.

On the second morning of the conference, there was a fascinating set of papers about Occupy Central and the Umbrella Movement, entitled Social media in Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement. It was a privilege for the international audience to hear local voices on the events of last year.

In the paper, Social media and mode of participation in a large-scale collective action: The case of the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, Francis Lee showed that the number of protests in Hong Kong has been increasing annually, with protests having become somewhat normalised and therefore somewhat less effective. The Occupy Central movement was meant to be a short, disciplined intervention in this context. The Umbrella Movement that emerged in the wake of the police using tear gas against the Occupy Central movement was in many ways a networked movement which made extensive use of digital media, including the changing of social media profiles, dispelling rumours, etc. There were various ways of participating, with some 20% of Hong Kong adults saying they went to an occupied area to support the movement. He reported on an interview-based study of protesters, which revealed both their real-world activities and their digital media activities.

Some of the digital activities were expressive in nature and mainly involved showing support, but others were an important part of the dynamics of the movement in dispelling rumours and so on. Overall, the digital media activities were significant in the Umbrella Movement for extending participation from the physical urban space of the occupied areas to cyberspace. Mobile communication was particularly related to participation in occupied areas. Individuals could thus be selectively engaged in digital media activities and construct their own distinctive forms of participation in the movement.

In their paper, Internet memes in social movement: How the mobilisation effects are facilitated and constrained in Hong Kong Umbrella Movement, Chan Ngai Keung and Su Chris Chao spoke of the three key internet memes associated with the Umbrella Movement: the yellow ribbon (mostly used as a logo, e.g., as a profile picture on Facebook) , the yellow umbrella (suggestive of self-protection), and the slogan ‘I want real universal suffrage’ (which co-occurred with Lion Rock, and was widely reported by the mass media). They reported on a study where they investigated the use of these memes on Facebook (see image). They showed numerous examples of remixes of the three key images with pictures of famous characters, superheros, artists and politicians, and even gay-themed remixes (see image). Eventually there was a commodification of the images, which were available for purchase on clothing, umbrellas, and so on.

Hong Kong Umbrella Movement memes (Chan & Su, 2015)

Hong Kong Umbrella Movement memes (Chan & Su, 2015)

Overall, the memes primarily served the purpose of political persuasion and action. The commodification of internet memes does not necessarily serve political purposes. While Facebook spread these memes, it also constrained them in some ways, because on Facebook it is difficult to use hashtags or search engines to find related materials. Internet memes are often related to humour, but not necessarily – here they were about positive mobilisation.

Hong Kong Umbrella Movement memes: Gay remixes (Chan & Su, 2015)

Hong Kong Umbrella Movement memes: Gay remixes (Chan & Su, 2015)

In her paper, ‘It happens here and now': Digital media documentation during the Umbrella Movement, Lisa Leung commented on the way in which Hong Kong people found their agency at the time of the tear gassing during Occupy Central. She noted the key role played by social media, not only in facilitating the protests, but crucially also in archiving and remembering. Facebook, she suggested, also functions as a space within which Hong Kong people can imagine a better future.

In the last of the papers in this session, Education, media exposure and political position: Mainlanders in the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement, Zhao Mengyang noted that the Hong Kong protests had a spillover effect on the rest of the world. In Mainland China, some were supportive, and others were critical and saw the Hong Kong people as spoiled and disorderly. It was suggested that two crucial factors in the Mainlanders’ acceptance of the Umbrella Movement could be media exposure and education.

She reported on a Qualtrics survey of Mainlanders about the Hong Kong protests, which produced 2,184 valid responses. She found that: older people, males and non-CCP members were more supportive of the protests; more frequent use of newspapers, TV news and news websites was correlated with a lower level of support; more frequent use of social networking sites was correlated with a higher level of support; higher use of foreign media was correlated with a higher level of support; and higher education and full-time study were correlated with a lower level of support.

A few key suggestions emerged. Although overall internet censorship in China is strong, domestic social networking platforms might still allow moderate occurrence of alternative views. Full-time students might be more exposed to state discourse, and Chinese universities are part of the Chinese political apparatus. All in all, the chance of a spillover mobilisation effect might be slim in China.

In a later session entitled Behind the Great Firewall, several papers addressed the nature of the Chinese internet.

In their paper, Citizen attitudes toward China’s maritime territorial disputes: Traditional media and internet usage as distinctive conduits of political views in China, David Denemark and Andrew Chubb reported on a study of Chinese citizens’ attitudes to the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute, based on a survey of 1,413 adults conducted in five Chinese cities. Television was overwhelmingly the dominant source of information about the maritime disputes, with more than 90% of respondents obtaining information here; print media were used by around 2/3 of respondents; and 46% got their information via online sources; there was also crosscutting influence between different channels. The online sources were used by the young, the middle class, and the university-educated (but many of the last group also used print). This shows that the use of media is not monolithic. Overall, the two traditional media, newspapers and TV, have very similar effects on citizens’ political attitudes; the internet attracts a different audience, but it’s not enough to wash out the effects of the traditional media, which nearly everyone is using to some degree.

In his paper, The predicament of Chinese Internet culture, Gabriele De Seta noted that when we go beyond the anglophone media, it becomes much more complex to analyse the media landscape. He noted that Chinese memes such as the Grass Mud Horse can be interpreted in different ways. Online culture (网络文化) in China is very complex because it has so many layers. He showed that an anglophone concept like ‘trolling’ has many different translations and implications on the Chinese internet, and is highly segmented and differentiated, with differences found between China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. He went on to discuss a study of the Momo dating app, which was found to be used not mainly for dating, but for chatting with other bored people in the same locality, to set up a kind of online diary, or to explore the affordances of the app for self-expression. It is important, therefore, to examine situated media practices: complicating ‘cultures’ behind ‘firewalls’, downsizing the internet into platforms, services and devices; and accounting for content as small data.

On the second afternoon, a series of related papers were grouped together in a session entitled Storytelling individuals and communities.

In her paper, Automated diaries and quantified selves, Jill Walker Rettberg talked about the history of qualitative and quantitative self-representation and how it led up to the present era of self-recording through digital technologies, such as the lifelogging enabled by a device like Narrative Clip. She mentioned the term ‘numerical narratives’, used by Robert Simanowski to describe the sequencing of quantified data to tell the story of our lives. She concluded with a comment about ‘dataism’, the widespread belief in the objective quantification and tracking of human data as being potentially more reliable than our own memories of our life stories.

In our own presentation, Seeking common ground: Experiences of a Chinese-Australian digital storytelling project, Grace Oakley, Xi Bei Xiong and I talked about our experiences of running a digital storytelling project funded by the Australia-China Council from 2013-2014, where middle school students in China and Australia created and exchanged digital multimedia stories about their everyday lives. The key lessons we learned were all associated with the core theme of the need to seek common ground between the wishes and expectations of the project partners. This theme applied in the practical areas of motivation to participate, organisation, and technology (where our experiences reflected the commentary in the telecollaboration literature); and in the cultural areas of educational culture and pedagogy (where our experiences echoed the commentary in the anthropological and sociological literature about cultural differences).

In her presentation, ‘Are you being heard?’ The challenges of listening in the digital age, Tanja Dreher pointed out, with reference to the work of Jean Burgess, that it when it comes to democratic media participation, it doesn’t just matter who gets to speak, it matters who is heard. There is a lot to celebrate around affordances for voice on the internet, but this doesn’t mean that those voices are being heard. She spoke about the ‘listening turn’, where we are beginning to pay more attention to listening and not just speaking. Listening can be active and a form of agency. Key challenges include: overload and filtering (what is filtered in and out, and how does curation occur?); finding audiences; listening as participation (lurking in the sense of a listening presence is required to allow voices to manifest, as noted by Kate Crawford); and architectures of listening (how institutions and organisations might open up to listening more). We may need to think more about listening responsibilities: the proliferation of possibilities for voice online brings new responsibilities for listening.

In the closing plenary, Unstoppable networking: Social and political activism in the digital age, Lee Rainie described the Pew Research Center as a ‘fact tank’ which has no official position on the technological trends on which it reports. He outlined his two main points at the outset: Networked individuals using networked information create networked organisations and movements; and networking is unstoppable because people will always have problems they want to solve, and there are new technologies of social action that help them promote their causes. When the Pew Research Center surveys people, it generally finds that, despite the problems, people think that being networked is positive for their lives.

As individuals’ trust is shifting away from major institutions, their trust is invested more in personal networks. Our personal networks are segmented and layered, and composed largely of weak ties. It may be that, beyond strong and weak ties, we need a layer of ‘audience ties’ – people we don’t necessarily know, but who follow us on social media. There is more personal liberation in networks, but more work involved in rallying people to help you when needed. There is more importance now attached to factors like trust, influence, and awareness: our friends have become the information sentries and gatekeepers in our lives. People also turn to their networks to evaluate information, and meaning-making may start there with the help of friends.

We live in an unusual time in that we have seen three revolutions unfold over recent decades: the arrival of the internet/broadband; the arrival of mobile connectivity; and the arrival of social networking/media (which allow the reification and refinement of social networks). The trend now is to use two or more social networking platforms, making strategic calculations about which platforms to use for which purposes. The fourth revolution is now on our doorstep in the form of the internet of things, and it will have profound implications for our lives. In Western countries, Pew may soon stop asking people whether they use the internet, because it will be so embedded in everyday life.

For networked individuals, information becomes a ‘third skin’ (after our original skin and our clothes); it changes our experience of our selves and others, and how we think and remember. Secondly, ‘birth realities’ are complemented by ‘my tribes’. Thirdly, people participate in the ‘fifth estate’ (referring to social media, going beyond the fourth estate of journalism).

'My tribes'. Source: Rainie (2015)

‘My tribes’. Source: Rainie (2015)

Lee Rainie concluded with three examples of the kinds of social and political activism which are enabled in contemporary networked culture – a dying American boy who was able to obtain experimental drugs from a pharmaceutical company, which led to his recovery; environmental and anti-corruption campaigns in China, which have turned local issues into national issues; and US communities’ responses to Hurricane Sandy, which involved sharing local information on social media platforms. All of these demonstrate that the implications of networking are considerable. They also demonstrate that altruism runs deep in human beings and that new technologies can facilitate it in powerful ways.

All in all, the WUN Global Digital Cultures Conference succeeded in bringing together many ideas and themes from across disciplinary areas. I’ve no doubt that everyone left with their insights into their own areas of study and research enriched with insights from overlapping and parallel areas of study and research.

Technology focus in Taichung

International Computer Symposium
Taipei, Taiwan
12-14 December, 2014

Luce Memorial Chapel, Tunghai University, Taiwan. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2014. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Luce Memorial Chapel, Tunghai University, Taiwan. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2014. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The International Computer Symposium, composed of a number of workshop strands, took place at Tunghai University in Taichung from 12-14 December 2014. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend the first two days as I was at the ICEduTech Conference in Taipei, but I arrived in time to attend the final day, when I also gave my own keynote in the Information Literacy, e-Learning, and Social Media workshop strand.

In his plenary, Social Media and Learning: The Way Forward, Sandy Li spoke about the ubiquity of social media platforms and how they affect the way we interact with each other, though some people may see their  invasion of our lives as creepy. Social media, he indicted, are increasingly used to support education, and there have been positive claims about the use of blogging, social neworking, social bookmarking and web co-authoring (including wikis, Google Docs, etc). However, it has been pointed out by some researchers that there is limited empirical research and it often relies on self-reported data or qualitative data. There is also some suggestion that there is a negative correlation between students’ use of social media and their GPA scores.

Li went on to report on a research study on the value of social annotation, focusing on the use of the social bookmarking/folksonomy tool Diigo to annotate online documents. The participants were 48 undergraduate students in a course on technology in education. Students were placed into groups and required to research a self-chosen authentic and ill-structured issue. They used Diigo to tag and share bookmarks, make annotations with sticky notes, and co-construct argumentation where appropriate.  They then wrote a report on their different views as well as the overall views of the group. Postings (whether a bookmark, a highlighted text, or a sticky note) were assigned quality scores based on accuracy and relevance. It was found that low-level cognitive, high-level cognitive and metacognitive activities were interwoven and correlated with each other. These strongly predicted the project scores. It was found that the average number of highlighted texts explained over 50% of group variance in project score, with the amount of social collaboration explaining over 70% of group variance. Collaboration, in short, was crucial in supporting metacognitive activities. Social annotation supports different levels of cognitive and metacognitive activities and, thus, quality learning. For students, this experience was very different from using a traditional VLE or LMS, which provides a much more teacher-centred structure – in fact, TMS, or ‘teaching management system’, would be a better term. There is a need to shift our designs to allow for more student-centred learning. Most of the social annotation platforms are commercial products, lacking a clear pedagogical design framework, so they require teachers to bring the necessary pedagogical insight.

In my own plenary, Mobile Literacy: Navigating New Learning Opportunities and Obligations, I spoke about the digital literacies which are taking on new importance and new inflections as we move into a mobile era: information literacy, multimodal literacy, network literacy, code literacy and critical mobile literacy. I argued that mobile learning presents us as educators with both the obligation and the opportunity to help students acquire these skills, which are essential in a world that is not only increasingly digital but increasingly mobile.

In her paper, Effectiveness of Constructing Information Literacy via Credited Information Literacy Program, Szu-Chia Lo spoke about the importance of information literacy in a digital era. She described a study of a library course which was run to develop students’ information literacy skills.  Preliminary results show students were familiar with internet surfing but lacked knowledge about identifying proper information resources, how to conduct search strategies, and how to evaluate information. However, it was found that after taking the course, students did begin to build their information literacy skills. It was also found that combining the course with other curriculum programmes led to better outcomes.

In his paper, Originality Assurance in Academic Publication, Kun-Huang Huarng outlined the issues with plagiarism in a digital era. He spoke about the need to educate students about plagiarism on an ongoing basis, and indicated that software like TurnItIn can play a helpful role in tertiary institutions.

In her paper, Design of Chinese Language Learning APP in the Context-Aware Learning Environment (co-written with Hsiao-Han Chiu), Hong-Ren Chen explained that through context-aware technology, mobile learning can detect the location of the learner and the surrounding learning environment to provide suitable learning content. She described a Chinese context-aware learning system with an English interface for learning vocabulary, pronunciation and conversation in everyday life. GPS is used for outdoor learning and QR codes are used for indoor learning. This allows for learning outside the spaces and times of classroom education.

In the paper, Interactive Augmented Reality System for Supporting Museum Guided Instruction (co-written with Kai-Yi Chin and Jim-Min Lin) Ko-Fong Lee indicated that virtual reality is expensive and it is difficult to create a complete and attractive context. Augmented reality, on the other hand, incorporates real feelings and sensations, with 3D virtual objects enhancing learning interest. Using QR codes with AR systems has advantages: QR codes allow larger and more flexible data storage options, they have high fault tolerance and low production costs, and the decoding capabilities already exist on many mobile devices. There is considerable potential in this combination of QR and AR, with QR increasing the popularity of AR systems in education.

Like the Taipei ICEduTech Conference, with which it overlapped, the ICS brought together a wide range of practitioners and researchers to shed light on current directions in educational technology development. There’s no doubt that there’s a lot happening right now in this area in Taiwan. This is a country to watch over the next 2-3 years.

Technology focus in Taipei

ICEduTech Conference
Taipei, Taiwan
10-12 December, 2014

Taipei 101, Taiwan. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2014. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Taipei 101, Taiwan. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2014. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

In mid-December I was able to spend 3 days at the ICEduTech Conference at Tamkang University in New Taipei City, Taiwan, which drew together educational technology specialists from around Asia and the world. A spread of expertise from a variety of areas ensured that a range of issues surfaced which went somewhat beyond those typically discussed at educational technology conferences.

In his opening plenary, Cloud Classroom: The Next Generation, Chun-Yen Chang pointed out that Taiwanese students do very well in international tests like PISA and TIMMS, but they do not have interest or confidence in science. On the other hand, the younger generation makes extensive use of mobile devices. Chang demonstrated the Cloud Classroom software, an HTML5 platform accessible on mobile devices (devx.ccr.tw). It is designed to facilitate interaction between teachers and students in the form of polling exercises, where teachers can see all of the students’ responses – which, Chang suggested, is important in Chinese classrooms. Polls may require multiple choice or open-ended answers. The software can also facilitate group work, with students being grouped, for instance, according to their poll answers. Students can also take on the role of teachers and ask questions of other students. The software can be used to engage students in discussions about scientific issues such as climate change. Some research has been done on older clicker systems, but smartphone-based systems open up new possibilities for research. In a study conducted with the Cloud Classroom software, it has been found that students using the software can learn to better engage in argumentation and debate. The vision is to find a good fit between the teacher as facilitator, the technology, and the learner.

In the second plenary, From Slate to Tablet: The Development of New Media for Learning in Taiwan, David Tawei Ku outlined the history of engagement with new technologies in Taiwanese higher education. He spoke in some detail about Gartner’s predictions for the Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2015 as they apply to Taiwan specifically, as well as more generally:

  • Computing everywhere
  • The internet of things
  • 3D printing
  • Advanced, pervasive and invisible analytics
  • Context-rich systems
  • Smart machines
  • Cloud/client computing
  • Software-defined applications and infrastructure
  • Web-scale IT
  • Risk-based security and self-protection

He went on to point out that there is considerable overlap with the key trends accelerating higher education technology adoption as outlined in the 2014 Higher Education Horizon Report, and indeed in the 2012 and 2013 reports. Ultimately, he suggested, new technology trends build on, and represent new inflections of, developments which began long ago.

In the third plenary, Empathy, Empathic Information Systems and New Directions for Learning, Pedro Isaias spoke about empathic information systems which react to and can give feedback to users. He outlined the evolution from MDS (Mobile, Dexterous, Social) robots to DragonBots (see the video). The ultimate goal is a more organic relationship between humans and technology. He went on to describe the EU Empathic Products project, which ‘aims to achieve better user experience by applying affective computing technologies to understand and respond to user intentions and emotions’. The expected results (as detailed on the project website) include:

  • Methodology to create empathic (intentional , emotion enabled) applications and services
  • Toolbox of validated emotion & intention enabling technologies including UX measurement
  • A huge number of validated proofs of concept
  • New business models for exploiting intention and emotion awareness

Some of the project scenarios include conceptual e-learning projects like Emerge (involving the Umniverse platform) and the 3D World MOOC.

In her paper, Designing Participatory Learning, Henriikka Vartiainen reported on design principles drawn from her recently published dissertation. Outside the classroom, she suggested, knowledge has moved into networks. Older pedagogical practices have boundaries that make it difficult for learners to access knowledge networks and move across the learning landscape. Design-oriented pedagogy, anchored in Vygotsky’s sociocultural work, aims to build bridges between schools and environments outside schools. Students need a chance to participate in knowledge-creating activities and to become confident designers, where ‘design’ is defined as  participation in cultural practices by developing them. Students should engage in open, collaborative tasks within a design-oriented learning process. She concluded with a video example of work by Finnish students produced within such an approach.

In her paper, Assessing Critical Thinking Performance of Postgraduate Students in Threaded Discussions (co-written with Cheng-Lee Tan), Lee Luan Ng described the use of the Newman et al’s (1995) content analysis scheme to analyse students’ threaded online discussions. It was found that students engage somewhat in critical discussion, though one class (on language acquisition) did so more than another class (on research methodology). This may be because of the nature of the topics and students’ past experience with the topics. It seems that including relevant outside materials in the threaded discussions is crucial to support participants’ critical thinking. In short, critical thinking can be cultivated through threaded discussion; good task design and past experience of the topics are important.

In the paper, Training Pre-Service Chinese Language Teachers to Create Instructional Video to Enhance Classroom Instruction (co-authored with Ming-Chian Ken Wang), Lih-Ching Chen Wang spoke about the advantages of teachers creating their own video instructional materials for teaching Chinese in a multimodal format. She showed several examples of such videos created by her pre-service teachers.

In her paper, Using Project-Based Learning and Google Docs to Support Diversity, Amy Leh described a project-based learning approach to help the integration of international students with American students in a US university, using tools including: wikis for forming groups, Google Docs for paper construction, Google Forms for data collection, Skype for group discussions, tracked changes for editing, and discussion boards. When surveyed, students said they had increased knowledge and appreciation of other cultures, were better able to communicate with people from diverse backgrounds,  had greater confidence in working with people from different countries and, perhaps most interestingly, had a better appreciation of their own cultures and backgrounds.

In our own paper, Digital Storytelling Across Cultures: Connecting Chinese and Australian Schools (co-written with Cher Ping Lim, Xi Bei Xiong and Hanbing Yan), Grace Oakley and I described what we have learned from running a cross-cultural collaborative project, funded by the Australia-China Council, to enable Chinese and Australian students to learn more about each other’s language and culture through creating, exchanging and responding to each other’s digital stories.

In her paper, Building Better Discipline Strategies for Schools by Fuzzy Logic (co-written with Dian-Fu Chang and Ya-Yun Juan), Wen-Ching Chou explained the use of fuzzy logic to determine opinions about the acceptability and effectiveness of non-corporal discipline strategies in schools in Taiwan. There were six strategies perceived by teachers to have high acceptability and high effectiveness, most in the domain of positive discipline.

In the paper, Building of a Disaster Recovery Framework for E-learning Environment Using Private Cloud Collaboration (co-written with Kazuhide Kanenishi), Satoshi Togawa spoke about the centrality of learning and data systems to education, and the importance of disaster recovery procedures, for example in the situation of an earthquake. Specifically, he discussed a private cloud collaboration framework where live migration of data into the cloud is triggered by an earthquake alert.

One strand of the conference focused on new technologies in health and medicine, with a key theme being the importance of linking and making sense of data – a theme which has parallels in the work currently being carried out on learning analytics in the educational sector. In the presentation, Using Mobile Technologies to Carry Out Tertiary Medical Services in Central America and the Caribbean (co-written with Angela Cruciano, Eric Diep and Shikha Gupta), Ajay Gupta described a Medical Mission Data Tracking Software System created for developing countries. Patient information can be stored on a laptop  and later synchronised to the central system when an internet connection is available. Access to this information improves efficiency and co-ordination between patients, doctors and pharmacists. Data can also be mined to produce heat maps of diseases and monitor changing patterns. In the presentation, Augmented Reality-Assisted Rehabilitation of Activities of Daily Living, Mengyu Zhao, Soh Khim Ong and Andrew Nee described a two-phase training system where stroke patients begin by manipulating virtual objects – such as turning on a faucet or placing books on a bookshelf – before going on to manipulate real objects. Survey results indicated patients felt that the virtual object training phase helped them perform better in the real object training phase. In the presentation, Customer Service System of Advanced Physical Examination for Hospitals (co-written with Yung-Fu Chen and Hsuan-Hung Lin), Tserentogtokh Tselmegmaa explained an integrated system consisting of a patient native mobile app (which can allow push notifications) and hospital staff web application, allowing better co-ordination and management of health information. Patients can receive messages and results from the hospital, make reservations, and track their vital signs. In the presentation, The Importance of ICT in the Preparation of Telehealth Public Policy Regional Protocols in Latin America, Humberto Alves, presenting on behalf of a team of researchers, spoke of the sharing of experiences between Latin American countries in order to develop effective approaches to telehealth.

All in all, having access to such a broad range of topics and perspectives was a good way to enrich our understanding of the possibilities of e-learning and mobile learning.

Technology trending

English Australia Conference
18th – 19th September, 2014
Melbourne, Australia

The Yarra, Melbourne. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2013. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

I’ve been away from the English Australia Conference for four years, so it was interesting to return to the conference this year in Melbourne. One trend that struck me was a definite upswing in the number of sessions focusing on educational technologies. While many of these adopted a practical orientation towards classroom tools, others investigated bigger themes related to the benefits and drawbacks of these technologies.

In his talk, Engaging Digital Learners, accompanied by a website, Paul Forster explored a range of interactive web- and app-based technologies that can be used by teachers in the classroom, including quiz tools like Kahoot, Padlet, Quizlet, annotation tools like EduCanon and Curriculet, and QR and AR tools like Aurasma and Plickers.

The session Digital Literacies for Teachers and Students: A Toolbox of Practical Ideas was delivered in the format of three pecha kucha presentations by Lachlan McKinnon, Lindsay Rattray and Thom Roker. Lachlan recommended screen capture video freeware including Camstudio (Windows only), Screencast-o-matic, Jing and Screen2exe (also Windows only). Lindsay suggested that instead of asking students to switch off mobile phones, we should ask them to set their phones to English. He went on to outline activities where students skim websites in response to trivia questions; video self-introductions using their mobile phones; and take part in jumbled dictations where they type the dictated sentences into their phones, then work together to compose the full text. Thom promoted the idea of a paperless classroom, suggesting this can be achieved by using many of the apps available through Google Drive . He also spoke of the educational potential of Google Classroom

In their presentation, MOOEC Showcase, Chris Evason, James O’Connor, Ken Trolland, Susannah McCallum and Cecile Baranx showed examples of effective ESL materials on the MOOEC platform. It was pointed out that there is an opportunity for teachers not only to consume existing materials, but to create their own materials for their students.

In their presentation, We’ll See You on the Flip Side: The Flipped Classroom Model in Practice, Adrian Smith, Olivia Cassar and Carol Aeschliman pointed out the advantages of a flipped approach in giving students more language practice, and allowing them to engage in collaboration and production activities in the classroom. There is a reduction in teacher talking time, and there is more time for personalised attention to students at the point of need. However, this may not involve so much of a paradigm shift in TESOL, since many of the active learning aspects of flipped classrooms have been employed for some time in English language teaching. Making materials available before class time turned out to be particularly empowering for the weaker students, who could spend extra time preparing before coming to class. Recommended web services and apps for creating flipped videos include Educreations, GoAnimatePreziTellagami and VideoScribe. Students can even learn to use apps like Tellagami to respond to flipped videos.

In my own session, Walking and Talking Around the World: A Snapshot of International Mobile English Learning, I outlined the trade-offs that educators, as learning designers, make when they are creating mobile learning experiences for their own students in their own contexts: balancing up affordability and affordances, deciding what types of mobile learning to promote or support, and making choices about which mobile agendas to align their designs with. I rounded off with four case studies of successful mobile English language learning projects, highlighting the different decisions made in varying contexts to create effective learning designs.

This was followed by a panel, Is Educational Technology the End of the World as We Know It?, chaired by Donna Cook. Along with Kyle Smith, Vesna Stevanof and Piedad Pena, I took part in responding to a wide range of questions about educational technologies (with our responses informed by questions previously submitted by the audience through Facebook and Twitter). It’s apparent that a lot of people are experimenting with new technologies in the classroom, and encountering a mixture of successes and challenges – and there’s a lot we can learn through sharing and discussing these experiences.

At the Learning Technologies breakfast on the second day, at which I was the special guest, attendees discussed the benefits and challenges of using new technologies. A competition to produce a digital overview of participants’ experiences of educational technologies in different ELT centres produced some informative multimedia entries using tools such as Knowmia, Tellagami and VideoScribe.

Technology was also a topic which surfaced in the context of presentations on other themes. In his plenary, English and Economic Development, David Graddol outlined his concerns over the economic rationalist basis for the English language development going on around the world. He pointed out that there are two narratives about the use of technology in the classroom – one is about empowering individual teachers to do more in the classroom; but the other is about big corporations convincing education ministries that students should be plugged into educational packages, which diminish the need for highly trained teachers. Corporations are now selling directly to parents as well.

Of course, not every presentation was about technology, but technology has become an increasingly present theme, mixed in – as it should be – with broader pedagogical, cultural and sociopolitical themes.

Connecting Australia & Asia

Asia Education Foundation National Conference
16th  17th June, 2014
Sydney, Australia

Hyde Park, Sydney. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2014. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The Asia Education Foundation National Conference, under the title New World – New Thinking, opened with an overview of the importance of Australia’s relationship with Asia as we move into the Asian Century.

The official opening address was given by Scott Ryan, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education. He indicated that the Federal Govt aims to raise the proportion of Year 12 students studying a language other than English from the current 11% to 40% within a decade, and he stressed the importance of initiatives like the New Colombo Plan.

This was followed by a panel which turned the conference theme into a double question: New World? New Thinking? Natsuko Ogawa, Hayley Bolding, Okhwa Lee and Gene Sherman spoke about the increased Asian presence in international settings and, more particularly, the national Australian setting, across areas as diverse as art, business, education and law.

In his insightful talk, Xi Jinping: Uniting the Tribes of Yan’an, John Garnaut, the Asia Pacific Editor for Fairfax Media, suggested that the Chinese economy is a complex outcome of personal interest, business interest and national interest, and that you need to understand politics to comprehend it. In a country where you can’t talk about politics, you talk about, and argue about, the past. A power vacuum developed around weak leaders like Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, with Xi Jinping emerging as a new, powerful leader. Contemporary Chinese history is complicated by citizen economic empowerment, the information revolution (like China’s microblogging services, where corruption is highlighted, forming a kind of virtual civic space where a physical civic space doesn’t exist, though the state is now clamping down on this), the laws of economics, universal values and fading revolutionary legitimacy. He argued that the key historical distinction which matters in current Chinese politics is that of the traditional rural red tribe against the urban white tribe. Xi Jinping’s real achievement has been to unite these tribes.

In her talk, Student-centred strategies in teaching Chinese pronunciation, Qianwen Deng outlined a number of strategies for helping students to learn about Chinese tones. In our talk, Multimodal stories: Languages and cultural exchange, Grace Oakley and I showcased the Australia-China Council-funded project we’ve been working on, where Australian and Chinese students are creating and exchanging digital stories. In his talk, Whole school Indonesian focus, Jonathan Peterson outlined four factors which have been important for building student numbers in languages in his school: continuity from primary to tertiary; in-school promotion; a link with an Indonesian community; and a whole-school focus.

Commitments elsewhere didn’t allow me to stay until the end of this conference, but it was great to spend a day in the company of more than 500 educators who see the importance of connecting Australia more closely with Asia as we advance further and further into the Asian Century.

Tech discussions in the Middle East

14th Oman International ELT Conference
8th  9th May, 2014
Muscat, Oman

The Corniche, Muscat. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2014. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The 14th Oman International ELT Conference was held from 8-9 May at Sultan Qaboos University, Muscat, Oman, under the theme: ‘Bridging Traditions and Innovations in ELT’. A variety of papers and workshops contributed their perspectives on this theme over the two days of the conference.

In my opening plenary, Principles and Practices of Mobile Learning, I surveyed recent trends in mobile technologies before outlining three main types of mobile learning, and three agendas for mobile learning, which are seen around the world. I argued that all mobile learning involves a trade-off between affordability and affordances. I concluded with several case studies of mobile English language learning projects from different parts of the globe, showing how the mobile learning types and agendas are realised in practice – and how it is important to balance up affordability and affordances in order to design the optimal kind of mobile learning for our own learners in our own contexts. The practicalities of mobile learning were explored further in my workshop, Introducing Mobile Learning, which suggested a number of entry points into mobile learning for teachers and students with different levels of technological and pedagogical/educational experience and confidence.

In her plenary, Cohort-Based Learning, Susan Barduhn mentioned that the average completion rate in MOOCs is only 7-9%. One reason may be the lack of relationships between students and teachers, and students and their peers; there is little chance to co-construct understanding together. Cohort-based learning is about a whole programme through which students move together, and which they complete together. When students enrol at different times – e.g., in PhD programmes – they are often working alone and don’t have the support of peers. In cohort-based learning there are special administrative and instructional provisions, intense group identification, and powerful interpersonal relationships. The faculty are also a cohort. Learning, Susan suggested, is in the relationships between people; she quoted Earl Stevick: “Success or failure in a language course depends less on linguistic analysis and pedagogical techniques than on what goes on inside and between the people in the classroom”.  In this kind of learning, there is a need for a common space where the members of the group can find each other – and that space may be online.

The conference was intensely discussion-based, more so than many other conferences I’ve attended: I was constantly invited to join conversations in the halls and corridors, covering a range of topics, but often in the form of extended discussions about the possibilities for the use of new technologies in a variety of contexts around Oman, the Gulf, and further afield. I also managed to catch some other interesting papers, reflecting on the use of new technologies in general ways or with reference to specific apps, platforms and websites; these included Peter Waters’ paper The Road Ahead: Reviewing the Past to Design the Future, which reminded the audience that a focus on the recent must not come at the expense of forgetting the past; Is’haq Al Naibi and Marwa Al Hadhrami’s paper,  Whatsapp: The Harbinger of Collaboration in Language Learning, where they outlined numerous ways of using WhatsApp groups for training both receptive skills (with students for example taking notes in the form of mind maps in and sending in photos of these) and productive skills (with students for example sending in voice recordings on set topics); Munira Al-Wahaibi and Asila Al-Maawali’s paper Facebook Fosters Autonomous Learning in ELT Classrooms, where they argued that a Facebook group can be a good platform to support English learning – through online discussion, a student question-and-answer section, and an audio/video corner – while simultaneously developing students’ IT skills as well as developing student autonomy (which they suggested is a relatively new concept in Omani educational culture); and Fatima Al Shihi’s workshop, Online Vocabulary Learning, where she illustrated the use of the ESL Lab website for teacher-led or self-directed access.

There’s clearly a lot of interest in new technologies, and mobile technologies especially, in Oman and the Gulf countries, and experimentation has begun with these tools in English language teaching. With the proliferation of smart devices in the region, the time is ripe for mobile learning to contribute in a major way to language education.

New ways of looking at learning

iCTLT
9th  10th April, 2014
Singapore

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. Photo by Mark Pegrum. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

From its opening, the iCTLT Conference set the stage for discussions of ICTs in education by integrating the work of Singa-porean students – which ranged from creating robots to creating animations – into the conference proceedings. Key themes which emerged over a range of plenaries, spotlight sessions and concurrent papers included the need for a shift of mindset to develop educational approaches relevant to students and their future in a rapidly changing economy and society; the need to focus less on standardised tests and to encourage creativity and entrepreneurship; and, of course, the need for educators and educational leaders to become, and remain, learners, in order for this to be achieved.

In the opening plenary, Never Send a Man to Do a Machine’s Job: The Role of ICT in Educational Transformation, Yong Zhao praised many aspects of Singapore’s education and economy, but suggested that there is room for improvement in areas like entrepreneurship and societal happiness. There is a negative correlation between high PISA scores and high entrepreneurship; likewise, there is a negative correlation between high TIMMS scores and high confidence and enjoyment. Contrary to the notion that US education is declining, he claimed that US education has always been in a bad state according to past reports and studies. However, the US is still here and still doing well, and has the most prosperous economy in the world; it scores higher on confidence and happiness than countries like Singapore which do well on standardised tests.

All curriculum materials, he suggested, are bets on what characteristics and qualities will be valuable in the future; you can get your bet right or wrong. We can start with the ‘Known Knowns’ that should be taken into account: Human nature – diversity, curiosity, creativity; The economy – changed; Information – everywhere; The world – Globalised. Schools do not only help people, they exclude people. If you are good at what a school wants, you are seen as gifted and talented; otherwise you will be seen as having special needs. Schools tend to funnel individual differences, multiple intelligences, cultural diversity, curiousity and passion into a defined set of skills seen as leading to employability.

But the economy is shifting dramatically, with many employees’ positions being lost to machines. Since the 1970s there has been growth in the service sector and the creative sector. The new world is going to be dominated by the creative class and the service class. Education has always been supposed to create the middle class; the new middle class is the creative class. But our schools, working on a sausage factory metaphor of producing employable skills, are not good at fostering creativity. Creativity only became widely discussed after the 1920s, prior to which time creative people were seen as troublemakers. Schools were and are designed to stifle creativity. Children come to school with high levels of creativity, but lose that over many years of schooling. We have gone from the age of necessity to the age of abundance. We consume choice – psychological, spiritual and cultural. Our schools can no longer discriminate against people; we need to accept that everyone can be useful in their own way.

There’s an interesting paradox – there are many graduating college students, but businesses are looking for talent they can’t find. The reason is that education has prepared employees; but what is needed is entrepreneurs. We need business entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, policy entrepreneurs, and ‘intrapreneurs’. If you need to be managed, you will not be a good entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are good at seeing problems as opportunities; they are confident, passionate, and creative. Creativity, entrepreneurship, and unique talent are necessities. US schools are bad sausage-makers, which means that US schools kill creativity less successfully than Singaporean or other Asian schools.

We need to think about education not as something that fixes people’s deficits, but as something that enhances their strengths and their passion. We need to emphasise:

  • What: student autonomy;
  • How: Product-oriented learning;
  • Where: the global campus.

Schools, in brief, should present learning opportunities where students can carve out their own pathways.  ICTs in classrooms are often used for repetitive work that machines can do. Teachers will not be replaced by machines; we need to redefine our roles. Every child should be supported in developing their own strengths and becoming globally connected. Teachers should not be gateways, but rather curators of learning opportunities.

In his talk, Frameworks for Educational Technology: SAMR and the EdTech Quintet, Ruben Puentedura suggested that a first key question to ask is how our practice is changing as new technologies replace older technologies in the classroom, and a second is how the heart of what we are teaching changes with the new technologies. He outlined the 4 levels of the SAMR framework, indicating that as we progress towards higher levels, increasing improvement is possible in student outcomes. There is not so such thing as a bad level of SAMR, but there are greater opportunities at higher levels. Teachers can use a SAMR ladder to reach the higher levels.

He gave a detailed example of a SAMR ladder related to the development of vocabulary, drawing on the work of Bob Marzano, who recommended the following steps in learning vocabulary: Step 1: The teacher provides a description of the new terms; 2: Students restate them in their own way; 3: Students create nonlinguistic representations of the terms; 4: Students do activities that help them add to their knowledge of the terms; 5: Students are asked to discuss the terms with one another; 6: Students are involved in games that allow them to play with the terms. This is how this process might look when related to the SAMR model:

  • Substitution level: Students enter their own description of a term on a wiki (this is straight substitution).
  • Augmentation level: Students use a visual dictionary/thesaurus which presents a concept map of the term (this is a functional improvement over the use of a traditional paper-based dictionary or thesaurus).
  • Modification level: Students can find images and link them to the concept map from the visual dictionary/thesaurus.
  • Redefinition: Students create a digital comic using the images they have collected to tell a story, which is shared with and commented on by other students (this fulfils the last 3 of Marzano’s steps – doing activities, discussing with each other, and engaging in a non-trivial ludic exercise).

Puentedura went on to relate the SAMR model to the TPACK framework, indicating that it is important for teachers to keep CK, PK and TK in balance; by starting with any one of these, you lock out some possibilities. The key areas are the overlapping areas, e.g., PCK covers how a given technology makes a given pedagogical practice possible, such as social writing on a wiki. The key area when it comes to moving up the SAMR levels, notably from Augmentation to Modification, is PCK, because it’s important to think deeply about the application of pedagogical approaches. At the centre, TPCK comes together to create maximally effective types of teaching and learning, and it is essential to moving up to Redefinition level.

Puentedura then focused on the area of literacy and, based on a number of research studies, showed a measurable increase in effect size on student outcomes as we move from Substitution to Redefinition of tasks: 0.029 – 0.264 – 0.600 – 1.563. These are fairly representative effect sizes moving across the SAMR levels. In another study involving Algebra, with a shift from Substitution to Augmentation, there was an effect size of 0.2; while in a study involving Earth Sciences, with a shift from Augmentation to Modification, there was an effect size of 0.6.

Using the Horizon Reports, Puentedura has classified new technologies into 5 categories – social, mobility, visualisation, storytelling and gaming tools. Social tools include bookmarking, discussions, blogging, telepresence, RSS feeds, microblogging, wikis and filesharing. Mobility tools include those that help overcome the classroom/homework divide, with students using devices any time and any place, accessing contextually relevant information, and sharing learning. Visualisation tools help to make abstract ideas more tangible; there are visualisations of space (maps), time (timelines), concept maps, numerical data (interactive), and textual data (such as Wordle). Digital storytelling is about bringing together multiple media to make meaning; it could refer to image assembly, sequential art, moving images, interactive media or interactive fiction. Digital gaming can help inform learning – games are rule-governed systems, with conflicts or problems to resolve, that lead to quantifiable outcomes (here, he drew on a definition by Salen & Zimmerman).

He went on to suggest that 21st century skills can be useful design principles as we create lessons that maximise learning opportunities on the SAMR model and TPACK framework. 

In his talk, The Networked Leader, George Couros started with David Weinberger’s notion that ‘the smartest person in the room, is the room’; we learn a great deal through the power of connection. Nowadays, if you don’t understand what a Twitter handle or hashtag is, you are becoming illiterate, he suggested. The biggest shift for educators using technology is not a skillset, he said, it’s mindset. We constantly ask kids to think differently and grow; teachers have to be prepared to do the same. What is important is not the technology per se; it’s about relationships and learning. But students who are engaged in creating with technology outside the classroom may find themselves constrained to paper and worksheets inside the classroom. He ran through a number of myths:

  • Kids are lazy. The reality, he suggested, is that they’re bored; we should be creating a culture of engagement and empowerment rather than a culture of compliance.
  • Technology dehumanises. But technology can actually bring us together to accomplish amazing things.
  • Kids are narcissistic. But it may be that kids are reaching out, looking for someone to listen, for someone who cares.
  • New technology will replace face-to-face interaction. But people didn’t interact when they used old technologies like newspapers on trains; at least with today’s devices, people are connecting through them.

School leaders, he said, need to model – learn – humanise. We need to model for kids how to use social media platforms in positive ways. If we don’t post our own materials, we leave our online reputation up to others. By the time students leave school, it should be possible to Google them and find positive instead of problematic materials. He showed a school hashtag which is used by leaders, teachers and students on Twitter, so that good use of the medium can be modelled; a blog, where teachers and students can comment on what they’ve learned each day; and a school Instagram account, where students can record the growth of plants in the classroom over time. These are ways of helping kids begin to develop a positive digital footprint.

We also need to learn – “The world only cares about what you can do with what you know”, as Thomas Friedman pointed out. He presented numerous examples from YouTube to demonstrate that online, everyone’s a teacher, and everyone’s a learner. We can learn from our students, and they can learn from anyone in the world. Christ Anderson has spoken of “crowd accelerated innovation”, which requires radical openness. Finally, he suggested, it is important to humanise our online presence. To make meaningful change, you have to connect to people’s hearts before you connect to their minds. Leaders need to show themselves as human beings, and model that for students.

Ultimately, he concluded, the biggest games changer in education is to get an educator to think of themselves as an innovator – and to begin to make things change.

In his opening plenary on the second day, To Flip or Not to Flip, Aaron Sams indicated that getting students to prepare at home before coming to class, and then interacting in class, is a Flipped Classroom 101 model – it’s a starting point, and it sets teachers and students on the way to student-centred teaching, but we shouldn’t stop there. It’s not all that new pedagogically; there have been many other pre-teaching models, but we’re leveraging new media to do it. This allows students to do the easy work at home, and the hard work in class. Sams found that when following this model, students didn’t need all their in-class time for their work, so there was time to do more work at the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. Class time became all about application, analysis, evaluation and creation. He realised that content isn’t as important as he had thought it was. Instead of having students coming to an educational institution to acquire content, we can have them come there to join a community of learning. The teacher’s role is not to deliver content, but to facilitate that community.

Video is a powerful way of delivering content, as shown by the amount of time we spend going to YouTube to learn how to do new things. It is possible to curate great content from the internet, but on the whole it is preferable for an individual teacher to create their own videos, because you have a connection, a social contract, with your students that no-one else has. You also understand their context much better. If all that mattered was content delivery, then yes, techers could be replaced by videos. However, there are other aspects of education: namely relationships and curiosity. If students watch your videos, you need to give them a reason to turn up to your class – you need to add value. It is important to balance content, relationships and curiosity.

In his second year of flipping his classroom, Sams moved to a mastery approach, based on the idea that not all students have to be engaged in the same work at the same time. But some students found the idea of needing to achieve near perfect scores on tests before moving on to be extremely frustrating. Sams then moved to a more inquiry-based learning approach. He discovered that students could learn the content this way, but it took a lot of preparation on his part. Rather than front-loading with content, he front-loaded with questions and inquiry; the content was available as a support when necessary. Now, his class was no-longer content-driven.

He then moved on to UDL – Universal Design for Learning. Students were told what they needed to learn, but they had the choice of whether to look at the textbook, the videos, or any other relevant sources. Students also needed multiple ways to demonstrate their learning; they were able to create videos, write songs, or design graphic novels to show their understanding. His next step was to move to PBL, or project-based learning. Here, students start with a project, and learn what they need as they go. With a project, you can start with creation on Bloom’s Taxonomy, with students accessing content – moving down the levels of the taxonomy – when they need to learn things along the way.

Sometimes, he suggested, teachers get too hung up on terminology. In many ways flipped learning is not all that new. He has now come up with a definition of flipped instruction. The whole model is predicated on the fact that direct instruction still has a place in learning. A lot of teachers feel locked into and controlled by content and standards – this will remain so until policymakers change their approach – but you can put that material in a video archive, and spend classroom time in other ways. All in all, it took Sams 6 years to get to his current version of flipped learning. With this kind of educational innovation, it will always be a case of two steps forward, one step back. Change of this kind is always challenging to realise.

He noted, too, that it is also possible to flip professional development, or staff meetings – don’t bring everyone to one room to tell them about decisions that are already made. Those can be communicated by email or video. Staff meeting time can then be devoted to discussion.

In the Rockmoon presentation about cutting-edge augmented reality technology in education, What Interactive Learning Trails Will You Create Next?, emphasis was placed on self-directed learning, authentic and experiential learning, and 21st century skills. Teachers are able to create their own learning trails for their students using a web-based design toolkit, Trail Shuttle, which does not involve any programming knowledge. There is also a mobile app for students, and a monitoring mobile app for teachers. Using the monitoring app, teachers can track students, view their device screens, and chat with them, and can also make last-minute alterations to trails as necessary. At the end, the system generates a report about each student which is available through the toolkit.

In his talk, New Technologies Old Behaviours: Incorporating Research and Safety in the Online World, UK Intelligence Officer Alan Earl from the Avon and Somerset Police, UK, indicated that young people are starting to leave Facebook and spreading their behaviour across multiple apps, like Instagram, Kik, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Whisper and so on. This is a constantly moving environment, where children are the early adopters. Teachers find themselves trying to teach children about online safety without understanding the tools that children are using. The issues are bigger than a term like ‘e-safety’ sounds. It’s about online lives and reputations. The message has to be balanced between positives and negatives, risk and actual harm, and filtering and dialogue. Safety has to be embedded within digital literacy.

Earl reported on an initiative called Digital Literacy & Citizenship, created in conjunction with Commonsense Media and tailored somewhat to the UK context. This has resulted amongst other things in a set of learning descriptors for different age groups, attached to resources and lesson plans. There’s a need for a holistic approach, he suggested, with online safety being taught across the curriculum. He also described 360 Safe,  an e-safety self-review tool for schools, and Online Safety, a tool for assessing children and families, which can be used by social workers or educators. 

All in all, the conference was a wide-ranging exploration of the current state of technology use in education, with an emphasis less on the technology itself than on big picture issues of pedagogy, education and society. This, indeed, is a perspective, or set of perspectives, towards which more ed tech conferences should be shifting.