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.

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.

Space for discussion

1st International ELT Symposium
1st-2nd December, 2012
Istanbul, Turkey

The 1st International ELT Symposium at Yildiz Technical University, entitled Wired In or Out, focused on Web Technologies in ELT Classrooms.  It brought together an international group of language educators over two rich days in Istanbul at the start of December, 2012.

In his opening plenary, The Heart of Education, Chuck Sandy stressed the need to bring together communities of people using online social networking and other tools. He reminded the audience of the E.M. Forster quote, “Only connect”, and suggested it can be updated in the digital era of personal learning networks (PLNs). But it’s about more than connecting: it’s about connecting on very deep levels, and about asking yourself what you can contribute. When you mentor others, you can learn yourself in the process.

In his follow-up plenary, Blending, extending and bridging language learning in the digital age, Gary Motteram spoke about the importance of the ‘digital turn’ in education. Drawing on activity theory, he mentioned that there are many different people and factors (extending to parents and the wider community, as well as learners’ motivations and expectations) involved in the integration of new technologies into learning. Zeroing in on the role of teachers, he referred to Shulman’s work on pedagogical content knowledge, and highlighted the idea that teachers often see their subject matter differently from content specialists who are not teachers. There has been discussion for years about the  need to train teachers appropriately to use new technologies, but very frequently this still doesn’t happen.

The way teachers teach in the classroom is affected by numerous factors, including their beliefs about the interface between technology and learning, their beliefs about language learning itself (which may be different for different languages, with the communicative techniques typically used in English not always being suited to learning other languages, like Chinese), the institutional setting, and the expectations of learners and the institution.

In her talk, From curation to creation, Marisa Constantinides spoke about the need to deal with information overload through appropriate curation techniques. She defined curation as the process of selection, preservation, maintenance, collection and archiving of digital assets. She observed that the teacher is by nature a curator. She focused on a number of digital tools which can aid teachers in this process, including social networking sites like Facebook, social bookmarking tools like Delicious, Diigo and Scoop.it, and social sharing tools like Pinterest or YouTube channels, as well as blogs and wikis. She also mentioned new tools like LiveBinders, MentorMob and Learnist. Having a variety of platforms allows teachers to choose the most appropriate ones for collecting different kinds of content.

Traditionally, she suggested, curation has not been looked at as something very creative. In Bloom’s digital taxonomy, the activities of recognising, listing, describing, etc, are shown at the lowest level, Remembering. However, she argued, this is wrong, because curation can be a very creative process, especially in the digital era, and one that involves higher order thinking. If you have an idea and want to explore it, then curating content about it can be a good way to develop in-depth understanding. It can also bring in a social learning element. Part of creation, she concluded, is building on other people’s ideas.

In the final plenary on the opening day, entitled Give the test a rest, Luke Meddings made the argument that we rely too much on standardised testing, and that there is a whole testing economy based around it. As we focus on what can be tested, we develop funnel vision that reduces the areas that are covered. He suggested that we should vary what we do in the classroom, engage in more unplugged/Dogme style teaching, and make use of new technologies where appropriate. He used the metaphor of a railway and a river to suggest that, rather than working solely with a linear syllabus, we can follow the flow of learning – heading in the same direction but allowing more flexibility. Web 2.0 tools can complement the latter. They offer us new ways to achieve formative assessment. Evernote, for example, allows you to take snapshots of students’ learning on a regular basis, rather than just conducting periodic tests and sending out periodic report cards. Teachers need to talk to colleagues about how to find alternatives to standard testing regimes which aren’t helping students’ learning.

In the opening plenary of the second day, with the lengthy title of Technology is a useful tool if used to create and enhance comprehensible input, a derailment if used to overemphasize conscious learning, Stephen Krashen spoke of the war between two competing hypotheses about language. The comprehension hypothesis says that grammar and vocabulary are the result of language acquisition. The skill-building hypothesis says that the grammar and vocabulary come first, and then eventually you will be able to use the language. It’s about immediate versus delayed gratification. Krashen supports the former hypothesis, and outlined the research evidence for it, but observed that for politicians and the public, the latter hypothesis is an axiom.

He made some key points about comprehensible input:

  1. With enough comprehensible input, all the necessary structures are present, so the best input is non-targeted.
  2. Input should be interesting, or ideally, compelling. Reading should be self-selected. It makes it easier for students to enter into a state of flow.
  3. Narrow input is best.

If the computer is used in tune with comprehensible input, it can be very valuable. We haven’t come close to making use of what we already have available; there’s no need for new tools. According to studies, the amount of book reading children are doing has changed little from 1946 to 2010, but magazine and newspaper reading has declined. Website reading is on the increase.

While the jury is out on social networking, Krashen believes that kids are reading and writing more than ever before thanks to Facebook, which is good for their literacy skills. Studies show that the more kids are online, the more they read in print. Several studies show that more internet use leads to more literacy. Krashen suggested that free, voluntary net surfing might well lead to improved language, along the lines of narrow, self-selected input.

He outlined the potential for narrow personalised viewing (including of stories created by children themselves):

  1. Comprehensible stories (aural and visual)
  2. Comprehensible discussions
  3. Series books > TV or movie series

There is so much we can do with storytelling, without any new technology, and without anything fancy. He gave the example of ESL Pod, a simple and straightforward approach involving stories, with materials being given away for free. He suggested, indeed, that it’s important for educators and academics to give away work as much as possible, to stop the rising costs of accessing materials and research. We can be part of a cultural change, he observed, by giving things away.

He concluded by running through what he called ‘bogus uses’ of technology, including many commercial language learning systems which make exaggerated claims but involve very traditional pedagogical approaches. These are skill-based schemes based on the public’s view of language learning.

In her plenary, Facebook nation: Social networks & ELT, Nicky Hockly started off with some facts and figures about Facebook, including the fact that 250 million people access Facebook on mobile devices, and mobile users are twice as active as non-mobile users.  She noted that Facebook already contains public language sites, educator sites and institutional sites. She then focused on setting up class group pages and using them to provide feedback on students’ content and language, and allowing students to read and respond to each other’s work. She mentioned a number of issues that can occur with Facebook, and gave recommendations on how to deal with them:

  1. Teacher privacy: teachers can have two separate profiles, or use group pages
  2. Inappropriate use: teachers can set clear user guidelines, linked to official institutional policies
  3. Facebook as big business: teachers can suggest alternatives such as My Fake Wall, Pikifriends, and Edmodo.

There is little research on Facebook in language education to date. One study found that students preferred closed groups, but another study found that students liked the authentic communication in open groups. Hockly suggested that students could have both at the same time. Feedback was seen as particularly important by students; she recommended organising peer feedback, amongst other things. One study found that Facebook’s enhancement of the community feeling of a class can lead to increased motivation and performance. The research is listed on Delicious under http://delicious.com/nickyhockly/yildiz.

Mobile technologies, as always in conferences these days, made an appearance in numerous talks, and formed the main focus of several.  Within a year or two, it will certainly be normal for conferences in the area of new technologies to focus as much on mobile apps and the mobile web as they do on the original web – and that trend was in evidence at this event.

In her talk, MLearning: More than an illusion of illumination, Işil Boy pointed out that mobile learning is about more than apps. If e-learning is beyond classroom walls, she suggested, then m-learning is beyond computer screens. She suggested that the Affective Context Model helps explain the value of mobile learning with its anywhere/anytime aspects, and its push and pull features. When integrating mobile technologies into our teaching, we need to prioritise the learning objectives and consider the ‘teacherware’, that is, ensuring that teachers are well trained.

After mentioning a search engine for apps, Quixey, she went on to recommend a number of apps:

  • Speaking: TripAdvisor (project work, talking about holidays, planning a holiday); Dragon Dictation (dictation software); Audioboo (voice recording and adding pictures)
  • Writing: Skitch (pictures with annotation – speaking, basic writing and vocabulary development); Google Docs (writing, presentations, etc); Lino (online stickies service)
  • Listening: Stitcher Radio (radio shows, live stations and podcasts); Learning English Elementary (English learning podcasts with exercises)
  • Reading: Zite (a personalised magazine that learns what you like); The Poetry App (over 100 poems with video and audio narrations)

After illustrating QR codes as a recent trend, she went on to highlight AR (augmented reality) as the new trend in mobile educational technologies, one which allows students to participate interactively with computer generated simulations. She also spoke about mobile storytelling as a new iteration of digital storytelling, illustrating the possibilities with a multimedia app called Storykit. Mobile storytelling and AR can come together with a simulated 3D app like ZooBurst, where you can create AR markers that allow you to use the simulations in a real-world environment like the classroom.

In my own presentation, From start to finish: Mobile technologies and language learning, I surveyed the terrain of mobile technologies in the teaching of language, beginning with simpler uses, many of which are oriented towards content consumption or behaviourist drills, and leading up to those which are more learner-centred, innovative and creative. The tools and techniques covered included podcasting, apps, polling, multimedia recording, QR codes, geosocial networking, and augmented reality.

In the closing plenary, A technological disaster (references at: http://atechnologicaldisaster.pen.io/) Lindsay Clandfield pointed out that a lot of current technology use involves traditional pedagogical approaches and strategies that simply incorporate new technology, but there has been little fundamental change. Teachers are sometimes blamed for this, and the digital native/immigrant distinction plays into this.  Teachers do ask themselves questions about whether the technology fits with everything else they are having to do; whether the net will undermine their authority; whether the technology will work on the day in the classroom; and whether technology will add to rather than reduce time pressure. From a pedagogical point of view, the technology seems to lend itself to a behaviourist approach. Sometimes technological solutions are imported but not localised. Assessment still remains stubbornly resistant to the innovations and developments in the wider field of digital education.

There is a broader question about whether technology works: does it lead to better learning? One issue here is what we mean by learning. The No Significant Difference website documents 350 research reports which show that there is not much of a difference between technology-enhanced education and what we were doing before. There has been some suggestion that technology may deprofessionalise teachers. It may be that new teacher and learner roles are culturally bound; online learning may be in line with the American view of individualism and autonomy. Teachers, too, may be very restricted by the systems in which they teach.

There is also a larger ideological debate about deschooling society. For some, the end of schools could mean free education for all, with no barriers. For others, it may mean removing state control and repositioning education within the private sector. Another issue is the e-waste produced by the move in a digital direction. Yet another question is whether what is economically good for technology companies is always good for technology users. The NESTA Report says that the huge investment in digital technologies in UK schools over recent years has produced little measurable change, because these efforts have put technology above teaching, and excitement above evidence.

In short, there has to be space for educators to discuss with each other the issues and challenges of working with new technologies, as well as the benefits. A symposium like this one has provided space to do just that.

Going mobile in Asia

GloCALL Conference
Beijing, China
18-20 October, 2012

The GloCALL 2012 conference moved this year to the Chinese capital. As always, it provided a great showcase of CALL teaching and research trends around Asia and the world. One of the strongest themes was the emergence of research showing measurable benefits for students’ language development through using computers and other digital technologies. Unsurprisingly, too, there was a heavy emphasis on mobile technologies.

In his plenary on the first afternoon, Writing to Learn and Learning to Write, Mark Warschauer stated that writing is absolutely essential in a knowledge economy.  Companies like Samsung, Nokia and Renault require all their corporate communication, even in their home countries, to be conducted in English. Over the last 20 years, the percentage of articles in PubMed (which tracks medical citations) in English has gone up to over 90%. So writing, and writing in English, are essential skills. But at the same time, students also need to write to learn.  He quoted Reeves (2010): “Writing is thinking through the end of a pen”. In his research, Warschauer has been addressing the question: What is the role of digital media for learning to write, and writing to learn?

He compared research on 1:1 versus shared laptop schools, noting that in 1:1 schools students write much more frequently – both on computers, and in total. He summarised a number of studies on the writing process, showing that where students work with computers, they:

  • gather far more background information
  • write longer papers
  • revise more
  • get more feedback from teachers and peers
  • get feedback from computers (automated essay scoring – although far from perfect, it does provide some feedback)
  • publish their work more
  • write better papers

He continued by looking at studies of writing outcomes, which have found that:

  • teachers asking students to write and revise with computers leads to higher writing scores
  • student time editing work on computers leads to higher writing scores
  • laptop access leads to better writing

He then turned to research on the subject of ‘writing to learn’.  When conversing in writing rather than face-to-face, students produced more syntactically complex language, and participated much more equally. He spoke at greater length about a classroom study undertaken over the past year, which revealed higher writing scores for those students using laptops. With a specific focus on 37 fifth grade students, 25 of whom were ELLs (English language learners), the researchers found:

  • the ELLs dramatically increased their participation over time, so that their overall participation for the year was around the same level as that of non-ELLs
  • SNA (social network analysis) revealed that at the beginning there were many students not communicating directly with each other, the teacher was the dominant node in the network, and much communication was unidirectional (notably from the teacher to the students); but by the end there were no isolated nodes, the teacher was no longer so dominant, and there was much more multidirectional communication
  • the number of posts went up, the number of words per post went up, the complexity of their language use increased, and they used more complex cognitive skills; much of this related to the teacher, who modelled academic language and cognitive strategies.
  • there was development from teacher to peer scaffolding
  • there was development of a learning community

It is important to investigate the effects of digital technologies on language learning and literacy. Warschauer summarised his own view of the overall value of laptops in schools as follows: “Laptops make a good school better, but they don’t make a bad school good.”

In their presentation, An Investigation into Mobile-Assisted Language Learning (MALL) Acceptance in China’s Higher Education Context, Yaru Meng (presenting a paper coauthored with Xiaomei Ma, Rui Liu and Huiqin He) began by mentioning that there are a number of studies of MALL from Japan, South Korea and the USA, but not so many to date in China.  She listed advantages of m-learning as:

  • portability
  • student connectivity
  • context sensitivity

On the other hand, there are:

  • technical limitations
  • users’ psychological limitations
  • pedagogical limitations

The current study, which involved university students in Northwestern China, addressed the changes in using different ICT devices for EFL in the past several years; mobile devices’ functions in different language learning modes; and students’ perceptions of mobile learning.  Overall, students preferred to use MP3 players and smartphones rather than traditional devices. They preferred paper-based learning for formal or deep learning, while mobile devices were preferred for informal learning. Some of the most common metaphors students used for mobile devices were: a resource centre, a treasure box, a sea of knowledge, an encyclopedia; a gate or window; and  a bridge, link or connection.

The top advantages they saw of mobile devices for EFL were:

  • they are convenient and portable
  • there are no constraints of time and space
  • they are resources

The main disadvantages they listed were:

  • there are distractions, students need self-control and have less concentration
  • there are fewer functions, the learning is less systematic, and the information is not always trustworthy
  • it is inconvenient to have small screens and memory
  • there is no deep learning and students are likely to forget what they have learned

In summary, Meng concluded that mobile devices are gaining popularity in China; MALL is preferred for informal learning; there is split attention in the learning process and limited resources; and MALL only serves peripheral learning. She argued that MALL can play a significant supplemental role within formal language education. There are implications for teachers, who must become developers and evaluators of online resources, and evaluators and advisors of online learning. Students become classroom participators, self-directed learners, problem solvers, and they learn how to learn. The integration of MALL remains a big issue.

In her talk, iPod Touch Impact on English for Specific Academic Purposes (Communication & Internet Studies) Oral Reading Fluency, Salomi Papadima-Sophocleous outlined a project at the Cyprus University of Technology Language Centre. She described the use of iPod Touches to improve reading fluency, using a version of ‘guided repeated oral reading’. Students worked over 6 weeks, in 2-week blocks, where they recorded themselves reading a set text, then practised reading the text following a native speaker model on YouTube, before recording themselves reading the text aloud once again. Changes in pronunciation and fluency from the first to the second student recording were compared.

To determine whether students’ ORF (Oral Reading Fluency) improved, the dimensions of automaticity and prosody were measured using Curriculum Based Measurement (automaticity) and the Multidimensional Fluency Scale (prosody). For automaticity, the speed or rate of correct words per minute, and accuracy, were assessed. The average number of words per minute, and of correct words per minute, improved. The word decoding accuracy also improved to a higher level. On the whole, the students’ prosody improved on all dimensions.  Student perceptions of the use of iPod Touches to improve their reading fluency were very positive.

Future possible directions for research include:

  • incorporating the ORF programme in all courses
  • using other technologies for ORF improvement such as students’ own smartphones, tablets or laptops
  • using the iPod Touch programme with other types of students, such as those with special needs

The ORF iPod Touch project is being implemented again in the academic year 2012-2013, this time with dyslexic students.

In his workshop, Using Mobile Phones for Language Learning, Skipp Symes outlined some common features of mobile phones that can be used in English teaching.  He focused in particular on:

  • using QR codes
  • using a mobile phone camera to take photos of objects and locations as part of the learning process
  • using free, flexible alternatives to SMS, notably What’s App
  • using mobile phones as student response devices using Socrative

He recommended following a BYOD model. If you do so, it’s worth identifying students who are in-class mobile phone experts, and  who can help other students, especially when they are using devices or platforms the teacher is not familiar with. He finished by noting that just because mobile phones are used, though, it doesn’t mean that students have to be able to access and use them during the entire class.

In my own talk, What Teachers Want: A Report on the Technology Needs & Wishes of Language Teachers in Southeast Asia, I gave a broad overview of research which Gavin Dudeney and I conducted during our digital literacies seminars in Bangkok and KL earlier this year.  I covered teachers’ comments on their current uses of new technologies in the classroom, the factors that had driven the use of the new technologies to date, and the factors they thought would drive further integration of new technologies in the future. Major themes were the slow shift to web 2.0, the need to find ways to integrate new technologies and new pedagogies into local educational cultures, and the need for teacher training which focuses more on pedagogy than technology. This data will be enriched by data collected from future seminar locations, including Moscow next month. There’s a summary of the paper here.

As always, the GloCALL Conference provided a snapshot of the use of new technologies in language teaching in both the developed and developing world. It will be interesting to see how trends towards research on measurable benefits, and practices involving mobile learning, will be represented at next year’s event.

Digital literacies in KL

‘Becoming Digitally Literate’ Seminar
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
5 – 8 March, 2012

Following directly on from the ‘Becoming Digitally Literate’ seminar in Bangkok, Gavin Dudeney and I ran a second version of the seminar in KL, Malaysia. We had another great group of participants to work with, and enjoyed learning about the differences present in this new context. But even more striking were the similarities. Like the Thai government, with its plan to roll out tablets to all Grade 1 students in the country this year, the Malaysian government is taking the role of new technologies seriously, continuing to push out its smart schools programme as it works towards its Vision 2020 plan. Once again, teachers’ perspectives were similar: what is needed, we heard again and again, is training not so much in the technology itself, but in the intersection between technology and pedagogy. This theme, it seems, repeats itself from country to country.

Digital literacies in Bangkok

‘Becoming Digitally Literate’ Seminar
Bangkok, Thailand
27 February – 1 March, 2012

Gavin Dudeney and I have just finished running a 4-day Becoming Digitally Literate seminar in Bangkok, Thailand. It’s been great to work with an enthusiastic group of local language educators from the Ministry of Education, universities and schools. It rapidly became apparent that among progressive teachers in this country there’s a great appetite for learning about web 2.0 and, in particular, how to use it in the classroom. It also became clear, as it always does in different venues, just how important it is to tailor our use of new tools and new pedagogical approaches to the local cultural, institutional and educational context. We’ve left the teachers with lots of new ideas and it’ll be really interesting to watch how they’re implemented over coming years. In turn, we’ve learned a great deal about the Thai context and how to go about implementing the use of new tools and new pedagogies in local classrooms.

Digital literacies in Phnom Penh

8th CamTESOL Conference
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
25-26 February, 2012

It was great to have a chance to present at the 8th annual CamTESOL Conference in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Educators from around the region gathered together for two days to share insights from their classrooms. The fact that there was a stream dedicated to Using Technology suggests that new technologies are making inroads into many TESOL classrooms around South-East Asia.

In her opening plenary, The Many Faces of Development in the Classroom, Janet Orr spoke about the degree of development that has occurred in Cambodia over recent years and outlined the ways in which English is becoming important in various ways in the country. She indicated the kinds of practical classroom activities teachers can do to promote language learning, drawing on the use of language in Cambodia itself which, she argued, may be more relevant to students than textbook examples. Unfortunately a 10 minute power cut around 10 minutes into the plenary cut it short – a reminder of the challenges faced by teachers in many parts of the world, especially when it comes to the use of new technologies.

Gavin Dudeney and I ran a workshop called Digital Literacies: Teachers and Learners, in which we introduced the general concept of digital literacies, explained the four-part classification of digital literacies we have developed, and then focused in more detail on one form of literacy from each category: multimedia literacy, information literacy, intercultural literacy, and remix literacy. We offered a number of suggestions as to how to work with each of these literacies in everyday classroom practice. The audience actively responded to our discussion prompts, suggesting that a lot of teachers are starting to think about the use and value of digital literacies and how they might introduce them into language classrooms. The key point we hoped to convey was that it is possible to teach language and traditional literacy skills at the same time as we teach digital literacies: the key is to integrate the old with the new.

In their presentation, Learning Beyond the Classroom: Using Facebook to Facilitate the Informal Learning of English Communication, Chris Harwood and Brad Blackstone spoke about the use of Facebook to support English language courses in Singapore.  They referred to Tina Barseghian’s 2011 50 Reasons to Integrate Facebook into Your Classroom, with these reasons including increased collaboration, knowledge sharing and feedback. They contextualised their use of Facebook with reference to the work of Daniel Bernstein, who has spoken about the distinctive qualities of students today, notably their affinity for technology; connectedness with others; visual orientation to the world; flexible attention; and personal meaning as motivation. In short, students are constantly plugged in and constantly communicating online, and this can be leveraged for educational purposes. They also drew on George Siemens’ 4 principles of connectivism:

  • Learning and knowledge rest in diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources.
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.

They set up Facebook pages (rather than groups) as platforms for students’ informal interactions outside class.  For example, students posted references to useful online resources and responded to each other’s postings.  Conversations occurring online led to in-class conversations: when a student posted a link about Prezi, for instance, an in-class discussion occurred because other students hadn’t heard of it. Students were also using the Facebook page, following up on links and watching videos, on mobile devices while taking public transport.  Students from past semesters would return to ‘like’ or comment on materials posted by current students, and teachers could use links collected by past cohorts as a base for new cohorts to build on. Challenges included the overlap with students’ private worlds; uneven participation; keeping the wall ‘academic’; and, in particular, the posting of inappropriate content and/or opinions. Dealing with the last of these issues did, however, lead to important in-class discussions about online etiquette.

In the presentation, Using a Free Course Management System in an English Class: Moodle in a Grammar Class, Yi-Chen Lu reported on four semesters of using Moodle for English teaching in Taiwan, and explained the mechanics of working with this virtual learning environment. Much of the learning was automated, with students carrying out language learning activities independently. It was reported that the use of Moodle was found to improve students’ learning and motivation, but its value for monitoring their progress was also stressed. In addition, a VLE such as Moodle offers flexibility when students are unable to attend class.

As I needed to head off to teach a course in Bangkok, I was unable to stay for the whole conference but the glimpse I gained of developments in technology-enhanced education in the region was fascinating. It will be interesting to watch developments in this area over coming years.

Visions of the future

ICELF11: The International Conference on E-learning Futures
Auckland, New Zealand
30 November – 1 December, 2011

The key themes to emerge from the inaugural International Conference on E-learning Futures at Unitec in Auckland, New Zealand, were linked to mobile technologies – particularly smart, context-aware tools – and the associated personalisation of learning.

Trends in Technology & Education

In his opening keynote, Learning generations: Looking forwards, looking back, Steve Wheeler quoted Arthur C. Clarke’s comment that: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. New technologies are appearing everywhere, he observed, but educators don’t know how to use them; we still see them as magic. Technology won’t impress students, he went on to say, but good pedagogy and inspiration will.  Education is so important that if we get it wrong, we leave a very poor legacy for coming generations.  We need to find ways to use technology appropriately to support pedagogy, but there are many vested interests resisting it.

One issue is that: “For the first time we are preparing learners for a future we cannot clearly describe” (David Warlick). Declarative knowledge is becoming less important than procedural knowledge; it’s less about knowing that, than knowing how. New literacies are therefore important; they go much deeper than skills, because they allow real engagement. Connectivism, he suggested, is a useful approach: students need to learn how to connect with others as they build their PLNs.

Wheeler went on to list key characteristics of the future of education as follows:

  • Open: we will have to share more.
  • Social: people are already sharing. (Quadblogging is a good example of the application of this idea in education.)
  • Personal: homogenised learning is no longer effective, as we move out of the industrial age. (A lot of past educational technologies were teacher-centric, but contemporary technologies are more personalised.)
  • Augmented: Augmented reality is becoming more important, enhancing what we see through the naked eye. Context-awareness is key. It’s about “web meets world” (Tim O’Reilly & John Battelle).
  • Non-touch:  gesture-based technologies will become more central.

In his presentation The new new things: Emerging trends in technology and education, Derek Wenmoth outlined key trends towards:

  • mobility/portability
  • miniaturisation
  • convergence of technologies into a single device
  • personalisation
  • openness (the OER University is an example of this)
  • gamification
  • data visualisation
  • contextualisation/location-awareness

These will impact dramatically on our behaviour as information gatherers and learners. We will need to consider how ‘desire pathways’ will take shape, and how we might use services like Yahoo Pipes and ifttt to personalise our information consumption.  Location is now an important characteristic of you as a learner – we see this, for example, with Twitter, iPad apps, or Al Gore’s “Our Choice” app. In the follow-up questions, Wenmoth quoted Neil Postman’s comment: “Technological change is not additive; it is ecological.”

In his IBM keynote, Education for a smarter nation: Changing business priorities and trends in education, Dougal Watt discussed five signposts for the future:

  • technology immersion
  • personalised learning paths
  • knowledge skills
  • global integration
  • economic alignment

These trends, he argued, form an educational continuum, or single view of learning, skills development, and workforce training.  This has implications for the traditional boundaries between academic segments, educational providers, and economic development initiatives.

In her keynote, Digital ecosystems: mobile, portable, embedded and conventional devices, Judy Kay outlined emerging technologies with educational applications, including:

  • surface computing: multi-user touch-sensitive tabletops
  • data mining/visualisation: using digital footprints to improve learning through data visualisation, e.g., in an activity radar system which shows at a glance the amount of work done by students on a wiki

This keynote, which rounded off the conference, provided a snapshot of current and future trends in educational technology, leaving delegates a lot to think about.

In her keynote, Agnes Kukulska-Hulme outlined current mobile learning projects at the Open University, UK, before going on to talk about self-directed learning, which she argued is a natural approach to lifelong learning. She reported on the results of survey and interview-based studies which aimed to determine emerging trends in the use of mobile technologies in education, and to find out what learners’ wishes are with respect to mobile learning.

She suggested that the following areas need strengthening, specifically in foreign language curricula:

  • connection with learners by supporting real needs and performance in situ
  • tools and strategies for navigating and exploiting the new (increasingly mobile) ecology of digital learning resources and networks of support
  • personal management of language learning across place and time

Next generation designs, she suggested, should take into account time, place, and activity.  She also noted that language use will change; “Find coffee near me” is a perfectly logical statement to a personal assistant like Apple’s Siri, though we wouldn’t say this to a friend. She concluded that:

  • we need ongoing research with learners, as mobile practices and technologies evolve
  • language curricula will be increasingly intertwined with ways to learn and interact with technology
  • the design of learning activities will need to recognise learners’ emerging patterns and preferences regarding:
    • different types of travel
    • short periods of time
    • individual and social learning
    • ways to combine formal and informal learning

In their talk, Making the ‘case’ for the iPad, James Oldfield and Dawn Duncan described a business programme and a law programme in which students were given iPads. Students used these for a variety of pedagogically traditional activities but also for creative and collaborative web-based activities, including tasks on blogging and wiki platforms. The more creative apps used by students included iMovie, Keynote and Prezi. Collaborative tools included Dropbox, Google Docs, Mindmeister, Posterous, Twitter and WordPress. Further details of this work with iPads can be found at http://ipadnzeducation.wordpress.com/.

Language Teaching & Learning

My own paper, Tailoring language learning to a world of screens, sought to build a bridge between the broader field of educational technology and the more specific field of CALL. It outlined 4 key trends associated with the shift towards a world of screens:

  • multimedia
  • networking
  • mobility
  • customisation

It then went on to examine the implications of each of these trends for language teaching and learning. A more detailed summary and links are available.

In her presentation, A distinctive blend: Seamless integration of e-learning tools with classroom delivery in a blended learning oral skills language course, Katherine Danaher talked about the importance of redesigning a course to incorporate new technologies, rather than pasting new technologies over the top of an existing design. In the redesign process, it’s important to:

  • Know your pedagogy
  • Know your learning outcomes
  • Know your e-learning  tools (amongst other things, declutter your course, and start small but think ahead to avoid getting painted into a corner later)
  • Know the practicalities and pitfalls; issues to consider include:
    • teacher and learner training
    • teacher (and student) workload
    • too much content (it may be better to design only 70% of a course and leave the rest as whitespace, so you can work with what students bring to the course)
    • failure to integrate successfully
    • seduction by the wow factor

It’s valuable to remember that curriculum design is an iterative process; courses don’t have to be fully designed from the start, but will grow and morph over time. To integrate new technologies into a blended course, it’s essential to refer to the online tools regularly in class; to maintain a strong online presence; and to develop scaffolded activities that include both face-to-face and online components.

Danaher finished by quoting Harasim et al (2007): “Online you get to know your students’ minds, not just their faces.”

In her talk, Task implementation in CMC: How does it influence language learning opportunities?, Rebecca Adams focused on the introduction of SCMC (synchronous CMC) into a language course.  Research suggests that synchronous text chat can:

  • encourage meaning negotiation
  • produce a focus on form
  • enhance accuracy
  • foster active learning
  • develop oral communicative competence (which can transfer to face-to-face contexts)

In the project on which she reported, it was found that reducing a task’s cognitive demands on students freed up cognitive space for them to focus more on grammar and form.  More complex tasks resulted in less focus on form. Not only does synchronous chat have language learning benefits, but using it in class helps prepare students for its use in real-world contexts.

So all in all …

Taken as an ensemble, the keynotes and papers at this conference distilled a clear sense of the emerging trends to watch over coming years. While predicting the future is never a safe bet, on current indications it will be all about mobility and personalisation. No doubt the next ICELF conference will give us a chance to see how these trends have progressed …

The global meets the local – again/still!

GloCALL 2011: Globalization and Localization in Computer-Assisted Language Learning
Manila, Philippines
27-29 October, 2011

As always, this GloCALL Conference focused on the intersection of the global and the local in teaching language(s).

Technology and language

A number of talks focused on the use of technology in teaching language, with a heavy emphasis – as is usual these days – on web 2.0 tools.

In the talk The use of wikis in collaborative learning, Long Nguyen and Hoa Phan argued there is a continuum between product-oriented and process-oriented CMC, with blogs and wikis fitting around the middle of the spectrum. They cited the work of Lee (2010), who  stated that wikis increase satisfaction and motivation, as well as fostering creativity and encouraging attention to form, but noted that students may feel insecure and uncomfortable in correcting each other’s work.  They also referred to Arnold, Ducate and Kost (2009), who concluded that wikis are effective educational tools, foster collaborative writing and revision behaviours, solve equal contribution issues, and combine the writing process and final product.

They reported on a Vietnamese study where students were asked to do a peer review of each other’s writing, one group using paper, and one using a wiki.  It was found that on average students wrote more than double the number of words on the wiki, and made more than double the number of comments.  The paper group focused more exclusively on the task, but the number of task-related comments by the wiki group was much higher overall.  Students’ feedback on the wiki peer editing process was generally positive, but they noted that it could be fatiguing and inconvenient to read on the screen and to have to go to an internet café for access.

In her talk A new learning space between the course forum and the ‘walls’ of Facebook: A case study of a community of learners of Italian, Marie-Noëlle Lamy reported on a group of learners of Italian at the OU, who created a Facebook group as a way of keeping in touch and continuing to practise language between courses.  Their public Facebook group was observed over a period of 4 months, with a particular focus on the 9 participants who made use of both the institutional Moodle forum set up for the course as well as the Facebook group. Students generally used the target language a far greater proportion of the time on Facebook.

Their posts were analysed using Selwyn’s 2009 ‘Faceworking’ method for analysing text on Facebook, and were found to fall into 6 main categories (e.g., reflections on the course, exchange of practical information, use of humour, etc).  Most categories of communication appeared on both the institutional forum and Facebook, though there was a tendency to exchange more general cultural information on Facebook.

Lamy hypothesised that students might be more wary of publishing in the target language on the institutional forum because they felt monitored by the institution there (though the Facebook group was in fact open to the public). She also wondered whether the anti-/pro-FB polarisation which occurred when the FB group was first set up might have promoted more group solidarity amongst those in the FB group, in turn encouraging risk-taking in the target language. The data are still being investigated as part of an ongoing study.

In my own talk, Language learning in a world of screens:  Customising online spaces, I identified 4 key trends linked to the world of screens in which we now find ourselves, and examined their implications for language teaching and learning:

  • a trend towards multimedia, which allows teachers to tailor materials to students’ varying learning styles, as well as helping students enhance their own language production through judicious use of appropriate media;
  • a trend towards networking, and to the building of personal learning networks, in which there are great opportunities for language practice, especially if students are encouraged to network across linguistic and cultural boundaries;
  • a trend towards mobility of smart devices, which allows just about any real-world context to be turned into a learning environment;
  • a macro-trend towards customisation, which builds on the first three trends.

In their talk Digital natives or mobile natives?, Peter Gobel and Makimi Kano summarised the argument of Prensky, Tapscott, and others that there is a distinct generation of ‘digital natives’, or a ‘net generation’. They noted that numerous studies dispute the existence of such a homogenous generation.

Japan is a highly wired society, with the highest mobile phone ownership in the world.  Gobel and Kano conducted a survey of the technology use of Japanese students to find out to what extent they were in fact ‘digital natives’.  Most described their level of technological competence as ‘fair’, suggesting they were not overly confident about their skills.  Most used their phone rather than a computer to access the internet, and it was found that over half preferred to store pictures on their phones rather than computers, while many others simply stored them on their digital cameras – suggesting the photos never leave the devices on which they were taken, and that students are generally not manipulating digital media at all.  Many students made extensive use of Mixi, Google, Yahoo and YouTube, but there was little awareness of Facebook (though this has changed a little due to the recent movie), MySpace, Flickr and Twitter, or of Moviemaker, iMovie or even GoogleDocs.

Overall, the data collected support Helsper & Enyon’s (2010) conclusion that the Prensky model  is flawed, which suggests that we do in fact need to rethink digital native assumptions.  Indeed, suggested Gobel and Kano, many of today’s learners, at least in Japan, might seen as ‘mobile natives’, because of the extensive use they make of mobile phones. As pointed out during the follow-up questions, phones are actually simpler tools to use as they don’t require or offer the more complex understandings that come with operating a computer.

In her plenary, Technological advances towards enhancement of language learning, Rachel Roxas argued that language teachers should adapt to the technological and multimedia orientation of their students. She outlined recent advances in automated natural language processing software, including Popsicle, MesCH, and Picture Books, highlighting its value for the language learning of the younger generation. There is a need, she suggested, to integrate new technologies into curricula and course materials, as well as to train in-service teachers in particular.

In her plenary, Challenges of establishing virtual communities of practice for teacher professional development in a variety of contexts, Siew Ming Thang spoke about the value of CoPs (communities of practice) for teacher PD. Virtual CoPs have the advantage of not being bound by time and space. She listed the following factors which influence the success of a VCoP:

  • There should be a common goal or purpose;
  • There must be enough time;
  • Ideally, it should be blended with face-to-face interaction;
  • A traditional national or organisational culture may inhibit the flow of knowledge;
  • Valuable information and knowledge must be provided (tacit knowledge, practical experience, hands on solutions – Hinkel 2003);
  • Technology must be readily available.

She reported on a case study where limitations on the success of a VCoP were due to:

  • Lack of trust and rapport (with other CoP members);
  • Concern with suitability;
  • Concern with correctness;
  • Lack of time (especially if the PD does not seem of real value);
  • Problems with technology;
  • Lack of trust (fear of monitoring by managers & institutions).

Amongst the challenges which need to be addressed, she mentioned that there is a conflict between a designed and an emergent community – communities typically form naturally, but some degree of facilitation is vital in a CoP.  She noted, too, that because online communication is mostly text-based, the lack of paralinguistic cues can make it more difficult to build trust between community members. She suggested, finally, that teachers must be willing to engage in change, and that it is important for them to be fully involved in this process.

Technology and culture

In her plenary, Developing intercultural communicative competence through online exchanges: Focus on Asian and Pacific languages, Dorothy Chun explained the adaptations of the Cultura model for exchanges involving Asian and Pacific languages.  The original Cultura project involved French and US students comparing word associations in an online forum. The same principle has now been applied in projects involving languages like Chinese, Japanese, Filipino and Samoan.  In many cases it was found that students did become very reflective about their own and other cultures. However, there are numerous challenges in such projects.  Sometimes, for example, there may be a mismatch between teachers’ pedagogical goals and students’ desire to socialise and make new friends. Large groups may be difficult to manage, and factors like low reading comprehension levels may limit benefits for some.  It can be useful to include audio-visual materials as stimuli for discussion, perhaps particularly among students of high school age.

In summary, Chun listed the following commonalities between the three exchange projects she had described:

  • Students found the experience enjoyable and were motivated to continue studying the L2.
  • Students felt part of a larger language learning community beyond their classrooms.
  • Students were the experts in their own culture, and the multiplicity of voices and knowledge surpassed what a teacher could provide.
  • Students gained new knowledge and understandings.
  • Students were able to discover culture through exploration, moving beyond study into intercultural communication.
  • Students and teachers believed that making the exchange a more integral part of the curriculum would be desirable.

She concluded that the exchanges were authentic (and invaluable) intercultural learning experiences. Teachers were no longer the cultural authorities, but their role was to facilitate communication, promote reflection, and follow up on misunderstandings.  She added that careful planning is necessary to anticipate and manage technological issues, institutional issues, linguistic proficiency discrepancies between groups, comparable participation between groups, and the use of other technologies such as video-conferencing.  She suggested that we should strongly consider making a Cultura-based exchange the primary (if not sole) component of the language curriculum, with task-based interactive activities enhancing both linguistic skills and intercultural communicative competence.

In her plenary, CALL and sociocultural language learning: A reality check, Marie-Noëlle Lamy discussed reasons for the failure of online collaboration projects involving CALL tools.  She noted that early studies of the reasons for such failures focused on cultural factors. However, she went on to argue that we also need to take into account sociopolitical factors and, in particular, power relationships. She suggested that in order to empower students, there must be both explicitness and flexibility on the following three levels:

  • Learning design approach
  • Distributed learning environment
  • Institutional policy

She presented three case studies to demonstrate how the presence or absence of explicitness and flexibility on these levels can affect the degree of empowerment experienced by students.

She also noted that when cultural differences are examined in educational courses, it is not just a case of challenging expectations, but ensuring that participants have the agency to act on what they learn. This is part of the sociopolitical dimension of courses.

In his talk, Intercultural usability of language learning websites, Jeong-Bae Son argued there are at least four kinds of usability to consider in CALL websites: general usability, pedagogical usability, technical usability, and intercultural usability. He observed there has been little research done to date on the intercultural usability of such websites. User interface design of such sites should consider:

  • The source of cultural input & an effective means of interaction;
  • An interface design that facilitates user interactions;
  • Components of the user interface – metaphors, mental models, etc;
  • Cross-cultural issues in the process of website development.

He is currently working on a set of guidelines for designing intercultural language learning websites; an example website can be seen at http://ceklser.org (a Korean resource site).

Changing language, changing learners, changing teachers

AILA 2011: The 16th World Congress of Applied Linguistics
Beijing, China
23-28 August, 2011

One of the major themes running through the 16th AILA Congress was the relationship of new technologies to language teaching.  Over the course of six days, presenters from around the world discussed changing teacher training, changing  teaching, and changing language – especially the growing importance of digital literacies.

Changing teacher training

In their presentation Language teacher education: Developments in distance learning, David Hall and John Knox reported on an investigation into institutional, teacher and student views of LTED (Language Teacher Education by Distance). Those surveyed believed there are numerous advantages of LTED, including:

  • flexibility/accessibility (approx. 70%)
  • situated learning (approx. 23%) (in particular the theory/practice interface when teachers study while working)
  • learner control
  • diversity of the student cohort
  • financial issues for students
  • interaction & mediation of discourse (you can take time to respond, e.g., in asynchronous discussion)
  • learner responsibility
  • employability

In short, the old advantages of LTED remain (such as flexibility and situated learning), but new advantages (such as diversity of the cohort and mediation of discourse) are expanding as technology breaks down barriers of time and space. Hall and Knox argued that both face-to-face and distance learning have particular affordances and advantages that in some ways balance each other out.

In her paper The development of language teachers’ expertise in exploiting the interactive whiteboard towards a socio-cognitive approach to computer-assisted language learning, Euline Cutrim Schmid noted that there is some concern that interactive whiteboards (IWBs) can be used to enhance teachers’ control of the learning environment, thereby promoting more traditional transmission or behaviourist educational approaches.

According to Warschauer (2000: 57), a socio-cognitive approach to electronic language learning activities should:

  • be learner-centred
  • be based on authentic communication
  • make some real difference in the world
  • provide students with an opportunity to explore and express their evolving identity

The question is whether and how teachers can be encouraged to use IWBs to support this kind of approach. Cutrim Schmid presented a case study of a language teacher who moved from a teacher-dominated stage of IWB use where:

  • the teacher focused mainly on form and controlled practice, and overgeneralised the use of the IWB to the whole lesson, doing most activities with a full-class focus (but she felt dissatisfied with students’ level of activity)
  • the teacher delivered authentic multimedia-based input (but she realised that students’ fascination for multimedia materials didn’t necessarily correlate with effective language learning)

to a learner-centred stage where:

  • students had an opportunity for co-construction of knowledge (where the equipment was not the main focus but was used as necessary to support language-based tasks, and where the IWB was used as a platform to show student-produced web 2.0 materials as well as being used by students themselves for presentations)
  • students had an opportunity for self-expression

The teacher developed important CALL competencies as she came to understand the strengths and limitations of the technological options, and to make informed judgements on the suitability of the tool for the task.

Cutrim Schmid concluded that IWBs can present a threat to communicative language teaching, especially as the acquisition of new competencies doesn’t occur automatically.  There is a real need for teacher development in this area, based on a sound theoretical basis and an examination of pedagogical practice.

In a talk entitled Web 2.0 for teaching and learning: Professional development through a community of practice model, Christina Gitsaki reported on a PD programme developed for  English teachers in the UAE to help them integrate web 2.0 into their teaching within a laptop programme.

The results of an initial investigation had shown that teachers reported a high level of confidence with emailing, word processing, accessing a VLE, etc, but made little use of web 2.0 and were in fact concerned about students accessing web 2.0 on their laptops, especially social networking sites. Students reported that the activities they wanted to do with the laptops were very different from what teachers did with them – they wanted to engage in more creative and collaborative activities. In other words, the way teachers were using laptops in the classroom did not reflect students’ online socialising and learning in their own time.

A PD programme, underpinned by a community of practice model, was set up to give teachers greater awareness of web 2.0 and how to use it pedagogically. It was based on the following cycle of learning:

  • Introduction to new idea
  • Reflection & interaction
  • Challenges & negotiation
  • Outcome: Adopt, Adapt, Abandon

Tools covered in Semester 1 included Edmodo, Flickr, Google Docs, Mindmeister, MyPodcast, VoiceThread, Xtranormal and YouTube, and in Semester 2 they included Photopeach, Dipity, OurStory, Prezi, Glogster and Comic Life.

Teachers found the community of practice approach valuable. They learned about web 2.0 tools, tried them out, and collaborated with colleagues on how to use them in the classroom. The more confident teachers actually tried the tools with their students and were able to report to colleagues on their experience.

Changing language teaching

In his talk The impact of digital storytelling with blended learning on language teaching, Hiroyuki Obari argued that digital storytelling can improve student autonomy as well as proficiency in English.  He observed that digital storytelling “merges the traditional art of storytelling with the power of new technologies” and can promote linguistic as well as paralinguistic skills in students. Through digital storytelling, students practise rhetorical skills as well as technological skills, with technology becoming an “imagination amplifier”.  Assessment of students’ English following the introduction of digital storytelling into his classes resulted in improved scores, and most students agreed it was useful in learning EFL.

The symposium Computer-assisted language learning and the learner consisted of a number of papers (by Hayo Reinders and Sorada Wattana, Bin Zhou, Hiroyuki Obari, and Mirjam Hauck) examining the effects of CALL on student learning. In the presentation The effects of games on interaction and willingness to communicate in a foreign language, Hayo Reinders and Sorada Wattana argued that, given the positive effects of gaming on classroom interaction and language production, we should appropriate gaming software for pedagogical purposes (rather than the other way round). The paper concluded with the following recommendations:

  • Do not let applied linguists mess up game design.
  • Do build on existing non-educational games as ecologies in their own right.
  • Do gather evidence of game language use and attitudes to learning.
  • Do make links between formal and non-formal learning.

In his paper Students’ perspectives of an English-Chinese language exchange programme on a web 2.0 environment, Bin Zou described a web 2.0-based programme for learners of English in China and learners of Chinese in the UK. Wikispaces was the platform chosen for students in these two groups to interact with each other around topics of common interest. The History function of the wiki allowed students to easily identify corrections made to their texts by the native speakers of the target language, though some students preferred to upload Word documents containing the corrections. Overall, wikis were found to be a useful and motivating platform for language education.

In his paper Integration of technology in language teaching, Hiroyuki Obari argued that social learning is the key trend of coming years. Open Educational Resources, he suggested, will be a big part of it. He noted that mobile technologies can be used to support lessons in a number of ways; for example, announcements and information about words and phrases can be sent to language students on mobile devices while they are commuting. Digital storytelling, he suggested, is also a very useful tool which allows students to demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products. Social learning and blended learning, he concluded, can both help students improve English proficiency and IT skills, while fostering autonomous learning.

In her paper Promoting teachers’ and learners’ multiliteracy skills development through cross-institutional exchanges, delivered at a distance by Skype video, Mirjam Hauck reported on two empirical case studies of a task-based telecollaborative learning format.  She argued that it is important for both teachers and learners to develop multimodal communicative competence, as defined by Royce (2002), and showed Elluminate as an example of a multimodal communicative environment. There is an “orchestration of meaning” in multiple modes online. It is important, she suggested, that language teachers design tasks that oblige learners to make use of multiple modalities online.  She quoted Hampel and Hauck (2006) on the need to promote the kinds of literacy required to use new democratic learning spaces to their best effect.

Changing language: New literacies

In introducing the Digital futures symposium, David Barton suggested that literacy studies research is a good lens for looking at language and new technologies. In his own paper, Creating new global identities on the web through participation and deliberate learning, he stressed that literacy studies research sees literacy as a social practice. With the advent of web 2.0, there are new spaces for writing (with writing becoming more and more important), including multilingual writing. There are also new spaces for learning.

His paper focused in particular on the photosharing site Flickr. He suggested that a typical Flickr page involves a number of different writing spaces: textual description, discussion, tags, etc. He reported on a study of Flickr use conducted collaboratively with Carmen Lee. New multilingual encounters occur online – such as when a Chinese person learning English in Hong Kong discusses photography with Spanish speakers elsewhere in the world. Comments may be left on photos in different languages.

He noted that many Flickr users write about learning, even though it’s not predominantly a learning site. He spent some time discussing ‘Project 365’ (in which people take one photo a day for a year), where it is very noticeable that many people refer specifically to learning. These are, he suggested, “deliberate acts of learning”. He listed the following key characteristics of Project 365:

  • it’s social
  • deliberate acts of learning
  • discourse of self-improvement
  • it’s life-changing (people are not just learning about photography but about life; learning, he suggested, should be life-changing)
  • vernacular theories of learning (where people present their own views of how learning takes place)
  • reflexive writing spaces
  • a passion (something, he argued, that is often left out of theories of learning)

My own paper was part of the symposium Enhancing online literacies: Knowledge and skills for language students and teachers in the digital age, organised by Regine Hampel and Ursula Stickler from the Open University. As part of this symposium, papers were delivered by myself, Linda Murphy, Aline Germain-Rutherford, Cynthia White, Hayo Reinders and Sorada Wattana, and Regine Hampel and Ursula Stickler. Paper summaries, reference lists and links can be found on the E-language Wiki.

In the opening paper, Digital tools and the future of literacy, I argued that our communication landscape has shifted dramatically in a few short years. New web 2.0 and related tools, ranging from blogs, wikis and podcasts to social sharing services, social networking sites and virtual worlds, are having an increasing impact on our everyday lives – and our everyday language and literacy practices. It’s more crucial than ever for language teaching to encompass a wide variety of literacies which go well beyond traditional print literacy.

I focused on four specific digital literacies of particular relevance to language teachers and students: multimodal (multimedia) literacy, information literacy, intercultural literacy, and remix literacy. I showed how language teachers can incorporate elements of each into their everyday classroom activities. I concluded that combining traditional print with multimodal, information, intercultural and remix literacies can make the language classroom much more dynamic – and much more relevant to our students’ future lives and future uses of language.

In her paper Tutor skills and qualities in blended learning: The learner’s view, Linda Murphy argued that the difference between distance learning and regular learning is breaking down, thanks to the arrival of new technologies.  The top-ranking important skills for online language tutors, as viewed by students in a 2011 study conducted at the OU, were:

  • native/near native speaker competence (due in part to a need for cultural input)
  • teaching expertise in supporting grammar and pronunciation development
  • strong emphasis on affective dimension: approachable, enthusiastic, encouraging, fostering group participation with confidence, catering for differing needs and styles
  • well-organised, focused use of contact time
  • competent IT users
  • prompt responses and awareness of support systems

In a previous study conducted in 2008, IT skills had not been listed in the top five most important skills, but by 2011, 20% of respondents mentioned IT skills. The idea of IT also overlaid many of the other tutor skills mentioned in student comments.  She concluded by suggesting that teaching online is not so much about adding to one’s repertoire as transforming one’s practice for the online context.

In her paper Preparing our students for the intercultural reality of today’s online learning spaces, Aline Germain-Rutherford focused on intercultural issues. She opened with a quote from Edgar Morin, who argues against inadequate, compartmentalised learning and in favour of learning “about the world as world” in its contextual, global, multidimensional and complex reality. She referred also to Reeder, Macfayden, Roche & Chase’s (2004) description of culture as ‘negotiated’ rather than ‘given’.

Our job as language teachers, she suggested, is to design learning environments where students can co-create linguistic and cultural content through their collaborative contributions to blogs, wikis and social networking platforms. She recommended Henderson’s (2007) model of E-learning Instructional Design, which is centred on epistemological pluralism and is designed to help raise students’ awareness of cultural diversity as they engage in co-construction of a learning space where multiple cultural contexts are made visible and debatable.

In her paper Online academic literacy within user-generated content communities: Connections and challenges, Cynthia White started with the new literacies position, which sees literacy as a social practice.  There is of course a need to switch practices between different contexts. She referred to Kern (2006), who suggested that the internet has complexified the notion of literacy by introducing multimedia dimensions and altering traditional discourse.

She described a telecollaborative project involving students from Germany and New Zealand, where they interacted online, e.g. collaboratively writing on a wiki, as well as making use of tools like Facebook and YouTube which they themselves introduced.  She explored how students practised language and negotiated meaning in examining the relationship between German and New Zealand/Maori culture.  She finished with a number of questions, including:

  • What are the dimensions of literacy as social practice in web 2.0 telecollaborative projects?
  • What is the intersection between intercultural literacy and online literacy?

In the paper Incorporating computer games into the EFL classroom, Hayo Reinders and Sorada Wattana focused on gaming literacy and asked how, as teachers, we can move from an entertaining to an educational use of games. Key learning principles present in many games include:

  • the active, critical learning principle (gaming environments are about active and critical, not passive, learning)
  • the psychosocial moratorium principle (it’s OK to make mistakes and learn from them)
  • the practice principle (learners get lots of practice which is not boring and where they experience ongoing success)

However, language learning through games is not yet well developed. Many online language games do not really exploit the capabilities of the digital medium, but essentially reproduce offline activities.

The paper reported on an experiment conducted in Thailand, where students were able to communicate in English in a copy of a commercial gaming environment. It was found that students had a greater willingness to communicate in online gaming than in the classroom.  It was also found that students produced a greater quantity of language in the gaming environment compared to the face-to-face class.

In the concluding symposium presentation, Transforming teaching: New skills for online language learning spaces, Regine Hampel and Ursula Stickler focused on teachers and how they can transform the spaces that exist online into learning spaces. Referring to their previously developed skills pyramid for online language teachers, they pointed out that the two base layers have to be taken for granted nowadays, as teachers can’t operate online without them, but the higher level skills still need to be developed.

Some of the key literacies for students are:

  • Basic literacy
    • technical competence with software
  • Multimodal literacy
    • dealing with constraints and possibilities of the medium
    • having basic IT competence
  • Linguistic and inter-/multicultural literacy
    • facilitating and developing communicative competence
    • online socialisation
  • Remix literacy
    • own style
    • creativity and choice

Online learning spaces allow:

  • blending of environments – beyond time, space, and pace (making learning flexible)
  • individualised learning (making learning relevant)
  • authentic communication (making learning real)
  • collaboration (making learning interactive)
  • online telecollaboration (making learning multi/intercultural)
  • creativity and choice (making learning fun)

Of course, as they stressed, there is still a need for negotiation of a number of aspects of learning spaces.  Future developments, they suggested, should include the development of new pedagogies; online communities of practice; institutional training; and curriculum planning.

Conclusion

Overall, the AILA Conference provided lots of food for thought for anyone working in the overlapping areas of language teaching and new technologies. It will be interesting to see how both teaching and technologies have continued to develop when the 17th AILA Congress takes place in Brisbane in 2014. Watch this space …

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