The CALL of the beach

EUROCALL Conference
Limassol, Cyprus
24-27 August, 2016

St Raphael Resort, Limassol, Cyprus. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2016. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

St Raphael Resort, Limassol, Cyprus. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2016. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

This year’s annual EUROCALL Conference, focused on the theme of CALL Communities and Culture, took place at the St Raphael Resort in Limassol, Cyprus. With daily temperatures in the mid-30s, delegates made good use of the beaches and swimming pools before and after the conference sessions. In the conference sessions themselves, meanwhile, key themes emerged around the potential for using digital technologies to support learning in areas which to date have in some ways fallen outside of mainstream conversations about language teaching: in the teaching of less widely spoken languages, in the development of digital literacies and 21st century skills, and in the promotion of multiculturalism and even multilingualism. Running through many of the presentations was a strong sense that it’s time for educators to help students make greater use of digital technologies to shape their own learning environments and experiences.

In my opening keynote, Why mobile devices aren’t enough: Learning languages, building communities and exploring cultures, I spoke about the role to be played by educators in drawing our students’ attention explicitly to the potential inherent in their everyday mobile devices, used in their everyday contexts, to support language learning, community building, and cultural and intercultural exploration. While there is clearly a place for social justice projects which make use of basic technologies and traditional pedagogies in under-resourced contexts, it’s interesting to note that many of the most creative of today’s mobile learning initiatives, at least those located in better-resourced settings, combine the learning of languages with the development of digital literacies and 21st century skills, often in multicultural contexts, and sometimes in multilingual contexts. In such initiatives, students produce their own user-generated content which not only supports their own learning, but can support the learning of peers and even wider communities.

In his keynote on the second day, Let’s play with constructionism, Panayiotis Zaphiris from Cyprus University of Technology began by introducing Seymour Paper’s theory of constructionism which, unlike constructivism, is not so much about learning by discussing, but learning by creating and building artefacts. He then went on to outline the newer idea of social constructionism, which adds social components to the original concept of constructionism. Artefacts, he explained, can be physical or digital constructions. Through a series of case studies based in the Cyprus Interaction Lab, he went on to indicate six key elements of implementing social constructionism:

  • developing physical learning spaces for constructionist learning
  • learners constructing shared/common understanding
  • learners playing and having fun
  • constructing learners’ communities of interest/practice
  • giving learners tools for constructing their knowledge
  • involving learners in designing their learning

The last of these elements, he suggested, is the most innovative. He reported on a study entitled Constructionism, Participatory Design and CALL focusing on a course called Learn Greek Online, where people can learn the Greek language without a teacher necessarily being online. The site was developed using participatory design and distributed social constructionism. A set of old audio lessons were posted online without further guiding materials, but the learning community then began to support each other and to create materials: transcribing audio files, correcting each other’s transcriptions, and so on. By 2002, there were 50,000 students; this was a kind of MOOC before MOOCs.

In her keynote on the third day, Deconstructing digital literacy practices: Identity narratives from the South, Leila Kajee explained that digital technologies provide children with alternative platforms to engage in social interaction, and multiple identities are the norm. The South African Cyber Lives project maps digital practices across generations, contexts and communities, looking at how users construct their identities digitally and what the implications are for teaching and learning English. Often children’s out-of-school digital literacy practices are not recognised inside the classroom, but in fact these out-of-school practices have important implications for the classroom. The New Literacy Studies movement focuses our attention on the shifting landscape of home, community, work and schools, and gives us a set of theoretical lenses to examine the interconnection between these. Digital literacies, she went on to say, have many components from access through information analysis to sharing and safety. Drawing on the work of Stuart Hall and Chris Weedon, she explained the postmodern perspective that a person has no single fixed identity, and that history, language and identity are intertwined. She gave a range of examples of how ordinary individuals are using social media platforms to construct identities, to engage socially, and to develop a voice under sometimes difficult circumstances.

She then looked at three examples of young learners’ use of digital technologies. Firstly, she talked about the use of the children’s game Moshi Monsters by a young girl, Eva, who created a story around her reality and cyberreality, embodying her chosen persona through an avatar, while also creating a second, male avatar. Secondly, she showed a digital video narrative by Khutso, a second language speaker of English, explaining his journey to becoming a teacher; he constructed an identity as poverty-stricken and wearing a mask to school, before reaching a turning point – inspirational teachers – who made him want to become a change agent himself. In another digital video narrative by Watkins, who also chose to become a teacher, the narrator began by characterising himself as a rebel before reaching a Eureka moment when he realised that he himself could be the change he wanted to see in wider society. Thirdly, she discussed a girl, Cassie, who used Facebook as a way of establishing her diasporic identity, having moved from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to South Africa, through mechanisms such as selfies and wall posts, where she sought to establish her own voice.

Exploring digital literacies with students in school, she said, can be a way of reimagining opportunities for connections across institutional and community contexts, and providing permeable boundaries between home and school. In the process, students can develop voice and identity. It is important, she concluded, to reimagine opportunities for identity construction across contexts.

In the first series of parallel sessions, I chaired a strand in which presenters outlined the use of digital technologies in teaching a variety of less commonly taught languages. It was intriguing and inspiring to hear about the uses of new technologies to support languages which, because of smaller numbers of speakers and/or learners, are much less well-resourced than more widely spoken languages.

In her paper, CALL and less commonly taught languages – Still a way to go, Monica Ward spoke about the fact that there is still a distance to go before new technologies become normalised in the practice of teachers of less commonly taught languages (some of which may be quite widely spoken, but not so commonly taught in some geographical areas). Using the examples of Arabic, Irish and Nawat (from El Salvador), she outlined issues with the kinds of access pathways students may have into potential language learning materials. Teachers should learn from others’ practices, and can pick and choose among the options, starting with the ‘low-hanging fruit’, that is, widely available and relatively simple tools that we know to work well.

In their paper, Teaching Turkish in low-tech contexts: Opportunities and challenges, Katerina Antoniou and Antigoni Parmaxi spoke about teaching Turkish in Cyprus, where they introduced Kahoot, with students using internet-connected computers and answers displayed via a projector (since mobile devices could not be used due to a lack of wifi). This allowed all students, who were of different ages, to participate. Students were motivated and involved, and were willing to discuss their answers with the group. At the beginning, however, the adult students thought Kahoot was just a game which was a waste of their time, but over time they came to see its benefits. While older students could help younger students with language, the roles were reversed when it came to helping with technology. Challenges, the presenters suggested, can be opportunities when diverse skills, interests, motivations, goals and abilities complement each other. Despite the challenges, they concluded, a low-tech context can still offer more opportunities than a no-tech context.

In his presentation, A platform and customization toolkit for error-tolerant search of language resources, Anton Rytting described the need for a platform that allows language learners to search for words they have heard in an error-tolerant context so that they can find what they are looking for, even if they have misheard sounds or if they miswrite words. He showcased a ‘Did You Mean’ (DYM) system for a language called Dhivehi, spoken in the Maldives, where possible dictionary entries can be displayed based on their closeness of fit with the word typed by the student. To make such a system, you need a dictionary, a query alphabet, an error model (based on the mistakes you think learners are likely to make), and a way of testing it based on likely queries. There is a DYM Toolkit available, created by researchers at the University of Maryland, that teachers and others can use to create such error-tolerant platforms for different language learners.

In his presentation, An audio-lexicon Spanish-Nahuatl: Using technology to promote and disseminate a native Mexican language, Aurelio López-López described the ALEN application that allows users to enter a word in Nahuatl or Spanish to hear the pronunciation of the word, and to see an illustrative image. The overall goal is to safeguard engendered languages, including by taking advantage of mobile devices which are widely used by young people.

Dealing in some ways with the opposite end of the spectrum, Jack Burston gave a paper entitled The contribution of CALL to advanced level foreign/second language instruction, in which he showed that there have been remarkably few publications in CALL journals about advanced-level instruction using technology. It is notable that advanced-level language barely rates a mention in the published CALL literature, and this research is very limited in terms of the L2 studied, with English the centre of attention followed distantly by German and French. There are four times as many studies about written language as about speaking/listening skills. Above all, these studies are vague about what an advanced level is, and the difficulty of the tasks students are required to undertake. To date, he concluded, CALL has contributed very little to our understanding or practice of advanced foreign/second language instruction. On the positive side, there is great scope for SLA research at the advanced level, with more methodological rigour needed where ‘advanced’ is defined and substantiated; there is a need for a focus on oral as well as written language; and there is room for considering innovative CALL applications such as mobile and/or cloud-based projects.

Another conference theme was digital literacies and 21st century skills seen as an accompaniment to language learning. In their presentation, Preparing Japanese students’ digital literacy for study abroad: How much CALL training is needed?, Travis Cote and Brett Milliner noted that previous research suggests Japanese first year university students lack core computer literacy skills. In surveys, they found that Japanese students assessed their own computer literacy skills as low. Ultimately, the presenters suggested, the students’ lack of ability to use productivity tools is preventing them from using computers effectively for critical thinking and problem solving, since students need to spend time focusing on using the technology itself rather than what the technology should enable them to do. Although smartphone ownership is at 100%, students tend to use these devices only for social and entertainment functions. In the future the presenters plan to encourage blogging to help students develop a range of skills including typing, composition and manipulation of images; provide opportunities to participate in online discussions; provide opportunities that incorporate presentation software; and introduce students to cloud computing as a way to expose them to collaboration.

In their follow-up paper, Tertiary EFL teachers’ digital literacy: Is CALL training still needed?, Brett Milliner, Travis Cote and Ethel Ogane reported on a study of 42 faculty members teaching English at Tamagawa University in Japan, conducted in order to determine their digital literacy levels, whether they could benefit from extra training, and whether they could lead students in using computers for CALL purposes. Teachers were relatively modest in their self-assessment of digital knowledge and skills. Most teachers said they enjoyed using computers and felt comfortable doing so, but also wanted to learn more about computers. Teachers thus believe in the use of digital technologies in the classroom and are open to further professional development in this area. Interestingly, they had often acquired their knowledge and skills independently or through peer-to-peer learning.

In her presentation, Digital literacies for language learning and teaching: Developing a national framework, Françoise Blin reported on a six-institution, nationally funded Irish project, led by the University of Limerick, with two major aims: to develop a national framework for digital literacies for language learning and teaching, and to curate and create a wide range of OERs accessible via an online portal. The first aim focuses on the intertwined strands of language skills and practice; digital literacies; and transitions and contexts. In time, all language courses in Ireland should contain learning outcomes for digital literacies within their descriptors. It is important that there is sustainability of e-learning – it has to meet the needs of present and future teachers and learners – as well as sustainability and normalisation of CALL. Surveys to date have revealed that students feel the need to acquire more digital literacies than are currently covered in their courses, while teachers feel that they are lacking in some digital literacies that their students might need them to teach.

Another strong theme of the conference focused on multilingualism and multiculturalism. In her talk, Multilingual CALL – The good, the bad, and the ugly, from the perspective of teacher training students, Judith Buendgens-Kostens suggested that multilingual CALL could involve participants using all the languages to which they have access, ranging from their native languages through to languages in which they might know only a few words. She spoke about the Erasmus project MElang-E, which takes the form of a serious game where players follow the progress of a young musician across Europe as he seeks to convince former bandmates to join in a music competition. Players are faced with a series of communicative situations in which they can make choices about what languages, or combinations of languages, to use in response to interlocutors. There are also many codeswitching situations presented to players, where they can see similarities and differences between languages. In reporting on students’ reactions to this game, she noted that there is much greater acceptance of widely spoken and taught languages, while there is little appreciation of languages that do not have an obvious market value, though they might in fact have other kinds of value in terms of identity or simply enjoyment. The question is whether stakeholders can be convinced that there is a role for this kind of multilingual game in education.

In their talk, Promoting multilingual communicative competence through multimodal academic learning situations, Anna Kyppö and Teija Natri reported on an interdisciplinary course of multilingual interaction piloted at the University of Jyväskylä Language Centre, focusing on the students’ effective use of their own linguistic repertoires and the enhancement of their agency in multilingual and multicultural settings. The learning environment was a combination of a face-to-face classroom, a web-based platform called Optima, and an educational mobile platform called REAL, all used within a task-based framework where language was the instrument for completing tasks (and students were free to use any languages at their disposal). Students’ multilingual and multicultural awareness grew, they were able to adopt skills for their future working lives, and they came to see their peers as learning resources. In the future, the presenters plan to introduce more multilingual and multimodal courses into subject study, to enhance students’ focus on successful communication rather than accurate language use, to more efficiently employ social media and multimodal interactive online resources, and to employ PLEs (personal learning environments).

In her paper, Preparing students’ mobility through telecollaboration: The I-Tell project, Catherine Jeanneau explained that the better prepared students are for experiences abroad, the more they will gain from the experiences. Students need practical advice, linguistic development, intercultural competence, self-awareness and learner autonomy; and there has been a suggestion that the preparation should be more formative than informative (Gutierrez, Duran & Beltran, 2015). The I-Tell project aimed to develop participants’ intercultural, linguistic and digital skills. Volunteer Irish and Spanish students were paired the semester before they went abroad. Over 8 weeks they completed one task per fortnight, using asynchronous and synchronous modes, multimodal communication, and 50% Spanish and 50% English; for example, they were asked to co-design a document giving advice to students going abroad for study. Students were generally positive about the project, but found that time was an issue. The technological platforms were not dictated to students, who chose to use a mixture of tools including email, VoiceThread, Skype, Facebook, Google+, WhatsApp, Instagram and FaceTime; social media in general were seen as authentic channels of communication. Students identified both similarities and differences between the cultures, and generally obtained a broader perspective on the other culture. They reported developing different language skills with the help of peer learning and peer correction. Students engaged in an exchange of practical information, but there was also a lot of psychological preparation involving emotional support. Lessons learnt include the importance of facilitators who can keep the project moving, getting the timing right, setting collaborative tasks, and considering the developmental needs of students.

A whole range of tool types, platforms, and approaches were mentioned in the presentations. Covering a popular tool in his talk, Quizlet: What the students think – A qualitative data analysis, Bruce Lander mentioned that the use of Quizlet has grown dramatically in recent years, with a number of well-known competitors now also on the market, including the recently popular Kahoot. He reported on a study involving text mining of Japanese students’ comments about Quizlet, showing that they were generally very positive about the vocabulary learning possible through Quizlet. He concluded by mentioning Mark Warschauer’s three main reasons for using technology in education – improving academic achievement, facilitating new kinds of learning, and promoting social equity – and linking these to Puentedura’s SAMR model. He wrapped up with a demonstration of Quizlet Live, suggesting that it can be a great tool to engage students in team competitions in the classroom.

In his presentation, Podcasting in a mobile world: Power, potential and pitfalls, Jaime Selwood, the producer of the English News Weekly and the lower-level English News Monthly podcasts, mentioned that there are now 130,000 English language podcasts available in iTunes, with the Chinese language in second place. Beyond the release of the iPod itself, he said, major game changers for podcasting have been the release of smartphones and the expansion of the mobile internet. He mentioned two key ways in which he uses podcasts with his university level English learners in Japan: as out-of-class assignments 4-6 times a semester where students complete podcast activities and later report back to the class; and as part of a podcast creation course where students make and publish 4 podcasts a semester, having recorded, written and edited all the materials themselves. In a student survey, 83% said they liked using podcasts in the first way, mainly because they had choices about which podcasts to listen to; and 77% liked the second way, again mentioning the freedom to choose their own topics.

In his talk, Enhanced tools for CLIL and Clil4U, Kent Andersen outlined an EU project which has developed a pool of resources to support CLIL, now publicly available on the Clil4U website. He then went on to describe another project, Improved Safety for Electricians, where there is an inbuilt CLIL element, allowing users to quickly and easily click on words in the English instructions for automated translations into many other languages. Teachers are able to make use of the Clilstore resource to develop their own materials of this kind. He suggested that to develop the CLIL element more fully, it is important to also build in exercises for students, and this functionality should eventually be added into Clilstore.

In her presentation, Urban explorations for language learning: A gamified approach to teaching Italian in a university context, Koula Charitonos outlined a pervasive and gamified approach to language teaching and learning. She described an Italian language learning game called ImparApp, created with the TaleBlazer authoring tool from MIT, and developed at Coventry University. There are gamified fictional narratives which involve participants in mixed reality, location-based quests using mobile devices in real-world settings. Players can interact with virtual characters, objects and data. In a pilot study, it was found that students thought this was a good orientation activity, permitting incidental learning and helping them learn about history. There were also challenges, such as students focusing mainly on finding the next location and not interacting with each other, with risks to health and safety as students focused on devices rather than their environment. Students also suggested incorporating more visuals, zoomable maps, and Italian background music, as well as ways of facilitating social interaction.

In his paper, Mobile-assisted language learning and language learner autonomy, Paul Lyddon spoke about the importance of learner autonomy – that is, the right to self-determination, or the “capacity to take control of one’s own learning” (Benson, 2011) – to support lifelong learning. He suggested that there are potential areas of interface between mobile technologies and autonomy: mobile devices allow learning anytime and anywhere; are conduits to rich, multimodal content; and are extensions of our mental and physical faculties in areas like observation, recall, research and communication. He went on to note that there is an incongruence between learner training courses which help students to develop independent goal setting, and to apply that know-how in informal learning contexts and, on the other hand, traditional formal learning contexts with course and programme standards, where times and places are administratively decided, and where there are classroom policies to prevent off-task behaviour. This dramatically constrains the versatility of the devices. In formal settings, students may have the ability and the possibility, but often not the permission, to use their devices as they wish to support their learning. He suggested that we could consider moving towards a model of socially responsible learner autonomy, where students fulfil the requirements of a course in terms of enrolment and assignment completion, with different degrees of autonomy being possible in the process of carrying out course tasks. To remediate the current situation, he concluded, we should explicitly acknowledge the limited nature of autonomy in formal learning contexts; inculcate expectations of learner characteristics aimed at helping students to fulfil assignment requirements in personally meaningful ways; and foster new forms of self-awareness and self-discipline to enable mobile devices to be deployed effectively to support greater autonomy.

The Mediterranean, Limassol, Cyprus. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2016. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The Mediterranean, Limassol, Cyprus. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2016. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The last day of the conference wrapped up with a roundtable hosted by Mirjam Hauck, where a number of presenters were asked our opinions on the takeaway messages of the conference. For me, the first takeaway message concerns a changing sense of CALL, which is now extending into areas like lesser-taught languages, digital literacies and 21st century skills, and multilingualism and multiculturalism. This makes CALL as a concept somewhat more amorphous and diffuse, but simultaneously richer, as teachers and researchers who may not traditionally have been part of CALL conversations are drawn into our discussions.

My second takeaway message concerns differences between the CALL conversations (and more general educational technology conversations) in Asia and Europe. Much of the time, I attend and present at conferences in the Asian region, and it is striking to see how different the tone of the conversation is in the European region. In the latter case, there would generally seem to be a more widespread acceptance of the benefits of multilingualism and codeswitching as opposed to immersive target language learning, of communicative competence as opposed to linguistic accuracy, and of student input into learning designs as opposed to the mandating of learning content by ministries of education, institutions or teachers. At the same time, there are important pedagogical and technological developments taking place in Asia, perhaps most notably in the area of contextualisation of learning as a way of dealing with issues around transfer distance, as seen in the development of large, often state- or ministry-backed mobile augmented reality learning projects – but most of these projects seem to be almost unheard-of in Europe. There is clearly much to be gained from more conversation between European and Asian teachers and researchers about the most promising directions for future technology-enhanced language learning.

Technology meets language and literacy

CLESOL Conference
Hamilton, New Zealand
14-17 July, 2016

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Victoria Street, Hamilton, New Zealand. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2016. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The biannual CLESOL (Community Languages and ESOL) Conference took place this year in the university town of Hamilton, south of Auckland. It addressed the theme of Learners in Context: Bridging the Gaps. 

In my keynote on the first main day of the conference, I addressed the conference theme with respect to mobile learning in a presentation entitled Learners in context: Bridging everyday language learning gaps with mobile devices. I focused on the way that mobile devices can be used to help bridge many language learning gaps: between the haves and have-nots, between traditional and contemporary pedagogies, between episodic and extended learning, between formal and informal learning, and between classroom and situated learning. I suggested that in addition to asking our students to use their mobile devices to support their formal language courses, we should also draw their attention to the opportunities for informal education, where they can use their everyday devices in their everyday contexts to support their everyday language learning.

In their workshop, Many rivers to cross: Engaging learners using computer tools and mobile apps, Patrick Coleman and Daryl Streat from Lincoln University spoke about the inevitability of ongoing technological development, suggesting that educators need to keep up with it because of the implications for learning and work. They took workshop participants through a series of interactive activities accessed on the Many Rivers to Cross Blendspace website. Along the way, they strongly advocated that there must be pedagogical reasons for using new technologies, rather than using them for their own sake. For example, social media tools can be used to extend learning outside the classroom space. They mentioned several models which can be employed to frame our understanding of how we’re using new technologies pedagogically:

  • Ruben Puentedura’s well-known SAMR model;
  • Joan Hughes et al’s alternative RAT model (referring to Replacement, Amplification, Transformation);
  • Chris Hesselbein’s modified RAT model which becomes the RATL model (where L refers to Leadership).

They noted, too, that generic technological training may not always be appropriate; it is important to consider what technological uses are appropriate for any given context.

In her paper, Online activity that works, Jill Hadfield from Unitec mentioned that there has been a considerable rise in the use of the terms interaction and interactivity in the area of educational technologies. While some people use the former to mean human-human interaction and the latter to mean human-machine interaction, most use the terms interchangeably.

Referring to her new book Interaction Online with Lindsay Clandfield, she went on to suggest that interaction between humans and machines could be called weak interaction, and that between humans and humans could be called strong interaction. Much of the former involves tasks that are very behaviourist in nature, while the latter is not only motivating but vital for learning. There are many platforms, ranging from Moodle through Edmodo to Facebook, where students can communicate with others as individuals and groups. She suggested that there are 5 main types of interactive language learning tasks:

  • factual (finding and sharing information on a factual topic)
  • personal (exchanging personal information)
  • fanciful (entering into an imaginary situation)
  • critical (exchanging opinions on a topic, as in a typical discussion forum)
  • creative (where students create something together)

She went on to give examples of interactive tasks pertaining to each of these categories, and showed how they can generate very different types of interaction patterns, such as:

  • Confetti (students all ‘throw in’ their responses to a teacher prompt)
  • Poker (students have numbers and respond in a set sequence)
  • Creative Commons (students are given rules for a collaborative task)

In her presentation, A blended collaborative approach to academic writing: Preliminary findings, Anita Pu outlined early findings from an action research study on an approach to ESL academic writing which blended face-to-face activities and online tasks using Google Docs and Google Hangouts. All participants reported that they liked face-to-face collaborative writing. Six out of 11 liked network-based collaborative writing using Google Docs and Google Hangouts; three commented negatively on passive group members, and difficulties in expressing or understanding opinions. Ten out of 11 liked the overall blended collaborative writing approach. All participants were positive about the convenience of using Google Docs. They were partly positive about Google Hangouts; however, it was found that it couldn’t be used on a phone with a Chinese ID, and they felt it was one more messaging app on top of those they were already using. Pu concluded that while using only network-based collaborative writing might not be a good idea in an ESL context, an overall blended collaborative writing approach is appropriate because it makes learning more fun, makes it easier to pool ideas and knowledge from different people, and provides more opportunities for interaction.

In her talk, Getting it write: Using technology (Google Slides and Blogger) to help engage reluctant writers, Navjot McCormack from Linwood College, Christchurch, spoke about the use of technology to help English language learners overcome barriers to writing. She reported on a research study of students using Google Slides collaboratively to create group presentations, followed by reflecting individually on the process on personal blogs. Despite initial hesitation, students generally demonstrated a high level of interactivity, negotiation, problem-solving and interdependence. Students reacted very positively and collaborated well in the slide creation task, and even during the personal blogging task they were seen helping each other. One important facet of this project was the co-construction of knowledge: students enjoyed playing the role of technology experts and helping the teacher and other. There were a number of challenges: students were less keen on editing the slides once they had been created; although they enjoyed sharing their presentations, they gave little constructive feedback, which is an area that needs to be trained; and technology issues and slow internet speeds were frustrating. Overall, this was an empowering exercise for students.

In his talk, Reflections of a late adopter: Language learning principles and MALL, John Macalister from Victoria University in Wellington suggested that we need to ask how new technologies add value to our teaching. Discussing language learning apps, he suggested that while they have some advantages, some of them also have key limitations: they do not always use language in meaningful ways; they do not necessarily present the most frequent language; and they may cause interference by presenting similar words and phrases simultaneously. He pointed out that these apps can play a useful supporting role for motivated language learners who already have some experience of the language, and suggested that they could be used in a targeted way by teachers to complement language learning in the classroom, especially if teachers exploit the gamification elements typical of these apps.

In his presentation, The future of language learning: AI and CALL, Wolfgang Sperlich from NorthTec asked whether we might see robotic language teachers in the future. He spoke about the trend towards automation of language assessment, where all components including writing and speaking are assessed by software using statistical matching. There are various dangers here, including that teachers will increasingly teach towards these automated tests, using the restricted conceptions of language that may underpin them, and the limited tasks that may compose them. He concluded that AI and CALL have positive potential but that we need to guard against their limitations.

In her presentation, Mapping the spaces between learners and teachers: A guide for critical pedagogy, Margaret Franken spoke about the interplay of complex epistemological and pedagogical space. In her discussion of pedagogical space, as a space within which there is a particular configuration and alignment of learning resources, she suggested that in addition to the well-known social constructivist concept of the ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development), we should also consider the subconcepts of the ZAA (Zone of Available Assistance; that is, the resources available to provide assistance to a learner) and ZPA (Zone of Proximal Adjustment; that is, the subset of the ZAA which is appropriate for a learner at a given moment). These are concepts drawn from the work of Rosemary  Luckin in particular. She went on to mention that we need to take into consideration spaces which are beyond our educational gaze, such as those social media forums where students exchange academic support with other online community members, who thus come to function as brokers of literacy practices and knowledge.

It was very  informative to attend a language and literacy conference where presenters approached educational technologies from a specifically language-oriented viewpoint, thus bringing different perspectives to bear on the technology compared to those commonly heard at dedicated educational technology events.

The brain, language and technology

JALTCALL
Tokyo, Japan
5-6 June, 2016

Street scene, Machida, Tokyo, Japan. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2016. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Street scene, Machida, Tokyo, Japan. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2016. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The JALTCALL Conference this year brought together a sizeable audience at Tamagawa University in Tokyo. For this conference, JALTCALL partnered with the BRAIN SIG (whose full name is the Mind, Brain and Education SIG) to focus on the theme of CALL and the Brain, with various presentations addressing the intersection of knowledge about the brain, language, literacy and educational technologies.

In her virtual plenary, Neuroconstructivism in the modern classroom, Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa began with a warning that, although we know more than ever about the human brain, we still know relatively little. She pointed out that no two human brains are the same, because they are shaped by our past experiences, and that prior knowledge influences new learning. Therefore individuals need different amounts of exposure to new knowledge before they ‘know’ it, because it depends on prior experience with similar information. Neuroconstructivism is a framework focusing on the construction of representations of knowledge in the brain. People will interpret information subjectively depending on their past experiences, and it is important how they connect new knowledge with those experiences.

Language processing as a whole is very complex. To be able to read effectively requires the activation of at least 16 neural pathways in the brain. Writing is even more complex. It is easier to say what parts of the brain are not used in language processing, rather than trying to list all the parts that are. However, recent studies suggest that bilingualism and multilingualism lead to functional, rather than structural, changes in the brain. Neurolinguistics shows many benefits of bilingualism, and no disadvantages.

Three key ideas for teachers are:

  • Teachers need to attend to the multiple neutral networks needed to achieve a task, such as speaking a foreign language. More basic pathways must be laid down before more complex pathways can be laid down.
  • The individual brain constructs knowledge based on a combination of genetics and environment (nature vs nurture), so different people have different levels of potential.
  • Each brain will need different amounts of exposure before it learns, leading to the question of how teachers can respond to all learners.

One way of using technology to do this is through virtual bundles of information which can be presented in mini-libraries online. Each bundle for a weekly topic could, for example, consist of a video and slides introducing a topic and priming students to learn things they don’t already know, and a collection of instructor-recommended resources which allow students to gain further and deeper understanding. These virtual bundles allow learners to each approach the topic from their own starting point, thus providing different levels of entry to the topic; creating the opportunity for learners to fill personal gaps as well as to shine in later face-to-face classes; and enhancing the motivation level of learners due the Goldilocks Effect, where nothing is too easy or too hard. This flipped approach also has the benefit of allowing the teacher to work from a common starting point in face-to-face classes. She wrapped up by referencing the TPACK framework as presenting key considerations for teachers, who need subject knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and technological knowledge to support the first two of these and to help individual students to learn.

In his virtual plenary, Can neuroimaging inform the principles of learning technology?, Paul Howard-Jones discussed the value of uncertain, rather than certain, rewards in education. He outlined a current study entitled Does ‘gamification’ boost engagement and educational learning? which involves uncertain, escalating rewards, as well as competition with a peer. In another study entitled ‘Brain School’, a comparison was made between a study-only condition, a self-quizzing condition, and a game-based condition (with uncertain, escalating rewards and competing with a peer). In self-reported behavioural results, game-based learning was found to be more engaging than self-quizzing, which in turn was more engaging than study-only. In brain scans, there was found to be some default mode network (DMN) deactivation, which may be a useful neural marker for educational engagement. In other words, gamification increased self-reported engagement and learning, and deactivated DMN. More study is needed on various aspects of these experiments, including on how uncertainty, escalation and peer competition in gaming contribute to the brain’s reward response and learning.

In my keynote, Beyond traditional language and literacy: The rise of mobile literacy, which closed the first day of the conference, I gave an overview of key digital literacies which feed into mobile literacy, as well as making some comments on the need to balance up the advantages of mobile devices (for deepening students’ learning and engagement) with the challenges they present (in areas such as culture, socioeconomics, privacy and surveillance, health, and the environment). Facing up to the challenges of mobile learning, I suggested, will best allow us to capitalise on its possible benefits.

In their presentation, Digital literacy: A case of Japanese EFL students, Jeong-Bae Son and Moonyoung Park spoke about the fact that while young people may use technologies in many aspects of their lives, they often need training on how to do so for learning purposes. After considering various definitions, Jeong-Bae Son defined digital literacy as the ability to use digital technologies at an adequate level for creation, communication, and information search and evaluation, in a digital society. It involves the development of knowledge and skills for using technologies for different purposes. He indicated that there are 5 main elements:

  • information search and evaluation
  • creation
  • communication
  • collaboration
  • online safety

Moonyoung Park reported on a study of 70 EFL students at a Japanese university. Even though these were computer science majors, many said they were limited in their ability to create with digital technologies – for example, building webpages or recording digital videos. A considerable percentage did not know virtual worlds like Second Life, or key podcasting or photosharing sites. Students generally perceived their level of digital literacy as moderate to high, but recognised the importance of improving their digital fluency.

In his presentation, Gamification: The future of learning?, Guy Cihi suggested that the lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy – remembering and understanding – lend themselves to memorisation through a gaming format. A good game is characterised by successive eustresses (positive stresses) experienced in your brain. Most good games use an element of uncertain reward, which produces consistently higher levels of dopamine than do unexpected rewards or certain rewards. This can be seen for example in the use of dice, and the point was illustrated with reference to the Candy Crush game. Almost any game you play with students can be modified so that certain rewards are treated as uncertain rewards. An app like Zondle, which has paired associate tasks, makes use of user-uploaded content, and allows for certain and uncertain game rewards, is an example of a learning game which applies uncertain rewards. The forthcoming Lexxica app Words & Monsters will work on similar principles.

In their presentation, Smartphones and homework, Douglas Jarrell and Emily Mindog pointed out that smartphones have both receptive and productive capabilities, and can be used for ubiquitous access as well as accommodating different learning styles. They discussed Schoology as a platform that can be used both on computers and on mobile phones, though the iPhone and Android apps are a little different. Speaking of childhood education majors, they emphasised the importance of the students improving their speaking and listening skills. They gave examples of activities where students made an audio recording of their speaking; where students had to draw a picture while listening to an audio recording of instructions by the teacher; and where students had to turn a sequence of activities described by the teacher in a video into written instructions. While most students said that using mobile phones for learning was good, convenient and modern, a number ran into data limit problems, and several Android users had problems.

Dangers of sitting all day, every day. Source: Fearless, J.H. (2015). DIY Desk. Made. www.custommade.com/blog/diy-desk/

In his presentation, Killing Them Softly with Phone Love, Brian Gallagher spoke about healthy and unhealthy approaches to our use of digital devices. He highlighted issues like bad posture and poor ergonomics (see figure above), and eye strain, including computer vision syndrome, or CVS (see figure below). He spoke about an annual survey conducted with Japanese students over 4 years, where students, over time, reported greater degrees of agreement with statements that they were using computers too much, felt their eyes were tired after using small screens, and felt dizziness or neck pain after using technology. The danger is that we may be harming our students by using too much technology too much of the time. We should employ good practice and teach this to students, with a key message being to use everything in moderation. We should also consider asking students for their opinions after informing them of good practice.

The 20-20-20 rule. Source: Butler, T. (2015). How to avoid computer eye strain. Lenstore Vision Hub. eyecare.lenstore.co.uk/how-avoid-computer-eye-strain

The 20-20-20 rule. Source: Butler, T. (2015). How to avoid computer eye strain. Lenstore Vision Hub. eyecare.lenstore.co.uk/how-avoid-computer-eye-strain

On the second afternoon of the conference, an unconference session took place where participants were invited to wander between rooms and dip into the various topics being discussed in each room. I dropped in on a series of discussions on topics ranging from voice recognition to physiological responses to screens, as well as an app exchange session which included a whiteboard sharing of useful apps and websites (see figure below). There is a full list of all the apps and websites mentioned, in alphabetical order, on Paul Raine’s blog.

App exchange, JALTCALL Unconference. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2016. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

App exchange, JALTCALL Unconference. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2016. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

It’s always interesting to come back to Japan – a country with an astonishingly, but unevenly, high-tech landscape – to see how the educational technology sector is continuing to evolve. There are always plenty of lessons here for the rest of the world.

Drawing together global insights

iCTLT
Singapore
30-31 March, 2016

Suntec City, Singapore. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2016. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Suntec City, Singapore. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2016. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The biannual iCTLT (International Conference on Teaching and Learning with Technology) in Singapore is always a great place to hear about contemporary trends drawn together from across the world of educational technology.

In his opening keynote, Coherence: Putting the right drivers in action, Michael Fullan spoke about the importance of whole system change, focusing on pedagogical improvement linked to measurable outcomes, and the need for practice to inform theory. He suggested the right policy drivers are capacity building (rather than accountability), collaborative work (rather than individual teacher and  leadership quality), pedagogy (rather than technology, which is just an accelerator), and ‘systemness’ (rather than fragmented strategies). Collaborative cultures in schools, he noted, have a greater effect on teaching and learning than teacher appraisal or professional development.

There is a need for an integration of  pedagogical knowledge, change knowledge, and technological knowledge to innovate effectively in schools. Exciting new learning should be irresistibly engaging, elegantly efficient, technologically ubiquitous, steeped in real-life problem-solving, and involve deep learning. He went on to speak about the emergence of students, and not just teachers, as change agents. Students can be catalysts for pedagogical change, partners in organisational change, and forces for societal change; they can become citizens of tomorrow, today. The job description for education, he suggested, should be ‘helping humanity’, which involves students in an integral way.

In the second keynote, Connected learning: Learning in an era of abundant connectivity, Mizuko Ito spoke about how learning is different in an era of easily accessible internet-based resources. Students will be sharing in ways many educators regard as positive (such as forming study groups) as well as less desirable ways (such as downloading essays or finding services to take online courses for them). The latter may be due in part to a lack of engagement in formal education, which is very different from the free-flowing ecology of demand-driven learning young people engage in outside the classroom.

One problem with new technologies like MOOCs is that they tend to advantage those who are already educationally and socially advantaged, rather than closing gaps, as Ito pointed out with reference to the work of Hansen and Reich (2015). She went on to present a model of connected learning, involving students’ interests, a peer culture, and opportunities tied to recognition. The last of these may be linked to school, civic engagement, or job opportunities, but it is difficult for young people to find these connections. For most youth, in fact, their learning experiences in and out of school are disconnected, and they have little idea how to connect their interests with career pathways. The challenge today is to build a more connected ecosystem for students’ learning, bringing together their formal and informal learning. While not all learning has to be of this type, and while there is no one size-fits-all model, every learner deserves to have this kind of experience, and to have it recognised by schools, education systems and employers. There is a key role here for ‘learning heroes’ who act as mentors to young people and help them to make these kinds of connections.

In my own spotlight presentation, Deeper learning and deeper engagement through mobile literacy, I argued that there is a pressing need to help students develop the individual literacies that make up the mobile literacy skillset, including information literacy, multimodal literacy, network literacy, code literacy, and critical mobile literacy. I suggested that at the same time, educators can seize the opportunity to deepen students’ learning experiences and deepen their engagement through tasks that simultaneously involve active, constructivist learning, and situated, embodied learning. In a follow-up presentation the next day on Designing mobile learning, I outlined the practical considerations that impact on educators’ creation of mobile learning experiences for students.

In her opening plenary on the second day, Rethinking the profession of teaching as a design science, Diana Laurillard began by stressing the importance of placing pedagogy before technology. She outlined the conversational framework (see figure below) and went on to discuss how technology can improve knowledge acquisition, inquiry, practice, discussion, collaboration, and production, while she constantly emphasised the importance of teachers’ guidance and curation.

The Conversational Framwork (Laurillard, 2016)

Figure 1: The Conversational Framework (Laurillard, 2016)

She explained some techniques for using technology to support collaborative learning in very large classes, involving pyramid discussion groups. The technology can handle the orchestration of large discussions of this kind to make the teacher’s task more manageable.

She then suggested some techniques for improving the use of multiple choice questions, including concealed answer MCQs (where answers to the question are initially concealed and some user-constructed input is required) or open MCQs (where students see responses and facts relevant to the responses, and must link responses to the relevant facts). Using learning analytics from large online classes can help us to improve MCQs, identify common misconceptions, and crowdsource wrong answers.

Teaching is now, more than ever, a design science. It’s more like engineering than performance, art, or science, she stated. It’s important to have a design-test-redesign cycle; and a professional community of practice is useful for innovating, testing, and sharing new ideas for effective pedagogical design. In this way, collaborative innovation can become viable for teachers. Teaching in the 21st century means teachers discovering new digital pedagogies, being supported in innovation, being recognised as design professionals, and engaging in professional development via peer collaboration.

In his presentation, Designing (multimodal) learning, Victor Lim spoke about the importance of teachers seeing themselves as designers of learning. Design starts with the customers, is divergent, is controlled by principles rather than rules, invites invention, and is aimed at transformation. The role of the teacher has evolved from being a transmitter to being a facilitator to being a designer. Design is about the centrality of choice: it involves educators choosing the best strategies for their learners in their context.

Learners also need to become multimodally literate. Referring to a wide range of developments, from digital storytelling to Nick Sousanis’ Unflattening dissertation, Lim discussed the shift towards multimodal representation in contemporary education and culture. He also flagged up the issue of subject-specific literacy, given that different subjects make different use of texts and other evidence types. It is necessary, he suggested, to develop complementary competencies in traditional literacies and multimodal literacy. When designing learning experiences through which students can develop multimodal literacy, teachers might draw on the FAMILY Framework – Form, Audience, Message, Integration, Link, Y (Why?) – in conceptualising their lessons.

All in all, iCTLT has once again proven to be a valuable forum for the exchange of views about new technologies in education, drawing together the perspectives and contributions of educators themselves, as well as government and the commercial sector. The fact that the audience has grown to nearly 2,000 people suggests that others find it valuable too! I’m already looking forward to iCTLT 2018.

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.

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.

Centre of the mobile world

Mobile Learning Week
17th – 21st February, 2014
Paris, France

The Eiffel Tower across the Seine, Paris. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2014. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The third UNESCO Mobile Learning Week brought together a global spread of views and insights into mobile learning from a variety of locations, institutions and projects – making Paris the centre of the mobile learning world for a whole week. It began with a series of interactive workshops on Monday, followed by the Mobile Learning Symposium on Tuesday and Wednesday, which was opened by the Director-General of UNESCO, Ms. Irina Bokova.

In the first plenary, 21st Century Learning by design, Chen Keen Tan from Crescent Girls’ School in Singapore spoke about the role of technology in connecting people to each other, to ideas, and to innovation, and empowering young people to do more than to consume – namely to create. Technology, she suggested, promises personalisation, empowerment, anywhere anytime learning, and blended learning. But, she went on to say, the promise is not the problem – the problem is how to go about reform. We often underestimate implementation, impose it in a top-down way, and have insufficient leadership capacity building. This leads to a vision/reality disconnect. Teachers have to deal with the daily realities of classrooms and the concerns, constraints and challenges of teaching. We need to show teachers how to get from the promise to the expected student outcomes. Often there are one or two innovative teachers in every school, but the challenge is to empower all teachers in all schools to use technology effectively. Effective professional development involves active practice and collaboration. She recommended the use of the 21CLD framework, which identifies six dimensions for 21st century learning, and can be used by teachers when they are designing learning experiences for their students. Technology, she said, comes in at the end of the design process, not at the start. Ultimately, we should end with the promise of technology, which comes in naturally to support learning in the classroom. Elements that should change in 21st century design include:

  • Student engagement in knowledge building;
  • Student ownership of learning;
  • Student control vs teacher control (this, she suggested, is a kind of teacher ‘remote control’ – the students feel in control, but actually the teacher is in control through the design process);
  • Student empowerment.

In the second plenary, Mobiles for teacher development: Findings from UNESCO field projects in Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan and Senegal, David Atchoarena from UNESCO spoke about mobile phone-based teacher training projects in these four countries.  In Mexico, the focus was on enhancing the teaching practice of primary school Spanish language teachers working with students who speak an indigenous language at home – the approach involved the use of the Nokia Education Delivery (NED) platform and a mobile blog, where teachers shared videos of their lessons. In Nigeria, the focus was on supporting the pedagogical practice and content knowledge of primary school English language teachers – the approach involved the Nokia Life+ platform, where teachers received weekly tips. In Pakistan, the focus was on developing the professional practice of female early childhood education teachers working in rural areas – the approach involved the NED platform, where teachers received videos along with multiple choice questions. In Senegal, the focus was on improving the teaching of science and maths in primary schools – the approach involved the Nokia MoMath platform along with a Moodle-based administration platform; lessons designed by teachers were checked, then uploaded to the MoMath platform. A key finding across these projects was that in a resource-scarce setting, mobile enhances teachers’ access to relevant teaching content and develops their content knowledge. Another finding was that as an easier-to-use device, mobiles remove the barrier to teachers’ ICT skill development. It was also found that students are ready for the next generation of learning, while teachers and principals are more hesitant.

Lessons learnt included: the difficulty of initial teacher training should be toned down and its duration prolonged; ongoing support needs to be planned in advance and mobiles should be used for regular coaching; content development should not be under-invested and the development strategy should be assessed; large-screen phones are appropriate for teachers (and projection is necessary for students); and teachers should  be supported in connecting through multiple local networks.

In his talk, Faculty development, 2019: A futurism exercise, Kyle Dickson spoke about getting faculty to see themselves as digital creators and storytellers, rather than starting with the technological tools. He described a training programme at Abilene Christian University where faculty learned about digital photography and digital storytelling (which, at its essence, is about media literacy).  This kind of training can be entirely delivered on mobile devices in the field. He concluded by saying that great storytellers have something to teach us about faculty development – it’s not just about learning about the technology as fast as possible, but intrinsically motivating participation through the focus on narrative. Like great storytelling, education takes time, stress and tension, and is less about the student replicating the teacher than about finding his or her own voice.

In his talk, The culturally-aware curricular and technology intervention (CACTI) model, George Saltsmann discussed the importance of sensitivity when transplanting best practices with technology from one culture into another. It is important that educators do not inadvertently destroy the cultures they are setting out to assist and protect. UNESCO promotes the idea of ‘intangible cultural heritage’, which it is essential to safeguard. What does it mean when we bring the internet, with the dominance of English, to Africa through mobile devices? We need to ask questions about the local culture, what best design practices are, what existing local resources can be used, how we can work collaboratively and give all partners a voice, how we can adapt plans based on iterative feedback and partnership, how we can evaluate the effectiveness of interventions, and how we can share successes with all stakeholders.

In their talk, Using SMS to support the professional development of school principals/headteachers in Ghana, Louis Major and Sue Swaffield spoke about the Leadership for Learning (LfL) Ghana programme, which has been running since 2009, and aims to improve school principals’ leadership capacity in order to enhance the quality of learning and teaching. SMS messaging has been identified as a way to sustain engagement and maintain fidelity to the LfL principles. It will take the form of group messaging, initially with 10 SMS groups, each consisting of 10 headteachers and moderated by a facilitator. Research will be conducted to reveal the effectiveness and implications of the use of this group SMS model. It could potentially be scaled up in the future, or used in other contexts, if it is successful. Sustainability will be a key issue, and will be considered from the outset.

In her talk, Mobilizing the middle kingdom: Teacher-led mobile learning in a Chinese high school, Na Liu spoke about mobile learning at Beijing Royal School (BRS). Mobile learning allows more collaborative work and more connections between subjects; DropBox serves as a hand-in folder, while WeChat allows constant teacher-student contact. Student learning has become more personalised, with students being able to study anywhere, and they have a sense of belonging to a global community of digital learners as they collaborate with students in South Africa. The school takes a flipped approach, with students able to download texts and videos before class, allowing more time in class for discussion and group work. All in all, mobile learning has been very empowering for students, who some of the time can teach each other as well as the teachers. Quantifiable successes have included the fact that BRS mobile learning students’ SAT reading and writing scores have gone up, and they are spending more than an hour a week reading in English.

In the plenary panel discussion, Teachers and mobile learning: Voices from the ground, moderated by Mar Camacho (Brazil), teachers from four countries – Na Liu (China), Nassirou Oumarou Maman (Niger), Erkan Taskaya (Turkey) and Emelie Ohm (Sweden) – discussed the use of mobile technologies in their varying locations, providing a range of insights into the potential of m-learning around the world.

On the second morning of the Symposium, in a plenary paper entitled Mobiles for reading: Findings from two soon to be published UNESCO reports, Mark West outlined recent research on mobile readers. There are still 774 million illiterates in the world, he noted. The key findings about the use of mobile readers included:

  • Most mobile readers are male;
  • Women spend far more time reading on mobiles than men;
  • Mobile reading positively impacts children (one in three survey participants said they read to children, so mobile reading has a ripple effect; many mobile readers are in fact teachers);
  • Mobile reading appeals to (and can benefit) neo-literate and semi-literate adults and adolescents;
  • Among the core barriers to mobile reading are a lack of relevant content and poor connectivity.

In the presentation, Lessons learned from an open multimedia professional development programme to support interactive teaching using mobile technology in sub-Saharan Africa Sara Hennessy and Bjoern Hassler spoke about teacher development in Zambia. It is important, they suggested, to focus on three key elements: interactive pedagogy, open educational resources, and digital technology. They noted that connected/disconnected is a false dichotomy, since the reality is variable connectivity everywhere, whether in Europe or Africa.

In my own talk, How can we balance affordability and affordances in the design of mobile pedagogy?, I discussed three types of mobile learning:

  • when the devices are mobile;
  • when the devices and the learners are both mobile;
  • when the devices, the learners and the learning experience are all mobile;

followed by three agendas for mobile learning:

  • transforming teaching & learning;
  • developing 21st century skills/digital literacies;
  • social justice.

I argued that depending on the type of mobile learning, and the agenda for mobile learning, there will be different levels of affordability of the devices, connected to different levels of affordances for learning. For the most part, affordability and affordances are inversely related. Designing the optimal kind of mobile learning for our students in our own context always involves carefully balancing up affordability and affordances.

In the talk, The digital learning transition MOOC for educators: Exploring a personalized and scalable approach to professional development (co-authored with Mary Ann Wolf), Glenn Kleinmann argued that personalised, accessible, effective, scalable PD is necessary for educators, and asked whether educational MOOCs (termed MOOC-Eds) can be used for this purpose. He described such a MOOC-Ed which is oriented around the principles of:

  • self-directed learning;
  • peer-supported learning;
  • case studies and authentic projects;
  • blended learning.

In the paper, Changing the role of teachers by integrating mobile technology in a rural school in Zimbabwe: A reflection in light of UNESCO policy guidelines, Urs Grohbiel and Christoph Pimmer discussed an iPad project in a secondary school in rural Zimbabwe, designed to address a lack of teaching materials and qualified teachers. They examined the project in light of UNESCO’s mobile policy guidelines, which they suggested are a very useful framework for thinking about the implementation of mobile learning projects.

In her paper, The mEducation Alliance: Scaling technology in education investments through international collaboration, Cecilia Martins indicated that investment in technologies for education must involve: learning from our failures, considering the impact on learning outcomes, and considering whether it is cost-effective, sustainable and replicable. The mEducation Alliance brings together a wide range of organisations working in the educational technology space. It is important that different organisations work together and learn from each other’s successes and mistakes, but that projects can still be tailored to local conditions and contexts. She went on to discuss key elements of a collective agenda:

  • Community engagement;
  • Respectful partnership;
  • Sharing challenges and opportunities;
  • Access to quality education for all;
  • Strategic rationale for policy makers;
  • Promoting social inclusion for economic growth.

mAlliance activity highlights include convening multi-stakeholder partnerships, catalysing research, catalysing partnerships, and sharing knowledge and learning. Future aims include setting up an ICT4E Evaluation Fund to conduct rigorous evaluation of projects.

In the paper Promoting 21st century citizenship for and with ICT: Current initiatives from Bangkok (co-authored with Ichiro Miyazawa), Jonghwi Park outlined two important initiatives from UNESCO Bangkok, which serves 49 countries in the Asian region. The first initiative involves fostering digital citizenship through safe and responsible use of ICTs, and the second takes the form of a mobile app for disaster risk reduction education. There is a big digital divide among the ASEAN countries when it comes to computers, but not so much when it comes to mobile devices. Opportunities and risks for children go hand-in-hand. Thus it is important to educate children about the dangers of overuse of ICTs; risks inlcude cyberbullying, health/addiction, unethical use, and so on. Among ASEAN countries, only Singapore and Malaysia have systematic programmes in this area, hence the need for the first initiative on fostering digital citizenship.  The second initiative has produced ‘Sai Fah’ (‘The Flood Fighter’ in Thai), a mobile app on flood risk reduction, which is available to download. It takes the form of a game with before/during/after flood stages.

In the final plenary session of the Mobile Learning Symposium, entitled Emerging trends and new technology, an international panel talked about current and future developments in mobile education. The feeling was that education is already being transformed by new technologies, but that there is much more to come. It was suggested, both by panel and audience members, that there is a need for more teacher training, within a more holistic approach drawing in all stakeholders. At the end, panel members were asked to identify one or two key trends of coming years; the themes mentioned included: increasing use of mobile devices in combination with other technologies; social learning; comprehensive pre-service and in-service professional development for teachers; and necessary policies for guiding electronic content and analytics. The symposium was then closed by Francesc Pedro, Chief of Section, UNESCO.

The Mobile Learning Week concluded on the Friday with a Research Track chaired by John Traxler, where a series of moderated panels addressed key issues in mobile learning research:

  • Pilots, Projects and their Data (moderated by myself);
  • The Role of Research and of Researchers (moderated by David Parsons);
  • From Evidence to Priorities (moderated by Helen Keegan);
  • Participants, Stakeholders and Ethics (moderated by Alex Tyers);
  • Research-informed Research Priorities (moderated by Nicole Kendall);
  • Programmes, Monitoring and Evaluation (moderated by Dan Wagner);
  • Dissemination, Publication and Symposia (moderated by Purna Shrestha).

Unfortunately I had to skip the final two panels in order to get to the airport in time for my flight back to Australia, but I’m looking forward to catching up on what I missed in the summary publication which will appear in due course.

While it is difficult to pull out a clear set of key themes from reports of so many diverse projects and practices over the course of a whole week, it’s clear that there is a great deal of vitality in mobile learning around the world. Mobile teaching and learning practices are continuing to develop rapidly, along with an emerging body of research disseminating findings about successes and challenges encountered to date, and sketching out elements of best practice. UNESCO fulfils a very important role in providing a unified global platform for beginning to integrate our insights into mobile learning.

New media, new spaces

1st ICODEL Conference
Manila, Philippines
23-24 February, 2012

The first International Conference on Open and Distance E-learning (ICODEL), was held at the Century Park Hotel in Manila from 23-24 February 2012, with the pre-conference workshops having taken place on 22 February. It was great to be back in the Philippines only months after the GloCALL Conference was held here in October last year – a sign, it seems, of increased interest in the field of e-learning in this country.

In her opening plenary, entitled The State of the Art in Open and Distance E-learning, Denise Kirkpatrick spoke about the 2012 Horizon Report, mentioning currently influential technologies such as mobile computing, electronic books, and Open Education Resources, and indicating the future potential of augmented reality, game-based learning, learning analytics, and gesture-based computing. Major contemporary challenges, she suggested, include:

  • Digital literacies
  • Metrics of evaluation for new forms of publishing
  • New forms of education and competition (universities’ roles are changing in view of competition from other institutions, and in face of the need to prepare students for lives in an increasingly complex world)
  • Keeping up

Open and Distance Learning, she suggested, must be about:

  • Connectedness
  • Community
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Convenience
  • Connections

Today’s students are mobile and connected socially and technologically.  Social media platforms are becoming an important part of learners’ lives and we need to think about how we can leverage them in the service of education.

Schools and universities, she argued, need to be learner-centric digital environments. There should be a focus on problem-solving and helping students to think creatively.  Collaborative learning is important, involving students in formal learning in teams and projects, informal learning with buddies and mentors, and multiple learning environments. Collaboration is also important for educators, who are increasingly engaging in interdisciplinary and cross faculty learning, and internationally distributed research.

She gave examples of current uses of augmented reality, e-books, virtual worlds like Second Life, and social networking sites like Facebook. There can be a link, she observed, between social networking sites and open educational resources, with the latter becoming much more powerful when we focus on the social interaction around them. It’s important to enhance the power of the social and investigate ways of learning together.

Learning analytics is an area that will grow quickly, she predicted, as a way of increasing the quality of student learning and achievement, thanks to interventions derived from looking at the learning analytics. This will also allow us to personalise learning materials to a greater extent, and help students take control of their learning by allowing them to visualise their own learning.

In short, she suggested, we are in a period of major change and growth in the provision of education.

In his talk, Integrating Media and Information Literacy in Open and Distance E-learning, Jose Algaran described the importance of providing guidelines to students on the use and value of materials in multiple media and on multiple platforms. Media and information literacy competencies are an important indicator of students’ readiness to take courses online, and should also inform instructional design. Given that the media and the internet are the key sources of information in the contemporary world, media and information literacy are absolutely crucial skills and are essential to enabling lifelong learning.

In his talk, An International Survey on Media Use for Learning, Michael Grosch opened with a reminder that books are in fact a form of media. Text, he suggested, will still be the most essential medium for learning in the future, even if it is presented in electronic formats.

He went on to say that learners don’t accept all media equally, and that the media offered by teachers are often rejected by learners. External, self-searched and web 2.0 media are becoming more and more important for learning.

Inspired by the ECAR surveys, he developed his own survey instrument to get an overview of students’ use of 48 different media services (print, online, web 2.0, e-learning). Surveys were conducted at about 15 universities, predominantly in Germany and Thailand. Wikipedia, Google and email, he found, were the three most used media services by students, with some commonly discussed web 2.0 tools like blogs, wikis and Twitter being ranked relatively low. Teachers, he found, read more books than students, while they use social media on a very low level.

He concluded that students use a broad variety of media for learning, but this is self-controlled, with students making up their own minds about which media to use, rather than doing what teachers tell them to do. Text media, he reiterated, play a key role in the learning environment, with electronic texts set to become very important in the future. Interestingly, his data suggest that the most intense media users may also be the better students.

In his talk, Open-source and Free Software for In-class Online Surveys and Data Analysis, Enrique Frio spoke about the value of conducting surveys online, recommending the use of free software such as Kwiksurveys and PSPP (a free alternative to the proprietary SPSS). This cuts down enormously on many of the manual aspects of survey writing, data collection, and data analysis and display.

The second plenary involved three speakers addressing the topic of Issues, Challenges, Reforms and Solutions in Open and Distance E-learning. The first speaker, Tian Belawati, Rector of Universitas Terbuka, Indonesia, spoke about the role of the Universitas Terbuka (Open University) in bringing opportunities for equal access to higher education to the whole of Indonesia. Its student base shows that it is having success in “reaching the un-reached”. Because of the lack of penetration of the internet in parts of the country, the UT works through 37 regional centres. The UT is currently in the process of developing tablet-based materials, and, given a mobile phone penetration of around 73% in Indonesia, it is exploring the use of mobile phones in education, including the use of personalised SMS messaging.

The second speaker, Grace Javier Alfonso, Chancellor of the University of the Philippines Open University, talked about the different domains of distance learning (where teachers and students are physically separated), open learning (which focuses on access for all), and ODL, or open and distance learning (which fuses both concepts). She indicated that e-learning (teaching with new technologies) shares common ground with ODL, but is not the same, since much ODL delivery worldwide still makes little use of new technologies. ODEL, or open and distance e-learning, fuses all three notions.

ODL has been affected by a number of factors in recent years:

  • Transnational education (possibly leading to a need for international accreditation)
  • Quality assurance (which does not yet exist for ODL in the same way as face-to-face education)
  • Digitization of distance education (which is quite varied across institutions)
  • Changing profile of students (with a greater range of students wanting to update their qualifications)
  • Open Educational Resources (with more and more institutions openly sharing their resources at no cost)

The University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU) was established in 1995 as the fifth component institution of the University of the Philippines (UP), with the aim of opening up education to all those who are unable to access it in traditional ways. It is currently exploring ways of integrating ODL with e-learning. Because its inception coincided with the inception of the internet in the Philippines, the UPOU did not invest very much in older ODL infrastructure. The rapid increase in internet usage in the Philippines bodes well for e-learning.

ODEL, she concluded, is a world view and an expression of values.  It is a construction of how DL, OL, and EL are enacted in the context of the ‘Universitas’.  The interweaving of these components can bring about social transformation, but there are some issues here:

  • There is a need for a plurality of ideas, which should come from the developing as well as the developed world.
  • There is a need for academics to disseminate knowledge in multimedia formats to reach audiences more familiar with the grammars of audio-visual language.
  • There is a need to recognise the non-linearity of the medium, with hypermedia allowing for the expansion of the democratic space.
  • There is a need to instil the ‘Universitas’ ethos, which is traditionally propagated in physical spaces, in the electronic environment, and to consider how, for example, social networking services can function as scholarly platforms.
  • There is a need to consider the digital divide to avoid the marginalization of the disadvantaged, perhaps by combining EL with more traditional ODL technologies (like television and radio).

The third speaker, Eing-Ming Wu, President of the Open University of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, argued that we are living in the time of the city defining the nation, advancing the state, and enriching the citizens. Lifelong learning, he suggested, enables urban life.  The city should become the most resourceful lifelong learning platform, and public schools (at all levels) should become the most accessible lifelong learning centres. Learning, he suggested, enables a better quality of “living, loving and earning”. Drawing on the EU definition of a learning city, he suggested it should promote “city prosperity”, “society security” and “individual fulfilment”.

The Kaohsiung Open University is the only Taiwanese open university founded by a city. Its key characteristics are that the learning it provides is affordable, accessible, achievable and amplifying. The city, he said, becomes the campus of the university – and the university becomes the city’s universe.

Although I had to leave the conference early to get to the CamTESOL Conference in Cambodia, it was clear from the first day that there are many interesting developments occurring in ODEL, both in the Philippines and the wider region. No doubt there will be many future conferences expanding on the themes broached in the 1st ICODEL Conference in Manila.

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).

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