Mapping out the future of VR and AR

Mobile World Congress
Shanghai, China
30 June – 1 July, 2017

The Yu Garden with the Shanghai Tower behind

The Yu Garden ( 豫园) with the Shanghai Tower (上海中心大厦) behind. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2017. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

After flying up from Guilin on 29 June, I managed to catch the last two days of the Mobile World Congress in Shanghai. An enormous event that brought together technologists, marketers and investors, and showcased new technologies from phones to drones and robots to cars, it also hosted a series of summits on specific themes. I spent Friday 30 June at the VR and AR Summit, where industry speakers offered their perspectives on the latest developments and the current challenges facing VR and AR.

In his presentation, What is the future of VR & AR?, Christopher Tam (from Leap Motion) argued that there are 5 key elements of VR and AR, namely immersion, imagination, availability, portability and interaction. Before the advent of VR/AR, it was as if our computing platforms only allowed us to peek at the possibilities through a tiny keyhole, but now we can open the door into a utopian world, he said.

Immersion needs high quality graphics and rapid refresh rates; imagination needs good content; but interaction is hard to measure. One way of measuring interaction is by considering human-machine interaction bandwidth. This is a fundamental factor to unlock the mainstream adoption of VR/AR and, while a lot of progress has been made on the other elements, this remains a bottleneck which the industry is currently focused on addressing. The leap from 1D to 2D computing required the invention of the mouse to accompany the keyboard. A mouse works for 2D because it allows one-to-one mapping; however, it is not sufficient in a 3D world, because in such a world we need to do more than moving, selecting, pointing or clicking. Interaction in a 3D world should be inspired by the way we interact with the real world; we should use the model of ‘bare hands’ interaction, given that this is our primary way of interacting with the real world. It is natural, universal, unencumbered, and accessible. In education, children can study in a hands-on style, with more fun and better retention; this is how children learn in the real world. In training, people can practise how to handle complex situations in hands-on ways. In commerce, consumers can enjoy the digital world and be impressed at the first try. In healthcare, we can enable diagnosis, physical therapies and rehabilitation; this moves the barrier between healthcare givers and their patients. In art and design, we can express ourselves by creating in a 3D manner with no restraints. In social relations, we can hang out and interact with friends. In entertainment, there will be easier, more intuitive controlling, and deeper immersion; users can become the protagonists in the stories we are telling, not just operating a person but becoming that person. Thus, hand tracking brings to life the advantages of VR/AR in almost all verticals. He concluded by demonstrating Leap Motion’s hand tracking technology.

In his presentation, The future of virtual reality in China, James Fong (from Jaunt China) suggested that VR is the next stage in a long human quest to experience and interact with captured and created realities; this stretches from cave art through painting, photography, gramophones, motion pictures, television and 3D films to AR and VR. He suggested that there is no need to separate VR and AR as they will merge soon. He briefly pointed out some questions of looming importance: we want Star Trek’s Holodeck or the Matrix experience, but we need to ask how this affects our humanity. Will we become isolated from each other? Will we appreciate human connections? Will we not want to leave the perfect VR/AR world?

In VR/AR storytelling, we can be part of a scripted narrative or take our own pathway through a free-form construct; engage in first-person participation or third-person observation; venture alone or interact with n-number of participants; and focus on private enjoyment or share experiences with family, friends and the world. It will however take a long time for high quality and compelling content to arrive, in part because VR will disrupt every element of content creation. We are used to third-person stories and it will take time to get used to first-person stories. We haven’t yet developed the creative language for working with VR. However, all of the major companies that run operating systems are moving to support VR natively, and this will usher in major developments.

He wrapped up by looking at the Chinese market, where there is no Google, Facebook, Amazon or Twitter, and where the market is dominated by local players like Baidu, WeChat, Weibo, iQiyi, Youku, Tencent, Alipay and WeChat Pay. Therefore a lot of international products don’t work in this country. Some challenges in China are the same as in the rest of the world (e.g., poor headset viewing experiences; market experimenting with live and 360) and some are different (VR experience centres/cafés in China keep interest high; content quality has not improved due to a lack of financing; and the camera and higher quality headset market is starting to pick up). He predicted that China could be the largest VR market in the world by 2018.

The slogan of the 2017 Mobile World Congress, Shanghai. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2017. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

In a panel discussion moderated by Sam Rosen (ABI Research), with panel members Alvin Wang (Vive), James Fong (Jaunt China) and Christopher Tam (Leap Motion), it was suggested that 5G will make a big difference to VR/AR adoption because if processing is done online at high speed, we will be able to use much less bulky headsets with less drain on batteries. Alvin Wang mentioned that it will soon be possible to wear headsets that incorporate facial recognition and emotion recognition based on microgestures, allowing interviewers to sense whether an interviewee is nervous or lying, or teachers to sense whether a student understands. He claimed that one of the scarcest commodities in the world is good teachers, but AI technology can give everyone personalised access to the best teachers. He mentioned a project to put 360 cameras in MIT classes so that anyone in the world can join a class by high profile professors. James Fong talked about the power of VR to give people a sense of real-world events; he gave the example of being able to place viewers in the context of refugees arriving in another country, seeing the scale of the phenomenon, maybe being able to touch the boat the refugees arrived on, and thereby building more empathy than is possible with traditional news reports on TV.

In his presentation, The next big test for HMDs: Is the industry prepared?, Tim Droz (from SoftKinetic) said the aim of VR and AR is to take you somewhere other than your current location. There are two types of interaction which are theoretically possible in VR and AR environments; inbound interaction through sight, hearing, smell, taste, and haptics; and outbound interaction through the mind, gaze, facial expression, voice, touch, pushing, knocking, grabbing (etc), gesture, body expression, and locomotion. At the moment only a few of these are available, but as more are built into our equipment, it will become more bulky and unwieldy. However, for mass adoption, a lighter and more seamless experience is needed. He demonstrated some SoftKinetic hardware (like the time-of-flight sensor) and software (like human tracking and full body tracking software) which will make a contribution to interaction through hand movements. This greatly strengthens users’ sense of presence.

In his presentation, 360° and VR User Generated Content – Millions of 360° cameras and smartphones in 2017!, Patrice Roulet (from ImmerVision) suggested that it will soon become normal for everyday smartphones to be used to record and share 360 content, in such a way that it captures your entire environment and the entire moment. It will only take two clicks to share such content on social media. To capture this content, it’s necessary to have a very good lens (such as ImmerVision’s panomorph lens which provides a high quality image across the whole field of view, can be miniaturised for mobile devices, and allows multi-platform sharing and viewing), and advanced 360 image processing. The panomorph lens can be used for much more than capturing 360 images; the internet of things (IoT) is about to evolve from connected devices to smart devices, and this technology has the potential to play a role as part of artificial intelligence (AI) in the upcoming ‘Cambrian explosion’ of the IoT.

In his presentation, VR content: Where do we go next?, Andrew Douthwaite (from WEARVR) stated that one key question is what comes first: adoption of hardware or high quality content; it’s something of a chicken and egg situation. He showed an example of a rollercoaster VR experience on a headset linked to a desktop computer; he noted that many people initially experience some nausea due to the sensory conflict that arises from, for example, sitting still while immersed in a moving VR experience. The emergence of mobile VR is now bringing VR experiences to a much wider audience; Google Cardboard is currently the most widespread example. There is a lot of 360 content on YouTube, and games like Raw Data are helping to drive the industry forward. Google Earth VR is another great example and will help VR reach the mass market, and could impact travel and tourism. New software is now making it possible for users to create VR characters and then inhabit their bodies and act as those characters.

Important future developments are wireless and comfortable VR headsets and more natural input mechanisms, including hand presence. One problem is that much 360 video content is currently of low quality; there is no point in having high quality headsets unless there is also high quality content available. The future of content, he said, lies in storytelling and narrative-based content; social interaction; healthcare; property; training; education; tourism; therapy and mental health (e.g., mindfulness and meditation); serialised content; lifestyle and productivity (though this might be more AR); and WebVR (an open standard which is a kind of metaverse, allowing you to have VR experiences in your web browser).

In his presentation, VR marketing, Philip Pelucha (from 3D Redshift) suggested that the next generation of commerce will not be browser-based; he gave the example of a 360 video of a product leading to a pop-up store allowing customers to further engage with the product. Noting that we already have online universities, he asked how long before virtual reality universities appear. He mentioned that soon we won’t have to commute to work because our phones and laptops will turn the world into our virtual office. In fact, he said, this is already beginning to happen, and when today’s children grow up, they won’t understand why you would have to go to an office to work, or to a shop to buy something. He also spoke about one major area of current development as being language education; a VR/AR app for immersive learning, or to support you when travelling, could be extremely helpful.

In his presentation, Bring the immerse experience to entertainment, movie and live event, Francis Lam (from Isobar China) showcased innovative examples of 360 videos. He showed the B(V)RAIN headset that combines VR with neural sensors; as your emotions change, what you see changes. In effect, the hardware allows you to visualise your mental state, and this can have consequences such as the targets you face in a shooter game, or the taste combinations in drinks that are recommended to you.

He concluded with some issues for consideration. Bad VR, he pointed out, can make you feel sick, so it needs to be high quality and low latency. VR is not just about watching, but rather about experiencing; it is about how, from a first-person point of view, you can go into a scene and experience it. VR is not just visual; audio is important, but there can be other sensors and tactile feedback. We should also ask to what extent VR can be a shared experience, where someone wearing a headset can interact with others who are not. VR is good for communication, a point which is well understood by Facebook; for example, with VR you can make eye contact in a way that is not possible in video chat. VR can allow us to explore new possibilities, such as experimenting with genders. In fact, VR hasn’t arrived yet; there is much more development to happen. Finally, he stated, VR is really not content, it is a medium.

China Mobile slogan, 2017 Mobile World Congress, Shanghai

China Mobile display, 2017 Mobile World Congress, Shanghai. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2017. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

There is no doubt that industry perspectives on new technologies differ in some ways from those usually heard at academic and educational conferences, but is important that there is an awareness, and an exchange, of differing views between technologists and educators. After all, we face many of the same challenges, and we stand to gain from collaboratively developing solutions that will work in the educational and other spheres.

A springtime of language learning & technology

IAFOR ACLL/ACTC Conference
Kobe, Japan
11-14 May, 2017

Kobe, Japan

Kobe, Japan. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2017. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence

The annual conferences, The Asian Conference on Language Learning and The Asian Conference on Technology in the Classroom, came together over several days in an IAFOR-organised event in Kobe in the midst of Japanese springtime this year. Along with keynotes that gave broad overviews of the conference theme of ‘Educating for Change’, there were numerous papers presenting different aspects of teaching and learning with digital technologies.

In his opening keynote, Change in Japanese tertiary education: Implementing content and language integrated learning (CLIL) in Japan, Ted O’Neill spoke of how the European concept of CLIL is beginning to make inroads into Japan, with content being taught through the target language, and the target language simultaneously being investigated through the content. In CLIL, there should be constant feedback, he suggested, between content and language. It is possible to have both soft and hard versions of CLIL, with educators at either end of this spectrum potentially being able to meet, over time, in the middle. Offering CLIL, he went on to say, helps prepare for globalisation; helps students access international certifications; and sends a strong message about plurilingual education. In preparing students for future studies, he mentioned, it is possible to offer modules focusing on ICTs incorporating international lexis.

In my own keynote, Beyond web 2.0: Designing authentic mobile learning for everyday contexts in Asia, I suggested that we need to move beyond web 2.0, while retaining the best of its elements of personalisation and collaboration in learning, but using mobile devices and especially mobile augmented reality to add in greater elements of authenticity, situatedness and contextualisation. I showcased mobile AR learning trails from Singapore, Indonesia and Hong Kong to demonstrate how educators are already establishing successful precedents in this area.

In her keynote, Instructional designers as agents for change: Facilitating the next generation of technology-enhanced learning, Barbara Lockee outlined the ADDIE Learning Design Model, involving stages of analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation. The wider setting is now changing, she argued, leading to the need for instructional designers to address the advent of learning sciences, the rise of flexible opportunities through for-profit institutions, the emergence of a culture of innovation in universities, and the renewed interest in personalised learning opportunities. She went on to say that the field of instructional design and technology originated in the convergence of media and technology, and suggested that designers can leverage what is known about human learning in the systematic design of instructional solutions. Ultimately, instructional designers can function as change agents across a range of disciplines. Importantly, she also noted that technology doesn’t always have to be part of the solutions that instructional designers propose.

She finished by suggesting that the next generation of technology-enhanced learning can be sparked through collaborative, creative thinking about how to leverage the affordances of technological innovations and overcome barriers to the adoption of innovation for the advancement of learning – something that is possible at conferences like this one.

Among the many presentations on the use of digital technologies in education, the tools and techniques considered ranged from educational apps and platforms, digital storytelling and gaming through the flipped approach to mobile learning, including mobile augmented reality (AR) and robots.

In her presentation, An investigation of the integration of synchronous online tools into task-based language teaching: The example of SpeakApps, Nouf Aljohani reported on an initiative where female Saudi students, who normally have insufficient opportunities to practise spoken English outside the classroom, were asked to use SpeakApps to increase their amount of practice. The video chat function allowed up to six students at a time to engage in an online chat, with the recorded conversation being uploaded to a blog where it could be revisited to identify strengths and weaknesses. Students met online for an hour a week outside of class. Each speaking task had a communicative purpose, involved students in authentic tasks to develop critical thinking skills, and related to the Saudi context.

In their presentation, A case study of using Edmodo to enhance language learning for Japanese and British students at tertiary level, Shinji Okumura and Miho Inaba suggested that the term CALL is somewhat outdated, with TELL (Technology Enhanced Language Learning) and MALL (Mobile Assisted Language Learning) being more contemporary expressions. He described the Edmodo platform, indicating its similarities to Facebook. He went on to report on a project where Japanese and British students conversed on Edmodo, using a mixture of Japanese and English language. The Japanese students felt that they had improved their English skills, including in areas such as organising texts in English and learning native English expressions; the British students also felt that they had gained valuable Japanese language practice and learned more about Japanese society. Most Japanese students used their smartphones to participate, and did so in moments of downtime, such as when waiting for trains. However, more frequent opportunities for interaction would have been preferable, and the groups were a little too large to permit close interaction. For the British students, who were at a lower level in Japanese, it was very time-consuming to type posts and read replies, and they needed teachers’ help to complete the tasks.

Turning to the use of technology in an underdeveloped context in their presentation, Shifting the paradigm in higher education: Students’ progression towards ICT-supported learning in a resource-constrained context, Peshal Khanal, Prem Narayan Aryal and Ellen Carm outlined a blended learning project for continuous professional development of teachers in Nepal. Within the project, Moodle was used as a platform along with Classjump (though the latter is no longer available), and teachers were encouraged to interact on Facebook as well. Aside from access and opportunities, students’ progression towards the use of ICTs was found to depend on factors such as perceived benefits, prior knowledge, learning difficulty, and the role of change agents (teachers) in motivating them. Over time, many students came to appreciate the learning potential of the internet. Issues included: access and reliability of technology, the dominance of traditional pedagogy, and teacher favoritism of bright students over others. Gender issues also surfaced: girls were reluctant to take the lead voluntarily in group work, and there was a feeling of insecurity around girls working and learning in what was generally understood as an unusual time and environment.

In her talk, Digital storytelling as assessment for learning in mathematics education, Sylvia Taube spoke about addressing early childhood pre-service teachers’ fears of mathematics through digital storytelling. Drawing on the work of Helen Barrett, she suggested that digital storytelling facilitates the convergence of four student-centred learning strategies:

  • Student engagement
  • Reflection for deep learning
  • Project-based learning
  • Effective integration of technology in instruction

Drawing on the work of Robin (2006), she went on to say that there are seven key elements of digital storytelling. These help students to convey their messages and their associated emotions effectively:

  • Point of view
  • A dramatic question
  • Emotional content
  • The gift of voice
  • The power of the soundtrack
  • Economy
  • Pacing

Digital stories may be personal narratives; may examine historical events; and may inform or instruct.

She explained that she formerly asked her pre-service teachers to write about their own experiences of learning maths at school, but now she asks them to create multimedia digital stories. She showed an example of a story which was created in PowerPoint overlaid with other tools like Snapchat, including extensive use of AR effects to emphasise emotions in the video narration. Other students used Prezi, Animoto, PowToon, VoiceThread or Adobe Spark. Reflecting on past negative maths learning experiences helped many of them to realise what they need to do to help their own students in the future. She suggested that these digital storytelling skills will be very useful for these future teachers who can use the technology to help explain mathematics concepts to their students.

In her presentation, Digital games for English language learning: Students’ experiences, attitudes and recommendations, Louise Ohashi referred to the work of James Gee (2005), mentioning key learning principles of good games:

  • identity
  • interaction
  • production
  • risk-taking
  • customisation
  • agency
  • well-ordered problems
  • challenge and consolidation
  • just-in-time or on demand
  • situated meanings
  • pleasantly frustrating
  • system thinking
  • explore, think laterally, rethink goals
  • smart tools and distributed knowledge
  • cross-functional teams
  • performance before competence

She went on to report on a research project where she asked Japanese learners of English (n=102) about their experiences with digital games in English, and their attitudes towards games as a learning tool. Smartphones were the devices most commonly used by students to play games in English; in the previous 12 months, 31% had played an English game in class, and 50% out of class. There was a mixture of commercial games (Call of Duty, Battlefield, Grand Auto Theft, etc) and educational games (TOEIC Galaxy, Quizlet, Kahoot, etc). The majority of students thought it was valuable to play digital games in study time. Their comments suggested that they found games motivating and that in many cases they helped them to improve their English.

In her presentation, Flipping the classroom: Voices of teachers, Anna Ma reported on her research on the flipped approach in Hong Kong. She indicated that many teachers are already flipping their classes, though they may not be using video, and they may not be calling what they do a flipped approach. The flipped approach is in fact nothing new, though it may be becoming more popular. She outlined five key misconceptions about the flipped approach among teachers, as found in her research:

  • Video is a must (though it can be very effective, it’s not a requirement)
  • I have not done any flipping (teachers don’t realise they may already be doing this but without using video)
  • It’s very time-consuming because I have to redo everything
  • To flip or not to flip: there are no other options (it is possible to partly flip a class)
  • I am not a techie; I don’t know anything about video or creating a video

Challenges include motivating students to watch the videos or do the other preparation before class; the sense of competition among teachers to create flipped classes; parents who think a flipped approach is akin to a kind of home schooling; a lack of technological resources for teachers; and the time demands on busy teachers.

The key point about the flipped approach, she concluded, referring to the work of Bergmann and Sams, is not about the videos, but about what can be done with the additional time in class.

In a different take on the flipped approach focused at primary level in the Philippines, The flipped classroom: Teaching the basic science process skills to high-performing 2nd grade students of Miriam College Lower School, Mark Camiling outlined some advantages of using a flipped approach: asynchronous quality; having class at home and doing homework in school; and more time for the teacher to detect students’ difficulties and needs. Challenges include internet connectivity; resource quality; student resistance; and deciding on curation versus creation of flipped content. Although some people might consider that primary students are not responsible enough or digitally literate enough, he found in his research that a flipped approach can be effective at primary level. It may also help to prepare younger students for future use of ICTs in school. It seems, however, that the flipped approach may work better for high-achieving than low-achieving students.

In their paper, Maximising the tablet learning experience: A study of MCHS Mathematics 7 teacher awareness and readiness in using tablet-based pedagogy, Lyle Espinosa, Mon Ritche Bacero and Lady Angela Rocena reported on a study of teachers’ attitudes to tablet use. It was found that teachers mainly used tablets as e-book readers in the classroom, and they used them in their lesson preparation to search for supplementary online resources and apps. Nevertheless, teachers agreed unanimously that tablets helped them explore new teaching techniques, and that they promoted student collaboration. The teachers viewed themselves as ‘engineers of lessons’ with the tablet as their tool. At the same time, teachers always prepared backups in case of technological problems. They were concerned that students were more knowledgeable than they were, and that there was an expectation that teachers should learn about new technologies without formal training.

In their paper, Using and developing educational applications for mobile devices as a tool for learning, Andrey Koptelov and James Hynes reported on a survey of teachers around Houston, USA, where they discovered that the three most commonly used educational apps were Kahoot, Plickers and Nearpod. While these are not pedagogically sophisticated, they can be engaging for students. The authors went on to suggest that students can be asked to create their own mobile apps, and that it is useful for pre-service teachers to have this design skillset. Their students created Android apps with MIT’s open source App Inventor, an example of a cloud-based IDE (Integrated Development Environment), which provides all the tools needed to develop a programme, in this case a mobile app. Other IDEs that can be used by students with no previous programming experience include Ionic Creator (iOS and Android) and Apple Swift Playground (iOS only).

When the pre-service teachers were asked to design an app, they had to fill in a spreadsheet covering the following details:

  • Name of app/cost
  • Platform/need for internet connection
  • Detailed description of app
  • Subject/grade level where app could be used
  • Main use of app in the classroom (instruction, assessment, collaboration, etc)
  • Which students will benefit most (ESL, special education, gifted and talented, etc)
  • Blooms Taxonomy level or Vygotsky’s ZPD that could be targeted with app
  • Benefits of app for teacher/school or parents/community
  • Other comments

Only after undertaking this exercise were students asked to begin work with App Inventor to build the app itself. They got help from group members and guidance from the instructor. The next step then involved testing, feedback and reflection.

In their presentation, Augmented reality design principles for informal learning, Eric Hawkinson, Parisa Mehran, Mehrasa Alizadeh and Erin Noxon showcased a variety of case studies of AR, demonstrating how it can lead to real world connections and learner customisation. In one case, they showed the engagement of participants at TEDxKyoto. In another, they showed how students undertook an orientation activity to familiarise themselves with the university library, which involved students scanning AR markers placed around the library as they participated in an imaginary story where they had to search for clues to hunt a thief. Using the AR cards produced by the research team, students can also set up links to digital content they have created. Examples of these and other uses of AR can be seen in Eric Hawkinson’s ARientation Project YouTube channel.

In his presentation, Social robots as peer tutors for pre-travel study abroad preparation, Paul Wallace explained that when students are preparing to go abroad on study placements, they need greater familiarity with everyday norms of language use.

Social robotics focuses on developing machines capable of interacting with humans to assist and achieve progress in convalescence, rehabilitation, training and education. Robots are designed to be engaging but not threatening; embodiment in human form is engaging, and the non-threatening design aids belief that the robot is non-judgemental. The NAO V5 Robot “Max” has speakers, microphones, eyelids, cameras, sonars, prehensile hands with sensors, and a wifi connection to retrieve information from the web. It can have 19 different languages installed. It is programmable (using a software package called Choreographe) and is semi-autonomous, and it is possible to create scenarios and levels for its interactions.

The robot can be programmed as a language and cultural tutor for students who are going abroad. Programmes can be launched by showing the robot a NAO mark, which functions something like a QR code; it can then switch into a pre-programmed scenario. Levels can be set so that the robot recognises a range of pronunciations, or so that pronunciation must be very precise – this can be adjusted depending on the levels of the language learners. The robot is not meant to replace a human tutor, but it does offer advantages in terms of:

  • availability (e.g., languages not available locally)
  • access (24/7)
  • flexibility (it never gets tired or offended)
  • customisation
  • adaptability (threshholds, speaking speeds)
  • personalisation
  • feedback (visual or audio feedback, recording and repeating students’ responses)
  • interactive help
  • student anxiety (non-threatening design to counteract foreign language anxiety)
Kobe cable car

Kobe cable car, Japan. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2017. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence

All in all, we spent several days in rich discussions about the theme of educating for change. On the technological side, a key overarching theme was that different technology types and levels are appropriate for different teachers and students in different contexts, but that bringing together a range of researchers and practitioners from varying backgrounds facilitates the emergence of new ideas and insights in intercultural, interdisciplinary conversations.

Technology meets language and literacy

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

IMG_1649B

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.

New devices, new spaces, and new games

eLearning Forum Asia
Shanghai, China
13-15 June, 2016

Zhujiajiao Old Town (朱家角), Shanghai, China. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2016. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Zhujiajiao Old Town (朱家角), Shanghai, China. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2016. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The annual eLFA conference moved this year to Shanghai, where as usual it brought together a mixed group of educators and technologists, especially from the Asian region but also from further afield. There was a strong emphasis this year on the need to make room for students’ use of multiple devices, especially mobile devices, for learning. There was considerable discussion of online learning platforms or spaces where students’ learning experiences can be gathered together; these ranged from traditional LMSs through online platforms like Google Classroom to the cutting-edge developments around MOOCs, learning analytics, and the use of xAPI to track, collate and derive insights from students’ various learning devices and platforms. Another key theme to emerge was gamification, including how it can be applied to platforms ranging from apps through to MOOCs.

In his presentation, Reimagining education, Yves Dehouck, the Vice President of Blackboard, listed six key educational trends of the future as identified by Blackboard:

  • Learner-centric education
  • Non-traditional learners
  • Big data
  • Consumer preferences
  • Education is truly global
  • Online and mobile everywhere

He went on to pick up on the last two points. By 2020, four in 10 of the world’s young graduates in higher education will be coming from China and India. This means a need to further develop the educational infrastructure in those countries, as well as opening up opportunities for the educational systems of the surrounding countries. These students will want to learn anytime, anywhere, on any device.

In her presentation, Pedagogical intelligence: A student lens for inquiry into informal digital learning practices, Caroline Steel, also from Blackboard, argued that it is critical for students to understand the impact that their informal digital learning can have on their formal learning. Digital literacies are now essential for students, along with soft skills like critical thinking and creativity. She explained that we need help our students develop pedagogical intelligence, so that they:

  • gain an understanding of learning and teaching theories
  • gain insights into how they learn and how others learn
  • are aware that teaching styles are as diverse as learning styles (and some may not suit them)
  • are empowered to navigate learning and teaching, by developing the capacity to self-teach and self-regulate their learning
  • are better informed as co-partners in education

She gave an example of a Learning Challenge class where she helped students to develop their understanding in this area. Students benefited in terms of making better use of informal learning and setting their own goals, and they appreciated the inbuilt gaming aspects. Looking towards the future, she suggested that elements of pedagogical intelligence could be foregrounded through some kind of wearable mobile device which offers learning analytics, with gamification and social aspects included.

In my keynote, Developing mobile literacy, which tied in with the theme of the move towards multiple mobile devices in education, I outlined a range of ways that we can deepen students’ learning and engagement as we help them to develop the mobile literacy (and the constituent digital literacies which feed into it) that is so crucial in a digitally enabled mobile world.

In her talk, Seeding learning innovations in continuing education and training in Singapore, Zan Chen spoke about the current context of more global demand for innovation, as product life cycles become shorter and shorter, while we are simultaneously seeing a convergence of technologies, and a need for multidisciplinary research. In this context, there is considerable scope for open innovation. She went on to describe iN.LAB, part of the Institute for Adult Learning in Singapore, which focuses on providing a space to foster collaboration around innovation. She described the half-yearly InnovPlus event, a funded competition designed to catalyse innovation by bringing together organisations facing training/learning challenges and potential solution providers, or teams of solution providers.

In his talk, Using Google Classroom and Google Apps for Education (GAFE) as a learning environment to deliver blended learning for a large cohort of students, Yik Sheng Lee reported on a Malaysian action research project involving a study of teachers’ use of Google Classroom and Apps. Despite teachers’ intentions, it was found that the technology was being used overwhelmingly for content delivery rather than to facilitate student collaboration. Drawing on Garrison & Anderson’s Community of Inquiry (CoI) model for online learning, Lee indicated that the affordances of the learning environment – to foster cognitive presence, teaching presence, and social presence – were thus not being fully utilised, with the current focus being on cognitive presence and students learning individually. This led to two types of interventions: more training, and sharing of teachers’ experiences. This has in turn led to greater adoption of the technology, and the next stage of the research will focus on whether the teachers are using the environment more fully and promoting interactivity.

In her talk, Self-paced learning through co-construction in MOOCs, Betty Hui from CUHK suggested that MOOCs offer a different learning opportunity from traditional classroom learning, with students choosing educators and what courses to take. MOOCs offer flexibility of learning in both self-paced and weekly content. Learning no longer happens in a set or individual context. The possibility for learning in tandem with other learners around the globe is unprecedented. There can be a real opportunity for co-constructing meaning through interactions with global peers.

In his plenary, Developing MOOC-enabled flipped learning courses, Jin-Hyouk Im from UNIST in South Korea suggested that to deal with falling income but higher demands in education, MOOCs and flipped learning are possible strategies worth adopting. He went on to discuss the nature of MOOCs (see figure below). One of the possible limitations of MOOCs is that students may learn passively; the pros include automation and instant feedback. MOOCs can also be used as SPOCs (small private online courses) for one class at a time; this would generally be a paid model, like paying for a textbook.

IMG_1198

Nature of MOOCs (Jin-Hyouk Im, 2016)

Traditionally, we have handled the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy in class, and the higher levels in after-class activities; but flipped learning allows us to reverse this. Indeed, MOOCs could be used for the lower levels, and flipped learning for the higher levels, with the highest levels being addressed in class as part of an overall flipped approach; this is a kind of MOOC-enabled flipped learning. He gave the example of the Residential MITx programme as a way of realising this. A partly MOOC-based teaching approach can also offer students the advantage of being able to take some components of their courses from a range of international institutions.

In his presentation,  An analysis model and framework design for a MOOC platform, Nien-Lin Hsueh from Feng Chia University, Taiwan, spoke about the information that an instructor can gain from learning analytics regarding learners’ engagement, where difficulties have arisen, and learners’ performance. Researchers, for their part, can learn about behaviour in MOOCs, what is good video design, and behaviour vs performance. He concluded by emphasising the importance of a goal-driven approach to analysis, and a flexible architecture to tailor the analysis. However, data analysis alone, he said, is not enough.

In his talk, Using xAPI and learning analytics in education, Kin Chew Lim from SIM University, Singapore, spoke about the difficulties of the LMS-centric model: the LMS must always be connected to the internet; it can’t consolidate learning from different devices and social media; the teacher is still the knowledge dispenser and content organiser; the content is mostly text-based and linear; and the widely used multiple-choice questions always have single answers. He asked how, when students use many different types of devices and apps – from mobile devices to AR apps – it is possible to capture their learning.

xAPI has been developed to deal with this; the x stands for ‘experience’. SCORM, which is about packaging interoperable content and linking it into an LMS, is now 15 years old. People these days communicate and collaborate more with mobile devices, but they do not necessarily connect their devices to the internet 24 hours a day. People learn differently through texting, desktop learning, iPads or Android phones. Rustici Software was commissioned to come up with a new e-learning platform; this is xAPI, also commonly referred to as Tin Can API. It is a set of open specifications to track learning experiences, and is still evolving. It is commonly regarded as the next generation after SCORM. xAPI comes down to a noun-verb-object statement, e.g., ‘I watch a video on YouTube’, or ‘I practise yoga’, which can capture a learning experience. It uses JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) to specify the API statements. These records go into an LRS, or Learning Record Store; whether you play a game, do a simulation, write a blog, or watch a YouTube video, this can all be stored in the LRS.

In his plenary, Flipped class and xAPI learning data analysis, Lijie Chin from the Chinese e-Learning Association of Taiwan showed how xAPI has been used in the Taiwanese context. He emphasised the importance of problem-solving approaches and creativity. He spoke about using Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy in the context of a flipped approach in such a way as to change the emphasis of learning in the classroom (see figure below).

Bloom's Taxonomy (Lijie Chin, 2016)

Bloom’s Taxonomy (Lijie Chin, 2016)

He then went on to discuss the value of gathering big data from students’ online learning experiences. He outlined the Taipei CooC-Cloud (Taipei CooC-Learning) system, which allows students to use multiple kinds of hardware to access software from diverse companies, all of which conforms to the same technological standard (xAPI) so that students’ learning data can be captured and analysed in a multi-platform database. Insights can be drawn together from all of a student’s learning activities, ranging from their actions in a MOOC to their interactions with an e-book.

Teachers can better understand students’ learning behaviour, allowing them to better support students and modify their teaching as appropriate. Students can also access their own records to gain insight into their learning strengths and weaknesses. More insight is thus available into students’ learning processes, not just the final results. He demonstrated some of the wide range of visualisations of student learning which are available. Students will be able to develop a cloud résumé that they can take away with them at the end of their studies.

In his keynote on Gamification for education, Ping-Cheng (Benson) Yeh from the National Taiwan University spoke about the value of gamification, which should have elements of competition, peer acknowledgement, and smart rules. He gave the example of a probability course where, rather than setting problems for the students, he had students create problems for each other; this meant the students had to understand the content well, and they were able to set complex, creative problems for each other. Students were highly engaged in setting and solving these problems. Gamification, he suggested, pushes students to their limit.

He went on to explain about a second gaming approach he developed, PaGamO, on the Coursera MOOC platform. Students had to complete problems in order to occupy land in a gaming environment, and could purchase monsters from a store to help safeguard the land they had taken over. A worldwide ranking board encouraged students to remain engaged in the game. It was found that there was a high correlation between students’ PaGamO scores and their Coursera grades. When surveyed, students agreed that they could now finish more challenging tasks. PaGamO is currently being used for K12 students in all subjects, for corporate training, and in higher education courses. A variation was also developed for students who, instead of engaging in competition, prefer to develop the land they have occupied in the game.

When it comes to flipped teaching, he suggested it is naïve to simply ask students to start watching lecture videos at home without preparation for this learning style. It is better to have them watch videos together in class to get them used to this kind of approach. When students are asked to watch videos at home, one possibility is to have a poll, for example on Facebook, so students can see that others are watching the videos; another possibility is to have a chat group on WeChat or a similar app where students can post messages as they finish watching the videos. It was found that this peer-to-peer approach increased the percentage of students viewing videos from around 60% to 90%. Those students who have not watched a video can be asked to watch the video at the back of the face-to-face class, while other students participate in the follow-up activities. With the majority of students carrying out these in-class activities, it becomes easy for the teacher to identify learning problems in the group.

MOOCs and gamification, he concluded, are here to stay. Gamification will soon be a must-have for education, and students may find it difficult to concentrate on anything that doesn’t have gaming elements. His ideas are outlined in his book Teach for the Future.

In his presentation, Gamified pedagogy: Examining how gamified educational apps coupled with effective pedagogy support learning, Ronnie Shroff talked about the importance of designing gaming apps in such a way that students can engage with them in a state of flow. Instructional design is important here: gamification should not be an excuse for simplistic learning designs. Points, levels, rewards, leaderboards, quests and customisation are good gamification elements to include. Feedback, including through elements like points and leaderboards, is also critical, and good game design builds in freedom to fail along the way.

In his bilingual presentation on the final day, Smarter education in China: Theoretical efforts and pedagogical practices, Zhiting Zhu from East China Normal University began by outlining international developments in smart learning environments in South Korea, Australia, and around the world. He went on to say that the Chinese translation of ‘smart’ is close to the idea of ‘wisdom’. He indicated that according to Confucius, wisdom can be gained in three ways: reflection (the noblest), imitation (the easiest), and experience (the bitterest). Zhu then gave his own definition of smarter education, which he said involves constructing technology-infused environments and creating a finer ecology of pedagogies, so that higher achievements of teaching, better experiences of learning, and personalised learning services can be enabled. Students should emerge with greater wisdom, including a better value orientation, higher thinking quality, stronger doing ability, and deeper potential for creativity. By contrast, ‘stupid education’ involves: not tailoring teaching strategies individually, solely emphasising book-based knowledge, severing history and culture instead of seeing them as a bridge connecting the past with the future, and countenancing higher costs but lower performance in developing educational informatisation in schools.

We need a technologically enabled smart environment combined with smarter pedagogy to lead to smarter talents. He suggested that the move we have seen from e-learning to m-learning to u-learning needs to proceed now to s-learning (‘smart learning’). He spoke about the importance of students having personal online learning spaces, and the role learning analytics might play in these, and he suggested that flipped classrooms can be a trigger for class-based smart learning. In smart classrooms, it should be possible to provide students with precise feedback based on their learning performance. He mentioned a range of ongoing initiatives, from multimodal e-books to physical makerspaces, and showed examples of school-based projects, from problem-based learning approaches to students acting as micro-learning designers.

Challenges include the need for more research on big data; teacher competency requirements; and the need for systemic changes and innovations to build smart schools. Smart education needs to promote whole person development.

eLFA Banner, Shanghai, China. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2016. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

eLFA Banner, Shanghai, China. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2016. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Participants would certainly have come away from this conference with a clear sense of key directions of development in contemporary educational technologies, notably including MOOCs, xAPI-enabled learning analytics drawing together insights from students’ learning on multiple devices and platforms, and the growing role of gamification. It will be interesting to see how these themes have developed further when the conference reconvenes in Hong Kong in 2017.

Connecting the digital dots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'My tribes'. Source: Rainie (2015)

‘My tribes’. Source: Rainie (2015)

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

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

Tech discussions in the Middle East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same themes, different themes

E-technology Seminar
25th – 27th September, 2013 
Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok by night

Bangkok by night. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2013. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

I’ve just spent three productive and enjoyable days running an E-technology Seminar at KMUTT in Bangkok, including consul- tations with staff, a workshop on web 2.0, and a forum on digital literacies and emerging trends. What’s always so interesting about these visits is to identify the common themes that appear in educational technology initiatives and conversations around the world, as well as the differences which are particular to regions or countries.

Many common global themes surfaced in discussions with participants over the three days: the need to give concrete direction to the official push to use technology in the classroom; the need for leadership and management training; the need for more teacher training, focused on pedagogy as much as technology; and the need for teachers to find a way of working with students whose technological skills in some cases exceed their own. But then there were differences as well, for example the need to bear in mind local laws and customs on the one hand, and on the other the freedom to use tools that are sometimes rejected in Western education systems, notably Facebook, and for teachers and students to interact freely on such platforms.

It’s been a wonderfully informative three days, and as always, I’m sure I’ve learned as much as any of the participants.

Space for discussion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He made some key points about comprehensible input:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebook is invading education!

M.Ed. ‘E-learning’ Course
Hong Kong
24-29 April, 
2012


Facebook is making serious inroads into education! I’ve taught a lot of Master’s level courses on e-learning in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore, and over the last few years there have usually been one or two students in each cohort who’ve chosen to use Facebook as the main platform for the educational resource(s) they’re asked to create. But my recent Hong Kong course, which ran in April this year, is the first time I’ve seen nearly half the projects use Facebook as their main teaching & learning platform. A few years back, e-learning was dominated by blogs and wikis, but Facebook is becoming more and more dominant educationally with every passing year.

Interestingly, a conversation I started on this subject on Facebook itself garnered a lot of comments from educators about how they’d noticed the same thing. Some people asked whether this is a good thing or not. I’d say there are plusses and minuses: a Facebook page or group can function well as a mini-VLE or LMS, with all the advantages and limitations that VLEs and LMSs have. But what is clear is that our students are already in this space, and so are increasing numbers of educators. We need to be thinking about what this means for education.

Digital literacies in Phnom Penh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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