Asking the big questions around online learning

ICDE World Conference on Online Learning
Toronto, Canada
16-19 October 2017

New City Hall, Toronto, Canada

New City Hall, Toronto, Canada. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2017. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

The ICDE World Conference on Online Learning, focusing on the theme of “Teaching in a Digital Age – Re-thinking Teaching and Learning”, took place over four days in October, 2017. Like at other recent large technology conferences, it was interesting to see increasing recognition of the broader sociopolitical and sociocultural questions in which online learning is embedded, as reflected in many of the presentations. Papers were presented for the most part in groups of three or four under overarching strands. Short presentation times somewhat restricted the content that speakers were able to cover, but each set of papers was followed by audience discussion where key points could be elaborated on.

In his plenary presentation, edu@2035: Big shifts are coming, Richard Katz referred to Marshall McLuhan’s comment that “we march backwards into the future“, meaning that it is very difficult for us to predict the future without using the past as a framework. He went on to speak of Thomas Friedman’s framework for the future involving six core strategies – analyze, optimize, prophesize, customize, digitize and automize – in which, Katz suggested, all companies as well as all educational institutions need to be engaged. He suggested we may need to consider wild scenarios: could admission to colleges in the future be based not on performance tests but on genotyping? The gap between technology advancement and socialisation of technologies is widening, he stated.

As we look to the future, we have some choices in post-secondary education: avoid the topic; paralysis by analysis; choose mindful incrementalism; or invent a new future. To do the last of these, we need to take at least part of our attention off the rear view mirror. We need to construct scenarios, develop models, identify risks, and extract themes, and to present these ideas in short video formats that will be engaged with by today’s audiences. In short, we need to iterate, communicate and engage.

He mentioned William Gibson’s comment that “the future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed“, and a comment from Barry Chudakov (Sertain Research) that “algorithms are the new arbiters of human decision-making“. Evidence that the future is now can be found in various areas, from chatbots to the explosion of investment in cognitive systems and artificial intelligence (AI). Drawing on Pew Internet research, he suggested algorithms will continue to proliferate, with good things lying ahead. However, humanity and human judgement are lost when data and predictive modelling become paramount. Biases exist in algorithmically organised systems, and algorithmic categorisations deepen divides. Unemployment will rise. And the need is growing for algorithmic literacy, transparency and oversight.

He asked whether, by 2035, we can use new technologies and algorithms to personalise instruction in ways that both lower costs and foster engagement, persistence, retention and successful learning, possibly on a global scale? He concluded with a number of key points:

  • The robots are coming, aka change is inevitable;
  • Our mission must endure (even as our delivery and business models change);
  • While the past may be a prologue, there will be new winners and losers;
  • A future alma mater may be Apple, Google, Microsoft, Alibaba …;
    • scale is critical;
    • lifetime employability is critical;
    • students will determine winners and losers;
  • The future is already here, the question is whether we can face it;
    • ‘extreme planning’ must be practised;
  • Never discount post-secondary education.

In his plenary presentation, Reboot. Remake. Re-imagine, John Baker, the CEO of D2L, asked why it is that so many movie makers decide to re-imagine old movies? It’s because the original idea was great, but something has changed in the meantime, and a new direction is needed. Today’s political, science and environmental problems will ultimately be solved through education and its ripple effects, he suggested. In the current climate of rapid change, it is essential to focus not on remaking or rebooting, but rather on re-imagining the possible shape of education.

The technology must be about more than convenience; it must improve learning and increase engagement and satisfaction. Well-designed learning software can allow teachers to reach every student; what if there was no back of the classroom, he asked. It should be possible to reach remote learners or disabled learners or refugees or students using a range of devices from the brand new to hand-me-down technologies (hence the importance of responsive design).

We will soon see AI, machine learning, automation and adaptive learning becoming important; it is not just technology that is changing, but pedagogy. He cited an Oxford University study suggesting that 47% of all current jobs will cease to exist within two decades as a result of the advent of AI. The reality is that our skills development is not currently keeping pace with what will be needed in an AI-enabled future. Continuing educational opportunities for the workforce will be key here.

He suggested that the most important pedagogical innovation of the current era is competency-based education. In a discussion of its advantages, especially when accelerated by adaptive learning, he indicated that the greatest benefit is not so much the achievement of the competencies, but the leftover time and what can be done with it – could students learn more about other areas? Could they enrich their education through more research even at undergraduate level?

In response to an audience question, he also suggested that ‘learning management system’ (LMS) is an outdated term and ‘learning platform’ or ‘learning hub’ might be preferable. How do we capture and share the learning that is taking place across multiple platforms and spaces? It is vital that these systems should be porous, and interoperability between systems (e.g., through Learning Tools Interoperability [LTI] and Caliper) is essential.

In his plenary presentation, The future of learning management systems: Development, innovation and change, Phil Hill suggested that while there are many exciting educational technology developments, there is also a great deal of unhelpful hype about them. The steady, slower paced progress being made at institutions – for example in the introduction of online courses – is in many ways disconnected from the media and other hype. What is important is what can be done with asynchronous, individualised online education that cannot be done so easily in a plenary face-to-face classroom. Some of today’s most creative courses are bypassing LMSs in order to incorporate a wider range of platforms and tools.

Most institutions now have an LMS; these are seen as necessary but not exciting or dynamic. The core management system design is based on an old model. Some companies are trying to add innovative features, but it’s not clear how useful or effective some of these may be. (It may be that over time all ed tech platforms start adding in extra features which eventually make them look like badly-designed LMSs.) When LMSs first appeared, there were few competitors, but now there are many flexible platforms available, creating a demand that LMSs can replicate the same features. There is considerable frustration with LMSs, which are seen as much harder to use than the platforms and tools on the wider web.

He mentioned that in higher education Moodle is currently the LMS with the largest user base, while Canvas is the fastest growing LMS. At school level, Google Classroom, Schoology and Edmodo have some leverage, but they are less used in higher education. Many other platforms have attempted to enter the mainstream but have since disappeared. Overall, this is a fairly static market without many new successful entrants. The trend is towards having these systems hosted in the cloud; this may be the only choice with some LMSs, such as Canvas. While there is currently a lot of movement towards open education, in North America the installed base of LMSs is moving away from the main open source providers, Moodle and Sakai; similar trends are seen elsewhere. There is a certain perception that these look less professional than the proprietary systems. Open source is arguably not as important as it used to be; many educational institutions have moved away from their original concern not to be beholden to commercial providers, and are now focusing more on whether staff and students are happy with the system. Worldwide we’re seeing most institutions working with the same small number of LMSs: Canvas, D2L, Blackboard, Moodle and to some extent Sakai. We should consider the implications of this.

The question is how to resolve the tension between faculty desires to use the proliferating educational technologies which offer lots of flexible teaching and learning options, and institutional insistence that faculty make use of the LMS. Many people are saying that LMSs should go away, but in fact that’s not what we’re seeing happening. Opposition to LMSs is largely based on the fact that they function as walled gardens, which is how they were originally designed. In many cases, they have added poor versions of external software like blogs or social networks, and there has been an overall bloating of the systems.

What we’re seeing now is a breaking down of the walled garden model. The purpose of an LMS is coming to be seen as providing the basics, with gateways offered so that there are pathways to the use of external tools. It should be easy to access and integrate these external tools when faculty wish to use them. Interoperability of tools through systems like LTI, xAPI and Caliper is an important direction of development, though there is a need for these standards to evolve. They key point however is the acceptance by the industry that this is the direction of evolution. He concluded that there are three major trends in LMSs nowadays: cloud hosting; less cluttered, more intuitive designs; and an ability to integrate third-party software. Much of this change has been inspired by the Educause work on NGDLEs. There is a gradual move among LMS providers towards responsive designs so that LMSs can be used more effectively on mobile devices.

The strand Engaging online learners focused on improving learning outcomes through improving learner engagement. In their presentation, Engaging online students by fostering a community of practice, Robert Kershaw and Patricia Lychak explained their belief that if facilitators are engaged with developing their own competencies, then they will use these to engage students. Initially, a small number of workshops and informal support were provided for online facilitators in their institution; then a training specialist was brought in; and it was found through applied research that online facilitators wanted more development in student engagement, supporting student success, and technology use. A community of practice model with several stages has been developed: onboarding (involving web materials, a handbook, and a discussion forum) > community building (involving a discussion forum, webinars, and in-person events) > coaching (involving checking in with new facilitators, one-on-one support, and inquiries) > student success initiatives (involving early check-ins with students,  mid-term progress reports on students, and final grade entry) > training (shaped in part by feedback from the earlier stages; this also shapes the next onboarding phase). Lessons learned include:

  • introduce variety (delivery method, timing, detail level);
  • encourage sharing (best practices, student success stories, sample report comments);
  • promote efficiency (pre-populate templates, convert documents to PDF fillable forms, highlight LMS time-saving tools).

What the trainers try to do is to model for online facilitators what they can do for and with their students.

In his presentation, Chasing the dream: The engaged learner, Dan Piedra indicated that the tools we invest in can lock us into design mode templates. He quoted Sean Michael Morris: “today most students of online courses are more users than learners … the majority of online learning basically asks humans to behave like machines“. Drawing on Coates (2007), he suggested that engagement involves:

  • active learning;
  • collaborative learning;
  • participation in challenging academic activities;
  • formative communication with academic staff, and involvement in enriching educational experiences;
  • feeling legitimated/supported by learning communities;
  • work-integrated learning.

He showed a model being used at McMaster University involving the company Riipen, which places a student with a partner company that assesses students’ skills, after which the professor assigns a grade.

In her talk, A constructivist pedagogy: Shifting from active to engaged learning, Cheryl Oyer referred to Garrison, Anderson and Archer’s Community of Inquiry model involving cognitive, teaching and social presence. She mentioned a series of learner engagement strategies for nursing students: simulations, gamification, excursions, badges and portfolios.

The strand Online language learning focused on the many possibilities for promoting language learning through digital technologies. In his presentation, The language laboratory with a global reach, Michael Dabrowski talked about a Spanish OER Initiative at Athabasca University. The textbook was digitised, with the Moodle LMS being used as the publishing platform. Open technologies were used, including Google Maps (as a venue for students to conduct self-directed sociocultural investigations), Google Translate (as a dictionary, and a pronunciation and listening tool, which now also incorporates Word Lens for mobile translation), and Google Voice (the foundation for an objective open pronunciation tutor). With Google Translate, there are some risks including laziness with translation and uncritical acceptance of translations, but in fact it was found that students were noticing errors in Google’s translations.  With Google Voice, it is not a perfect pronunciation tutor; sometimes it is too critical, and sometimes too forgiving. Voice recognition by a computer is nevertheless a preferable form of feedback compared to learners’ own self-comparisons with language speakers heard in an audio laboratory; effectively it is possible to have a free open mobile language learning laboratory nowadays.

In her presentation, Open languages – Open online learning communities for better opportunities, Joerdis Weilandt described an open German learning course she has run on the free Finnish Eliademy platform. In setting up this course, it was important to transition from closed to open resources so they could be modified as needed. Interactive elements were added to the materials presented to students using the H5P software.

In their paper, Language learning MOOCs: Classifying approaches to learningMairéad Nic Giolla Mhichíl and Elaine Berne explained that there has been a significant increase in the availability of LMOOCs (language learning MOOCs). They were able to identify 105 LMOOCs in 2017, and used Grainne Conole’s 12-dimension MOOC classification to present an analysis of these (to be published in a forthcoming EuroCALL publication). They went on to speak about a MOOC they have created on the FutureLearn platform to promote the learning of Irish.

In his presentation, Online learning: The case of migrants learning French in Quebec, Simon Collin suggested that linguistic integration is important in supporting social and professional integration. This has traditionally been done face-to-face but increasingly it is being done online. Advantages of online courses for migrants fall into two major categories: they can anticipate their linguistic integration before arriving; and after migration, they can take online courses to facilitate a work-family-language learning balance. He described a questionnaire about perceptions of online learning answered by 1,361 adult migrants in Quebec. The common pattern was to take an online course before arrival, and then a face-to-face course after arrival. Respondents thought online courses were more helpful for developing reading and listening, but not as helpful for developing speaking skills.

The strand Leveraging learning analytics for students, faculty and institutions brought together papers focusing on the highly topical area of learning analytics. In their paper, Implementing learning analytics in higher education: A review of the literature and user perceptions, Nobuko Fujita and Ashlyne O’Neil indicated that there are benefits of learning analytics for educators in terms of improving courses and teaching, and for students in terms of improving their own learning. They reported on a study of perceptions of learning analytics by educators, administrators and students. Overall, there was a concern with the impact on students; the main concerns reported included profiling students, duty to respond, data security and consent.

In her presentation, An examination of active learning designs and the analytics of student engagement, Leni Casimiro indicated that active learning has four main components: experiential, interactive, reflective, and deep (higher-order). She reported on a study making use of learning analytics to determine to what extent students were in fact engaged in active learning. Descriptive analytics revealed that among the three courses examined, there was considerable variation in levels of activity; this was due to differences in student outcomes (tasks should help students focus rather than distracting them), teacher participation (teacher presence is essential), interactivity (teacher participation is important, as is the quality of questions), and the nature of students (asynchronous communication may be preferred by international students). Because of the weight given to teacher participation in active learning, it deserves special attention.

In his presentation, Formative analytics: Improving online course learning continuously, Shunping Wei explained that formative analytics are focused on supporting the learner to reflect on what has been learned, what can be improved, which goals can be achieved, and how to move forward. Formative analytics reports should be provided not only to management, but to teachers. It is possible to track whether students access all parts of an online course and whether they do so often, which would likely be signs of a good learner. It is also possible to create a radar map for a certain person or group, comparing their performance with the average.

The strand Mobile learning: Learning anytime, anywhere brought together a number of different perspectives on m-learning. In their presentation, Design principles for an innovative learner-determined mobile learning solution for adult literacy, Aga Palalas and Norine Wark spoke about their project focusing on a literacy uplift solution in the context of surprisingly low adult literacy rates in Canada. They have created a cross-platform mobile app for formal and informal learning incorporating gamification elements within a constructivist framework, but with more traditional behaviourist components as well. Based on data obtained in their study to date, key design themes and principles have been determined as follows:

  • mobility: design for the mobile learner;
  • learner-determined: respond to the learner;
  • context: integrate environmental influences.

Future plans include presentation of the pedagogical and technological principles and guidelines, and replication of the study in different contexts.

In her presentation, English to go: A critical analysis of apps for language learning, Heather Lotherington suggested that there is an element of technological determinism in mobile-assisted language learning (MALL). In MALL, there can be an app-only/content-oriented approach which gives you a course-in-a-box; or design-oriented learning which uses the affordances of mobile technologies in customised learning. Examining the most popular commercial language learning apps, she found that most were underpinned by ‘zombie pedagogies’ involving grammar-translation, audiolingualism, teaching by testing, drill and kill, decontextualised vocabulary, and so on. Ultimately, there were multiple flaws in theory, pedagogy, and practice. This led to failures from the point of  view of mobility (with a need to record language in a quiet room rather than in everyday settings), gamification, and language teaching (there was, for example, generally a 4-skills model of language learning, which is outdated in an era of multimodal communication). Companies are also gathering users’ data for their own purposes. It is essential, she concluded, that language teachers are involved in designing contemporary approaches to mobile language learning; and teachers should also be familiar with content-based apps so they can incorporate them strategically in design-based language teaching and avoid technological determinism. Later, in question time, she went on to suggest that what we are currently confronted with is a difficult interface between slow scholarship and fast marketing.

In her presentation, New delivery tool for mobile learning: WeChat for informal learning, Rongrong Fan explained that WeChat has taken over from QQ as the most popular messaging platform in China. WeChat incorporates instant messaging, official accounts, and ‘moments’ (this works on the same principle as sharing materials on Facebook). Some institutions are using official accounts which push learning material to students, which could be as little as a word a day; an advantage is that this can support bite-sized learning, but a disadvantage is that too many subscriptions can lead to ‘attention theft’. WeChat can be used for live broadcasting with low fees; this allows more direct interaction but the long-term learning effects and value are questionable. It is also possible to set up virtual learning communities in the form of WeChat groups; this can be motivating and help to overcome geographical barriers, but learners may not be making real progress if they are learning only from each other. She concluded that WeChat can be integrated into formal learning as a complementary platform; that use of WeChat could be incorporated in teacher training to give teachers more options for delivering their content; and that a strong learner support team is needed.

The strand Virtual reality and simulation in fact covered both virtual and augmented reality. In his presentation, Flipping a university for a global presence with mirrored reality, Michael Mathews spoke about the Global Learning Center at Oral Roberts University.  Augmented and virtual reality, he said, are additive to the experience that students receive, and can help us reach the highest level of Creating in Bloom’s Taxonomy. The concept of mirrored reality brings together augmented and virtual reality. These technologies can offer ways of reaching a diverse range of students scattered around the world.

In my own presentation, Taking learning to the streets: The potential and reality of mobile gamified language learning, which also formed part of this strand, I outlined the value of an augmented reality approach for helping students to engage with authentic language learning experiences in everyday life.

The strand Augmented reality: Aspects of use in education highlighted a range of contemporary uses of AR. In their talk, Distributed augmented reality training to develop skills at a distance, Mohamed Ally and Norine Wark described AR as an innovative solution to rapidly evolving learning needs. They spoke of their research on an industrial training package about valve repair and maintenance created by Scope AR and delivered onsite via iPads and AR glasses, for which they gathered data relating to the first three levels of the Kirkpatrick Model. The response to the AR training was overwhelmingly positive, with past hands-on training being seen as second-best, and computer-based training being least valued. It was felt that AR could replace lengthy training programmes. Scope AR has now developed a Remote AR collaboration tool which can be used to deliver support at a distance.  The presenters concluded by saying that AR could have many applications in distance education where the expert is in one location but can communicate at a distance to tutor or train someone in a different location.

In his presentation, Augmented reality and technical lab training using HoloLens, Angelo Cosco explained that skilled trades training can be created to be accessed via Microsoft’s HoloLens, allowing students to learn at their own pace, but also offering development opportunities for employees. Advantages include the fact that unlike with VR, there are no issues with nausea; users can wear the HoloLens and move around easily; and recordings can be made and sent immediately through wifi networks.

In their paper, Maximizing learner engagement and skill development through modelling, immersion and gameplay, Naza Djafarova and Leonora Zefi demonstrated a training game (though not an AR game per se) for community nurses in the Therapeutic Communication and Mental Health Assessment Demo video. The game is set up on a choose-your-own-adventure model, giving students a chance to practice what they have learned in a simulated and ‘safe’ environment, which is especially valuable given the lack of practicum placement positions available. Usability testing was conducted to identify benefits and determine possible future improvements. Students felt that the game helped them to build confidence and evoked empathy, and added that they were very engaged. They thought that the purpose of the resource should be explained up front, and requested more instructions on how to play the game, as well as an alternative to scoring. The research team’s current focus is on how to facilitate game design in multidisciplinary teams, and on examining linkages between learning objectives and game mechanics.

CN Tower, Toronto

CN Tower, Toronto. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2017. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

While many of the talks described above already began addressing the bigger philosophical issues around digital learning, there were also strands dedicated to these larger questions. The strand Ethical issues in online learning brought together presentations addressing a wide range of ethical issues connected with digital learning. In his presentation, Privacy-preserving learning analytics, Vassilios Verykios noted that we all create a unique social genome through the many activities we engage in online. There is now an unprecedented power to analyse big data for the benefit of society; there can be improvement in daily lives, and verification of research results and reductions in the costs of research projects, but strict privacy controls are needed. There are some regulatory frameworks already in place to protect data, including the US HIPAA and FERPA and the EU Data Protection Directive and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The last of these deals with consent, data governance, auditing, and transparency regarding data breaches. There are data ownership issues, given that companies collect data for their own benefit; from a research perspective, it is important to remember that data is gathered by different bodies with their own ways of managing and storing it.

When it comes to educational data, technology now allows us to monitor students’ activities. Learning analytics is used to improve the educational system as a whole, but also to personalise the teaching of students. ‘Data protection’ involves protecting data so it cannot be accessed by intruders; and ‘data confidentiality’ means data can be accessed by legally authorised individuals. Data de-identification is a way of stripping out individually identifying characteristics from the data collected; one approach to anonymised data is known as k-anonymity. A fundamental challenge comes from the fact that when we anonymise data we do lose a lot of information, and it may somewhat change the statistics; so it is  necessary to find a balance between accessing useful data and protecting privacy.

In his presentation, The ethics of not contributing to digital addiction in a distance education environment, Brad Huddleston indicated that addiction takes place in the same part of the brain, regardless of what you are addicted to. Addiction is about going harder to generate larger quantities of dopamine to overcome the chemical barrier erected by the brain to deflect excessive amounts of dopamine. When it comes digital addiction, the symptoms are: anger when devices are taken away; anxiety disorders; and boredom (the last of these results from a lack of dopamine getting through the brain’s dopamine barrier). Studies have suggested, amongst other things, that computers do not necessarily improve education; that reading online is less effective than reading offline; and that one of the most popular educational games in the world, Minecraft, is also one of the most addictive.

There is a place, he stated, for the analogue to be re-integrated into education, though not to the exclusion of the digital. We should work within the limitations of the brain for each age group; that means less technology use at lower ages. We should teach students what mono-tasking or uni-tasking is about. We also need to understand, he said, that digital educational content is just as addictive as non-educational content.

In her presentation, ‘Troubling’ notions of inclusion and exclusion in open distance and e-learning: An exploration, Jeanette Botha mentioned that the divide between developed and developing nations is increasing, largely because of a lack of internet access in the latter. In the global north, there has traditionally been a concern with equity, participation and profit. In the global south, there has been more of an emphasis on social justice, equity and redress; social justice incorporates the notion of social inclusion. Inclusivity, she went on to say, now has a moral, and by extension, ethical imperative.

Since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, there has been a focus on the inclusiveness of education. Open and distance learning are seen as a key social justice and inclusion instrument and avenue. However, we haven’t made the kind of progress that might have been expected. One reason is that context matters. Contextual barriers to inclusivity include:

  • technology (infrastructure and affordability);
  • quality (including accreditation, service and quality of the learning experience);
  • cultural and linguistic relevance and responsiveness;
  • perceived racial barriers;
  • ‘graduateness’ and employability of open and distance learning graduates;
  • confusion, conflation and fragmentation in the global open and distance learning environment.

In his presentation, Intercultural ethics: Which values to teach, learn and implement in online higher education and how?, Obiora Ike mentioned global challenges such as the rise of populism, economic and environmental problems, addictions, and issues of inclusivity. Culture matters, he argued, and from culture come values and ethics. Behaving in an ethical way engenders trust and promotes an ethical environment. Globethics.net, based in Geneva, has developed an online database of materials about ethics as well as a values framework. We must integrate ethics with all forms of education, he argued. This is a project being pursued for example through the Globethics Consortium, which focuses on ethics in higher education.

The strand Online learning and Indigenous peoples brought together papers on a variety of projects focused on Indigenous education through online tools. In the talk, A digital bundle – Indigenous knowledge on the internet: Emerging pedagogy, design, and expanding access, Jennifer Wemigwans suggested that respectful representations of knowledge online can be effective in helping others to access that knowledge. While it does not replace face-to-face transmission, cultural knowledge shared by elders online becomes accessible to those who might not otherwise have access to such knowledge, but who might wish to apply it in a range of contexts from the personal to the community sphere.

In her talk, Supporting new Indigenous postgraduate student transitions through online preparation tools, Lynne Petersen spoke about supporting Indigenous students through online tools in the Medical and Health Sciences Faculty at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. The work is framed theoretically by Indigenous research methodologies, transition pedagogies, and the role of technology and design in supporting empowerment (however, there are questions for Indigenous communities where face-to-face traditions are prevalent). There may be a disconnect between perceptions of academic or professional competency in the university system, and cultural knowledge and competency within an Indigenous community. Among the online tools created, a reflective questionnaire helps students think through the areas in which they are well-prepared, and the areas where they may need support. Future explorations will address why the tools seem to work well for Maori students, but not necessarily for Samoan or Tongan students, so it may be that as they stand these tools are not appropriate for all communities.

In the paper, Language integration through e-portfolio (LITE): A plurilingual e-learning approach combining Western and Indigenous perspectives, Aline Germain-Rutherford, Kris Johnston and Geoff Lawrence described a fusion of Western and Indigenous pedagogical perspectives. In a WordPress-based social space, each learner can trace their plurilingual journey covering the languages they speak, their daily linguistic encounters, and their cultural encounters. In another part of the website, students are directed to language exercises. After completing these, students can engage in a reflection covering questions relating to the four areas of mind, spirit, heart and body. Students can also respond to questions relating to the Common European Framework to build ‘radar charts’ reflecting their plurilingual, pluricultural identities. The fundamental aim of such an approach is to validate students’ plurilingual, pluricultural knowledge base.

Old City Hall, Toronto

Old City Hall, Toronto. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2017. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

Bringing together a wide range of academic and industry perspectives, this conference provided an important forum for discovering digital learning practices from around the globe, while simultaneously thinking through some of the big questions posed by new technologies.

DIGITAL LESSONS, LITERACIES & IDENTITIES

AILA World Congress
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
23-28 July 2017

Praia da Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Praia da Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2017. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

Having participated in the last two AILA World Congresses, in Beijing in 2011 and in Brisbane in 2014, I was delighted to be able to attend the 18th World Congress, taking place this time in the beautiful setting of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This year’s theme was “Innovations and Epistemological Challenges in Applied Linguistics”. As always, the conference brought together a large and diverse group of educators and researchers working in the broad field of applied linguistics, including many with an interest in digital and mobile learning, and digital literacies and identities. Papers ranged from the highly theoretical to the very applied, with some of the most interesting presentations actively seeking to build much-needed bridges between theory and practice.

In her presentation, E-portfolios: A tool for promoting learner autonomy?, Chung-Chien Karen Chang suggested that e-portfolios increase students’ motivation, promote different assessment criteria, encourage students to take charge of their learning, and stimulate their learning interests. Little (1991) looked at learner autonomy as a set of conditional freedoms: learners can determine their own objectives, define the content and process of their learning, select the desired methods and techniques, and monitor and evaluate their progress and achievements. Benson (1996) spoke of three interrelated levels of autonomy for language learners, involving the learning process, the resources, and the language. Benson and Voller (1997) emphasised four elements that help create a learning environment to cultivate learner autonomy, namely when learners can:

  • determine what to learn (within the scope of what teachers want them to learn);
  • acquire skills in self-directed learning;
  • exercise a sense of responsibility;
  • be given independent situations for further study.

Those who are intrinsically motivated are more self-regulated; in contrast, extrinsically motivated activities are less autonomous and more controlled. But either way, psychologically, students will be motivated to move forward.

The use of portfolios provides an alternative form of assessment. A portfolio can echo a process-oriented approach to writing. Within a multi-drafting process, students can check their own progress and develop a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. Portfolios offer multi-dimensional perspectives on student progress over time. The concept of e-portfolios is not yet fully fixed but includes the notion of collections of tools to perform operations with e-portfolio items, and collections of items for the purpose of demonstrating competence.

In a study with 40 sophomore and junior students, all students’ writing tasks were collected in e-portfolios constituting 75% of their grades. Many students agreed that writing helped improve their mastery of English, their critical thinking ability, their analytical skills, and their understanding of current events. They agreed that their instructor’s suggestions helped them improve their writing. Among the 40 students assessed on the LSRQ survey, the majority showed intrinsic motivation. Students indicated that the e-portfolios gave them a sense of freedom, and allowed them to  challenge and ultimately compete against themselves.

Gamification emerged as a strong conference theme. In her paper, Action research on the influence of gamification on learning IELTS writing skills, Michelle Ocriciano indicated that the aim of gamification, which has been appropriated by education from the fields of business and marketing, is to increase participation and motivation. Key ‘soft gamification’ elements include points, leaderboards and immediate feedback; while these do not constitute full gamification, they can nevertheless have benefits. She conducted action research to investigate the question: how can gamification apply to a Moodle setting to influence IELTS writing skills? She found that introducing gamification elements into Moodle – using tools such as GameSalad, Quizlet, ClassTools, Kahoot! and Quizizz – not only increased motivation but also improved students’ spelling, broadened their vocabulary, and decreased the time they needed for writing, leading to increases in their IELTS writing scores. To some extent, students were learning about exam wiseness. The most unexpected aspect was that her feedback as the teacher increased in effectiveness, because students shared her individual feedback with peers through a class WhatsApp group. In time, students also began creating their own games.

The symposium Researching digital games in language learning and teaching, chaired by Hayo Reinders and Sachiko Nakamura, naturally also brought gaming and gamification to the fore in a series of presentations.

In their presentation, Merging the formal and the informal: Language learning and game design, Leena Kuure, Salme Kälkäjä and Marjukka Käsmä reported on a game design course taught in a Finnish high school. Students would recruit their friends onto the course, and some even repeated the course for fun. It was found that the freedom given to students did not necessarily mean that they took more responsibility, but rather this varied from student to student. Indeed, the teacher had a different role for each student, taking or giving varying degrees of responsibility. Students chose to use Finnish or English, depending on the target groups for the games they were designing.

The presenters concluded that in a language course like this, language is not so much the object of study (where it is something ‘foreign’ to oneself) but rather it is a tool (where it is part of oneself, and part of an expressive repertoire). Formal vs informal, they said, seems to be an artificial distinction. The teacher’s role shifts, with implications for assessment, and a requirement for the teacher to have knowledge of individual students’ needs. The choice of project should support language choice; this enables authentic learning situations and, through these, ‘language as a tool’ thinking.

In her presentation, The role of digital games in English education in Japan: Insights from teachers and students, Louise Ohashi began by referencing the gaming principles outlined in the work of James Paul Gee. She reported on a study of students’ experiences of and attitudes to using digital games for English study, as well as teachers’ experiences and attitudes. She surveyed 102 Japanese university students, and 113 teachers from high schools and universities. Students, she suggested, are not as interested as teachers in distinguishing ‘real’ games from gamified learning tools.

While 31% of students had played digital games in English in class over the previous 12 months, 50% had done so outside class, suggesting a clear trend towards out-of-class gaming. The games they reported playing covered the spectrum from general commercial games to dedicated language learning or educational games. Far more students than teachers thought games were valuable aids to study inside and outside class, as well as for self-study. Only 30% of students said that they knew of appropriate games for their English level, suggesting an area where teachers might be able to intervene more.

In fact, most Japanese classrooms are quite traditional learning spaces – often with blackboards and wooden desks, and no wifi – which do not lend themselves to gaming in class. While some teachers use games, many avoid them. One teacher surveyed thought students wouldn’t be interested in games; another worked at a school where students were not allowed to use computers or phones; another thought the school and parents would disapprove; others emphasised the importance of a focus on academic coursework rather than gaming; and still others objected to the idea that foreign teachers in Japan are supposed to entertain students. She concluded that most students were interested in playing games but most teachers did not introduce them, by choice or otherwise, possibly representing a missed opportunity.

In her presentation, Technology in support of heritage language learning, Sabine Little reported on an online questionnaire with 112 respondents, examining how families from heritage language backgrounds use technology to support heritage language literacy development for their primary school students. Two thirds of the families spoke two or more heritage languages in the home. She found that where there were children of different ages, use of the heritage language would often decrease for younger children.

Parents were gatekeepers of both technology use and choices of apps; but many parents didn’t have the technological understanding to identify apps or games their children might be interested in. Many thought that there were no apps in their language. Some worried about health issues; others worried about cost. There are both advantages and disadvantages in language learning games; many of these have no cultural content as they’re designed to work with more than one language. Similarly, authentic language apps have both advantages (e.g., they feel less ‘educational’) and disadvantages (e.g., they may be too linguistically difficult). Nevertheless, many parents agreed that their children were interested in games for language learning, and more broadly in learning the heritage language.

All in all, this is an incredibly complex field. How children engage with heritage language resources is linked to their sense of identity as pluricultural individuals. Many parents are struggling with the ‘bad technology’/’good language learning opportunity’ dichotomy. In general, parents felt less confident about supporting heritage language literacy development through technology than through books.

In my own presentation, Designing for situated language and literacy: Learning through mobile augmented reality games and trails, I discussed the places where online gaming meets the offline world. I focused on mobile AR gamified learning trails, drawing on examples of recent, significant, informative projects from Singapore, Indonesia and Hong Kong. The aim of the presentation was to whet the appetite of the audience for the possibilities that emerge when we bring together online gaming, mobility, augmented reality, and language learning.

AR and big data were also important conference themes. In his paper, The internet of things: Implications for learning beyond the classroom, Hayo Reinders suggested that algorithmic approaches like Bayesian Networks, Nonnegative Matrix Factorization, Native Forests, and Association Rule Mining are beginning to help us make sense of vast amounts of data. Although they are not familiar to most of today’s teachers, they will be very familiar to future teachers. We are gradually moving from reactive to proactive systems, which can predict future problems in areas ranging from health to education. Current education is completely reactive; we wait for students to do poorly or fail before we intervene. Soon we will have the opportunity to change to predictive systems. All of this is enabled by the underpinning technologies becoming cheaper, smaller and more accessible.

He spoke about three key areas of mobility, ubiquity, and augmentation. Drawing on Klopfer et al (2002), he listed five characteristics of mobile technologies which could be turned into affordances for learning: portability; social interactivity; context sensitivity; connectivity; and individuality. These open up a spectrum of possibilities, he indicated, where the teacher’s responsibility is to push educational experiences towards the right-hand side of each pair:

  • Disorganised – Distributed
  • Unfocused – Collaborative
  • Inappropriate – Situated
  • Unmanageable – Networked
  • Misguided – Autonomous

Augmentation is about overlaying digital data, ranging from information to comments and opinions, on real-world settings. Users can add their own information to any physical environment. Such technologies allow learning to be removed from the physical constraints of the classroom.

With regard to ubiquity, when everything is connected to everything else, there is potentially an enormous amount of information generated. He described a wristband that records everything you do, 24/7, and forgets it after two minutes, unless you tap it twice to save what has been recorded and have it sent to your phone. Students can use this, for example, to save instances of key words or grammatical structures they encounter in everyday life. Characteristics of ubiquity that have educational implications include the following:

  • Permanency can allow always-on learning;
  • Accessibility can allow experiential learning;
  • Immediacy can allow incidental learning;
  • Interactivity can allow socially situated learning.

He went on to outline some key affordances of new technologies, linked to the internet of things, for learning:

  • Authentication for attendance when students enter the classroom;
  • Early identification and targeted support;
  • Adaptive and personalised learning;
  • Proactive and predictive rather than reactive management of learning;
  • Continuous learning experiences;
  • Informalisation;
  • Empowerment of students through access to their own data.

He wrapped up by talking about the Vital Project that gives students visualisation tools and analytics to monitor online language learning. Research has found that students like having access to this information, and having control over what information they see, and when. They want clear indications of progress, early alerts and recommendations for improvement. Cultural differences have also been uncovered in terms of the desire for comparison data; the Chinese students wanted to know how they were doing compared with the rest of the class and past cohorts, whereas non-Chinese did not.

There are many questions remaining about how we can best make use of this data, but it is already coming in a torrent. As educators, we need to think carefully about what data we are collecting, and what we can do with it. It is only us, not computer scientists, who can make the relevant pedagogical decisions.

In his paper, Theory ensembles in computer-assisted language learning research and practice, Phil Hubbard indicated that the concept of theory was formerly quite rigidly defined, and involved the notion of offering a full explanation for a phenomenon. It has now become a very fluid concept. Theory in CALL, he suggested, means the set of perspectives, models, frameworks, orientations, approaches, and specific theories that:

  • offer generalisations and insights to account for or provide greater understanding of phenomena related to the use of digital technology in the pursuit of language learning objectives;
  • ground and sustain relevant research agendas;
  • inform effective CALL design and teaching practice.

He presented a typology of theory use in CALL:

  • Atheoretical CALL: research and practice with no explicit theory stated (though there may be an implicit theory);
  • Theory borrowing: using a theory from SLA, etc, without change;
  • Theory instantiation: taking a general theory with a place for technology and/or SLA into consideration (e.g., activity theory);
  • Theory adaptation: changing one or more elements of a theory from SLA, etc, in anticipation of or in response to the impact of the technology;
  • Theory ensemble: combining multiple theoretical entities in a single study to capture a wider range of perspectives;
  • Theory synthesis: creating a new theory by integrating parts of existing ones;
  • Theory construction: creating a new theory specifically for some sub-domain of CALL;
  • Theory refinement: cycles of theory adjustment based on accumulated research findings.

He went on to provide some examples of research approaches based on theory ensembles. We’re just getting started in this area, and it needs further study and refinement. Theory ensembles seem to occur especially in CALL studies involving gaming, multimodality, and data-driven learning. Theory ensembles may be ‘layered’, with a broad theory providing an overarching approach of orientation, and complementary narrower theoretical entities providing focus. Similarly, members of a theory ensemble have different functions and therefore different weights in the overall picture. Some can be more central than others. A distinction might be made, he suggested, between one-time ensembles assembled for a given problem and context, and more stable ones that could lead to full theory syntheses. Finally, each ensemble member should have a clear function, and together they should lead to a richer and more informative analysis; researchers and designers should clearly justify the membership of ensembles, and reviewers should see that they do so.

Intercultural issues surfaced in many papers, perhaps most notably in the symposium Felt presence, imagined presence, hyper-presence in online intercultural encounters: Case studies and implications, chaired by Rick Kern and Christine Develotte. It was suggested by Rick Kern that people often imagine online communication is immediate, but in fact it is heavily technologically mediated, which has major implications for the nature of communication.

In their paper, Multimodality and social presence in an intercultural exchange setting, Meei-Ling Liaw and Paige Ware indicated that there is a lot of research on multimodality, communication differences, social presence and intercultural communication, but it is inconclusive and sometimes even contradictory. They drew on social presence theory, which postulates that a critical factor in the viability of a communication medium is the degree of social presence it affords.

They reported on a project involving 12 pre-service and 3 in-service teachers in Taiwan, along with 15 undergraduate Education majors in the USA. Participants were asked to use VoiceThread, which allows text, audio and video communication, and combinations of these. Communication was in English, and was asynchronous because of the time difference. It was found that the US students used video exclusively, but the Taiwanese used a mixture of modalities (text, audio and video). The US students found video easy to use, but some Taiwanese students worried about their oral skills and felt they could organise their thoughts better in text; however, other Taiwanese students wanted to practise their oral English. All partnerships involved a similar volume of words produced, perhaps indicating that the groups were mirroring each other. In terms of the types of questions posed, the Taiwanese asked far more questions about opinions; the American students were more cautious about asking such questions, and also knew little about Taiwan and so asked more factual questions. Overall, irrespective of the modality employed, the two groups of intercultural telecollaborative partners felt a strong sense of membership and thought that they had achieved a high quality of learning because of the online partnership.

As regards the pedagogical implications, students need to be exposed to the range of features available in order to maximise the affordances of all the multimodal choices. In addition to helping students consider how they convey a sense of social presence through the words and topics they choose, instructors need to attend to how social presence is intentionally or unintentionally communicated in the choice of modality. The issue of modality choice is also intimately connected to the power dynamic that can emerge when telecollaborative partnerships take place as monolingual exchanges.

In their paper, Conceptualizing participatory literacy: New approaches to sustaining co-presence in social and situated learning communities, Mirjam Hauck, Sylvie Warnecke and Muge Satar argued that teacher preparation needs to address technological and pedagogical issues, as well as sociopolitical and ecological embeddedness. Both participatory literacy and social presence are essential, and require multimodal competence. The challenge for educators in social networking environments is threefold: becoming multimodally aware and able to first establish their own social presence, and then successfully participating in the collaborative creation and sharing of knowledge, so that they are well-equipped to model such an ability and participatory skills for their students.

Digital literacy/multiliteracy in general, and participatory literacy in particular, is reflected in language learners’ ability to comfortably alternate in their roles as semiotic responders and semiotic initiators, and the degree to which they can make informed use of a variety of semiotic resources. The takeaway from this is that being multimodally able and as a result a skilled semiotic initiator and responder, and being able to establish social presence and participate online, is a precondition for computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) of languages and cultures.

They reported on a study with 36 pre-service English teachers learning to establish social presence through web 2.0 tools. Amongst other things, students were asked to reflect on their social presence in the form of a Glogster poster referring to Gilly Salmon’s animal metaphors for online participation (see p.12); students showed awareness that social presence is transient and emergent.

They concluded that educators need to be able to illustrate and model for their students the interdependence between being multimodally competent as reflected in informed semiotic activity, and the ability to establish social presence and display participatory literacy skills. Tasks like those in the training programme presented here, triggering ongoing reflection on the relevance of “symbolic competence” (Kramsch, 2006), social presence and participatory literacy, need to become part of CSCL-based teacher education.

In his presentation, Seeing and hearing apart: The dilemmas and possibilities of intersubjectivity in shared language classrooms, David Malinowski spoke about the use of high-definition video conferencing for synchronous class sessions in languages with small enrolments, working across US institutions.

It was found that technology presents an initial disruption which is overcome early in the semester, and does not prevent social cohesion. There is the ability to co-ordinate perspective-taking, dialogue, and actions with activity type and participation format. Synchronised performance, play and ritual may deserve special attention in addition to sequentially oriented events. History is made in the moment: durable learner identities inflect moment to moment, and there are variable engagements through and with technology. There are ongoing questions about parity of the educational experience in ‘sending’ and ‘receiving’ classrooms. Finally, there is a need to develop further tools to mediate the life-worlds of distance language learners across varying timescales.

Christo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Christo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2017. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

There were many presentations that ranged well beyond CALL, and to some extent beyond educational technologies, but which nevertheless had considerable contextual relevance for those working in CALL and MALL, and e-learning and mobile learning more broadly.

The symposium Innovations and challenges in digital language practices and critical language/media awareness for the digital age, chaired by Jannis Androutsopoulos, consisted of a series of papers on the nature of digital communication, covering themes such as the link between language use and language ideology; multimodality; and the use of algorithms. One key question, it was suggested in the introduction, is how linguistic research might speak to language education.

In their presentation, Critical media awareness in a digital age, Caroline Tagg and Philipp Seargeant stated that people’s critical awareness develops fluidly and dynamically over time in response to experiences online. They introduced the concept of context design, which suggests that context is collaboratively co-constructed in interaction through linguistic choices. The concept draws on the well-known notion of context collapse, but suggests that offline contexts cannot simply move online and collapse; rather, contexts are always actively constructed, designed and redesigned. Context design incorporates the following elements:

  • Participants
  • Online media ideologies
  • Site affordances
  • Text type
  • Identification processes
  • Norms of communication
  • Goals

They reported on a study entitled Creating Facebook (2014-2016). Their interviews revealed complex understandings of Facebook as a communicative space and the importance of people’s ideas about social relationships. These understandings shaped behaviour in often unexpected ways, in processes that can be conceptualised as context design. They concluded that the role of people’s evolving language/media awareness in shaping online experiences needs to be taken into account by researchers wishing to effectively build a critical awareness for the digital age.

In her paper, Why are you texting me? Emergent communicative practices in spontaneous digital interactions, Maria Grazia Sindoni suggested that multimodality is a reaction against language-driven approaches that sideline resources other than language. However, language as a resource has been sidelined in mainstream multimodality research. Yet language still needs to be studied, but on a par with other semiotic resources.

In a study of reasons for mode-switching in online video conversations, she indicated that the technical possibility of doing something does not equate with the semiotic choice of doing so. In the case of communication between couples, she noted a pattern where intimate communications often involve a switch from speech to text. She also presented a case where written language was used to reinforce spoken language; written conventions can thus be creatively resemiotised.

There are several layers of meaning-making present in such examples: creative communicative functions in language use; the interplay of semiotic resources other than language that are co-deployed by users to adapt to web-mediated environments (e.g., the impossibility of perfectly reciprocating gaze, em-/disembodied interaction, staged proxemics, etc); different technical affordances (e.g., laptop vs smartphone); and different communicative purposes and degrees of socio-semiotic and intercultural awareness. She concluded with a critical agenda for research on web-mediated interaction, involving:

  • recognising the different levels (above) and their interplay;
  • encouraging critical awareness of video-specific patterns in syllabus design and teacher training;
  • promoting understanding of what can hinder or facilitate interaction (also in an intercultural light);
  • technical adaptivity vs semiotic awareness.

In their paper, Digital punctuation: Practices, reflexivity and enregistrement in the case of <.>, Jannis Androutsopoulos and Florian Busch referred to David Crystal’s view that in online communication the period has almost become an emoticon, one which is used to show irony or even aggression. They went on to say that the use of punctuation in contemporary online communication goes far beyond the syntactic meanings of traditional punctuation; punctuation and emoticons have become semiotic resources and work as contextualisation cues that index how a communication is to be understood. There is currently widespread media discussion of the use of punctuation, including specifically about the disappearance of the period. They distanced themselves from Crystal’s view of “linguistic free love” and the breaking of rules in the use of punctuation on the internet, suggesting that there are clear patterns emerging.

Reporting on a study of the use of punctuation in WhatsApp conversations by German students, they found relatively low use of the period. This suggests that periods are largely being omitted, and when they do occur, they generally do so within messages where they fulfil a syntactic function. They are very rare at the end of messages, where they may fulfil a semiotic function. For example, periods may be used for register switching, indicating a change to a more formal register; or to indicate unwillingness to participate in further conversation. Use of periods by one user may even be commented on by other users in a case of metapragmatic reflexivity. It was commented by interviewees that the use of periods at the end of messages is strange and annoying in the context of informal digital writing, especially as the WhatsApp bubbles already indicate the end of messages. One interviewee commented that the use of punctuation in general, and final periods in particular, can express annoyance and make a message appear harsher, signalling the bad mood of the writer. The presenters concluded that digital punctuation offers evidence of ongoing elaboration of new registers of writing in the early digital age.

In his presentation, The text is reading you: Language teaching in the age of the algorithm, Rodney Jones suggested that we should begin talking to students about digital texts by looking at simple examples like progress bars; as he explained, these do not represent the actual progress of software installation but are underpinned by an algorithm that is designed to be psychologically satisfying, thus revealing the disparity between the performative and the performance.

An interesting way to view algorithms is through the lens of performance. He reported on a study where his students identified and analysed the algorithms they encounter in their daily lives. He highlighted a number of key themes in our beliefs about algorithms:

  • Algorithmic Agency: ‘We sometimes believe the algorithm is like a person’; we may negotiate with the algorithm, changing our behaviour to alter the output of the algorithm
  • Algorithmic Authority (a term by Clay Shirky, who defines it as our tendency to believe algorithms more than people): ‘We sometimes believe that the algorithm is smarter than us’
  • Algorithm as Adversary: ‘We believe the algorithm is something we can cheat or hack’; this is seen in student strategies for altering TurnItIn scores, or in cases where people play off one dating app against another
  • Algorithm as Conversational Resource: ‘We think we can use algorithms to talk to others’; this can be seen for example when people tailor Spotify feeds to impress others and create common conversational interests
  • Algorithm as Audience: ‘We believe that algorithms are watching us’; this is the sense that we are performing for our algorithms, such as when students consider TurnItIn as their primary audience
  • Algorithm as Oracle: ‘We sometimes believe algorithms are magic’; this is seeing algorithms as fortune tellers or as able to reveal hidden truths, involving a kind of magical thinking

The real pleasure we find in algorithms is the sense that they really know us, but there is a lack of critical perspective and an overall capitulation to the logic of the algorithm, which is all about the monetisation of our data. There is no way we can really understand algorithms, but we can think critically about the role they play in our lives. He concluded with a quote from Ben Ratliff, a music critic at The New York Times: “Now the listener’s range of access is vast, and you, the listener, hold the power. But only if you listen better than you are being listened to”.

In her presentation, From hip-hop pedagogies to digital media pedagogies: Thinking about the cultural politics of communication, Ana Deumert discussed the privileging of face-to-face conversation in contemporary culture; a long conversation at a dinner party would be seen as a success, but a long conversation on social media would be seen as harmful, unhealthy, a sign of addiction, or at the very least a waste of time. Similarly, it is popularly believed that spending a whole day reading a book is good; but reading online for a whole day is seen as bad.

She asked what we can learn from critical hip-hop studies, which challenge discourses of school versus non-school learning. She also referred to Freire, who considered that schooling should establish a connection between learning in school and learning in everyday life outside school. New media, she noted, have offered opportunities to minorities, the disabled, and speakers of minority languages. If language is seen as free and creative, then it is possible to break out of current discourse structures. Like hip-hop pedagogies, new media pedagogies allow us to bring new perspectives into the classroom, and to address the tension between institutional and vernacular communicative norms through minoritised linguistic forms and resources. She went on to speak of Kenneth Goldsmith’s course Wasting Time on the Internet at the University of Pennsylvania (which led to Goldsmith’s book on the topic), where he sought to help people think differently about what is happening culturally when we ‘waste’ time online. However, despite Goldsmith’s comments to the contrary, she argued that online practices always have a political dimension. She concluded by suggesting that we need to rethink our ideologies of language and communication; to consider the semiotics and aesthetics of the digital; and to look at the interplay of power, practice and activism online.

Given the current global sociopolitical climate, it was perhaps unsurprising that the conference also featured a very timely strand on superdiversity. The symposium Innovations and challenges in language and superdiversity, chaired by Miguel Pérez-Milans, highlighted the important intersections between language, mobility, technology, and the ‘diversification of diversity’ that characterises increasing areas of contemporary life.

In his presentation, Engaging superdiversity – An empirical examination of its implications for language and identity, Massimiliano Spotti stressed the importance of superdiversity, but indicated that it is not a flawless concept. Since its original use in the UK context, the term has been taken up in many disciplines and used in different ways. Some have argued that it is theoretically empty (but maybe it is conceptually open?); that it is a banal revisitation of complexity theory (but their objects of enquiry differ profoundly); that it is naïve about inequality (but stratification and ethnocentric categories are heavily challenged in much of the superdiversity literature); that it lacks a historical perspective (he agreed with this); that it is neoliberal (the subject it produces is a subject that fits the neoliberal emphasis on lifelong learning); and that it is Eurocentric, racist and essentialist.

He went on to report on research he has been conducting in an asylum centre. Such an asylum seeking centre, he said, is effectively ‘the waiting room of globalisation’. Its guests are mobile people, and often people with a mobile. They may be long-term, short-term, transitory, high-skilled, low-skilled, highly educated, low-educated, and may be on complex trajectories. They are subject to high integration pressure from the institution. They have high insertional power in the marginal economies of society. Their sociolinguistic, ethnic, religious and educational backgrounds are not presupposable.

In his paper, ‘Sociolinguistic superdiversity’: Paradigm in search of explanation, or explanation in search of paradigm?, Stephen May went back to Vertovec’s 2007 work, focusing on the changing nature of migration in the UK; ethnicity was too limiting a focus to capture the differences of migrants, with many other variables needing to be taken into account. Vertovec was probably unaware, May suggested, of the degree of uptake the term ‘superdiversity’ would see across disciplines.

May spoke of his own use of the term ‘multilingual turn’, and referred to Blommaert’s emphasis on three key aspects of superdiversity, namely mobility, complexity and unpredictability. The new emphasis on superdiversity is broadly to be welcomed, he suggested, but there are limitations. He outlined four of these:

  • the unreflexive ethnocentrism of western sociolinguistics and its recent rediscovery of multilingualism as a central focus; this is linked to a ‘presentist’ view of multilingualism, with a lack of historical focus
  • the almost exclusive focus on multilingualism in urban contexts, constituting a kind of ‘metronormativity’ compared to ‘ossified’ rural/indigenous ‘languages’, with the former seen as contemporary and progressive, thus reinforcing the urban/rural divide
  • a privileging of individual linguistic agency over ongoing linguistic ‘hierarchies of prestige’ (Liddicoat, 2013)
  • an ongoing emphasising of parole over langue; this is still a dichotomy, albeit an inverted one, and pays insufficient attention to access to standard language practices; it is not clear how we might harness different repertoires within institutional educational practices

In response to such concerns, Blommaert (2015) has spoken about paradigmatic superdiversity, which allows us not only to focus on contemporary phenomena, but to revisit older data to see it in a new light. There are both epistemological and methodological implications, he went on to say. There is a danger, however, in a new orthodoxy which goes from ignoring multilingualism to fetishising or co-opting it. We also need to attend to our own positionality and the power dynamics involved in who is defining the field. We need to avoid superdiversity becoming a new (northern) hegemony.

In her paper, Superdiversity as reality and ideology, Ryuko Kubota echoed the comments of the previous speakers on human mobility, social complexity, and unpredictability, all of which are linked to linguistic variability. She suggested that superdiversity can be seen both as an embodiment of reality as well as an ideology.

Superdiversity, she said, signifies a multi/plural turn in applied linguistics. Criticisms include the fact that superdiversity is nothing extraordinary; many communities maintain homogeneity; linguistic boundaries may not be dismantled if analysis relies on existing linguistic units and concepts; and it may be a western-based construct with an elitist undertone. As such, superdiversity is an ideological construct. In neoliberal capitalism there is now a pushback against diversity, as seen in nationalism, protectionism and xenophobia. But there is also a complicity of superdiversity with neoliberal multiculturalism, which values diversity, flexibility and fluidity. Neoliberal workers’ experiences may be superdiverse or not so superdiverse; over and against linguistic diversity, there is a demand for English as an international language, courses in English, and monolingual approaches.

One emerging question is: do neoliberal corporate transnational workers engage in multilingual practices or rely solely on English as an international language? In a study of language choice in the workplace with Japanese and Korean transnational workers in manufacturing companies in non-English dominant countries, it was found that nearly all workers exhibited multilingual and multicultural consciousness. There was a valorisation of both English and a language mix in superdiverse contexts, as well as an understanding of the need to deal with different cultural practices. That said, most workers emphasised that overall, English is the most important language for business. Superdiversity may be a site where existing linguistic, cultural and other hierarchies are redefined and reinforced. Superdiversity in corporate settings exhibits contradictory ideas and trends.

In terms of neoliberal ideology, superdiversity, and the educational institution, she mentioned expectations such as the need to produce original research at a sustained pace; to conform to the conventional way of expressing ideas in academic discourse; and to submit to conventional assessment linked to neoliberal accountability. Consequences include a proliferation of trendy terms and publications; and little room for linguistic complexity, flexibility, and unpredictability. She went on to talk about who benefits from discussing superdiversity. Applied linguistics scholars are embedded in unequal relations of power. As theoretical concepts become fetishised, the theory serves mainly the interests of those who employ it, as noted by Anyon (1994). It is necessary for us to critically reflect, she said, on whether the popularity of superdiversity represents yet another example of concept fetishism.

In conclusion, she suggested that superdiversity should not merely be celebrated without taking into consideration historical continuity, socioeconomic inequalities created by global capitalism, and the enduring ideology of linguistic normativism. Research on superdiversity also requires close attention to the sociopolitical trend of increasing xenophobia, racism, and assimilationism. Ethically committed scholars, she said, must recognise the ideological nature of trendy concepts such as superdiversity, and explore ways in which sociolinguistic inquiries can actually help narrow racial, linguistic, economic and cultural gaps.

Rio de Janeiro viewed from Pão de Açúcar

Rio de Janeiro viewed from Pão de Açúcar. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2017. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

AILA 2017 wrapped up after a long and intensive week, with conversations to be continued online and offline until, three years from now, AILA 2020 takes place in Groningen in the Netherlands.

From China to the world: Mobile tech in teacher education

MTech Conference
Guilin, China
27-29 June, 2017

Shanhu Lake, Guilin, China

Shanhu Lake, Guilin (杉湖, 桂林), China. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2017. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

The inaugural MTech Conference, based on the MTech Project and its underpinning MTech Survey, drew together teacher educators from Asia and Europe to discuss how best to integrate mobile technologies in teacher education internationally. It is hoped that this will be the first in an ongoing series of collaborative events involving the MTech Network.

In our opening presentation, Mobile learning in teacher education: Beginning to build a global overview, Kevin Burden and I gave an overview of the MTech Project and the underpinning survey of technology use by teacher educators around the world. We outlined initial insights emerging from the first round of data collection, based on 96 responses, with a little under two thirds from Asia, and a little over a fifth from Europe. We showed for example that relative to the iPAC Mobile Pedagogical Framework (see image below), teacher educators typically report more evidence of personalisation and collaboration than authenticity in mobile learning activities.

iPAC Framework

iPAC Mobile Pedagogical Framework (Kevin Burden, 2017)

Interesting insights are also beginning to emerge around themes of seamlessness and intercultural learning. We invited attendees and their colleagues to complete the survey, which has now entered the second round of data collection, with the aim of increasing the overall number of responses and especially obtaining responses from regions of the world which are currently underrepresented in the data.

In a presentation reflecting the Chinese context at GXNU, Developing pre-service teachers’ ICT in education competencies and curriculum leadership, Xibei Xiong referred to the TPACK Framework in describing a proposed ICTs in education curriculum which should include TK, TPK, TCK, and TPCK. Curriculum leadership, she said, shapes teacher education programmes by providing supportive policies, managing the curriculum, and evaluating pre-service teachers’ learning outcomes. Teacher education programmes may in turn shape the practices of curriculum leaders in terms of changing the education system requirements. Curriculum leaders at university level have a role to play in policy formulation and resource allocation; at school level, they have a role in determining educational curriculum structure, course objectives and academic credit management; and at classroom level, they have a role in developing course content and pedagogy.

In a presentation from the Singaporean context, Understanding teachers’ design talk for the co-creation of seamless science inquiry, Ching Sing Chai discussed the TPACK Framework and its various revisions and extensions in recent studies, before coming to focus on TPASK (Technological Pedagogical And Science Knowledge). He suggested that teachers need to design instruction with technology in order to develop their TPK; they should learn through designing in a collaborative community; they should be supported with appropriate scaffolds; and finally they need to engage in reflective experiential learning. Design talk embedded in a dialogic design, he went on to say, is key to supporting the emergence of TPACK. Sustainability and scalability ultimately come through teachers, so teacher development is more and more important in today’s world.

He described a Singaporean study involving the  5E (Engagement, Exploration, Explanation, Elaboration and Evaluation) approach for science inquiry-based learning, used as a PCK framing. Teachers talked about designing lessons for Grade 3/4 students. Mobile devices were used in various ways, including for seamless science learning (for example, students taking pictures and explaining heat sources in their own houses). The software used included KWL, Sketchbook, MapIt, Blurb (from the University of Michigan) and other tools (Nearpod, PowerPoint, Google, etc). The content of teachers’ design discussions was analysed to identify references to TK, PK, CK, TPK, TCK, PCK, TPCK, and CTX (representing context). A lot of the initial discussion was about TK but this element declined over time; conversely, the amount of discussion involving PCK increased over time, as did the discussion involving TPASK (but this was at a much lower level). CTX featured strongly but also decreased over time. The resulting model is quite different from the theoretical TPACK model (see image below).

A possible depiction of TPASK in design

A possible depiction of TPASK in design (Ching Sing Chai, 2017)

In a presentation from the Hong Kong context, Cultivating academic integrity and ethics of university students with augmented reality mobile learning trails, Theresa Kwong and Grace Ng showcased the mobile AR TIEs (Trails of Integrity and Ethics) developed by HKBU and its partner institutions in a Hong Kong-government funded project (a project on which I am also a consultant). As she pointed out, this is learning in the style of Pokémon Go, but in fact this project began around 18 months before the release of Pokémon Go. It is all about linking the environment to relevant educational content, in this case related to themes of academic integrity and ethics. Given that students find these AR trails motivating and helpful in connecting theoretical content with their everyday lives, this is an approach which is highly relevant to present and future educators and teacher educators.

In a presentation from the Taiwanese context, Mobile learning x cloudclassroom = ?, Chun-Yen Chang suggested that the spread of mobile devices along with BYOD policies means that the moment is right to be implementing mobile learning. The Taiwanese Ministry of Education has run collaborative projects on mobile learning in schools, and has set up a Teaching Application Mall of educational apps. He went on to describe his CCR (CloudClassRoom) project which supports mobile-assisted anonymous quizzes and presents teachers with aggregated data. It can be used, he said, in museums, outdoors, online, and in the ‘Asian silent classroom’. Polling students before and after lessons can be an ideal way of tracking changes in their understandings.

In a presentation from the Australian context, Teaching teachers how to go mobile: What’s happening in Australia?, Grace Oakley suggested that although mobile technologies are being used in many Australian schools, mobile learning is not developing as quickly as might be hoped, nor are its boundaries being pushed. There are many policy barriers, she added, including duty of care issues, funding, behaviour management issues, cybersafety, testing regimes, school processes, and equity issues. She then illustrated some activities with mobile devices being carried out in primary schools: oral retelling with Puppet Pals; learning prepositions with a camera and the Book Creator app; media presentations with Tellagami; and mobile augmented reality learning trails created with FreshAiR. She wrapped up with a discussion of how digital technologies, digital literacies, and mobile learning are beginning to feature in initial teacher education courses as well as in resource platforms for practising teachers, such as the Digital Technologies Hub. She indicated that some pre-service teachers are beginning to create mobile learning activities for their students, but she concluded by asking whether they are getting enough opportunities to do so.

In a presentation from the Irish context, Mobile learning on an initial teacher education progamme – MGO programme, Seán Ó Grádaigh showcased the technological changes that have occurred in the last decade. Uber is the largest transport company in the world, but has no cars; Facebook, Twitter and WeChat are the largest content platforms in the world, but they produce no content; Alibaba is the largest shopping mall in the world, but it has no shops; and Netflix is the largest cinema in the world, but has no movie theatres. However, he argued, we haven’t seen a game-changing application in education yet. Still, given the speed of changes, we need to be educating students for the future.

There is a misconception that better technology – from kitchen mixers through cameras to gym equipment – will lead to changes by itself. The same is true in education. But what is required is a vision, a plan, professional development, and pedagogical (as opposed to technological) training. In terms of the technology available, most schools are way ahead of most teacher training programmes, a situation that needs to change.

He went on to suggest that using technology to facilitate reflective practice by pre-service teachers may be a game changer. His students are asked to do reflections – hot reflections straight after a class, and cold reflections where they later revisit their initial reflections – using text, audio, video, or videoconferencing. He showed an example of a teaching video with a voiceover where the pre-service teacher provided commentary on her performance. She then received feedback from two tutors. The five steps followed in this task are:

  • Students create and construct a lesson
  • Students deliver and record it
  • Students watch and analyse it
  • Students create a reflective voiceover on their video
  • Students receive feedback on their reflection from tutors

He continued by suggesting that digital technologies can help to recreate immersive learning contexts for language learning as well as other subjects. However, rather than passively listening or watching, it is better to build inquiry activities around multimedia materials like videos. Teachers and students can also become actively involved in multimedia creation. Involving students in ‘teach-back’ activities is a great way to check that they have understood what they are learning.

In another presentation anchored in the Hong Kong context but with wide global relevance, entitled Learning design and mobile technologies in STEM education, Daniel Churchill explained that STEM is an approach to learning that removes traditional barriers separating science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and integrates them into real-world, rigorous and relevant learning experiences for students. It aims to improve learning in STEM areas; improve teaching effectiveness; deal with the shortage of STEM professionals in the future; include minorities, achieve gender balance, and provide opportunities for low-income members of society; decrease unemployment; foster international competitiveness in the 21st century; and help provide solutions to internationally pressing problems. Ideally, STEM should be not only multidisciplinary (where concepts and skills are taught separately in each discipline but housed within a common theme) or interdisciplinary (where there is the introduction of closely linked concepts and skills from two or more disciplines with the aim of deepening understanding and skills) but transdisciplinary (where knowledge or skills from two or more disciplines are applied to real-world problems and projects with the aim of shaping the total learning experience). There are both scientific and engineering approaches to STEM; in the latter, there are phases of problem scoping, idea generation, design and construction, design evaluation, and redesign. Challenges include insufficient teacher training; insufficient teacher knowledge of STEM; insufficient funding; insufficient laboratory resources and technicians; insufficient community support and media coverage; preferences for music, sport, and academic subjects; a student focus on exam preparation; learning computer coding without any logical or systematic thinking; and a focus on rote memorisation and a lack of depth of conceptual understanding.

He went on to explore six key affordances of  mobile technologies for STEM:

  • multimodal content (e.g., in the form of dynamic, interactive learning objects)
  • linkage of technologies (i.e., a mobile phone can connect to a whole ecology of digital devices)
  • capture (e.g., taking photos or making videos, capturing GPS position and acceleration, etc)
  • representation (e.g., programming a robot, making a digital story, creating a presentation, etc)
  • analytical (i.e., processing and looking for patterns in data)
  • socially interactive

Combining these affordances, he suggested, leads to new learning possibilities. Key tools include robotics, 3D printing, and cognitive tools.

He concluded by saying that STEM should not be just another science, maths or technology class. Learning design based on (pre-) engineering tasks is the critical strategy for STEM education, he argued, and STEM can be conceptualised based on an interaction model. Mobile and emerging technologies are essential for enabling STEM: these include virtual reality, augmented reality, wearables, and so on.

In his presentation, Key issues in mobile learning: A research framework, Pedro Isaías spoke of a range of current developments and challenges in mobile learning. He began by talking about the ubiquitousness pillar of mobile learning. He described the development of mobile LMSs, but mentioned that they have generally not really been designed for mobile devices. He asked whether they can be truly mobile-friendly without compromising navigation. He went on to emphasise the importance of creating responsive designs by following these guidelines: use mobile-friendly layouts, compress content, concentrate on the essential, format your text, and test the course on several platforms.

He went on to address the authenticity pillar of mobile learning, stressing the role of wearable technologies in education: for example, for interactive simulations, facial recognition for identifying students, creating first-person videos, and enhancing game participation. The challenges include cost, design concerns, privacy issues, familiarisation with the interface – digital literacies are needed here – and technical challenges. Augmented reality, he said, also has an important role to play in promoting authentic learning: it increases student engagement, mediates between students and the world, supports problem solving, enhances motivation, and provides access to real-world scenarios. One challenge is that students may become overly focused on the technology rather than the learning, and there are cost implications. He illustrated his comments with a video about the SNHU (Southern New Hampshire University) AR app, and a video about simulated 3D objects generated from textbook images with Arloopa. Gamification, too, can contribute to authenticity. Gamification should not be about external rewards, but about learning objectives. It enhances student motivation, provides ubiquitous access to resources, facilitates authentic and situated learning, improves peer interaction, promotes technical literacy, and fosters teamwork. Mobile learning game essentials, he said, are: an introduction and logo, instructions, a game objective, questions, feedback and results.

He then addressed the personalisation pillar of mobile learning, which is linked to mobile learning analytics, artificial intelligence, and geolocation. There are some concerns around data privacy and informed consent with analytics. With mobile intelligent systems, advantages include the fact that students can be taught according to their knowledge; adaptive learning methods; individualised adaptive teaching; explanation of teaching content; and automatic generation of exercises. Some LMSs provide geolocation features: this allows delivery of content according to location, designing of location-based online content, reaching a global audience, and consideration of cultural differences. Geolocation examples include language-adaptable subtitles, scavenger hunts, and geocaching games.

Finally, he addressed the collaboration pillar, which is about social learning and the e-society. Mobile learning harnesses the potential of social learning, promoting collaboration, discussion and knowledge exchange. But it is important to consider the quality of the interactions, and to think about the role of the teacher in the students’ discussions. Mobile learning involves the production of multimedia content, allows ubiquitous access to information, encourages the development of digital literacy, and creates informed citizens. There may be some issues around data privacy and security, and we must ask whether an increasingly mobile society may lead to an expansion of the digital divide.

In a presentation looking at future developments in mobile learning through wearables, The research on pedagogical feedback tactics of affective tutoring system based on physiological responses, Qin Huang suggested that in time wearable devices will be able to detect humans’ real emotions by registering physiological signals. She gave details of a study making use of the OCC emotional classification model, which is one of the most complete models and the first structural model used in the field of artificial intelligence. With good calculability, she said, it is widely used in the field of emotional computing.

Sun Tower & Moon Tower, Guilin, China

Sun Tower (日塔) & Moon Tower (月塔), Guilin, China. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2017. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

The conference concluded with an MTech Steering Group meeting to discuss future directions for the MTech Network, how to gather more responses to the MTech survey and collaboratively publish our research, and when and where to meet again for another conference event. It is likely that the second MTech Conference will be held in China in late 2018.

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.

The CALL of the beach

EUROCALL Conference
Limassol, Cyprus
24-27 August, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Connecting Australia & Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Centre of the mobile world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

followed by three agendas for mobile learning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The global meets the local – again/still!

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

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

Technology and language

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technology and culture

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

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

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

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

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

  • Learning design approach
  • Distributed learning environment
  • Institutional policy

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

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

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

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

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

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