Technology meets language and literacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E-learning outcomes

eLearning Forum Asia
29th – 31st May, 2013 
Hong Kong

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鸭子, Hong Kong. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2013. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The eLearning Forum Asia 2013 was held at Hong Kong Baptist University with a record-breaking number of attendees. It’s clear that digitally mediated learning is taking off in this part of the world. This conference will be one to watch as it grows in size over years to come.

Richard Armour, from the Hong Kong University Grants Committee (UGC), opened the conference with a discussion of Hong Kong’s “3+3+4” Curriculum and the opportunities for e-learning presented by the new 4-year undergraduate university curriculum. This change, he suggested, is contextualised by the shift towards a knowledge-based economy, enabling students to further develop their language abilities, knowledge base, critical thinking and independence. There is a core general curriculum, with more specialisation as students advance. The curriculum is designed to be more student-centric and allow for whole-person development. The UGC has acquired government funding to promote pedagogical change and innovation in areas such as blended learning, curriculum development, and learning environments. This funding will be project-based. Key questions are what e-learning can bring to the additional year, general education, the common core, sharing specialities across universities, or to achieve a paradigm shift.

Karl Engkvist from Pearson gave a keynote presentation entitled Preparing for the coming avalanche, making reference to the recent publication by Michael Barber, Katelyn Donnelly and Saad Rizvi. He mentioned that globalisation and technology are transforming education; there is greater competition for students and research funding; high-quality educational content is accessible online for free; and the functions of higher education are being supplied by non-academic providers. The 20th century university paradigm is under pressure: knowledge is ubiquitous and free, so it needs to be curated effectively; public funding is being replaced by private funding; students can shop globally for an education; the pace of workplace innovation is accelerating; and graduate unemployment is high, but employers can’t find qualified candidates. We need to more closely link education with future workplace needs. Students, as consumers, may come to expect more tangible outcomes from their education.

He listed a number of signs of change in the educational situation. MOOCs are disrupting education by giving huge numbers of students access to elite education. There are also non-university providers like StraighterLine 2U, alternatives like Thiel Fellowships, complementary options like General Assemb.ly, the Mozilla Foundation’s idea of badging, and the notion of third stage careers catered to, for example, by the Korean National Open University. He suggested that new models of education are improving quality, increasing market share and lowering cost – the way new competitors traditionally unseat complacent incumbents. Traditional universities, too, are being unbundled.  Cities are seeing higher education institutions as powerhouses of their economies. Faculty can teach from anywhere – and they don’t have to be academics. Students, too, can learn from anywhere. Curriculum has become a commodity. E-learning can offer much more flexibility in this space. Deep, radical, urgent transformation – not just incremental change – is necessary.

He went on to talk about The Learning Curve, a Pearson report and website that compare different educational systems around the world. Innovative systems have to value and fund stronger student outcomes; value accountability – setting clear goals and expectations; be future oriented – focusing on skills necessary for the future; and attract and continuously train good teachers. But there are big differences, too: the two most ‘successful’ educational systems, Korea and Finland, share almost nothing in common. In Korea, the top quartile outperforms everyone in the world, but the lowest quartile doesn’t do well at all; in Finland, the two middle quartiles outperform everyone in the world, but the top quartile doesn’t do as well comparatively. This raises philosophical questions about what you want to achieve through an educational system.

In her keynote presentation, Kathy Takayama spoke about Integrative paths in the social construction of understanding. She discussed the need to prepare students for total engagement, applying conceptual understanding, and diving into unfamiliar territory – which are difficult-to-measure outcomes. Metrics which show that teachers have been effective include students taking ownership of their own learning; applying themselves through incremental, experiential learning; being comfortable with uncertainty; integrating insights from across the disciplines to solve problems; and developing adaptive expertise. She went on to say that expert thinking, which involves chunking of information (a kind of pattern recognition based on long experience), sometimes gets in the way. This is one reason why there’s a pressing need for development of faculty, who are fixed on the ways that things have always worked. Interdisciplinary entry points are important.

Brown University is experimenting with blended courses and flipped classrooms. She described an economics course, where one third of the traditional 50-minute lectures have been replaced with 10-minute vodcasts; the rest were retained in order to maintain instructor presence, which is important for the student experience. Students then got together in a classroom where they worked on solving problems collaboratively, facilitated by teaching assistants. Students gave feedback on the microlectures to indicate whether they did or didn’t cover what they needed to know; their feedback also indicated that instructor presence is important. When thinking about e-learning, we have to bring students in as creative partners.

She went on to discuss what old brick-and-mortar institutions need to think about with respect to MOOCs. This requires thinking through the process of deconstruction and reconstruction. Compartmentalisation is an issue, because the material has to be broken up into 10-min chunks. It’s also important to consider how you make connections between all these materials. Students will in fact create their own learning environments through social media and other channels. So MOOCs must be a part of an overall shift in the direction of more social learning. We need to think about the pedagogies that support social learning, and how we might construct our courses differently.

In my own keynote presentation, which opened the second day of the conference, I spoke on Mobile outcomes: Improving language and literacy across Asia. I began by exploring both the affordability and affordances of mobile technologies for the teaching and learning of language and literacy, and looked at the kinds of learning contexts where mobile devices can play a role. I went on to consider the learning outcomes achieved with mobile devices. Assessment and feedback can both be enhanced by mobile devices. However, while there is considerable promise for the recording, monitoring and evaluation of learning in mobile projects, and especially for the deployment of learning analytics, this promise is often unrealised for a variety of practical and pedagogical reasons. On the one hand, we need to seek more hard data on improved learning outcomes in mobile projects; and on the other hand, we may need to consider the notion of outcomes more broadly, including soft outcomes like the acquisition of 21st century skills and digital literacies. I concluded by looking at three mini-case studies of mobile language and literacy interventions from Pakistan, China and Singapore, asking in each case what evidence we can see of improved hard and soft outcomes, and what we can learn for future projects.

In her plenary, Hart Wilson spoke about Moodle magic: Unleashing Moodle’s potential.  She outlined the many features of Moodle which, along with ease of integration with other software, can help support and organise teaching and learning. She suggested a number of useful activities, including getting students to send in questions ahead of class to shape a class (Online Text feature), or getting students to engage in peer review (Workshop feature). She suggested that Moodle’s tools allow us to think differently about teaching, and it serves as a platform to connect students to content, students to students, and students to instructors.  This paper was followed up by a half-day workshop the next day, where the uses of Moodle were explored in much more detail.

Jie Lu and Tianchong Wang, two graduate students working with Daniel Churchill, gave a paper called Exploring the educational affordances of the current mobile technologies: Case studies in university teachers’ and students’ perspectives. They spoke about two case studies. The first took as its starting point Daniel Churchill’s (2005) work on teachers’ private theories, six of which impact on their design and technology integration decisions. Key factors which positively influenced teachers’ use of technology were revealed to be: size (a smartphone screen may be too small; a laptop may be too heavy; but an iPad balances these points); mobile ergonomics; instant boot up; battery life; ease of use; touch sensitivity; apps; access to resources; and sharing and interaction to support a more student-centred teaching paradigm. Issues for teachers included: document format compatibility; connecting to a classroom projector; file management & syncing; inputting text on a touch screen; students’ ownership of tablets; and the idea of a “technology dance” (is the technology supporting teaching or a goal in itself?).

The second case study focused on students’ use and perceptions of mobile technologies as learning tools. Their use of mobile devices to support their learning was generally quite limited: tracking what was going on in online learning environments; keeping in contact with other group members; and reviewing learning materials uploaded by the teacher anywhere and anytime. Issues for students included: limited wifi coverage; inconvenient input options; lack of learning materials tailored for smartphones or tablets, and inability to play Flash materials.

Pao Ta Yu gave a plenary paper entitled How to design massive qualified digital contents both for online and classroom learnings. He spoke about MOOCs, indicating that they combine multimedia and cloud technology with lectures to create more energy around e-learning.  They may be combined with social networking and social media sites, using the latter as a content delivery area. Most students who enrol in MOOCs are currently professionals rather than college students, though this may shift as models are developed for integrating MOOCs into students’ educational pathways. The biggest short-term impact of MOOCs may in fact be legitimisation of online and hybrid learning.

He went on to speak about flipped classrooms, whose advantage, he suggested, is to “take the snooze out of the classroom”. They can individualise classroom learning time for students, allow students to review lessons at their own pace, and break the regular classroom rhythm. Flipped materials should be simple, interesting, and meaningful, he suggested. He suggested that microvideos will be created by teachers to produce a lot of cloud digital content.  This process can integrate with the flipped classroom model.  Rapid design, high quality recordings, and easy uploading and downloading, will be important for future mobile learning.

Diana Laurillard wrapped up the conference with her closing keynote Teaching as a design science: Designing and assessing the effectiveness of the pedagogy in learning technologies. She spoke about government policies from around the world which stress that teachers need to design and deliver ICT-enhanced education, and to undertake professional development.  UNESCO is developing new post-2015 goals for education, including a full 9 years of basic education. Higher education demand is expected to double over coming years.  This will have major implications for teacher training. How can higher education nurture individual teachers while reducing the 25:1 student: staff ratio, i.e., beginning  to operate on a mass scale?

She explored MOOCs as one possible answer, using a Duke credit-bearing MOOC as an example. Many students already had educational qualifications and study experience. There was a very large attrition rate, and often in MOOCs there are only a couple of hundred people who complete a course – much like regular online teaching. While many MOOCs offer only peer support, the Duke MOOC included tutored discussions and assessment, which is time-consuming for support, and worked out at a student: staff ratio of around 20:1. If this kind of support is provided, the demands on staff time will increase as the number of students increases. Only a basic MOOC, without tutor support, can scale at no extra cost.

We need to understand the pedagogical benefits and teacher time costs for online HE. What are the new digital pedagogies that will address the 25:1 student support conundrum? Who will innovate, test, and build the evidence for what works online? It can only be teachers. It may be that we should revisit and rework some old approaches. Pedagogies for supporting large classes might include:

  • Concealed multiple choice questions (possible answers are revealed after students have written their own suggested responses);
  • The virtual Keller Plan (introduce content > self-paced practice > tutor-marked test > student becomes tutor for credit, until by the end half the class is tutoring the rest);
  • The vicarious master class (run a tutorial for 5 representative students; questions and guidance represent all students’ needs);
  • Pyramid discussion groups (240 individual students produce an answer to an open question, then there is a joint response from pairs, then groups of four, etc, until the teacher receives only six responses to comment on in detail).

Collecting big data in line with Laurillard’s Conversational Framework might allow us to better focus on exactly what to collect and how to apply learning analytics. We could consider what is accessed in what sequence, the questions asked, social interaction patterns, tracked group outputs, peer assessment, tracked inputs, reaction times, analysis of essay content, quiz scores, game scores, and accuracy of models.

Teachers as designers need the tools for innovation. She mentioned the PPC (Pedagogical Pattern Collector) browser where you can find pedagogical patterns created by others, tied to particular learning outcomes, and adapt them to your own context and needs. This system creates a way of sharing ideas between individual teachers, across disciplinary boundaries, and between institutions. To meet the upcoming demand, teachers need to work more like scientists who build on and refine each other’s work. The PPC gives them the tools to do this. This supports a cycle of professional collaboration.  As a computational model, it also allows us to work out the consequences in terms of the pedagogical benefits, and the comparative costs of teachers’ workloads, depending on the cost of initial setup and the cost of ongoing support. It also allows us to compare conventional and blended learning to see whether there is, for example, less emphasis on acquisition and more emphasis on discussion. It’s important to invest in teachers who can innovate in learning technologies.

The global demand for HE requires investment in pedagogic innovation to deliver high quality at scale. Technology-based pedagogical innovation must support students at a better than 25:1 student: staff ratio. Teachers need the tools to design, test, gather the evidence of what works, and model benefits and costs. Teachers are the engines of innovation – designing, testing, and sharing their best pedagogic ideas.

Overall, the quality of the papers, the quantity of attendees, and the general buzz around the conference are a sign that e-learning is very much coming of age in Asia.  Next year’s event in Taiwan will carry on the eLearning Forum tradition.

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.

Technology bridging the world

WorldCALL
Fukuoka International Congress Center, Fukuoka, Japan, 6-8 August 2008

The theme of WorldCALL 2008, the five-yearly conference now being held for the third time, was “CALL bridges the world”.  With participants from over 50 countries, and presentations on every aspect of language teaching through technology, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Key themes

Key themes of the conference included the need for a sophisticated understanding of our technologies and their affordances; the importance of teacher involvement and task design in maximising collaboration and online community; the potential for intercultural interaction; the role of cultural and sociocultural issues; the need for reflection on the part of both teachers and students on all of the above; and, in particular, the need for much more extensive teacher training.

There was a wide swathe of technologies, tools and approaches covered, including:

  • email;
  • VLEs, in particular, Moodle;
  • web 2.0 tools, especially blogs and m-learning/mobile phones, but also microblogging, wikis, social networking, and VoIP/Skype;
  • borderline web 2.0/web 3.0 tools like virtual worlds and avatars;
  • ICALL, speech recognition and TTS software;
  • blended learning;
  • e-portfolios.

With up to 8 concurrent sessions running at any given moment, it was impossible to keep up with everything, but here’s a brief selection of themes and ideas …

Communication & collaboration

In her paper “Mediation, materiality and affordances”, Regine Hampel considered the contrasting views that the new media have the advantage of quantitatively increasing communication but the disadvantage of creating reduced-cue communication environments.  She concluded that there are many advantages to using computer-mediated communication with language learners, but that we need to focus on areas such as:

  • multimodal communication: we need to bear in mind that while new media offer new ways of interacting and negotiating meaning, dealing with multiple modes as well as a new language at the same time may lead to overload for students;
  • collaboration: task design is essential to scaffolding collaboration, with different tools supporting collaborative learning in very different ways; there is also a need to make collaboration integral to course outcomes;
  • cultural and institutional issues: this includes the value placed on collaboration;
  • student/teacher roles: online environments can be democratic but students need to be autonomous learners to exploit this potential;
  • the development of community and social presence at a distance;
  • teacher training.

Intercultural interaction

Karin Vogt and Keiko Miyake, discussing “Telecollaborative learning with interaction journals”, showed the great potential for intercultural learning which is present in cross-cultural educational collaborations.  Their work showed that the greatest value could be drawn from such interactions by asking the students to keep detailed reflective journals, where intercultural themes and insights could emerge, and/or could be picked up and developed by the teacher.  They added that their own results, based on a content analysis of such journals from a German-Japanese intercultural email exchange programme, confirmed the results of previous studies that the teacher has a very demanding role in initiating, planning and monitoring intercultural learning.

Marie-Noëlle Lamy also stressed the intercultural angle in her paper “We Argentines are not as other people”, in which she explained her experience with designing an online course for Argentine teachers.  After explaining the teaching methodology and obstacles faced, she went on to argue that we are in need of a model of culture to use in researching courses such as this one – but not an essentialist model based on national boundaries.  She is currently addressing this important lack (something which Stephen Bax and I are also dealing with in our work on third spaces in online discussion) by developing a model of the formation of an online culture.

Teacher (and learner) training

In their paper “CALL strategy training for learners and teachers”, Howard Pomann and Phil Hubbard offered the following list of five principles to guide teachers in the area of CALL:

  • Experience CALL yourself (so teachers can understand what it feels like to be a student using this technology);
  • Give learners teacher training (so they know what teachers know about the goals and value of CALL);
  • Use a cyclical approach;
  • Use collaborative debriefings (to share reflections and insights);
  • Teach general exploitation strategies (so users can make the most of the technologies).

In conclusion, they found that learner strategy training was essential to maximise the benefits of CALL and could be achieved in part through the keeping of reflective journals (for example as blogs), which would form a basis for collaborative debriefings.  As in many other papers, it was stressed that teacher training should be very much a part of this process.

In presenting the work carried out so far by the US-based TESOL Technology Standards Taskforce, Phil Hubbard and Greg Kessler demonstrated the value of developing a set of broad, inclusive standards for teachers and students, concluding that:

  • bad teaching won’t disappear with the addition of technology;
  • good teaching can often be enhanced by the addition of technology;
  • the ultimate interpretation of the TESOL New Technology standards needs to be pedagogical, not technical.

In line with the views of many other presenters, Phil added that we need to stop churning out language teachers who learn about technology on the job; newer teachers need to acquire these skills on their pre-service and in-service education programmes.

Important warnings and caveats about technology use emerged in a session entitled “Moving learning materials from paper to online and beyond”, in which Thomas Robb, Toshiko Koyama and Judy Naguchi shared their experience of two projects in whose establishment Tom had acted as mentor.  While both projects were ultimately successful, Tom explained that mentoring at a distance is difficult, with face-to-face contact required from time to time, as a mentor can’t necessarily anticipate the knowledge gaps which may make some instructions unfathomable.  At the moment, it seems there is no easy way to move pre-existing paper-based materials online in anything other than a manual and time-consuming manner.  This may improve with time but until then we may still need to look to enthusiastic early adopters for guidance; technological innovation, he concluded, is not for the faint of heart and it may well be a slow process towards normalisation …

Normalisation, nevertheless, must be our goal, argued Stephen Bax in his plenary “Bridges, chopsticks and shoelaces”, in which he expanded on his well-known theory of normalisation.  Pointing out that there are different kinds of normalisation, ranging from the social and institutional to the individual, Stephen argued that:

A technology has arguably reached its fullest possible effectiveness only when it has arrived at the stage of ‘genesis amnesia’ (Bourdieu) or what I call ‘normalisation’.

Normalised technologies, he suggested, offer their users social and cultural capital, so that if students do not learn about technologies, they will be disadvantaged.  In other words, if teachers decide not to use technology because they personally don’t like it, they may be doing their students a great disservice in the long run.

At the same time, he stressed, it is important to remember that pedagogy and learners’ needs come first – technology must be the servant and not the master. Referring to the work of Kumaravadivelu and Tudor, he suggested that we must always respect context, with technology becoming part of a wider ecological approach to teaching.

There were interesting connections between the ecological approach proposed by Stephen and Gary Motteram’s thought-provoking paper, “Towards a cultural history of CALL”, in which he advocated the use of third generation activity theory to describe the overall interactions in CALL systems.  There was also a link with my own paper, “Four visions of CALL”, which argued for the expansion of our vision of technology in education to encompass not just technological and pedagogical issues, but also broader social and sociopolitical issues which have a bearing on this area.

Specific web 2.0 technologies

In “Learner training through online community”, Rachel Lange demonstrated a very successful discussion-board based venture at a college in the UAE, where, despite certain restrictions – such as the need to separate the genders in online forums – the students themselves have used the tools provided to build their own communities, where more advanced students mentor and support those with a lower level of English proficiency.

In Engaging collaborative writing through social networking, Vance Stevens and Nelba Quintana outlined their Writingmatrix project, designed to help students form online writing partnerships.  Operating within a larger context of paradigm shift – including pedagogy (didactic to constructivist), transfer (bringing social technologies from outside the classroom into the classroom), and trepidation (it’s OK not to know everything about technology and work it out in collaboration with your students) – they effectively illustrated the value of a range of aggregation tools to facilitate collaboration between educators and students; these included Technorati, del.icio.us, Crowd status, Twemes, FriendFeed, Dipity and Swurl.

Claire Kennedy and Mike Levy’s paper “Mobile learning for Italian” focused on the very successful use of mobile phone ‘push’ technology at Griffith University in Queensland.  In the context of a discussion of the horizontal and vertical integration of CALL, Mike commented on the irony that many teachers and schools break the horizontal continuity of technology use by insisting that mobile phones are switched off as soon as students arrive at school.  Potentially these are very valuable tools which, according to Mellow (2005), can be used in at least three ways:

  • push (where information is sent to students);
  • pull (where students request messages);
  • interactive (push & pull, including responses).

Despite some doubts in the literature about the invasion of students’ social spaces by push technologies, Mike and Claire showed that their programme of sending lexical and other language-related as well as cultural material to Italian students has been a resounding success, with extremely positive feedback overall.

Other successful demonstrations of technology being used in language classrooms ranged from Alex Ludewig’s presentation on “Enriching the students’ learning experience while ‘enriching’ the budget”, in which she showed the impressive multimedia work done by students of German in Simulation Builder, to Salomi  Papadima-Sophocleous’s work with “CALL e-portfolios”, where she showed the value of e-portfolios in preparing future EFL teachers as reflective, autonomous learners.

Beyond web 2.0 – to web 3.0?

As Trude Heift explained in her plenary, “Errors and intelligence in CALL”, CALL ranges from web 2.0 to speech technologies, virtual worlds, corpus studies, and ICALL.  While most of the current educational focus is on web 2.0, there are interesting developments in other areas.  It seems to me that, to the extent that web 3.0 involves the development of the intelligent web and/or the geospatial web, some of these developments may point the way to the emergence of web 3.0 applications in education.

Trude’s own paper focused on ICALL and natural language processing research, whose aim is to enable people to communicate with machines in natural language.  We have come a long way from the early Eliza programme to Intelliwise‘s web 3.0 conversational agent, which is capable of holding much more natural conversations.  While ICALL is still a young discipline and there are major challenges to be overcome in the processing of natural language – particularly the error-prone language of learners – it holds out the promise of automated systems which can create learner-centred, individualised learning environments thanks to modelling techniques which address learner variability and offer unique responses and interactions.  This is certainly an area to watch in years to come.

On a simpler level, text to speech and voice processing software is already being used in numerous classrooms around the world.   Ian Wilson, for example, presented an effective model of “Using Praat and Moodle for teaching segmental and suprasegmental pronunciation”.

Another topic raised in some papers was virtual worlds, which some would argue are incipient web 3.0 spaces.  Due to time limitations and timetable clashes, I didn’t catch these papers, but it’s certainly an area of growing interest – and in the final panel discussion, Ana Gimeno-Sanz, the President of EuroCALL, suggested that this might become a dominant theme at CALL conferences in the next year or so.

The final plenary panel summed up the key themes of the conference as follows:

  • the importance of pedagogy over technology (Osamu Takeuchi);
  • the need to consider differing contexts (OT);
  • the ongoing need for conferences like this one to consider best practice, even if the process of normalisation is proceeding apace (Thomas Robb);
  • the need to reach out to non-users of technology (TR);
  • the need for CALL representation in more general organisations (TR);
  • the professionalisation of CALL (Bob Fischer);
  • the need to consider psycholinguistic as well as sociolinguistic dimensions of CALL (BF);
  • the shift in focus from the technology (the means) to its application (the end) (Ana Gimeno-Sanz);
  • the need to extend our focus to under-served regions of the world (AG-S).

The last point was picked up on by numerous participants and a long discussion ensued on how to overcome the digital divide in its many aspects.  A desire to share the benefits of the technology was strongly expressed – both by those with technology to share and those who would like to share in that technology. That, I suspect, will be a major theme of our discussions in years to come: how to spread  pedagogically appropriate, contextually sensitive uses of technology to ever wider groups of teachers and learners.

Tag: WorldCALL08

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