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.

Technology focus in Taichung

International Computer Symposium
Taipei, Taiwan
12-14 December, 2014

Luce Memorial Chapel, Tunghai University, Taiwan. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2014. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Luce Memorial Chapel, Tunghai University, Taiwan. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2014. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The International Computer Symposium, composed of a number of workshop strands, took place at Tunghai University in Taichung from 12-14 December 2014. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend the first two days as I was at the ICEduTech Conference in Taipei, but I arrived in time to attend the final day, when I also gave my own keynote in the Information Literacy, e-Learning, and Social Media workshop strand.

In his plenary, Social Media and Learning: The Way Forward, Sandy Li spoke about the ubiquity of social media platforms and how they affect the way we interact with each other, though some people may see their  invasion of our lives as creepy. Social media, he indicted, are increasingly used to support education, and there have been positive claims about the use of blogging, social neworking, social bookmarking and web co-authoring (including wikis, Google Docs, etc). However, it has been pointed out by some researchers that there is limited empirical research and it often relies on self-reported data or qualitative data. There is also some suggestion that there is a negative correlation between students’ use of social media and their GPA scores.

Li went on to report on a research study on the value of social annotation, focusing on the use of the social bookmarking/folksonomy tool Diigo to annotate online documents. The participants were 48 undergraduate students in a course on technology in education. Students were placed into groups and required to research a self-chosen authentic and ill-structured issue. They used Diigo to tag and share bookmarks, make annotations with sticky notes, and co-construct argumentation where appropriate.  They then wrote a report on their different views as well as the overall views of the group. Postings (whether a bookmark, a highlighted text, or a sticky note) were assigned quality scores based on accuracy and relevance. It was found that low-level cognitive, high-level cognitive and metacognitive activities were interwoven and correlated with each other. These strongly predicted the project scores. It was found that the average number of highlighted texts explained over 50% of group variance in project score, with the amount of social collaboration explaining over 70% of group variance. Collaboration, in short, was crucial in supporting metacognitive activities. Social annotation supports different levels of cognitive and metacognitive activities and, thus, quality learning. For students, this experience was very different from using a traditional VLE or LMS, which provides a much more teacher-centred structure – in fact, TMS, or ‘teaching management system’, would be a better term. There is a need to shift our designs to allow for more student-centred learning. Most of the social annotation platforms are commercial products, lacking a clear pedagogical design framework, so they require teachers to bring the necessary pedagogical insight.

In my own plenary, Mobile Literacy: Navigating New Learning Opportunities and Obligations, I spoke about the digital literacies which are taking on new importance and new inflections as we move into a mobile era: information literacy, multimodal literacy, network literacy, code literacy and critical mobile literacy. I argued that mobile learning presents us as educators with both the obligation and the opportunity to help students acquire these skills, which are essential in a world that is not only increasingly digital but increasingly mobile.

In her paper, Effectiveness of Constructing Information Literacy via Credited Information Literacy Program, Szu-Chia Lo spoke about the importance of information literacy in a digital era. She described a study of a library course which was run to develop students’ information literacy skills.  Preliminary results show students were familiar with internet surfing but lacked knowledge about identifying proper information resources, how to conduct search strategies, and how to evaluate information. However, it was found that after taking the course, students did begin to build their information literacy skills. It was also found that combining the course with other curriculum programmes led to better outcomes.

In his paper, Originality Assurance in Academic Publication, Kun-Huang Huarng outlined the issues with plagiarism in a digital era. He spoke about the need to educate students about plagiarism on an ongoing basis, and indicated that software like TurnItIn can play a helpful role in tertiary institutions.

In her paper, Design of Chinese Language Learning APP in the Context-Aware Learning Environment (co-written with Hsiao-Han Chiu), Hong-Ren Chen explained that through context-aware technology, mobile learning can detect the location of the learner and the surrounding learning environment to provide suitable learning content. She described a Chinese context-aware learning system with an English interface for learning vocabulary, pronunciation and conversation in everyday life. GPS is used for outdoor learning and QR codes are used for indoor learning. This allows for learning outside the spaces and times of classroom education.

In the paper, Interactive Augmented Reality System for Supporting Museum Guided Instruction (co-written with Kai-Yi Chin and Jim-Min Lin) Ko-Fong Lee indicated that virtual reality is expensive and it is difficult to create a complete and attractive context. Augmented reality, on the other hand, incorporates real feelings and sensations, with 3D virtual objects enhancing learning interest. Using QR codes with AR systems has advantages: QR codes allow larger and more flexible data storage options, they have high fault tolerance and low production costs, and the decoding capabilities already exist on many mobile devices. There is considerable potential in this combination of QR and AR, with QR increasing the popularity of AR systems in education.

Like the Taipei ICEduTech Conference, with which it overlapped, the ICS brought together a wide range of practitioners and researchers to shed light on current directions in educational technology development. There’s no doubt that there’s a lot happening right now in this area in Taiwan. This is a country to watch over the next 2-3 years.

Mobile convergence in the Middle East

MobiLearn Asia 2013
22nd-24th October, 2013
Doha, Qatar

Doha Skyline from The Corniche. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2013. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Doha Skyline from The Corniche. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2013. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

This year saw the inter-national mLearn Conference come to the Middle East. People travelled from around the world to present and discuss mobile learning and research at the College of the North Atlantic in Doha, Qatar. The full conference proceedings are available online.

In the opening keynote, Mobile Technologies Enable … But ONLY When …, Cathlene Norris and Elliot Soloway reported on their longitudinal research with Singaporean primary students using mobile devices. This has led them to the following conclusions about the kinds of transformations that mobile devices allow:

  • Transformation 1: Pedagogy and curriculum can shift in an inquiry-based direction.
  • Transformation 2: Technology can be available 1:1, 24/7, and always ready-at-hand. (They suggested a litmus test for what counts as a mobile device is whether a child walking home from school can see something relevant to their education, pull out their device, capture it, then continue on their way.)
  • Transformation 3: Students can become self-directed and collaborative learners. (Students can work both collaboratively and independently, as appropriate.)
  • Transformation 4: Parents’ attitudes can shift.
  • Transformation 5: Teachers’ attitudes can shift and they can find teaching to be more enjoyable.

In terms of the impact on student achievement, it was found that the students who used smartphones in an inquiry model did as well as the students using worksheets when it came to tests involving content questions.  But when it came to open-ended and oral questions, the students using smartphones in the inquiry model did better than other students. Similarly, the former did much better on self-directed and collaborative learning (though this is not yet tested, and evidence is based on teachers’ observations).

Norris and Soloway went on to say that mobile devices don’t cause this transformation, but they enable it. Further information is available about their work.

In his welcome keynote, Micro and the Future of Mobile Learning, Peter Bruck, the CEO of Research Studios Austria, discussed how mobile devices can be used to support knowledge build-up in organisations, where staff require ongoing development and training. He spoke about MicroLearning, which involves:

  • breaking content into small units which you can access as and when you need them. We need large knowledge maps, but we also need to drill down into learning the language of specific subject matter. It is essential for people to speak the same language if they are to collaborate;
  • reducing the range of learning objectives and focusing on one objective. Mobile devices may be better than a teacher or a book for repetition-based memorisation of content. Personalised repetition on the go can be supported by the Leitner algorithm, with knowledge cards being pushed to learners based on what they don’t know. This gets around the issue of group learning where some students are bored because they know a lot, and others can’t keep up because they don’t know enough. The combination of push + algorithm + what you don’t know is effective;
  • reducing the learning time and allowing for short activities;
  • reducing the centrality of the teacher – the clock, the classroom and the curriculum are less central – and allowing for self-directed learning. The clock is not a good indicator of accomplishment; nor is presence in a classroom.

He suggested that MicroLearning may be more appropriate for knowledge implementation and maintenance than initial knowledge acquisition. In summary, he said, MicroLearning is about reducing: content; time required; and teacher-centredness. Current and future research involves semi-automatic text extraction for improved content authoring; contextualisation; learning analytics for improved personalisation; and visualisation of knowledge maps. Further information is available on MicroLearning, and on the KnowledgePulse system which has been developed.

In his presentation, Jam Today: Embedding BYOD into Classroom Practice (paper available here),David Parsons argued that the BYOD revolution is changing the nature of teaching and learning, and disrupting the traditional roles of teachers and students. He reported on a study conducted at the first New Zealand state school which required parents to provide devices – the iPad 2 – for their children.

Infrastructure investment has moved away from specialist computer labs, lease of computers, tech support and maintenance, towards ultrafast broadband and wireless, teacher devices, PD, and management software. It’s important to have a common vision of teaching and learning, a willingness to embrace change, stakeholder support, and a good pastoral system (covering software, contracts and sanctions). Key teaching and learning concepts which can underpin the use of mobile devices include flipped classrooms; project-based learning; flexible physical spaces; Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model; and Scott Morris’s Learning Spaces model. Some of these may be lightweight ideas, he suggested, but they are useful because of their ready applicability to teaching.

In terms of generic findings across subject areas, it became apparent that digital media and multiple literacies could be used to enhance learning (e.g., through watching cooking videos or looking at science experiment pictures) or transform learning (e.g., through student-created videos of demonstrations, or students’ project-based learning). Challenges have included internet connectivity; students who are not prepared for the flipped classroom (the same ones who didn’t do their homework previously); students who lack digital skills; and finding the right apps. Questions include what to do if not everyone has an iPad, whether you should abandon digital resources on the wrong platform, and what digital literacies actually matter?

There are also subject-specific uses of BYOD: games for maths; performance analysis for physical education; slow motion video analysis for dance; videoing and analysing role plays in language; mind maps and storyboards for English and drama; the idea that Wikipedia is ‘not enough’ in sociology; and composition with virtual instruments in music.

In summary, BYOD changes the following:

  • student activities;
  • how work is presented;
  • how teachers provide feedback;
  • how work is showcased to the world;
  • how students collaborate;
  • how staff collaborate;
  • the role and nature of home learning.

Lessons learned include the following:

  • there’s a new normal (1:1 devices have become normal);
  • some boundaries are clearer (when to use the device, and when not);
  • some boundaries are more blurred (tools from life, and tools from school);
  • it’s not just about flipped classrooms (it’s about a more fluid model of teaching).

Parsons also mentioned that there is an issue around learning programming; while we don’t need computer labs for word processing any more, we still need sophisticated equipment to teach programming skills. We may not be teaching enough of this.

In the talk, AnswerPro: Designing to Motivate Interaction (paper available here), Balsam AlSugair, Gail Hopkins, Elizabeth Fitzgerald and Tim Brailsford described a proptype system called AnswerPro. Gail Hopkins, who presented the talk, explained that the aim was to combine mobility, social communication, and learning, while ensuring that students were motivated. There is some debate about whether extrinsic motivation may take away from intrinsic motivation, or whether it can feed into it. Three elements are particularly important to intrinsic motivation, namely relatedness/relationships within a known, connected society of learners; competence, meaning an increased perception of one’s own competence in relation to others; and autonomy, that is, having a sense of control. These were taken into account in the AnswerPro system. Essentially, AnswerPro is a web-based mobile academic peer support system which serves as a common interaction platform to encourage self-help. Following a pilot which identified some issues to be addressed, a full study of the new system is being conducted.

In her talk, Preparing Mobile Learning Strategy for your Institution (paper available here), Agnieszka Palalas explained that the purpose of a mobile learning strategy is to provide a clear path to implementing and sustaining mobile learning in an institution, including making a strong business case. Based on her experience, she mentioned that challenges in developing such a strategy can include:

  • fragmentation;
  • limited resources;
  • lack of buy-in;
  • limited understanding of mobile learning;
  • limited wireless access.

It is important to:

  • identify existing expertise;
  • connect fragmented m-learning efforts;
  • construct m-learning tasks to get immediate, measurable results;
  • win the support of faculty and management;
  • raise awareness and understanding of m-learning.

She suggested that there are at least six phases necessary to developing a mobile learning strategy:

  1. needs assessment (including involving all stakeholders);
  2. feedback and evidence gathering (including running pilot projects);
  3. feedback exchange and communication;
  4. appraisal of infrastructure and enterprise systems;
  5. training and professional development;
  6. producing an m-learning strategy document.

In the panel discussion on the final morning, Alexander Stien, Virginia Jones, Cheri MacLeod, Mohamed Ally, Christina Gitsaki and Giovanni Farias spoke on Lessons Learned from Tablet Deployment Initiatives in K12 and Higher Education. The first issue raised was the challenge of inequity in a BYOD model. Farias suggested that the shift from native apps to HTML5 will help reduce inequality. Ally noted that the hardware is getting cheaper and can lead to savings on textbooks; the real inequality, he observed, is in connectivity.

When it came to the issue of barriers to adoption, Ally suggested that the biggest challenge is people, notably at management and leadership level; we need successful projects to demonstrate the positive potential. Farias agreed that the human factor is the key barrier, because other issues can be solved with investment, whereas a change of mindset is needed for people to make good use of technology for learning. This takes time, he said, and time cannot simply be bought. What is more, said Ally, we are repurposing commercial devices for education and need to consider building our own. Gitsaki noted that it is important to have the infrastructure and resources in place, as well as to provide PD for teachers. Assessment is also an issue. Ally suggested, finally, that there is a physiology divide, with young people with good senses able to use small screens and keyboards much more easily; this issue may be solved with new technological developments like virtual keyboards.

On the question of which device is best, Stien suggested that the answer is whichever device is best for you; this will vary from person to person. The overall consensus on the panel was that the move is away from Apple devices and towards Android devices. The panel agreed that the pedagogical or methodological paradigm shift – towards student-centredness, accessibility, interaction and collaboration – is more important than the device itself. Gitsaki commented that we’re no longer at a stage where we can choose or not choose to use digital devices, because students are already used to them; the challenge for educators is to find the best ways of employing these devices to enhance learning.

In the presentation, Post Web 2.0 Media: Mobile Social Media (paper available here), Thomas Cochrane and Laurent Antonczak discussed a study of mobile social media used as a catalyst for new pedagogies. Antonczak, who gave the paper, showed how staff shifted their attitudes to mobile devices and new software in a relatively short period of time. Students are able to record evidence of their progress in different formats and teachers can view and evaluate it. Lecturers and students can communicate about the recorded material through Google Hangouts or Twitter, which saves time travelling to face-to-face meetings and helps students overcome reticence to express their opinions. Colleagues can support and mentor each other online, as well as acting as resources for each other’s students, for example by recording YouTube videos in their areas of expertise.

Mobile language learning

There was a considerable focus on mobile language learning at the conference. In the talk, Integrating mLearning Language Applications into University Course Content (paper available here), Olga Viberg and Åke Grönlund discussed second language learning in the context of distance education. Viberg, who presented the paper, spoke of taking a design science approach, and described a prototype for a cross-platform mobile language learning app developed at Dalarna University in Sweden.

In their paper, Improving Student Literacy in Adult Education through an Immediate Feedback Tool (paper available here), Martie Geertsema and Chris Campbell discussed the use of the Dragon Dictation app for improving students’ English pronunciation. Campbell, who presented the paper, noted that a regular audio recording app like Audacity still requires the teacher to check students’ pronunciation later, while a potential benefit of speech-to-text programmes like Dragon Dictation is that learners are immediately able to see their mistakes themselves. The visual feedback is standardised and does not depend on the teacher’s skill and experience. The teacher also gets feedback on the effectiveness of his or her teaching.

In a 10-day trial with a group of students ,it was found that after a few days, students started to independently check their own pronunciation, and then began to identify their need to practise other sounds. Improvement was found for all students, whether they had access to the app on their own phones or not, but improvement was greater for students who had apps on their own devices. (The app is currently only available for iOS devices.)

In her opening keynote on Day 2, An Overview of Mobile Learning Research and Practice in the United Arab Emirates, Christina Gitsaki spoke about the rollout of mobile learning, and an accompanying iPads initiative in the Higher Colleges of Technology, in the UAE. In the iPads initiative, teachers’ concerns decreased over time. Two major concerns remained after the first academic year: the amount of time teachers needed to spend solving problems in the classroom; and how the use of iPads impacts students’ learning. Amongst other things, teachers expressed a need for:

  • just-in-time PD;
  • input on how to use the iPads for teaching English (with PD delivered by English/ESL experts rather than IT experts);
  • collaboration with colleagues.

Generally, teachers’ perceptions of the impact of the iPads on students’ learning were rather moderate. They felt vocabulary improved most, and reading least. The most popular apps among teachers were productivity apps rather than English-specific apps.

Students were very positive about the use of iPads, finding them motivating. Students preferred low-complexity tasks like taking photos, rather than high-complexity tasks like creating websites. Unlike the teachers, who had moderate views about the impact of the iPads on learning, the students were extremely positive about the impact of the iPads on their learning of all language areas.

In summary, the study at the Higher Colleges of Technology found that:

  • the iPads had an impact on teaching;
  • the iPads increased student engagement and motivation;
  • the frequency of iPad use, and the types of activities in and out of class, had an impact on students’ language development.

Critical issues for the future include the following:

  • there is a need to provide teachers with high-quality ongoing PD, and to determine how students learn best with iPads;
  • the resources need to be interactive and take advantage of the affordances of the iPad;
  • there is a need to help teachers to design their own resources, and to create a repository for sharing these resources;
  • there is a need to evaluate learning with iPads, as current assessments may not measure the full extent of their impact.

The iPads initiative is now in its second year, and will continue to be monitored. The aim is to conduct a more rigorous examination of the impact of iPads on student learning, to quantify iPad use, and try different assessment models.

In his plenary presentation, One to One Digital English Projects, Michael Carrier, from Cambridge English Language Assessment, spoke of the desire for English learning around the world. He stressed the need to put the learner and the learning device (whatever it may be) at the centre of the learning process. There are various models of  mobile learning, including traditional communicative activities using apps, creative use of handheld devices, the flipped classroom, and one-to-one and personalised learning. One-to-one learning can democratise learning and empower learners. It is not about the technology but about the methodology. This approach may add to time on task, increasing the number of study hours in the week (whether in class or out of class). The main drivers of 1:1 approaches to English language teaching include:

  • policymakers (governments and ministries are under pressure to improve exam scores, but they may invest in technology before considering pedagogy);
  • teachers (they are faced with curriculum deficits, and are caught between traditional assessments and a desire to teach in a communicative way);
  • society (with a wish to improve 21st century skills).

There is also corporate pressure on governments and ministries to adopt technology in education. More and more governments, ministries and institutions will move to a 1:1 model anyway, given these drivers, whether pedagogical experts are involved or not. Consequently, educators and teacher trainers need to get involved. Carrier suggested that in general we should be device-agnostic, and focus instead on content and pedagogy which can be conveyed through today’s or tomorrow’s devices, whatever these may be. Intensive development of teacher competencies is very important. Teachers need personal development (user training) and input on lesson planning, classroom management, classroom management online, and awareness of digital tools and media.

He summarised the overall value of one-to-one learning in English as follows:

  • anytime, any place;
  • time on task;
  • personalised learning;
  • self-paced learning;
  • automonous learning;
  • motivation;
  • authenticity;
  • credibility.

A key question for the future is how we will handle technologies other than smartphones and tablets, as for example smartwatches and augmented reality glasses become available. Carrier stressed again that we need to be device-agnostic; focused on teacher skills; and focused on pedagogy, content and curriculum. However the technology develops, we need to be ready to handle it.

Although a couple of Bangladeshi presenters were unable to attend, their work on the English in Action project in Bangladesh was outlined on their behalf. The relevant papers can be accessed in the conference proceedings; these are Challenges against the Successes of mLearn in Bangladesh by Shahanaj Parvin (available here) and M-learn Lessons Learnt: Bangladesh Perspective by Zaki Imam (available here).

In our own talk, An Ecology of Mobile Screens: iPads meet XOs in a Desert School (paper available here), Grace Oakley, Jan Clarke, Jim Sligar and I spoke about a mobile learning ecology in a remote desert school in Western Australia. Here, a largely Indigenous population learning English as an Additional Language uses a combination of XO laptops and iPads, as appropriate, for different types of literacy activities. Our argument was that different mobile (and indeed portable and fixed) technologies are not necessarily in competition, but can complement each other in a learning ecology.

Augmented reality & location-based technologies

Augmented reality and related technologies for fostering learning in real-world environments loomed large at the conference. In their presentation, Mobilogue – A Tool for Creating and Conducting Mobile Supported Field Trips (paper available here), Adam Giemza and Ulrich Hoppe discussed learning in a museum context. Hoppe, who presented the paper, observed that mobile apps provided by museums extend exhibitions and/or provide audio guides, but usually leave learners in the position of information consumers. The question is how to make mobile learning more active. Mobilogue is a tool which allows flexible authoring of field trips; other tools in the same area, with different combinations of features, include MuseumScrabble with QR Codes; Treasure-HIT; StoryTec; Wild Knowledge – Wild Map; GoMo Learning; and Fresh AiR.

The Mobilogue system was created with indoor learning experiences in institutions like museums in mind. Recognition of location is possible using a range of technologies including GPS (only outdoors), wifi, object recognition, RFID tags, or QR codes. The last of these is used by Mobilogue, which is very convenient for schools and has wide applicability. Students can also author tours using Mobilogue, without programming or technical knowledge.

In her presentation, The Augmented Reality Project: An Experiment in Teacher Engagement (paper available here), Jan Clarke discussed an augmented reality (AR) learning trail created to get teachers involved in use of AR. AR, she suggested, adds value to real objects, places and experiences. Content can include instructions, text, animations, audio, video, images, co-ordinate tracking, and so on. Students develop their skills in ‘reading’ multimodal texts.

For the tour she created, which operated in the Swan River area in Perth, Western Australia, she used the Fresh AiR app, which lets students know when they have approached an AR  marker. Once they click on the relevant symbol, they may receive instructions, media files, quizzes, and rewards. The tour was tried out by teachers working in many different subject areas, from history, politics and Aboriginal studies to IT (where students focused on app design). It may be necessary to upskill the teachers at the same time as the students, and to have the teachers learn about the technology alongside the students.

In their talk, Creating Coherent Incidental Learning Journeys on Mobile Devices through Feedback and Progress Indicators (paper available here), Mark Gaved, Agnes Kukulska-Hulme, Ann Jones, Eileen Scanlon, Ian Dunwell, Petros Lameras and Oula Akiki discussed the European MASELTOV project and its emphasis on social inclusion. Kukulska-Hulme, who gave the paper, posed the question of whether and how smart technologies can help overcome exclusion. The MASELTOV app works at the informal end of the learning spectrum and integrates language and cultural learning into everyday life.  The project focuses on information and assistance; learning; and community building.

Journeys around cities create learning opportunities, including just-in-time preparation for communication; making contact with mentors and volunteers; noticing and recording of language in use; and reflecting on what has been learned and achieved. This allows for incidental learning, which can be unplanned learning. It can include event-driven learning. This learning can be structured in some ways while remaining informal. Peer-based teaching and learning become very relevant. MASELTOV brings together a series of tools which are arranged along a continuum on different dimensions:

  • some are more opportunistic and some require more planning;
  • some are quick to use and others are used in a more sustained way;
  • some allow discrete learning and others more cumulative learning;
  • some are about problem-solving and others about learning.

The challenge is, while not ignoring the left-hand categories, to place more emphasis on the right-hand categories, helping people to engage in a more sustained way with the tools and promote their learning.

Feedback and progress indicators are also important.  Some questions which have been posed to the developers of the tools, in light of what is known about effective learning, include:

  • Does the software allow the user to set a goal for its use?
  • Does the software record successful achievement of tasks, and how is this presented?
  • Does the software offer feedback on how well the participant has carried out a task, and does it allow feedback from other users?
  • Does the software prompt reflection?
  • Does the software allow social engagement?

Incidental mobile learning can consist of isolated, fragmentary episodes on apparently unconnected apps. The key question now is how these can be reconceived by users as elements of a more coherent, longer term learning journey.

Some recommendations include:

  • All tools should report to a usage dashboard seen by users and mentors;
  • Notification indicators should prompt reflection and action;
  • There should be periodic requests for feedback from learners;
  • There should be badges and points/currency earned across MASELTOV;
  • Custom journeys should be able to be assembled by learners.

In the paper, About the Contextualization of Learning Objects in Mobile Learning Settings (paper available here), Jalisa Sotsenko, Marc Jansen and Marcelo Milrad discussed the importance of devices being able to recognise the context of the learner, including the:

  • environment context;
  • device context;
  • personal context.

Marc Jansen, who delivered the paper, explained that it is possible to develop a mathematical model to determine the best fitting learning in a multidimensional vector space, which takes into account many different aspects of the context.

Doha Skyline seen from the Museum of Islamic Art. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2013. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Doha Skyline seen from the Museum of Islamic Art. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2013. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

All in all, the mLearn 2013 conference allowed a rich exchange of ideas and insights from around the world. Many people will be looking forward to the next update at mLearn 2014.

New media, new spaces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing language, changing learners, changing teachers

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

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

Changing teacher training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

to a learner-centred stage where:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing language teaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing language: New literacies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of the key literacies for students are:

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

Online learning spaces allow:

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

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

Conclusion

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

Crossing the virtual divide

IATEFL Learning Technologies SIG PCE
Harrogate, UK / Avalon Learning, Second Life
7 April, 2010

Bringing together participants in ‘real life’ in Harrogate, UK, with virtual participants at Avalon Learning in the virtual world Second Life, this year’s IATEFL Learning Technologies SIG PCE demonstrated the permeability of the real/virtual divide with frequent crossovers between Harrogate and Second Life.  Participants in Second Life, where I was based, viewed videos, watched slide presentations, listened to discussions in Harrogate via an audio hookup, and carried out their own discussions in audio and text channels.  It was a great demonstration of multimodal literacies in action …

4 - Conf (Avatars Listening to Presentation) - B

I kicked off the day in Second Life with my video and slide presentation, Digital literacies: Where do we start?, and followed up with a Q & A session and discussion which spanned Second Life and ‘real life’.  My video, slides and session photos can be viewed on the Digital Literacies research page of my wiki (see Artefacts 4A – 4D).  Scott Thornbury, based in Harrogate, followed with a presentation entitled Has the language lab failed? The third presenter of the day, Stephen Bax, was also based in Harrogate.

I couldn’t stay for the whole day, given the time difference between Australia and the UK, but the section in which I participated was a good indication of where new technologies and, more importantly, new literacies are taking us – despite certain challenges we’re facing along the way.

For more details of the whole event, plus videos of the Second Life discussions, see Heike Philp’s overview on the Avalon blog.

Skip to toolbar