A springtime of language learning & technology

Kobe, Japan
11-14 May, 2017

Kobe, Japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The CALL of the beach

EUROCALL Conference
Limassol, Cyprus
24-27 August, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The brain, language and technology

Tokyo, Japan
5-6 June, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Three key ideas for teachers are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drawing together global insights

30-31 March, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Conversational Framwork (Laurillard, 2016)

Figure 1: The Conversational Framework (Laurillard, 2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobile language learning from a Japanese perspective


Mount Asama, Gunma, Japan. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2015. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

JACET Summer Seminar
Kusatsu, Japan
18-20 August, 2015

I was privileged to be invited as a keynote speaker to the 42nd JACET Summer Seminar, held in the resort town of Kusatsu, some 200km north of Tokyo. It was great to be part of such a longstanding tradition of annual conferences, with this year’s seminar focused on Mobile learning in and out of the classroom: Balancing blended language learner training.

In my opening keynote on the first day, Framing mobility: What does mobile language learning look like?, I spoke about the importance of learning design and outlined the different designs seen in mobile learning projects, as well as the agendas that underpin those projects, before concluding with three brief case studies. Throughout the presentation, I stressed the importance of taking into account the context and balancing up the affordability and affordances of the available technology, before moving onto the learning design itself.

In my presentations on the second and third days, I looked at Future mobile learning from the point of view of technological developments and trends, and from the point of view of educational trends. I suggested that the future of learning will take shape at the point where today’s and tomorrow’s technological trends intersect with contemporary and emerging educational trends.

In his presentation, Mobile language learning: Examining the Japanese learner, Glenn Stockwell outlined the nature of technological affordances. Using technology, he suggested, must involve these steps:

  • Deciding what tools to use or not use (which needs a focus on technology)
  • Understanding why these tools should be used (which needs a theory of learning)
  • Deciding on how to use these tools in/out of the classroom (which needs practice)
  • Examining the relationship between these elements (which needs research and evaluation)

He stressed the importance of taking into account the context when implementing new technologies, including:

  • Individual factors
  • Institutional factors
  • Societal factors

With mobile learning, it is important to consider physical issues (screen size, input methods, storage capacity, processor speed, battery life, and compatibility), pedagogical issues (taking advantage of the affordances of mobile technologies, such as mobility, interactivity, portable reference tools, and push and pull mechanisms; and training in using mobile devices for learning purposes) and psycho-sociological issues (computers as business tools, or mobile phones as personal tools). He outlined the kinds of learner training that are necessary: technical, strategic and pedagogical training (with the last of these focusing on why students should use mobile technologies to support their learning).

He suggested that mobile learning should be about making learning a life experience: activities should take advantage of the affordances of the technologies, and capitalise upon the ubiquitous nature of technologies and their potential interactivity. He concluded that teachers have an essential role to play in helping students understand how to learn most effectively with their mobile tools.

In his presentation, Flipped and active EFL learning in Japan integrating advanced technologies: From automatic voice recognition to  mobile learning, Hiroyuki Obari suggested that nowadays teachers must act as facilitators, curators and mentors. In flipped classrooms, he went on to say, learning is more active and learners are more autonomous; there is no longer a teacher monopoly and students have greater control. He indicated that in order to develop students’ 21st century skills, teachers should invite them to work creatively with a selection of the Top 100 Tools for Learning. He showed a number of videos of his students making digital multimedia presentations to groups of peers. He reported on a research study in which he found that adopting a flipped approach where students watch lectures and prepare presentations outside class, and interact with peers in class, has led to improvement of students’ TOEIC scores.

In their presentation, Trends in the use of digital technology for assessment in language learning, Keiko Sakui and Neil Cowie spoke of the challenges of assessing web 2.0 projects. They suggested that rubrics might offer a solution. Based on the work of Stevens and Levi, they indicated that rubrics typically have 4 elements: a task description, a scale, dimensions to assess, and descriptions of the dimensions on the scale. Such rubrics can be used to set up project objectives, as well as to grade and give clear feedback on student work. They can help with difficult-to-measure features like participation, collaboration, collective tasks, digital literacies, and academic integrity. Thus, there seems to be a good fit between rubrics and web 2.0 projects. Some principles that could feed into rubrics include Bloom’s Taxonomy, and the CEFR and IB. The presenters are currently engaging in an action research cycle involving collaborative development of rubrics by teachers and students.

In his presentation, Blending mobile device-mediated collaborative tasks for oral production with traditional coursework, Hywel Evans discussed the value of highly structured mobile collaborative speaking tasks to get English learners talking in the Japanese classroom context. Mobile devices are used to distribute information (set up on the WordPress platform) to students who work in pairs on tasks of the spot-the-difference variety, which can be used to elicit any kind of spoken language desired. The mobile devices automatically assess students’ efforts, and award them points, so the teacher is free to circulate, monitor, and offer feedback.

In his presentation, Implementing a mobile-based extensive reading component: A report on student engagement and perceptions, Brett Milliner discussed the Xreading online system of graded readers, whose readers can be accessed on any device at any time. The system generates analytics on student reading, including book levels, number of words read, reading speed, and length of time to read a book, which allows the teacher to intervene to support students. Students can also see their own analytics data, helping them to reflect more critically on their reading progress.

In his presentation, Student perceptions of smartphone use for learning, Jeremiah Hall outlined research indicating the disadvantages of student multitasking as well as of secondary multitasking (that is, students being distracted by other students’ multitasking).  When surveying his own students, he found that most liked being able to use a smartphone in class, with most disagreeing that other students using smartphones distracted them. It is important to educate students about the potential for distraction, and to indicate the reasons for classroom policies around smartphone use.

In their presentation, Gonta de Tango – An experimental system development for enhancing learners’ vocabulary through extensive reading, Yoshiko Matsubayashi and Akemi Kawamura described a software programme which allows students to highlight unknown words while reading a story and add them to their personal vocabulary list. In this way, they can read without worrying about unknown vocabulary. One plan is to have students select or draw illustrations to depict settings in the story at the end of each chapter.

All in all, this conference brought together a range of global and local perspectives on mobile learning, with many valuable presentations and discussions on how international trends are intersecting with Japanese trends.

Connecting the digital dots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'My tribes'. Source: Rainie (2015)

‘My tribes’. Source: Rainie (2015)

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

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

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.

Technology trending

English Australia Conference
18th – 19th September, 2014
Melbourne, Australia

The Yarra, Melbourne. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2013. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

I’ve been away from the English Australia Conference for four years, so it was interesting to return to the conference this year in Melbourne. One trend that struck me was a definite upswing in the number of sessions focusing on educational technologies. While many of these adopted a practical orientation towards classroom tools, others investigated bigger themes related to the benefits and drawbacks of these technologies.

In his talk, Engaging Digital Learners, accompanied by a website, Paul Forster explored a range of interactive web- and app-based technologies that can be used by teachers in the classroom, including quiz tools like Kahoot, Padlet, Quizlet, annotation tools like EduCanon and Curriculet, and QR and AR tools like Aurasma and Plickers.

The session Digital Literacies for Teachers and Students: A Toolbox of Practical Ideas was delivered in the format of three pecha kucha presentations by Lachlan McKinnon, Lindsay Rattray and Thom Roker. Lachlan recommended screen capture video freeware including Camstudio (Windows only), Screencast-o-matic, Jing and Screen2exe (also Windows only). Lindsay suggested that instead of asking students to switch off mobile phones, we should ask them to set their phones to English. He went on to outline activities where students skim websites in response to trivia questions; video self-introductions using their mobile phones; and take part in jumbled dictations where they type the dictated sentences into their phones, then work together to compose the full text. Thom promoted the idea of a paperless classroom, suggesting this can be achieved by using many of the apps available through Google Drive . He also spoke of the educational potential of Google Classroom

In their presentation, MOOEC Showcase, Chris Evason, James O’Connor, Ken Trolland, Susannah McCallum and Cecile Baranx showed examples of effective ESL materials on the MOOEC platform. It was pointed out that there is an opportunity for teachers not only to consume existing materials, but to create their own materials for their students.

In their presentation, We’ll See You on the Flip Side: The Flipped Classroom Model in Practice, Adrian Smith, Olivia Cassar and Carol Aeschliman pointed out the advantages of a flipped approach in giving students more language practice, and allowing them to engage in collaboration and production activities in the classroom. There is a reduction in teacher talking time, and there is more time for personalised attention to students at the point of need. However, this may not involve so much of a paradigm shift in TESOL, since many of the active learning aspects of flipped classrooms have been employed for some time in English language teaching. Making materials available before class time turned out to be particularly empowering for the weaker students, who could spend extra time preparing before coming to class. Recommended web services and apps for creating flipped videos include Educreations, GoAnimatePreziTellagami and VideoScribe. Students can even learn to use apps like Tellagami to respond to flipped videos.

In my own session, Walking and Talking Around the World: A Snapshot of International Mobile English Learning, I outlined the trade-offs that educators, as learning designers, make when they are creating mobile learning experiences for their own students in their own contexts: balancing up affordability and affordances, deciding what types of mobile learning to promote or support, and making choices about which mobile agendas to align their designs with. I rounded off with four case studies of successful mobile English language learning projects, highlighting the different decisions made in varying contexts to create effective learning designs.

This was followed by a panel, Is Educational Technology the End of the World as We Know It?, chaired by Donna Cook. Along with Kyle Smith, Vesna Stevanof and Piedad Pena, I took part in responding to a wide range of questions about educational technologies (with our responses informed by questions previously submitted by the audience through Facebook and Twitter). It’s apparent that a lot of people are experimenting with new technologies in the classroom, and encountering a mixture of successes and challenges – and there’s a lot we can learn through sharing and discussing these experiences.

At the Learning Technologies breakfast on the second day, at which I was the special guest, attendees discussed the benefits and challenges of using new technologies. A competition to produce a digital overview of participants’ experiences of educational technologies in different ELT centres produced some informative multimedia entries using tools such as Knowmia, Tellagami and VideoScribe.

Technology was also a topic which surfaced in the context of presentations on other themes. In his plenary, English and Economic Development, David Graddol outlined his concerns over the economic rationalist basis for the English language development going on around the world. He pointed out that there are two narratives about the use of technology in the classroom – one is about empowering individual teachers to do more in the classroom; but the other is about big corporations convincing education ministries that students should be plugged into educational packages, which diminish the need for highly trained teachers. Corporations are now selling directly to parents as well.

Of course, not every presentation was about technology, but technology has become an increasingly present theme, mixed in – as it should be – with broader pedagogical, cultural and sociopolitical themes.

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.

E-learning outcomes

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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