The brain, language and technology

JALTCALL
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.

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.

M-learning comes of age in SE Asia (I)

MobiLearnAsia Conference
Singapore
24-26 October, 2012

[See also Day 2 blog post]

The inaugural MobiLearnAsia Conference in Singapore has brought a much-needed regional focus to the emerging field of mobile learning. As the global phone count goes up (see image below), m-learning will become an ever more important strand of education. This conference drew together some of the world’s foremost experts in the area and showcased many local and regional initiatives. In fact, because of the richness of the content, I’ve divided this blog post into Day 1 and Day 2. The third day was devoted to full-day workshops.

Screenshot of Phone Count tally, 25 October 2012 (http://phonecount.com)

In his opening keynote, Mobile Learning: Past, Present & Future, Gary Woodill noted that there are different histories that underpin mobile learning. Learning before classrooms was mobile and social, and people learned by watching and talking to others. The printing press allowed standardisation, which helped foster the rise of modern classrooms. In the 1770s in Prussia many modern schooling concepts were developed: the idea of sitting at desks; putting up your hand for questions; recess and detention. Students were immobilised behind desks.

Mobile learning restores the idea of being in context while you’re learning.  There is a long tradition of learning without classrooms, on field trips, excursions, in apprenticeship situations. Mobile learning taps into this tradition.

One of the first school level mobile projects was the Wireless Coyote Project, run by Apple in 1991. In 1998, the HANDLeR project was run at the University of Birmingham by Mike Sharples. Clark Quinn defined mobile learning in an article in LiNE Zine in 2000, and then a flurry of mobile learning articles followed. Initially people saw mobile learning as an extension of e-learning, but now the focus has changed to the learner being mobile. The first mLearn conference was held at the University of Birmingham in 2002. IAMLearn was launched in 2007.

Mobile learning, Woodill argued, is an ecosystem consisting of devices, networks, and so on.  We are just at the start of Stage 2 in the scheme below:

  • Stage 1 – New technology applied to old problems (including coursebook & textbook delivery online, and use of LMSs, which are an example of a classroom metaphor that has not left us yet)
  • Stage 2 – Variations and mashups – struggle for ‘dominant design’
  • Stage 3 – New uses, new improved technologies

Key affordances of mobile technologies include:

  • Mobility
  • Ubiquity
  • Accessibility
  • Connectivity
  • Context sensitivity
  • Individuality
  • plus more

New uses of mobile technologies, which come under Stage 3, include:

  1. Social networking (e.g., ordinary users of the net spreading news before journalists report  it; or users of InstantMe, the mobile version of PatientsLikeMe; there is a real sense of community and emotional connectedness)
  2. Data Collection (e.g., citizen science such as on a mobile app like HealthMap)
  3. Live Trend Tracking (e.g., improved responses to disasters and outbreaks, or data on traffic jams, often provided automatically by phones without user input)
  4. Just-in-Time Information (e.g., the Baby helpline on 511411 in the USA; QR codes and Google Goggles also fit in here)
  5. Augmented Reality (e.g., see the Medical training Augmented Reality video)
  6. Mobile Games (e.g., the How Healthy is Your Food? app)
  7. Location-Based Apps (e.g., the WikiMe app)
  8. Storytelling (can create records and put them together in specific ways)
  9. Lifecasting (allows you to learn by revisiting experiences at a later date)
  10. Performance Support (e.g., on-the-job support, medical support for post-operative patients – this is a trend towards DIY health)
  11. External Interactivity (e.g., the BBC Bird Flu billboard in New York, where the public could text in responses)
  12. Haptics (e.g., the hug shirt or the kiss phone)
  13. Self-Tracking (e.g., tracking your own exercise, heart rate, etc; see The Virtual Self by Nora Young; there is also a trend towards self-tracking of informal learning: for example using Tin Can API, an extension of SCORM, or an app like Tappestry)
  14. Co-ordination (e.g., for emergency services; ‘vote mobs’)
  15. Collaboration
  16. Collective Behaviour (as seen in the Arab Spring)

Woodill’s predictions for the near future (around 5 years) include the following:

  • Mobile becomes ubiquitous (‘MobiComp’) (as we move from mobile learning to context-aware u-learning, using sensor technologies, mobile devices, and wireless communications)
  • New mobile interfaces arrive (such as contact lenses which measure health from fluid in the eyes)
  • Mobile devices become embodied (see: Mobile Interface Theory by Jason Farman, e.g., on the use of brainwaves to control technology)
  • Mobile learning goes 3D
  • A new gesture control language (including ‘surface computing’,  where there are projections onto your hand or body)
  • Sensors become integrated (see: Body Sensor Networks edited by Guang-Zhong Yang)
  • Device shape shifting (see: The Shape-Shifting Future of the Mobile Phone by Fabian Hemmert on TED)

In summary, before classrooms, learning was social, contextual and mobile, but classroom learning immobilised learning. Web 2.0 led to networked social learning. Mobile devices have now led to mobile learning. Woodill suggested that using mobile devices only in the classroom is like only using your car radio while parked in the garage.

We’re already beginning to move beyond mobile learning. Education and training have become mobile, networked, cloud based, curated, open, social, informal, location-based, shared, contextual, ubiquitous, peer generated, learner generated, filtered, collaborative, gamified, and personalised.  What will we call this? It’s not just mobile. We don’t have a good metaphor for this yet.

He concluded by outlining the ongoing impact of mobile learning along the following lines:

  1. Continuous learning for all
  2. Everyone can be a learner, everyone can be a teacher
  3. Increased access for those lacking education
  4. Innovation can come from anywhere
  5. New generation of leadership in technology
  6. Organisational disruption

In their talk, Oceans of Innovation, Sir Michael Barber and Saad Rizvi gave important background and context to others’ presentations on mobile learning, as they discussed the content of their recent publication of the same name.

A thousand years ago, the centre of gravity of the global economy (measured by GDP) was in Asia, but there was a gradual shift of dominance towards Europe and America. From 1950 onwards, we saw Asian economies begin to rise again, and in the last 10 years we have seen the most dramatic shift in history towards Asia. This will continue in coming years.

There are major challenges ahead in the coming half century, which require global leadership. But there is no clear leadership at the moment.  Global leadership develops when there is innovation, which leads to economic growth, which leads to economic influence, which in turn leads to global leadership. As the centre of gravity shifts eastwards, the important leaders of coming years may well be from the Pacific region. More precisely, the future leaders will emerge from the education systems of this region. The PISA results and TIMSS results show that there are very effective education systems in the Pacific region. An average 15-year-old in Singapore is performing about 2 years ahead of an average 15-year-old in the UK or US. They even have a lead in English, though it is a second language for many.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that these students have other skills like entrepreneurial skills. In other words, is the education system as measured by PISA and TIMSS enough to generate the kind of innovation and leadership that is needed to address global issues? No – it’s a good foundation, but it’s not sufficient. Well-educated means: E ( K + T + L), i.e.,

  • E [Ethical Knowledge]
  • K [Knowledge, i.e., Know-What & Know-How]
  • T [Thinking = all teachers helping students to think in different ways, creatively or deductively, rapidly or reflectively]
  • L [Leadership = the ability to influence those around you, to be persuasive, to be empathetic and listen, to influence decisions on all levels).

Countries like Singapore are well-placed to develop this knowledge and these skills, and develop global leadership.

They suggested that we need to rethink 45-minute back-to-back lessons. Maybe students can use mobile technologies and learn outside the classroom. The flipped classroom model provides one option. We also have to find ways of using new technologies to assess and test the new skills in new ways. Students can acquire reading, writing, maths skills at the same time as they learn new skills.

Barber and Rizvi presented an Innovation Framework for future education, arguing for whole system reform as well as systemic innovation leading to whole system revolution. With the educational changes of recent years, Singapore, Hong Kong, Ontario, Finland  (they suggested that though it is a very unique society and its lessons are difficult to replicate, what we can learn from is Finland’s recruitment of the most talented people into education) and Australia (under Julia Gillard’s reforms) are among the countries and regions  which are best placed to get this set of changes right.  Technology and mobile learning will be an important part of this. They noted that an excessive deference – as is sometimes found in some Asia-Pacific nations – can limit innovation. Students have to learn to question, to challenge, to debate. Much of the world’s innovation comes from large, diverse cities, and Singapore is well-placed in this regard.

In his presentation, Technology Enabling Education, Suan Yeo, from Google Enterprise Education, gave an overview of current trends from Google’s perspective. He noted that the second billion smartphone users are now coming online around the world (see: The Second Billion Smartphone Users by Jon Evans).  How we learned is not how our students learn.

It was the case 20 years ago that students went to school to access sophisticated equipment; but now the equipment students have at home is often more sophisticated than what is at school. The kids growing up today are going to expect technology to just work; they don’t want to think about messy operating systems, upgrades, patches and so on. Some things students of the future won’t need to learn include how to use paper maps; how to use a mouse; or how to burn CDs or DVDs. Banning new technologies in class is not an answer; students find a way around bans. Instead, we need to teach students how to use technologies, about digital citizenship, and so on. Learning analytics is a current major trend.

He made a number of points related to the growing importance of mobile learning and, in particular, Google’s emphasis on the browser as the key platform of the future:

  • Mobile has become students’ first choice for internet access.
  • Technology has to enable learning outside the classroom. Many schools are shifting away from closed classrooms and moving to an open learning model.
  • Using the OLPC program, the next generation of users can leapfrog a generation.
  • Using open technology is crucial in education – through the Khan Academy, Udacity, Gooru, Coursera and so on.
  • It is important to give everyone open access to information. Whatever the platform or operating system, the one common factor is the browser.
  • Google is starting to view the web as a learning platform. Google is betting that the web is here to stay, and so delivers many services through the web. It believes that the browser (notably its own browser, Chrome) will become the desktop of the future. This allows a unified experience as you move between different devices, e.g., desktop computer, tablet, mobile phone.
  • Google’s tools like Gmail, Google Docs, and so on, are designed to allow you to access anything from anywhere.
  • Google Docs allows people to collaborate from anywhere.
  • YouTube is Google’s second most popular service after Google Search. YouTube is now the second largest search engine in the world. There are more than 700,000 educational videos on YouTube. YouTube is also a way of connecting with other people and crowdsourcing your learning.
  • Google’s Project Glass might allow people to get rid of phones eventually with wearable technology (see Project Glass on Google+ or the Project Glass: One Day … video on YouTube)

In his talk, Scaling Up Mobile Learning, Chee-Kit Looi asked what kind of curriculum we need to make use of the affordances of mobile technologies. While it may work in one classroom with one teacher, how can we make it work for the average teacher? Many countries are going 1:1, but what is a good pedagogical model that is sustainable? And how do we bridge informal and formal learning?

There are both planned and emergent learning spaces mediated by 1:1 mobile devices; some are outside class and some are in class:

  • Type I: Planned learning in class
  • Type II: Planned learning out of class (e.g., an excursion)
  • Type III: Emergent learning out of class (e.g., students use mobile phones to capture pictures)
  • Type IV: Emergent learning in class (when students inquire about some element of the lesson)

A smartphone can be a learning hub for all these types of learning, and it can be an essential part of the lessons. In comparing primary science classes, one of which worked with mobile devices integrated into their learning, there was improvement in student scores. Having students create animated sketches can help the teacher identify misunderstandings, for example. The teacher felt it deepened the students’ thinking and improved the quality of the questions they were asking.

There are advantages of scaling up this approach:

  • The research study showed gains in subject matter, positive attitudes to subject learning, new media literacy, and good learning habits – self-directed learning
  • There is more holistic learning with mobile devices as learning hubs to support seamless learning inside and outside the classroom
  • Teachers developed constructivist practices

Strategies for scaling up include:

  • Regular sharing at the TTTs
  • Teachers practise mock lessons
  • Lesson study through video-recorded classroom sessions
  • Customising lesson plans for high, middle and low achievers

Success with mobile devices is due to these factors:

  • Curriculum integration; the devices are not just an add-on
  • Mobile devices are personal to students and they have 24/7 access
  • Intensive PD
  • Strong leadership support

In summary, a mobilised curriculum can make a difference to students’ learning (engagement, self-directed learning, and collaborative learning).  It is important to find ways of scaling it within schools and across schools.

In her presentation, Mummies, War Zones, and Pompeii: The Use of Tablet Computers in Situated and On-the-Go Learning, Terese Bird outlined three projects involving mobile technologies:

  1. Mummies: Windows tablets were used by Museum Studies Masters students (not 1:1). This involved a cleverly designed PowerPoint presentation which had the feel of an app, and included information and videos from British Museum staff. It was used to support students on museum trips. At the same time, students could make their own multimedia recordings. They had to email in their multimedia-rich reflections by 10am the next day, which led to a much richer learning experience.
  2.  War Zones: iPads were used by MSc in Security, Conflict and International Development students on a 1:1 basis. The iPads contained a tailored app, SCID, designed by KuKuApps of Leicester, including key learning resources like e-books and OERs which could be accessed even without an internet connection. Many of the students were located in conflict zones and could not always access the internet.
  3.  Pompeii : archaeology researchers in Pompeii used iPads to superimpose archaeological data on photos. This supported note-taking, and data was synchronised wirelessly with a central database.

Thus, on Day 1 of the conference, a wide range of devices and platforms was presented, with presentations cohering around the value of mobile learning both in enhancing the classroom and in fostering contextual learning outside the classroom.

New media, new spaces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technology bridging the world

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

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

Key themes

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

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

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

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

Communication & collaboration

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

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

Intercultural interaction

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

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

Teacher (and learner) training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specific web 2.0 technologies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond web 2.0 – to web 3.0?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tag: WorldCALL08

TESOL goes mobile and social

Conference: The 20th English Australia Conference
Sydney, Australia, 13-15 September 2007

sydney1.jpgOnce again this year, the largest TESOL conference in Australia saw a number of sessions on CALL and e-learning, especially the use of Web 2.0 technologies.

Jock Boyd & Mauricio Buchler, in a session entitled Technology in the ESL classroom, focused on the benefits of using mobile technologies as well as social networking sites, offering concrete illustrations of the potential of each for the language classroom and concluding with the strong message that “change isn’t optional, it’s imperative”. Kerrie Burow, whose session was entitled Exploring the use of social networking sites in the language classroom, opened with the slogan: “Play.Connect. LEARN.” After a brief overview of Web 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0, key Web 2.0 technologies were presented and it was argued that these fit well with a constructivist approach to pedagogy. The main focus was on applications of social networking sites, ranging from Flickr and YouTube to Facebook.

In a paper entitled Catering to diversity through asynchronous online discussion, Stephen Bax and I discussed the nature of communication and collaboration which can occur in asynchronous forums. On the basis of data from an international online discussion forum for language teachers which took place in early 2007, we are currently investigating whether and to what extent such an online learning community can be seen as constituting an educational or intercultural “third space”. Further information is available on our Third Space in Online Discussion project webpage.

Other presentations covered community in CALL (Ian Brown), multimedia materials design (Megan Yucel) and PowerPoint (Sandra Casey).

It’s apparent that CALL and, more generally, e-learning are areas of growing importance for TESOL practitioners – and their students! More and more educators are interested in and have begun to embrace Web 2.0 technologies, while teachers everywhere are becoming more innovative as they discover the educational potential of these new technologies.

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