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.

More on mobile language learning from a Japanese perspective

Gunma JALT Summer Workshop
Kusatsu, Japan
20-21 August, 2015

K-Centre1C

Kusatsu Town Centre, Gunma, Japan. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2015. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Following on directly from the JACET Summer Seminar, I was invited to be the keynote speaker at the Gunma JALT Summer Workshop, which likewise was held in Kusatsu, Japan, and which addressed the theme of Technological trends in education. I repeated my two presentations on Future mobile learning, given originally at the JACET Seminar.

In his presentation, From high-tech to low-tech environment: The challenge of introducing technology to ESL in the high school context, Stephen Howes presented an example of the technological context in a school in Australia as a comparison to those found in some Japanese schools. He showcased an Australian private high school environment with a one-to-one tablet programme where extensive use was made of cloud-based, schoolwide software platforms. Overall it was a blended learning context, but there was no obligation to use technology all the time, and teachers were encouraged to employ it when and where it was appropriate. Teachers, he suggested, need to be learners when it comes to new technologies and their implementation in education.

In his presentation, Handheld video games and English L2 learning, Ben Thanyawatpokin reported on a 2-month study of Japanese English major university students using video games to improve their English, where an experimental group of volunteers was compared with a control group who did not choose to play a video game in English. He found that the video graphics supported students’ text comprehension; that there was considerable incidental learning by students; that the daily conversational English in the game was perceived as useful by students; and that students’  initial motivation to learn English morphed into motivation to play the game. The experimental group also showed improvements on tests of reading speed and word recognition speed after the 2-month period.

In their presentation, The use of audio journals as an outside-of-classroom activity to foster L2 acquisition in college freshmen, Raymond Hoogenboom and Barry Keith spoke about their students’ submission of audio journals. After listening several times to a Voice of America news story of their choice, students record a 2-3 minute listening response journal (LRJ) entry in which they greet the listener, give the title and date of the news story, provide a short summary, give their opinions, and make a connection to their own lives. They are advised not to prepare a written text to read from, though notes are acceptable. The journals are submitted by email as MP3 or MP4 attachments, and the instructor drags them into the students’ iTunes playlists. Instructors can respond individually or collectively, although this is time-consuming. Through this process, the students are exposed to both meaning-focused input and meaning-focused output, and there can be a focus on form as well as fluency.

Overall, the Gunma JALT Workshop was a good opportunity to continue discussing mobile and other new technologies in language teaching with a different group of educators, and to hear their perspectives on the use of these tools in Japanese classrooms.

Mobile language learning from a Japanese perspective

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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.

Conceptualising mobile learning

International Mobile Learning Festival
Hong Kong
22-23 May, 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.

I was only able to make it to second day of the International Mobile Learning Festival in Hong Kong, hosted by Hong Kong University at the Admiralty Centre, but it was great to take part in this dynamic event.

I opened the second day with my plenary, Mobile Design: 21st Century Approaches to Learning, where I discussed the importance of teachers seeing themselves as designers of student learning experiences which are aligned with transformative pedagogies and 21st century skills, while always remembering to take their own, and their students’, technological contexts as a starting point.

In his plenary, Designing, Modeling and Constructing: New Learning Paradigms, Michael Spector suggested that learning design must always be accompanied by evaluation at every stage. He went on to say that technologies change, contexts change, interests change, but learning does not change (when it is understood as a naturally occuring process inovlving changes in what a person knows and can do). It is the best and the worst of times at the moment: there are so many technologies available, but it is challenging for learning designers. He gave a detailed example of the work of the US National Technology Leadership Coalition in using 3D printing to support Next Generation Science Standards, with some positive results. He suggested that there is a whole hierarchy of components to support learning and instruction, as seen in the image below.

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Designing, Modeling and Constructing (Spector, 2015)

It is important, he noted, not to over-promise on technology. The gains due to technology since 1950 are not that great. We must keep our focus on teaching and learning, with the technology in a supporting role.

In their paper, Authentic Mobile Learning, Kevin Burden and Matthew Kearney noted that we need to interrogate what is meant by ‘authenticity’ when it comes to mobile learning. Authenticity, they suggested, may not just be about the context (which ranges from simulated to participatory), but about planning and design (whether teachers pre-define the learning experience, or give students more agency and allow the learning to be emergent) and personal relevance (whether students are detached from the learning, or engaged in the learning).

In her presentation, Flipping the MOOC Global/Local Collaboration: Understanding the Visual and Verbal Metaphors, Yilin Chen spoke about fostering 21st century skills (like creativity and visual literacy) through a flipped course based on the work of Shakespeare. For example, when studying Romeo and Juliet, the students were asked to look at manga adapations. They were also asked to create visual representations of key images in soliloquys, before considering how these could be represented creatively on the stage. Students later did Skype auditions, following which scenes were rehearsed and staged.

In his presentation, Transforming Outdoor Learning with the Use of Location-based Technology and Rapid Authoring Tool: Singapore Experience, Png Bee Hin gave an update on the work being done by LDR on augmented reality learning trails in Singapore. He outlined the growth of location-based technologies, which are expanding particularly rapidly in the Asian region. Pocket Trips is LDR’s new web-based authoring platform that can allow users to create learning trails anywhere in the world using a variety of triggers (GPS, image recognition or Bluetooth smart technology based on beacons, which now have a battery life of up to 5 years); a simulator allows users to test the app on their mobile devices without going to the actual location.

All in all, I’m beginning to sense a shift in the themes of mobile learning conferences. While there are still plenty of (necessary) case studies being reported, more and more presenters are beginning to tackle conceptual issues. It’s an exciting time, and a sign of the coming-of-age of a field, when foundational theories start to take shape. This is a shift we should keep our eyes on over the next couple of years.

Technological moves in the South

Colombo Symposium
Bogotá, Colombia
14-15 May, 2015

Plaza Bolívar, Bogotá, Colombia. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2015. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Plaza Bolívar, Bogotá, Colombia. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2015. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The Colombo Symposium in Bogotá, Colombia, brought together English language educators from across South America and further afield under the theme of ‘Challenges to Educators’ Professional Growth’. It was interesting to note the extent to which digital technologies found their way into a considerable number of papers and presentations.

In my opening keynote, entitled Mobile Language Learning: Designing for New Pedagogies, Skills and Literacies, I spoke about the need for teachers to conceive of themselves as designers of learning experiences for their students. In a mobile digital era, Mishra and Kohler’s TPACK framework provides a good base for learning design, but that design must take place within a particular social context. Thus, we must firstly ask ourselves what mobile devices our students have access to, and what affordances those devices offer for learning, before moving on to our TPACK-based learning design.

In his plenary, Unleash Your Experience: Being a 21st Century Reflective Practitioner, Micah Risher spoke of the changing expectations of new generations of learners who have had regular exposure to new technologies, as well as the changing needs of contemporary workplaces which require employees with 21st century skills.

In her presentation, A Teacher Training Blended Course in Pronunciation Pedagogy: A Case Study, Martha Ramírez described a flipped teacher training course on pronunciation with a weekly structure consisting of online preparation activities, a face-to-face tutorial, and autonomous follow-up activities; the last of these involved teachers making recordings of their own pronunciation (the learning component) and designing student activities (the teacher training component). She found that the flipped approach provided a baseline for situated learning to take place, because teachers came to face-to-face tutorials ready to put their learning into practice, and later put it into practice in their own classrooms. Working in a blended learning environment also allowed individual needs to be better addressed in a differentiated way.

In her presentation, Multi-Modal Feedback: Successfully Reinforcing Teaching Presence in the Online Environment, Carolina Rodríguez outlined the problems of online feedback, especially in the context of orally focused, interaction-based Latin cultures, including the possibility of misunderstandings in text-based feedback. In an online environment, she suggested, it is necessary to take into account flipped learning, effective practices of online learning (such as e-moderation), teaching presence, and screencasting and audio feedback. She found that screencasting and audio feedback led to students engaging better with the feedback, so that assignments became a springboard for conversation. She showed clips of her video feedback to demonstrate the role that facial expressions and voice can play in responding to students. Overall, students were more engaged in their learning, and responded well to the more personal nature of the feedback.

In her keynote, Revitalizing Your Classroom through Action Research, Anne Burns argued for a move away from top-down professional development and towards personal learning networks and action research. While not necessarily related to digital technologies, action research certainly provides an avenue for examining how digital tools can best be integrated into classroom processes. Action research is a democratising process, Anne suggested, because it puts ownership of change into the hands of the classroom practitioners who will carry it out. It is research with rather than on people, unlike much other research. Because the researcher is part of the action, learners can collaborate as co-researchers. It is highly localised and does not aim for generalisation. Finally, it can involve a range of qualitative and quantitative methods. She went on to say that teachers should share their action research where possible, because it is informative and motivating for teachers to learn about other teachers’ classroom experiences.

In his presentation, Reinventing the Teaching Profession: Dealing with Information and Communication Technology in Teacher Development Programs, Romero Ricardo suggested that changes in technology lead to changes in the world. He spoke about the changes brought about by text messaging and social media. He mentioned, and largely endorsed, key items extracted from a list of 21 things that will go obsolete in education by 2020 (based on an article in The Daily Riff on Dec. 10, 2010):

  • Language labs
  • Computers and CDs
  • Homework
  • The role of standardised tests for admission to college (replaced in part by e-portfolios)
  • Differentiated instruction as a sign of a distinguished teacher (as this will become a standard expectation)
  • Paperbacks
  • Centralised instruction
  • Organisation of educational services by grade
  • Parent-teacher face-to-face meetings (because teachers will be in constant contact with parents)
  • Paper

He went on to say that we need to move from a traditional model of education towards learner-centredness, student exploration, extended blocks of multidisciplinary instruction, active and interactive modes of instruction, collaborative/co-operative work, and teachers as guides. He suggested that when it comes to language teaching with digital technologies, we need to go beyond traditional conceptions of discourse competence to consider: Procedural competence – Socio-digital competence – Digital discourse competence – and Strategic competence. Yet at the end of the day, ICTs are just tools, that is, just a means to an end, rather than an end in themselves. Teachers, he suggested, can empower students by becoming learners too, encouraging collaboration, enabling technologies, assessing students on their academic achievement and also on their effective use of ICTs, developing problem solving skills, developing media fluency, and promoting an interdisciplinary approach.

In my own workhshop in the closing session of the conference, Mobile Language Learning: Working Inside and Outside the Classroom, the participants and I workshopped several strategies for using mobile technologies to support English language teaching: using language learning apps as well as generic, productive apps; making multimedia recordings; and using QR codes to support situated learning. There was a real buzz generated in the lab as participants suggested and exchanged ideas on how to use mobile technologies in their own teaching. It seems clear to me that mobile learning is on the verge of going much more mainstream in English language education in Colombia!

All in all, it was fascinating to obtain a better sense of how mobile and other digital technologies are making inroads into education in Latin America, and to see that – as highlighted in other educational conferences worldwide – these technologies are becoming an integral part of our conversations around learning.

New ways of looking at learning

iCTLT
9th  10th April, 2014
Singapore

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. Photo by Mark Pegrum. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

From its opening, the iCTLT Conference set the stage for discussions of ICTs in education by integrating the work of Singa-porean students – which ranged from creating robots to creating animations – into the conference proceedings. Key themes which emerged over a range of plenaries, spotlight sessions and concurrent papers included the need for a shift of mindset to develop educational approaches relevant to students and their future in a rapidly changing economy and society; the need to focus less on standardised tests and to encourage creativity and entrepreneurship; and, of course, the need for educators and educational leaders to become, and remain, learners, in order for this to be achieved.

In the opening plenary, Never Send a Man to Do a Machine’s Job: The Role of ICT in Educational Transformation, Yong Zhao praised many aspects of Singapore’s education and economy, but suggested that there is room for improvement in areas like entrepreneurship and societal happiness. There is a negative correlation between high PISA scores and high entrepreneurship; likewise, there is a negative correlation between high TIMMS scores and high confidence and enjoyment. Contrary to the notion that US education is declining, he claimed that US education has always been in a bad state according to past reports and studies. However, the US is still here and still doing well, and has the most prosperous economy in the world; it scores higher on confidence and happiness than countries like Singapore which do well on standardised tests.

All curriculum materials, he suggested, are bets on what characteristics and qualities will be valuable in the future; you can get your bet right or wrong. We can start with the ‘Known Knowns’ that should be taken into account: Human nature – diversity, curiosity, creativity; The economy – changed; Information – everywhere; The world – Globalised. Schools do not only help people, they exclude people. If you are good at what a school wants, you are seen as gifted and talented; otherwise you will be seen as having special needs. Schools tend to funnel individual differences, multiple intelligences, cultural diversity, curiousity and passion into a defined set of skills seen as leading to employability.

But the economy is shifting dramatically, with many employees’ positions being lost to machines. Since the 1970s there has been growth in the service sector and the creative sector. The new world is going to be dominated by the creative class and the service class. Education has always been supposed to create the middle class; the new middle class is the creative class. But our schools, working on a sausage factory metaphor of producing employable skills, are not good at fostering creativity. Creativity only became widely discussed after the 1920s, prior to which time creative people were seen as troublemakers. Schools were and are designed to stifle creativity. Children come to school with high levels of creativity, but lose that over many years of schooling. We have gone from the age of necessity to the age of abundance. We consume choice – psychological, spiritual and cultural. Our schools can no longer discriminate against people; we need to accept that everyone can be useful in their own way.

There’s an interesting paradox – there are many graduating college students, but businesses are looking for talent they can’t find. The reason is that education has prepared employees; but what is needed is entrepreneurs. We need business entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, policy entrepreneurs, and ‘intrapreneurs’. If you need to be managed, you will not be a good entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are good at seeing problems as opportunities; they are confident, passionate, and creative. Creativity, entrepreneurship, and unique talent are necessities. US schools are bad sausage-makers, which means that US schools kill creativity less successfully than Singaporean or other Asian schools.

We need to think about education not as something that fixes people’s deficits, but as something that enhances their strengths and their passion. We need to emphasise:

  • What: student autonomy;
  • How: Product-oriented learning;
  • Where: the global campus.

Schools, in brief, should present learning opportunities where students can carve out their own pathways.  ICTs in classrooms are often used for repetitive work that machines can do. Teachers will not be replaced by machines; we need to redefine our roles. Every child should be supported in developing their own strengths and becoming globally connected. Teachers should not be gateways, but rather curators of learning opportunities.

In his talk, Frameworks for Educational Technology: SAMR and the EdTech Quintet, Ruben Puentedura suggested that a first key question to ask is how our practice is changing as new technologies replace older technologies in the classroom, and a second is how the heart of what we are teaching changes with the new technologies. He outlined the 4 levels of the SAMR framework, indicating that as we progress towards higher levels, increasing improvement is possible in student outcomes. There is not so such thing as a bad level of SAMR, but there are greater opportunities at higher levels. Teachers can use a SAMR ladder to reach the higher levels.

He gave a detailed example of a SAMR ladder related to the development of vocabulary, drawing on the work of Bob Marzano, who recommended the following steps in learning vocabulary: Step 1: The teacher provides a description of the new terms; 2: Students restate them in their own way; 3: Students create nonlinguistic representations of the terms; 4: Students do activities that help them add to their knowledge of the terms; 5: Students are asked to discuss the terms with one another; 6: Students are involved in games that allow them to play with the terms. This is how this process might look when related to the SAMR model:

  • Substitution level: Students enter their own description of a term on a wiki (this is straight substitution).
  • Augmentation level: Students use a visual dictionary/thesaurus which presents a concept map of the term (this is a functional improvement over the use of a traditional paper-based dictionary or thesaurus).
  • Modification level: Students can find images and link them to the concept map from the visual dictionary/thesaurus.
  • Redefinition: Students create a digital comic using the images they have collected to tell a story, which is shared with and commented on by other students (this fulfils the last 3 of Marzano’s steps – doing activities, discussing with each other, and engaging in a non-trivial ludic exercise).

Puentedura went on to relate the SAMR model to the TPACK framework, indicating that it is important for teachers to keep CK, PK and TK in balance; by starting with any one of these, you lock out some possibilities. The key areas are the overlapping areas, e.g., PCK covers how a given technology makes a given pedagogical practice possible, such as social writing on a wiki. The key area when it comes to moving up the SAMR levels, notably from Augmentation to Modification, is PCK, because it’s important to think deeply about the application of pedagogical approaches. At the centre, TPCK comes together to create maximally effective types of teaching and learning, and it is essential to moving up to Redefinition level.

Puentedura then focused on the area of literacy and, based on a number of research studies, showed a measurable increase in effect size on student outcomes as we move from Substitution to Redefinition of tasks: 0.029 – 0.264 – 0.600 – 1.563. These are fairly representative effect sizes moving across the SAMR levels. In another study involving Algebra, with a shift from Substitution to Augmentation, there was an effect size of 0.2; while in a study involving Earth Sciences, with a shift from Augmentation to Modification, there was an effect size of 0.6.

Using the Horizon Reports, Puentedura has classified new technologies into 5 categories – social, mobility, visualisation, storytelling and gaming tools. Social tools include bookmarking, discussions, blogging, telepresence, RSS feeds, microblogging, wikis and filesharing. Mobility tools include those that help overcome the classroom/homework divide, with students using devices any time and any place, accessing contextually relevant information, and sharing learning. Visualisation tools help to make abstract ideas more tangible; there are visualisations of space (maps), time (timelines), concept maps, numerical data (interactive), and textual data (such as Wordle). Digital storytelling is about bringing together multiple media to make meaning; it could refer to image assembly, sequential art, moving images, interactive media or interactive fiction. Digital gaming can help inform learning – games are rule-governed systems, with conflicts or problems to resolve, that lead to quantifiable outcomes (here, he drew on a definition by Salen & Zimmerman).

He went on to suggest that 21st century skills can be useful design principles as we create lessons that maximise learning opportunities on the SAMR model and TPACK framework. 

In his talk, The Networked Leader, George Couros started with David Weinberger’s notion that ‘the smartest person in the room, is the room’; we learn a great deal through the power of connection. Nowadays, if you don’t understand what a Twitter handle or hashtag is, you are becoming illiterate, he suggested. The biggest shift for educators using technology is not a skillset, he said, it’s mindset. We constantly ask kids to think differently and grow; teachers have to be prepared to do the same. What is important is not the technology per se; it’s about relationships and learning. But students who are engaged in creating with technology outside the classroom may find themselves constrained to paper and worksheets inside the classroom. He ran through a number of myths:

  • Kids are lazy. The reality, he suggested, is that they’re bored; we should be creating a culture of engagement and empowerment rather than a culture of compliance.
  • Technology dehumanises. But technology can actually bring us together to accomplish amazing things.
  • Kids are narcissistic. But it may be that kids are reaching out, looking for someone to listen, for someone who cares.
  • New technology will replace face-to-face interaction. But people didn’t interact when they used old technologies like newspapers on trains; at least with today’s devices, people are connecting through them.

School leaders, he said, need to model – learn – humanise. We need to model for kids how to use social media platforms in positive ways. If we don’t post our own materials, we leave our online reputation up to others. By the time students leave school, it should be possible to Google them and find positive instead of problematic materials. He showed a school hashtag which is used by leaders, teachers and students on Twitter, so that good use of the medium can be modelled; a blog, where teachers and students can comment on what they’ve learned each day; and a school Instagram account, where students can record the growth of plants in the classroom over time. These are ways of helping kids begin to develop a positive digital footprint.

We also need to learn – “The world only cares about what you can do with what you know”, as Thomas Friedman pointed out. He presented numerous examples from YouTube to demonstrate that online, everyone’s a teacher, and everyone’s a learner. We can learn from our students, and they can learn from anyone in the world. Christ Anderson has spoken of “crowd accelerated innovation”, which requires radical openness. Finally, he suggested, it is important to humanise our online presence. To make meaningful change, you have to connect to people’s hearts before you connect to their minds. Leaders need to show themselves as human beings, and model that for students.

Ultimately, he concluded, the biggest games changer in education is to get an educator to think of themselves as an innovator – and to begin to make things change.

In his opening plenary on the second day, To Flip or Not to Flip, Aaron Sams indicated that getting students to prepare at home before coming to class, and then interacting in class, is a Flipped Classroom 101 model – it’s a starting point, and it sets teachers and students on the way to student-centred teaching, but we shouldn’t stop there. It’s not all that new pedagogically; there have been many other pre-teaching models, but we’re leveraging new media to do it. This allows students to do the easy work at home, and the hard work in class. Sams found that when following this model, students didn’t need all their in-class time for their work, so there was time to do more work at the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. Class time became all about application, analysis, evaluation and creation. He realised that content isn’t as important as he had thought it was. Instead of having students coming to an educational institution to acquire content, we can have them come there to join a community of learning. The teacher’s role is not to deliver content, but to facilitate that community.

Video is a powerful way of delivering content, as shown by the amount of time we spend going to YouTube to learn how to do new things. It is possible to curate great content from the internet, but on the whole it is preferable for an individual teacher to create their own videos, because you have a connection, a social contract, with your students that no-one else has. You also understand their context much better. If all that mattered was content delivery, then yes, techers could be replaced by videos. However, there are other aspects of education: namely relationships and curiosity. If students watch your videos, you need to give them a reason to turn up to your class – you need to add value. It is important to balance content, relationships and curiosity.

In his second year of flipping his classroom, Sams moved to a mastery approach, based on the idea that not all students have to be engaged in the same work at the same time. But some students found the idea of needing to achieve near perfect scores on tests before moving on to be extremely frustrating. Sams then moved to a more inquiry-based learning approach. He discovered that students could learn the content this way, but it took a lot of preparation on his part. Rather than front-loading with content, he front-loaded with questions and inquiry; the content was available as a support when necessary. Now, his class was no-longer content-driven.

He then moved on to UDL – Universal Design for Learning. Students were told what they needed to learn, but they had the choice of whether to look at the textbook, the videos, or any other relevant sources. Students also needed multiple ways to demonstrate their learning; they were able to create videos, write songs, or design graphic novels to show their understanding. His next step was to move to PBL, or project-based learning. Here, students start with a project, and learn what they need as they go. With a project, you can start with creation on Bloom’s Taxonomy, with students accessing content – moving down the levels of the taxonomy – when they need to learn things along the way.

Sometimes, he suggested, teachers get too hung up on terminology. In many ways flipped learning is not all that new. He has now come up with a definition of flipped instruction. The whole model is predicated on the fact that direct instruction still has a place in learning. A lot of teachers feel locked into and controlled by content and standards – this will remain so until policymakers change their approach – but you can put that material in a video archive, and spend classroom time in other ways. All in all, it took Sams 6 years to get to his current version of flipped learning. With this kind of educational innovation, it will always be a case of two steps forward, one step back. Change of this kind is always challenging to realise.

He noted, too, that it is also possible to flip professional development, or staff meetings – don’t bring everyone to one room to tell them about decisions that are already made. Those can be communicated by email or video. Staff meeting time can then be devoted to discussion.

In the Rockmoon presentation about cutting-edge augmented reality technology in education, What Interactive Learning Trails Will You Create Next?, emphasis was placed on self-directed learning, authentic and experiential learning, and 21st century skills. Teachers are able to create their own learning trails for their students using a web-based design toolkit, Trail Shuttle, which does not involve any programming knowledge. There is also a mobile app for students, and a monitoring mobile app for teachers. Using the monitoring app, teachers can track students, view their device screens, and chat with them, and can also make last-minute alterations to trails as necessary. At the end, the system generates a report about each student which is available through the toolkit.

In his talk, New Technologies Old Behaviours: Incorporating Research and Safety in the Online World, UK Intelligence Officer Alan Earl from the Avon and Somerset Police, UK, indicated that young people are starting to leave Facebook and spreading their behaviour across multiple apps, like Instagram, Kik, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Whisper and so on. This is a constantly moving environment, where children are the early adopters. Teachers find themselves trying to teach children about online safety without understanding the tools that children are using. The issues are bigger than a term like ‘e-safety’ sounds. It’s about online lives and reputations. The message has to be balanced between positives and negatives, risk and actual harm, and filtering and dialogue. Safety has to be embedded within digital literacy.

Earl reported on an initiative called Digital Literacy & Citizenship, created in conjunction with Commonsense Media and tailored somewhat to the UK context. This has resulted amongst other things in a set of learning descriptors for different age groups, attached to resources and lesson plans. There’s a need for a holistic approach, he suggested, with online safety being taught across the curriculum. He also described 360 Safe,  an e-safety self-review tool for schools, and Online Safety, a tool for assessing children and families, which can be used by social workers or educators. 

All in all, the conference was a wide-ranging exploration of the current state of technology use in education, with an emphasis less on the technology itself than on big picture issues of pedagogy, education and society. This, indeed, is a perspective, or set of perspectives, towards which more ed tech conferences should be shifting.

Centre of the mobile world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

followed by three agendas for mobile learning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going social and mobile in Singapore

6th Financial Literacy Conference
National Institute of Education
29th November, 2013
Singapore

Orchard Road at Xmas. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2013. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Orchard Road at Xmas. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2013. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

I was invited to give the opening keynote plenary at the recent Financial Literacy Conference, organised by the National Institute of Education at The Pod, a stunning conference space within the National Library of Singapore.

At the request of the conference organisers, I spoke primarily about social media, mobile technologies and their place in education. My paper was entitled The New Normal? When Learning Goes Social and Mobile. I traced the history of recent technological and pedagogical developments, asking whether and how they may complement each other. I began by examining the changing network, changing hardware and changing software. I then considered the consequences of combining a rapidly expanding internet, rapidly growing social media channels, and rapidly spreading mobile devices, both for society in general and for education in particular. I went on to talk about the way that pedagogy has changed over recent decades, and to highlight points of complementarity between new technologies and new kinds of learning. I concluded by highlighting the need for the normalisation of new technologies in education, and suggesting that Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR framework provides a good starting point for teachers.

Due to other commitments, I couldn’t stay for the rest of the conference, but the speakers who followed me were all talking about the importance of social media. It seems that in Singapore, web 2.0 and mobile technologies are well on their way to becoming the new normal – and also are on their way to becoming normalised in everyday teaching practices.

E-learning outcomes

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

photo

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.

Space for discussion

1st International ELT Symposium
1st-2nd December, 2012
Istanbul, Turkey

The 1st International ELT Symposium at Yildiz Technical University, entitled Wired In or Out, focused on Web Technologies in ELT Classrooms.  It brought together an international group of language educators over two rich days in Istanbul at the start of December, 2012.

In his opening plenary, The Heart of Education, Chuck Sandy stressed the need to bring together communities of people using online social networking and other tools. He reminded the audience of the E.M. Forster quote, “Only connect”, and suggested it can be updated in the digital era of personal learning networks (PLNs). But it’s about more than connecting: it’s about connecting on very deep levels, and about asking yourself what you can contribute. When you mentor others, you can learn yourself in the process.

In his follow-up plenary, Blending, extending and bridging language learning in the digital age, Gary Motteram spoke about the importance of the ‘digital turn’ in education. Drawing on activity theory, he mentioned that there are many different people and factors (extending to parents and the wider community, as well as learners’ motivations and expectations) involved in the integration of new technologies into learning. Zeroing in on the role of teachers, he referred to Shulman’s work on pedagogical content knowledge, and highlighted the idea that teachers often see their subject matter differently from content specialists who are not teachers. There has been discussion for years about the  need to train teachers appropriately to use new technologies, but very frequently this still doesn’t happen.

The way teachers teach in the classroom is affected by numerous factors, including their beliefs about the interface between technology and learning, their beliefs about language learning itself (which may be different for different languages, with the communicative techniques typically used in English not always being suited to learning other languages, like Chinese), the institutional setting, and the expectations of learners and the institution.

In her talk, From curation to creation, Marisa Constantinides spoke about the need to deal with information overload through appropriate curation techniques. She defined curation as the process of selection, preservation, maintenance, collection and archiving of digital assets. She observed that the teacher is by nature a curator. She focused on a number of digital tools which can aid teachers in this process, including social networking sites like Facebook, social bookmarking tools like Delicious, Diigo and Scoop.it, and social sharing tools like Pinterest or YouTube channels, as well as blogs and wikis. She also mentioned new tools like LiveBinders, MentorMob and Learnist. Having a variety of platforms allows teachers to choose the most appropriate ones for collecting different kinds of content.

Traditionally, she suggested, curation has not been looked at as something very creative. In Bloom’s digital taxonomy, the activities of recognising, listing, describing, etc, are shown at the lowest level, Remembering. However, she argued, this is wrong, because curation can be a very creative process, especially in the digital era, and one that involves higher order thinking. If you have an idea and want to explore it, then curating content about it can be a good way to develop in-depth understanding. It can also bring in a social learning element. Part of creation, she concluded, is building on other people’s ideas.

In the final plenary on the opening day, entitled Give the test a rest, Luke Meddings made the argument that we rely too much on standardised testing, and that there is a whole testing economy based around it. As we focus on what can be tested, we develop funnel vision that reduces the areas that are covered. He suggested that we should vary what we do in the classroom, engage in more unplugged/Dogme style teaching, and make use of new technologies where appropriate. He used the metaphor of a railway and a river to suggest that, rather than working solely with a linear syllabus, we can follow the flow of learning – heading in the same direction but allowing more flexibility. Web 2.0 tools can complement the latter. They offer us new ways to achieve formative assessment. Evernote, for example, allows you to take snapshots of students’ learning on a regular basis, rather than just conducting periodic tests and sending out periodic report cards. Teachers need to talk to colleagues about how to find alternatives to standard testing regimes which aren’t helping students’ learning.

In the opening plenary of the second day, with the lengthy title of Technology is a useful tool if used to create and enhance comprehensible input, a derailment if used to overemphasize conscious learning, Stephen Krashen spoke of the war between two competing hypotheses about language. The comprehension hypothesis says that grammar and vocabulary are the result of language acquisition. The skill-building hypothesis says that the grammar and vocabulary come first, and then eventually you will be able to use the language. It’s about immediate versus delayed gratification. Krashen supports the former hypothesis, and outlined the research evidence for it, but observed that for politicians and the public, the latter hypothesis is an axiom.

He made some key points about comprehensible input:

  1. With enough comprehensible input, all the necessary structures are present, so the best input is non-targeted.
  2. Input should be interesting, or ideally, compelling. Reading should be self-selected. It makes it easier for students to enter into a state of flow.
  3. Narrow input is best.

If the computer is used in tune with comprehensible input, it can be very valuable. We haven’t come close to making use of what we already have available; there’s no need for new tools. According to studies, the amount of book reading children are doing has changed little from 1946 to 2010, but magazine and newspaper reading has declined. Website reading is on the increase.

While the jury is out on social networking, Krashen believes that kids are reading and writing more than ever before thanks to Facebook, which is good for their literacy skills. Studies show that the more kids are online, the more they read in print. Several studies show that more internet use leads to more literacy. Krashen suggested that free, voluntary net surfing might well lead to improved language, along the lines of narrow, self-selected input.

He outlined the potential for narrow personalised viewing (including of stories created by children themselves):

  1. Comprehensible stories (aural and visual)
  2. Comprehensible discussions
  3. Series books > TV or movie series

There is so much we can do with storytelling, without any new technology, and without anything fancy. He gave the example of ESL Pod, a simple and straightforward approach involving stories, with materials being given away for free. He suggested, indeed, that it’s important for educators and academics to give away work as much as possible, to stop the rising costs of accessing materials and research. We can be part of a cultural change, he observed, by giving things away.

He concluded by running through what he called ‘bogus uses’ of technology, including many commercial language learning systems which make exaggerated claims but involve very traditional pedagogical approaches. These are skill-based schemes based on the public’s view of language learning.

In her plenary, Facebook nation: Social networks & ELT, Nicky Hockly started off with some facts and figures about Facebook, including the fact that 250 million people access Facebook on mobile devices, and mobile users are twice as active as non-mobile users.  She noted that Facebook already contains public language sites, educator sites and institutional sites. She then focused on setting up class group pages and using them to provide feedback on students’ content and language, and allowing students to read and respond to each other’s work. She mentioned a number of issues that can occur with Facebook, and gave recommendations on how to deal with them:

  1. Teacher privacy: teachers can have two separate profiles, or use group pages
  2. Inappropriate use: teachers can set clear user guidelines, linked to official institutional policies
  3. Facebook as big business: teachers can suggest alternatives such as My Fake Wall, Pikifriends, and Edmodo.

There is little research on Facebook in language education to date. One study found that students preferred closed groups, but another study found that students liked the authentic communication in open groups. Hockly suggested that students could have both at the same time. Feedback was seen as particularly important by students; she recommended organising peer feedback, amongst other things. One study found that Facebook’s enhancement of the community feeling of a class can lead to increased motivation and performance. The research is listed on Delicious under http://delicious.com/nickyhockly/yildiz.

Mobile technologies, as always in conferences these days, made an appearance in numerous talks, and formed the main focus of several.  Within a year or two, it will certainly be normal for conferences in the area of new technologies to focus as much on mobile apps and the mobile web as they do on the original web – and that trend was in evidence at this event.

In her talk, MLearning: More than an illusion of illumination, Işil Boy pointed out that mobile learning is about more than apps. If e-learning is beyond classroom walls, she suggested, then m-learning is beyond computer screens. She suggested that the Affective Context Model helps explain the value of mobile learning with its anywhere/anytime aspects, and its push and pull features. When integrating mobile technologies into our teaching, we need to prioritise the learning objectives and consider the ‘teacherware’, that is, ensuring that teachers are well trained.

After mentioning a search engine for apps, Quixey, she went on to recommend a number of apps:

  • Speaking: TripAdvisor (project work, talking about holidays, planning a holiday); Dragon Dictation (dictation software); Audioboo (voice recording and adding pictures)
  • Writing: Skitch (pictures with annotation – speaking, basic writing and vocabulary development); Google Docs (writing, presentations, etc); Lino (online stickies service)
  • Listening: Stitcher Radio (radio shows, live stations and podcasts); Learning English Elementary (English learning podcasts with exercises)
  • Reading: Zite (a personalised magazine that learns what you like); The Poetry App (over 100 poems with video and audio narrations)

After illustrating QR codes as a recent trend, she went on to highlight AR (augmented reality) as the new trend in mobile educational technologies, one which allows students to participate interactively with computer generated simulations. She also spoke about mobile storytelling as a new iteration of digital storytelling, illustrating the possibilities with a multimedia app called Storykit. Mobile storytelling and AR can come together with a simulated 3D app like ZooBurst, where you can create AR markers that allow you to use the simulations in a real-world environment like the classroom.

In my own presentation, From start to finish: Mobile technologies and language learning, I surveyed the terrain of mobile technologies in the teaching of language, beginning with simpler uses, many of which are oriented towards content consumption or behaviourist drills, and leading up to those which are more learner-centred, innovative and creative. The tools and techniques covered included podcasting, apps, polling, multimedia recording, QR codes, geosocial networking, and augmented reality.

In the closing plenary, A technological disaster (references at: http://atechnologicaldisaster.pen.io/) Lindsay Clandfield pointed out that a lot of current technology use involves traditional pedagogical approaches and strategies that simply incorporate new technology, but there has been little fundamental change. Teachers are sometimes blamed for this, and the digital native/immigrant distinction plays into this.  Teachers do ask themselves questions about whether the technology fits with everything else they are having to do; whether the net will undermine their authority; whether the technology will work on the day in the classroom; and whether technology will add to rather than reduce time pressure. From a pedagogical point of view, the technology seems to lend itself to a behaviourist approach. Sometimes technological solutions are imported but not localised. Assessment still remains stubbornly resistant to the innovations and developments in the wider field of digital education.

There is a broader question about whether technology works: does it lead to better learning? One issue here is what we mean by learning. The No Significant Difference website documents 350 research reports which show that there is not much of a difference between technology-enhanced education and what we were doing before. There has been some suggestion that technology may deprofessionalise teachers. It may be that new teacher and learner roles are culturally bound; online learning may be in line with the American view of individualism and autonomy. Teachers, too, may be very restricted by the systems in which they teach.

There is also a larger ideological debate about deschooling society. For some, the end of schools could mean free education for all, with no barriers. For others, it may mean removing state control and repositioning education within the private sector. Another issue is the e-waste produced by the move in a digital direction. Yet another question is whether what is economically good for technology companies is always good for technology users. The NESTA Report says that the huge investment in digital technologies in UK schools over recent years has produced little measurable change, because these efforts have put technology above teaching, and excitement above evidence.

In short, there has to be space for educators to discuss with each other the issues and challenges of working with new technologies, as well as the benefits. A symposium like this one has provided space to do just that.

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