A springtime of language learning & technology

IAFOR ACLL/ACTC Conference
Kobe, Japan
11-14 May, 2017

Kobe, Japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The CALL of the beach

EUROCALL Conference
Limassol, Cyprus
24-27 August, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tech discussions in the Middle East

14th Oman International ELT Conference
8th  9th May, 2014
Muscat, Oman

The Corniche, Muscat. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2014. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The 14th Oman International ELT Conference was held from 8-9 May at Sultan Qaboos University, Muscat, Oman, under the theme: ‘Bridging Traditions and Innovations in ELT’. A variety of papers and workshops contributed their perspectives on this theme over the two days of the conference.

In my opening plenary, Principles and Practices of Mobile Learning, I surveyed recent trends in mobile technologies before outlining three main types of mobile learning, and three agendas for mobile learning, which are seen around the world. I argued that all mobile learning involves a trade-off between affordability and affordances. I concluded with several case studies of mobile English language learning projects from different parts of the globe, showing how the mobile learning types and agendas are realised in practice – and how it is important to balance up affordability and affordances in order to design the optimal kind of mobile learning for our own learners in our own contexts. The practicalities of mobile learning were explored further in my workshop, Introducing Mobile Learning, which suggested a number of entry points into mobile learning for teachers and students with different levels of technological and pedagogical/educational experience and confidence.

In her plenary, Cohort-Based Learning, Susan Barduhn mentioned that the average completion rate in MOOCs is only 7-9%. One reason may be the lack of relationships between students and teachers, and students and their peers; there is little chance to co-construct understanding together. Cohort-based learning is about a whole programme through which students move together, and which they complete together. When students enrol at different times – e.g., in PhD programmes – they are often working alone and don’t have the support of peers. In cohort-based learning there are special administrative and instructional provisions, intense group identification, and powerful interpersonal relationships. The faculty are also a cohort. Learning, Susan suggested, is in the relationships between people; she quoted Earl Stevick: “Success or failure in a language course depends less on linguistic analysis and pedagogical techniques than on what goes on inside and between the people in the classroom”.  In this kind of learning, there is a need for a common space where the members of the group can find each other – and that space may be online.

The conference was intensely discussion-based, more so than many other conferences I’ve attended: I was constantly invited to join conversations in the halls and corridors, covering a range of topics, but often in the form of extended discussions about the possibilities for the use of new technologies in a variety of contexts around Oman, the Gulf, and further afield. I also managed to catch some other interesting papers, reflecting on the use of new technologies in general ways or with reference to specific apps, platforms and websites; these included Peter Waters’ paper The Road Ahead: Reviewing the Past to Design the Future, which reminded the audience that a focus on the recent must not come at the expense of forgetting the past; Is’haq Al Naibi and Marwa Al Hadhrami’s paper,  Whatsapp: The Harbinger of Collaboration in Language Learning, where they outlined numerous ways of using WhatsApp groups for training both receptive skills (with students for example taking notes in the form of mind maps in and sending in photos of these) and productive skills (with students for example sending in voice recordings on set topics); Munira Al-Wahaibi and Asila Al-Maawali’s paper Facebook Fosters Autonomous Learning in ELT Classrooms, where they argued that a Facebook group can be a good platform to support English learning – through online discussion, a student question-and-answer section, and an audio/video corner – while simultaneously developing students’ IT skills as well as developing student autonomy (which they suggested is a relatively new concept in Omani educational culture); and Fatima Al Shihi’s workshop, Online Vocabulary Learning, where she illustrated the use of the ESL Lab website for teacher-led or self-directed access.

There’s clearly a lot of interest in new technologies, and mobile technologies especially, in Oman and the Gulf countries, and experimentation has begun with these tools in English language teaching. With the proliferation of smart devices in the region, the time is ripe for mobile learning to contribute in a major way to language education.

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.

Same themes, different themes

E-technology Seminar
25th – 27th September, 2013 
Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok by night

Bangkok by night. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2013. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

I’ve just spent three productive and enjoyable days running an E-technology Seminar at KMUTT in Bangkok, including consul- tations with staff, a workshop on web 2.0, and a forum on digital literacies and emerging trends. What’s always so interesting about these visits is to identify the common themes that appear in educational technology initiatives and conversations around the world, as well as the differences which are particular to regions or countries.

Many common global themes surfaced in discussions with participants over the three days: the need to give concrete direction to the official push to use technology in the classroom; the need for leadership and management training; the need for more teacher training, focused on pedagogy as much as technology; and the need for teachers to find a way of working with students whose technological skills in some cases exceed their own. But then there were differences as well, for example the need to bear in mind local laws and customs on the one hand, and on the other the freedom to use tools that are sometimes rejected in Western education systems, notably Facebook, and for teachers and students to interact freely on such platforms.

It’s been a wonderfully informative three days, and as always, I’m sure I’ve learned as much as any of the participants.

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

MobiLearnAsia Conference
Singapore
24-26 October, 2012

[Continued from Day 1 blog post]

In his plenary which opened the second day, Harnessing Magic: The Mlearning Opportunity, Clark Quinn suggested that it is time to find new uses for mobile technologies. Past technologies have successfully augmented our bodies; the question now is how we might augment our brains. Of course, we do have a history of using technology to augment our brains. Books are one example. This has limitations if the knowledge changes and the books don’t. He quoted Arthur C. Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. The limitations on how we use new technologies, he suggested, are between our ears.

Learning in the past was social, but as the volume of knowledge increased, we moved into a transmission model. In the 2009 US Dept of Education study of e-learning, which found that it was superior to face-to-face learning, the researchers suggested that the improvement was not due to the medium but the chance to step back and think about how we do education. Formal learning methods are important for novices; they become less important vis-à-vis informal learning for practitioners; and for experts, informal learning is much more important.

There are four Cs of mobile learning: content, compute, communicate and capture. The first three are not unique to mobile, but the last is. It’s about capturing in context. We’re beginning to see ways in which virtual worlds connect to mobile technologies. System-generated content is also becoming important as we move towards web 3.0. Web 2.0 was about user-generated content; web 3.0 is about system-generated content, where content is pulled together on the fly. This allows us to customise the online experience and online learning. Thanks to sensors of different kinds, the technology can work with the context.

He concluded by asking what’s on the horizon. Games will be important – learning should be ‘hard fun’. Social media will be important. So will augmented reality, where information relevant to the learner can be presented in a visual interface. The fact that a device knows ‘when’ we are (as well as ‘where’) means that key information can be provided before and during a performance, and then afterwards learners can be prompted to reflect, thereby turning real-world performance into a learning opportunity. Personalisation will be increasingly possible; different people need different information flowing to them in real-world contexts. He suggested, finally, that we should consider moving away from an event-based model of learning towards slow learning. We need to develop people at the rate their brains can handle.

In the panel discussion on the second morning, a number of key points were made. Gary Woodill noted that e-learning is just the classroom placed on the screen, whereas m-learning is about learning in context. Clark Quinn suggested that there is a need for teachers to show students 21st century skills so students can learn to search for themselves and, to some extent, bypass educational institutions. We’re not yet very good at delivering chunked, distributed content. He also suggested that mobile learning designers should be asking: “What is the least assistance I can provide?” though, as Woodill pointed out, the assistance must be sufficient to help the learner achieve learning goals. Gary noted, further, that we need a design science of mobile learning.

Woodill suggested that there is a subtle shift underway from competency-based to task-based education. What matters is not what you know (there’s just too much to know nowadays) but whether you can do a task. Mobile may be about learning something quickly when you need it, and then forgetting it and moving on to the next thing. Jawahar Kanjilal asked a very important question about learners in less privileged situations: what if you don’t have a teacher, but you have a mobile phone? It becomes your teacher. Gary suggested that a mobile device can be like a faucet which filters the firehose of the internet, bringing you what you need, when you need it. The next ten years, he argued, will be the age of the algorithm, to sort out all this information. Predictive analysis will be important (e.g., see: Recorded Future, Sweden).

In his presentation, Mobile Learning Case Studies: Examples of Effective Mobile Learning, Gary Woodill outlined a number of case studies of mobile learning solutions. The audience was then asked to analyse these in terms of the design patterns. One strategy for instructional designers may be to take case studies and reverse engineer them. On design patterns, he recommended the books: Technology-Enhanced Learning edited by Peter Goodyear and Symeon Retalis, and Diana Laurillard’s Teaching as a Design Science. He also recommended the Float Mobile Learning Primer app, which contains 63 case studies.

Singapore River Trail from LDR (http://www.ldr.sg/trail_catalog.html)

In his presentation, Create the Future of Mobile Learning, Png Bee Hin explained that the future will see a big shift from ‘e’ to ‘m’-learning. He described the development of interactive trails by LDR using the LOTM authoring tool, which allows multimedia content and interactive activities to be delivered to smartphones (Android or iOS) using location-based technologies and a geofencing approach. The delivery of materials can be triggered using GPS, IR (image recognition) and Bluetooth. To date, they have created 42 location-based mobile trails for Singapore. The Battle for Singapore app, set up as a game, is available as a free download.

Working with the MOE, they have created trails where teachers can track students’ progress, location, activity results, and multimedia submissions (which typically include photos and videos, but can also include oral interviews and even re-enactments of historical events). It can work like a treasure hunt; students are instructed to take pictures using an IR camera at some points, and a code is pushed to them so that they can complete part of a puzzle. Students can be of all levels from primary upwards. The Singapore River Trail (see above), which was originally in English, has now been converted into Mandarin as well.

Teachers can keep track of their students, and communicate with them, from a central location. Teachers are essential to the learning process: they need to re-enter their students’ learning spaces at the appropriate moments to guide their learning. They can also create customised trails for their students, by dragging/dropping and cutting/pasting within the LOTM tool, without any need for programming knowledge. Teachers and students have even worked together to create mobile trails that map their own environment.

He concluded that location-based technologies (GPS, IR, AR) have great potential to enhance field-based learning. Having an authoring tool simplifies and speeds up deployment. The most exciting result of all, he suggested, is the finding that user-generated trails are possible.

At the other end of the technology scale, but in a project with enormous potential to make a difference around the world, Jawahar Kanjilal and Bhanu Potta gave a presentation entitled Mobile-Based Lifelong Learning for the Millions: Nokia Life.  In it, they looked at how mobile learning can reach under-served populations in emerging markets.  This is a mobile-only paradigm for those who do not have access to the internet. Only a minority of people in the world have data connected smartphones; then there are feature phones which are data connectable; and then finally feature phones with no data, and SMS only. The projection for 2015 is that 2 billion people will have data connected smartphones; 3 billion will have feature phones (with or without data); and 2 billion will have no phone.

For many people who have mobile phones in emerging markets, it is their first phone, their first camera, and so on. They expect it can deliver many things. Information can be a great leveller for those who currently have no access to it. At every life stage there is an opportunity for informal learning. It is possible to provide content about education, health and agriculture, for example. It can’t be something which is broadcast to everyone, because it needs to be relevant to individuals and should ideally be local, even hyperlocal (how to you start saving in India as opposed to Indonesia?); it needs to be personalised.

The philosophy behind Nokia Life is: “Inform. Involve. Empower” (see: Life Tools is Now Nokia Life on YouTube). It is about “designing for personalization at scales of millions”. Emerging markets have the largest number of first generation school attendees. Parents who have a small income can pay for this service to support their children’s education. The messages can be a trigger for further offline learning. There are currently nearly 80 million users across India, Indonesia, China and Nigeria. Around 40% of subscribers overall are teachers rather than students, so teachers can use the messages as a resource in their classrooms. More than 10 million unique updates are sent out on a daily basis. SMS is used as the vehicle. It is embedded in the menu of the phone, rather than being a downloadable app. The creators considered voice at the beginning, but they were told the written word is more powerful. The users can refer to and show the written words to others.

The biggest problem was to get the content in the right format to distribute through the mobile system. Curation of content and knowledge was a major task. There are four categeories: Education (including Life Skills, Learn English, Exam Tips, General Knowledge,  Dictionary), Health, Agriculture, and Entertainment. Potta gave the example of the Learn English service in China, set up with the collaboration of the British Council, where a word of the day might be given, with pronunciation, an example, and a translation. In some messages, there is a button to call a hotline for more information. Since it is too early in these markets for user-generated content, which might conflict with users’ sense of the credibility of the information, the social – or web 2.0 – aspect involves a call button, a polling function, and/or a share function.

There is a variation of Nokia Life called Nokia Life+, a web app which is designed for those who have smartphones, or feature phones with data connectability. This may be the direction in which things evolve in the future. It’s a scalable platform to reach and engage the next billion. All in all, it’s about developing an ecosystem of partners: governments, NGOs, knowledge creators. The ecosystem is beginning to build up. Nokia Life can directly support six of the eight UN Millennium Goals.

In his presentation, Cross-Platform App Development: Going Native the Easy Way, Graeme Salter listed a number of reasons for setting up educational apps, including the following:

  • Improve learning outcomes
  • Improve student satisfaction (e.g., convenience)
  • Improve student or teacher productivity

There are, however, alternatives to having an app. One is to have a mobile optimised website (m.domainname.com). As a business, you can tap into existing apps and have your company advertised there. Another alternative is an iBook. If, on the other hand, you need an app, you should ask yourself whether it needs to be a native app. Android apps are catching up very quickly to iOS apps. Native apps have these advantages:

  • Operate fast
  • Can access all device features
  • Don’t necessarily require an internet connection
  • Have access to global marketplaces (including direct sales, in-app purchases, and advertising revenue)

On the negative side are these factors:

  • Royalty fee to marketplaces
  • Marketplace controls the customer information (for this reason, the Financial Times changed to a web app)
  • Approval delays (even for modifications)
  • Complexity of development

He suggested some solutions to these problems:

  • Step 1: Create a web app
    • Outsource development (e.g., Kenotopia – design an app in PowerPoint or Keynote, then outsource the coding to someone else; fiverr – will design an icon for $5; a company like oDesk or Vworker will do the whole thing. The big rewards are for ideas, not development.)
    • Use tools that don’t need coding (e.g., Tumult Hype, which allows you to write HMTL5 with no coding required; you can then use JQuery Mobile, Wink, etc, to add a mobile framework so you have mobile functionality like touch, swipe, and gestures)
    • Write in HTML5 (make some simple modifications to old HTML – there are few differences)
  • Step 2: Convert to a native app (e.g., with PhoneGap, Appcelerator, PhoneGapBuild – you can create native apps for multiple OSs)

For an inaugural conference, MobiLearnAsia 2012 did a superb job of pulling together a great deal of national, regional and international expertise, and provided a rich forum for interactions between participants from a wide range of countries. It has also filled a gap in bringing an annual m-learning conference to the Asia-Pacific region. I look forward to seeing how things have developed when the second MobiLearnAsia conference takes place in October, 2013.

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

MobiLearnAsia Conference
Singapore
24-26 October, 2012

[See also Day 2 blog post]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key affordances of mobile technologies include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are advantages of scaling up this approach:

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

Strategies for scaling up include:

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

Success with mobile devices is due to these factors:

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

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

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

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

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

Digital literacies in Bangkok

‘Becoming Digitally Literate’ Seminar
Bangkok, Thailand
27 February – 1 March, 2012

Gavin Dudeney and I have just finished running a 4-day Becoming Digitally Literate seminar in Bangkok, Thailand. It’s been great to work with an enthusiastic group of local language educators from the Ministry of Education, universities and schools. It rapidly became apparent that among progressive teachers in this country there’s a great appetite for learning about web 2.0 and, in particular, how to use it in the classroom. It also became clear, as it always does in different venues, just how important it is to tailor our use of new tools and new pedagogical approaches to the local cultural, institutional and educational context. We’ve left the teachers with lots of new ideas and it’ll be really interesting to watch how they’re implemented over coming years. In turn, we’ve learned a great deal about the Thai context and how to go about implementing the use of new tools and new pedagogies in local classrooms.

New media, new spaces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New media, new learning

1st ICODEL Conference
Pre-Conference WorkShop
Manila, Philippines
22 February, 2012

The day before the commencement of the 1st ICODEL Conference in Manila, pre-conference workshops took place. Curtis Bonk opened his workshop, Technology-enhanced Teaching and Learning, with a session entitled The Rise of Shared Online Video, the Fall of Traditional Learning. He argued that video can play a major role in bringing learning alive. He started off by showing videos from the History for Music Lovers Channel, where an American history teacher has remixed popular songs to relate historical events. Some videos can be inspirational. Some can convey a great deal of information quickly and easily – Apple makes major announcements through video. Flipped classrooms, where teachers video-record key material for students to watch outside class, allow in-class time to be devoted to more engaging learning. There are growing banks of Open Educational Resources on the web which teachers can draw on. It’s also becoming common for conferences to be filmed and keynotes to be made available to the world. For a list of useful educational videos, see Curtis Bonk’s Shared Online Video Resources, Portals, and Pedagogical Activities, which includes sites like Academic EarthBook TVGETideas.org and Howcast.

Bonk listed key reasons for using video which have emerged from research, including:

  • dual coding theory, i.e., the idea that information learned verbally and visually is more richly stored (Alan Paivio)
  • anchored instruction, macrocontexts (John Bransford)
  • multimedia theory (Richard Mayer)
Some recommended strategies for teachers who want to embed videos in education include:
  • anchoring learning (i.e., finding an anchoring event for the learning)
  • starting online discussions before class
  • initiating a pause-and-reflect process
  • stimulating reflections on key concepts
Students can be asked to:
  • find useful video resources for class
  • edit collections of videos to sift out the most effective examples
  • preview and discuss videos before class
  • create videos to summarise their learning
  • evaluate and update archive videos from past years/cohorts
  • send effective videos to the teacher, with those chosen for class viewing receving bonus points
  • share videos across classes or even institutions
  • find videos that support, or contradict, their side of a debate

Bonk concluded with some key pieces of advice for educators using videos:

  • consider the underpinning learning theory or approach that makes videos more powerful than other media
  • get students to reflect on why or how you are using them
  • the length of video for activities should be short (under 10 mins, but preferably under 4 mins)
  • get students to create videos, not just watch them
  • get students to find some course videos rather than looking for them all yourself
  • watch and approve all videos before selecting them, and test for linkrot
  • have a backup plan if links don’t work or bandwidth is limited
  • have a guide sheet to foster students’ reflections
In  later parts of the workshop, Bonk went on to discuss Adding Jumbo Motivation to Online Courses and Activities with the TEC-VARIETY Model, where the value of online video was again an important theme. The workshop was wrapped up with a brief discussion entitled Blended Learning from A to Z: Myths, Models, and Moments of Magic. All in all, the workshop provided a wealth of ideas on how online video sharing can support contemporary educational approaches.
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