Literacy, wellness, and digital tech

Mark Pegrum presenting 'Digitally literate, digitally well?', ConnecTalks, Honolulu, Hawai'i, 2222 July 2023.

Mark Pegrum presenting ‘Digitally literate, digitally well?’, ConnecTalks, Honolulu, Hawai’i, 22 July 2023. Source: YouTube, rb.gy/rmojy

ConnecTalks 2023
Honolulu, Hawaiʻi
22 July, 2023

It was a great pleasure to be one of the two presenters at this year’s annual ConnecTalks, hosted by the The Language Flagship Technology Innovation Center at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, and filmed in a TV studio in front of a live audience as well as being streamed on YouTube. Following the opening presentation by Amy Ebesu Hubbard on the importance of non-verbal aspects of communication, I addressed the topic of literacy, wellness and digital technologies.

In my presentation, entitled Digitally Literate, Digitally Well?, I noted that the technological, informational and sociopolitical developments of the last decade have led to a changed landscape for language teaching and learning: new educational possibilities have opened up, but new demands are also being made of education. I charted the changes that have taken place, examined the ways in which digital literacies can help to deal with these changes, and suggested that improving digital literacy skills can be a way of beginning to promote digital wellness. More specifically, by considering two key digital literacies – attentional literacy and critical literacy – I aimed to show how a focus on digital literacies and digital wellness can be interwoven with the teaching and learning of language. In conclusion, I argued that the time has come for language teachers to promote digital literacies – and digital wellness – alongside the teaching of language itself.

Feedback from the audience suggested that the digital wellness message struck a chord for many people, with some listeners commenting that they felt the need to make changes in their own lives, and others mentioning that they wanted to suggest to their children or their students that they should consider making changes in their lives, in order to avoid some of the attentional pitfalls of contemporary digital communications, particularly on social media platforms with their attention-hungry algorithms. The aim is ultimately to use digital technologies in more balanced and reflective ways, making the most of their benefits while also preserving our own physical and especially mental health. There’s a lot more to be said about this topic, and we’ll hear a lot more about it in years to come.

The full presentation is available on the ConnecTalks 2023 page on YouTube.

Generative AI meets language learning

ChatGPT-based avatar Call Annie

Chat GPT-based avatar Call Annie. Source: Animato Inc. (2023), Call Annie, V. 1.0.1, App Store. bit.ly/3ATU181

EuroCALL Spring Festival
UK/online via Zoom
29 April, 2023

On Saturday 29th April I had the pleasure of taking part in the EuroCALL Spring Festival, both as a presenter and an audience member, as we focused on the ever greater role of technology in language education – and in particular, the arrival of generative AI like ChatGPT.

The day was opened by Mike Sharples in his keynote, Introduction to Generative AI for Student Writing, where he described GPT-4 as a highly trained text completer and style copier, which he sees as offering a vast improvement over GPT-3.5 (which underpinned the original version of ChatGPT, and continues to underpin its free version) and as having changed his working practices around writing.

There are a number of issues with ChatGPT, including student plagiarism (AI detection software is essentially an unpredictability matcher, with independent verification needed of its accuracy levels, and with educators needing to decide whether a rate of 2% false positives, as currently claimed by TurnItIn, is acceptable) and inaccuracy, as seen in ChatGPT’s occasional hallucination of incorrect information and non-existent references (as a language generator, not a database, it is of course not designed to look up facts, has no inbuilt model of the world, and is essentially amoral). When it comes to generative AI, educational institutions have four choices: ban, evade, adapt (requiring new methods of assessment, policies and guidelines) or embrace (involving a long process of building trust). Most universities seem to be taking adapt or embrace approaches.

He mentioned some creative approaches to the use of ChatGPT and similar software. It can be a possibility engine (where an educator or student uses AI to generate multiple responses to an open question, and each student then critiques and synthesises the responses to create their own written answer); a Socratic opponent (where students engage with ChatGPT in a Socratic dialogue as a way of developing arguments and thinking skills); a guide on the side (along the lines of its coming incorporation into Microsoft’s productivity software; a student might instruct it to act as an expert tutor in computing and tutor them as an undergraduate in quantum computing, after which ChatGPT could provide a summary of their current state of knowledge of quantum computing to be sent to their professor); and as a language playground (where it can provide a starting point for academic writing, or translate back and forth between languages and compare the documents generated).

He noted that it is essential for educators and students to develop the AI literacy needed for a world where AI is becoming pervasive.

Following Mike’s keynote, I co-presented a 90-minute workshop, entitled From Chat to Fluency: When Humans and AI Collaborate for Language Education, together with Louise Ohashi and Antonie Alm, with our team presenting from three different locations in Australia, Japan and New Zealand. Our central theme was that to move from simply chatting with AI to using AI with digital fluency, we must develop our understandings and literacies, as well as developing our practices and techniques to allow successful collaboration between humans and AI. 

I began with a theoretical introduction which located ChatGPT in the context of recent developments in generative AI, introducing key terminology and outlining benefits and challenges (including highlighting the importance of prompt literacy). Louise and Antonie then demonstrated a range of language learning and language teaching uses of ChatGPT, before examining in more detail how to design appropriate prompts to get the best results from ChatGPT. Participants were invited to log in and try activities in parallel with the demonstrations. We finished with a demonstration of a ChatGPT-based digital assistant, Call Annie (see image above right), released less than a week earlier. This gives us some idea of likely near future developments in this space.

Given the time zone differences, I wasn’t able to stay for any more of the programme. This was not the first time I’ve attended or presented sessions on generative AI this year, and it certainly won’t be the last. Ongoing rapid developments, both technologically and educationally, mean this will be a key topic of our discussions over coming months.

Digital literacies in Italian

Perth City Skyline, Australia

Perth City Skyline, Australia. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2022. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

WAATI Conference
Perth, Australia
25 February, 2023

I had the pleasure of delivering the opening keynote at the WAATI (Western Australian Association of Teachers of Italian) Conference at the Telethon Speech & Hearing Institute in Perth on a warm, sunny, late February morning.

In my presentation, entitled Learning Languages Online: From Digital Literacies to Digital Wellness, I explored key literacies of relevance to language teachers and learners, looking at the nature and significance of each, before talking about activities in which digital literacies development can be integrated with language learning. The feedback from the receptive audience suggested that well-known literacies like information literacy and, of course, intercultural literacy find a lot of resonance among language teachers, while there was also considerable interest in attentional and critical literacy. Naturally, we touched on generative AI, especially ChatGPT, and how it can provide engaging learning materials while also sparking conversations about artificial intelligence and the need to exercise information literacy skills. Above all, teachers were keen to identify tasks which can serve the dual purpose of teaching students language while building their awareness of and facility with digital literacies.

Due to commitments later in the day, I was unable to stay to hear other papers, but there was a full and interesting programme ready to be delivered by speakers exploring many different ways of keeping language learning current in the 21st century.

Digital literacies, digital inclusion & digital wellness

Pegrum, M. (2022). Digital literacies wordcloud. Created with EdWordle.

2022 Mid-year update
Perth, Australia
25 July 2022

As of 25th July – a day celebrated by many people in the southern hemisphere to recreate Christmas with a northern, wintery feel, and a day that also signals that we’re well past halfway through the year – it’s clear that Covid is not yet behind us, and that we’ll be continuing to do a lot of professional events like conferences, seminars and workshops online for the foreseeable future (and indeed, it seems likely that there will be few fully face-to-face events in the future, with hybrid approaches becoming the norm).

I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in a number of online conferences and panels over the first 7 months of 2022, and some key trends are becoming apparent. Following the publication of the second edition of my book Digital Literacies, co-authored with Nicky Hockly and Gavin Dudeney, I was invited to give a workshop entitled What have digital literacies got to do with digital wellness? for Tokyo JALT on 20 May, and a keynote entitled From digital disarray to digital literacies for TISLID, Madrid, on 27 May, both online via Zoom. There’s clearly widespread interest from educators in how to help our students develop the digital literacies they need to operate effectively in our increasingly digitally mediated world – and in particular, as reflected in the discussions that took place alongside these presentations, this flows into an interest in how to use our technologies in more socially just and responsible ways which take into account our own and others’ mental and physical health – that is, our digital wellness – and the health of the environment and the planet as a whole. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, these discussions focused extensively on literacies like intercultural, ethical, attentional and critical literacy.

I’ve also participated in an Asia-Pacific consultation for the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report, focused on the role of educational technology in supporting progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals education targets, hosted by Monash University, Australia, on 1 June, and I was a panellist at The Role of Open Education, Service Learning and Digital Tools in Promoting Social Inclusion and Active Citizenship for Refugees and Migrants, hosted by the European Digital Education Hub, on 19 July. Again, there was a strong focus on how to capitalise on the potential advantages of digital technologies while mitigating their risks, with emphasis placed on access, equity and diversity. It seems to me that digital literacies may offer a pathway forward here; they can certainly help to mitigate technological risks, particularly through the harder-edged, more critical literacies which can support educators and students in raising their awareness of the implicit biases and dangers of our technologies.

The connection between digital literacies and larger issues around digital inclusion and digital wellness (for all!) seems to me worthy of much more in-depth exploration. I suspect I’ll be part of a lot more conversations in this area in the remainder of 2022!

FINDING OUR (ONLINE) FEET

Slide from Pegrum, M. (2021). Going global, going local, going mobile, keynote, GloCALL, 16-18 Dec 2021, showing aspects of superdiversity

Slide from Pegrum, M. (2021). Going global, going local, going mobile, keynote, GloCALL, 16-18 Dec 2021; image source: Geralt. (n.d.). Silhouettes, people, group, diversity, personal. Free image from Pixabay. bit.ly/3yonROe

2021 Wrap-up
Perth, Australia
17 January 2022

As we all know by now, 2021 turned out to be yet another year of global challenges and widespread suffering due to the evolving situation with COVID-19. Nevertheless, we were able to build on a number of the lessons learned in 2020, engaging in some creative forms of online, hybrid and hyflex teaching, as well as learning from colleagues at well-organised, primarily online conferences and other professional development events. Clearly, problems of access and accessibility remain around much of the world, often tied to a lack of hardware, software and/or connectivity, but at the same time online events open up new possibilities of participation for many.

I was honoured to be invited to give keynotes for ALLT in Taiwan, and for GloCALL in Malaysia, where I reflected on the growing importance of mobile devices in learning languages, and the growing possibilities both for widening participation (mostly, though certainly not exclusively, in the Global South) and for increasing innovation (mostly, though again far from exclusively, in the Global North). In these presentations, I spoke about how mobile and other digital devices might play a role in catering to ever more diverse cohorts of learners – hence my reflections on superdiversity, as seen in my presentation slide in this blog entry – and suggested that there is simultaneously a need to help learners develop a greater array of digital literacies.

In a year when physical travel was still very constrained, I felt lucky to be able to stay seated at my desk in my home office while conversing and debating with colleagues from around the world. The downside of participating in conferences or PD events from home is that we lack the bracketed time for teaching, learning and reflecting which we have at physical conferences, and we’re often drawn away from the conference or PD schedule by ongoing day-to-day work commitments in our local environment. But the upside is the relative ease and affordability of attending these globally networked events. Even if face-to-face conference attendance becomes more common again in the future, I’d certainly hope that we see many, if not most, conferences operating in hybrid mode, giving more diverse educators a chance to attend, and attendees a chance to regularly encounter more diverse voices. In an increasingly superdiverse world, recognising and promoting and interacting with all forms of diversity should be fundamental to education and to the PD of educators.

A Year Like No Other

‘Video conferencing’ by supalerk laipawat from the Noun Project (thenounproject.com), under CC-BY licence.

2020 Wrap-up
Perth, Australia
24 December 2020

As for many other people, 2020 started off for me with a spate of cancellations or postponements of conference and seminar presentations, thanks to the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic. As the year wore on, however, conferences began to move online, and experiments began in how we can build online professional events which are both informative and interactive, using a slew of videoconferencing platforms such as Blackboard’s Collaborate, Microsoft’s Teams and, of course, Zoom. In the midst of the devastation of 2020, and among the repeated interruptions to face-to-face education and professional development, the educational community has shown remarkable resilience and inventiveness.

By the end of 2020, there were numerous highly successful online conferences, seminars and other PD events. Much has been learned about how to deliver professional development at scale while still retaining a participatory element. Aside from taking part in online conferences – notably the GKA Edutech Conference (based in Mexico) and mLearn (based in Egypt) – I also delivered or co-delivered online PD seminars, via Zoom, to teachers in Japan, China and Singapore. In November, I had the pleasure of delivering the opening presentation in an #UpskillwithAU seminar entitled Active English learning strategies for blended/hybrid classrooms, jointly run by the Graduate School of Education at The University of Western Australia and Phoenix Academy, and hosted on Austrade’s Webex platform. In this seminar, we addressed and responded to questions from English teachers – some 2,400 in total – from across the ASEAN region. Perhaps this was a glimpse of the future of online PD?

Hopefully 2021 will see a return to some normality globally, but at the same time, it would be good to hang on to the best of what we have learned about how to conduct online professional development at scale – and how to reach, and include, more educators in more places than ever before. Our educational future, it seems to me, should unfold in an increasingly blended mode.

Smart language learning

Liberty Square, Taipei, Taiwan

Liberty Square (自由廣場), Taipei, Taiwan. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2019. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

PPTELL Conference
Taipei, Taiwan
3-5 July 2019

The second Pan-Pacific Technology-Enhanced Language Learning Conference took place over three days in midsummer in Taipei, with a focus on language learning within smart learning environments.

In his keynote, In a SMART world, why do we need language learning?, Robert Godwin-Jones spoke of visions of a world with universal machine translations; innovations in this area range from phone translators and Google Pixel Buds to devices like Pocketalk and Illi. But it’s time for a reality check, he suggested: it’s not transparent communication because you have to awkwardly foreground the device; there are practical issues with power and internet connections; and although the devices are capable with basic transactional language, the user remains on the outside of the language and the culture.

We are now seeing advances in AI thanks to deep learning and big data, including in areas such as voice recognition and voice synthesis, and we are seeing a proliferation of smart assistants and smart home devices; along with commercial efforts, there are efforts to create open source assistants. Siri and Google can operate in dozens of languages. Amazon’s Alexa now has nearly 100,000 ‘skills’ and users are being invited to add new languages. Smart assistants are already being used for language learning, for example for training pronunciation or conversational practice. We are gradually moving away from robotic voices thanks to devices such as Smartalk and Google Duplex; assistants such as the latter work within a limited domain, making the conversation easier to handle, but strategic competence is needed to avoid breakdowns in communication. Likely near-term developments include more improvements in natural language understanding, first in English, then other languages, and voice technology being built into ever more devices (with human-sounding voices raising questions of trust and authenticity). However, there are challenges because of the issues of:

  • cacophony (variations of standard usage, specialised vocabulary, L2 learners, the need for a vast and continuously updated database);
  • colour (idioms, non-verbal communication);
  • creativity (conventions may change depending on context, tone, individual idiosyncrasies);
  • culture (knowing grammar and vocabulary only gets you so far, as you need to be able to adapt to cultural scripts, and to develop pragmatic competencies);
  • codeswitching (frequent mixing of languages, especially online, in a world of linguistic superdiversity).

There is emerging evidence that young people are learning languages informally online, especially English, as they employ it for recreational and social purposes (see: Cole & Vanderplank, 2016). We may be moving towards a different conception of language relating to usage-based linguistics, which is about patterns rather than rules. It may call into question the accepted dogma of SLA (the noticing hypothesis, intentionality, etc) and the idea that learning comes from explicit instruction. However, there are caveats: most studies focus on English and on intermediate or advanced learners, who may not be reflecting much on their language learning.

The scenario we should promote is one where we blend formal and informal learning. For monolinguals and beginners, structure is helpful; for advanced learners, fine-tuning may be important. Teachers may model learner behaviour, and incorporating virtual exchange is easier when there is a framework. There are also issues with finding appropriate resources for a given individual learner. Some possible frameworks for thinking about this situation include:

  • structured unpredictability (teacher supplies structure; online resources supply unpredictability and digital literacy; students move from L2 learners to L2 users; a formal framework adds scope for reflection and intercultural awareness – Little & Thorne, 2017);
  • inverted pedagogy (teachers should be guides to what students are already learning outside class – Socket, 2014);
  • bridging activities (students act as ethnographers selecting content outside the classroom as they build interest, motivation and literacy – Thorne & Reinhardt, 2008);
  • global citizenship (students learn through direct contact and building critical language awareness through telecollaboration);
  • serendipitous learning (we should have a learner/teacher mindset everywhere; there is a major role for place-based learning and mobile companions using AR/VR/mixed reality – Vazquez, 2017).

Smart technology can help through big data and personalised learning, including language corpora. In the future, smart will get smarter, he suggested. More options will mean more complexity; the rise of smart tech + informal SLA = something new. There will be more variety of student starting points, identities, and resources; we could consider the perspective supplied by complexity theory here. We need to rethink some standard approaches in CALL research:

  • causality, going beyond studies of single variables;
  • individualisation, because one size doesn’t fit all;
  • description, not prediction;
  • assessment, which should be global and process-based in scope;
  • longitudinal approaches, picking up learning traces (see the keynote by Kinshuk, below).

A possible way forward for CALL research, he concluded, is indicated by Lee, Warschauer & Lee, 2019.

In his keynote, Smart learning approaches to improving language learning competencies, Kinshuk pointed out that education has become more inclusive, taking into account the needs of all students, and focusing on individual strengths and characteristics. There are various learning scenarios, both in class and outside class, which must be relevant to students’ living and work environments. There is a focus on authentic learning with physical and digital resources. The overall result is a better learning experience.

Learning should be omnipresent and highly contextual, he suggested. We need seamless learning integrated into every aspect of life; it should be immersive and always on; it should happen so naturally and in such small chunks that no conscious effort is needed to be actively engaged in it in everyday life. Technologies provide us with the means to realise this vision.

Smart learning analytics is helpful because it allows us to discover, analyse and make sense of student, instruction and environmental data from multiple sources to identify learning traces in order to facilitate instructional support in authentic learning environments. We require a past record and real-time observation in order to discover a learner’s capabilities, preferences and competencies; the learner’s location; the learner’s technology use; technologies surrounding the learner; and changes in the learner’s situational aspects. We analyse the learner’s actions and interactions with peers, instructors, physical objects and digital information; trends in the learner’s preferences; and changes in the learner’s skill and knowledge levels. Making sense is about finding learning traces, which he defined as follows: a learning trace comprises a network of observed study activities that lead to a measurable chunk of learning. Learning traces are ‘sensed’ and supply data for learning analytics, where data is typically big, un/semi-structured, seemingly unrelated, and not quite truthful (with possible gaps in data collection), and fits multiple models and theories.

In the smart language learning context, he mentioned a smart analytics tool called 21cListen, which allows learners to listen to different audio content and respond (e.g., identifying the main topic, linking essential pieces of information, locating important details, answering specific questions about the content, and paraphrasing their understanding), and analyses their level of listening comprehension depending on the nature and timing of their responses. Analytics does not replace the teacher, but gives the teacher more tools; and as teachers give feedback, the system learns from them and improves. Work is still underway on this project, with the eventual aim of producing a theory of listening skills. He went on to outline other tools taking a similar analytics approach to reading, speaking and writing.

In his keynote, Learning another first language with a robot ‘mother’ and IoT-based toys, Nian-Shing Chen spoke of the advantages of mixed-race babies growing up speaking two languages, a situation which could be mimicked with the use of a robot ‘mother’ speaking a language other than the baby’s mother tongue. This, he suggested, would help to solve L2 and FL learning difficulties indirectly but effectively. It would deal with issues of age (the need for extensive language exposure before the age of three), exposure (with children in language-rich households receiving up to 30 million words of input by age three), and real ‘human’ input (since when babies watch videos or listen to audio, they do not acquire language as they do from their mothers).

His design involves toys for cultivating the baby’s cognitive development, a robot for cultivating the baby’s language development, and the use of IoT sensors for the robot to be fully aware of the context, including the interaction situation and the surrounding environment. The 3Rs (critical factors for effective language learning design) are, he said, repetition, relevance and relationship. The idea is for the robot to interact with the baby through various toys. He is currently carrying out work on various types of robots: a facilitation robot, a 3D book playing robot, a storytelling robot, a Chinese classifiers learning robot, and a STEM and English learning robot.

NTNU Linkou Campus, Taipei, Taiwan

NTNU Linkou Campus (台師大·林口校區), Taipei, Taiwan. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2019. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

In his presentation, Autonomous use of technology for learning English by Taiwanese students at different proficiency levels, Li-Tang Yu suggested that technology offers many opportunities for self-directed learning, which is important as students need to spend more time learning English outside of their regular classes. In his study, he found there was no significant difference between high and low proficiency English learners in terms of the amount of autonomous technology-enhanced learning they undertook. Most students in both groups mentioned engaging in receptive skills activities, but the high proficiency students engaged in more productive skills activities. Teachers should familiarise students with technology-enhanced materials for language learning, and recommend that they undertake more productive activities.

In her talk, Online revised explicit form-focused English pronunciation instruction in the exam-oriented context in China, Tian Jingxuan contrasted the traditional method of intuitive-imitative pronunciation instruction with newer and more effective form-focused instruction; in revised explicit form-focused instruction, there is a focus on both form and meaning practice. In her study, she contrasted traditional instruction (control group) with revised explicit form-focused instruction (experimental group, which also undertook after-class practice) in preparing students for the IELTS exam in China. Participants in the experimental group performed better in both the immediate and delayed post-test; she concluded that revised explicit form-focused instruction is more effective in preparing students for their exams, at  least in the case of the low-achieving students she studied.

In the paper, Investigating learners’ preferences for devices in mobile-assisted vocabulary learning, Tai-Yun Han and Chih-Cheng Lin reported on a study of the device preferences of 11th grade EFL students in Taiwan, based on past studies conducted by Glenn Stockwell in Japan. The most popular tool for completing vocabulary exercises was a mobile phone, followed by a desktop PC, laptop PC and tablet PC; students’ scores were similar, as was the amount of time required to complete the tasks. In general, students have high ownership of mobile phones and low availability of other devices (unlike the college students in Stockwell’s studies), and are accustomed to mobile lives.

In his paper, Perceptions, affordances, effectiveness and challenges of using a mobile messenger app for language learning, Daniel Chan spoke about the use of WhatsApp to support the teaching of French as a foreign language in Singapore. It has many features that are useful for language teaching, e.g., the recording of voice messages, the annotating of pictures, and the sharing of files. Some possibilities include:

  • teachers sharing announcements with students;
  • students sharing information with teachers;
  • sharing photos of work done in class;
  • sharing audio files;
  • correcting students’ texts by marking them up on WhatsApp.

In a survey, he found that many students were already using WhatsApp groups to support their studies, but without teachers present in those groups. Students’ perceptions of the use of WhatsApp for language learning (in a group including a teacher) were generally very positive; for example, they liked being able to clear up doubts immediately, engaging in collaborative and multimodal learning, and preserving traces of their learning. However, some found such a group too public, and much depends on the dynamics of groups; there is also a danger of message overload if students are offline for a while. Both teachers and students may feel under pressure to respond quickly at all times. In summary, despite some challenges, there is real potential in the use of WhatsApp for language learning, but its broader use will require a change of mindset on the part of teachers and students.

In their presentation, Does watching 360 degree virtual reality videos enhance Mandarin writing of Vietnamese students?, Thi Thu Tam Van and Yu-Ju Lan described a study in which students viewed photos (control group) or viewed 360 degree videos with Google Cardboard headsets (experimental group) before engaging in writing activities. Significant differences were found in all areas assessed (content, organisation, etc) and in overall performance; the authentic context provided by the 360 degree videos thus enhanced the level of students’ Mandarin writing. All students in the experimental group preferred using Google Cardboard compared to traditional methods in writing lessons.

In their paper, Discovering the effects of 3D immersive experience in enhancing oral communication of students in a college of medicine, Yi-Ju Ariel Wu and Yu-Ju Lan mentioned that 3D virtual worlds allow learners to immerse themselves fully and perform contextualised social interactions, while reducing their anxiety. The virtual world used was the Omni Immersion Vision Program from NTNU, Taiwan, and students engaged in a role-play about obesity (experimental group), while another group of students performed the role-play in a face-to-face classroom (control group). The experimental group created more scenes than the control group; used a wider range of objects; had richer communication, with the emergence of spontaneous talk; and their interaction was generally more fluid and imaginative. The experimental group said that using the virtual world reduced their fear of oral communication; made them more imaginative; and made oral communication more interesting.

On the final day of the conference, I had the honour of chairing a session comprising six short papers covering topics such as online feedback, differences in MALL between countries, the use of WeChat for intercultural learning, and location-based games. I wrapped up this session with my own presentation, Personalisation, collaboration and authenticity in mobile language learning, where I outlined some of the key principles to consider when designing mobile language and  literacy learning experiences for students.

Overall, the conference provided a good snapshot of current thinking about promoting language learning through smart technologies, an area whose potential is just beginning to unfold.

Crossing borders & boundaries

The Inn at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA

The Inn at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2019. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

The IAFOR Conference on Educational Research & Innovation
Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, USA
6-8 May 2019

It was an honour to be asked to present a keynote paper at the inaugural IAFOR Conference on Educational Research & Innovation, held in Virginia, USA. Focused on the theme of ‘Learning Beyond Boundaries’, and with attendees from across state and national borders, the conference delivered a strong message about the importance of working across disciplinary and other boundaries.

In her opening keynote, Context is everything: Rethinking evidence beyond boundaries, Amy Price Azano offered a critique of evidence-based practice as an urbanised and often decontextualised approach, suggesting that practice-based evidence is a socially just alternative in diverse contexts. Despite longstanding evidence of inequalities among students, the search continues for sameness in determining what works; however, this ignores the salience of context. Practice-based evidence is about attending to context: it involves identifying local needs; selecting, planning and implementing; and examining and reflecting. It recognises that students are not the same, nor are contexts. She suggested that, going beyond place-based pedagogy, place can provide a philosophical foundation, content and context, method, and evidence.

She noted that rurality should not be seen as a factor to be overcome, but as a viable and valuable context for nuanced understandings about what works across diverse contexts, and outlined a research project currently being carried out on rural gifted education. One key question is how a bright child in a socioeconomically deprived area can be given the message that he or she is bright and gifted, without also getting the message that he or she needs to leave the area.

In my own keynote, Mobility, mixed reality, and the crossing of linguacultural boundaries, I looked at a series of innovative m-learning projects where mobile devices serve as lenses allowing students to cross the boundaries between educational and non-educational spaces, as well as between the real and the digital, and between languages and cultures. As such, mobile devices can benefit a diverse range of learners with a diverse range of learning needs.

In his keynote, Research beyond boundaries: Educational psychophysiology, Rich Ingram spoke about a new field of research, educational psychophysiology, which concerns the measurement of learning-relevant psychological states and performance for the purpose of informing teaching and learning design. The focus is on examining continuous data in real-world settings.

The following day, Rich Ingram ran an informal workshop where it was possible to try out the equipment used for physiological measurements, including an electroencephalogram (EEG) monitor (measuring electrical activity in the brain), an eye tracking bar (also incorporating pupillometry), a heart rate monitor (measuring heart rate variability), and a Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) sensor (measuring skin conductance). It was fascinating to observe the kinds of data obtained and how it can be read (see the photos below of me using brain imaging software, and the associated images of my brain activity). It was also revealing to see how portable and relatively affordable the equipment has become. The current issues in the field are that there is far more data being collected than can easily be analysed, and that it is still unclear how to interpret much of the data. To some extent, it is a matter of asking the right questions and finding meaningful correlations – but already new insights are beginning to emerge, for example regarding attention and distraction with the use of digital technologies. This is an exciting space to watch over coming years, with plenty of scope for more researchers to get involved.

Mark Pegrum using EEG brain imaging technology

Mark Pegrum using EEG brain imaging technology. Photo by Rich Ingram, used by permission.

Brain scan 1. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2019.

Brain scan 1. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2019.

Brain scan 2. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2019.

Brain scan 2. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2019.

Brain scan 3. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2019.

Brain scan 3. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2019.

In his keynote, Anatomy of flipped classrooms, Robert Doyle suggested that a flipped approach is based on student involvement theory, and also allows students to develop important skills beyond knowledge acquisition, including higher-order thinking, communication skills and metacognitive skills. He spoke about Bergmann and Sams who initially developed flipped learning to reach students who missed class on snow days, and used voiceovers and annotations in PowerPoint slideshows to present their material online. He mentioned four different categories of presentation: audio recording, voiceover, screencasting, and video. Videos can be produced in one-button or full-service studios, with certain trade-offs between the two approaches; the latter allow higher production quality and they involve the support of skilled technicians, but incur higher costs.

Some of the advantages, he said, include students viewing materials at their own pace; students encountering concepts at least twice, before class and in class; and class time being used for more effective learning activities, with faculty and students interacting directly during class. Disadvantages include potentially less engaging lectures where students can’t ask questions; a significant time commitment; technical problems; and varying quality and student access. Key design principles include providing an opportunity for students to learn before class; checking to ensure students arrive in class prepared; and making a clear link between pre- and in-class activities. He suggested that for every hour of face-to-face lecturing, it takes at least four hours to record, edit and upload a comparable digital lecture, and noted that when flipping a class, it is worth beginning with a single module or section of a course. Automated captioning is a useful inclusion.

In his paper, Online teaching in a mobile era: Pedagogy, policies, and the cultural transformation, Martín Sueldo referred to the work of Antoni Gutiérrez-Rubí, indicating that we find ourselves in a new mobile reality where cellphones have become extensions of ourselves. He spoke about the need for education to take on board these changes, and discussed the importance of institutional online learning policies as well as training, support and mentoring for faculty. He suggested that there is a need for a ‘liquid pedagogy’ (based on Zygmunt Bauman’s liquid modernity) which can take different forms in different teaching contexts.

In the talk, Professional development in an international context: Fostering intersections between technology and culture, Kevin Oliver, Ruie Pritchard, Angela Wiseman and Michael Cook spoke about a US teacher development programme preparing teachers to use emerging technologies to introduce cultural lessons to, and enhance the cultural understandings of, their own students; weekend campus classes were followed by a short study abroad period. Teachers were asked to build Weebly portfolios, sharing project work and evidence of increasing cultural understandings in three areas:  cultural connections, cultural collections, and cultural reflections. Regarding culture, teachers increased their personal understandings of other cultures, and came to better recognise and address diverse cultures represented in their own classrooms. Regarding technology, teachers enjoyed the opportunity to be placed in the role of students. The researchers concluded that culture-focused PD can impact how culture is addressed in the classroom, and that technological tools and writing can impact teaching and learning about culture. Past programme websites and teacher portfolios can be seen at:

In the talk, Humanity centred design: A promising approach for preparing culturally responsive educators, Catherine Lawless Frank and Treavor Bogard focused on using human centred design to foster a global mindset with the aim of enhancing culturally responsive teaching. The key idea here is that to be effective educators, teachers must understand their own culture and that of their students, since culture and education are intertwined. Human centred design (HCD), they explained, is a framework for empathetic immersion into a social problem in order to adjust one’s thinking based on experiential knowledge of the culture and needs of those affected. In a true HCD framework, the desire to enhance a global mindset originates within an individual, who feels uncertainty or tension regarding their understanding. Two HCD projects were highlighted, the first involving collecting books to serve local neighbourhood needs, and the second involving assigning students  grocery store visits in different neighbourhoods.

In the closing plenary, Steve Harmon spoke about future trends in his presentation entitled Creating the next in education: On the road to the university of 2040. He outlined some of the dramatic technological developments currently underway, including neural nets to allow brain-computer interfacing, and neurostimulation to improve learning capacity. AI capabilities are also growing exponentially, making it hard to predict future developments. Drivers of change include fewer high school graduates choosing to go to college, and the increasing diversity of student cohorts, as well as the changing nature of work (from globalisation to the gig economy) and needs and capabilities (the need for agile, T-shaped thinkers with 21st century skills). Current growth is in jobs requiring social skills (ideally in combination with maths skills) and in nonroutine cognitive jobs. The old higher education approach of information transfer is inadequate to this new era. There needs to be a focus on deliberate innovation and lifetime education, and universities need to serve as platforms rather than pipelines.

He went on to mention a number of future-oriented initiatives at Georgia Tech, including whole person education, covering: experiential learning, globalisation at home, professional development for graduate students, and a whole person curriculum. The T-shaped student, he said, should have both breadth of knowledge and depth of expertise. Adaptive expertise is more important than routine expertise. Another initiative is New products and services, with blockchain (essentially a distributed database) as one example that might be used in academic credentialling. A third is Advising for a new era, covering prescriptive advising (based on likely trends), intrusive advising (where students are at risk) and developmental advising, as well as personalised advising for a lifetime. A personal board of directors would advise students, and would include advisers on courses, content and careers. A fourth is AI and personalisation, covering AI-enabled personalised learning systems, along with AI-based, adaptive learning platforms for mastery learning, and human-centred AI. Students might well have a group of AIs to help them. A fifth is A distributed worldwide presence, which is about how to provide lightweight versions of the Georgia Tech presence in cities around the country with large concentrations of online students nearby. Fuller details are available in the report Deliberate Innovation, Lifetime Education.

All in all, this three-day conference provided a forum for rich pedagogical and cultural exchanges across disciplinary as well as geographical boundaries, allowing all of us to come away with new perspectives on how we teach and how our students learn.

Smart chat in Hong Kong

Sunset over Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong

Sunset over Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2018. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

Roundtable on Smart Learning
HKBU, Hong Kong
6 December 2018

It was great to have a chance to run a roundtable at HKBU on a short stopover in Hong Kong, as a follow-up to my keynote Smart learning, smart universities, smart cities: Where will mixed reality lead us? originally presented via a video and a Skype Q&A session as part of the Technology Assisted Teaching and Learning Symposium which took place at HKBU on 21 August.

In a group of around 25 participants, we discussed the nature of smart learning and its implications for teachers and students; the need for smart learning to become more systematic (rather than being driven solely by individual champions) in order to build truly smart universities; and the role of smart universities in preparing future citizens who can make use of smart city infrastructure to improve the lives of all city residents. Essentially, we identified two main rationales for employing digital technologies in education: improving learning inside institutions, and preparing students for their future lives in smart cities. We also spent some time discussing the need to help our students develop more critical perspectives on the digital technologies which have surrounded many of them since birth. Participants at the roundtable brought a variety of thoughtful educational and critical perspectives to the discussion, perspectives that are and will continue to be invaluable in supporting their building of smart classes.

Global CALL gathering in Latin America

WorldCALL Conference
Concepción, Chile
13-16 November 2018

Excerpt of mural La Presencia de América Latina by Jorge González Camarena in La Casa del Arte, Concepción, Chile

Excerpt of La Presencia de América Latina by Jorge González Camarena in La Casa del Arte, Concepción, Chile. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2018. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

The fifth WorldCALL Conference took place this year in Concepción, Chile, drawing together presenters and attendees from across the world. The last WorldCALL I attended was 10 years ago in Fukuoka, Japan, and it was good to be able to once again join this global event. A common theme to emerge across the four days was the need for CALL educators to take into account the bigger political and social picture and, in an era of polarisation and isolationism, to help promote connections across languages and cultures.

In his opening plenary, WorldCALL then and now: Engagement, adaptation and change, Mike Levy began by asking how the language teaching profession can prepare students for the world in which we live, and what role technology and CALL can play in this. Referring to Chris Candlin’s work, he indicated that tolerance is essential to connecting the social and cultural worlds of learners outside the classroom and those worlds within the classroom. We now find ourselves in a context he described using the acronym PEST:

  • Political = populist leaders, polarisation, fake news, alternative facts;
  • Economic = big tech, trillion dollar companies, monopolies, inequality;
  • Social = social media, division, delivery of news, publishing;
  • Technological = artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, algorithms, data analytics, predictive analytics, manipulation, disposable technologies, surveillance.

This year the UK became the first country to have a Minister for Loneliness; in this superconnected world, he noted, a need was seen to have such a ministry.

Academic disciplines, he suggested, are rather like castles separated from the world and each other. Taking a look at the language teaching profession, we see that common terms – tasks, input/output, texts – have technical definitions that differ from the general definitions in use outside the castle. Many learners are in fact interested in social, cultural or political issues affecting the areas where the target language is spoken; we should attempt to give them a chance to access authentic materials to learn about these conditions. When we change and simplify or grade texts, we do take something away from them. Authentic materials potentially give you access to the full range of human production and expression in all forms.

He went on to discuss CALL, pointing out that it is neither a single method, nor a single technology. It is important that we spend more time looking at what is happening in other castles; CALL can for example learn from the discipline of digital literacies. He mentioned Kathy Mills’ work on digital literacies, as well as my forthcoming work on digital literacies co-authored with Gavin Dudeney and Nicky Hockly. He then talked about predictive literacy in the context of Google searches, where possible questions are predicted by the search algorithm.

He concluded that we should seek engagement and connection with the wider world, not withdrawal; we should seek out cognate disciplines as they may provide new ideas; and we should harness the opportunities but be aware of the threats. Ultimately, he said, language teachers can offer a gift of understanding and tolerance in a fractured world; they are a force for good and they have the power to change lives.

In her plenary on the final day, Recalibrating content-related strategies for language learning in the digital age, Carol Chapelle spoke about the fact that language is always used for a purpose – conveying content, building relationships – and hence is always connected with content. However, the content in our field is often under-analysed. Typically there are two strategies: we assume that students know their discipline-related content, or we select humanities-based topics of general interest. Technology, however, offers greater potential, because students have access to content of all kinds. There is the potential for building content knowledge about different subjects, as well as building relationships. Teachers need strategies for employing digital technologies to maximise the use of content for language learning; the old strategies are not helpful because they assume limited content, whereas now there is an excess of content available. She focused on three key content-related strategies available to teachers:

  • Corpus-based pedagogy (advanced): We should bear in mind that students in each field need to read and write different genres; they need help to learn the language used in their fields for knowledge building. Here, we need an understanding of how language is used to build knowledge.
  • Virtual exchange (intermediate to advanced): The dreams of previous generations of CALL are now being realised through virtual exchange (VE) on various social media platforms. Its history includes distance learning, e-Tandem, cross-cultural collaboration, telecollaboration, and now virtual exchange. VE has been defined by Robert O’Dowd as involving the engagement of groups of learners in extended periods of online intercultural interaction and collaboration; it involves partners from other cultural contexts or geographical locations, is an integrated part of educational programmes, and takes place under the guidance of educators and/or expert facilitators. In VE it is important to consider content that will prompt good cross-cultural learning rather than failed communication. Here, we need an understanding of how different types of content are negotiated in collaboration.
  • Multimedia narrative for culture learning (beginners): In the past, meaning-based language learning was largely relegated to higher language levels in the form of literature; the future should involve language and content at all levels, beginning with multimodal cultural content, e.g., in the form of narratives. Here, we need an understanding of how to identify important cultural artefacts and narratives in multimedia materials.

She concluded that content and language are very much interrelated and are both important building blocks in language learning. Students need not only to learn to speak the language, but to have something to speak about.

The theme of making linguistic and cultural connections, often through virtual exchange or VE, surfaced in many papers at the conference. Our symposium, CALL for help: Critical CALL for diversity, inclusion and sustainability, focused on how CALL can reach and connect diverse and often under-served populations of learners. Moderated by Liliana Simón and introduced by Phil Hubbard, the symposium consisted of live presentations by Louise Ohashi and Mark Pegrum, and video presentations by Mirjam Hauck, Sarah Guth and Francesca Helm.

In her paper, Reaching beyond conferences: The potential of CALL in supporting diversity and inclusion, Louise Ohashi talked about the reasons why some teachers might not be able to attend conferences: these include financial reasons, family reasons (e.g., looking after children or elderly parents), inability to get permission from employers, a reluctance to interrupt their classes, and inability to obtain a visa or difficulty obtaining one. Some teachers compensate by watching live-streamed content and/or prerecorded talks; others participate on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms; others contact presenters for more information; and still others read conference proceedings. There are some, however, who don’t try alternative means to participate, in the belief that it is essential to be part of the conversations that take place in the social spaces of conferences. Virtually connecting, she suggested, is one way of having speakers at conferences interact in real time with those who are not at the conference but would like to ask questions and have discussions. It is also important to use social media to advertise scholarships, the availability of child care facilities, and where to access presentations online, etc.

In my own presentation, Connecting cultures via intercultural, ethical and critical literacies, I referred to the revised Framework of Digital Literacies that Gavin Dudeney, Nicky Hockly and I have created this year, due for publication shortly in The European Journal of Applied Linguistics and TEFL. I spoke about the importance of those digital literacies that can help teachers and students to build bridges between cultures, and which are particularly salient in an era of polarisation, misinformation and disinformation.

In her presentation, CALL and critical digital literacies for a sustainable future, Mirjam Hauck referred to Freire, speaking about the importance of reading the world critically and acting in the world to change it. Digital literacies have both functional and critical aspects, and the latter are essential to the development of agency. Too often, frameworks of digital literacies present literacy as universal and decontextualised. Any definition of digital literacies, however, is inherently political. It is not enough for digital literacies to help people fit into today’s inequitable societies; rather, a critical perspective is needed to help students develop agency in the world. Literacies are necessary for public engagement, global citizenship, and the enhancement of democracy.

VE, she suggested, naturally involves a sociopolitical context – indeed, it brings together at least two sociopolitical contexts in each case. She mentioned EVOLVE (Evidence-Validated Online Learning through Virtual Exchange). Such projects link the deep impact of intercultural exchange with the broad reach of digital technologies. In VE tasks, learners should develop a critical perspective on both the linguistic and non-linguistic elements of digital communication.

In their presentation, CALL for help: The place of critical CALL in building a sustainable, diverse and inclusive future, Sarah Guth and Fran Helm described VE as a kind of  experiential and collaborative learning, allowing the development of transversal skills including intercultural awareness, foreign language skills, and digital literacies. It also offers opportunities to build diverse personal relationships, supports preparation for work and civil engagement in a global context, and piques students’ interest in study abroad. They noted, nevertheless, that technology can pose a risk when combined with neoliberal,  neocolonial attitudes that may lead to a one-way transmission of knowledge from the developed world for the benefit of refugees or other under-served students.

VE can open up perspectives on other social realities, but we need to expand its reach. To date, it has been mainly East-West or North-North, but we need to involve all kinds of people in virtual exchanges. VE can also work within a single country, for example with young people from urban and rural areas, allowing them to get to know each other and promoting social cohesion.

In his presentation, Online learning through virtual exchange: A new role for CALL experts, Sake Jager talked about telecollaboration/VE having moved from language learning to content and language-integrated learning (CLIL) and now to content learning (where language learning is not necessarily an objective). He pointed out, with reference to De Wit and Leask (2015), that with the internationalisation of the curriculum has come a shift of focus from mobility for the elite to curriculum and learning outcomes for all students, whether mobile or not. Telecollaboration outcomes that are relevant in this context include language skills, intercultural competence, and digital literacy. There can be cross-national and cross-disciplinary perspectives on learning content. VE goes beyond languages through initiatives like UNICollaboration, the Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange (where European universities can connect their students with students from the southern Mediterranean, with a view to building intercultural understanding and undermining radicalisation), and EVOLVE. EVOLVE helps universities to implement VE by providing online training and support; it conducts research on VE at learner, educator, and institutional levels; and it actively promotes the results and engages with policy- and decision-makers at university, university network, and European levels.

In her presentation, Be the change, take the challenge: Teaching sustainable development goals, co-authored with Barbara Anna Zielonka, Shirlene Bemfica de Oliveira suggested that literacy practices with an emphasis only on the linguistic aspects of communication do not meet the demands of students in the contemporary, globalised world. Costa (2013) mentions that mobile technologies offer multiple affordances: negotiating interactive content, communicating with native or non-native speakers, making publications, recording videos, sending voice messages, and engaging in social actions. She spoke of the Be the Change, Take the Challenge project which focuses on human rights via a selection of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and on English learning through the SDGs; in 2017-2018, it involved 101 schools worldwide. Teachers can interact with colleagues abroad and share materials through Loomio; however, sometimes lesson plans which are used in one location – such as those focusing on gender equality and LGBT+ issues in the Brazilian context – might not be able to be applied in other contexts. She showed an example of an activity on Padlet, where high school students from around the world were asked to comment on problems they perceived in their own societies. In another task, students used Adobe Spark to create multimedia posters saying how they would like the world to be in 2030. Most teachers saw this project as offering possibilities and opportunities, and as promoting the use of the English language for real world purposes. Teachers developed new perspectives on technologies, both as a means of learning English, and as a means of prompting social activism.

There were a number of papers that addressed mobile learning, directly or indirectly. In his  talk, Reflective practice: Implementing 21st century skills in teaching EFL, Hiroyuki Obari suggested that mobile technologies involve a paradigm shift where students are more in control of their own learning. Mobile technologies can also facilitate seamless learning. He went on to talk about 21st century skills, including the 7 Cs (critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, cross-cultural understanding, communication, computing & ICT literacy, and career and learning self-reliance), but indicated that an additional important skill involves understanding and knowing how to co-exist with AI. He contrasted his classroom in 2014, where students were using iPads, and 2018, where students are making use of AI in various ways – Google Home and Alexa speakers, as well as Google AR/VR headsets – alongside tablets. He concluded that 21st century education should involve a combination of the following elements: blended and flipped learning; 21st century skills; a focus on Bloom’s taxonomy; social constructivism; ICTs/mobile technologies; and student autonomy. Moreover, he said, students need to expand their worldviews and find the purpose of their lives.

In his presentation, Exploring mobile support for English language teachers in a context of conflict: The case of informal Syrian refugee teachers in Jordan, co-authored with Shai Omali, Susan Dawson, Nasmi Al Masri and Heba Hamouda, Gary Motteram spoke about an ESRC-funded project called Supporting and developing teachers in contexts of conflict and disturbance. It was designed to support the development of teachers’ knowledge and skills to: design courses and resources/materials; make use of a variety of free online resources; create an online/mobile resource bank or course; evaluate the resources/course; and become reflective teachers through being part of the research project. Syria is 149 out of 188 on the HDI (having slipped 29 places since 2010). There are 72 mobile phone subscriptions per 100 people in Syria, and most people in refugee camps have access to a mobile phone.

The project needed a mobile app that could work in a variety of contexts, worked offline, and was authorable. They chose the Android app Ustad Mobile (see their blog for a summary of the projects in which they have been involved). You need three tools to create materials: eXe Learning (to create ePub files), the Ustad Mobile app, and H5P for additional interactivity. In the accompanying WhatsApp group, 24% of the communication was coded as interpersonal, 30% as organisational, and 46% as developmental. There were discussions about classroom methodology but largely based on teachers’ experiences rather than literature reading, and there were discussions about language usage. He went on to show a number of examples of conversations where learning and development were taking place. There was development of both linguistic and pedagogical knowledge; reflection; and evidence of the sociocultural realities of teachers and students.

In his talk, Language learning on tap! Twitter as an autonomous language learning tool – The learners’ perspective, Fernando Rosell-Aguilar mentioned that Twitter was seen very early on as a potential language learning platform, allowing linguistic and cultural input; writing and speaking output; and interaction with native speakers, fellow learners, teachers, language learning institutions, and chatbots/virtual assistants. Research studies have identified positive effects of Twitter, e.g., on target language output, developing a sense of community, and increasing the quantity of communication; but often these studies have been small-scale and carried out by teachers researching their own students.

He conducted a 30-question survey containing multiple-choice and open-ended questions, and offered in 4 languages; he received 401 responses in total. Participants had been learning a variety of different languages on Twitter. The majority were not studying formally but were using Twitter as part of their informal study, and most were not living in an area where the target language was spoken. The majority tweeted at least sometimes in the language they were learning. Most said they focused on both meaning and form in the target language they were reading; 62.9% said they had learned new vocabulary, but only 22.9% had learned new grammar rules. Most had learned facts about the places where the target language is spoken, most commonly related to news and current affairs. The majority of respondents agreed that they had improved their knowledge of the target language, and of target language areas. Some didn’t like the use of informal language on Twitter, but others liked the way it complemented the kinds of language learned in courses or textbooks; and some struggled to express themselves in 140 characters, whereas others liked this limit.

In his talk, Using WhatsApp for teaching French as a FL, Daniel Chan began by referring to Mark Zuckerberg’s comment that messaging is one of the few things people do more than social networking. WhatsApp is currently the most widely used messaging app in the world. It is generally already known to students and is usually accessed on their mobile phones. It can be used to facilitate communication, broadcast and share information and resources, and create discussion groups. It is an ideal way of fitting language learning into students’ lives. WhatsApp can also be used to post images of work done by students in class. Students’ responses can be corrected online.

When surveyed, his students indicated their appreciation of the fact that WhatsApp creates learning opportunities, allows collaborative and multimedia learning, preserves records of content for revision, and allows compact and succinct learning. In terms of challenges, some felt the groups were too public for their questions; that much depends on the dynamics of individual groups; that there is a danger of spamming and missing important information; and that there is pressure both on the students to respond, and on the teacher to respond quickly enough. Students wanted the teacher to animate the groups more, and to integrate the audio function to practice pronunciation and oral production.

A number of other interesting topics surfaced in presentations across the conference. In her talk, Silence as a challenge: How online language teachers deal with the void, Ursula Stickler noted that communication mediated through technology is different from face-to-face communication: there are delays in communication and potential technological faults, but beyond this, there is a lack of external cues (space awareness, proximity markers, shared environmental information) and there can be differences in levels of digital literacies (including the use of substitute cues like emoticons, emphasis and images). Online pedagogy needs to be based on understanding the communicative differences, limitations, and opportunities.

There has been quite a lot of research on silences in language teaching, which can have didactic, social and pragmatic, gendered, and culturally influenced (e.g., Confucianism) aspects. Online silence may be deliberate or the result of a technical glitch. One way of investigating online silence is with eye-tracking: this shows where a user’s attention is focused; and teachers’ and students’ gazes can be tracked in parallel and compared (though there are technical challenges in this). Online silence may be purposeful, but it may be unexpected (e.g., connected with turn-taking or politeness) or technical. Research indicates that teachers’ and students’ perspectives on silences differ (e.g., teachers may give room for answers but students may be experiencing cognitive overload), with some areas of overlap (e.g., cultural divergence from teachers’ perspectives may correspond to politeness/turn-taking from students’ point of view). Teachers may sometimes need to offer technical help; accept surface excuses; and stay calm in settings where they cannot recognise students’ reactions in the same way as in face-to-face teaching. Teaching online is not just about teaching language, but about teaching the skills of online communication.

In his presentation, Gamifying teacher professional development through Minecraft MOOC, Vance Stevens explained that over the last 40 years he has taught English through behaviourist and cognitive approaches, then communicative approaches, followed by communities of practice, connectivism (aligned with the original idea of MOOCs as community-driven), and most recently gamification. He indicated that Minecraft has caught the attention of many educators over the last decade; it promotes critical thinking, collaboration, problem-solving, language and communication, and has been used for architecture, engineering, chemistry, mathematics and coding, in addition to language teaching. Gamification, he said, is about learning not in a top-down format, but by exploring in a bottom-up way. The challenges for teachers are: penetrating Minecraft communities of learners; the complexity and depth of the game; and understanding how students will interact and communicate with each other in Minecraft, and how they will engage in self-directed critical/collaborative learning. The EVO Minecraft MOOC started in 2015 to address and resolve these problems, and newcomers are welcomed every January/February.

In a talk showing the power of data visualisation, Mapping Astoria: Engaging with the multilingual city using digital tools, Stephane Charitos and Nelleke Van Deusen-Scholl indicated their interest not only in the social turn or multilingual turn, but the spatial turn. They suggested that students can be engaged through place-, project- and community-based education. Astoria is a multilingual area of Queens, New York. An incipient project was set up in critical cartography, linguistic ethnography, and geo- and sociolinguistics; it was about considering language practices in spatial terms and reflecting on the links between language, space and identity. The idea was to create a ‘thick map’ of Astoria, with layers anchored to locations.

They spoke about ProM, a repository of pedagogically consistent modules related to language learning in given community spaces, which will be made public in due course. Example projects include a Korean language brochure and oral tour of the Yale campus; another, My New Haven, involves a photosafari and linguistic landscape, focusing on the use of Spanish; and yet another, StoryMap: My Happy Place, involves students carrying out multimodal digital storytelling in Korean.

They concluded that place-, project- and community-based initiatives can help students to reflect on the relationship between space and place (the latter having meaning attached to it); to identify and curate the symbols and habits of language; to critically explore the multilingual hyperdiversity that characterises urban centres, and challenge the tenets of a national ideology; to find innovative solutions that undermine the implicitly monolithic linkage between language and place, and champion different ways of visualising that relationship; to invent new ways of visually exploring the endless individual trajectories that make up today’s multiethnic, multilingual urban environments, and present connections between a city and the languages it speaks.

All in all, the message that threaded its way through many of the varied conference papers was that in the current historical moment we should be taking every opportunity to emphasise the role that languages and technologies can play in highlighting diversity, accommodating difference, and making connections between people and cultures. It will be interesting to see how the conversations around these themes have progressed when WorldCALL convenes again in another five years.

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