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.

Innovating in English learning

BAAHE Conference
Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
1 December 2017

Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium

A snowy morning in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2017. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

It was great to have the opportunity to head to snowy Belgium at the start of December to open the annual BAAHE Conference, which this year focused on the theme of  ‘Let’s Inter-Act! Innovative Teaching Practices in English Studies’. A series of papers covered innovative approaches to language teaching, many of them referencing digital technologies.

In my opening plenary, Revisiting mobile learning: Seizing new opportunities for language learning and cultural exploration, I outlined innovative teaching and learning approaches in the form of mobile augmented reality language learning and literacy acquisition initiatives from Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Vietnam. I pointed out that although not all of these projects are solely focused on English, all have lessons to teach us about how to support our students in using their everyday mobile devices to approach the English language, English literacies, and English-speaking cultures.

In their presentation, Giving students’ writing skills a boost: Towards a self-learning platform for an optimized use of online resources, Gaëtanelle Gilquin and Samantha Laporte spoke about their research on students’ use of online tools for writing, captured via screencasts and logs of their writing processes, with the ELAN software being used for video annotation. In their preliminary results, they found that students spent around 12% of their time using writing tools, making 17 searches each on average. There was however no correlation between the number of searches and their final grades; it may be that proficient writers need less help. Bilingual dictionaries represented 47% of students’ searches, and bilingual concordancers 20%. There was thus an overwhelming use of bilingual tools, and in general there was a conspicuous absence of corpus and collocation tools. It was discovered that most students stuck to a limited number of tools when seeking help. In nearly 70% of cases, it was found that students’ searches were helpful in improving their texts; but in other cases, the searches led to incorrect or partly incorrect formulations, or had no effect. The presenters concluded that there is a need to raise students’ awareness of the range of tools available, when to use them, and what help they can provide.

In his presentation, Using a ‘flipped classroom’ teaching modality to help English Master’s students master text-editing skills, John Linnegar spoke about a 10-week course involving three in-class sessions complemented by autonomous, self-directed learning. The textbook took on an even more central role in this context, he suggested. There were downloadable weekly video or audio clips by experts, as well as exercises and assignments. In addition, there was a closed Facebook community of practice. Students were generally very positive about the approach, and felt that the work was evenly spread over the 10 weeks. They were also very positive about the three contact sessions, but this may be partly a product of the fact that they were already so used to face-to-face teaching approaches. Unexpected outcomes included the fact that some students expressed a preference for more structure in their learning; a number did not participate fully or at all in the Facebook group; and they rarely emailed the lecturer. Areas for improvement in future iterations of the course include: making better use of video and audio clips and perhaps webinars; encouraging greater involvement on Facebook; giving more regular feedback on assignments; and above all more tightly planning and structuring the course. He concluded that a flipped approach requires a much tighter structure than a traditional face-to-face approach.

In her presentation, Online training module for language professionals: Promoting the uptake of open educational NLP [natural language processing] resources in language learning and teaching, Fanny Meunier spoke about a Moodle course on new technologies created for teachers. Teachers showed a lot of interest in the teaching opportunities provided by the tools; they liked the easy, practical and free access to the tools selected; they also liked the NLP tools that helped them identify the level of the pedagogical materials; and they liked interactive tools that allowed them to collaborate with colleagues and share materials with students. They appreciated the fact that learners could increase their autonomy, engage in more personalised learning, and use the target language within an online community. Problems included school bans on smartphones; lack of easy learner access to technologies in the classroom and/or at home; lack of a good internet connection in some schools; the preference of some teachers and students not to use digital technologies; a lack of computer literacy; and some less user-friendly and more linguistically complex tools. She demonstrated the use of one of the tools covered with the teachers, namely Acapela Box, discussing its potential to support learner-centred, independent, differentiated learning. Lessons learned by the project organisers include: keeping only the best tools; identifying additional ways of presenting the tools; and offering in situ presentations and teacher support. In future the organisers will take a learning-by-design approach where they ask teachers to discuss how they might actually employ these tools within their own teaching contexts.

In the closing plenary workshop, Audience response systems (clickers): How to enhance interaction with and between students, Ingrid Bertrand demonstrated the use of three different polling apps, namely Kahoot!, Socrative and Wooclap. Clickers are not a magic bullet, she said, but they have many possible benefits: they make learning fun, involve students in more active learning, provide immediate feedback, indicate to teachers whether more explicit teaching is needed, and improve students’ communication skills. It was suggested that when a student vote produces between 35-70% correct answers to a multiple-choice question, students can be asked to engage in peer discussion to convince their classmates of the correct answers, and then to vote again. The percentage of correct answers is likely to increase if those students who originally had the correct answers have presented strong enough arguments to their peers. In the peer discussion process, students also need to hone their communication skills as they engage in conversations with classmates and seek to persuade them of the correctness of their views.

All in all, this intensive one-day event was an ideal chance to gain some insights into the tools currently being explored and implemented by those involved in English teaching in Belgian higher education, and for lecturers to share with colleagues what is working in their particular contexts, thereby facilitating the spread of the most effective, locally relevant technological practices.

Asking the big questions around online learning

ICDE World Conference on Online Learning
Toronto, Canada
16-19 October 2017

New City Hall, Toronto, Canada

New City Hall, Toronto, Canada. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2017. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

The ICDE World Conference on Online Learning, focusing on the theme of “Teaching in a Digital Age – Re-thinking Teaching and Learning”, took place over four days in October, 2017. Like at other recent large technology conferences, it was interesting to see increasing recognition of the broader sociopolitical and sociocultural questions in which online learning is embedded, as reflected in many of the presentations. Papers were presented for the most part in groups of three or four under overarching strands. Short presentation times somewhat restricted the content that speakers were able to cover, but each set of papers was followed by audience discussion where key points could be elaborated on.

In his plenary presentation, edu@2035: Big shifts are coming, Richard Katz referred to Marshall McLuhan’s comment that “we march backwards into the future“, meaning that it is very difficult for us to predict the future without using the past as a framework. He went on to speak of Thomas Friedman’s framework for the future involving six core strategies – analyze, optimize, prophesize, customize, digitize and automize – in which, Katz suggested, all companies as well as all educational institutions need to be engaged. He suggested we may need to consider wild scenarios: could admission to colleges in the future be based not on performance tests but on genotyping? The gap between technology advancement and socialisation of technologies is widening, he stated.

As we look to the future, we have some choices in post-secondary education: avoid the topic; paralysis by analysis; choose mindful incrementalism; or invent a new future. To do the last of these, we need to take at least part of our attention off the rear view mirror. We need to construct scenarios, develop models, identify risks, and extract themes, and to present these ideas in short video formats that will be engaged with by today’s audiences. In short, we need to iterate, communicate and engage.

He mentioned William Gibson’s comment that “the future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed“, and a comment from Barry Chudakov (Sertain Research) that “algorithms are the new arbiters of human decision-making“. Evidence that the future is now can be found in various areas, from chatbots to the explosion of investment in cognitive systems and artificial intelligence (AI). Drawing on Pew Internet research, he suggested algorithms will continue to proliferate, with good things lying ahead. However, humanity and human judgement are lost when data and predictive modelling become paramount. Biases exist in algorithmically organised systems, and algorithmic categorisations deepen divides. Unemployment will rise. And the need is growing for algorithmic literacy, transparency and oversight.

He asked whether, by 2035, we can use new technologies and algorithms to personalise instruction in ways that both lower costs and foster engagement, persistence, retention and successful learning, possibly on a global scale? He concluded with a number of key points:

  • The robots are coming, aka change is inevitable;
  • Our mission must endure (even as our delivery and business models change);
  • While the past may be a prologue, there will be new winners and losers;
  • A future alma mater may be Apple, Google, Microsoft, Alibaba …;
    • scale is critical;
    • lifetime employability is critical;
    • students will determine winners and losers;
  • The future is already here, the question is whether we can face it;
    • ‘extreme planning’ must be practised;
  • Never discount post-secondary education.

In his plenary presentation, Reboot. Remake. Re-imagine, John Baker, the CEO of D2L, asked why it is that so many movie makers decide to re-imagine old movies? It’s because the original idea was great, but something has changed in the meantime, and a new direction is needed. Today’s political, science and environmental problems will ultimately be solved through education and its ripple effects, he suggested. In the current climate of rapid change, it is essential to focus not on remaking or rebooting, but rather on re-imagining the possible shape of education.

The technology must be about more than convenience; it must improve learning and increase engagement and satisfaction. Well-designed learning software can allow teachers to reach every student; what if there was no back of the classroom, he asked. It should be possible to reach remote learners or disabled learners or refugees or students using a range of devices from the brand new to hand-me-down technologies (hence the importance of responsive design).

We will soon see AI, machine learning, automation and adaptive learning becoming important; it is not just technology that is changing, but pedagogy. He cited an Oxford University study suggesting that 47% of all current jobs will cease to exist within two decades as a result of the advent of AI. The reality is that our skills development is not currently keeping pace with what will be needed in an AI-enabled future. Continuing educational opportunities for the workforce will be key here.

He suggested that the most important pedagogical innovation of the current era is competency-based education. In a discussion of its advantages, especially when accelerated by adaptive learning, he indicated that the greatest benefit is not so much the achievement of the competencies, but the leftover time and what can be done with it – could students learn more about other areas? Could they enrich their education through more research even at undergraduate level?

In response to an audience question, he also suggested that ‘learning management system’ (LMS) is an outdated term and ‘learning platform’ or ‘learning hub’ might be preferable. How do we capture and share the learning that is taking place across multiple platforms and spaces? It is vital that these systems should be porous, and interoperability between systems (e.g., through Learning Tools Interoperability [LTI] and Caliper) is essential.

In his plenary presentation, The future of learning management systems: Development, innovation and change, Phil Hill suggested that while there are many exciting educational technology developments, there is also a great deal of unhelpful hype about them. The steady, slower paced progress being made at institutions – for example in the introduction of online courses – is in many ways disconnected from the media and other hype. What is important is what can be done with asynchronous, individualised online education that cannot be done so easily in a plenary face-to-face classroom. Some of today’s most creative courses are bypassing LMSs in order to incorporate a wider range of platforms and tools.

Most institutions now have an LMS; these are seen as necessary but not exciting or dynamic. The core management system design is based on an old model. Some companies are trying to add innovative features, but it’s not clear how useful or effective some of these may be. (It may be that over time all ed tech platforms start adding in extra features which eventually make them look like badly-designed LMSs.) When LMSs first appeared, there were few competitors, but now there are many flexible platforms available, creating a demand that LMSs can replicate the same features. There is considerable frustration with LMSs, which are seen as much harder to use than the platforms and tools on the wider web.

He mentioned that in higher education Moodle is currently the LMS with the largest user base, while Canvas is the fastest growing LMS. At school level, Google Classroom, Schoology and Edmodo have some leverage, but they are less used in higher education. Many other platforms have attempted to enter the mainstream but have since disappeared. Overall, this is a fairly static market without many new successful entrants. The trend is towards having these systems hosted in the cloud; this may be the only choice with some LMSs, such as Canvas. While there is currently a lot of movement towards open education, in North America the installed base of LMSs is moving away from the main open source providers, Moodle and Sakai; similar trends are seen elsewhere. There is a certain perception that these look less professional than the proprietary systems. Open source is arguably not as important as it used to be; many educational institutions have moved away from their original concern not to be beholden to commercial providers, and are now focusing more on whether staff and students are happy with the system. Worldwide we’re seeing most institutions working with the same small number of LMSs: Canvas, D2L, Blackboard, Moodle and to some extent Sakai. We should consider the implications of this.

The question is how to resolve the tension between faculty desires to use the proliferating educational technologies which offer lots of flexible teaching and learning options, and institutional insistence that faculty make use of the LMS. Many people are saying that LMSs should go away, but in fact that’s not what we’re seeing happening. Opposition to LMSs is largely based on the fact that they function as walled gardens, which is how they were originally designed. In many cases, they have added poor versions of external software like blogs or social networks, and there has been an overall bloating of the systems.

What we’re seeing now is a breaking down of the walled garden model. The purpose of an LMS is coming to be seen as providing the basics, with gateways offered so that there are pathways to the use of external tools. It should be easy to access and integrate these external tools when faculty wish to use them. Interoperability of tools through systems like LTI, xAPI and Caliper is an important direction of development, though there is a need for these standards to evolve. They key point however is the acceptance by the industry that this is the direction of evolution. He concluded that there are three major trends in LMSs nowadays: cloud hosting; less cluttered, more intuitive designs; and an ability to integrate third-party software. Much of this change has been inspired by the Educause work on NGDLEs. There is a gradual move among LMS providers towards responsive designs so that LMSs can be used more effectively on mobile devices.

The strand Engaging online learners focused on improving learning outcomes through improving learner engagement. In their presentation, Engaging online students by fostering a community of practice, Robert Kershaw and Patricia Lychak explained their belief that if facilitators are engaged with developing their own competencies, then they will use these to engage students. Initially, a small number of workshops and informal support were provided for online facilitators in their institution; then a training specialist was brought in; and it was found through applied research that online facilitators wanted more development in student engagement, supporting student success, and technology use. A community of practice model with several stages has been developed: onboarding (involving web materials, a handbook, and a discussion forum) > community building (involving a discussion forum, webinars, and in-person events) > coaching (involving checking in with new facilitators, one-on-one support, and inquiries) > student success initiatives (involving early check-ins with students,  mid-term progress reports on students, and final grade entry) > training (shaped in part by feedback from the earlier stages; this also shapes the next onboarding phase). Lessons learned include:

  • introduce variety (delivery method, timing, detail level);
  • encourage sharing (best practices, student success stories, sample report comments);
  • promote efficiency (pre-populate templates, convert documents to PDF fillable forms, highlight LMS time-saving tools).

What the trainers try to do is to model for online facilitators what they can do for and with their students.

In his presentation, Chasing the dream: The engaged learner, Dan Piedra indicated that the tools we invest in can lock us into design mode templates. He quoted Sean Michael Morris: “today most students of online courses are more users than learners … the majority of online learning basically asks humans to behave like machines“. Drawing on Coates (2007), he suggested that engagement involves:

  • active learning;
  • collaborative learning;
  • participation in challenging academic activities;
  • formative communication with academic staff, and involvement in enriching educational experiences;
  • feeling legitimated/supported by learning communities;
  • work-integrated learning.

He showed a model being used at McMaster University involving the company Riipen, which places a student with a partner company that assesses students’ skills, after which the professor assigns a grade.

In her talk, A constructivist pedagogy: Shifting from active to engaged learning, Cheryl Oyer referred to Garrison, Anderson and Archer’s Community of Inquiry model involving cognitive, teaching and social presence. She mentioned a series of learner engagement strategies for nursing students: simulations, gamification, excursions, badges and portfolios.

The strand Online language learning focused on the many possibilities for promoting language learning through digital technologies. In his presentation, The language laboratory with a global reach, Michael Dabrowski talked about a Spanish OER Initiative at Athabasca University. The textbook was digitised, with the Moodle LMS being used as the publishing platform. Open technologies were used, including Google Maps (as a venue for students to conduct self-directed sociocultural investigations), Google Translate (as a dictionary, and a pronunciation and listening tool, which now also incorporates Word Lens for mobile translation), and Google Voice (the foundation for an objective open pronunciation tutor). With Google Translate, there are some risks including laziness with translation and uncritical acceptance of translations, but in fact it was found that students were noticing errors in Google’s translations.  With Google Voice, it is not a perfect pronunciation tutor; sometimes it is too critical, and sometimes too forgiving. Voice recognition by a computer is nevertheless a preferable form of feedback compared to learners’ own self-comparisons with language speakers heard in an audio laboratory; effectively it is possible to have a free open mobile language learning laboratory nowadays.

In her presentation, Open languages – Open online learning communities for better opportunities, Joerdis Weilandt described an open German learning course she has run on the free Finnish Eliademy platform. In setting up this course, it was important to transition from closed to open resources so they could be modified as needed. Interactive elements were added to the materials presented to students using the H5P software.

In their paper, Language learning MOOCs: Classifying approaches to learningMairéad Nic Giolla Mhichíl and Elaine Berne explained that there has been a significant increase in the availability of LMOOCs (language learning MOOCs). They were able to identify 105 LMOOCs in 2017, and used Grainne Conole’s 12-dimension MOOC classification to present an analysis of these (to be published in a forthcoming EuroCALL publication). They went on to speak about a MOOC they have created on the FutureLearn platform to promote the learning of Irish.

In his presentation, Online learning: The case of migrants learning French in Quebec, Simon Collin suggested that linguistic integration is important in supporting social and professional integration. This has traditionally been done face-to-face but increasingly it is being done online. Advantages of online courses for migrants fall into two major categories: they can anticipate their linguistic integration before arriving; and after migration, they can take online courses to facilitate a work-family-language learning balance. He described a questionnaire about perceptions of online learning answered by 1,361 adult migrants in Quebec. The common pattern was to take an online course before arrival, and then a face-to-face course after arrival. Respondents thought online courses were more helpful for developing reading and listening, but not as helpful for developing speaking skills.

The strand Leveraging learning analytics for students, faculty and institutions brought together papers focusing on the highly topical area of learning analytics. In their paper, Implementing learning analytics in higher education: A review of the literature and user perceptions, Nobuko Fujita and Ashlyne O’Neil indicated that there are benefits of learning analytics for educators in terms of improving courses and teaching, and for students in terms of improving their own learning. They reported on a study of perceptions of learning analytics by educators, administrators and students. Overall, there was a concern with the impact on students; the main concerns reported included profiling students, duty to respond, data security and consent.

In her presentation, An examination of active learning designs and the analytics of student engagement, Leni Casimiro indicated that active learning has four main components: experiential, interactive, reflective, and deep (higher-order). She reported on a study making use of learning analytics to determine to what extent students were in fact engaged in active learning. Descriptive analytics revealed that among the three courses examined, there was considerable variation in levels of activity; this was due to differences in student outcomes (tasks should help students focus rather than distracting them), teacher participation (teacher presence is essential), interactivity (teacher participation is important, as is the quality of questions), and the nature of students (asynchronous communication may be preferred by international students). Because of the weight given to teacher participation in active learning, it deserves special attention.

In his presentation, Formative analytics: Improving online course learning continuously, Shunping Wei explained that formative analytics are focused on supporting the learner to reflect on what has been learned, what can be improved, which goals can be achieved, and how to move forward. Formative analytics reports should be provided not only to management, but to teachers. It is possible to track whether students access all parts of an online course and whether they do so often, which would likely be signs of a good learner. It is also possible to create a radar map for a certain person or group, comparing their performance with the average.

The strand Mobile learning: Learning anytime, anywhere brought together a number of different perspectives on m-learning. In their presentation, Design principles for an innovative learner-determined mobile learning solution for adult literacy, Aga Palalas and Norine Wark spoke about their project focusing on a literacy uplift solution in the context of surprisingly low adult literacy rates in Canada. They have created a cross-platform mobile app for formal and informal learning incorporating gamification elements within a constructivist framework, but with more traditional behaviourist components as well. Based on data obtained in their study to date, key design themes and principles have been determined as follows:

  • mobility: design for the mobile learner;
  • learner-determined: respond to the learner;
  • context: integrate environmental influences.

Future plans include presentation of the pedagogical and technological principles and guidelines, and replication of the study in different contexts.

In her presentation, English to go: A critical analysis of apps for language learning, Heather Lotherington suggested that there is an element of technological determinism in mobile-assisted language learning (MALL). In MALL, there can be an app-only/content-oriented approach which gives you a course-in-a-box; or design-oriented learning which uses the affordances of mobile technologies in customised learning. Examining the most popular commercial language learning apps, she found that most were underpinned by ‘zombie pedagogies’ involving grammar-translation, audiolingualism, teaching by testing, drill and kill, decontextualised vocabulary, and so on. Ultimately, there were multiple flaws in theory, pedagogy, and practice. This led to failures from the point of  view of mobility (with a need to record language in a quiet room rather than in everyday settings), gamification, and language teaching (there was, for example, generally a 4-skills model of language learning, which is outdated in an era of multimodal communication). Companies are also gathering users’ data for their own purposes. It is essential, she concluded, that language teachers are involved in designing contemporary approaches to mobile language learning; and teachers should also be familiar with content-based apps so they can incorporate them strategically in design-based language teaching and avoid technological determinism. Later, in question time, she went on to suggest that what we are currently confronted with is a difficult interface between slow scholarship and fast marketing.

In her presentation, New delivery tool for mobile learning: WeChat for informal learning, Rongrong Fan explained that WeChat has taken over from QQ as the most popular messaging platform in China. WeChat incorporates instant messaging, official accounts, and ‘moments’ (this works on the same principle as sharing materials on Facebook). Some institutions are using official accounts which push learning material to students, which could be as little as a word a day; an advantage is that this can support bite-sized learning, but a disadvantage is that too many subscriptions can lead to ‘attention theft’. WeChat can be used for live broadcasting with low fees; this allows more direct interaction but the long-term learning effects and value are questionable. It is also possible to set up virtual learning communities in the form of WeChat groups; this can be motivating and help to overcome geographical barriers, but learners may not be making real progress if they are learning only from each other. She concluded that WeChat can be integrated into formal learning as a complementary platform; that use of WeChat could be incorporated in teacher training to give teachers more options for delivering their content; and that a strong learner support team is needed.

The strand Virtual reality and simulation in fact covered both virtual and augmented reality. In his presentation, Flipping a university for a global presence with mirrored reality, Michael Mathews spoke about the Global Learning Center at Oral Roberts University.  Augmented and virtual reality, he said, are additive to the experience that students receive, and can help us reach the highest level of Creating in Bloom’s Taxonomy. The concept of mirrored reality brings together augmented and virtual reality. These technologies can offer ways of reaching a diverse range of students scattered around the world.

In my own presentation, Taking learning to the streets: The potential and reality of mobile gamified language learning, which also formed part of this strand, I outlined the value of an augmented reality approach for helping students to engage with authentic language learning experiences in everyday life.

The strand Augmented reality: Aspects of use in education highlighted a range of contemporary uses of AR. In their talk, Distributed augmented reality training to develop skills at a distance, Mohamed Ally and Norine Wark described AR as an innovative solution to rapidly evolving learning needs. They spoke of their research on an industrial training package about valve repair and maintenance created by Scope AR and delivered onsite via iPads and AR glasses, for which they gathered data relating to the first three levels of the Kirkpatrick Model. The response to the AR training was overwhelmingly positive, with past hands-on training being seen as second-best, and computer-based training being least valued. It was felt that AR could replace lengthy training programmes. Scope AR has now developed a Remote AR collaboration tool which can be used to deliver support at a distance.  The presenters concluded by saying that AR could have many applications in distance education where the expert is in one location but can communicate at a distance to tutor or train someone in a different location.

In his presentation, Augmented reality and technical lab training using HoloLens, Angelo Cosco explained that skilled trades training can be created to be accessed via Microsoft’s HoloLens, allowing students to learn at their own pace, but also offering development opportunities for employees. Advantages include the fact that unlike with VR, there are no issues with nausea; users can wear the HoloLens and move around easily; and recordings can be made and sent immediately through wifi networks.

In their paper, Maximizing learner engagement and skill development through modelling, immersion and gameplay, Naza Djafarova and Leonora Zefi demonstrated a training game (though not an AR game per se) for community nurses in the Therapeutic Communication and Mental Health Assessment Demo video. The game is set up on a choose-your-own-adventure model, giving students a chance to practice what they have learned in a simulated and ‘safe’ environment, which is especially valuable given the lack of practicum placement positions available. Usability testing was conducted to identify benefits and determine possible future improvements. Students felt that the game helped them to build confidence and evoked empathy, and added that they were very engaged. They thought that the purpose of the resource should be explained up front, and requested more instructions on how to play the game, as well as an alternative to scoring. The research team’s current focus is on how to facilitate game design in multidisciplinary teams, and on examining linkages between learning objectives and game mechanics.

CN Tower, Toronto

CN Tower, Toronto. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2017. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

While many of the talks described above already began addressing the bigger philosophical issues around digital learning, there were also strands dedicated to these larger questions. The strand Ethical issues in online learning brought together presentations addressing a wide range of ethical issues connected with digital learning. In his presentation, Privacy-preserving learning analytics, Vassilios Verykios noted that we all create a unique social genome through the many activities we engage in online. There is now an unprecedented power to analyse big data for the benefit of society; there can be improvement in daily lives, and verification of research results and reductions in the costs of research projects, but strict privacy controls are needed. There are some regulatory frameworks already in place to protect data, including the US HIPAA and FERPA and the EU Data Protection Directive and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The last of these deals with consent, data governance, auditing, and transparency regarding data breaches. There are data ownership issues, given that companies collect data for their own benefit; from a research perspective, it is important to remember that data is gathered by different bodies with their own ways of managing and storing it.

When it comes to educational data, technology now allows us to monitor students’ activities. Learning analytics is used to improve the educational system as a whole, but also to personalise the teaching of students. ‘Data protection’ involves protecting data so it cannot be accessed by intruders; and ‘data confidentiality’ means data can be accessed by legally authorised individuals. Data de-identification is a way of stripping out individually identifying characteristics from the data collected; one approach to anonymised data is known as k-anonymity. A fundamental challenge comes from the fact that when we anonymise data we do lose a lot of information, and it may somewhat change the statistics; so it is  necessary to find a balance between accessing useful data and protecting privacy.

In his presentation, The ethics of not contributing to digital addiction in a distance education environment, Brad Huddleston indicated that addiction takes place in the same part of the brain, regardless of what you are addicted to. Addiction is about going harder to generate larger quantities of dopamine to overcome the chemical barrier erected by the brain to deflect excessive amounts of dopamine. When it comes digital addiction, the symptoms are: anger when devices are taken away; anxiety disorders; and boredom (the last of these results from a lack of dopamine getting through the brain’s dopamine barrier). Studies have suggested, amongst other things, that computers do not necessarily improve education; that reading online is less effective than reading offline; and that one of the most popular educational games in the world, Minecraft, is also one of the most addictive.

There is a place, he stated, for the analogue to be re-integrated into education, though not to the exclusion of the digital. We should work within the limitations of the brain for each age group; that means less technology use at lower ages. We should teach students what mono-tasking or uni-tasking is about. We also need to understand, he said, that digital educational content is just as addictive as non-educational content.

In her presentation, ‘Troubling’ notions of inclusion and exclusion in open distance and e-learning: An exploration, Jeanette Botha mentioned that the divide between developed and developing nations is increasing, largely because of a lack of internet access in the latter. In the global north, there has traditionally been a concern with equity, participation and profit. In the global south, there has been more of an emphasis on social justice, equity and redress; social justice incorporates the notion of social inclusion. Inclusivity, she went on to say, now has a moral, and by extension, ethical imperative.

Since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, there has been a focus on the inclusiveness of education. Open and distance learning are seen as a key social justice and inclusion instrument and avenue. However, we haven’t made the kind of progress that might have been expected. One reason is that context matters. Contextual barriers to inclusivity include:

  • technology (infrastructure and affordability);
  • quality (including accreditation, service and quality of the learning experience);
  • cultural and linguistic relevance and responsiveness;
  • perceived racial barriers;
  • ‘graduateness’ and employability of open and distance learning graduates;
  • confusion, conflation and fragmentation in the global open and distance learning environment.

In his presentation, Intercultural ethics: Which values to teach, learn and implement in online higher education and how?, Obiora Ike mentioned global challenges such as the rise of populism, economic and environmental problems, addictions, and issues of inclusivity. Culture matters, he argued, and from culture come values and ethics. Behaving in an ethical way engenders trust and promotes an ethical environment. Globethics.net, based in Geneva, has developed an online database of materials about ethics as well as a values framework. We must integrate ethics with all forms of education, he argued. This is a project being pursued for example through the Globethics Consortium, which focuses on ethics in higher education.

The strand Online learning and Indigenous peoples brought together papers on a variety of projects focused on Indigenous education through online tools. In the talk, A digital bundle – Indigenous knowledge on the internet: Emerging pedagogy, design, and expanding access, Jennifer Wemigwans suggested that respectful representations of knowledge online can be effective in helping others to access that knowledge. While it does not replace face-to-face transmission, cultural knowledge shared by elders online becomes accessible to those who might not otherwise have access to such knowledge, but who might wish to apply it in a range of contexts from the personal to the community sphere.

In her talk, Supporting new Indigenous postgraduate student transitions through online preparation tools, Lynne Petersen spoke about supporting Indigenous students through online tools in the Medical and Health Sciences Faculty at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. The work is framed theoretically by Indigenous research methodologies, transition pedagogies, and the role of technology and design in supporting empowerment (however, there are questions for Indigenous communities where face-to-face traditions are prevalent). There may be a disconnect between perceptions of academic or professional competency in the university system, and cultural knowledge and competency within an Indigenous community. Among the online tools created, a reflective questionnaire helps students think through the areas in which they are well-prepared, and the areas where they may need support. Future explorations will address why the tools seem to work well for Maori students, but not necessarily for Samoan or Tongan students, so it may be that as they stand these tools are not appropriate for all communities.

In the paper, Language integration through e-portfolio (LITE): A plurilingual e-learning approach combining Western and Indigenous perspectives, Aline Germain-Rutherford, Kris Johnston and Geoff Lawrence described a fusion of Western and Indigenous pedagogical perspectives. In a WordPress-based social space, each learner can trace their plurilingual journey covering the languages they speak, their daily linguistic encounters, and their cultural encounters. In another part of the website, students are directed to language exercises. After completing these, students can engage in a reflection covering questions relating to the four areas of mind, spirit, heart and body. Students can also respond to questions relating to the Common European Framework to build ‘radar charts’ reflecting their plurilingual, pluricultural identities. The fundamental aim of such an approach is to validate students’ plurilingual, pluricultural knowledge base.

Old City Hall, Toronto

Old City Hall, Toronto. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2017. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

Bringing together a wide range of academic and industry perspectives, this conference provided an important forum for discovering digital learning practices from around the globe, while simultaneously thinking through some of the big questions posed by new technologies.

Learning on the move in Brunei

ISITL Symposium
Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
22-23 August 2017

Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddien, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddien, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2017. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

The 3rd International Symposium on Innovative Teaching and Learning, on the theme of “Mobile Learning and Innovation in Technologies”, focused squarely on the role of mobile learning within the larger field of innovative technology-enhanced teaching and learning. The symposium was opened by the Minister for Education of Brunei, who stressed the value of using mobile technologies for collaboration and independent learning within the Bruneian education system.

In my opening keynote, Making the most of mobile: Developing literacies while on the move, I presented some recent theories of mobile learning, connected to key themes – authenticity, situatedness, learning design, and game-based learning – which have emerged in recent years in the mobile learning research. I followed up with case studies of AR projects from Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Vietnam to illustrate the range of possibilities currently being explored in cutting-edge projects around Asia.

In a follow-up panel discussion facilitated by Danial Azizan Henry from Microsoft Brunei, and with a panel consisting of Don Carlson (Microsoft Asia Pacific), Abbes Sebihi (SEAMEO VOCTECH) and myself, we touched on a range of issues such as how to gradually change the mindsets of policymakers, educational leaders, teachers, students, parents and the wider public; how to align the interests and contributions of different stakeholders in implementing mobile learning; and how to create spaces for exploration and experimentation. It was apparent from audience questions and comments that there is a lot of interest in this area in Brunei, suggesting considerable potential for future development.

In his opening keynote on the second day, Educational digital transformation, Don Carlson discussed some of the major changes taking place in employment worldwide: factory workers being replaced by robots; manufacturing occurring at the point of purchase thanks to 3D printing; or the construction of prefabricated high-rise buildings within a matter of weeks. As educators, we have to ask how what we are doing is relevant to the changing world around us.

Major issues include equity (ensuring that no students are disadvantaged), youth unemployment, youth interest in bigger global issues than what they may encounter in education, youth turning away from universities as they fail to see their relevance, and the mobility of students between universities and countries. Is technology the answer, he asked. He discussed the 2015 OECD report Students, Computers and Learning which indicated that there have been no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, maths or science in countries that have invested heavily in ICTs; but the report went on to say that to build on the promise of technology, countries need better strategies to build teachers’ capacity, and policy-makers need better strategies to build support for this agenda. In other words, technology is not the problem; it is about building capacity around the technology. He spoke about three key clusters of issues: the quality of education; skills for employability; and equity and access.

From the point of view of educational institutions, he suggested that there has been a recent realisation in higher education that we need to become better teachers. From the point of view of students, there is a growing expectation of personalisation in all aspects of life; and yet when they come into the classroom we put them in rows, give them all the same materials, and wonder why it is ineffective. He added that the question of what is real or not real (generated on computers) is less and less important; there is a blur between the real and the unreal. Data analytics which allow personalisation of teaching and learning are one of the biggest areas of current innovation worldwide.

Feedback from industry indicates that many of today’s graduates do not have the skills which employers are seeking. Challenges in this area were flagged up in the 2016 report Managing Skills Challenges in ASEAN-5. From the point of view of Microsoft, there are many jobs in this region that are currently unfilled because qualified candidates are not available; this will be increasingly the case in the future. It may be that we are not conveying to students the ways in which disciplines like engineering or computer science could enable them to help address some of the world’s largest contemporary challenges. There need to be accompanying policy shifts to encourage students to move into STEM and related areas from the earliest levels of education. Minecraft is now having a huge impact at school level, involving students in STEM without them necessarily making the explicit connection. He went on to talk about approaches such as the Skype-a-thon, which allows students to connect with experts and/or peers in other countries.

He concluded by presenting Microsoft’s Education Transformation Framework with its ten components, on each of which a white paper has been developed. It is important for educators to share their learning experiences, and for us to learn from each other what works and what doesn’t.

In his talk, Encouraging teachers’ creativity and bravery for innovative teaching in primary school, Abdul Walid bin Misli spoke about the importance of teachers helping students develop their 21st century skills in the context of working towards the Brunei Vision 2035 – Wawasan 2035, linked to the Ministry of Education’s SPN21 vision. He introduced Vivian Robertson’s concept of student-centred leadership and the eHijrah Whole School ICT Development (WSID) project in Brunei. In one example of a ‘brave story’, he demonstrated that even in settings with relatively restricted hardware and software availability, there is still some scope for creative use of new technologies, drawing on the mobile devices available to the teacher and the students. In another story, he showed how email and Skype were used to underpin a real-life English language exchange between students in Brunei and Taiwan, helping them to engage in collaboration, inquiry and global learning.

In her talk, Flipped classroom and mobile learning in the 21st century, Kalpana Kishorekumar stated that the value of a flipped class is in the repurposing of class time into a workshop where students can inquire about lecture content, test their skills in applying knowledge, interact with one another and engage in hands-on activities. Advantages include the fact that students have more control over their learning; they develop 21st century skills such as collaboration and self-regulation; lessons and content are more accessible; parents have easier access to an overview of students’ learning; and efficiency. Disadvantages include the possible existence of a digital divide; extra teacher workload; reliance on preparation and trust; the fact that it may not be a standard test preparation approach; and student workload. Much flipped learning occurs nowadays via mobile devices. Successful channelling of m-learning, she said, is not about digitising educational systems, but rather catering to the needs of 21st century learners.

She presented a series of screenshots of the flipped system she uses, where she creates slides with Microsoft Office Mix. As she showed, Office Mix provides data analytics reflecting the work completed by students. She also demonstrated the use of OneNote as a space for organisation, materials delivery and note-taking, as well as for student-teacher interaction and student-student collaboration. She then explained the ways in which it is possible to use Skype, for example for recording and sharing the experiences of educators or students in different parts of the world, or for bringing scientists and other experts into the classroom. She concluded that innovative spaces do not create innovative teachers, but that innovative teachers will always find ways to create innovative spaces.

In his workshop, Facilitating formative assessment and student monitoring on the mobile platform through CLOUD services, Saiful Anuar Abdul Rahim started by asking the audience to complete a pre-workshop survey in Google Docs, demonstrating the aggregated data he was able to obtain instantaneously about the demographics and ICT experience of the cohort, and indicating that this would allow him to tailor his delivery to the needs of those in the room. Similarly, a post-task assessment allows a presenter or teacher to check how well a lesson has been understood. He demonstrated the use of Kahoot! for this purpose. Mobile formative assessments, he suggested, can increase students’ motivation, participation and collaboration in mapping out their own lesson progress.

In her presentation, Challenges and opportunities of mobile learning, Jaya Priah Kasinathan opened by quoting from recent reports on the spread of smartphones, including Deloitte’s 2016 There’s No Place Like Phone. Nonetheless, there are some challenges for teachers. Technological challenges include screen sizes (a particular concern in BYOD contexts when students bring devices of quite different sizes to class), different phone types, app compatibility with different phones, unstable connectivity, and a lack of power sources; but many of these are interim problems that will be solved in time. The real challenges, she suggested, are in areas that involve more human factors: digital literacy, ICT anxiety, and ICT teaching self-efficacy. She went on to describe some easy-to-use tools that could provide an entry point for lecturers who might not yet have much experience of using ICTs in higher education: Kahoot! (where you can create gamified quizzes, or find quizzes created by other teachers), Socrative and Poll Everywhere.

In his presentation, Educational applications development with virtual world and mobile technology, Mohamad Saiful Haji Omar explained that virtual worlds are persistent and allow for continuing and growing social interactions; they give users the ability to carry out tasks that would be difficult in the real world due to constraints such as cost, scheduling or location; and they can grow and adapt to meet different user needs. The UTB (Universiti Teknologi Brunei) 3DVLE (virtual learning environment) was developed with OpenSim, combining aspects of game-based learning and simulation, mimicking the real world and providing flexible learning spaces. It can be viewed using the virtual world viewer Firestorm. He showed images and videos of educational activities on the UTB virtual campus in OpenSim. It was found that 3D VLEs have great educational potential, with user acceptance (as per the Technology Acceptance Model, or TAM) being the key element. Nevertheless, he concluded, there is a need for balance in education, meaning that ICTs have a place in learning but do not have to be used all the time.

In his presentation, Use of augmented reality (AR) in teaching secondary science students, Au Thien Wan indicated that the concept of AR has been around for a while but has only recently become implementable and reliable thanks to high quality image capturing, and image processing by CPUs (central processing units) and GPUs (graphics processing units). AR users feel less separated from the real world than virtual reality (VR) users, he said. He demonstrated a chemistry project where students were asked to scan markers to view simulated 3D models of chemical elements, which would otherwise be hard for them to conceptualise or visualise. Comparing an experimental group to a control group on a post-test of understanding, it was found that the former had significantly higher scores.

There were also a number of presentations which were partly or wholly from an industry perspective. In his talk, The application of learning and innovative technologies in business – Case studies from two UK companies, Ian Wall began with an example of a firm providing training to a field-based sales team through online coaching materials and workbooks, along with one-to-one videoconferencing coaching sessions. Advantages included flexibility and self-pacing, and anywhere, anytime learning; drawbacks included the need for self-discipline, and intrusion into personal time. In a similar system set up for training office and warehouse staff – to avoid training eating into their working time – similar advantages were found: flexibility to use the resources on various mobile devices, presentation of the material in manageable chunks, progress checks, and self-paced learning; participants identified disadvantages as including the requirement for an offline component, and the inability to download content.

In a second case study, he explained that about a year ago the Automobile Association (AA) in the UK gave all its mobile staff an iPhone to access instruction manuals and training materials; order spare parts, supplies or uniforms; access HR resources and submit forms; communicate by phone or email; and view requests for help, customer details and locations. The benefits were immediate access to information and resources; patrols were more empowered; and, from the point of view of the company, the staff were more accountable for their activities. Drawbacks reported were that documents and videos were difficult to view, and that phones were sometimes lost or stolen. The company subsequently released an AA app for customers to report breakdowns, track the recovery van, gain real-time traffic information, plan routes, find fuel and view prices, and find restaurants offering discounts to AA members. Moving in the direction of connected cars, AA has also now released a plug-in Car Genie device which checks the car’s health, sending notifications to your mobile phone.

He concluded that the advantages of mobile learning in industry are similar to those in education:

  • flexibility (fits into daily schedule)
  • mobility (can be used while travelling, with everything on one device)
  • self-paced (can work at your own pace within a timeframe)
  • suitable content (best if bite-sized and fitted to screen)
  • feedback & response (system can provide immediate feedback)

In her talk, Virtual reality learning, Malina Raman explained the relevance of virtual reality to training in the context of the oil and gas industry. A distinction was made between 360 video where you can observe a scene from one point of view, looking in different directions but without interacting with or moving through the scene; and VR, which was demonstrated through the use of an Oculus Rift headset displaying a simulated oil rig environment, where the user can move around at will. The latter took the form of a game where users have to identify hazards. She concluded that conventional teaching involves photos/videos, no mobility, a 2D perspective, and desktop or mobile devices; 360 video involves live action, restricted movement, a perspective dependent on the camera movement, and desktop or mobile devices; and immersive VR involves a digital environment, an immersive world, free walkthrough, and head-mounted displays or mobile devices.

In their presentation, ISPI next – Digital BMW and mini service consultation, Sivakumar Krishnan and Wee Jeau Liang focused on a system called ISPI (Integrated Service Process Information) Next, which represents a move away from the traditional manual approach to car servicing. This means that, with the aid of an iPad, service consultations will be much more streamlined and efficient, and car inspections can even be carried out at a customer’s home. Overall, there will be a deeper involvement of the customer in the consultation process. They demonstrated how, just by scanning the car’s connected key, a whole range of information about the car can be displayed, and a history of past servicing and repairs can be accessed. Photos of any damage can be taken with the iPad and stored, and written notes can be made using voice recognition.

An app for making car service bookings, the QAF Auto Services Mobile App, is now being created by students at Politeknik Brunei and will eventually be rolled out by BMW across Brunei. The students explained key design considerations behind the app, including usability, availability (for both Apple and Android devices), scalability, flexibility (referring to ease of use), productivity (because it will save both customers’ and administrative staff’s time), and customer loyalty. They demonstrated the prototype app in action, taking the audience through the screens that a customer would typically see. Once the app has been fully developed, the students will be involved in testing it before it is marketed through social media and made available to the public.

The lake at Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddien, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Ceremonial stone boat, Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddien, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2017. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

The symposium wrapped up after two busy days where educators and industry representatives exchanged views on the applications of mobile ICTs in education and training. Indeed, there appears to be some interesting potential in the crossover area between education and industry, suggesting that we should perhaps be paying more attention to the mutual benefits that can emerge from closer partnerships between the two.

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