Grappling with AI

Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2024. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

2024 Q2 Update
Singapore & Hong Kong, SAR China
April-May, 2024

In April this year, I co-presented a workshop on AI literacy for schools: Principles, practices and problems for the Academy of Principals, Singapore (9 April; with Grace Oakley) and presented a seminar on Generative AI and the evolution of education for Hong Kong Baptist University (30 April). In addressing, firstly, an audience of schoolteachers and Ministry of Education staff in Singapore and, secondly, tertiary educators from across Hong Kong, it became clear that everyone, across countries and education levels, is grappling with similar challenges as we seek to balance the opportunities and risks for teaching and learning presented by generative AI.

In my own presentations, I began by zooming out to look at the big picture of the technology itself and how it has developed and is developing; continued by zooming in to look at the implications for education and assessment; zoomed out again to look at challenges from the pedagogical to the societal; and concluded by emphasising the need for both educators and students to acquire AI literacy.

Discussions during and after these sessions revealed that many educators are keen to explore how gen AI can support their students’ learning and help them develop skills they will need in future workplaces, but that there are pedgogical concerns over how to teach and assess in this era, and ethical concerns over issues ranging from privacy and surveillance through to the environmental impact.

And rightly so. As I argued in a podcast on Digital ethics for Hong Kong Baptist University (3 May), gen AI is a new, more powerful stage of technology development and therefore potentially more valuable and potentially more risky at the same time. The task before us is balancing out the value and the risks. This will keep educators very busy in years to come as we seek to develop our own AI literacy and that of our students, and, I hope, offer some public leadership in this area.

At the interface of AI and language learning

Melbourne Skyline from Southbank, Australia. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2023. May be reused under CC BY 4.0 licence.

VicTESOL Symposium
Melbourne, Australia
13 October, 2023

I was invited to be a member of a panel on Generative AI in EAL learning: Promises and challenges at the VicTESOL Symposium held at the Victorian Academy of Teaching and Leadership in North Melbourne. Hosted by Melissa Barnes (La Trobe University) and Katrina Tour (Monash University), the other members of this 3-person panel were Shem Macdonald and Alexia Maddox (both from La Trobe University). Perhaps reflecting the degree of interest in this area, the panel ran twice, with different audiences.

We started off each time by considering the opportunities presented by generative AI in terms of language learning inside classrooms (explaining vocabulary or grammar points; acting as a concordancer to provide examples of language-in-use; improving language, register and style; creating self-study revision questions; collaborative story-writing; and engaging in immersive conversation, with AI acting as a Socratic tutor – an approach currently being explored by the likes of the Khan Academy and Duolingo in its Max premium subscription version) as well as in terms of preparation for present and future life needs outside classrooms (including the need to use AI in professional workplaces, as well as when interacting with chatbots and automated services provided by government organisations and corporations).

We then quickly moved on to discussing the challenges raised by generative AI, and the need for teachers and students to take a critical stance towards this rapidly evolving technology. In particular, this entails the development of AI literacy, which intersects with a number of other key digital literacies: prompt literacy, search literacy, attentional literacy and, perhaps above all, information literacy and critical literacy. We should also remember that not all students are ready or able to use this technology: accessibility is a major issue for many, especially in communities of recent migrants and refugees. Neither are all teachers ready: in some cases, some of our students may have more awareness of and facility with the technology that we do, but it’s crucial that we upskill ourselves and help students develop the aforementioned critical perspective that may sometimes be missing.

Questions and comments from the audiences at both panels were revealing: it’s clear that for many educators, the initial wave of consternation that accompanied the release of ChatGPT and the following wave of genAI has subsided, and teachers are finding productive ways to build such technologies into their teaching, their students’ learning activities, and even their assessments. Our reflective conversations and exchanges of ideas about how to best incorporate these technologies into education augur well for the future.

In coming years, we’ll no doubt be hearing a lot more presentations and panels about generative AI and its place in language learning and education more broadly. Meanwhile, photos from the panel are available on Twitter/X.

Literacy, wellness, and digital tech

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

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

ConnecTalks 2023
Honolulu, Hawaiʻi
22 July, 2023

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

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

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

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

Generative AI meets language learning

ChatGPT-based avatar Call Annie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digital literacies in Italian

Perth City Skyline, Australia

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

WAATI Conference
Perth, Australia
25 February, 2023

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

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

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

Digital literacies, digital inclusion & digital wellness

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

2022 Mid-year update
Perth, Australia
25 July 2022

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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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