Going mobile in Asia

GloCALL Conference
Beijing, China
18-20 October, 2012

The GloCALL 2012 conference moved this year to the Chinese capital. As always, it provided a great showcase of CALL teaching and research trends around Asia and the world. One of the strongest themes was the emergence of research showing measurable benefits for students’ language development through using computers and other digital technologies. Unsurprisingly, too, there was a heavy emphasis on mobile technologies.

In his plenary on the first afternoon, Writing to Learn and Learning to Write, Mark Warschauer stated that writing is absolutely essential in a knowledge economy.  Companies like Samsung, Nokia and Renault require all their corporate communication, even in their home countries, to be conducted in English. Over the last 20 years, the percentage of articles in PubMed (which tracks medical citations) in English has gone up to over 90%. So writing, and writing in English, are essential skills. But at the same time, students also need to write to learn.  He quoted Reeves (2010): “Writing is thinking through the end of a pen”. In his research, Warschauer has been addressing the question: What is the role of digital media for learning to write, and writing to learn?

He compared research on 1:1 versus shared laptop schools, noting that in 1:1 schools students write much more frequently – both on computers, and in total. He summarised a number of studies on the writing process, showing that where students work with computers, they:

  • gather far more background information
  • write longer papers
  • revise more
  • get more feedback from teachers and peers
  • get feedback from computers (automated essay scoring – although far from perfect, it does provide some feedback)
  • publish their work more
  • write better papers

He continued by looking at studies of writing outcomes, which have found that:

  • teachers asking students to write and revise with computers leads to higher writing scores
  • student time editing work on computers leads to higher writing scores
  • laptop access leads to better writing

He then turned to research on the subject of ‘writing to learn’.  When conversing in writing rather than face-to-face, students produced more syntactically complex language, and participated much more equally. He spoke at greater length about a classroom study undertaken over the past year, which revealed higher writing scores for those students using laptops. With a specific focus on 37 fifth grade students, 25 of whom were ELLs (English language learners), the researchers found:

  • the ELLs dramatically increased their participation over time, so that their overall participation for the year was around the same level as that of non-ELLs
  • SNA (social network analysis) revealed that at the beginning there were many students not communicating directly with each other, the teacher was the dominant node in the network, and much communication was unidirectional (notably from the teacher to the students); but by the end there were no isolated nodes, the teacher was no longer so dominant, and there was much more multidirectional communication
  • the number of posts went up, the number of words per post went up, the complexity of their language use increased, and they used more complex cognitive skills; much of this related to the teacher, who modelled academic language and cognitive strategies.
  • there was development from teacher to peer scaffolding
  • there was development of a learning community

It is important to investigate the effects of digital technologies on language learning and literacy. Warschauer summarised his own view of the overall value of laptops in schools as follows: “Laptops make a good school better, but they don’t make a bad school good.”

In their presentation, An Investigation into Mobile-Assisted Language Learning (MALL) Acceptance in China’s Higher Education Context, Yaru Meng (presenting a paper coauthored with Xiaomei Ma, Rui Liu and Huiqin He) began by mentioning that there are a number of studies of MALL from Japan, South Korea and the USA, but not so many to date in China.  She listed advantages of m-learning as:

  • portability
  • student connectivity
  • context sensitivity

On the other hand, there are:

  • technical limitations
  • users’ psychological limitations
  • pedagogical limitations

The current study, which involved university students in Northwestern China, addressed the changes in using different ICT devices for EFL in the past several years; mobile devices’ functions in different language learning modes; and students’ perceptions of mobile learning.  Overall, students preferred to use MP3 players and smartphones rather than traditional devices. They preferred paper-based learning for formal or deep learning, while mobile devices were preferred for informal learning. Some of the most common metaphors students used for mobile devices were: a resource centre, a treasure box, a sea of knowledge, an encyclopedia; a gate or window; and  a bridge, link or connection.

The top advantages they saw of mobile devices for EFL were:

  • they are convenient and portable
  • there are no constraints of time and space
  • they are resources

The main disadvantages they listed were:

  • there are distractions, students need self-control and have less concentration
  • there are fewer functions, the learning is less systematic, and the information is not always trustworthy
  • it is inconvenient to have small screens and memory
  • there is no deep learning and students are likely to forget what they have learned

In summary, Meng concluded that mobile devices are gaining popularity in China; MALL is preferred for informal learning; there is split attention in the learning process and limited resources; and MALL only serves peripheral learning. She argued that MALL can play a significant supplemental role within formal language education. There are implications for teachers, who must become developers and evaluators of online resources, and evaluators and advisors of online learning. Students become classroom participators, self-directed learners, problem solvers, and they learn how to learn. The integration of MALL remains a big issue.

In her talk, iPod Touch Impact on English for Specific Academic Purposes (Communication & Internet Studies) Oral Reading Fluency, Salomi Papadima-Sophocleous outlined a project at the Cyprus University of Technology Language Centre. She described the use of iPod Touches to improve reading fluency, using a version of ‘guided repeated oral reading’. Students worked over 6 weeks, in 2-week blocks, where they recorded themselves reading a set text, then practised reading the text following a native speaker model on YouTube, before recording themselves reading the text aloud once again. Changes in pronunciation and fluency from the first to the second student recording were compared.

To determine whether students’ ORF (Oral Reading Fluency) improved, the dimensions of automaticity and prosody were measured using Curriculum Based Measurement (automaticity) and the Multidimensional Fluency Scale (prosody). For automaticity, the speed or rate of correct words per minute, and accuracy, were assessed. The average number of words per minute, and of correct words per minute, improved. The word decoding accuracy also improved to a higher level. On the whole, the students’ prosody improved on all dimensions.  Student perceptions of the use of iPod Touches to improve their reading fluency were very positive.

Future possible directions for research include:

  • incorporating the ORF programme in all courses
  • using other technologies for ORF improvement such as students’ own smartphones, tablets or laptops
  • using the iPod Touch programme with other types of students, such as those with special needs

The ORF iPod Touch project is being implemented again in the academic year 2012-2013, this time with dyslexic students.

In his workshop, Using Mobile Phones for Language Learning, Skipp Symes outlined some common features of mobile phones that can be used in English teaching.  He focused in particular on:

  • using QR codes
  • using a mobile phone camera to take photos of objects and locations as part of the learning process
  • using free, flexible alternatives to SMS, notably What’s App
  • using mobile phones as student response devices using Socrative

He recommended following a BYOD model. If you do so, it’s worth identifying students who are in-class mobile phone experts, and  who can help other students, especially when they are using devices or platforms the teacher is not familiar with. He finished by noting that just because mobile phones are used, though, it doesn’t mean that students have to be able to access and use them during the entire class.

In my own talk, What Teachers Want: A Report on the Technology Needs & Wishes of Language Teachers in Southeast Asia, I gave a broad overview of research which Gavin Dudeney and I conducted during our digital literacies seminars in Bangkok and KL earlier this year.  I covered teachers’ comments on their current uses of new technologies in the classroom, the factors that had driven the use of the new technologies to date, and the factors they thought would drive further integration of new technologies in the future. Major themes were the slow shift to web 2.0, the need to find ways to integrate new technologies and new pedagogies into local educational cultures, and the need for teacher training which focuses more on pedagogy than technology. This data will be enriched by data collected from future seminar locations, including Moscow next month. There’s a summary of the paper here.

As always, the GloCALL Conference provided a snapshot of the use of new technologies in language teaching in both the developed and developing world. It will be interesting to see how trends towards research on measurable benefits, and practices involving mobile learning, will be represented at next year’s event.

The global meets the local – again/still!

GloCALL 2011: Globalization and Localization in Computer-Assisted Language Learning
Manila, Philippines
27-29 October, 2011

As always, this GloCALL Conference focused on the intersection of the global and the local in teaching language(s).

Technology and language

A number of talks focused on the use of technology in teaching language, with a heavy emphasis – as is usual these days – on web 2.0 tools.

In the talk The use of wikis in collaborative learning, Long Nguyen and Hoa Phan argued there is a continuum between product-oriented and process-oriented CMC, with blogs and wikis fitting around the middle of the spectrum. They cited the work of Lee (2010), who  stated that wikis increase satisfaction and motivation, as well as fostering creativity and encouraging attention to form, but noted that students may feel insecure and uncomfortable in correcting each other’s work.  They also referred to Arnold, Ducate and Kost (2009), who concluded that wikis are effective educational tools, foster collaborative writing and revision behaviours, solve equal contribution issues, and combine the writing process and final product.

They reported on a Vietnamese study where students were asked to do a peer review of each other’s writing, one group using paper, and one using a wiki.  It was found that on average students wrote more than double the number of words on the wiki, and made more than double the number of comments.  The paper group focused more exclusively on the task, but the number of task-related comments by the wiki group was much higher overall.  Students’ feedback on the wiki peer editing process was generally positive, but they noted that it could be fatiguing and inconvenient to read on the screen and to have to go to an internet café for access.

In her talk A new learning space between the course forum and the ‘walls’ of Facebook: A case study of a community of learners of Italian, Marie-Noëlle Lamy reported on a group of learners of Italian at the OU, who created a Facebook group as a way of keeping in touch and continuing to practise language between courses.  Their public Facebook group was observed over a period of 4 months, with a particular focus on the 9 participants who made use of both the institutional Moodle forum set up for the course as well as the Facebook group. Students generally used the target language a far greater proportion of the time on Facebook.

Their posts were analysed using Selwyn’s 2009 ‘Faceworking’ method for analysing text on Facebook, and were found to fall into 6 main categories (e.g., reflections on the course, exchange of practical information, use of humour, etc).  Most categories of communication appeared on both the institutional forum and Facebook, though there was a tendency to exchange more general cultural information on Facebook.

Lamy hypothesised that students might be more wary of publishing in the target language on the institutional forum because they felt monitored by the institution there (though the Facebook group was in fact open to the public). She also wondered whether the anti-/pro-FB polarisation which occurred when the FB group was first set up might have promoted more group solidarity amongst those in the FB group, in turn encouraging risk-taking in the target language. The data are still being investigated as part of an ongoing study.

In my own talk, Language learning in a world of screens:  Customising online spaces, I identified 4 key trends linked to the world of screens in which we now find ourselves, and examined their implications for language teaching and learning:

  • a trend towards multimedia, which allows teachers to tailor materials to students’ varying learning styles, as well as helping students enhance their own language production through judicious use of appropriate media;
  • a trend towards networking, and to the building of personal learning networks, in which there are great opportunities for language practice, especially if students are encouraged to network across linguistic and cultural boundaries;
  • a trend towards mobility of smart devices, which allows just about any real-world context to be turned into a learning environment;
  • a macro-trend towards customisation, which builds on the first three trends.

In their talk Digital natives or mobile natives?, Peter Gobel and Makimi Kano summarised the argument of Prensky, Tapscott, and others that there is a distinct generation of ‘digital natives’, or a ‘net generation’. They noted that numerous studies dispute the existence of such a homogenous generation.

Japan is a highly wired society, with the highest mobile phone ownership in the world.  Gobel and Kano conducted a survey of the technology use of Japanese students to find out to what extent they were in fact ‘digital natives’.  Most described their level of technological competence as ‘fair’, suggesting they were not overly confident about their skills.  Most used their phone rather than a computer to access the internet, and it was found that over half preferred to store pictures on their phones rather than computers, while many others simply stored them on their digital cameras – suggesting the photos never leave the devices on which they were taken, and that students are generally not manipulating digital media at all.  Many students made extensive use of Mixi, Google, Yahoo and YouTube, but there was little awareness of Facebook (though this has changed a little due to the recent movie), MySpace, Flickr and Twitter, or of Moviemaker, iMovie or even GoogleDocs.

Overall, the data collected support Helsper & Enyon’s (2010) conclusion that the Prensky model  is flawed, which suggests that we do in fact need to rethink digital native assumptions.  Indeed, suggested Gobel and Kano, many of today’s learners, at least in Japan, might seen as ‘mobile natives’, because of the extensive use they make of mobile phones. As pointed out during the follow-up questions, phones are actually simpler tools to use as they don’t require or offer the more complex understandings that come with operating a computer.

In her plenary, Technological advances towards enhancement of language learning, Rachel Roxas argued that language teachers should adapt to the technological and multimedia orientation of their students. She outlined recent advances in automated natural language processing software, including Popsicle, MesCH, and Picture Books, highlighting its value for the language learning of the younger generation. There is a need, she suggested, to integrate new technologies into curricula and course materials, as well as to train in-service teachers in particular.

In her plenary, Challenges of establishing virtual communities of practice for teacher professional development in a variety of contexts, Siew Ming Thang spoke about the value of CoPs (communities of practice) for teacher PD. Virtual CoPs have the advantage of not being bound by time and space. She listed the following factors which influence the success of a VCoP:

  • There should be a common goal or purpose;
  • There must be enough time;
  • Ideally, it should be blended with face-to-face interaction;
  • A traditional national or organisational culture may inhibit the flow of knowledge;
  • Valuable information and knowledge must be provided (tacit knowledge, practical experience, hands on solutions – Hinkel 2003);
  • Technology must be readily available.

She reported on a case study where limitations on the success of a VCoP were due to:

  • Lack of trust and rapport (with other CoP members);
  • Concern with suitability;
  • Concern with correctness;
  • Lack of time (especially if the PD does not seem of real value);
  • Problems with technology;
  • Lack of trust (fear of monitoring by managers & institutions).

Amongst the challenges which need to be addressed, she mentioned that there is a conflict between a designed and an emergent community – communities typically form naturally, but some degree of facilitation is vital in a CoP.  She noted, too, that because online communication is mostly text-based, the lack of paralinguistic cues can make it more difficult to build trust between community members. She suggested, finally, that teachers must be willing to engage in change, and that it is important for them to be fully involved in this process.

Technology and culture

In her plenary, Developing intercultural communicative competence through online exchanges: Focus on Asian and Pacific languages, Dorothy Chun explained the adaptations of the Cultura model for exchanges involving Asian and Pacific languages.  The original Cultura project involved French and US students comparing word associations in an online forum. The same principle has now been applied in projects involving languages like Chinese, Japanese, Filipino and Samoan.  In many cases it was found that students did become very reflective about their own and other cultures. However, there are numerous challenges in such projects.  Sometimes, for example, there may be a mismatch between teachers’ pedagogical goals and students’ desire to socialise and make new friends. Large groups may be difficult to manage, and factors like low reading comprehension levels may limit benefits for some.  It can be useful to include audio-visual materials as stimuli for discussion, perhaps particularly among students of high school age.

In summary, Chun listed the following commonalities between the three exchange projects she had described:

  • Students found the experience enjoyable and were motivated to continue studying the L2.
  • Students felt part of a larger language learning community beyond their classrooms.
  • Students were the experts in their own culture, and the multiplicity of voices and knowledge surpassed what a teacher could provide.
  • Students gained new knowledge and understandings.
  • Students were able to discover culture through exploration, moving beyond study into intercultural communication.
  • Students and teachers believed that making the exchange a more integral part of the curriculum would be desirable.

She concluded that the exchanges were authentic (and invaluable) intercultural learning experiences. Teachers were no longer the cultural authorities, but their role was to facilitate communication, promote reflection, and follow up on misunderstandings.  She added that careful planning is necessary to anticipate and manage technological issues, institutional issues, linguistic proficiency discrepancies between groups, comparable participation between groups, and the use of other technologies such as video-conferencing.  She suggested that we should strongly consider making a Cultura-based exchange the primary (if not sole) component of the language curriculum, with task-based interactive activities enhancing both linguistic skills and intercultural communicative competence.

In her plenary, CALL and sociocultural language learning: A reality check, Marie-Noëlle Lamy discussed reasons for the failure of online collaboration projects involving CALL tools.  She noted that early studies of the reasons for such failures focused on cultural factors. However, she went on to argue that we also need to take into account sociopolitical factors and, in particular, power relationships. She suggested that in order to empower students, there must be both explicitness and flexibility on the following three levels:

  • Learning design approach
  • Distributed learning environment
  • Institutional policy

She presented three case studies to demonstrate how the presence or absence of explicitness and flexibility on these levels can affect the degree of empowerment experienced by students.

She also noted that when cultural differences are examined in educational courses, it is not just a case of challenging expectations, but ensuring that participants have the agency to act on what they learn. This is part of the sociopolitical dimension of courses.

In his talk, Intercultural usability of language learning websites, Jeong-Bae Son argued there are at least four kinds of usability to consider in CALL websites: general usability, pedagogical usability, technical usability, and intercultural usability. He observed there has been little research done to date on the intercultural usability of such websites. User interface design of such sites should consider:

  • The source of cultural input & an effective means of interaction;
  • An interface design that facilitates user interactions;
  • Components of the user interface – metaphors, mental models, etc;
  • Cross-cultural issues in the process of website development.

He is currently working on a set of guidelines for designing intercultural language learning websites; an example website can be seen at http://ceklser.org (a Korean resource site).

Local + global = glocal

GloCALL 2009
Chiang Mai, Thailand
8-11 December, 2009

Chiang Mai 1As always, the GloCALL Conference provided a good illustration of its own key theme – that the global + the local = the glocal – in the mix of presenters and attendees in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai.  A major theme running through many plenaries and papers concerned the ongoing shifts in technology and its use in education.

In the opening plenary, Integrating ICT into teaching and learning English in Thailand, Thanomporn Laohajaratsang noted that because teachers tend to teach the way they were taught, they sometimes struggle with the integration of new technology into the classroom. For the new generation of students, the so-called net generation or “screen-agers” (defined here as those born in the 2000s), this will increasingly be an issue. The slogan of the screen-agers, according to Thanomporn, is: “I, me first, I-Pod, Myself, My own needs”, and their preference is for learning from the network of people surrounding them rather than from teachers.

But classrooms are changing: she presented a range of examples of technologically enabled teaching, ranging from the sophisticated use of feedback mechanisms in lectures to the use of OLPC laptops in developing areas. Citing Rik Schwier’s (2008) model of “Learning Theories Supported by Computer-based Learning”, she noted a move over time from software that supported objectivist and cognitivist educational approaches towards software that supports constructivism and connectivism, with a parallel move from individual learning to group learning. She argued that we should not overlook the power of social software like blogs, wikis and social networking sites.

In her plenary, Why the social in sociocollaborative CALL, Carla Meskill pointed out that in CALL we’ve moved from a ‘because we can’ paradigm (where pedagogical considerations were not paramount) through an ‘intrinsic rewards’ paradigm to a ‘communication with others’ paradigm. There has been considerable support from psychology and, more recently, neuroscience for the notion that human beings are socially responsive by nature and that all learning is social. Recent research suggests that humans respond to computer screens similarly to the way they respond to each other. Our responsiveness to screens has moved from text through noise, movement, simulated people and on to web 2.0, or social networking.

Teacher responsiveness has only recently been recognised as a critical component in successful student learning, especially the learning of discourse norms. Responsiveness is about instructional conversations orchestrated by a teacher – and nothing can replace a really excellent human teacher, Carla argued. We need to refocus CALL on what excellent teachers do – on the instructional conversations by which they teach, and on creating instructional conversations that render our machines and screens optimally responsive. It is the person on the other end who is responsive, not the machine.

Sociocultural CALL acknowledges language growth and learning via the recreational web 2.0. There is a lot of language, responsiveness and literacy – social literacy – on which language teachers can capitalise here. We have to get our heads around this kind of social literacy. A sociocultural view of CALL sees teacher-orchestrated instructional conversations with students, on screens, as essential. It’s not sufficient to just send students off to practise by themselves; rather, teachers need to respond to teachable moments, to who learners are, to their needs. The pedagogical implications are extensive. The machine is now at the service of human instructional interactions – and that means, at the service of really excellent language educators. Sociocollaborative CALL, Carla concluded, is about humanware and teacherware to which learners are optimally responsive. Teachers ultimately need to embrace this technology because it can amplify and extend their already excellent practices.

Carla opened her paper, The language of teaching well with digital learning objects, with a quote by Andrea diSessa: “Information is a shockingly limited form of knowledge” (Changing Minds, 2000). She then went on to discuss digital learning objects, which she described as designed to be under student control and open to exploration. They are dynamic and multimodal, so the term is not used to refer to static worksheets, pages of text or overheads. These learning objects can be seen as:

  • public
  • anarchic
  • malleable
  • unstable
  • providing anchored referents

Appropriate instructional conversation involves thinking and speaking that is:

  • joined in a dialectic way
  • dynamic, generative, process-oriented
  • cumulative with the goal of shared, mutually generated understanding

Teacher strategies might include saturating; linguistic traps; modelling; form-focused feedback; and providing linguistic/thinking tools.

Carla offered a number of oral synchronous examples. When a student is searching for a particular vocabulary item, the teacher can draw visual cues from a databank or quickly Google an image (which will become an increasingly important skill for teachers). This can be done not only in a face-to-face classroom, but in a virtual classroom in Second Life. Oral asynchronous examples can include models of physical gestures, or threaded asynchronous voice conversations where, with the help of images, the teacher provides cues and responses.

In his plenary, Tom Robb asked: Can we still call CALL CALL? Referring to Stephen Bax’s notion of normalisation, he pointed out that computers are now becoming everyday tools. Using Wordle diagrams, he showed that terms such as ‘CALL’ and ‘computer’ are no longer mentioned very often in conference paper titles or abstracts; the emphasis has shifted from the tools themselves (which are slowly disappearing as a focus) to the processes (collaboration, etc). He suggested that it might be better to change the term ‘CALL’, since people are less conscious of the role of computers as normalisation sets in; anyone can do CALL but they don’t necessarily see it as their primary interest; and often we’re not actually using computers any more but mobile technologies.

The new game in town, Tom suggested, is access outside the classroom. This is important, given the high number of hours required to progress at higher levels of language learning – especially as we tend to give students fewer contact hours as they advance. In other words, we need to increase the number of language contact hours without increasing class time. CALL outside the classroom wasn’t possible as an integral class component until recently – but universal access is now a reality in many areas and expanding rapidly elsewhere, and tracking is possible. Tracking makes the difference between making CALL material available and using the material effectively. Technology can be an ‘enforcer’, by tracking students’ use of material. If material can’t be tracked, teachers should use alternative means of keeping students accountable, like printed copies or screenshots.

There are different kinds of self-access: true self-access by motivated, independent learners; recommended self-access, where a teacher recommends that a student needs practice in a particular area; required access, where access counts for grades; and class access, where everyone is working in a lab. Only the last two are really viable with dependent learners. Tom argued that we shouldn’t try to eliminate more restricted CALL drill exercises, where the teacher steps out of the picture, suggesting these can be valuable for some students in some contexts. That means the teacher can save class time for non-CALL work in areas where teacher presence is important.

He finished with the following summary list of conclusions:

  • Use of technology is shifting from a focus on the tools to a focus on procedures
  • Use is shifting from in-class use to out-of-class use
  • Out-of-class use requires suitable tools to monitor and encourage use
  • Result: more contact with the language and improved language skills
  • Need for academic societies to help teachers use effectively those aspects of technology that they are starting to take for granted.

The 3-paper symposium Meeting places for the local and the global? Telecollaboration and intercultural learning on web 2.0 focused on the advantages and disadvantages of telecollaboration, and the need for new literacies and new understandings of intercultural interaction.

Sarah Guth and Fran Helm began by discussing the need for changing definitions of culture (with the rise of online cultures) and literacy (with the rise of digital literacy) – and the need for a concept of second generation telecollaboration, involving three domains (Byram’s five savoirs, they argued, need to be complemented by the CEFR foreign language skills and new online literacies) and three dimensions (operational, cultural and critical).  They then went on to offer a practical example, the Soliya Connect Program, a telecollaboration project involving students in the West and in the Arab and Muslim world.

In my paper, entitled Web 2.0 ::: Space 3.0, I argued that in a rapidly globalising world, it is vital for educators to help students develop intercultural competence and, more specifically, epistemological humility (Ess, 2007) – essentially, the recognition that their own perspective on the world is not the only one. Drawing on the work of Bhabha, Kramsch and others, I briefly described the notion of an intercultural third space, before going on to describe an educational third space, defined as a third space purposely fostered in an educational context for educational purposes, and governed by social constructivist principles of deconstruction and reconstruction of knowledge and understanding. In the best cases, the mediated interaction which takes place in such a space can lead to intercultural learning and a growth in epistemological humility. I finished up by examining a series of web 2.0 and web 2.0-related tools (discussion boards, blogs, wikis and virtual worlds), showing how they can be used as platforms for the emergence of an educational third space, and outlining some examples of successful practice from language learning programmes around the world.

Marie-Noëlle Lamy rounded off the symposium in a paper which asked: Is ‘interculturalism’ an obstacle to telecollaboration 2.0? She pointed out that there are in fact numerous tensions and failures in telecollaboration projects, many of which are not necessarily linked to either ‘language’ or ‘culture’ per se. Reporting on a recent collection of essays co-edited with Robin Goodfellow, she indicated that three main themes had emerged:

  • individuals and their self-image (which is not necessarily connected to nationality or culture in any simple way – individual psychology often comes across more strongly than ethnicity)
  • the ‘imagined community’ (people are influenced by the rules of the imagined community to which they belong, as well as the understanding they construct of the online community)
  • the tool: neither neutral or passive (tools carry cultural assumptions and may not be culturally appropriate in all contexts)

The overarching theme, then, was not so much how ‘to communicate’ online but how ‘to be’ online.  Conclusions to be drawn for teaching include:

  • the need to move from culture-as-essence to culture-as-construction
  • the need to redefine ‘local’ conditions as > 1st click to last click (i.e., local = local to the online situation)
  • the need to look out for the many, unexpected cultural strata that impact on the intercultural life of a student group.

Technologies continue to be widely explored, exploited and developed.  In his paper, Not alone: Developing a model for a new Consortium for Language Teaching and Learning, Andrew Ross described the US-based Consortium for Language Teaching and Learning, consisting of Ivy League schools and other US institutions, which existed from 1987-2009 to support language learning. A task force constituted in 2008-2009 reviewed the purpose of the Consortium, which now consists of seven members. The plan is to share curricula, courses and instruction and pool resources between institutions, especially to promote the learning of less widely taught languages. This may involve distance and/or blended learning, which is different from the traditional face-to-face model typical at these institutions. Institutions will thus be able to contribute in different areas (providing instruction, resources and/or students) in different languages.

In his paper, Developing an intelligent reading system for vocabulary learning, Glenn Stockwell observed that language teachers cannot always be aware of which vocabulary their students don’t know. He described the development of an intelligent system to create individualised vocabulary exercises for students depending on which hyperlinked words they clicked on in online reading exercises.

In Digital mentoring for student teachers, Peter Gobel focused on using technology as a mentoring tool, where mentoring is defined as a relationship where there is transmission of knowledge and experience alongside relevant psychosocial support. Describing teacher training programmes in Japan, Gobel noted that trainee teachers on school placements often find there is a clash of educational philosophies with their host teachers, and they have little peer support available. One possible solution involves peers and near peers providing feedback during placements, by using an online space to create a digital community for discussion, problem solving and general support and encouragement.

Advantages for students include: such a space is accessible (including from mobile phones), builds up an archive of material over time, and allows communication and engagement with peers. Advantages for the programme include: the space can be used for debriefing, teacher trainers can use it for monitoring and trouble-shooting, and because an archive is built up it can be used to better tailor the programme for future students. A useful strategy involves students recording thoughts in a daily diary, reviewing their diaries, and reflecting on their teaching in groups and as individuals. Results of a pilot project have been positive, with trainee teachers exchanging and analysing ideas as a group.

In the paper Improving English language and computer literacy skills, co-authored with Jeong-Bae Son, Henriette van Rensburg spoke about developing language and computer literacy skills for refugees, with particular reference to Sudanese refugees in Australia. At the start the refugees in the pilot group had no idea what kinds of activities they could do with computers and needed instruction in basic functions, but they were extremely keen to learn and made good progress both in computing skills and associated key language. Internet images were extremely helpful for deciphering vocabulary. The participants were particularly interested in images of Sudan, around which they were able to share stories and memories. Rensburg concluded that the net provided authentic materials that enhanced language learning and computer skills, and noted that the researchers were impressed by how participants improved their computer literacy in a short space of time.

Chiang Mai 3In the closing colloquium, participants commented positively on the mix of presenters and presentations at the conference, but also reflected on the need to find additional ways to reach out to greater numbers of local teachers in conference locations.  Next year’s GloCALL venue has been announced as Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

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