Technological moves in the South

Colombo Symposium
Bogotá, Colombia
14-15 May, 2015

Plaza Bolívar, Bogotá, Colombia. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2015. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Plaza Bolívar, Bogotá, Colombia. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2015. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The Colombo Symposium in Bogotá, Colombia, brought together English language educators from across South America and further afield under the theme of ‘Challenges to Educators’ Professional Growth’. It was interesting to note the extent to which digital technologies found their way into a considerable number of papers and presentations.

In my opening keynote, entitled Mobile Language Learning: Designing for New Pedagogies, Skills and Literacies, I spoke about the need for teachers to conceive of themselves as designers of learning experiences for their students. In a mobile digital era, Mishra and Kohler’s TPACK framework provides a good base for learning design, but that design must take place within a particular social context. Thus, we must firstly ask ourselves what mobile devices our students have access to, and what affordances those devices offer for learning, before moving on to our TPACK-based learning design.

In his plenary, Unleash Your Experience: Being a 21st Century Reflective Practitioner, Micah Risher spoke of the changing expectations of new generations of learners who have had regular exposure to new technologies, as well as the changing needs of contemporary workplaces which require employees with 21st century skills.

In her presentation, A Teacher Training Blended Course in Pronunciation Pedagogy: A Case Study, Martha Ramírez described a flipped teacher training course on pronunciation with a weekly structure consisting of online preparation activities, a face-to-face tutorial, and autonomous follow-up activities; the last of these involved teachers making recordings of their own pronunciation (the learning component) and designing student activities (the teacher training component). She found that the flipped approach provided a baseline for situated learning to take place, because teachers came to face-to-face tutorials ready to put their learning into practice, and later put it into practice in their own classrooms. Working in a blended learning environment also allowed individual needs to be better addressed in a differentiated way.

In her presentation, Multi-Modal Feedback: Successfully Reinforcing Teaching Presence in the Online Environment, Carolina Rodríguez outlined the problems of online feedback, especially in the context of orally focused, interaction-based Latin cultures, including the possibility of misunderstandings in text-based feedback. In an online environment, she suggested, it is necessary to take into account flipped learning, effective practices of online learning (such as e-moderation), teaching presence, and screencasting and audio feedback. She found that screencasting and audio feedback led to students engaging better with the feedback, so that assignments became a springboard for conversation. She showed clips of her video feedback to demonstrate the role that facial expressions and voice can play in responding to students. Overall, students were more engaged in their learning, and responded well to the more personal nature of the feedback.

In her keynote, Revitalizing Your Classroom through Action Research, Anne Burns argued for a move away from top-down professional development and towards personal learning networks and action research. While not necessarily related to digital technologies, action research certainly provides an avenue for examining how digital tools can best be integrated into classroom processes. Action research is a democratising process, Anne suggested, because it puts ownership of change into the hands of the classroom practitioners who will carry it out. It is research with rather than on people, unlike much other research. Because the researcher is part of the action, learners can collaborate as co-researchers. It is highly localised and does not aim for generalisation. Finally, it can involve a range of qualitative and quantitative methods. She went on to say that teachers should share their action research where possible, because it is informative and motivating for teachers to learn about other teachers’ classroom experiences.

In his presentation, Reinventing the Teaching Profession: Dealing with Information and Communication Technology in Teacher Development Programs, Romero Ricardo suggested that changes in technology lead to changes in the world. He spoke about the changes brought about by text messaging and social media. He mentioned, and largely endorsed, key items extracted from a list of 21 things that will go obsolete in education by 2020 (based on an article in The Daily Riff on Dec. 10, 2010):

  • Language labs
  • Computers and CDs
  • Homework
  • The role of standardised tests for admission to college (replaced in part by e-portfolios)
  • Differentiated instruction as a sign of a distinguished teacher (as this will become a standard expectation)
  • Paperbacks
  • Centralised instruction
  • Organisation of educational services by grade
  • Parent-teacher face-to-face meetings (because teachers will be in constant contact with parents)
  • Paper

He went on to say that we need to move from a traditional model of education towards learner-centredness, student exploration, extended blocks of multidisciplinary instruction, active and interactive modes of instruction, collaborative/co-operative work, and teachers as guides. He suggested that when it comes to language teaching with digital technologies, we need to go beyond traditional conceptions of discourse competence to consider: Procedural competence – Socio-digital competence – Digital discourse competence – and Strategic competence. Yet at the end of the day, ICTs are just tools, that is, just a means to an end, rather than an end in themselves. Teachers, he suggested, can empower students by becoming learners too, encouraging collaboration, enabling technologies, assessing students on their academic achievement and also on their effective use of ICTs, developing problem solving skills, developing media fluency, and promoting an interdisciplinary approach.

In my own workhshop in the closing session of the conference, Mobile Language Learning: Working Inside and Outside the Classroom, the participants and I workshopped several strategies for using mobile technologies to support English language teaching: using language learning apps as well as generic, productive apps; making multimedia recordings; and using QR codes to support situated learning. There was a real buzz generated in the lab as participants suggested and exchanged ideas on how to use mobile technologies in their own teaching. It seems clear to me that mobile learning is on the verge of going much more mainstream in English language education in Colombia!

All in all, it was fascinating to obtain a better sense of how mobile and other digital technologies are making inroads into education in Latin America, and to see that – as highlighted in other educational conferences worldwide – these technologies are becoming an integral part of our conversations around learning.

Technology trending

English Australia Conference
18th – 19th September, 2014
Melbourne, Australia

The Yarra, Melbourne. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2013. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

I’ve been away from the English Australia Conference for four years, so it was interesting to return to the conference this year in Melbourne. One trend that struck me was a definite upswing in the number of sessions focusing on educational technologies. While many of these adopted a practical orientation towards classroom tools, others investigated bigger themes related to the benefits and drawbacks of these technologies.

In his talk, Engaging Digital Learners, accompanied by a website, Paul Forster explored a range of interactive web- and app-based technologies that can be used by teachers in the classroom, including quiz tools like Kahoot, Padlet, Quizlet, annotation tools like EduCanon and Curriculet, and QR and AR tools like Aurasma and Plickers.

The session Digital Literacies for Teachers and Students: A Toolbox of Practical Ideas was delivered in the format of three pecha kucha presentations by Lachlan McKinnon, Lindsay Rattray and Thom Roker. Lachlan recommended screen capture video freeware including Camstudio (Windows only), Screencast-o-matic, Jing and Screen2exe (also Windows only). Lindsay suggested that instead of asking students to switch off mobile phones, we should ask them to set their phones to English. He went on to outline activities where students skim websites in response to trivia questions; video self-introductions using their mobile phones; and take part in jumbled dictations where they type the dictated sentences into their phones, then work together to compose the full text. Thom promoted the idea of a paperless classroom, suggesting this can be achieved by using many of the apps available through Google Drive . He also spoke of the educational potential of Google Classroom

In their presentation, MOOEC Showcase, Chris Evason, James O’Connor, Ken Trolland, Susannah McCallum and Cecile Baranx showed examples of effective ESL materials on the MOOEC platform. It was pointed out that there is an opportunity for teachers not only to consume existing materials, but to create their own materials for their students.

In their presentation, We’ll See You on the Flip Side: The Flipped Classroom Model in Practice, Adrian Smith, Olivia Cassar and Carol Aeschliman pointed out the advantages of a flipped approach in giving students more language practice, and allowing them to engage in collaboration and production activities in the classroom. There is a reduction in teacher talking time, and there is more time for personalised attention to students at the point of need. However, this may not involve so much of a paradigm shift in TESOL, since many of the active learning aspects of flipped classrooms have been employed for some time in English language teaching. Making materials available before class time turned out to be particularly empowering for the weaker students, who could spend extra time preparing before coming to class. Recommended web services and apps for creating flipped videos include Educreations, GoAnimatePreziTellagami and VideoScribe. Students can even learn to use apps like Tellagami to respond to flipped videos.

In my own session, Walking and Talking Around the World: A Snapshot of International Mobile English Learning, I outlined the trade-offs that educators, as learning designers, make when they are creating mobile learning experiences for their own students in their own contexts: balancing up affordability and affordances, deciding what types of mobile learning to promote or support, and making choices about which mobile agendas to align their designs with. I rounded off with four case studies of successful mobile English language learning projects, highlighting the different decisions made in varying contexts to create effective learning designs.

This was followed by a panel, Is Educational Technology the End of the World as We Know It?, chaired by Donna Cook. Along with Kyle Smith, Vesna Stevanof and Piedad Pena, I took part in responding to a wide range of questions about educational technologies (with our responses informed by questions previously submitted by the audience through Facebook and Twitter). It’s apparent that a lot of people are experimenting with new technologies in the classroom, and encountering a mixture of successes and challenges – and there’s a lot we can learn through sharing and discussing these experiences.

At the Learning Technologies breakfast on the second day, at which I was the special guest, attendees discussed the benefits and challenges of using new technologies. A competition to produce a digital overview of participants’ experiences of educational technologies in different ELT centres produced some informative multimedia entries using tools such as Knowmia, Tellagami and VideoScribe.

Technology was also a topic which surfaced in the context of presentations on other themes. In his plenary, English and Economic Development, David Graddol outlined his concerns over the economic rationalist basis for the English language development going on around the world. He pointed out that there are two narratives about the use of technology in the classroom – one is about empowering individual teachers to do more in the classroom; but the other is about big corporations convincing education ministries that students should be plugged into educational packages, which diminish the need for highly trained teachers. Corporations are now selling directly to parents as well.

Of course, not every presentation was about technology, but technology has become an increasingly present theme, mixed in – as it should be – with broader pedagogical, cultural and sociopolitical themes.

Technology in TESOL

English Australia Conference
Gold Coast Convention & Exhibition Centre
Gold Coast, Australia
16 – 18 September, 2010

Gold Coast 8BAmongst a diverse set of themes, the 2010 English Australia Conference included a technology strand with a strong focus on the initial implementation of technology in TESOL contexts and, in particular, how to approach teacher training.

Getting teachers excited about learning technologies was the title of the talk by Clementine Annabell, Neil McRudden and Mark Steinward, who focused on the introduction of IWBs at Embassy CES. Taking a 3-phase approach to teacher training, Embassy CES began with a seed-and-grow phase for those who were really enthusiastic about the use of IWBs. This was followed by a creative eclecticism phase involving the appointment of learning technologies staff, who were given non-teaching hours to champion the use of IWBs and to provide support.  Different needs on different campuses necessitated a range of different strategies.  A strategy used successfully in Melbourne took the form of 10-min sessions in a ‘Coffee Club’, where uses of IWBs were explained.  Participants were rewarded with free coffees and eventually a free USB after attending a set number of sessions.  The third phase was a structured program in the form of a worldwide online course called StudySmart, built in a Moodle VLE, where teachers improved their skills and had to produce lesson materials which could then actually be used in their classrooms.  Creative solutions to typical problems – lack of time and lack of funding – were discussed.

In a presentation which exemplified the possibilities of multimedia delivery, and was entitled A bite of the apple: Real life takes on e-learning, Katrina Hennigan and Lucy Blakemore  outlined key principles for e-learning which emerged from 360 degree interviews: it should be simple, collaborative, seamless, guided, and engaging.  These are the same principles, they argued, that underpin good teaching more generally.  The went on to outline a series of e-learning ‘apps’ (technologies and/or strategies that can be easily used in the classroom) under each of these headings:

> simple:

  • use of iPods
  • use of PowerPoint (e.g., in a Pecha Kucha format, with 20 slides shown for 20 seconds each)

> collaborative:

  • Values Exchange (a web-based tool for students to debate social issues)
  • Skype (text chat, with chat logs being annotated by teachers and emailed to students to improve)

> seamless:

  • using sharing options included with articles, etc, available online
  • use of TED talks to show how class activities have been done or researched in the ‘real’ world

> guided:

  • the importance of narrowing down choices for choices for teachers & students
  • “the best ‘app’ is a person” – teachers want hands-on experience with face-to-face support

> engaging:

In a talk entitled Technology integration in ESL: Teaching and learning, Adrienne Vanthuyne began by focusing on Koehler and Mishra’s TPACK [Technological, Pedagogical and Content Knowledge] model and discussing how it might be applied in the context of training language teachers.  She suggested that we should be aiming for high-level ICT integration (involving instructional activities for higher order thinking among students) rather than low-level ICT integration (involving digitised drill and practice).

She also spoke of five Stages of Technology Integration: Entry (where not many technologies are being used) – Adoption (where new technologies support text-based drill-and-practice instruction) – Adaption (where teachers adapt new technologies to suit students and promote higher order thinking skills) – Appropriation (where there is development of new instructional patterns like team teaching, interdisciplinary projects and individually paced instruction, with teachers becoming facilitators) – Invention (where teachers invent interdisciplinary learning activities that engage students in gathering information, analysing and synthesising it, and ultimately building new knowledge). Teachers find themselves at different positions along this continuum.

It was suggested that for teacher training to be effective in this area, teachers need training that is appropriate for their context as well as a supportive environment including technical support through a community of practice, colleagues who are enthusiastic about technology, and a ‘technology positivist’ environment.

In her talk, Wiki: A support tool to assist and support homestay families, Jennifer Petrie ran through the wiki concept with the help of Lee Lefever’s video Wikis in plain English.   She went on to explain that La Trobe University has developed a wiki (on pbworks) for homestay families, in order to provide more support and easier communication, and create a sense of community.  The homepage contains key contact details, while other pages cover a range of areas such as announcements; information on incoming groups; a recipes page where host families can post recipes they cook for their students; and, most interestingly, a student feedback page where families can see anonymous aggregated feedback from homestay students, annotated with advice from the homestay co-ordinator, and where families can comment and offer advice on the issues raised.  Use of the wiki by host families has increased dramatically over recent months.  Jennifer listed key benefits of the wiki as:

  • Streamlining of processes
  • Efficient use of time and resources
  • A permanent record
  • Transparency
  • Collaboration

Emerging Technologies: Mobile learning was the title of the talk by Larry Anderson from the Australia Network. Indicating that mobile phones, with a worldwide penetration around 45%, have become the number one screen in the world, ahead of computer screens and televisions, he outlined a number of English m-learning projects in different countries.  He noted, for example, that three of the top-selling iPhone apps in South Korea are for  English learning. Mobile phones, he suggested, provide  cheap and easy access to content; publishers are busy producing both free and paid apps; and schools and universities are experimenting with mobile devices inside and outside classrooms.  In short, he argued, mobile phones offer important ways of diversifying educational delivery.  This is an area in which Australian TESOL educators need to engage much more.

In his plenary address, entitled New literacies, teachers and learners, Gavin Dudeney  started with a definition of digital literacy from Wikipedia: “the ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of sources when it is presented via computers”. One of the limitations of this definition is the use of the word ‘computers’, which doesn’t take into account the recent proliferation of mobile devices.  A second, more recent Wikipedia definition, which puts more accent on the productive aspects of digital literacy, is: “the ability to locate, organize, understand, evaluate, and create information using digital technology […] Digitally literate people can communicate and work more efficiently, especially with those who possess the same knowledge and skills.”  In addition to talking about ESL, Gavin went on, we are now hearing mention of DSL – ‘Digital as a Second Language’.

While there are some generational differences in approaches to technology, they are not as stark or clear as is sometimes imagined.  The OU has recently suggested that instead of talking about digital natives and immigrants, we should talk about digital residents and digital visitors.  The latter set of terms is more flexible that the former.

He went on to list various categories of digital literacies, based on those discussed in my 2009 book From blogs to bombs: The future of digital technologies in education and summarised in a more recent document here.  After a discussion of the digital skills possessed by audience members, Gavin went on to ask the question: ‘Why is [digital literacy] important?’  One reason is that we’re preparing students for jobs that don’t exist yet, so we need to future-proof education to some extent.  People are changing; technology is changing; there’s a shift towards mobile devices; and students are changing, becoming more digitally literate, and expecting technology use in education.  There is a great missed opportunity in asking students who come into the classroom to switch off the technologies they use in their everyday lives.  This message comes through clearly in the Engage me! video about new technologies by pupils at Robin Hood Primary School, Birmingham.

The real problem may be that teachers are not changing, mainly because they are not receiving training in the pedagogical aspects of teaching with new technologies – and, said Gavin, this is the case in every country he’s worked in over the last 10 years.  This lack of training leads to frustration and fear.  One possibility is to rely on students as a technological resource, which also helps them become invested in the success of the class.  It’s also important to use computers to open up your class to the world and to foster interaction.

The bottom line, he argued, is that the use of technology shouldn’t change our pedagogy; it should enhance current pedagogical practices.

International connections

Hotel Ciputra, Jakarta, Indonesia, 8-9 November 2008

This year’s GloCALL Conference focused on Globalization and Localization in CALL, bringing together presenters and participants from a wide variety of countries to discuss their shared interest in the broad – and expanding – field of computer-assisted language learning. We spent two intensive days in the Hotel Ciputra, many floors above the busy, traffic-filled streets of the Indonesian capital, sharing international, national and local perspectives on technology-enhanced communication and collaboration, much of it facilitated by web 2.0 tools. Key themes included the fostering of collaboration and growth of community through CALL, and the vast range of CALL manifestations, each of which may be appropriate to different students indifferent contexts. There was a notable focus on the use of audio and/or video in conjunction with blogs, e-portfolios, digital storytelling, podcasting and m-learning.

Blogging was the focus of Penny Coutas’s session, Blogging for learning, teaching and researching languages, in which she demonstrated the principles behind blogging in an interactive paper-based exercise, before going on to outline the uses of blogs for learners, teachers and researchers. She stressed that the value of blogs lies as much in the interactions and community building that go on around them as it does in the actual blog postings themselves.

Podcasting was the focus of Wai Meng Chan’s plenary, Harnessing mobile technologies for foreign language learning: The example of podcasting. After reviewing the literature on podcasting, he described a research project conducted at NUS, which showed very positive overall student reactions to podcasting. He noted that podcasting can lead to a great variety of different kinds of language practice.

My own talk, entitled Web 2.0: Connecting the local and the global, discussed the ways in which a variety of web 2.0 tools, including blogs, wikis, rss, podcasting, vodcasting and virtual worlds, can be used to connect the local and the global as part of the language learning process. These tools can help students not only to learn language, but also to begin to develop the local and global linguistic affiliations which are so important for today’s citizens.

There is continued interest in the area of e-portfolios, complemented by rapidly growing interest in digital storytelling, as reflected in a number of talks and workshops. Debra Hoven, in a paper entitled Digital storytelling and eportfolios for language teaching and learning, spoke of digital stories, whether collaborative or individual, as a valuable mode of communication. She noted that digital stories can be used for reflection, sharing, presentation, showcasing knowledge or skills, and can even function as part of or in conjunction with e-portfolios. Typical goals may include improvement of L1 and L2 literacy as well as multiliteracy skills, (re-)connecting with family, culture and traditions, and intergenerational communication. They can be a means of expression, an avenue of creativity, a way to make the mainstream curriculum more meaningful, and can help L2 learners to find their own voices. They are, ultimately, about language for real purposes and real audiences, involving practice in the following areas:

  • writing/scripting (grammar, vocabulary, syntax, genre, register, audience, interest)
  • communicating a message
  • organising ideas

The notion of community was also stressed by Peter Gobel in his paper, Digital storytelling: Capturing experience and creating community. He described a pilot project conducted with Japanese learners of English from Kyoto University, who were asked to create digital stories about key experiences on overseas language learning trips from which they had recently returned.

A number of language areas were involved:

  • topic choice – focus
  • narrative awareness – voice and audience
  • organisational skill – expression of ideas
  • mixed media (created and found objects)

In addition, students required scaffolding in multimedia and digital composition skills. Overall benefits of the exercise included:

  • debriefing after the trip
  • creating a database (to be consulted by future students travelling overseas)
  • reflection on learning experiences
  • comparison and sharing of experiences
  • creating a social network of shared experiences

There is also continued and even growing interest in open source software such as Moodle (which was covered in a number of presentations) and Drupal, as well as other freeware which can be used in language teaching. John Brine, in a paper entitled English language support for a computer science course using FLAX and Moodle, outlined developments around the New Zealand Digital Library Project run by the University of Waikato, with particular focus on the Greenstone Digital Library and the FLAX (Flexible Language Acquisition) Project, which allows language exercises to be created based on freely available material drawn from web sources such as Wikipedia and the Humanity Development Library. There is now a prototype version of a FLAX module for Moodle, which allows students to collaborate on language exercises.

Phil Hubbard’s plenary focused on the need for Integrating learner training into CALL classrooms and materials. He argued that CALL can give students more control over – and thus more responsibility for – their own learning, but that they are generally not prepared to take on this responsibility and so need training in this area. Reiterating the learner training principles he outlined at WorldCALL 2008, he concluded that it is not just the technology that matters; nor is it just a case of how teachers use the technology; rather, it is important to train learners to use it effectively. In his paper, entitled An invitation to CALL: A guided tour of computer-assisted language learning, he introduced the online site which underpins his own teacher training course, An invitation to CALL.

In her plenary, Individuals, community, communication and language pedagogy: Emerging technologies that are shaping and are being shaped by our field, Debra Hoven suggested that rather than using multiple, slightly different terms to describe different aspects of language learning with technology, we should work with one main term (such as CALL) to maintain cohesion in the field. She went on to argue against chronological classifications of CALL which, she said, do not really capture what people are doing with the technology. She proposed her own six-part model to capture the main roles of CALL:

  1. Instructional/tutorial CALL (language classroom applications, sites such as Randall’s ESL Lab)
  2. Discovery/exploratory CALL (simulations, roleplays, webquests)
  3. Communications CALL (CMC involving language for real communication purposes)
  4. Social networked CALL (blogging, microblogging, photosharing, SNS and social bookmarking)
  5. Collaborative CALL (notably wikis)
  6. Narrative/reflective CALL (digital storytelling and e-portfolios)

It became apparent in a number of talks that, while educators around the world share similar interests and concerns with the use of technology, there are also important geographical differences. In his opening plenary, entitled CALL implementation in Indonesia – Yesterday, today and tomorrow, Indra Charismiadji explained that obstacles to use of recent educational technologies in Indonesia include technological issues such as lack of hardware, software and internet connectivity; policy issues such as governmental and institutional support for behaviourist pedagogical approaches; teachers’ resistance to change; and a general lack of computer literacy. Computer-based teaching (which fits with a transmission pedagogy where the teacher remains in control) may represent a first step towards broader adoption of more recent e-learning approaches and tools.

All in all, it was fascinating to compare CALL perspectives and experiences, noting some differences but also the considerable similarities in educators’ interests around the world.

Technology bridging the world

Fukuoka International Congress Center, Fukuoka, Japan, 6-8 August 2008

The theme of WorldCALL 2008, the five-yearly conference now being held for the third time, was “CALL bridges the world”.  With participants from over 50 countries, and presentations on every aspect of language teaching through technology, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Key themes

Key themes of the conference included the need for a sophisticated understanding of our technologies and their affordances; the importance of teacher involvement and task design in maximising collaboration and online community; the potential for intercultural interaction; the role of cultural and sociocultural issues; the need for reflection on the part of both teachers and students on all of the above; and, in particular, the need for much more extensive teacher training.

There was a wide swathe of technologies, tools and approaches covered, including:

  • email;
  • VLEs, in particular, Moodle;
  • web 2.0 tools, especially blogs and m-learning/mobile phones, but also microblogging, wikis, social networking, and VoIP/Skype;
  • borderline web 2.0/web 3.0 tools like virtual worlds and avatars;
  • ICALL, speech recognition and TTS software;
  • blended learning;
  • e-portfolios.

With up to 8 concurrent sessions running at any given moment, it was impossible to keep up with everything, but here’s a brief selection of themes and ideas …

Communication & collaboration

In her paper “Mediation, materiality and affordances”, Regine Hampel considered the contrasting views that the new media have the advantage of quantitatively increasing communication but the disadvantage of creating reduced-cue communication environments.  She concluded that there are many advantages to using computer-mediated communication with language learners, but that we need to focus on areas such as:

  • multimodal communication: we need to bear in mind that while new media offer new ways of interacting and negotiating meaning, dealing with multiple modes as well as a new language at the same time may lead to overload for students;
  • collaboration: task design is essential to scaffolding collaboration, with different tools supporting collaborative learning in very different ways; there is also a need to make collaboration integral to course outcomes;
  • cultural and institutional issues: this includes the value placed on collaboration;
  • student/teacher roles: online environments can be democratic but students need to be autonomous learners to exploit this potential;
  • the development of community and social presence at a distance;
  • teacher training.

Intercultural interaction

Karin Vogt and Keiko Miyake, discussing “Telecollaborative learning with interaction journals”, showed the great potential for intercultural learning which is present in cross-cultural educational collaborations.  Their work showed that the greatest value could be drawn from such interactions by asking the students to keep detailed reflective journals, where intercultural themes and insights could emerge, and/or could be picked up and developed by the teacher.  They added that their own results, based on a content analysis of such journals from a German-Japanese intercultural email exchange programme, confirmed the results of previous studies that the teacher has a very demanding role in initiating, planning and monitoring intercultural learning.

Marie-Noëlle Lamy also stressed the intercultural angle in her paper “We Argentines are not as other people”, in which she explained her experience with designing an online course for Argentine teachers.  After explaining the teaching methodology and obstacles faced, she went on to argue that we are in need of a model of culture to use in researching courses such as this one – but not an essentialist model based on national boundaries.  She is currently addressing this important lack (something which Stephen Bax and I are also dealing with in our work on third spaces in online discussion) by developing a model of the formation of an online culture.

Teacher (and learner) training

In their paper “CALL strategy training for learners and teachers”, Howard Pomann and Phil Hubbard offered the following list of five principles to guide teachers in the area of CALL:

  • Experience CALL yourself (so teachers can understand what it feels like to be a student using this technology);
  • Give learners teacher training (so they know what teachers know about the goals and value of CALL);
  • Use a cyclical approach;
  • Use collaborative debriefings (to share reflections and insights);
  • Teach general exploitation strategies (so users can make the most of the technologies).

In conclusion, they found that learner strategy training was essential to maximise the benefits of CALL and could be achieved in part through the keeping of reflective journals (for example as blogs), which would form a basis for collaborative debriefings.  As in many other papers, it was stressed that teacher training should be very much a part of this process.

In presenting the work carried out so far by the US-based TESOL Technology Standards Taskforce, Phil Hubbard and Greg Kessler demonstrated the value of developing a set of broad, inclusive standards for teachers and students, concluding that:

  • bad teaching won’t disappear with the addition of technology;
  • good teaching can often be enhanced by the addition of technology;
  • the ultimate interpretation of the TESOL New Technology standards needs to be pedagogical, not technical.

In line with the views of many other presenters, Phil added that we need to stop churning out language teachers who learn about technology on the job; newer teachers need to acquire these skills on their pre-service and in-service education programmes.

Important warnings and caveats about technology use emerged in a session entitled “Moving learning materials from paper to online and beyond”, in which Thomas Robb, Toshiko Koyama and Judy Naguchi shared their experience of two projects in whose establishment Tom had acted as mentor.  While both projects were ultimately successful, Tom explained that mentoring at a distance is difficult, with face-to-face contact required from time to time, as a mentor can’t necessarily anticipate the knowledge gaps which may make some instructions unfathomable.  At the moment, it seems there is no easy way to move pre-existing paper-based materials online in anything other than a manual and time-consuming manner.  This may improve with time but until then we may still need to look to enthusiastic early adopters for guidance; technological innovation, he concluded, is not for the faint of heart and it may well be a slow process towards normalisation …

Normalisation, nevertheless, must be our goal, argued Stephen Bax in his plenary “Bridges, chopsticks and shoelaces”, in which he expanded on his well-known theory of normalisation.  Pointing out that there are different kinds of normalisation, ranging from the social and institutional to the individual, Stephen argued that:

A technology has arguably reached its fullest possible effectiveness only when it has arrived at the stage of ‘genesis amnesia’ (Bourdieu) or what I call ‘normalisation’.

Normalised technologies, he suggested, offer their users social and cultural capital, so that if students do not learn about technologies, they will be disadvantaged.  In other words, if teachers decide not to use technology because they personally don’t like it, they may be doing their students a great disservice in the long run.

At the same time, he stressed, it is important to remember that pedagogy and learners’ needs come first – technology must be the servant and not the master. Referring to the work of Kumaravadivelu and Tudor, he suggested that we must always respect context, with technology becoming part of a wider ecological approach to teaching.

There were interesting connections between the ecological approach proposed by Stephen and Gary Motteram’s thought-provoking paper, “Towards a cultural history of CALL”, in which he advocated the use of third generation activity theory to describe the overall interactions in CALL systems.  There was also a link with my own paper, “Four visions of CALL”, which argued for the expansion of our vision of technology in education to encompass not just technological and pedagogical issues, but also broader social and sociopolitical issues which have a bearing on this area.

Specific web 2.0 technologies

In “Learner training through online community”, Rachel Lange demonstrated a very successful discussion-board based venture at a college in the UAE, where, despite certain restrictions – such as the need to separate the genders in online forums – the students themselves have used the tools provided to build their own communities, where more advanced students mentor and support those with a lower level of English proficiency.

In Engaging collaborative writing through social networking, Vance Stevens and Nelba Quintana outlined their Writingmatrix project, designed to help students form online writing partnerships.  Operating within a larger context of paradigm shift – including pedagogy (didactic to constructivist), transfer (bringing social technologies from outside the classroom into the classroom), and trepidation (it’s OK not to know everything about technology and work it out in collaboration with your students) – they effectively illustrated the value of a range of aggregation tools to facilitate collaboration between educators and students; these included Technorati,, Crowd status, Twemes, FriendFeed, Dipity and Swurl.

Claire Kennedy and Mike Levy’s paper “Mobile learning for Italian” focused on the very successful use of mobile phone ‘push’ technology at Griffith University in Queensland.  In the context of a discussion of the horizontal and vertical integration of CALL, Mike commented on the irony that many teachers and schools break the horizontal continuity of technology use by insisting that mobile phones are switched off as soon as students arrive at school.  Potentially these are very valuable tools which, according to Mellow (2005), can be used in at least three ways:

  • push (where information is sent to students);
  • pull (where students request messages);
  • interactive (push & pull, including responses).

Despite some doubts in the literature about the invasion of students’ social spaces by push technologies, Mike and Claire showed that their programme of sending lexical and other language-related as well as cultural material to Italian students has been a resounding success, with extremely positive feedback overall.

Other successful demonstrations of technology being used in language classrooms ranged from Alex Ludewig’s presentation on “Enriching the students’ learning experience while ‘enriching’ the budget”, in which she showed the impressive multimedia work done by students of German in Simulation Builder, to Salomi  Papadima-Sophocleous’s work with “CALL e-portfolios”, where she showed the value of e-portfolios in preparing future EFL teachers as reflective, autonomous learners.

Beyond web 2.0 – to web 3.0?

As Trude Heift explained in her plenary, “Errors and intelligence in CALL”, CALL ranges from web 2.0 to speech technologies, virtual worlds, corpus studies, and ICALL.  While most of the current educational focus is on web 2.0, there are interesting developments in other areas.  It seems to me that, to the extent that web 3.0 involves the development of the intelligent web and/or the geospatial web, some of these developments may point the way to the emergence of web 3.0 applications in education.

Trude’s own paper focused on ICALL and natural language processing research, whose aim is to enable people to communicate with machines in natural language.  We have come a long way from the early Eliza programme to Intelliwise‘s web 3.0 conversational agent, which is capable of holding much more natural conversations.  While ICALL is still a young discipline and there are major challenges to be overcome in the processing of natural language – particularly the error-prone language of learners – it holds out the promise of automated systems which can create learner-centred, individualised learning environments thanks to modelling techniques which address learner variability and offer unique responses and interactions.  This is certainly an area to watch in years to come.

On a simpler level, text to speech and voice processing software is already being used in numerous classrooms around the world.   Ian Wilson, for example, presented an effective model of “Using Praat and Moodle for teaching segmental and suprasegmental pronunciation”.

Another topic raised in some papers was virtual worlds, which some would argue are incipient web 3.0 spaces.  Due to time limitations and timetable clashes, I didn’t catch these papers, but it’s certainly an area of growing interest – and in the final panel discussion, Ana Gimeno-Sanz, the President of EuroCALL, suggested that this might become a dominant theme at CALL conferences in the next year or so.

The final plenary panel summed up the key themes of the conference as follows:

  • the importance of pedagogy over technology (Osamu Takeuchi);
  • the need to consider differing contexts (OT);
  • the ongoing need for conferences like this one to consider best practice, even if the process of normalisation is proceeding apace (Thomas Robb);
  • the need to reach out to non-users of technology (TR);
  • the need for CALL representation in more general organisations (TR);
  • the professionalisation of CALL (Bob Fischer);
  • the need to consider psycholinguistic as well as sociolinguistic dimensions of CALL (BF);
  • the shift in focus from the technology (the means) to its application (the end) (Ana Gimeno-Sanz);
  • the need to extend our focus to under-served regions of the world (AG-S).

The last point was picked up on by numerous participants and a long discussion ensued on how to overcome the digital divide in its many aspects.  A desire to share the benefits of the technology was strongly expressed – both by those with technology to share and those who would like to share in that technology. That, I suspect, will be a major theme of our discussions in years to come: how to spread  pedagogically appropriate, contextually sensitive uses of technology to ever wider groups of teachers and learners.

Tag: WorldCALL08

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