Saturday, 11 May 2013

Technology-assisted Language Learning

Technology-assisted Language Learning (TALL), Computer-assisted Language Learning (CALL) have been part of the tool set for language learning for over 50 years, with one of the very early innovations created at the University of Illinois in the form of the PLATO project in 1960.

Fast forward 50 years and The new generation of learning tools includes smart phones and tablets, and phablets (devices that are somewhere between a phone and a tablet in size), with more computing power, memory and connectivity than could be imagined even just a decade ago. Then you can add to the mix cloud computing and cloud-based applications that are all accessible through wireless and 3G and 4G networks, and the opportunities for language learning are almost endless.

However, putting the pieces together remains a non-trivial task particularly when you move from content delivery to students, to content creation and reflection by students. In some of the work undertaken with colleagues, we have combined cloud-based applications, mobile technologies and ePortfolios to create learning environments where the place of the teacher is important in order to develop and support (modelling and feedback) the learning framework and learning goals, While simultaneously providing an environment that is implicitly student centred and controlled, allowing students to present artefacts (in a coherent and creative manner) they have created to provide evidence of their development of language skills and proficiencies (in this example, English).   The figure below shows the structure of the learning environment, indicating which parts of the environment are entirely student controlled and centred, which parts are shared between students and students (and students and teachers), and which parts are teacher designed and organised.  Feedback welcomed. Please note, the graphic is released under a Creative Commons license and may be reused in not-for-profit contexts and it would be appreciated if the author (Professor David M. Kennedy) was acknowledged, should someone wish to reuse or repurpose the image. We are also looking for collaborators interested in language learning research.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Working in teams: A graduate attribute. Collaboration versus Cooperation

Collaboration or Cooperation

In research undertaken by the author in recent times it was found that the particular institution was not meeting its stated goals in terms of producing graduates who were able to work in teams and had developed the abilities and skills to collaborate effectively. This was in spite of the enormous effort by individual teachers and (what was thought to be) careful design of curricula to ensure that students (over a period of years) had many opportunities to engage in team work in a variety of subjects/courses.

How could this be? In subsequent discussions with both student focus groups and academic staff a common picture emerged. This involved:
  • assigning students (either self-selected or chosen by the lecturer) into groups in order for a team to undertake a particular assignment or assessment task;
  • providing templates or guides that outlined the various components required of team members to complete the team-based assignment; and
  • developing assessment protocols or rubrics to assess student learning (but not necessarily individual student learning).
So what happened? It was found that the students did the sensible thing to maximise their opportunities and their time: they chose to divide and conquer. From a student's perspective, this is a very sensible strategy. Each student takes on a particular responsibility (e.g., one student does the lit review, another designs the survey, while the third writes methodology). That is: they Cooperate. The result is a team that cooperates very well with each other but the amount of Collaboration is limited to ensuring the various parts fit together in a reasonable manner for a final submission.

So what to do?  This is where technology can help innovation. At my current institution we are working on ways of using various hardware and collaborative applications, where students in teams work on documents or research projects simultaneously. One such solution to this issue and one of the better tools for this process is Google Docs. Multiple students can work on the same document simultaneously, seeing each other's contributions and editing each other's text. Therefore classroom design (if this is a face-to-face process) is a crucial part of the process, With a shared central monitor that is large enough so that all members of the team can see it and engage with the single shared document in real time an absolute necessity (and multiple stations across the room). In a fully online environment the same effect is achieved by using a cloud-based document that all students work on simultaneously. With a product like Google Docs (and there are other examples) the history of changes can be seen in the contributions by individuals in the team accessed. We are undertaking work in this area in my current institution in a number of academic disciplines. The room (one of) is shown below. Stay tuned for updates.

The Collaborative spaceThe Collaborative space