Featured post

Finding your tribe

One of the most enjoyable and inspiring books I have read this year has been Sir Ken Robinson's "Out of our Minds"  and my ref...

Friday, 30 August 2019

EuroCALL 2019: Critically open - designing for learning with your eyes open.

How do you choose your digital tools?

This coming week I will ask this question to those attending EuroCALL2019 in Louvain La Neuve, Belgium. Their input will update the word cloud above. I am interested to find out what or who influences our tool selection - do we use what we know? what we are told to use in our institution? what we have heard about from others?  When do we change tools? Does student interest or advocacy play a part? Are we aware of how some tool choices may negatively impact on student engagement? Do we think about whether a resource created using for example an authoring tool may not be accessible to some students? Perhaps we have limited choice.

I hope my presentation gives rise to discussion about how we can ask better questions when designing for learning in digital environments.

A favourite resource from Future Teacher 3.0 UK on this subject is available here.

You see sadly there is little training for web developers into the accessibility needs of those using learning resources, little awareness amongst learning designers and practitioners of the importance of accessibility and therefore the online resources which have been assumed to help support learning can sometimes just further marginalise  learners. Increasingly as the technology gets more complex, more "magical" thanks to algorithms and artificial intelligence we understand less of what is going on inside the black box. I believe that if we use digital tools we need to ask better questions, to uncover some of what is hidden from us. We need to use and promote critical digital literacy

I have been curating some of the conversations on twitter which relate to #criticaldigilit. I hope you find them useful.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

On the sustainability of teaching

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Recently I contributed to this final Future teacher 3.0 session by briefly sharing why I work in the open and support open educational practice (OEP) for teachers. I cannot separate that journey from the decision to learn more about ownership of digital learning objects and the use of Creative Commons licences. 
Sustainability is at the heart of that decision. Teaching as a profession is about creating the conditions for learning and growth and currently our wealthy economies are dominated by austerity and the drive to reduce regulation, resulting in open season on working terms and conditions. The gig economy continues to grow  and we will reap the negative effects of the societal impact.

The human cost of forgetting our humanity, our responsibility to one another, in favour of short term rewards is shocking. 

In my discipline the race to market language learning has decimated a real understanding of the fundamental fact that language is a human act, to improve you need to use it with real humans! 

It may seem dull to learn how to operate and share resources online legally but at the heart of that learning is freedom which is central to the sustainability of teaching. Already inequality of access to language learning is growing, access to learning resources more widely is being limited according to wealth:
These threats should be resisted by us all, but particularly by teachers. In a typical tongue in cheek tweet, Dave White commented on the difficulty of replicating human interaction through AI:
To sustain a good quality of human life we must first value each other, whatever our talents, flaws, differences and challenges and then refuse to support changes which undermine our collective potential to thrive. 

Monday, 27 May 2019

You can't stop wildflowers spreading!

Warwick's wildflower roundabout Summer 2019 CC BY 4.0 @warwicklanguage
It is now a year since the end of the Warwick International Higher Education Academy (WIHEA) #knowhow project ended. The metaphor for talking about open practice which we employed was based around wild flowers and I took a moment last week to revisit the campus roundabout which was one of the enduring images used to promote our activity, delighted to see that the wildflowers are back and blooming. The disadvantage of funded projects is that they often disappear once the funding runs out leaving little in the way of legacy. I'm pleased to say that our legacy continues as many of the project outputs are open and freely available, but they are sometimes changed by circumstances beyond my control:

The recent open education conference #OER19 shared many great ideas for the development and implementation of open educational practice which I have started to investigate now that my exam marking has finished. These conferences, supported by ALT, leave lasting footprints year after year modelling the advantages of open practice. Their CEO Maren Deepwell is committed to open practice and shares her learning as she participates in a range of educational activities and events. She is one of many open practitioners in my personal learning network (note to self I must update this as it was last done in 2017) who inspire me. She is a sower of seeds. Learning is lifelong, sharing that learning can help others in their journey. It is not a competition or a race which depends upon beating others by withholding information. We thrive through collaboration and co-creation. This may require compromise. There will be times when we become more vulnerable than we would like to, times when we have to admit we get things wrong, times when we have to as for help. Some of us have to learn this the hard way.

 Through posting openly online I offer an imperfect work in progress. As you will see in this recent update to a previous post on an EU project called Video for all. I hope others find it helpful in some way. I will be presenting at Eurocall 2019 on open practice, continuing to sow my seeds. I may have little control over where they fall and whether they grow but you can't stop wildflowers from spreading. 

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

From CMC to VE #wlvmlearn


Just home from participating in an event held at the University of Wolverhampton Walsall campus at the invitation of Howard Scott and I would categorise it as an opportunity to provide my experience of CALL, or more specifically CMC and my subsequent journey into the Erasmus Plus Virtual Exchange initiative. I was able to provide myself as an OER. My focus was particularly upon the importance of finding suitable networks to support our professional development  and I am pleased to say that I have come home to connection requests on various social media platforms which mean the conversations can continue. Particularly important given that it will take the Palestinian teacher trainers I met today 2 days to return to their homes. We will be able to overcome our geographical distance and continue to interact and learn from each other. 

My slides from the session and the google doc with the tasks we tried to cover are linked here. Our conversations were urgent and rather restricted as we were part of a packed programme and participants were eager to find out as much as possible during their visit. We talked about how technologies of all sorts have long been part of our practice as language educators - from blackboards and chalk (chalk and talk was the expression used by one of the visiting teachers) to digital tools which they are very keen to embrace but wish to understand what works. Both myself and the final keynote speaker Michael Thomas  spoke about the importance of critical reflection when adopting digital technologies, alluding to the dangers of a solution based mindset and techno evangelism and the importance of prioritising the learning when designing with technology. Central to these arguments is the notion of ownership. The digital wilds, where your data is harvested, trolling, spam and fake news abound, are not exactly a safe space. If you are insisting that your students engage there, you need to ensure that they are digitally savvy. We as teachers need therefore to be well informed and to ask better questions. As Michael said we need to uphold our responsibilities as "difficultators" (taking learners out of their comfort zone).

Much to ruminate on, I hope the conversations will continue.

I captured the social media footprint of the event here:

Thursday, 28 March 2019


Made with Padlet
This week I was invited to present at an event jointly organised at Warwick for the Extended Classroom and the Arts faculty co-ordinated by the new Digital Arts Lab. The event was really well attended and I spoke about my personal perspective on the history of CALL and how it has contributed as a field of study to better teaching and learning. 

A personal journey through CALL from University of Warwick

The audience included some familiar faces - people who regularly get together around use of technology in teaching, friends from languages at Warwick and some new (to me) so I was eager to ensure that I didn't get too bogged down in the technical or the personal. Meaning of course that there were some things I meant to say that I possibly didn't say clearly enough. Thankfully this blog is a good way to reflect on what I may have omitted! 
The tools I used for the event were the slides embedded above and a set of resources for exploration shared on the padlet embedded at the top of this post. The story (just like my personal biography) goes back to the 1960s. 

CALL has a long history of research involving practitioners in language teaching and researchers in language acquisition, it overlaps and connects with practitioners in English language teaching and applied linguists from around the world who also have their own networks. As a larger community we have sometimes been accused of being techno-evangelists (I have no idea what this accusation really means). I don't think there is a religious zeal within the community, we are mostly excited to try new things but often disappointed by their failure to deliver the promised change we seek!). Publications arising out of CALL and related fields such as Computer-mediated communication, Mobile Assisted language learning, Online Intercultural Exchange etc. often tell of the disappointments, the things that go wrong, the misuse of power through use of technology and other such critical issues. As a community we are well placed to help the scales drop from the eyes of those enchanted by the promises of technology enhanced learning. 

I feel I dwelt a little too much on avoiding the mistakes of the past and perhaps failed to mention the triumphs emerging from the work of this extensive, diverse, international community. So time to put that right. 

The best teaching arising from those who have engaged with the work of this community upholds some really important principles which contribute to the best in teaching and learning today:

  • human centred approaches to learning can be achieved using technology if we take care to prioritise learners,
  • we can use our agency to inform and empower learners, encouraging autonomy and innovation in pedagogy,
  • linguists are used to navigating the intercultural, any disciplinary project can be improved by involving a suitably competent linguist.
I did in passing make a point around critical digital literacies. We  must always ask ourselves when we think of computer-assisted language learning and technology enhanced (language) learning: who are we assisting? what are we enhancing? I should have also stressed that open practice is a great way of supporting reflection and improvement for researchers and practitioners. In my defence I have spoken about this many times so my work on this is fairly easy to find!

I really hope that something positive comes out of what was an exciting and positive event, that some more barriers have come down and that projects rooted in great teaching continue at Warwick. 

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Connecting communities and conferences: We have the technology!

Last week I made my way up the M1 to join the #socmedHE conference. Strictly speaking it was the #socmedHE18 conference but as it happened in 2019 I kept to the generic hashtag mostly. I was off to present - or rather to facilitate experience of - Virtual Exchange. The rationale for this was to connect participants at the Nottingham Trent based conference with those attending the Future teacher 3.0 conference in York. Both exciting HE conferences on the same day but about 90 miles apart. Both sharing experiences and expertise in online or digital teaching. My aim was to use what I have learned through designing and running virtual exchange over the past 8 years and share my enthusiasm for the work of the @ft3uk team. I have regularly attended their lunchtime webinars which are always comprehensive, interactive and useful for professional development. 

The design for this session was founded in experiential learning. I designed 3 tasks to take the participants through these stages:

  1. Information sharing
  2. Comparison and Analysis
  3. Co-creation
Timing being short the tasks included a little ice breaking but, unlike the cohorts I usually work with, the participants in these 2 conferences are more homogenous - all working in UK education, mainly Higher Education practitioners. The embedded gdoc in this post shows the tasks in more detail. My slides were a remix from those used by UNICollaboration to present virtual exchange. The co-creation was aggregated using the two conference hashtags through a Tagboard and a wakelet post. (again this was a modified version of co-creation due to the time constraints, our virtual exchangees have to intentionally co-create artefacts but they typically have weeks to negotiate this). 

My session was a face to face session at Nottingham Trent #socmedHE18 transmitted through my Blackboard Collaborate Ultra room to York. The Erasmus Plus Virtual Exchange initiative supports practitioners through training to design and engage successfully in virtual exchange and offers opportunities for students to have meaningful international experiences which may compliment or even take the place of physical mobility in cases where it is not possible for whatever reason. 

Recognition of training or participation is provided in the form of open badges. A framework for the creation and issue of open badges for virtual exchange is shared here. The badges are issued through our account with Open Badge Factory which is based in Finland and those who earn them can collect and display them through setting up a profile on Open Badge Passport. Here's mine. 

This taster session - the resources for which remain open - hopefully gave in insight into the excitement and potential for working with those who are at a distance. Having experienced for myself how virtual exchange and connected practice can enrich your understanding of the contexts and challenges faced by others, help develop technical and learning design skills, bring new and exciting opportunities to both students and teachers, I feel that it was a valuable experience and certainly a first for me to present in 2 conferences at the same time!

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Knowledge creation - trouble at mill

As scholars and academics we are knowledge creators often working at the edge of understanding. We have a mission to share and report back on what we find, especially when it can help others but even when we don't really know or understand the significance of what we report. That becomes a shared task, we work together as a community to extend understanding. In my personal case, as a teacher I have spent over 30 years looking for the best ways to engage my learners in intercultural and linguistic understanding, looking to build their curiosity and supporting their lifelong interest in language learning. As a researcher and open educational practitioner I report back to share what I find and others chime in. 

It is therefore natural to me that I would turn my hand to editing Wikipedia as a way of sharing knowledge. I am a newbie but a long time supporter of the project. I have been researching in an area variously described as "telecollaboration" or "Online Intercultural Exchange" or "virtual exchange"  as a teaching practice. It offers much to support my aims as a practitioner. I have published in this area and when I used Wikipedia to search for a reference to it, lo there was nothing. There is a page on telecollaboration which was dominated until 2013 by references to the tools and technical functionality:
(on left wikipedia entry from 2009, cf current page)
now much improved with good references to the academic work in this area, a page on web conferencing which again focuses on the tools and their history. I could find nothing on the educational practice of virtually connecting people from other cultures to facilitate discussion and build those all important soft skills and/or language skills. 

However, my editing knowledge at the time was very limited. Inspired however by an Open Education SIG webinar by Martin Poulter I decided that the best way to learn was through experience (a maxim I hold dear in my teaching). I started an account, drafted in a sandbox and then took myself off to a wikipedia meet up in Oxford where I met some really helpful folk who told me where I was going wrong. I learned much in the few hours I spent in an Oxford pub that day thanks to these guys:
In summer 2018 the page on Virtual Exchange was approved and since then others have continued to edit and add to it. I felt proud to be able to contribute to this project. I went on to set up a Wikipedia editing workshop at the EuroCALL conference in Finland with help from a Finnish editor and amongst our participants was the fabulous Parisa Mehran an Iranian language educator living and working in Japan. She shared my enthusiasm but unfortunately her first post was blocked as it didn't comply with the editor guidelines. This was a newbie error and I was quick to try to get help to get her back on the right track. Help did indeed come from colleagues in Wikimedia UK and I believe she now has a better understanding of a process which quite rightly observes quality controls. 

However, it seems my objection to Parisa's blocking has made me a target of some unwarranted attention on my talk page accusing me of promotional editing. I have read the Conflict of Interest guidelines again and again and I cannot see any reason why I could be accused of flaunting them. I guess you could say that as a teacher I promote language learning (so sue me) but as I have a son with a language disorder I am pretty realistic about the benefits of languages to those who have more basic communication needs. In reading this page I would say that the editor who accuses me is engaging in harassment. I find the tone of his comments offensive and patronising. I have left them on my page "for the record" but this post is also recording my side of his story.

The strength of the Wikimedia project lies in the community sharing of information. That community must be tolerant, diverse and supportive. I am privileged to know many in the community who advocate for Wikipedia, I will always remain one of them despite such experiences because I recognise that it takes time to build an inclusive, supportive community. I will not be silenced or marginalised due to my gender and neither should others. 

After all, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!