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...

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Communication channels

With new technological developments comes a time of adjustment and it was ever thus!
Over the holiday period I took a few days away from my laptop but still checked my phone. Getting online is how I interact with colleagues, friends and family. It is how I find out what I need to know (movie times, latest news). Even as I write this sitting in a very cold and noisy home surrounded by 2 heating engineers (boiler broke down just before Christmas and a new one is currently being fitted) I am communicating with my sons (stranded in their bedrooms as the floorboards and carpet are all lifted outside their doors) to check on them. I thought I would try to keep my fingers warm by typing a blog entry which has been in draft for a while. 

New communication technologies are a huge social challenge when they come along. Inevitably they are "sold" to us as the answer to every problem posed by distance, an efficiency we require to cope in the modern world, the industry takes care of that. Up to us then to try them out and express how much more complex human communication is than the software developers would have us believe. 

Humans like to choose their methods of communication differently, what works for some will offend others. Texting (SMS) grew rapidly in popularity and was welcomed by some as a means to encourage written communication between a generation who resisted reading books. However, it was not long before people were being unceremoniously dumped or fired by text message.

Email has become the default for formal correspondence in many workplaces, invoices, quotations and receipts can be emailed whilst "snail mail" has been reduced, business postage bills must have dropped dramatically but this shift has also brought new challenges - we have all had to learn how to manage these in order to stay safe and keep up with work demands. However, those who love email rarely seem to appreciate why others may find it intrusive and unhelpful. 

And now we are in the era of synchronous online interactions for work or play. Video conferencing for work has brought some interesting new takes on the meeting, beautifully illustrated in this video . The social norms we have long established over time, the reliance on body language and eye contact to help mediate our interactions, these forms of human feedback are replaced by a new need to understand the workings of our connection, hardware operation and indeed digital audio feedback!  Those who master these challenges, those with "communicative advantage" - especially between global connections - will undoubtedly have an advantage over others if they put their combination of technical and interpersonal skills to good use. All too often we see communicative advantage bring the wrong sorts of changes as we did in London thanks to the realisation of a particular messaging system but we must not fear or blame the tool, the fault lies with those who refuse to acknowledge and engage with the new channels, we only have ourselves to blame. If we do not inhabit physical spaces and leave them to be overrun by those who would do wrong we are complicit in creating ghettos and no-go areas, leaving mistrust and lawless behaviour to flourish. 

In the world of synchronous connection, there is great work already underway to restore the online spaces afforded by virtual connection tools to enable more open interaction and normalisation of such channels. I must mention at this point the work of Maha Bali and others, selflessly supporting intercultural discussions, helping to counter the inequity which blights us. Never has this research and exploration been more important for our world. It needs to inform and educate our young people to use such tools and communication channels appropriately for the good of us all. 

Sunday, 11 December 2016


 I found this graph illustrating the development over time of a Community of Practice (Wenger) very helpful as I prepared to deliver a workshop for tutors this Christmas. In many ways we are a diverse group, international colleagues coming from a wide range of teaching traditions and with varying levels foo interest and expertise in technology enhanced teaching and learning. What unites us is a love for supporting language learning and after recent developments a degree of clarity about how we assess language progression. 

I analysed our progress towards becoming a Community of Practice (Wenger) in a paper delivered at Eurocall in Evora, Portugal some time ago. Time now to revisit this. In the paper I talked about the importance of "tending" the community through shared activities. Several of our "technology enhanced learning" champions achieved recognition for their professional development through fellowship of the HEA (Zhiyan Guo, SFHEA) or are working towards this. Others have taken advantage of the open courses shared through our 101 news forum (e.g. Chiyomi Duble completed the Blended Learning Essentials mooc) Since the paper was written there have been institutional changes which intervened making the TEL meet-ups a more challenging activity. As our operating unit (the Language Centre) was merged into a new wider School of Modern Languages and Cultures, new pressures arose :

  • a loss of budget allocation for our activity reduced the security of the future of the Languages@Warwick project.
  • Institutional implementation of a central platform provided a new location for student courses, dividing our community activity over different platforms.
  • a push to move teaching resources into the central moodle made TEL advocacy a rather political activity, internal discussions became divisive and sometimes unpleasant. 
However, the shared commitment to a good blended learning experience for our students remains. Our "champions" have continued to engage and develop their practice, putting our TEL activity amongst some of the best on offer for language learning in HEIs. An emergent group of practitioners are working at the leading edge of TEL through Online Intercultural Exchange and the use of video creation and creative online assessment techniques such as the e-portfolio project flourish. And so I can see that we have moved along Wenger's graph towards coalescence and that is gratifying given all the contrary influences which threatened to unpick the progress made. Tomorrow we all meet up for our annual Christmas show and tell session and continue our journey learning together disseminating through a co-authored blog aimed at increasing student understanding of TEL in language learning.