Innovation in Language Learning Spaces


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Plenary presentation given at the 20th annual Latvian English Teachers conference in August 2012

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  • Introduction I am a teacher in Barcelona and social media consultant for the British Council worldwide. Part of my job means I am manager of the British Council's part in several EU projects such as:- 1) aPLaNet, which aims to help language teachers to build their own PLN (Personal Learning Network) online and show them how useful this is for professional development online, using social networking. 2) iTILT (Interactive Technologies in Language Teaching) , looking at the use of Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs) in language teaching and how best to design materials and use them in the communicative classroom 3) AVALON (Access to Virtual and Action Learning Online), which finished this year, and looked at learning and teaching languages in 3D virtual environments such as Second Life What I want to talk about today is the way people teach and learn languages in the 21 st century, and in particular the changes that are being brought about through the impact of digital technology. I believe this impact can be seen by examining the spaces where people learn and teach languages in the present day.
  • Many of us grew up learning in classrooms such as this one – hands up if you did
  • Many classrooms have not changed much – this space is very similar to the last one we saw.
  • Here's another example – maybe you are more likely to see this at a university, but the three are very similar, with the students sitting in rows and the teacher teaching from the front
  • The questions I want to look at today are listed here. Has anything really changed when it comes to language learning and teaching spaces? If so, what has changed, or what is changing? And how are people learning languages in the 21 st century?
  • In 1993, in Professor Seymour Papert's book 'The Children's Machine: rethinking schools in the age of the computer' he imagined 2 groups of time travellers arriving from the previous century A group of surgeons and a group of teachers The surgeons arrive at the hospital, enter the operating room and are dazzled by the strange devices and complex operations that could not be imagined in their time The teachers, on the other hand, walk into the classroom, up to the front of the class and imagine giving a lesson as if nothing had changed Back in 1993, nothing much had really changed to the classroom. However, things have been changing dramatically since then.
  • If the time travelling teachers were to walk into classrooms today, they might recognise the space...seeing the chairs, desks and board But the way the teaching is now carried out is often different: This may include :- more collaborative learning (group work / pairwork / project work)
  • And then they would surely remark on the element of fun and informality Teachers work hard trying to make classrooms to be bright and cheerful and with a non-threatening atmosphere these days.
  • And then there's technology. More and more we are seeing computers turning up in the classroom – this could be multiple computers such as this computer classroom Or there could be a class set of laptops or netbooks in some cases
  • And the time travelling teachers would surely be surprised if they walked into a 'connected classroom' The interactive whiteboard more than any other teaching tool so far, I think, has transformed the classroom space. It looks like a normal board, and you can even use it just like a regular whiteboard or blackboard, but you only start to see the advantage when you use it in a very different way, making the most of the affordances that this technology offers. This way of using the IWB takes time and is best accomplished through training. Unfortunately, many of the people who criticise the IWB are people who haven't seen it being used well.
  • Apart from classroom learning, there are also more and more people learning outside the classroom. This has been facilitated by technology. Home schooling has grown in popularity, for example and technology is making this option more viable. The photo above may seem extreme, but in some places, Finland or Canada, for example, if there is a heavy snowfall, rather than miss class, teachers and students can connect using the Internet.
  • Of course, how and where people learn depends very much on the place, on the culture, and the learning situation. And when people don't have access to enough teachers, or don't have enough money, they innovate. Here's an example. This method of teaching English was devised in China by Li Yang (featured in the photo) and is called Crazy English. Li Yang has taught English now to millions of students. He appears in stadiums, sometimes to groups of 10,000 students or more. And to think some of you complain about teaching large classes!
  • Let's watch a short video about Crazy English so you can get a better idea of how it works. Li Yang shouts out words and phrases and asks his students to repeat out loud and shout back. It's all about learning through repetition, and the shouting is meant to increase confidence in speaking in another language. Is it effective? Who knows, but it seems to be a very popular method and for some people it's their only contact with the language
  • Large class sizes and the problems that go with them are not only a problem in China In Ethiopia, where the typical primary and secondary school class sizes are from 55-100 Ethiopia, they have adopted a method called Plasma teaching. This involves the installation of a plasma TV in the classroom and the students and teachers watch and listen to a lesson transmitted by satellite or recorded previously by a teacher in South Africa. Partly the reason for doing this is because many of the Ethiopian teachers are not sufficiently qualified or they lack teacher training Local teachers are meant to support the TV lesson by giving an introduction, conducting post-viewing activities, facilitating a discussion, and providing a conclusion or even substituting when the power is out. As a short to medium term solution for the country it seems to have had mixed results, with it working in some areas and not so well in others. In the long term, Ethiopia needs more teachers that are better trained.
  • Another revolutionary way of learning is the Hole-in-the-Wall project. This consists of a learning station consisting of a computer with an Internet connection embedded in a hole in the wall. Since 1999 and the first computer in Kalkaji, New Delhi, the project has grown to more than 100 computers across India and elsewhere. Mitra took a PC connected to a high-speed data connection and imbedded it in a concrete wall next to the wall of his research facility in the south end of New Delhi. What he discovered was that ghetto kids aged 6 to 12, most of whom have only the most rudimentary education and little knowledge of English took to it and within days, they had taught themselves to draw on the computer and to browse the Net. What has been found is that curiosity takes over when there is an enabling environment where they can learn on their own. This type of learning has also shown results when it comes to improvement in English. The idea behind this is that groups of children can learn on their own without any direct intervention. Dr Sugata Mitra callas this Minimally Invasive Education (MIE). He found that children using Learning Stations required little or no inputs from teachers and learnt on their own by the process of exploration, discovery and peer coaching.
  • For most learners the Internet is now what holds the most transformative power. Dr Sugata Mitra thought he could use the Internet telephony software Skype to improve literacy and education. On a trip to India, Mitra asked a group of Indian children what they would like to use Skype for. “Surprisingly, they said they wanted British grandmothers to read them fairytales.” Mitra told the Guardian newspaper. Mitra then started looking for volunteers and found about 200 story telling Grannies. “Many are retired teachers, who are now regularly on Skype teaching children in the slums,” The project, called “Sole and Somes” is often referred to as ““the Granny Cloud” and has evolved from storytelling to the volunteers working as educational mentors. They are available on Skype for about an hour a week for sessions involving conversations, story-telling and singing
  • On our LearnEnglish Kids website, we are also trying to help parents who are interested in helping their children learn English, giving them advice on how to use the resources on our website, tips for how best to help their kids learn, and a forum where they can ask questions and share information to help their children learn
  • There has been a proliferation of websites that connect learners to teachers or to other learners, allowing for a community to help each other learn languages. From the number of these sites, there is obviously a growing demand by people who are learning languages and who want to do so autonomously Learners and teachers are connecting though forums, using software such as Skype and in many other ways
  • Social networking is becoming one of the most popular places for language learners and teachers to connect Many teachers and learners are now building 'Personal Learning Networks' using tools such as Twitter as the hub. As recent news events has shown us, Twitter is one of the best ways of receiving instant information from around the world. As a teacher, building a large network of other teachers using tools such as Twitter gives you access to a wealth of collective knowledge and intelligence. It works best when you connect to a very large number of people and when you participate actively, sharing with the community. For many teachers, Twitter has become the first port of call when looking for ideas or resources for class and there are a number of excellent regular discussions that take place such as #educhat and #eltchat which enable continuing professional development to take place in a relaxed and friendly way online.
  • The British Council is involved n a European Union funded project under the lifelong learning programme to help teachers build and effectively use a PLN (Personal Learning Environment) The importance of building your own PLN can be understood by looking at the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) and how it is ineffective for lifelong learning. VLEs such as Moodle or Blackboard are institution owned and so when a learner stops studying at the organisation that owns it, or if a teacher changes jobs, all of the content that this person has created, and all of the connections that they have made, generally disappear, as the person is removed from the organisation's system. Because of this, encouraging people to build their own, personal learning environment, and connect to people (i.e. the PLN) means a more durable system for learning and development is created and which is owned by the individual Our aim in aPLaNet is to make more teachers aware of how they can do this, and to provide mentors to help them through the early stages of developing their own PLN
  • At the British Council, we are also using Twitter to provide a service for teachers of young learners, connecting them and informing them of the resources and opportunities available on our website – helping them to find other colleagues using Twitter and trying to build a community together. We do the same with teachers of general English, sharing our resources and trying to reach as many as possible to help them obtain the resources they need.
  • Among the most interesting new places people have gone recently to learn languages, is Second Life. It is the most developed of a number of different virtual worlds, where people can come together and chat or using voice, speak about whatever they like. Although it looks like a 3D computer game, there's nothing to kill and no way of 'winning'. In reality, it is like a 3D social network, and you get the most out of it by joining other people in groups and meeting up. Second Life rose to attention in 2007 and was hyped by some to be the future of the Web. There was also a lot of excitement about language learning. Since then, however, things have settled down, but there is still a lot of educational activity going on. In particular, many universities are looking at how the platform can be used, especially for distance learning.
  • Virtual worlds aren't the only place where informal language learning is taking place. The world of computer games is rich with this. Many people are using their language skills to communicate while playing immersive games such as World of Warcraft, which has around 12 million subscribers worldwide and is available in lots of different languages.
  • If you are interested in knowing more about how teachers can use games to engage learners, then I recommend you take a look at this blog, Digital Play, which I run with a colleague and which has lots of lesson plans and ideas on how to use video games in the language classroom.
  • Finally, the emerging space for language learning, which is starting to be very interesting is the world of the mobile and other handheld device. With the proliferation of smartphones and the emergence of tablets such as Apple's iPad, more people are able to take advantage of applications that enable anytime , anywhere learning to take place. This has meant an increase in learners using their mobile devices when commuting or on holiday, to access language learning resources, something which the British Council is trying to help through a growing number of applications from games to quizzes, podcast support applications and a vocabulary notebook (which can be used for language other than English by-the-way) – all of which can be downloaded for free from our website.
  • And that brings me to the end of my presentation. It is an exciting time for anyone involved in language teaching and learning and the explosion of digital technology has meant the opportunities to change the spaces where people learn and teach languages are far more diverse and accessible than they were five or ten years ago. And the technology itself is changing very rapidly it's becoming hard to predict how things will change for teachers and learners. Just over a year ago, for example, if you had asked me if I thought the paper book would be replaced by e-books, I would have said definitely not, that they would complement but not replace them. But now, ask me the same question and the answer seems to be a definite yes. As so many take to e-books and the technology to read them becomes cheaper and in the hands of many more people, I think we shall see the paper book fading in importance. I am not here, however, to make predictions – I hope you found the observations I have shared with you today of interest – please feel free to ask a question, disagree with me on a point or make a comment based on your own experience either now or at some other point during this event. Thank you for listening
  • Innovation in Language Learning Spaces

    1. 1. Innovations inLanguage Learning Spaces British Council, Barcelona
    2. 2. classrooms used to be like this
    3. 3. now theyre like this
    4. 4. or like this
    5. 5. What haschanged?What ischanging?How arepeoplelearninglanguages inthe 21stcentury?
    6. 6. Seymour Papert (1993)The Children’s Machine
    7. 7. collaborativelearning
    8. 8. more fun
    9. 9. technology
    10. 10. moretechnology
    11. 11. home schooling
    12. 12. larger classesLi Yang
    13. 13.
    14. 14.
    15. 15. plasma teaching
    16. 16. minimally invasive education
    17. 17. the “granny cloud” Sole and Somes Self OrganizedLearning Environments & Self OrganizedMediation Environments
    18. 18. parents & kids learning together online
    19. 19. online language exchange
    20. 20. online & blended courses
    21. 21. LMS Learning Management SystemVLE Virtual Learning Environment = institution managed system
    22. 22. PLE & PLN personallearning learning 1,900environment network friends= TOOLS = PEOPLE 5,000 followers
    23. 23. helpwithPLNs APLaNeTSeven Partners:ISTEK, TurkeyUniversity West Scotland, UKSofia University, BulgariaBritish Council, SpainEuroEd Foundation, RomaniaCELT Athens, GreecePelikan, Czech RepublicAssociate Partners140 institutionsfrom 33 countries
    24. 24. supporting a personal learning network / social media approach
    25. 25. MOOC 39,000 students massive open online course
    26. 26. virtualworlds
    27. 27. online games
    28. 28. online games
    29. 29. BYOD
    30. 30. Innovations inLanguage Learning Spaces British Council, Barcelona