ICT for learning

 

Keywords: CALL (Computer-Assisted Language Learning), CMC (Computer-Mediated Communication), tool choices, new skills, distance education, co-presence, conversational feedback, equalization, perceived anonymity, video conferencing, virtual worlds, Web 2.0, constructivist learning, flexible learning

 

Before I went on to PhD studies, I studied to be a teacher of English and German in Swedish upper secondary school. I have always wanted to relate my research and other experiences to my interests in teaching languages, and in line with this, the information here deals with language education. However, many ideas are general and could be applied to other subject areas as well.

 

Research on Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) deals with a wide range of phenomena. To mention a few areas, specific tools for exercises in grammar and vocabulary are tested and developed further, and examples of how to use corpora in language education are discussed and evaluated. One branch in CALL research deals specifically with Computer-Mediated-Communication, and it is within this branch that my research could be of relevance.

 

One way in which my research might inform language education, is through the introduction of a framework which can be used when choosing tools for different purposes in the language classroom. This framework is to be presented in the final thesis. The information which my thesis provides about how technology is actually employed might also be useful when considering what technologies to use in the classroom. It might also be relevant to consider the communication skills that the participants in my studies have developed, and think about how these might be further explored in the classroom situation.

 

Distance education is of particular interest to me. Traditionally, language studies at a distance have not had oral components. Considering the tools available today, it seems strange that the interactive possibilities that the internet provides are not taken advantage of more often. Some might argue that real-time meetings diminish the degree of flexibility that a course offers, which is a problem that needs to be addressed. However, far too often, I believe that the reason for not including real-time online meetings in courses is fear of the technology and lacking knowledge about available tools.


Real-time meetings are important as they can give a sense of co-presence in physically dispersed groups, something which might lead to lower drop-out rates. In language education, of course, they also give the opportunity to talk or interact in writing in real-time in the target language. Of great importance, not least in language education, are the possibilities to give conversational feedback, and thus show solidarity and support. This is an issue which I address in Study 1 of my thesis, in relation to student discussions in a multimodal video conferencing environment. Another interesting aspect with the use of multimodal tools concerns their potential in equalizing participation rates, or at least giving students the opportunity to try their voices in different settings. In the video conferencing environment, this can be seen in the choice of preferred mode of interaction.

 

Apart from the video conferencing study included in my thesis, I have also been involved in some different projects in graphical virtual environments. For example, I have organized discussion sessions, both among teachers and among students, in an online environment called Traveler. One thing which has been striking in these environments where participants are represented by avatars, is that some find the perceived anonymity that the avatars provide deliberating. Not least when trying to interact in a language which one does not fully master, it might be encouraging to be able to save face by hiding behind the computer screen and behind an avatar.

 

How ICT might be used for constructivist learning is another area which interests me. Here, the tools subsumed under the heading Web 2.0 (blogs, wikis, podcasts etc.) can be employed in the language classroom in order to provide students opportunities to create and publish their own materials and in this way also collaboratively build knowledge.

 

Another topic which I find important to consider concerns how we might best take advantage of the little time we have in the classroom, by providing students the opportunity to view or listen to lectures before meeting in the classroom (for example as podcasts) and by making use of software for individualized grammar and vocabulary exercises. This way, the time students and teachers have together can be used for interaction rather than one-way presentations or individual work.


Some resources:

 

Online resources:

 

- ICT4LT
http://www.ict4lt.org/
This resource has been developed by an international team of experts in CALL and CMC. The page is available in many different languages (including Swedish) and you can either take their "course" by working your way through the 15 different modules, or you can find, for example, a glossary and further references.

 

- Wikipedia on CALL
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer-assisted_language_learning

 

- Language Learning and Technology

www.llt.msu.edu

An interesting online journal with articles on the topic is Language Learning and Technology.

 

- Språklänkportalen
http://www.spraklankportalen.se/
A great collection of links gathered by members of the project "Ung Kommunikation". Here you can find resources concerning everything from tools for communication to links dealing with specific themes. One potential drawback is that focus is on teaching English (which seems to be the case with many of these resources); yet, many of the resources presented here are general enough to be used in any language class.

 

 

 

Books:

There are many books that provide overviews of the field of CALL, but two relatively recent books that provide great introductions are:


Svensson, Patrik (2008): Språkutbildning i en digital värld. Norstedts Akademiska Förlag

 

Levy, Mike & Glenn Stockwell (2006): Call dimensions: Options and Issues in Computer Assisted Language Learning. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

 

 

 

Networks:

 

- ITAS

http://www.humlab.umu.se/itas

During 2002 – 2005, I coordinated the online activities of ITAS, a Swedish national network for IT in academic language education. The network is no longer active, but the page has reports from different activities conducted over the years. For example, you can watch presentations from a symposium which was held in HUMlab in 2005, where, among others, Paola Eklund Braconi presented some of her experiences from using the virtual environment Traveler with her distance students.

 

http://www.eurocall-languages.org (The EUROCALL web page)

http://www.eng.umu.se/eurocall (The local web page for EUROCALL in Sweden)

EUROCALL is a European organization for Computer-Assisted Language Learning, with members from universities, schools and industry. Throughout the year members can interact online and use the resources available through the web page, and annually in September there is a conference where members can meet and exchange ideas. Members can also take part in activities organized by so called Special Interest Groups (SIGs). For example, there is a SIG for those interested in Computer-Mediated Communication.


As the regional representative for EUROCALL in Sweden, I have set up a web page in Swedish with information about the network. On this page, you can also find links to other networks and organizations for CALL world wide.

 

From the EUROCALL pages you can find links to several other CALL networks.

 

 

 

My publications on CALL:

 

Apart from the article describing Study 1, which is to be included in my thesis, some of my other publications also deal with language education. For example, I have written in Swedish about video conferencing and online virtual environments in relation to distance education in a book chapter (“Att mötas online: Muntliga realtidsträffar i nätverket ITAS”) and in conference proceedings (“Utmaningar och möjligheter med nätbaserat lärande”).


My unpublished final project for my teacher’s degree written in 2003, “Why Computers? Constructivist Language Learning on the Internet”, includes some early reflections on web 2.0 in the language classroom. The project I suggest in this paper largely builds on my experiences from participating in the innovative Virtual weddings project
(
http://www.eng.umu.se/vw) in HUMlab as an undergraduate.

 

See the publications page for more information and for online access to some of these papers.