Computational Thinking, LiuLiShuo & Audiobooks

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Why Computer Science Education in K-12 Settings Is Becoming Increasingly Essential by Mehran Sahami, The Huffington Post, 14 Sep. 2016.

Is computer science for everybody? In this blog post, the author reminds us that in today’s world, computer science goes beyond programming for programmers. It is more and more part of our everyday lives. The author asserts, “This is the reason we don’t talk about teaching CS as just teaching ‘programming,’ but rather as a means for students to develop ‘computational thinking’ skills.”

Ex-Google Guy Builds English Teaching App That Adapts to Student by Selina Wang, Bloomberg Technology, 13 Sep. 2016.

Chinese parents spend quite a bit of money for English lessons for their children, then find out that their children don’t speak English very well. In steps LiuLiShuo, which means “speaking fluently,” an app which incorporates gaming and social media into English learning. While it has its critics, it also has 30 million (yes, million) users.

Audiobooks Can Support K-12 Readers in the Classroom by Kate Stoltzfus, Education Week, 19 Sep. 2016.

Audiobooks have been around for quite a while, and their usefulness for struggling readers has been supported by research. With the growth of digital media, audiobooks are becoming even more important as a tool for learners, especially students who have trouble reading. A study by the American Association of Schools Libraries in 2012, which focused on elementary students, found that “audiobooks improved students’ reading scores, increased students’ positive attitudes about their reading ability, and offered students more personal choice in what they read.”

How Can Technology Enhance Language Learning?

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

Second language acquisition as a body of research looks at various aspects of learning and teaching languages other than one’s native language. Most people probably think of this as foreign language teaching and learning. Because of the complexity of language learning and teaching, this field of research covers a wide range of issues from the order in which learners acquire grammar and vocabulary in the language they are studying to what the most effective teaching methods and strategies are. As learners and teachers alike seek more effective and efficient ways to teach and learn languages, technology use has grown.

Perhaps technology use for language learning began back when people used record players to listen to and repeat what was on a record. In the 21st century, the opportunities for using technology has grown enormously, ranging from podcasts you can download to interactive activities on the Internet where you can practice all aspects of a language.  These activities range from short texts to read and answer questions about to full-length courses taught over the web. With mobile technology, learning apps enable the learner to study anywhere, anytime. Each of these types of technology-assisted language learning comes with its own strengths and challenges for the learner and the developer.

In his blogpost, “How could SLA research inform EdTech?,” Scott Thornby suggests that the developer or user needs to ask some questions based on second language research about how an application may fit into the language learning process to determine its effectiveness for learners’ specific needs. He lays out what he calls 10 “observations” from second language research. Then he formulated questions, related to each observation, which ask how technology can enhance language learning. His questions focus on how adaptive the software is to different types of learners and to an individual learner’s history as well as how it addresses the complexity of the language. Thornby also suggests asking how well it gives opportunities for meaningful input and output as well as how well it provides feedback.

However, in the long run, I think the most important question he poses is “Is the software sufficiently engaging/motivating to increase the likelihood of sustained and repeated use?” After all, no matter how good it is from a pedagogical standpoint, if the software doesn’t engage the learners, it will gather dust on the virtual “shelf” as surely as those records from days past have gathered dust on people’s bookshelves.

Digital Storytelling for Social Change

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

Zanizibar, like a number of developing countries, sees English as one of the keys to increased economic development, in their case through tourism. However, sometimes the question has to be asked: At what cost? One group of high school students in Zanzibar turned to technology to answer that question.



In “Teens Make Film in Broken English to Explain Why They’ll Fail English,”1 Gregory Warner at NPR reported on Present Tense,2 a short film in which three high school students use digital storytelling to examine whether all classes, such as science, math, social studies, etc., should be taught only in English. The young filmmakers talk about the move from all-Swahili education in their primary school years to an all-English education often taught by teachers who have little competence in the language themselves. In their award-winning film, the young filmmakers argue that instead of giving them an edge with improved language skills, they are learning almost nothing at all, neither English nor the content they need.

It is not clear whether a change was made due to this film, but the government in Zanzibar has decided to change the all-English policy and return to using Swahili as “the language of instruction in government schools” and returning English to the status of a foreign language class.

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1 25 June 2015.
2 The story on the NPR website also has a link to the film.

Technology Advice for First Year International Students in US Colleges

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

International students in the United States, whether they are native English-speakers or English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), face some unique challenges when attending American universities. Jiongcheng “Arthur” Xu, in “Five Ways to Prepare for Freshman Year at a U.S. College,” encourages incoming freshmen who are international students to take advantage of technology to prepare themselves for their experience. I think two of his ideas are especially relevant for all international students whether they are coming to the US or going elsewhere.

His first suggestion is to practice writing. He rightly points out that the US educational system relies heavily on reading and writing, whether it is traditional classwork or communicating with classmates through FaceBook and texting. Recently, I was at a conference in Croatia, and one young woman shared her experience as an international student who had never used a classroom management system.

She did not realize at first that her instructors expected her to take some responsibility for her learning by logging on regularly and accessing course materials, reading and corresponding either through the site or through email with the instructor and fellow students, and participating in online discussions. Not only is the online learning environment a different paradigm than many international students are accustomed to, but each of these activities requires different writing skills and not always the 5-paragraph essay that students of English are often taught.

Another suggestion that he made was to find university lectures in English online and watch them. Not only will they improve their listening and note-taking skills, they will get an idea of how professors in the US conduct a class. I would also recommend that they try to find recordings of classes in which there is interaction among students. One of the skills that a language learner may need to learn is how much information to give and how long to talk before yielding the floor to another speaker. I have found that sometimes when international students have finally gotten up the nerve to participate in a class, they do not understand the unspoken rules of turn-taking and quantity of speech that is appropriate in certain situations.

What has your experience been with using technology for college preparation, either as an international student or as a teacher of international students?