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.

Smartphones, Tablets & Subtitles for Language Learning

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NY program uses phone calls, text messages to teach English by Deepti Hajela, Associated Press, 30 Nov. 2015.

Using basic phone technology, New York state has created lessons for English language learners that are flexible and free.

Tablet use can benefit bilingual preschoolers by Elin Bäckström at Phys.org, 10 Nov. 2015.

The author reports on the result of a study done in Sweden that shows the value of tablets as teaching tools for preschoolers whose first language is not Swedish.

Spain considers ban on dubbing in bid to boost English language skills in The Local, 4 Dec. 2015.

Spain’s Popular Party wants to eliminate dubbing of TV shows and movies and retain original sound-tracks with subtitles in an effort to boost English language learning.

My Changing Expectations About Social Media: Facebook

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

When I arrived in Albania to teach future English teachers at a university, I wanted to use online resources to stay connected with my students like I do in the US. After trying several different free learning management platforms, I decided to set us up on FaceBook. Most of my students already have FaceBook accounts, and they were used to using it. Although things did not work exactly as I had planned, it did form a basis for online communication among the students and with me.

My intention was that “our” FaceBook page would be a place for English-only communication about issues related to English and English teaching. I linked to the American English website and the British Council so we’d get their feeds. I asked the students to do the same when they find relevant links.

What actually has happened is that the site has functioned primarily as a social networking page for the students with daily posts of selfies and a lot of comments in Albanian. At first, I was upset by this because it did not meet my expectations. However, as time has gone by, I have accepted the social aspect of this and how it has created a sense of community among the students in a different way. I do use it to post class-related information and to link to “professional” resources, and they do occasionally post in English. However, the next time I do something like this with a group of students, I want to try to create more of a learning environment.

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Eryk Bagshaw’s article “Social media is teaching the world English1 about using social media to offer “snack-size” English language lessons gave me some ideas about how to do this. This Australian initiative has found that users respond positively when offered small bits of English – a few idioms, a few uses of modal verbs, difficult spellings, etc. Bagshaw says, “It is all about giving people context to hang that learned language on.” He also wrote about how the BBC uses Twitter to connect English learning and current events and mentioned that creating a community is a part of the service and part of the appeal of using social media in this way. “You can get instant feedback from other users a world away, they collaborate, correct, rework. That is how you learn and that is really exciting.”

As a teacher, I recognize the importance of building community among learners. Therefore, I intend to take what I learned from my experience in Albania and what I learned from Bagshaw’s article and think about how I can change my expectations about social media use for a group of students so that it functions as a more effective learning tool, as well as for community-building .

I would like to hear others experiences with using social media in learning environments. What has worked? What hasn’t?

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1Sydney Morning Herald, 26 June 2015.

Chat Rooms, Emoji, ELLs, ABCmouse

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Chat rooms can boost success in learning English as a foreign language research shows” from phys.org, 7 July 2015.

This article reviews a newly published book1 which focuses on a research project conducted in the UAE. Ten female students were tracked for one semester as they engaged in conversations with native speakers of English in a chat room setting. The researchers found that the students developed speaking, writing and vocabulary skills. They identified one cause as “the relatively risk-free context of real time but not face-to-face interaction” provided by the technology.

Who needs words when you have an emoji?” by Finnian Curran in The Irish Times, 2 July 2015.

Curran asks: With clear evidence that more and more people are using the minuscule symbols, what does it mean for the future of the English language and should we be worried?

He cites several research studies and scholars who have examined the use of emojis, research which supports how they accompany language and also cultural differences in their usage. He also confirms that he sees no cause for worry.

Effectively incorporating technology with English learners” by Erick Hermann in Multibriefs: Exclusive, 11 June 2015.

Hermann identifies issues that arise when schools and school districts make decisions about expenditures for technology for the upcoming school year and the impact technology has on English Language Learners (ELLs). He points out that while good practice should be behind all such choices and purchases, the specific needs of ELLs who require additional instructional supports, such as various visual aids and redundant information, must be addressed.

Mobile app helps Chinese kids learn English” from Phys.org, 23 June 2015.

Many parents in China want their children to start learning English as early as possible. The ABCmouse English Language Learning app, designed for 3-8 year olds, was developed with very young language learners in mind.

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1Rahma Al-Mahrooqi & Salah Troudi, eds., Using Technology in Foreign Language Teaching, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 10 Jan. 2014.

Social Media in TESOL: An Interview with John Wasko

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

[Note: This interview was prompted by an email, sent by John to Lynn, re her article “Technology Advice for First Year International Students in US Colleges. -Editor]

John Wasko, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Samoa, is president of American Pacific University in Pago Pago, American Samoa. Part of the university’s mission is to help foreign students develop academic English language skills and cultural competence so they can successfully complete study at colleges and universities in the US. Mr. Wasko commented that “too many foreign students come to the US unprepared to face an American classroom.” A commitment to using “21st century digital learning tools and resources” helps students accomplish their language and cultural competencies.

John Wasko

John Wasko

LZ: What are some of the social media online resources you use that have been effective?

JW: The most popular chat rooms in Asia and Southeast Asia are Wechat, QQ and IMO. I use them all to teach the kids English. First, they have automatic translators built in. Secondly you can share audio files for pronunciation. Third they have live video chat. You can talk and see the student in real time. Fourth they work great on mobile. There are even more chat sites specific to different countries. Zalo, for example is specific to Vietnam.

LZ: How do you use these resources in your teaching?

JW: I am now improving my teaching strategies by developing text modules and practical scenarios. Each builds on others to develop more complex sentence structures, vocabulary, contextual speech, jargon and slang. Using Google images in concert with text and audio messaging helps a lot and can be done on the fly.

LZ: Is there anything else you’d like to say?

JW: Here is the great thing. You don’t need any special set up or call center or anything like that. Just a smartphone. I use an iPhone 4. Works great. If we can develop mobile techniques to help these students, every university will knock on their door.

LZ: Thanks.

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.