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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...

Friday, 25 August 2017

Living in the wild

Tomorrow is the final day of the #eurocall2017 conference. Time for a few reflections. The conference has had a packed schedule as usual and there are a few things I have noticed this time which indicate a greater level of technical engagement from participants. Clearly the focus of this conference is technology enhanced language learning but the shift is towards greater use of "wild" technologies. It may just be my impression but I think there has been a mood of determination that what we do is important. I think Graham Davies would have been proud. There was:


  • lots of interest in social media and web tools
  • a dynamic group of MALL (mobile assisted language learning) CMC (telecollaboration etc)  VW (virtual worlds) users and lots of PhD students too
  • a real interest in open practice as we are all keen to continue to connect and collaborate despite travel bans, brexit and other threats to mobility
  • great examples in the keynotes of how the web has transformed learning
I have two further sessions tomorrow. 

A session on CMC in the open

A Virtually Connecting session to reflect on the event before we all bring this year's event to a close. 
I have a feeling that the connections will continue through social media in the coming year too...watch this space!


Thursday, 24 August 2017

Working in the open

A post shared by Becky Skrine (@beckyskrinee) on
Currently I'm at the #eurocall2017 conference and wanted to put together a couple of posts around my experiences there. Firstly, like the video image above I spent yesterday afternoon as a virtually connecting onsite buddie and it was very gratifying to be able to provide the means for those who couldn't attend the conference to speak first hand to our first keynote speaker Steve Thorne who was generous with his time and engaged passionately with the network, providing additional insights into his presentation. You can view this session here.

If you are not aware of the virtually connecting network take a look at their blog. Co-directors Maha Bali and Autumn Caines set up the organisation as a way to help those who don't enjoy the freedom to attend conferences for whatever reason, most of which will affect all of us at some point: family commitments, financial or visa restrictions for example to get a flavour of the conference proceedings and get up close and personal with keynote speakers. Everything is managed on a voluntary basis through Slack channels and the resultant recordings shared openly through YouTube.

We had a great session and there is another on saturday with Shannon Sauro and Kate Borthwick sharing their reflections on the conference so join us!


Thursday, 25 May 2017

Do you grow out of playful learning?


A selection of my language games


"When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." (The Bible,  1 Corinthians 13.1,2).

This post was inspired by a #creativeHE post by Will Haywood published on his blog yesterday. Will raised the point that perhaps once we move to teaching in a different context (e.g. from school to HE) games and play in learning get a little left behind. I have been teaching French in HE for 15 years, with students who are often highly motivated, some on accelerated courses where they have to make lots of progress in a very short time. I need them to listen and imitate sounds accurately, using their voices with a new rhythm and tuning their ear to a new musicality, they have to make new connections quickly in order to acquire lots of new vocabulary in order to react appropriately in a language and culture that is not their own. Not unlike the process we all went through as little children. I try to make it fun. I describe an early lesson activity here where we play with the sounds we make, a playful ethos is crucial to the success of this activity. 

The toybox shot above shows a range of the games I use in class. Word cards and dice allow us to practice tenses and rhyming sounds, board games and role play help us to exercise our memory and strengthen the links between individual lexical items and meaning. The inflatable globe has lots of uses and often flies around the room to reduce focus on how silly you may feel making strange utterances in front of your classmates. There are lots of commercially made games too but I have found that the best ones are the ones that meet a specific learning outcome. More important than the game itself though is the establishing of a playful, non threatening ethos to play together. I remember a particularly exciting CD-ROM game I used in schools which was called Granville. It was an early form of SIM (simulation) where students had to navigate a small town in France (virtually of course) with a small set of coins, type the correct language into the computer in order to get what they needed (buying food, tickets etc) and then get back to base before time ran out. This was back in the 1980s though so it was not terribly sophisticated by today's game standards. You could even pay to hire a bike but you had to return it (using the correct words) or face penalties. The sort of thing you could do in a virtual world these days as long as you don't mind learning to move "in world" first. You can easily spend 20 minutes below the sea or stuck in a tree somewhere!

There's always a tension when you are designing learning using playful techniques - or serious games - between the time invested and the learning achieved. As a practitioner you get to judge this with experience and feedback from your students. So, do we need games less as we get older? I don't think so, indeed I would argue that we need permission to connect with our inner child even more if we are to free up the headspace we need to learn effectively. The biblical quote above may be misleading. Paul wrote to the Corinthians (if my rusty memories of bible study are correct) because he wanted to remind them of their responsibilities towards each other. As teachers we have a responsibility to support effective learning, that may well include the wise choice of a suitable playful activity or two. Laughter has a place in a classroom as it does in life. When we are older we can also reflect and analyse how the experience can help us break out of our learning ruts. Asking learners to create a game can be a really useful way of challenging assumptions about learning too. Play can support teaching excellence even in Higher Education.



Tuesday, 16 May 2017

CALLing to TELL ALL !



I have been invited to meet with trainee language teachers at the Centre for Professional Education here at Warwick this week and I will be taking the WIHEA #knowhow message with me. I will be telling my personal language teaching journey and will also attempt to demystify a bunch of acronyms. This is in order to make it easier to see the paths that exist to finding suitable networks to support their work in schools. My professional journey has involved twists and turns and sharing will I hope make it clear that the most interesting journeys can arise from indulging in a little "flâneurie".

The session will demonstrate heutagogical principles, providing a set of resources for exploration covering "old school" Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL), Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC), Online Intercultural Exchange (OIE), Mobile Assisted Language learning (MALL), Technology Enhanced Language Learning (TELL) and many more! Possibly the most important acronym we will meet however will be the PLN - Professional Learning Network.  Embarking on a career in teaching will leave very little time to draw breath. Connecting with others who can support and share the journey will ensure that each individual will not find themselves alone as they make their way through the challenges that lie ahead. A vital network for me when I started that journey as a Secondary School teacher to Head of Languages many years ago was the Association for Language Learning (ALL) which still is there today. Life is more complex 30 years on and the haystack we know as the internet not always the easiest place to navigate. Together we will explore the many possibilities for creation and curation. I hope I can provide a touchstone which will help to illuminate their future path.



Friday, 21 April 2017

WIHEA #KNOWHOW progress


Easter break ending, we must pick up the pace again on the #KNOWHOW project. Having carried out some action research (#LERMOOC) during the break I am determined to get the word out around campus of this opportunity for staff and students to understand and take advantage of the potential of open practice to enhance lives but also ever more aware of the need for strong support. 

First things first, the break has not been without progress on the project front. The #LERMOOC opportunity produced a cognitive review of the project plan which should give a real wake up call to project participants, highlighting as it does the size of the task ahead. Communication with my team is a priority and I will try to get a face to face opportunity for that next week, meanwhile an email and a shared page will start the term. 

We're going to take the metaphor of seeds (which complements the image above, I have been the mother hen incubating her project eggs so far). Once these eggs hatch they will need the product of our germinated seeds if they are to grow and thrive.  Time for the the eggs to hatch, the seeds to be sown and watered, and for each of us to get nurturing so that it is clear across campus and beyond that Warwick is open for learning!







Sunday, 5 March 2017

Sustaining teaching through little OER

Image: Open CC BY 2.0 on Flickr by Fatimah Fatih
Soon I will be presenting on the sustainability of teaching and recent months have seen lots of talk of austerity, business models for public good which have all been relevant to my thinking. I have been curating a pearltree to capture the many facets of the discussions and engaging with various individuals about open educational practice or practices. There is an issue of definition which makes it tricky for practitioners in education to see the point of working in the open. The concern is there though.
For too long, teachers have been disempowered by an education system that is controlled by politicians who know nothing of how to inspire and lead young people. The barriers to professionalism and the confidence to create have to be removed. This suggestion moved me to creation!

So how do I break free from teaching a coursebook which students cannot afford and reclaim my confidence in guiding students to the necessary competence in my subject? Well, here's my textbook creator guide (slightly tongue in cheek but you'll get the point when you take a look) 

Just do it - practice openly and others will help to improve and remix. Join your community and surface what matters through little OER.




Friday, 3 March 2017

Language learning is dead! Long live language learning...

Image: Babelfish CC BY Tico on Flickr

I had a call this afternoon from our press office asking me to record a response for Sky News to this item which appeared in the Mail about a headset which can translate your interactions automatically in real time.  Would this, she asked, be the end of the need to learn languages? After a quick chat with their contact all was put in place to go live on Sky tonight at 6.45pm. When I finished teaching at 5pm, I returned to my office to polish my responses and prepare myself. I have just taken a call telling me the item has now been pulled but here are my responses anyway!

Firstly it is true that we are benefiting from many rapid technological advances and the field of languages is indeed being transformed by communication technologies. We see that it is easier that ever before to connect people in real time through virtual exchange but it is a complex area. We need to apply some digital wisdom here. 

The inventor of this gadget comes from a country which admits readily it doesn't do enough language learning and the idea came when he met a French girl. Get it?  Of course he wanted their minds (and maybe their bodies?) to meet and urgently needed a shortcut to fluency. Relationships are mediated by language, but as we all well know relationships, like language, are complex. 

My first thoughts were of how, given much of our communication is through gesture and body language, the cognitive demands of listening to an earpiece whilst trying to maintain eye contact, not pull strange faces when the machine translates (actually that is incorrect - translation is the word used for written language) - interprets what she says, may disrupt the flow of relationship building that happens in face to face settings where judgements are made in split seconds. We may see a "sat nav" effect where people ignore their instincts when focusing on the instructions, ending up literally in no-mans land. 

Then we have the complexity of language itself. Accents, speed and clarity of voice input usually require device training and could completely fox the system. Good interpreters understand the speaker's context, can explain cultural references in jokes for example and make appropriate adjustment for idiomatic language use. I wonder what Andrew (the inventor) would make of his new friend telling him "it is raining ropes" (Il pleut des cordes - It's tipping it down!) Language is constantly changing and growing with human progress, check out what's new in the Cambridge dictionary blog. The French can now "liker" a Facebook friend!

So if you are thinking of getting yourself one of these devices, please proceed with caution. You may easily fall foul of any or all of these pitfalls.  Isn't it more fun anyway to embrace what our brains are hard wired to do: figure each other out over time, maybe over coffee and some linguistic exploration on your phones? Andrew, you could have much more fun if you got out more and enjoyed the company of those whose first language is not US English. The negotiation of meaning - be it through food, wine, film, dance or any of the many human ways we get to know each other brings greater rewards and opens our minds to many ways of looking at the world.