Monday, 8 September 2008

Post-conference reflections from Graham Davies

I just got back from EUROCALL 2008. It was a smaller conference than usual, with around 150 participants attending, but the quality of all the presentations that I attended was extremely high this year; I cannot say that I attended a single poor presentation. There were a lot of new faces as well as the old hands. The social events were really good too. I especially enjoyed the conference dinner in the Csarda, where we were treated to a display of folk music and dancing – and even participated in the dancing ourselves.

The conference highlight for me was the session on Second Life, conducted by the Kamimo Project team, both locally and at a distance in Sweden. Second Life and virtual worlds (e.g. Lively by Google) are now a hot topic in EUROCALL. My colleague Lesley Shield and I ran a pre-conference workshop on Second Life, and I was interviewed by the local press and a radio station and asked questions about the different ways in which virtual worlds might contribute to language learning and teaching. The workshop notes that I wrote for newcomers to Second Life will remain on the Web permanently and will be updated from time to time. They can be downloaded in Word format from the ICT4LT site, Section 14.2.1 of Module 1.5:

This year’s conference was so good that we able to resist being out and about in the glorious sunshine that we had for the whole week, with temperatures creeping up from the mid-20s at the beginning of the week to 35 degrees on Saturday. The weather was really kind to us, so that we could enjoy sitting out in the open air until midnight – and later for the conference pros. A big thank you is due to Zsuzsa Angeli for organising a great conference in beautiful baroque Székesfehérevár.

The EUROCALL 2008 conference Virtual Strand archives will continue to be accessible at:
and video recordings of the keynotes will also be available.

EUROCALL still attracts members mainly from the higher education sector in spite of our efforts to widen our constituency, but this may soon change as the Executive Committee has approved a proposal to set up a special interest group (SIG) for teachers in the primary, secondary and higher sectors of education. We will be looking for volunteers to manage this SIG in the near future. Keep an eye on the EUROCALL website and the EUROCALL discussion list for future announcements:

Graham Davies
Member of the EUROCALL Executive Committee, with special responsibility for EUROCALL in Second Life

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Final th0ughts

Well, the conference finished today, and doubtless blog postings will be added over the next few days.

I very much enjoyed Patrik Svensson's very interesting and thought provoking plenary presentation - I like the idea of more or less disruptive technologies and the death of the VLE...

Thank you, too, to Patrik for taking part in a Q&A session. We had a few technical hitches and it's a shame there weren't more participants, but we had a fruitful discussion, I think. I hope those others who took part found it useful, too.

Our other two plenary speakers, Agnes Kukulska-Hulme and Andrea Kápárti allowed us to stream their presentations, which we very much appreciated. We'd also like to thank those presenters who signed the waiver forms and let us record their presentations for inclusion in the virtual strand.

A very big thank you should be given to Zsuzsa Angeli for organising a wonderful conference at a beautiful venue - nobody's posted photos this year, so this is a call for someone to do s0 for those who weren;t fortunate enough to be here.

And is this the end? Of course not! We have plans for next year's Virtual Strand already. Peppi talked a little about them at the Annual General Meeting yesterday, and more information will appear on the EuroCALL wesbite shortly. Essentially, though, we're hoping to extend the Virtual Strand to incorporate the submission of abstracts through the review process in exactly the same way as for the main conference - remember, though, you will need to be a EuroCALL member to submit an abstract, and you'll be able to find details about this very soon on the main EuroCALL website at:

Please continue to post here and on the discussion list. We'd love to hear your views about the sorts of things you'd like to see in your virtual conference environment and to hear about your experience of this - and other - virtual conferences.

Thank you everyone for taking part!

Friday, 5 September 2008

Françoise speaking on the development of new competencies

I just attended a very interesting talk by Françoise Blin entitled "The computer as a functional organ: the development of new competencies for successful language teaching and learning in a VLE". After a brief description of Activity Theory, Françoise talked about VLEs as semiotic vs technological spaces emphasizing that the dialectical relationship between nodes of the two spaces can result in contradictions which, however, can be mediated by means of functional organs.  To create and use functional organs, Françoise suggested three types of competencies: tool-related, task-related and meta-functional. She argued that the three competencies are required for learners to move smoothly between semiotic and technological spaces. 
In the second part of the talk, Françoise demoed an electronic glossary implemented in Moodle. The co-construction of the electronic glossary can be seen as a sub-activity of the main language learning activity and its activity system can be represented in the usual way. She cited preliminary data that suggested that the glossary sub-activity unfolded as planned although a number of problems, disruptions, conflicts and transformations of the initial components of the activity system occurred.

Before entering class, please remember to switch your mobiles on.

One reason to use mobile phones as an alternative to a traditional workstation could be lack of access to technology in school/university settings. In his session, David Brett gave some other reasons for integrating mobile phones in language learning: They are widespread, getting smaller and more economical. Together with the anywhere, anytime factor and movability, portability. Also, it is possible to do a lot of things with them; audio, video file production, web browsing etc .
David demonstrated the interface of the software Flash Lite player by Adobe (which can be run on several different mobile platforms.) Creation of standalone interactive exercises to be run on the mobile phone provides an alternative to traditional learning. They are all short sound bite exercises, both images and text based listening/reading exercises. To distribute them, students can eg download them from a web page, or they can be sent by mms or bluetooth.

Use of online European Language Portfolio by Anne-Marie Barrault-Méthy

Peppi hat mich ermuntert, Beiträge in Deutsch zu schreiben - und warum auch nicht?
Ich möchte kurz berichten über eine Präsentation über den Einsatz von eELP, einer Online-Version des ELP. Marie-Anne präsentierte die Ergebnisse einer Studie mit über 4100 Lernern (in Frankreich), die mit dem eELP gearbeitet haben. Die Ergebnisse der Studie waren sehr deprimierend: So waren 4/5 der Portfolios inaktiv zum Zeitpunkt der Studie, d.h. sie wurden seit mehr als 5 Monaten nicht mehr aktualisiert. Nur 3% der Sprachlernbiographien (einem der 3 Elemente jedes ELP) waren komplett bearbeitet. Insgesamt waren die meisten der Portfolios weniger als 1 Jahr aktiv - 80% wurden nach einem Jahr nicht mehr aktualisiert. Es gab überhaupt keine Hinweise dafür, dass die Lerner das eELP in der intendierten Weise nutzten, nämlich für die Planung des eigenen Lernens, für eigene Zielsetzungen etc.
In der Diskussion wurde intensiv über mögliche Ursachen für diese negativen Ergebnisse debattiert. Marie-Anne nannte selbst in ihrer Präsentation bereits einige, z.B. technische Mängel beim eELP (eine ohne Fördermittel entwickelte Applikation!).
Von mehreren Sprechern wurde konstatiert, dass die Arbeit mit dem Sprachenportfolio ein gewisses Sprachbewusstsein und Lernerautonomie erfordert (und auch befördert) - und wenn diese Voraussetzungen bei den Lernern nicht erfüllt sind, und sie im Unterricht auch nicht herangebildet werden (da dafür kein Platz im straff organisierten Curriculum ist, da die Lehrenden selbst nicht sehr motiviert für die Arbeit mit dem ESP sind etc.), es kein Wunder ist, dass die Lerner nichts mit dem eELP anfangen können.

Ich sehe ein wenig die Gefahr, dass diese Studie den Trend zu bestätigen scheint, dass das Europäische Spracenportfolio wieder eines dieser europäischen Projekte ist, die von oben nach unten initiiert, aber nicht sehr willkommen und auch nicht sehr nützlich für die Zielgruppe sind bzw. nur einer kleinen Minderheit nützen, aber für die Masse der Sprachenlerner nicht viel bringt. Insgesamt halte ich die Ergebnisse dieser Studie für nicht sehr überraschend - wenn man sich die Bedingungen des eELP Einsatzes ansieht. Ich selbst arbeite seit Jahren mit einem webbasierten ELP (LOLIPOP) und teile durchaus einige Zweifel an der Nützlickeit des ELP. Aus Erfahrung weiß ich, dass es einer sorgfältigen Planung durch den Lehrenden erfordert und das Zeit dafür im Unterricht genommen werden muss. Man kann nicht einfach den Lernern, zumal Schülern!, das Portfolio in die Hand geben ohne Tutorials, Handreichungen etc. und erwarten, dass die Schüler wissen, was sie damit machen müssen und selbständig damit arbeiten. Man darf aber nicht das Kind mit dem Bade ausschütten und die ganze Idee des Sprachenportfolios durch solche Studien diskreditieren (das ist keine Kritik an der Studie, sondern an den unzureichenden Bedingungen des Portfolioeinsatzes).
Ich hoffe, dass solche Studien nicht die KollegInnen davon abhalten, sich mit dem ELP zu beschäftigen und damit mit ihren Lernern zu arbeiten.
Sehen Sie sich doch mal das LOLIPOP-Portfolio an unter

Integrating a wiki in an environment for collaborative language learning (Linda Bradley & al.)

Linda started her presentation by laying out the theoretical framework (CSCL, Language Learning Competence, affordances in technology) for her study and quickly walking people through the main ideas and functionalities of wikis. The empirical setting of the study is higher education with 54 IT engineering students in 25 groups during a 7 week study course.

The F2F course is supported by a VLE, web based materials (texts, newspaper articles) and the wiki. Students work with texts learning about styles of language, formal and informal texts, argumentation and critical writing. The writing is done in collaboration with the other students (on assignments like "write about the pros and cons of wikipedia as a reference). The students uploaded their ideas in a designated folder on the wiki where they can expand the texts and ideas further together. The flow of versions is all stored in the same folder. The progression ideas and texts can be easily detected and followed. All groups gave and received feedback from their peer groups in the second assignment. The teacher gave feedback in the first assignment to set an example for the students.

The results show the nature of interaction was very much collaborative and that the nature of the feedback given by the students followed the model set by the teacher. Linda made some comparisons to the study she and colleagues carried out as a pilot to this year's study. In the pilot the use of wiki was more open-ended as in this year's study is was the specified tool to use. This resulted in a more systematic use of the environment but also a more systematic writing process.

Linda do add to my still foggy posting... :)

Geographical spread of the virtual participants

Lesley and I just captured the hitstats map on blog visitors for you to see. Quite a good spread, eh?