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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...

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. 


Monday, 27 February 2017

Investigating the student experience


I am about to start a second #WIHEA project with an even more ambitious remit that the previous one and I'm delighted to have many of the first team on board as they have already proven themselves to be great co-researchers. The focus of the earlier project was upon how language teaching and learning is changing in the digital age. We found essentially that there are far more opportunities to connect and interact than before and that, despite the learning curves involved in navigating digital spaces incorporating digital approaches (when done well) helps to extend learning and brings access to new literacies which had not always been fully explored in a learning context elsewhere. 

This project will be focussing more on the nature of such approaches and the issues that arise when we embrace open online resources and practices as part of the learning landscape. We are reaching out to a wider Warwick audience for this, involving our careers and skills professionals, Education and Linguistics as well as a fully open audience through a G+ community here. The project, #knowhow will offer opportunities to explore how we manage our professional digital identity, how to manage issues such as copyright and ownership online and of course how to understand the various micro-cultures that operate within the digital environment. The "students" in this case are all of us, whether we are staff or students as we are all learning together. 

I have enrolled on the #lermooc as a way of finding a community of practice to support this work as there is a tight budget and deadline ('twas ever thus) and I need to ensure that I find time and space to reflect on what we discover. I usually find my reflection is facilitated by the input of others. As an open practitioner myself I am keen to understand how working in the open may be perceived by others so I look forward to a challenging but ultimately informative experience. 



Sunday, 22 January 2017

#BYOD4L: Thoughts on creating


What a week! As my head cold finally withdraws I am returning to the last of 5 hectic but rewarding days working with the #BYOD4L team and turning my thoughts to our last topic, Creating. It was my first time moderating/facilitating on this digital ideas fest and the fact that it coincided with a heavy cold (not unusual given the time of year) just revealed how online practice can have a major advantage over the face to face - no one else was put at risk of contagion thanks to my sniffs and sneezes and I was able to participate fully despite everything, assisted by regular medicated hot lemon drinks and the encouragement of others!

I'm no artist (I may well have mentioned that before) but I do enjoy the visual, particularly when it communicates ideas which may be difficult to express. We are surrounded by visual communication, as indeed was predicted some years ago. I remember when the "new" GCSE for languages was introduced some 20 years ago we were told to expect greater use of signs and visual media. I was asked to provide practitioner feedback on a French course book in development at the time based around minitel which had taken off in France. A precursor to what was to become the game changer in communication technology, the internet. 

I knew that Friday night's chat would be a challenge for me, juggling practical tasks with tissues and feeling pretty tired after a busy week but it was great fun and has left me reviewing all I do through the lens of creativity. I couldn't manage to edit and share images in the time frame allowed (see the rather bland pic above for evidence!), it was all rather frantic but I was inspired by those who did - at least one of whom did so on a mobile phone whilst on the touchline of a child's football match! When I accepted my limitations I just settled in to enjoying the creativity of others including the #creativeHE gang who shared the chat too, whilst listening to a playlist shared by @BYOD4L. 

All this activity has left me pondering more deeply about creativity and I am taking those thoughts on to my other blog Espace Sisyphe. Thanks to Neil, Sheila, Deb, Chris, Alex, Rebecca, Ellie, Emma, Chrissi and Sue for the great company and inspiration, a fabulous CoP for digital skill enhancement.