December 9, 2019, by Julian Tenney
ICERI2019, 11-13 November 2019, Sevilla, Spain hosted more than 800 participants with 80 countries being represented. This multicultural arena provided a truly global perspective across disciplines and sectors.
The conference opened with two keynote speeches. The first one was by Dan Russell, a research scientist at Google, who talked about the power of Google searches and provided tips to take search skills beyond the basic. His plenary was complemented by a hands-on workshop delivered later in the day (see below).
The second keynote was offered by Lenore Skenazy – also known as ‘America’s Worst Mom’ – who gave a rather amusing performance which highlighted the pressure imposed by the media that drives us to overprotect our children. Lenore urges parents and educators to let children explore the world around them, and has developed a project called ‘Let Grow’. Lenore put forward the notion that overprotecting our young ones limits their creativity, their interest in the world, and restricts their learning process.
The conference included a special strand on language learning and teaching. Topics included ways to increase teacher presence in online language courses through the use of videos, the adoption of the flipped classroom methodology to optimise class time for collaborative work, research on the development of speaking skills claiming that speaking is the least practiced by language students and that technologies supporting the development of speaking are the least used amongst teachers; innovative teaching practice such as creating cultural glossaries and language learning facilitated by a Chrome extensions through series on Netflix or equivalent platforms.
At this point it is worth emphasising that the University of Nottingham provides staff and students with access to Kanopy, and Box of Broadcasts, which are both excellent collections of films, short videos, and documentaries in a variety of foreign languages.
One other highlight in this strand was a more theoretical talk about using a nodal formulation model to model language acquisition using a prototype virtual tool called the Vocabulary Acquisition Simulation Tool. The tool can be used to choose the most appropriate texts for students to read to aid their vocabulary development. Ufuoma Ovienmhada, a PhD student at MIT’s Media Lab, described how the acquisition of language may be modelled as an electric circuit, with voltage, resistors and capacitors each being likened to aspects that either enable, or block, the learning of a language. The model appears to provide a unique perspective worth exploring further in our quest to understand what barriers our students may encounter in their attempts to learn another language and how these may be overcome.
Lecture recording was discussed in a presentation which highlighted its significance for learning. The research study outlined an attempt to correlate student behaviour with watching the recorded lectures and exam scores. The results did not corroborate the claim that students who watched more frequently scored better. The causal relationship between the two variables was dismissed in light of familiarity with the content.
Teacher training also featured prominently in the conference programme. Of particular interest to participants from Nottingham, who have long used the TPACK model to inform the design of staff development events, was the observation that the model appeared to be widely used as the theoretical model underpinning training programmes concerned with the use of technology in teaching and learning in the wider community.
Another area addressed in the conference was distance learning. The need to build learning communities in order to increase distant learners’ engagement and commitment to their studies was highlighted by several presentations. Our own contribution to the conference ‘Using Teams for a COMP-PLETE online learning experience’ offered a way to address this issue through the use of Microsoft Teams as a powerful tool to support informal student-student and student-tutor exchanges alongside the more formal teacher-led architecture of Moodle.
Mobile Learning also featured at the conference. The Institute of Linguistic and Pedagogical Education (ILPE) at the National Research University of Electronic Technology (MIET) in Moscow recommended that we tell students to turn on their smartphones. Students are set tasks using them, such as an assignment to find, and re-write, an old English poem as rap – a very interesting idea! Why fight the dragon when we can tame (or even ride!) it?
The gamification thread reminded us of some of the theory in this area. Csikszentmihalyi (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mihaly_Csikszentmihalyi) was cited by several speakers in this thread, outlining the theory of flow and the importance of providing an appropriate level of stimulation to participants of gamified learning to avoid boredom. The Hexad scale – which defines Marczewski’s Player and User Types (http://hcigames.com/gamification/gamification-user-types-hexad-scale/) outlines the different motivations of players that need to be considered when designing learning resources using gamification, and how to accomodate types such as a ‘disrupter’ who might be motivated by pushing the limits of the system. Apparently, this player type is rarely encountered, but factors in the game design itself can push players into becoming disrupters if the design is poor.
Workshops running alongside the parallel sessions proved very useful and packed with hands-on activities.
Dan Russell from Google delivered a ninety minutes workshop on advanced Google searches and gave examples of how search skills can be integrated into educational activities. This workshop provided hands-on search challenges and some really interesting new tricks and tips – did you know that it is possible to go ‘back in time’ using Google Earth?. In his blog, Dan Russell sets regular search challenges for anyone to try. If you’re interested in developing your online search skills, sign up to his SearchResearch blog (http://searchresearch1.blogspot.com/).
A second workshop was led by Peter Shull, Associate Professor of Engineering at Penn State University, who dealt with how to teach students responsibility. Peter’s challenging workshop had everyone examining their own motivations and practice while providing practical advice to help teachers guide students to develop a professional approach and learn the attitudes they need after graduation.
Another workshop was offered by Wendy Gorton from Google showing us a host of VR tools for both consumption and creation. The one in the image below is called a MERGE Cube: https://mergeedu.com/cube. Talking with the folk in the session and afterwards inspired some interesting ideas for bringing legacy language centre resources into the modern world. Watch this space!
Wendy also hosted a workshop giving participants an insight into the design sprint methodologies used by Google. The workshop provided us with hands on practical challenges that could be reused in the workplace. The session culminated in a vote for the best solution (a ‘game of thrones’ themed chair!).
Thanks to the conference participants from all over the world for making iCERI19 a wonderful and inspiring experience.