Cara y cruz de las tecnologías de la información y la comunicación en la enseñanza y el tratamiento de lenguas: Investigación e Industrias de la Lengua./Heads and tails in ICT in Language Teaching and Processing: Research and Language Industries. UNED, Madrid.

This seminar presented some of the latest technology trends in language teaching as well as presentations by experts in the field and professors of the UNED Master program in ICT in Language Teaching and Processing.

Cómo gestionar un curso de lenguas en línea desde la perspectiva de la masividad. Dra. Ma. Dolores Castrillo (UNED). Ganadora del I Premio MECD-TELEFONICA-UNIVERSIA al Mejor Curso Online Masivo Abierto.

Nothing better than to start the seminar with a presentation about the hottest topic of all: MOOCs for language teaching. MOOCs have revolutionized the educational system by making education accessible to the masses. In just the year 2013 MOOCs have grown enormously. Top universities have joined this new paradigm to offer free courses of various popular topics and more sophisticated ones, many offering official certificates. María Dolores Castrillo gave a general overview of MOOCs, shared important tips in the design process of MOOCs and showed us relevant statistics of the MOOC she had implemented as part of the UNED-COMA initiative: Alemán (German) para hispanohablantes: Nociones fundamentales.

She started the presentation by giving a short explanation of the acronym “MOOC”. “M” for Massive because for the first time, there’s no actual contact or relationship between the teacher and the student. “O” for open because it’s free to take the course but not because it’s always accessible. Many of the resources and the platform itself may only be accessible for the length of the MOOC. Some organizations may require you to pay a fee for an official certification as well. The “O” for online needs no further explanation. And the “C” for Course and not for Chaos which brings us to the four essentials when designing MOOCs. N°1 is Structure. It may seem obvious but given that hundreds or thousands of students will be taking this course, extra preparation and careful planning is needed. A clear schedule, an introduction, different modules, an ending. There’s no room for improvisation. The instructor needs to anticipate the problems. N°2 is Materials. It needs to be crystal clear for students which assignments and projects are optional or supplementary and which are mandatory for grading and successful completion of the course. There need to be several options for students. Different options to submit work. Videos should be no longer than 10 minutes, ideally 5 minutes or less. N°3 is Collaborative tools. All peer to peer activities, discussions, blog entries, etc. should have a clear rubric. N°4 is Evaluation. The evaluation system should be carefully defined. The use of awards and badges. The grading system for mandatory quizzes and assignments and finally the distribution of certificates or credentials.

A few important questions for reflection that came out of the presentation were: Are MOOCs really for the masses? Are they for everyone? Or are they just for an elite group? What are some drawbacks of MOOCs? I reflect more on this presentation and possible answers to these questions on my blog entry “Are MOOCs really for everyone?”

Aportaciones de los mundos virtuales a la enseñanza de lenguas a distancia. Dra. Dafne González (Catedrática de la Universidad Simón Bolívar, Experta en Second Life)

The second presentation dealt with the implementation of virtual environments for language learning. Second Life expert, Dafne González, explained how Second Life allows the teacher and the students to meet at virtual museums, concerts, shops, cafés, foreign cities, etc. to interact in the foreign language. Every student joins this virtual world in the form of an avatar. So a digitized or cyber identity, to follow up with all these numerous new terms that have emerged since the web such as cyber bullying, digital citizenship, etc. The funny thing is that the first thing that the students need to learn in Second Life, said the presenter, is to move! Many first users experience with Second Life (many of them have never played a video game) is hitting the wall and getting stuck there! Just like with a video game where players need to get used to the joystick and the game, same mechanics apply to Second Life. Once you get passed that, you’re able to take advantage of all that it offers. Dafne González has been teaching a class on Second Life in this master program at the UNED and also has used Second Life to teach an ESL class in basic Architecture concepts. For an assignment, more than half of her students chose Second Life to visit different virtual monuments and buildings to make comments in English, using architectural terminology of course. Fascinating tool that has been around since 2003. Just like with any other program, it has fans and haters but I think it deserves to give it a try. As with anything, the best way to get a feel of it and see if you want to use it in your classroom, is by joining a foreign language class activity in Second Life and experience it yourself from the student’s perspective!

Impacto de las TIC en la enseñanza de lenguas extranjeras, en su comunidad educativa e industria: estado de la cuestión (D. José Luis Belderrain (Senior Commissioning Editor, Cambridge University Press) & La edición de material escolar – una industria en revolución. D. Richard Shepherd (Head of Digital Research and Development, Editorial Macmillan)

There were two interesting presentations by Cambridge University Press and MacMillan editors, who gave us an overview of the evolution of the editing and publishing world of textbooks and didactic materials for language teaching. The constant change is just getting out of control, the pressure for adjustment, the threat for the editors, the concept of the teacher as facilitator and coach (and not teacher anymore) but the question remains the same. Do all of these wonderful additions guarantee an impact in learning? What is the way to go nowadays? These changes were presented, at times, in a rather sarcastic way and the speakers, José Luis Belderrain and Richard Sheperd, led the audience to a moment of reflection. Great presentations that deserved a separate blog entry: “The digital revolution: The constant need for educators to reinvent themselves”

Aprendizaje con smartphones: Tendencias móviles en un mundo cambiante. D. Alberto Hernández Gallardo (Presidente de la empresa de informática HGadvance)

Learning with smartphones: Mobile learning is also a growing phenomenon. The use of smartphones and tablets offer mobility and flexibility. The concept of anytime anywhere learning is very appealing. This topic was presented from a business perspective by the CEO of a new company who develops mobile apps for different purposes. The demand is high for mobile apps for education. In fact only game apps come first in terms of numbers. According to Alberto Hernández, mobile learning requires a change of habits from our part above everything else. We are still part of the generation that learned in a traditional way during elementary school and all or most of high school. I remember we made our very first Yahoo email accounts in my last year of high school and we started using Altavista as a search engine. No doubt that mLearning is a booming business and a great chance to make big money. People cannot live without their mobile phones nowadays. People do their jobs with their phones next to them on their desks. Do employers tell their workers not to use their phones while they’re working? But teachers remain to ban the use of phones in class. “Don’t fight the use of mobile devices, embrace mobile learning in class instead” is a typical line you read and hear, and this presentation was no exception. But there’s still resistance, the audience is not convinced. We may have used mobile phones for a couple of class activities but their implementation on a regular basis remains a challenge. Like with other tech tools, I still think that if used right, mLearning can be very promising. Still a rough road that needs work but where many of us want to jump in and explore.

Cómo diseñar una metodología de investigación en didáctica aplicada a las lenguas. Dr. Esteban Vázquez Cano (UNED)

How to get started with an investigation in didactics of language teaching. Interesting for me in the beginning stage of my PhD investigation. Which research projects are meaningful in this area? What many students are investigating recently is the impact of a specific technology tool or device in language learning, having a control group where the technology tool is not applied and an experimental group who uses the specific tech tool during their course studies, to then discover the results. Who learned the most? The speaker, Esteban Vázquez, said it clearly: “So what was the result? The difference between these two groups at the end? Nothing.” This is an interesting point for reflection. The No Significant Difference Syndrome I had read about only a couple of months ago, which explains what happened here. Research is conducted to discover if a single technology alone will have a major impact in learning, to see if the statistics will show that learning with that particular technology is best indeed. But then there’s no difference, or at least not a significant difference. That’s the No Significant Difference Syndrome. But as Esteban Vázquez said, these investigations are important. The results are the results but it’s important to carry on the research and to gather some statistics.

Procedimiento académico y administrativo de las prácticas profesionales. Dr. José Carlos García Cabrero. (UNED)

The final presentation outlined some professional opportunities and a list of affiliated companies where the master students of the UNED (Master in ICT in Language Teaching and Processing) who choose the professional path, and not to continue with a PhD research project, can do their professional practice. From (online) language schools, technology integration projects, publishing companies, to pilot programs with Open University, there are plenty of relevant organizations to put the skills into practice.

For a full list of the program, click here.

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