Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Week 11 - Virtual Worlds in Education

Virtual World are some of the first images that springs to mind when people think of futuristic technology. From the Matrix, to Tron, people have been fascinated by the ability to 'live' in cyberspace, to create their own characters, personas and abilities.

But is the allure of Virtual Worlds another example of trying to fit the methodology around the tool  or is there worthwhile learning to be gained in Virtual Worlds as opposed to a real-life classroom? In order to better understand interacting and socialising in a virtual environment, I created accounts at Virtual Worlds - Small Worlds and Second Life, and also the sand-box video game phenomenon Minecraft.

Benefits of Virtual Worlds

Virtual Worlds, particularly those within a Role-Playing Game (RPG) can easily immerse you in their world. While walking around and interacting in SmallWorlds, I quickly lost track of how much time I was spending there.The ability to stay on task can be a major hindrance to learning. For most people it is very difficult to sit and study textbooks for hours on end. Virtual Worlds offer some appeal as a way of sustaining interest and staying on task. While it would be naive to think that an activity would be any more interesting or fun simply by taking place in a Virtual World, nonetheless, the motions and actions involved, such as scrolling, messaging and moving your avatar around, may be all the stimulus required to keep you on task. Taking a walk around a virtual museum can feel more pleasurable than say flicking through the pages of an art book, even though the information may well be more easily accessed from the book. As Taylor (2002: 42) puts it 'Users do not simply roam through the space as “mind”, but find themselves grounded in the practice of the body, and thus in the world'

That being said, Virtual Worlds can offer a host of opportunities unavailable in the real world, such as the ability to explore replicas of real world locations, converse with native speakers of a language you are learning, or even for some, simply the ability to walk, talk or be treated the same as any other person in the world.  Second Life has been known to help people with Asperger Syndrome learn social skills. 'they ae free to create a "second life" with a level of social interaction that, for reasons of their condition, has been hard to come by in their real lives.' (For an indepth list of the affordances of SL for Education, see Warburton, S. 2009: 421)

Second life even gives you the ability to fly

Virtual Worlds start you on an even playing field, without having to worry about physical appearance, fashion, or other factors that may cause a person to be anxious, and could be a major boost to aid social development, and thus better influence language learners in communication.

Virtual me is acne-free

It being a virtual world also opens up the possibilities of exploring methods of teaching that would be impossible in the real world. Students could learn the value of teamwork by working as a team to take down a monster in an MMORPG or what problems astronauts face in zero-gravity.

People may also become attached to their Virtual Avatars and personas. While exploring Minecraft, I became quite attached to the home I had built for myself and was fearful of dying in-world, as it would mean losing everything I had built so far.

Home, Sweet Home

Marcus Dickinson, an avid EVE Online player, lost 45lbs in an effort to closer resemble his macho avatar from the game. This linking of your personality to your online persona can go a long way to establishing an online presence and overcome what Dreyfus ( 2001: 39) describes as 'the Net's limitations where embodiment is concerned' Taylor (2002: 42) again notes 'that the avatar comes to signal to the user their continued participation in the space. Unlike text-based worlds, in which presence is performed via conscious action (or signaled through a room listing), presence in graphical worlds is rearticulated to both others and self by the simple inclusion of an avatar.'


Though the uses of Virtual Worlds may only be limited by your imagination, there may be some potential drawbacks. Computer problems and lag may be amplified on such large networks. I found the lag on Second Life quite jarring, as well as the limited view on Small Worlds making it hard to know where I was going. I found it very easy to get lost in Minecraft, with places all starting to look the same. Taylor (2002: 44)  continued that 'Seeing people inadvertently walk through walls or suddenly disappear are persistent problems in many systems. This feeling of being suddenly pulled back out of the virtual world highlights the fragility of multiple forms of embodiment, especially in relation to the digital' and takes away from the online presence we worked so hard to achieve, mentioned in the previous paragraph. 

Socially, it can be no utopia either. Your world might be prone to unwelcome guests or 'griefers'. Interaction, or lack of, is more pronounced with an in-world avatar than more text-based mediums. Cliques huddling together, or players ignoring another character are much more noticeable than say on a forum. The lack of identity, while allowing greater freedom, also makes it hard to read people and how to gauge their responses. Am I talking to a child or an adult? Is this person joking, or crazy? (For a more indepth list of barriers v potential in the use of SL see Warburton, S. 2009: 422)

Social Interactions in Virtual Worlds

Virtual Worlds offer the opportunity for large groups of people to interact online. It was truly fascinating to see how people behaved and learned socially through this medium and I have decided to follow this path in my upcoming assignment for the course. Ducheneaut & Moore (2005: 89) note that 'some game designers have clearly expressed the intent to create games where socialization is encouraged and rewarded' Such intent is noticeable in games with overpowered enemies, which require players to team up to defeat them, or games such as Team Fortress 2, where player must work together to defeat other teams, each player having a different role to play. As Ducheneaut & Moore (2005: 91)
 'gamers need to do much more than mindlessly accumulate experience points (xp): they also need to increase thier social capital within the game's society. In other words, they need not only learn the game commands, but they must also become socialized into the game community'

From what I have seen from Virtual Worlds, they seem like an ideal place for role-playing and team exercises. The potential to create scenarios that engage the student's in problem-solving situation and communication is very high and I someday hope to take advantage of this in my classroom. I recently came across an English lesson using Minecraft  and in fact saw several websites and blogs dedicated to teaching through the use of Minecraft. Minecraft is very popular with my students and is accessible using their smartphones, making it relatively easy to access in class. One student even invited me to his Virtual World, and though he immediately killed my character, he was engaging me in English, telling me where to go and what I should do, drawing parallels with what Rama et al (2012: 335) state that

'From the moment a game starts, players are immersed in a target language context where they have multiple options for engaging in authentic communication via speaking, reading, writing, and listening with a range of interlocutors, often in ways that allow risk-taking and reflection in the target language'

What more could one possibly ask for in a Language teaching tool?


  1. CARLSON, D. Chubby gamer loses 45 pounds to look more like his avatar [online] Inquistr News (2010) [viewed December 9th 2015] Available at:
  2. Dreyfus, H. (2001) On the Internet, 2, pp. 26-49, London: Routledge
  3. Ducheneaut, N. & Moore, R. (2005) More than just XP: learning social skills in massively multiplayer online games, Interactive Technology and Smart Education, 2, pp.89-100
  4. LOFTUS, C. Virtual world teaches real world skills [online] New York: NBC News (2005) [viewed December 9th 2015] Available at:
  5. Rama, P et al (2012) Affordances for second language learning in World of Warcraft. ReCALL 24, 3, pp.322-338
  6. Taylor, T, L. (2002) Living Digitally: Embodiment in Virtual Worlds. In Schroeder (Ed) The Social Life of EAvatars: Presence and Interaction in Shared Virtual Environments. London: Springer-Verlag, (chapter 3)
  7. Warburton, S. (2009) Second Life in higher education: Assessing the potential for and the barriers to deploying virtual worlds in learning and teaching. British Journal of Educational Technology, 40, 3, pp.414 - 426

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Week 10 - Technology and Pedagogy - Different Technologies as different tools

This week all the posts seemed to gel and integrated in a tight-knit web of everything we had studied so far. In the readings, there were mentions of Digital Natives, PLE's and various other aspects we had previously covered. I am beginning to see how all of these factors combine to view different opinions, theories and practices for online education.

Our task this week was to find an article relating to our course and do a presentation on it for our classmates. I chose 'Social media, Collaboration and Social Learning - a case-study of Foreign Language Learning' by Margrethe Mondahl and Liana Razmerita. I chose this article as it covered some interesting subject matter in collaborative learning and problem-solving for SLA. It also linked very well with previous lessons we had, again discussing VLE's, PLE's and Digital Natives. I was also interested in the business perspective taken from the article, as it was from Copenhagen Business School, and being from 2014, it was a very recent study and therefore up-to-date with advances in technology.

This week's Task

The key technology utilised was Podio, a business orientated online work platform, mainly utilised by businesses to create, manage and complete projects.

Overall, the tone of the article was that modern students are 'pragmatic and results orientated' and 'may not by particularly academically minded' (Mondahl, M. & Razmerita, L, 2014: 339) While this may be true of some business students, I don't believe it to be an accurate representation of the modern student, in particular those interested in learning a foreign language. In fact, the students seemed to be more pragmatic and disinterested in the the case-study due to their upcoming final exams. 'Very few students were active throughout the course - and peak activity was close to hand-in deadlines.'  (Mondahl, M. & Razmerita, L, 2014: 349)

It was also disappointing that few conclusions were made with regards to language learning as the students were 'not particularly willing to “invade each other’s turfs” when it comes to correcting/discussing/making changes to language.'   (Mondahl, M. & Razmerita, L, 2014: 349) While Podio may have been a good platform for businesses and gave the students a realistic view of the business world, it may not have been the best tool for facilitating communication in a second language.

The Right Tool for the Job

In fact, it was quite a common theme of this week's discussions of choosing the correct platform to suit the language needs of the class or the pedagogy being taught. Whether it was dependent on personal factors, such as Facebook revealing too much personal information, or using twitter as a means of CMC, when a simple SMS style app would be more appropriate. I must remember to be careful in choosing any digital technology for my class and ensure I am choosing the right approach. As noted by McLoughlin (2010: 30), there are several key areas that using digital technologies must provide if they are to be used as part of a pedagogy, particularly in relation to PLE's:

'Green, Facer, Rudd, Dillon and Humphreys (2005) summarise four key areas pivotal to enabling personalised learning through digital technologies. According to them, pedagogy must:

  • ensure that the learners are capable of making informed educational decisions:
  • diversify and recognise different forms of skills and knowledge:
  • create diverse learning environments: and
  • include learner focused forms of feedback and assessment.'

Here, student self regulation and reflection are seem as key factors in their understanding and learning and I must ensure that I allow my students to be able to reflect on their work and not just get caught up in all the 'bells-and-whistles' of  digital technology. This very blog is a good example of using digital technology as a means of self-reflection, where I think about and discuss all the articles and discussion I have studied during the week.  As Wei (2010: 279) notes 'blogging seems to promote these learners to generate deep reflections upon the research writing process, the evaluation criteria, and the research topic ' And though this task is coming to a close next week as a formally assessed task, I an keen to continue it, as it has been most beneficial to me in these hectic times.

  1. McLoughlin, C. & Lee, M. (2008) Future Learning Landscapes: Transforming Pedagogy through Social Software. Innovate, 4, 5. 
  2. McLoughlin, C. & Lee, M. (2010) Personalised and self regulated learning in the Web 2.0 era: International exemplars of innovative pedagogy using social software. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 26(1), 28-43. Available at:
  3. Mondahl, M. & Razmerita, L. (2014) Social media, Collaboration and Social Learning – a Case-study of Foreign Language Learning,  The Electronic Journal of e-Learning Volume 12 Issue 4, (pp339-352) Available at:
  4. Wei, Z. (2010) Blogging for Doing English Digital: Student evaluations. Computers and Composition. 27. 266-283.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Foreign Language Anxiety

My blog seems to have come full circle this week. In my first post, I mentioned how people might feel some anxiety when using technology. Now, in this week's topic,the focus is specifically on the anxiety felt through learning and utilising a foreign language.

Learning a language is a difficult task, for many combining both academic and social fears. It is fundamentally a social task. Whereas people may study math or science to better understand their area or expertise or to fulfill their duties, unless you are studying ancient texts, poetry or something, usually the goal of language students is to communicate with others.It can be a daunting task for many as Horwitz et al (1986: 128) note 'Probably no other field of study implicates selfconcept and self-expression to the degree that language study does.'

How does Anxiety affect Language Learning?

 Anxiety can be a major stumbling block for learning. As von Worde (2003: 1) points out 'student's who are anxious may learn less and also may not be able to demonstrate what they have learned. Therefore, they may experience even more failure, which in turn escalates their anxiety.' It is easy to see how a negative experience can cause you to become more anxious the next time and thus further subject you to further negativity. It is a common cliche in football terms to 'get a good early touch on the ball' to give you confidence and allay some of the fears and doubts you had before the game.

Doubts can creep in, in both football and 
language learning | Credit: The Mirror

 Perhaps in language terms, it may be likened to an ability to make small talk. I always like to start my classes off with basic questions so that the students feel at ease speaking English. Hello. How are you? How's the weather? etc. Horwitz et al (1986:126) noted that the 'more anxious student tends to avoid attempting difficult or personal messages in the target language'. I too have often felt this way when struggling to make a sentence, it is often easier to just 'go with what you know' rather than challenging yourself and trying to make complicated sentences. Others may avoid questions, or even avoid showing up to classes.

Another frustrating element of language learning can be the inability to truly express oneself or complex issues or thoughts. As an adult, it can be often difficult to express the nuances of your feelings in another language, especially when talking to other adults, as perhaps, not only do you want your opinions to be heard, you want them to be respected. I have often found it easier to talk to children in Korean as their more basic use of language suits my limited vocabulary "I'm sad.' as opposed to 'I'm melancholy'. 'Do you like computer games?' instead of 'What are your thoughts on Global Warming?'  I again agree with Horwitz et al (1986: 128) in their opinion that 'adult language learners' self-perceptions of genuineness in presenting themselves to others may be threatened by the limited range of meaning and affect that can be deliberately communicated.'

How to deal with Foreign Language Anxiety

Anxiety is a difficult condition to overcome. One can not simply over-ride their emotions, flip a switch and become calm again. Stella Hurd (2007: 498) in her study of Foreign Language Anxiety, asked her students for their strategies in dealing with FLA. Table 9 below shows their responses

Strategies used to cope with anxiety Hurd (2007:498)

Living abroad, I have many friends who have invested interest in learning a second language, be it English, Korean or another. I created a poll with these methods and via FaceBook, asked my friends to select which strategies they would use to combat FLA. I was curious to see if the results would correlate to Hurd's findings.

Poll Results as of December 2nd 2015

As you can see, the results were pretty similar, with risk-taking the clear majority in both. However, it was noted on our Moodle that while risk-taking may be the best way to improve your language skills, it doesn't really show a means of coping with FLA, other than to try and change your mindset.

In both polls, pretty unsurprisingly, positive self-talk came next. The general consensus seeming to be that people tend to view anxiety as a personal issue, with Hurd's (2007:499) students remarking that

'I think the materials/tutorials are fine - it's me!'
'Not a problem with the course - it's the rest of my life!' 
With such an emphasis on themselves (me, my life), it probably shouldn't have surprised me to see 'Let my tutor know I am anxious' so far down the list, but I actually thought it would have placed higher. In fact, what I assumed was wrong as it slid even further down the list in my friends' opinions.

However, Foreign Language Anxiety is not just an issue for the individual to deal with by themselves. One of the foremost things a teacher can do to ease the anxiety of students is to create a positive atmosphere within the class, that the students can feel at ease speaking. It may also help to ease students into their work, giving them time to formulate an answer to questions before 'putting them on the spot' and always be encouraging. Practicing meditation or other stress-relieving activities may also be incorporated into the lessons. 


As someone who suffers from Foreign Language Anxiety, I must admit, I was unaware that the condition, to such specifications, even existed. I studied French in secondary school and was quite a good student, but I failed the oral exam miserably, due to being too nervous to speak. I'm also quite competent at Korean, but also often find myself befuddled when forced to speak it, usually in unnatural settings and terms such as 'Oh you speak Korean? Say something in Korean?' Again creating an atmosphere that I am being judged by these people and not being given a natural flow of conversation.

One thing I learned quickly was that all native speakers are not like teachers. Many will refuse to speak at your level, issuing a tirade of words you can't begin to understand. Others dismissing you and harshly criticising you for your attempts 'Oh, you're Korean isn't very good. You're friend is much better.' As such, they can be quite intimidating.

Knowing what I know now about Foreign Language Anxiety, I really wish I had been taught about it in school and helped to overcome my obstacles. It is the role of the teacher to ensure a safe learning environment for the students and I think discussing and demonstrating techniques for coping with FLA could have a very positive effect on the language classroom. I myself will try to be more aware of FLA in my classroom and take from Horwitz et al (1986: 131) that

'teachers should always consider the possibility that anxiety is responsible for the student behaviors discussed here before attributing poor student performance solely to lack of ability, inadequate background, or poor motivation.'

  1. Horwitz, K. et al (1986) Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety. The Modern Language Journal, 10, 2 (Summer 1986), pp.125-132
  2. Hurd, S. (2007) Anxiety and non-anxiety in a distance language learning environment: The distance factor as a modifying influence. System, 35, pp. 487 -508
  3. von Worde, R. (2003) Students' perspective on foreign language anxiety. Inquiry, 8, 1.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Distance Learning and Education

My last post on Online Presence was starting to get overly long and complex, so I decided to omit discussing Distance learning and its affect on language learning to this separate article. Such a task reminds me of the daunting task of having to narrow down my choice of topic for our assessment at the end of the year.

Online Persona

Once of the unique things about online communication is to a reasonable extent, you are free to portray whatever persona you wish - be it yourself, how you want to others to perceive you, or someone completely different to you in real life. Like being a stranger at a party, the choice is yours to be who you want to be, with changes to your height, age, profession, even perceived intelligence all possibly going undetected. You could even be God if you so wish. However, the ability to alter or distance yourself from your online persona can be a double-edged sword, as seen in this poignant video from Shaun Highton:

What's on your mind? |  Shaun Highton | 2014

But how does the ability to create an online persona and interact with others online effect learning?

Community of Inquiry

The Community of Inquiry (COI) theoretical framework, first introduced by C.S. Pierce and John Dewey, represents a process of creating a deep and meaningful (collaborative - constructivist) learning experience through the development of three independent elements - social, cognitive and teaching presence. The COI emphasises that knowledge is necessarily embedded within a social context and thus requires intersubjective agreement amoung those involved in the process od inquiry for legitimacy. (Eteokleou - Grigoriou, N. & Photiou, S., 2014:126)

In recent years, the COI model has been utilised as a 'dynamic process designed to define, describe and measure elements supporting the development of online learning communities' (Swan, K & Ice, P. 2010:1). Garrison et al (2010:88) note that 'The model of this Community of Inquiry assumes that learning occurs within the Community through the interaction of three core elements. Fig. 1 shows the three essential elements: cognitive presence, social presence, and teaching presence'.

Fig. 1 Garrison et al (2010:88) | The COI model

Garrison et al (2010:89) go on to note that 'social presence, is defined as the ability of participants in the Community of Inquiry to project their personal characteristics into the community, thereby presenting themselves to the other participants as "real people"'. The fact that your social presence in a group may be 'indirectly facilitating the process of critical thinking carried on by a community of learners' or even a 'direct contributor to the success of the educational experience' is enough to make you stand up and take notice of how you present yourself online in an educational setting.

It is easy to see how a more friendly and amicable group might find it easier to communicate together online, than a tense atmosphere of a group of strangers. I noted in my first post that our first meeting for DTLT on Adobe Connect was a little awkward, but now that we have built up a bit of a rapport and friendship with each other, we are chatting and communicating so much more freely now that we find ourselves quickly running out of time for discussion. This social interaction is particularly beneficial to language learning which is, in essence, a social activity.

Distance Learning and Education

Distance learning is a expanding rapidly, due its ease of access online and it's relatively cost effective nature, but are you receiving the same bang for your buck, so to speak? It was addressed in our tutorial that it is perhaps unfair to compare Distance Learning to traditional classroom education. Both offer different forms of learning, it is true, but the importance of Education is so great that questions constantly need to be asked of all aspects of it. Hubert Dreyfus (2001: 32) posed this question of Distance Learning:

"can distance learning enable students to acquire the skills they need in order to be good citizens skilled in various domains?"
Dreyfus believed that these skills were acquired in seven stages.

Simplification of the model - Credit: Online Reference

Novice and Advanced Beginner being the basic steps and learning through instructions and examples, Dreyfus (2001: 35) stated that  'learning, whether it takes place at a distance or face to face, can be carried out in a detached, analytical frame of mind' and thus mattered little if it was distance learning or not. In fact, I and many others frequently engage in this form of learning online. I follow instructions for recipes, watch how to correctly perform exercises at the gym, even video game tutorials follow this line of skills acquisition.

Reaching the stage of competence, where the student learns to pay less heed to all the rules, or he/she may become overwhelmed, and relies more on experience and decision-making rather than following a strict set of rules. Here, Dreyfus (2001: 39) concedes that 'the net's limitations where embodiment is concerned - the absence of face-to-face learning - may well leave students stuck at competence' Lucky for us, technology has now advanced such that this no longer applies, though I'm not entirely sure it applied to begin with. I completed an online TEFL course through e-mail, and though Dreyfus (2001:39) noted that in Distance Learning there was little  'possibility of taking the risk of proposing and defending and idea and finding out whether it fails or flies' I still had the opportunity to engage with my tutor and discuss our thoughts on Educational methodologies. Sam Harris, a well-known author once debated linguist Noam Chomsky over the ethics of war, via e-mail. I believe that if it is possible to put forth these opinions, and even though the person may be 'at home in front of his or her terminal' (2001:39), it doesn't necessarily make them immune from the risk felt and may still effect your learning on a personal level.

Dreyfus seems to have a very narrow viewpoint of what distance learning can be and I related more with Nigel Blake (2002: 379) in his retort to Dreyfus in that 'I do not find my own online practice described in this books, even in vague terms'. He too believed online learning had the 'potential for some form of extensive and serious intellectual and personal engagement, one-to-one if not face-to-face.'

Stage four is Proficiency, which Dreyfus (2001:40) notes as 'seems to develop if, and only if, experience is assimilated in this embodied, atheoretical way'. As noted in the above image, this entails being able to see "the bigger picture" and that 'the student at this level sees the problem that needs to be solved but has yet to figure out what the answer is"

In the next stage of Expertise Dreyfus (2001:41) notes that 'The expert not only sees what needs to be achieved; thanks to his vast repertoire of situational discriminations, he also sees immediately how to achieve his goal.'

Stage 6 is Mastery. As one goes up through the stages of skills acquisition, you can see the nuances and difference between them starting to lessen. It is hard to see what separates the Expert from the Master, except for here the Master must develop his own style, to go out and learn from different masters, to learn from different perspectives in order to create their own perspective.

Stage 7 - Practical Wisdom. Here Dreyfus has even abandoned his own examples of a car driver and a chess player and has dove deep into the theoretical and draws influence from the great philosopher Aristotle. Practical Wisdom as Dreyfus (2001: 48) sees it is 'the general ability to do the appropriate thing, at the appropriate time, in the appropriate way.'

While this is seen as the pinnacle of Dreyfus' stages, to me it doesn't quite fit well at the summit. Practical Wisdom seems to be more on a tangent with all the other stages, and influencing them all.

Using our Practical Wisdom - Barry Schwartz - 2010

Psychologist Barry Schwartz in his TED Talk 'Using our Practical Wisdom' , likens it to

'jazz musicians. The rules are like the notes on the page, and that gets you started, but then you dance around the notes on the page, coming up with just the right combination for this particular moment with this particular set of fellow players'

Certainly, it requires skill to pull this off, but do you really have to have mastered a skill before you can improvise and know when to do the right thing?


Dreyfus' stages of skill acquisition are certainly intriguing, though I think through a narrow-minded view  of what is capable from online Education, and perhaps a bias towards spoken language, I believe he has misjudged its potential for higher level learning and critical thinking. Blake (2002: 383) again notes that 'all writing is fundamentally a social interaction' and Dreyfus should not be so quick to dismiss its qualities in respect to the emotional. Nowadays, we also have Skype, Youtube, video-conferencing and more to further interact and emphasise our presence online. With the technology we have available to us now, we have the means to enable higher-level learning online, we just need to be imaginative in the process. As stated earlier, Online Education is not the same as the traditional classroom of old. As John Maynard Keyes once put it

"The difficulty lies not in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones"

  1. Anon, Exchange with Chomsky [online] Germany: Znet, 2015 (viewed November 26th 2015) Available at:
  2. Blake, R. (2002) Hubert Dreyfus on Distance Education: relays of educational embodiment. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 34, 4, pp.379-385 
  3. Dreyfus, H. (2001) On the Internet, 2, pp. 26-49, London: Routledge
  4. Eteokleous-Grigoriou, N. & Photiou, S (2014) Integrating Blogs in Primary Education, Research on e-Learning and ICT in Education: Technological, Pedagogical and Instructional Perspectives, 9, pp.121-137
  5. Garrison et al, (2010) Critical Inquiry in a Text-Based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), pp.87-105
  6. Highton, S. What's on your Mind? [online] 2014 Available at:
  7. Keyes, J.M. (1936) The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, United Kingdom: Palgrave MacMillan
  8. Online Reference, The five levels of skill acquisition, Novice, beginner, competent, naster and expert [online] 2015 (viewed November 26th 2015) Available at:
  9. Schwartz, B.  Using our Practical Wisdom [online] New York: TED Talks, 2010 (viewed November 29th 2015) Available at:
  10. Swan, K & Ice, P. (2010) The Community of Inquiry framework ten years later: introduction to the special issue. Internet and Higher Education, 13(1-2), 1-4

Monday, 16 November 2015

Love in the time of Cyber Space

One of the first things to intrigue me about this course  was this quote from Blake (2013:18) about attributing human characteristics to a computer:

"users are polite to computers and respond to the personality of both the interface and whatever computer agents or avatars that are present"

Human beings have always had a knack for anthropomorphising animals and objects, sometimes with deadly consequences - such as expecting a wild animal to behave like anything other than a wild animal, but I never realised how this could be  used to our advantage in online education, interacting with people and programmes online in a personal manner.

But it is possible to make real meaningful connections solely through technology, or are they simply tricks of the brain to trigger certain emotions or states of mind? Recently there have been a plethora of movies probing this topic, though admittedly through far more advanced tech and robots than we have available today. For now, I will try and steer away from the realms of science fiction and keep the discussion grounded in the real world.

Putting a face to the Avatar

Making connections is difficult enough in the real world. Many people have more affinity with their pets than with other human beings. How so then can we be expected to empathise and truly communicate with a user online, who may be nothing more than a faceless avatar to you?

Facebook's  default avatar

This is quite a common occurrence on social media sites and forums online, where new users are gifted with generic profile pics or anonymous usernames. In fact, on the forums of the Fantasy Football website I frequent, it has become a common issue. New members often wonder how to get more replies on their questions and the general consensus has always been to get a distinct Avatar so people can more easily recognise you and to comment more on other people's threads so people will see you are an active member of the community and not some 'grav-less' poster selfishly looking for their own needs to be filled. Being new to a site can often be difficult, as Roed (2003: 169) points out 'Once a group's identity has been formed it is a difficult and slow process for newcomers to break in and play a part. It takes time to build up the necessary trust'

Online Dating

Online dating is growing in popularity these days. With apps such as Tinder or OKCupid, it is beginning to shake free from the shackles of stigma once associated with it.  Yet, can one truly socialise or fall in love online? Subconsciously at least, I never felt any real trust with people I met online until I had met them in real life. Physically, they could be blatantly lying about who they are, or more subtly by only showing their most flattering photos. There are emotional hang-ups too. Being connected solely through the internet, they can easily just disappear from your life in an instant. It's hard to put a lot of emotional investment into someone who could then turn around and delete you from their lives at the click of a button. In order to fall in love online, surely a great level of trust is needed and though it may be naivety on some part, to simply accept what someone on the internet says as truth,  is their love any less real?

Online Presence

While such trust is needed to establish romantic relationships, is the same level of familiarity required for more platonic activities? Is trust a key factor to establishing an online 'presence' and if so, trust in what?

Naturally, the first thing you must trust in is that you are communicating with a human being on the other end, and not some annoying spambot, but once this basic hurdle is over, what does it mean to have a presence online? For me, this is the key. Not so much that they are truthful, but that they are genuine and real. After all, our friends in real life lie all the time. Many of us lie to ourselves from time to time. It appears to follow a similar path to suspension of disbelief in movies, in that it doesn't have to be real, but certain things can detach you from the illusion. For example, someone could have an avatar of a badger and you wouldn't bat an eyelid, but if his/her avatar was a famous person like Hugh Jackman for instance, it might resonate with you that it's not really Hugh Jackman and the suspension is gone as you become aware that you are online and this person could be anybody.

Take the above picture as an example. Did you read it in your own voice? Or did you hear the voice of Samuel L. Jackson in your head? It's not easy to disassociate the words with the imagery attached to it. You could begin to project traits or a persona onto a user,  loud and aggressive or shy and cute, simply by their avatar. One could view an intimidating avatar as aggressive or hostile, or a smiling avatar as friendly and welcoming.

What then if the avatar you see is not well known, just some unknown pretty girl online? To some it may seem like a blank canvas to create your own persona for the person. With a beautiful photo and a perfectly crafted persona of your own making, one can begin to see how many people may be catfished online.

Even what is written is open to interpretation. With the lack of nonverbal cues, or the ability to read ones face, it is hard to detect subtle nuances in written text. Are they being funny or sarcastic? Does the use of Caps Lock and exclamation points imply that they are angry or excited? Roeds (2003:171) again notes that 'it is not only that students’ behaviour changes but also the perception of students’ behavior' Given an ambiguous statement, a person may apply a different meaning or tone to the conversation. Emoticons and clear statements can go some way to curb misunderstandings, but then again aren't misunderstandings a part of everyday life too? It is clear to see that feelings and emotions can be inferred through technology. Just ask anyone who has cried at a sad film. It now becomes a matter of honing that ability online to truly make your presence felt. As L.M. Montgomery put it

"It's dreadful what little things lead people to misunderstand each other."

  1. Blake, R., Brave new digital classroom: technology and foreign language learning. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, [electronic resource]. 2008
  2. Montgomery, L.M., Emily's Quest. 1983 New York: Dell Laurel Leaf
  3. Roed, J., Language Leanrer Behaviour in a Virtual Learning Environment. Computer assisted language learning. 2003. 16, 2-3, pp.156-172

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

The Social Learner and the Social Teacher

This weeks lesson on Personal Learning Environments (PLE) was really insightful. I had never really thought much about the network I have put together to further my education. Podcasts, online tutorials, apps. Nowadays, there is a wealth of opportunities available to help us learn.

But it is not just information that is out there. No, now we are so well connected with people that we can chat and discuss anything from Pokemon to Nuclear Physics with complete strangers.

As much as some people like to comment on all the negativity they see on the internet, there is a huge array of selfless individuals uploading and creating things purely for your benefit and will to learn. From small things like Yoga instructors showing you the correct way to do a pose on YouTube, to bigger things like Harvard University offering free courses for anyone online. Or how about this course on cosmology by a Nobel Prize winning physicist? Of course, much of this stems from people looking for ad revenue or recognition, but as Buckingham Shum and Ferguson (2012: 6) note, some of this is due to new ways of attaining accreditation outside of large institutions whose stranglehold is now being loosened

"Internet services may also begin to apply pressure to one of the slowest evolving elements in educational provision: accreditation" and that "initiatives such as OpenBadges may provide new ways to accredit learning outside established institutions."

People seeking out learning are benefiting greatly from these 'Social teachers' making this information available to them and often presenting it in fun and interesting ways.  It is an interesting dynamic at play. Is the demand for such learning seeing educators flock to the web to create and deliver content to the masses online or is the availability of such resources allowing students greater freedom in their PLE's. Perhaps the most likely cause is a combination of both.

Social Learning and Technology

Social learning is not a new idea. Albert Bandura established his theory of modern social learning in the 1970's.Though while he was studying more the behavioural influences of social interactions on a human being, it is fundamentally learning at its core.

"Man's superior cognitive capacity is another factor that determines, not only how he will be affected by his experiences, but the future direction his actions may take" (Bandura, 1971: 2)

So how does the advent of modern technology affect the learning of the social learner? Bandura acknowledged mankind's ability to learn by observation and just as a child may learn not to steal cookies after seeing his brother get spanked,  so too may student's learn from the previous experiences of others. Though it doesn't take a genius to know you shouldn't eat a whole spoon of cinnamon or to try and smash your phone with a hammer, nonetheless, the internet still offers a wide array of more practical and sage advice from people who have learned from their experiences. In our last tutorial, discussing the making of our PLE's we learned some key information about what to do and what not to do, simply from viewing each other's work and discussing it. Martin Weller (2007: 21) in his discussion of socio-cultural learning and VLE's stated that "it is not just engagement with peers that is important, but also observation and interaction with established community members." While in the past this may have been somewhat limited to the layman or those living a large distance from a university, nowadays, people are able to connect with experts in almost every field with the touch of a button, be it answering questions on Reddit MMA's or simply liking a post on Facebook. Even Obama has a twitter account.

It draws many parallels with Drexler's (2010: 370) networked student which although it takes a more constuctivist approach to learning, maintains that need for social interaction, going so far as to state  "The connection to humans is a essential part of the learning process" and that connections between learners tutors and the wider learning community is key

It is the combination of these connections, especially in concert with human to human contact, that provide the most powerful learning potential (Goodyear, 2005)"

Society and all our knowledge and understanding owes greatly to those who have gone before us and those currently at work around us. Modern technological advances have allowed us to be more connected than ever before and it would surely be of great benefit to us, were we to take advantage of this in our quest for knowledge and consider creating more nodes and connections in our Personal Learning Environment's. As Issac Newton himself famously said

"If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." 

  1. Bandura, A. (1971) Social Learning Theory, New York: General Learning Press.
  2. Buckingham Shum, S. & Ferguson, R. (2012)Social Learning Analytics. Educational Technology & Society, 15. 3. pp.3-26
  3. Drexler, W. (2010) The networked student model for construction of personal learning environments: Balancing teacher control and student autonomy. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 26. 3. pp. 369-385
  4. Weller, M., (2007) Virtual Learning environments: Using choosing and developing your VLE. Routledge: London and New York.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

The Role of the Teacher - Revisited

In one of my first posts, I made an attempt to deconstruct what it means to be a teacher in today's modern society where people have access to (almost) unlimited information at the click of a mouse. In it, I perhaps didn't do full justice to the role of the teacher and over-simplified it too much. While it was my intention to break it down to its very basics, I think I may have lost a certain nuance in just how critical a role the teacher plays in the learning process.

How teachers perceive themselves according to Beijaard (2000:756)

Last week's talks of VLE's and PLE's drew many parallels with my original musings of the role of the teacher. In PLE's especially, the pedagogy and learning distances itself from the teacher and becomes the responsibility of the student to seek out the information he/she needs. The teacher's role as such comprises much of the same three key elements I had outlined.

  1. Provide guidance and assistance. A facilitator, acting as a grounding point for the student's PLE, the teacher offers them a safe haven if they are having difficulties and also as a guide to keep them on the right path in their discovery of knowledge and not to stray too far off topic.
  2. Accelerating the process - the teacher kick starts the PLE by showing them how to set up their PLE, where to source their information from and how to differentiate between facts and opinions.
  3. Ensure people's safety. Again this may mean literal safety but also in a more broader sense it is the duty of the teacher to ensure that the student has the necessary means to succeed in their PLE and are not setting them up for a fall, so to speak. It can be a daunting task taking over the responsibility of being in control of your own learning and the teacher needs to motivate and encourage the students to believe in themselves and their abilities.

However, it went much deeper than this. It was clear to see from the articles and videos about PLE's that the teacher plays a crucial role in the success of the PLE for the student. Drexler (2010: 382) noted this:

"A student's success depended on his or her motivation but also greatly on the strategic guidance of the teacher"

Drexler (2010: 370) also saw the teacher as a facilitator of the student's needs, quoting  Mostschnig-Pitrik & Holzinger (2002: 166) in that the teacher "supports the students in their search and supply of relevant material, coordinates the students' presentations of individual milestones of their projects, moderates discussions, consults in all kinds of problem-solving and seeking for solutions, lectures on topics that are selected in plenary discussions with the students and conforms to the curriculum"

The various roles of a teacher in a student's PLE according to Wendy Drexler

In order to connect with the networked student and guide them in their PLE's, today's modern teacher must become 'networked' as well.  As stated in my previous post, this new outlook and approach to teaching made me reflect upon my own PLE and see how my own learning is structured. Am I a networked teacher capable of guiding students to create and follow their own PLE's? Can I offer the same help and support to students as outlined by Drexler? What areas do I need to work on? I have never truly created and utilised a PLE to further my learning. Perhaps I will start from there. As Drexler (2010: 370) put it "A teacher is better equipped to facilitate networked learning if he or she has experienced the construction of such a model first hand."

  1. Beijaard D., Verloop, N. & Vermunt, J. (2000) Teachers' perceptions of professional identity: an exploratory study from a personal knowledge perspective. Teacher and Teaching Education. 16. pp. 749-764
  2. Drexler, W. (2010) The networked student model for construction of personal learning environments: Balancing teacher control and student autonomy. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 26. 3. pp. 369-385