Wednesday, 7 November 2007

EUROCALL HQ in Second Life

EUROCALL now has an HQ in EduNation III, Second Life. The building is still empty, but it will be furnished it during the next few weeks. If you have already downloaded the Second Life software and wish to locate the EUROCALL HQ click on the following SLURL or just paste it into your browser's address box:
This will enable you to teleport to the front porch. Turn right round and you should see the EUROCALL logo on the wall next to the front door. Click on the door to open it and then have a look round. It is possible to hold meetings and run training courses, etc in the EUROCALL HQ (and many other places) using voice chat, text chat and visuals (PowerPoint, videos, etc), but there doubtless many more interesting things that can be done.

Just a reminder that if you are new to Second Life then there is an expanded Section 14.2.1 in Module 1.5 at the ICT4LT site that should help get you up to speed:

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

EUROCALL 2007 Conference

I just got back from the EUROCALL 2007 conference at the University of Coleraine, Northern Ireland – followed by a one-week holiday touring the North-West of Ireland. It was one of the best EUROCALL conferences I have attended since EUROCALL first became an official professional association in 1993. This year’s conference included a more elaborate online Virtual Strand than last year’s conference in Granada, Spain. As well as the conference blog and the Blobber text chat facility, this year’s Virtual Strand included the Yaplet text chat facility, live online presentations in text chat, and podcasts in which conference participants expressed their impressions of presentations that they attended. The plenary keynotes and panel discussion were streamed and are also archived. An asynchronous discussion list has also been set up. All the details are here:

The blog, to which you will find a link at the above URL, will remain active for some time.

It is often said that if you return from a conference with three new important impressions or ideas then the conference has been a success. These are mine:

1. Bernd Rüschoff, talking about wikis in his plenary presentation on Web 2.0, pointed out that an analysis of the answers given by the audience in the German TV version of “Who wants to be a millionaire” were predominantly right. He reflected that the criticism levelled at wikis such as Wikipedia may be unjustified, as collective knowledge is increasingly proving to be reliable.

2. The video that Gràinne Conole showed in her plenary presentation of the student living in a high-tech house and using a variety of digital devices as part of her everyday life left a lasting impression on me. Teachers need to be aware that the new generation of students feel completely at ease with new technologies.

3. Uschi Felix – who declared her intention to retire from academic life this year – warned us that students will not be impressed if they are confronted with “boring old technology” at school or university. On the other hand, they often react negatively to teachers who think they are being trendy by using Facebook and other social network sites that are popular with young people. Students often perceive such sites as “their” property, which they want to keep for themselves.

All in all, this was a great conference. All the sessions that I attended were good. The weather was kind to us, we observed a perfect sunset from the venue of the Gala Dinner, were entertained by the Altnaveigh House Band, the best Irish/Scottish band (with a fabulous dancer) that I have ever heard, and we danced ourselves to exhaustion at the Céilí, to the accompaniment of the highly-accomplished traditional music band, Craobh Rua (Red Branch).

Just a reminder that the main EUROCALL website, which contains information about previous and forthcoming conferences, can be found at:

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Second Life Conference on Learning Foreign Languages

On 23 June 2007, I took part in a virtual conference, SLanguages, on learning foreign languages in Second Life:
The venue was the Glass Pyramid on Second Life's EduNation Island and there were around 50 participants from all over the world. The conference made use of audioconferencing facilities, using the Ventrilo audioconferencing software, so we could hear the speakers and talk to them. The SLanguages conference went very well, with only a few minor hiccups. I've added a couple of screenshots to the ICT4LT site:
Section 14.2, Module 1.5, headed Chat rooms, MUDs, MOOs and MUVEs

The main thing that made the conference so engaging for me was being able to listen to and communicate with speakers from all over the world - all in our various avatar guises. It worked. We could use the standard Second Life text chat at any time and when we wanted to ask a question or make a comment we lit up a bulb on top of our heads in order to attract the chair’s attention and then we spoke when invited. Coffee breaks and a lunch break were built in, and we were able to continue chatting at the disco after the formal day’s proceedings had finished.

The advantages of Second Life compared to videoconferencing were immediately obvious to me. I have taken part in several videoconferences and, even as an adult, I have always felt a bit uncomfortable seeing myself on screen. Lip-synchronisation in all the videoconferencing systems that I have used was not very good - although it may have improved a lot by now. Head and arm movements came across as rather jerky too. In the SLanguages conference I was able to sit my avatar down and then do what I liked. He was always quiet and attentive even if I sneaked off to make a cup of coffee, and I could hear the audio very clearly, either through speakers or headphones. I could speak to the other participants by pressing a single key to activate my microphone - or I could ask questions and make comments in text chat. The speakers were able to show slides on a large screen - which you can see in the screenshots at the ICT4LT site.

Don't be misled by the negative reports about Second Life that you may have read in the press. I was very sceptical when I first had a look at Second Life. It appeared to be peopled by sad geeks who probably only have a half-decent First Life. but as a colleague of mine, Chris Jones, stated in the title of an article he wrote way back in 1986: "It's not so much the program: more what you do with it: the importance of methodology in CALL".

At first sight Second Life appears to be quite daunting. There’s a lot to learn, but I picked up the basics in a couple of hours and I’m content to ignore the bits that I don’t need. There's a lot of garbage there - shopping malls selling virtual designer gear, casinos, etc. All this can be ignored. In any case most of us only use a fraction of the facilities of the software installed on our computers - and there's nothing wrong with that.

The SLanguages conference proceedings will be archived at:
EduNation 178, 40, 22

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Web 2.0 – Is it just hype?

When I first came across the term Web 2.0 about two years ago I thought that it referred to a completely new version of the World Wide Web, as this is what the appendage of a version number to a product’s name normally means. I was surprised to find that it means nothing of the sort. The term arose as the name of a series of conferences, the first of which was held in 2004:

See also:
O'Reilly T. (2005) What is Web 2.0? Design patterns and business models for the next generation of software:

See also the Wikipedia article on Web 2.0:

Essentially, Web 2.0 appears to be an attempt to redefine what the Web is all about and how it is used, for example new Web-based communities using wikis, blogs and social networking websites that promote collaboration and sharing between users. In other words, it signifies a more democratic approach to the use of the Web. In order to achieve this, Web-based applications have to work more like desktop applications, allowing Web users to use the Web in much the same way as they would use applications on their desktop computers, e.g. storing and organising their materials. MySpace, YouTube, Flickr and are examples of websites that enable users to do this.

To what extent the concept of Web 2.0 is truly innovative is a matter of debate, as it is broadly in line with the concept of the Web as defined by its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, nine years ago:

“The dream behind the Web is of a common information space in which we communicate by sharing information. Its universality is essential: the fact that a hypertext link can point to anything, be it personal, local or global, be it draft or highly polished. There was a second part of the dream, too, dependent on the Web being so generally used that it became a realistic mirror (or in fact the primary embodiment) of the ways in which we work and play and socialise. That was that once the state of our interactions was on line, we could then use computers to help us analyse it, make sense of what we are doing, where we individually fit in, and how we can better work together.”Berners-Lee T. (1998) The World Wide Web: a very short personal history:

So Web 2.0 is not a break with Web 1.0 but a transition. Is the term Web 2.0 therefore essentially meaningless? Is it just a way of convincing the media and investors that something fundamentally new has been created? Or is it just an example of the continuous development of well-established technologies?


Thursday, 5 April 2007

EUROCALL 2007 Conference

The EUROCALL 2007 Conference will take place at University of Ulster, Coleraine, Northern Ireland, 5-8 September 2007. The main conference theme is Mastering Multimedia: Teaching Languages Through Technology:

The Coleraine campus is located in a beautiful part of Ireland, close to the Giant's Causeway and Bushmills Irish Whiskey Distillery. Combine the conference with a holiday. These pictures should whet your appetite:

Just for the record, here are the two key EUROCALL URLs:
- EUROCALL's main website:
-The EUROCALL Discussion List:

Sunday, 25 March 2007

History of Computer Assisted Language Learning

Some readers of this blog may recall that I have been seeking information via a number of discussion lists and fora on the whereabouts of Philippe Delcloque’s History of CALL website that was created to commemorate the beginning of the new millennium. Although the website has now closed down, a snapshot PDF version of the site has been unearthed by Ana Gimeno, President of EUROCALL. I have now incorporated this PDF document into the ICT4LT site at the following location:

I have also agreed to take on the task of recording new developments in the History of CALL. To a large extent I have been doing this anyway as Editor of the ICT4LT website, but it’s been a piecemeal job. I have begun to collate new developments systematically in Section 2 (History of CALL) of Module 1.4 at the ICT4LT website, with relevant internal links within the ICT4LT website and a few external links:

Comments and suggestions for additions welcomed.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

BBC Jam educational website suspended

It’s 20 March 2007. Today is the day on which the BBC suspends its Web-based package of learning materials for schools, which was released under the name "BBC Jam". BBC Jam has been the subject of controversy ever since it was announced that the BBC would be allowed to spend £150 million pounds worth of public funding, namely TV licence payers’ money, developing the so-called Digital Curriculum, later to be renamed BBC Jam. You can read more about it here:

The Reckon (Regulation and Competition Economics) website:

The Guardian newspaper, 14 March 2007,,2033611,00.html

The decision to suspend BBC Jam is mainly the result of pressure from publishers’ associations and commercial online companies who complained that BBC Jam has had a negative impact on their businesses. This raises a number of important issues, for example the morality of allocating such a large sum of money to a public organisation, thereby distorting market forces, and to what extent the BBC’s move towards the production of Web-based educational materials rather than educational TV broadcasts was desirable. Bear in mind that the unit that produced the excellent series of TV broadcasts for adult learners of foreign languages has now been closed down.

BBC Jam aimed to cover most of the secondary school curriculum. Some materials for learners of modern foreign languages have been produced, but reactions to them have been mixed. Many teachers welcomed them for their refreshing and lively approach, but they have also been criticised for their confusing interface, linearity and lack of interaction, e,g. Donald Clark’s blog:


Friday, 2 March 2007

Digital language labs

A one-day symposium entitled "Digital Language Labs: Exploring Good Practice", organised by the University of Ulster's Centre for Excellence in Multimedia Language Learning, is due to take place on 15 March 2007 at SOAS, University of London. Full details can be found on the Centre's website:

ICT4LT Module 3.1 mentions digital labs and includes five case studies: Managing a multimedia language centre:

See also Section 2.2.1 of ICT4LT Module 2.2 headed "Media players and digital language labs":

See also this publication at the CILT/ALL Languages ICT website:
Davies G., Bangs P., Frisby R. & Walton E. (2005) Setting up effective digital language laboratories and multimedia ICT suites for Modern Foreign Languages, London: CILT:

It would be interesting to hear from people who are using digital labs and how useful/effective they have found them.

Sunday, 25 February 2007

Reports on the effectiveness of ICT

We don't see too many reports on the effectiveness of ICT in teaching and learning modern foreign languages. These two reports have recently appeared:

1. BECTA: Impact of ICT in schools: a landscape review:
This report is about the use of ICT across the curriculum, but there is a substantial section on modern foreign languages.

2. QCA: The use of ICT for teaching and learning languages:

The BETT 2007 show in January this year included a seminar programme in which four sessions for teachers of modern foreign languages took place. Read the report here at the Languages ICT website:

More news reports on recent activities are available at the Languages ICT website:

Saturday, 24 February 2007

Death by PowerPoint?

"Death by PowerPoint" refers to the over-use of PowerPoint as a presentation medium both in business and in educational contexts. Do a search in Google and you will find numerous occurrences of this phrase.

When PowerPoint first began to be used as a presentation medium it looked impressive: the "wow!" factor. But after you've seen 100 presentations it gets as boring as any other medium. What you have to bear in mind when using any presentation medium is that you still have to work hard to get your message across, particularly in the foreign languages classroom, where you have to combine presentation with lots of practice with your students.

See the TES article (1 September 2006), Death by... PowerPoint, by Michael Shaw, who writes:

"The problem - dubbed 'Death by PowerPoint' - arises where the popular Microsoft program is used to teach dull, didactic lessons. Where once trainees were told to avoid "chalk and talk", the new hazard is 'click and talk'."

He continues, citing Roger Higton, Lord Williams School, Thame:
"The teacher may feel very pleased and think they are up-to-date and modern – but the student will glaze over within the first 30 seconds. Students find this passive absorption of knowledge no more educationally creative than copying out of a textbook."

The message is: Don't rely just on the presentation. Presenting new vocab or points of grammar with PowerPoint does not guarantee that they will be retained by your students. They need to practise using the new vocab and grammar.

Have a look at this amusing video on how NOT to use PowerPoint:
Life after death by PowerPoint
by Don McMillan

See also ICT4LT, Section 4, Module 1.4, headed Whole-class teaching and interactive whiteboards.

Interactive whiteboards – how effective are they?

Interactive whiteboards (IWBs) appear to be springing up like mushrooms in schools in the UK. Some schools have had them installed in every classroom and one headteacher has been heard to say that he expects his teaching staff to keep them switched on all the time and use them in every lesson.

We mention interactive whiteboards in the following locations at the ICT4LT site:

  • Section 7 of Module 1.3, Using text tools in the Modern Foreign Languages classroom
  • Section 4 of Module 1.4, Introduction to Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL)
But how effective are interactive whiteboards? This BBC website article (30 January 2007) entitled "Doubts over hi-tech white boards" raises several important issues.
It states, for example, that IWBs "fail to boost pupil achievement", that they can "slow the pace of whole-class learning", and that they can lead to "relatively mundane activities being over-valued".

OK, just what we thought - memories of the language lab being hailed as the panacea back in the 1960s and then failing miserably to deliver what it promised. Of course, we now know in retrospect that the 1960s technology was not at fault. It was the failure to train teachers how to use the technology effectively, combined with a singular lack of imagination.

My perception of IWBs is that they can be highly effective in the hands of a skilled practitioner - just as the language lab was (and still is) - but most teachers simply use IWBs for presentations that would work just as well on a humble OHP. Who was it who said that an IWB is "just an OHP on steroids"?

Since the advent of interactive whiteboards we've moved away from the more traditional use of the computer as a learning tool in a computer lab, where it offers many more one-to-one practice opportunities – and which many teachers believe are more effective: v. the case studies in Module 3.1 at the ICT4LT website:

In the above module Helen Myers (The Ashcombe School) writes:
Whiteboards: We prefer to spend the money on increasing the pupil-computer ratio - which makes the technology more genuinely interactive for pupils – rather than on facilities for whole-class/teacher interaction.

In the same module Richard Hamilton (Cox Green School) claims a 15% rise in A*–C GCSE results over a period of three years as a result of his pupils doing regular computer lab work in foreign languages.

Friday, 23 February 2007

Podcasting - what's the hype?

In the EUROCALL 2006 wiki a question was raised about the main benefits of podcasting, which attracted a few interesting comments, both positive and negative:
We mention podcasting in the following section of the ICT4LT website:
Section 3.5.2 of Module 2.3,
Exploiting World Wide Web resources online and offlineThere is also an entry in the ICT4LT Glossary:
My personal view about podcasting in the context of language learning and teaching is broadly in line with the view expressed by one of the contributors to the above wiki, namely that it’s a very efficient way of making digital sound recordings and distributing them to learners and teachers, but that we also need to take another look at audio learning.
As I pointed out in the above wiki, in the end a podcast is just a recording. It's the delivery medium that makes it different. Recordings live or die according to (1) the quality of their content, (2) what you do with them.
Simply making podcasts available to language students is not effective per se. Thinking back to my days as a language centre director, we had a similar experience when satellite TV first became available. "Wow! What a great resource!" we thought. But students, left to their own devices, did not get a lot out of watching TV. So we introduced generic worksheets into the satellite TV viewing room. We had one for recordings of news broadcasts. It was just one sheet of A4, which the students filled in and handed in to language centre staff. On the sheet were a few simple tasks, such as:
  • Write down the headlines of the main news items that you viewed in the broadcast.
  • Write down 10 new words or phrases that you learned. (Students usually borrowed a dictionary from the language centre at the same time as they borrowed the video recording, so they could look up new words and phrases.)
  • Write down a summary of the news item that interested you most and why.
The worksheets were not marked by language teaching staff. They were mainly intended to be a means of focusing students’ attention, but teaching staff would pick completed worksheets at random and offer feedback to students. This resulted in a marked improvement in the way students used satellite TV recordings. Perhaps we need something similar to enable students to get the most out of the increasing number of podcasts that are available on the Web. Reactions?

Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs)

We mention Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) in the following locations at the ICT4LT site:
  • Module 1.4: Introduction to CALL (Section 7: Distance learning)
  • Module 1.5: Introduction to the Internet (Section 8: Distance learning and the Web: VLEs, MLEs etc)
  • Module 2.3: Exploiting WWW resources online and offline (Section 3.1: Web-based CALL)
There are also several relevant entries in the ICT4LT Glossary. Start with VLE:

Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) were hailed as the greatest thing since sliced bread when they first appeared, but now they appear to be falling out of favour with many educational institutions - for various reasons: costs, lack of flexibility and problems handling audio and video.

Personally, I don't like VLEs. So far they appear to have resulted mainly in the development of rather boring materials and masses of multiple-choice exercises. I miss the interaction, the humour and the unpredictability of pre-Web, pre-VLE software, e.g. simulations such as A la rencontre de Philippe:
We mention other simulations in Module 2.2, Introduction to multimedia CALL, at the ICT4LT site.
You can achieve much more with a tailor-made website, which is less expensive than most people imagine, but unfortunately the "one size fits all" mentality pervades among educational administrators, which is what attracts them to VLEs. And, of course, there are many things which (so far) can only be done efficiently and effectively offline, i.e. via a local server, CD-ROM or DVD, e.g. listen / record / playback (virtual language lab) activities.

Moodle, however, is one VLE that is finding favour with the language teaching community, especially in Japan. EUROCALL conferences have attracted Moodle presenters, and there was a Moodle workshop at a recent EUROCALL conference. The main pluspoint of Moodle is that it is open source and can be downloaded free of charge:
The Moodle for Language Teaching forum is a useful source of information about Moodle:

At last year's EUROCALL conference in Granada (which I unfortunately couldn't attend due to illness) one of the keynote speakers, Diana Laurillard, mentioned a VLE called LAMs. There's a link to a streamed video of Diana Laurillard's keynote via the EUROCALL 2006 blog:


Thursday, 22 February 2007

Welcome to the ICT4LT blog

Welcome to the ICT for Language Teachers blog. This blog was started on 22 February 2007 to encourage feedback from visitors to the ICT4LT website at

If you haven't already visited the site, please do so.

Discussion topics and comments on any of the ICT4LT website modules are welcomed, as well as any other aspect of ICT in language teaching and learning.