Will learning management systems go away?

May 3, 2012 § 1 Comment

Siemens & Tittenberger (2009) pointed out that technology is not neutral. Rather it comes with assumptions and ideologies. For instance, using LMSs gives teachers greater control over the information. The knowledge is more centralized and is closed by default (i.e., students need to get permission to participate). Conversely, using blogs and wikis not only decentralizes control and the information source but also promotes open access to knowledge and user-generated content. These web 2.0 tools are also more conducive for continuous learning. A blog, unlike a Moodle course, exists beyond the duration of the course.

The future of DE will likely be dominated by the use of Web 2.0 tools, but whether LMSs (like Moodle and Blackboard) or some forms of them may survive seems more of a question of debate. Recent research by Bates (2012) suggests that LMSs will stay because they provide teachers and students a clear learning framework, offer the institute a centralized platform that can be integrated with the administrative system and can be used for data collection, tracking and documentation. Moreover, adopting constantly changing Web 2.0 tools requires tech skills that the students and faculty may not have; thus, LMSs are more sustainable.

Currently, my way of teaching corresponds largely with Bates view. Though I use Web 2.0 tools extensively and I don’t like the closed nature of the Moodle platform, I still find the LMS indispensible for delivering quizzes, receiving assignments, and assigning grades. What’s more, when other teachers in the system use the same platform, it’s easier for the learners as well.

However, I think that LMSs in the future will need to change substantially to accommodate open source content and larger learning networks. Also, the teacher’s control over the information source will be diminished given that the networks composed of experts, novices and computer algorithms are perhaps more efficient filters of information than a single teacher. Perhaps, the learning management system will simply be an empty, open platform, which has an amalgamation of interoperable tools, i.e., Google calendar, grade books, learning analytic software, online quizzing and grading tools, YouTube lessons, WordPress blogs, Smart phone Apps. The teacher or the educational institute will place certain privacy control on some of the tools (i.e., Grade books) while leaving a lot of the content open, free, recyclable and reusable. The LMSs then will only slightly resemble what we have today.

In terms of pedagogies, keeping with the theme that technology is not neutral, given the increased use of decentralized social platforms, learning theories, such as constructivism (according to which learners form knowledge through social negotiation) or connectivism (which emphasizes on learners’ abilities to learn through recognizing and identifying distributed knowledge networks) will come to dominate.  Teachers will become experts and facilitators in certain domains, modeling and assisting learners in participating in learning networks and evaluating their performance using various metrics for the purpose of credentialing.


Contact North. (2012) Is there a future of learning management system. Retrieved from:http://www.contactnorth.ca/resources/there-a-future-learning-management-systems

Siemens, G., & Tittenberger, P. (2009). Handbook of emerging technologies for learning, pp. 3-8. Learning Technologies Centre, University of Manitoba.

Moodle and other education technologies in language teaching

February 16, 2012 § 1 Comment

Moodle has been developed based on the social constructivist principles. At present, its course management features are great and a number of tools, including the discussion forum and glossary, allow for some level of collaboration; however, the platform, itself, is not open and, thus, limits the full potentials of the the blogging and wiki tools.

In fact, learning management systems, like Moodle, Blackboard, Sakai, and DesireToLearn, have been criticized for guarding the walls of the university. Unlike other open platforms, wikis and blogs, these learning management systems fail to open up access to education, promote continuous learning, or bridge the learning networks confined to a classroom to other larger learning networks.

Despite its drawbacks, Moodle, if used properly, still has a lot to offer to language teaching. For instance, at the language institute at a university I currently work for, Moodle can help not only to move in a more paperless, environmentally-friendly direction, but also to increase transparency and facilitate collaboration, however temporary. Moreover, using a web-based tool can greatly improve the quality of learning materials, replacing black and white photocopies with multimedia learning objects.

The following Prezi presentation show some of the Moodle tools as well as other more open platforms, i.e., Social Bookmarking and Screencasting, that I’ve used to supplement Moodle to further enhance learning experience.

Note that the tools on the X-axis are organized according to how similar they are to paper-based technology. The tools, i.e., Link to a file or Add a Glossary,  on the left closely resemble paper-based technology, while those closer to the left are more digital. As for the Y-axis, the tools lower on the axis, i.e., online quizzes, are less social; the tools higher on the Y-axis allow for more learners’ collaboration – something to keep in mind when it comes to choosing the right tools for presentation, participation or collaboration.



A brief overview of the advantages and disadvantages of the tools

1. Link to file

  • Advantages
    • Moodle has a huge storage capacity and allows instructors to share large files (100MB per file) with students.
  • Disadvantages
    •  Sharing files this way requires uploading and downloading and can be time consuming.
    • Other Moodle features discussed below offer more efficient ways to present information.

2. Add a webpage

  • Advantages:
    • Instructors can create a webpage to present
      • copy and paste text-based materials
      • embed multimedia media files (i.e., lectures, movie trailers)
      • embed PowerPoint slides (via SlideShare)
        • Slideshare is the world’s largest community for sharing presentations. Instructors can embed presentations on their Moodle. Alternatively, they can create their own PowerPoint, upload it onto Slideshare and embed it on their Moodle.
    • embed a screencast (via Screenr)
      • Screencast is a digital recording of the computer screen and the user’s voice. It can be used to
        • create learning objects
        • have students make voiceover for sitcoms and political speeches

  • Disadvantages
    • Not interactive. Only teachers can create a webpage and add content to it.
    • If instructors put too much text on a webpage, it can be frustrating for users to scroll through.

3. Add a book

  • Advantages
    • contain a table of contents
    • break a long webpage into multiple chapters
    • students don’t have to scroll down and read a giant “wall of words” on a webpage
    • Course management features
      • can control which chapters students can see
        • though this option should be used to prevent cognitive overloading rather than controlling access to information
  • Disadvantages
    • Not interactive. Only teachers can create a book and add content to it.

4. Add a glossary

  • Advantages
    • sort vocabulary and collocations
      • alphabetical order
      • category
      • author
      • date
    • add automatic hyperlinks
    • students can add and edit
    • great for learning
      • business vocabulary
      • the academic word list
  • Disadvantages
    • lacks an attractive design

5. Link to a webpage

  • Advantages
    • create links to websites and copyrighted materials
    • can link to eResources at York Library.The electronic journals can be linked to but not downloaded and then uploaded onto Moodle.

6. Social Bookmarking (via Diigo)

  • Advantages
    • highlight on the browser
    • share highlights and comments with a group
    • allow for facebook-like interactions; users can “like” or “comment” on an article
    • turn reading into a social activity
  • Disadvantages
    • Has not yet been integrated with Moodle; thus, users need to have a different login

7. Discussion Forum (the best interactive tool on Moodle)

  • Advantages
    • both teachers and students can post messages
    • increase transparency
      • students generally take an interest in the work of their fellow students
    • teachers can
      • post reading / listening discussion questions
      • post good sample assignments
      • have students post their assignments (conversation partners and U-life reports)
      • organize student-led discussions
    • Great course management features
      • Using the Q & A forum, students will not be able to see other postings before they post their answers
      • Can assign grades to messages
        • Rating scales
          • percentages
          • connected vs. isolated learners
          • excellent / good / satisfactory
  • Disadvantages
    • Discussion board messages usually don’t have an existence beyond the duration of the course; though the discussion questions you post can be recycled and reused in another course

8. Hot Potatoes Quiz

  • Advantages
    • can create multiple-choice, cloze, matching, crossword, and jumbled sentence exercises
      • not only grammar quizzes but also can insert a reading or link to multimedia materials
    • generate results for teachers
      • the scores
      • the number of attempts
      • the time spent on the test
    • allow teachers to better identify the students who need more help
    • provide individualized, formative assessment
    • save class time
      • especially in a multi-skill course in which not all students need a particular kind of practice
    • can support inquiry-based learning
  • Disadvantages
      • Does not support user interactions
      • Extremely individualized learning can be extremely boring

9. Survey (via Survey Monkey or Poll Daddy)

  • Moodle 1.97 does not allow users to create their own survey
  • Use Survey Monkey or Poll Daddy
  • Advantages
    • conduct needs assessment
    • mid-term and final surveys
  • Disadvantages
    • the free account only allows for 10 questions per survey

10. Choice (poll)

  • Advantages
    • can conduct a quick poll
    • the results can be anonymous or non-anonymous
  • Disadvantages
    • can only ask one question at a time

11. Wiki (via wikispaces)

  • The Moodle Wiki is not the most user-friendly and because only students who have access to the course can have access to the wiki, it is not an open platform and does not tend to have an existence beyond the duration of the course. Therefore, it’s better to opt for other more open platforms, i.e., Wikispaces.
  • Advantages
    • encourage collaboration
    • user-generated learning materials
    • build learning communities
    • foster informal learning
    • develop the ability to navigate in networks
  • Disadvantages
    • Wikispaces is not integrated with Moodle
    • Will look into other options.

Beyond the political lefts and rights

February 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

In the video, Lawrence Lessig urged the Occupy Protestors to frame their discussion against the lobbyists in Washington that have taken control over the US congress. The target should be crony capitalism rather than the capitalist system or corporations.

Reframing the discussion this way can help to unite the Occupy and the populist Tea Party movement. The Tea Party believes in limiting the power of the government; the Occupy protestors calls for limiting the power of corporations. In fact, the government and the corporations, though being two distinct political entities, are one and the same, given their underlying networks. For instance, a person can be an elected government officials one day and a CEO of a health insurance or GM food company another day. The politicians serve the interests of the corporations, which then contribute to get the politicians re-elected.

Despite their different political convictions, the Tea Party members (not the leaders) and Occupy protesters share in the belief in harnessing the power of social media and rebuilding networks that can ultimately reconfigure the power relations.

In “Power does not reside in institutions, not even the state or large corporations. It is located in the networks that structure society”, Manuel Castell writes, “Power is exercised by specific configurations of these networks that express dominant interests and values”. In crony capitalism, the government, the business-controlled media and the business and financial elites have enormous power over the masses and the distribution of resources.

However, as new media platforms have sprung up, digital activists can build open networks to force greater transparency on the part of the government and corporations and reach out to the masses who crave knowledge and transparency.

This digital revolution, however, does not mean dismantling the established structure of society, i.e., the government or the corporations. Rather, it reconfigures the power relations in society, which gives back to the masses or the citizens the power to effect change in the government and corporations.

Teaching English with social media tools and mobile technology: A look at China

February 16, 2012 § 3 Comments

As mentioned in a previous posting, a recurring theme in the 2011’s MOOC has been that the current education model no longer meets the needs of learners in the 21st century world where knowledge is changing fast. In “2005-2012: The OpenCourse Wars”, David Wiley (2008) imagines himself looking back to the present time in the future; that future, as Wiley speculates, would consist of not only open source materials being widely available, but also a lot of the materials being generated by learners. In fact, lecture notes posted on a university websites would be obsolete.

Addressing the same theme from another angle, Dave Cormier (2011) points out that the formal education system at present fails to promote continuous learning through the development of learning communities or networks. Without such learning networks, many employees lack the skills to adapt to the changing world; thus, organizations have to rely on expensive consultants or costly employee training in order to keep up to date.

From yet another angle, Clark Quinn (2011) contends that the current system takes learning out of our daily activities and packages a large amount of information to be delivered in a classroom. Accordingly, this fails to match how we learn, as our brains are wired to absorb smaller chunks of information in meaningful contexts. Quinn illustrates that a more ideal learning condition would be like “having a personal mentor traveling with (him), looking at (him) tasks, providing both support in the moment, and developing (him) slowly over time.” And here, Quinn points to mobile technology, which is portable, better integrated to the daily lives of many people, and more capable of delivering information in smaller increments.

While the above MOOC facilitators’ critiques mainly focus on Western education, similar arguments can be made about the education in the east. In particular, the Chinese education system is frequently criticized for its focus on rote learning, or having students memorize a great deal of information in order to pass a final exam. Take language learning for example: Cui and Wang (2008) point out many learners in China, despite having many years of English language training, still have great difficulty communicating. The reasons behind this phenomenon include the focus on passing exams as their purpose of study, poor-quality materials, and a general lack of an English environment. Cui and Wang (2008) subsequently suggest that the mobile technology holds instructional potentials for improving language teaching in China.

In the following, I’ll first discuss how mobile technology can improve language learning in China. The current use of mobile technology tends to focus on delivering content, promoting situated-based learning, and enhancing student-content interactivity. However, what is missing is the social use of the technology or meaningful learner-learner interaction. I’ll argue that the utilization of social media tools, in particular, Twitter, along with mobile technology can encourage socialization and continuous learning. Finally, I’ll consider some barriers to the adoption of social mobile learning will also be examined.

The affordances of mobile learning

Mobile technology, as pointed out by Cui and Wang (2008), has the instructional potentials to solve some of the problems in language learning, such as the focus on passing final exams, poor-quality materials, and the lack of language environment.

First, one of the frequently mentioned affordances of mobile learning is situated learning. For instance, mobile devices have been employed for audio tours in museums. In a study, Naismith and Smith (2009) explore the use of a mobile device and tagging system to deliver multimedia museum tours, in which the visitors move through the museum and click on a tag by pointing the mobile device to it. However, instead of simply presenting the information to the visitors, the research adopts “free-choice learning”, giving the users the choice to explore the museum in a non-linear fashion. For instance, the device users can browse random objects and find explanations, explore the artifacts through a thematic structure, search for a particular set of collections or do research on a particular object. The findings show that the visitors enjoy their learning experience.

Mobile learning has the potential of providing users more personalized learning experience and a greater degree of choice, which in turn can enhance intrinsic motivation (Ragan & Smith, 2006), as opposed to the extrinsic motivation of passing an exam. The use of a tagging system and mobile technology in this study illustrates not only the possibility of using mobile devices to deliver high-quality, multimedia materials but also how moving learning out of a classroom may help to foster more meaningful learning and turn the focus of learning away from passing exams alone. In fact, similar uses of the technology have been adopted to enhance language teaching as well.

A study (Liu & Chu, 2010) into gaming and mobile learning compares the language learning in a virtual gaming environment to learning with papers and CDs. In the study, the participants in the experimental condition used a mobile device to navigate through different virtual learning zones. They learned listening and speaking by playing treasure hunt games, watching videos, and speaking with an animated speaking agent on their mobile devices. In the control group, the learners used papers and CDs to practice listening and speaking. This research finds that the multimedia and game-based environment can enhance learning outcomes and motivation.

Furthermore, mobile devices can be utilized to deliver formative assessments, which can better support learners as opposed to summative assessments. Mobile technology can also be adapted well to support inquiry-based learning. In a study, Hwang and Chang (2010) explore a formative assessment-based mobile learning approach. The participants, junior high school students in southern Taiwan, visited a temple to learn about the local culture.  They were divided into two groups. The experimental group used the formative assessment based learning approach, where the participants were asked a question and prompted to find the answer. If they did not find the answers, they would be given a hint. They continued their search until they found the answer. The control group, on the other hand, used a conventional mobile learning approach, which presented the information to the learners and quizzed them. While the students using the formative approach were prompted to look for the answers, the participants in this group spent more time reading the answers from the device. The results indicated that the formative assessment-based approach improved learning attitudes and achievement.

In addition in academic research studies, currently in China, many for-profit education institutes and media companies have developed mobile language lessons in order to tap into the market of over 900 million mobile phone users (Chinese government’s official web portal, 2011). For instance, in 2007, the Pearson publishing company and Nokia formed a joint venture, Mobiledu, to deliver English lessons on their mobile phones (Wauters, 2010). At the time, Mobiledu claimed to have 20 million subscribers in China and 1.5 million active users.

In 2008, China Daily, an English language daily newspaper, launched the English-Chinese mobile newspapers, delivering news to subscribers’ mobile phones twice a day. In 2003, BBC World Service worked with Sina, an online media giant, to deliver English lessons (British Broadcasting Company, 2003). The subscribers receive a daily text message, which contains an English phrase and the Chinese translation; the learners can also log onto Sina and read a longer dialogue using the phrase. One result of these business initiatives that quality, multimedia materials become more widely available, creating a ubiquitous language environment for learners.

The above examples show how mobile technology lends itself to the generation of multimedia content; supports interactivity, personalized and situational learning; and is conducive to inquiry-based and formative assessment learning. It can support learning in terms of cultivating a meaningful learning environment and moving away from paper-based materials and a structured exam-focused environment.

However, both the research efforts and business initiatives so far tend to focus on using the technology to deliver content to learners, rather than using mobile technology to foster interactions among learners, or engaging learners in generating content. This means that so far, the technology has focused on receptive skills of the learning, such as reading and listening, rather than the production skills, that is writing and speaking. Though there are also tutoring services that offer speaking lessons with English speakers, what is still missing is authentic learner-interactions.

Thus, in the following we will discuss how social media tools can be incorporated into mobile technology to promote authentic language learning. First, we will explore Jon Dron’s (2011) definition of soft and hard technologies to understand how social media tools can be employed; we will look at how social media tools have been employed to facilitate language learning; and finally, we will take a brief look at the social media landscape and smartphone penetration in China; thus, concluding that the use of mobile learning should include the social aspect.

Social mobile learning

Social media or Web 2.0 tools often include the following: blogs, wikis, podcasts, video-sharing, and microblogs. However, it is important to understand, as Jon Dron (2011) points out in his presentation at MOOC 2011, that the tools alone are not technology. Technology can be defined as “the orchestration of phenomena to our use” (as cited in Dron, 2011). Jon Dron differentiates between soft and hard technologies. Soft technologies are more “needy” and require active manipulation by humans; hard technologies, on the other hand, do not require much human intervention, given that the act of controlling the technology is already built into the technology itself.

With these definitions, we can see that whether the tools are social or not depends on how we use them. For instance, when instructors use blogs or wikis to present course information, the blogs and wikis become hard technologies. Likewise, assigning iTunes lectures for learners to listen to or YouTube videos for students to watch are also hard technologies. On the other hand, having students to blog, to create podcasts, to make videos turns the same tools to soft technologies. Thus, we now turn to how mobile devices and social media tools can be used as soft technologies to engage learners and promote authentic learning.

Social media tools have been used to effectively enhance language learning. In a study, Hsu, Wang, & Comac (2008) have students record themselves with their cell phones, which provides the content for the audio blog. The researchers concluded that audioblogs can be an effective way to evaluate students’ oral performance and allows for tutors to provide individualized oral feedback. The participants also reported that audioblogs enhance their learning experience. In another study (Shih, 2011), Facebook has been used in college-level English writing classes. The findings suggested that Facebook can be used to foster cooperative learning and facilitate peer assessment; which helps to enhance learners’ motivation.

Twitter, the microblogging tool, has also been employed in language learning to promote learner interaction not only with other students but also with Twitter users in the target language culture. Enza Antenos-Conforti (n.d.), a professor of Italian Department of Spanish & Italian, has used Twitter in her Italian classes as a forum for students to practice writing and reading. Antenos-Conforti began with finding a number of Italian Twitterers whose tweets are appropriate for the language levels of her students; she contacted the Twitterers, who subsequently agreed to have her Italian learners follow them.

Throughout the course, the students checked and responded to a certain number of tweets. Antenos-Conforti also made grammar corrections using the reply function on Twitter, thereby, providing timely and formative feedback for students. More importantly, Twitter provided a meaningful context for the language learners to socialize with other Twitter users. Antenos-Conforti finds that Twitter, both a synchronous and an asynchronous tool, allowed learners to produce output with more frequency. Moreover, in her research, some students continued to use Twitter after the course finished.

In fact, Twitter and mobile devices, despite being different tools, can be utilized to orchestrate similar phenomenon. Just as Twitter has been used to promote informal and continuous learning in Antenos-Conforti’s research, mobile devices are conducive to informal learning. Laurillard (2009) and Pachler (2009) (as cited in Ally, 2011) point out that mobile devices can help to take learning out of a structured environment, such as that of a classroom, and placing it in the everyday context.

Another similarity is the frequency of use. As Antenos-Conforti (n.d.) mentions Twitter encourages more frequent output. Margaret Atwood, a well-known Canadian writer and a twitteress with 286,523 followers as of Dec, 2011, has likened tweets to smoke signals, which she believes can help young people enrich their vocabulary as well invite them to express their thoughts in textual form (CBC, 2011). Perhaps, for many, tweeting is a task less daunting than actual writing, emailing, or blogging, which often require more time, patience, and energy. For second language learners, writing often involves some degree of trepidation. Thus, removing these barriers, twittering opens the door to frequent participation and engagement of twitters. Likewise, as cited by Quinn, the small size and portable nature of the mobile devices has shaped how the users interact with them. The difference between laptop and mobile device users is that the mobile users check their devices with greater frequency.

Given the affordances of the mobile devices and social media tools, like Twitter, launching social media platforms on mobile devices holds great potential for the facilitation of language learning. The next session will look at the possibility as well as the current barriers of social mobile learning in China.

China’s smartphone penetration

Currently, China cell phone users have surpassed 900 million, with a 67% cell phone penetration rate. Meanwhile, the smartphone penetration is only 10%, though according to estimates, the Chinese smartphone market has already surpassed the US market in the second quarter of 2011 (Bonnington, 2011). In fact, “Chinese between 21 and 30 years old take up 68.4% of the smartphone market, according to a report from Analysis International, a leading provider of information products in China.” (Liu, Xu, and Wang, 2011).

China’s social media landscape

In terms of social media tools, the Chinese government has banned many foreign-owned social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, given that information on these platforms is harder to control (Shirky, 2009). Besides, given the winner-takes-all characteristic of many of the social platforms, banning  ‘foreign’ social media platforms allows local platforms to flourish. As shown in Table 1, China has its own social media counterparts. The Chinese counterpart of YouTube is Youku; Renren is a Chinese social networking site; Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo are the Twitter equivalents; Sina Tensent and Netease are the counterpart of Google’s Blogspot or WordPress.

Table 1. Social Platforms in China

Social Platforms in the West Social Platforms in China
YouTube Youku
Facebook Renren.com
Twitter Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo
Wikpedia Baiduzhidao
Blogspot, WordPress Sina Tencent, Netease






In terms of the social media penetration, in 2011, China has over 235 million social network users, 181 million bloggers, 284 million online video users (Zhang, 2011), and close to 300 million microbloggers (Incitez, 2011).

Take the example of the Twitter’s Chinese counterpart, Sina Weibo, which currently has over 100 million users, owning close to 70% of the microblog market share (Incitez, 2011): In terms of language learners, Sina has a number of features that may be useful for language learning. While tweets have a character limit of 140, Sina allows 280 character limit (Zhang, 2011). Also, when retweeting or sharing someone else’s tweet with others, Sina allows users to add 140 characters on top of the original tweet (Zhang, 2011). Moreover, Sina allows for more types of media content (Zhang, 2011). Users can directly embed videos or audios along with the textual message, doing away the extra step of having users to click on a link in order to view the media. Furthermore, whereas Twitter relies on hashtags (#) to archive the tweets, Sina users not only can use hashtags but can also create micro-groups, similar to Facebook groups. Members of the group can view other members’ tweets within the group. Taken together, allowing a greater word limit, more types of media, and creation of micro-groups can potentially be useful for language learners.

On the other hand, there are also major disadvantages for Chinese learners hoping to learn English with the social media tools in China. One is that many of these tools are in Chinese as well as its lack of users in the target language culture. Nonetheless, Sina Weibo has recently launched an English version. According to Sina, it currently has 450,000 users in the US. Another disadvantage has to do with the amount of distraction the platform contains. Compared to the ad-free environment of Twitter, the Sina page contains more ads, which are possible sources of distraction. Comparing the content of Twitter and Sina, Twitter users tend to share more global events and news stories, whereas Sina contains more quotes and jokes. Taken together, while microblogging holds potential for language learning, instructors who hope to incorporate this tool at the moment may find it difficult connecting their learners with users in English-speaking countries. As well, it may be difficult to create an English language environment because of the disruptive effects of the advertising.


This paper has illustrated the potential of social mobile technology. First, it has shown how mobile technology can be used to redefine the learning goals, enhance learner motivation, and provide quality materials and a pervasive English learning environment. Second, it shows that incorporating social media tools to mobile technology has instructional potentials for language learning. It can help to provide a meaningful context for interactions and socialization as well as supporting continuous learning.

Meanwhile, the barriers to using social mobile technology in language learning include the relatively low penetration rate of smart phones, on which the social media applications are launched. Though it has been reported that the Chinese market for smartphones has surpassed that in the US, and that China even has the highest number of mobile users who actually own two or more cell phones (Bonnington, 2011), it is important to remember the income inequality between urban and rural area remains high (Dexter, 2011). When adopting social mobile technology academic institutes or teachers will need to look carefully into whether the technology is, indeed, assessable to the students; and whether developing these lessons will further reinforce the digital divide between the haves and have-nots.

Finally, given that many of the social media platforms are banned in China, educators and instruction designers will also need to consider the various limitations of the platforms in China. That said, given that many of the social media tools, Twitter or Sina alike, are soft technologies that are open to changes according to how people use them, they holds immense potential for language learning in China.


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Ideas from the thirteen weeks of MOOC

December 13, 2011 § 11 Comments

One recurring theme of the thirteen weeks of MOOC sessions has been that the current education system is  no longer appropriate for learners in the 21st century. Many of the MOOC presentations in the past 13 weeks point to this problem from various angles – formal learning, informal learning or somewhere in between. The following image illustrates the ideas slowing coming together in my mind.

In terms of formal learning, Tony Bates believes that changes can occur within the existing education institutes; and the introduction of technology-enhanced learning requires educators to get rid of the prejudice against online learning and university professors to let go of, what Bates called, the Socratic myth, which is the idea of teachers and learners having dialogues as interlocutors in Plato’s book, which no longer holds true in the lecture halls of 21st century mega universities. Zoraini Wati Abas, for instance, shows us how mobile learning can be used as a support system, providing timely and incremental learning and motivational support for learners.

Looking at the formal learning from another angle, Martin Weller points to the importance of academic institutes recognizing digital scholarship, moving away from the inefficient and costly publishing model and moving towards online publications that better promotes interdisciplinary endeavours.

From yet another angle, David Wiley and Rory McGreal urge universities to open their content; Wiley further envisions the future of education consisting of learner-generated materials; professors’ notes on a website would become obsolete.

On the informal learning side, there is Clark Quinn’s idea of slow learning, contending that the current education system takes learning out of the context of our everyday life, putting that in an institute, often requiring learning to memorize a great of information. This does not match the way our brain process information, as we are better at learning incremental chunks of knowledge in a meaningful and authentic context.

Dave Cormier stresses the role of lifelong learning in 21st century workplace. Building rhizome-like learning networks can foster an environment more conducive to continuous knowledge acquisition and construction, resulting in modern employees being more competent in adapting to the changing environment of the 21st century workplace, doing away with employee training and costly consultation.

Finally, in the discussion of technology-enhanced learning, it is important to consider the tools. Here Jon Dron reminds us that tools themselves are not technology. Dron’s definitions of hard vs soft technologies relevant to both formal and informal learning, further help us to undertand that soft technologies are perhaps more useful in building learning and support communities and equipping learners with the ability to  navigate information in networks, thereby promoting lifelong learning.

Soft educational technologies in the age of networked intelligence #change11

December 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

Using the definition of technology as “orchestration of phenomena to our use”, Jon Dron in this presentation, distinguishes between soft and hard technologies. Soft technologies are more “needy”and require active orchestration of phenomena by humans; hard technologies, on the other hand, do not require much human intervention, given that the act of manipulating the technology is already built into the technology itself. For instance, orchestrating the technology is already contained in the technology. For instance, a fridge is a hard technology that is easy to use; on the other hand, Facebook is a soft technology that is incomplete if there are no users.

These definitions, I think, are illuminating for teachers or instructional designers when it comes to choosing a technology to support learning. For example, having language learners to use a hard technology, i.e., completing self-contained online lessons, in a classroom are unlikely to promote discussion among students; thus, negating the benefits of being with other students in the classroom. Likewise, using soft technology for distance education, i.e., blogs and discussion forums, often requires the support from the facilitators or other learners, without who learners may feel isolated and unmotivated.On the other hand, hard technologies, like giving podcasts to mobile learners to listen to can be useful; while using a soft technology that have many students vote for a particular issue in a big lecture hall can help to encourage participation.

Come to think of it, a tool, like YouTube, for instance can be both hard and soft. YouTube videos are themselves a hard technology. Teachers provide the YouTube link and students watch it. On the other hand, YouTube can also be soft, if students are encouraged to upload their own videos or do a voice over for a video.

The following technologies are those that I use ranked from hard to soft technologies

  • Self-contained online lessons and quizzes; most iphone games
  • Textbooks and videos (sometimes requires the teacher to contextualize the ideas for the students.
  • YouTube videos (can be very hard or very soft)
  • Moodle: a learning management system used for displaying course information; has a forum that allows for facilitated discussions
  • Wiki:hard if it’s solely used as for displaying information; soft if users are encouraged to edit the pages
  • Twitter: used for sharing links
  • Diigo: used for sharing bookmarks
  • MSN, Skype, or QQ

As Jon Dron pointed out, the selection of hard vs soft technologies depends on what our needs are.

Yet, there may be the needs for educators to incorporate more soft technologies in teaching. According to Don Tapscott, we are entering a new age, (not the information age) but the age of networked intelligence, marked by increased connectedness, collaboration,and people tapping into the intelligence of one another to fuel innovation. And for that, soft technologies may be better in promoting the ability to collaborate and innovate.

“Becoming over memory”? #change11

December 5, 2011 § 9 Comments

Cormier’s “Becoming over memory”

Dave Cormier criticizes a common practice of teaching that focuses too much on repeating and memory, rather than becoming and knowledge. This practice is said to be partly conditioned by the the print culture, where knowledge is packaged in the form of a book for the learners to consume.  Cormier, however, believes that the “real moment of learning” goes beyond simply remembering the facts. He goes on to explain it with the example of parallel parking. (start: 20:15 mins)

Is it a new idea?

However, I’m not sure if the distinction between becoming and memory may just be the distinction between declarative and conceptual knowledge as defined by Gagnes. Presupposing that there is some form of knowledge out there to be learned doesn’t necessarily equate learning with remembering. Learning some principles and applying them to new situations isn’t the same as simply remembering.

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