Dropbox vs Google Drive

November 12, 2012 § 1 Comment

I love Dropbox. But to compete with Google Drive, Dropbox will need to work on promoting collaboration, allowing simultaneous editing, moving away from the idea that one file can only be saved in one folder (like physical objects), and adopting some kind of a tagging system for organization. To compete with Dropbox, however, Google will need to work on simplicity. Though Google analytics is extremely powerful for enhancing user experience, if Google keeps changing its things daily, it drives ordinary users away.

Dropbox vs Google Drive 

Round 1. Collaboration & sharing

One of the major advantages of Google Drive over Dropbox lies in its capability of simultaneous editing. The collaborators of a document can see one another typing on the same document; when working on a PowerPoint presentation, the collaborators can also chat with one another and do research on the side.

Another advantage is that Google Drive does not count the shared files not uploaded or synched by you. I work with a team of teachers. One of the main problems with using Dropbox is when new team members don’t have enough space and, therefore, have no access to the materials in the shared folder. Though Dropbox gives you the option to increase your space by inviting people (500MB/user), one has to go through the pain of inviting friends, families, or even students – which just doesn’t seem right. For more on Google Storage, see here

Yet, Dropbox now has a neat feature, which allows users to share files or folders with other users – even if they don’t have a dropbox account – using a web link.

Round 2.  Realizing its digital potential

In Dropbox, one file can only be saved into one folder, not multiple folders, which is very much like physical objects. One thing in one place. If multiple users are editing the same file, it will be saved as a “conflicted copy” in the folder – plain ugly. Google, on the other hand, allows users to organize files into multiple folders, which used to be called “collections” in the Google Docs era. The same file can be found in different folders, making it more searchable and better realizing the potential of digital files.

Round 3. Design & Simplicity

Dropbox is definitely the winner here. Despite all the analytics and data mining Google conducted, unless you are a faithful Googler, it’s hard to have the patience to look for the button that you clicked yesterday but has now disappeared. Yesterday, I was able to save files in multiple Google collections, today, “Collections” is called “Folders”.  And who would have guessed that, today, if you want to save a file in multiple folder, you can’t just check multiple boxes, but have to hold down the shift or was it control key to do that. No wonder, the angry Steven Jobs (mostly at Android) said that other than Google Search, everything else is shit.

Also, the files you drag to the Google Drive on your desktop can’t be edited on the browser unless you “export the file” by right clicking on the file name and find the option on the browser – another nightmare.

The Google layout, too, is just a lot more complicated, especially with the Google+ Share icon above. Ordinary users just won’t know what they are really sharing. Also, the recently added Grid view is supposed to enhance user experience, but it showcases lots of blurry images that make you dizzy.

Final Words

The tradeoff here could be that Google has to give up usability for functionalities. The simple Dropbox is much easier and more intuitive due to its resemblance to physical objects. To compete with Drobpox, Google will need to use its analytics wisely –  work on your layout before testing it on users. Upgrade your functions without significantly altering the look.

Using Moodle 2.0 discussion forum for language teaching

February 22, 2012 § 1 Comment

The discussion forum continues to be my favorite Moodle tool for supporting my EAP (English for Academic Purposes) course because it’s great for promoting

  • transparency
  • interaction
  • collaborative, student-centered learning
  • fluency in writing
  • reflective writing and critical thinking

Also, its course management features make evaluating students a lot easier.

Suggested activities

1. Post listening and reading questions

  • Embed lectures or insert links to readings for students; have them answer reading or listening questions. (note: check the copyright policies if your Moodle course is hosted in a university.
  • This helps to promote greater transparency when students can see one another’s answers and evaluate their own against others. Note that the discussion forum can be set up so that students can only view others’ answers after they post their own. (see “course management features” below)
2. Have teacher or student-led discussions
  • On Moodle 2.0, it’s easy for students to share video or other files. The students can add a video and post discussion questions for other students. This allows the students to take more control over their learning.
  • Given the asynchronous nature of the forum, students are often more capable of providing more reflective and in-depth comments.
3. Peer reviews
  • Have students to post their assignments on the forum
  • Assign them in pairs or small groups; and have them evaluate each other’s assignments based on a rubric.
4. Ask questions and socialization
  • Have students to post their questions on the forum, so that the teacher doesn’t have to answer the same question many times on email
  • Some students socialize and provide supportive comments to one another online. This facilitates cohesion as well as language use.
  • Some students have a different persona online and it’s quite interesting.
  • Also, as in classroom discussion, if conducted properly, teachers can participate with students on a more equal footing.

Course Management Features

1.  The General Forum VS the Q & A Forum
  • There are different types of forums. If you want to set up the discussion in a way that students can’t see other students’ answers before they post their answers, use the Q&A forum. If it doesn’t matter whether the students see others’ postings before they post, then use the General Forum.
  • Depending on what you want to do, sometimes using the general forum shows that you have more trust in the students; it gives more support for the students as weaker students can see other postings before they post. However, if the stakes are high, i.e., a huge percentage of students’ marks depend on it, it may be better to use the Q&A forum.

2. Assigning Grades

  • You can assign grades (qualitative or quantitative) for individual postings. The grades are recorded directly onto the Gradebook. This makes it easier to evaluate students’ participation at the end.

Final words

Should students be required to participate?

There are different views on this. Some believe that required participation (especially for an online course) takes away learner’s autonomy and may not be appropriate for learners who like to learn independently.

But as far as using the forum to support an EAP class, my view is that the discussion forum should be the front and center of the course, and participation (both in quality and quantity) should be graded. Some learners are not familiar with the technology; and they will not use it unless they are required to. In my experience, many students enjoy using the forum and find that it helps them to improve their writing.

How can I correct students’ grammar on a discussion forum?

You can always copy and paste and use highlights and etc. The forum is relatively dynamic that any conventions can be established.
But actually, I think using the discussion forum can help those language teachers who can’t help correcting students’ grammar in writing focus more on meaning.

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.

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.


Ally, M. (2009). Mobile learning: transforming the delivery of education and training. (Ed.). Retrieved from: http://www.aupress.ca/index.php/books/120155

Antenos-Conforti, E., (n.d.) “Twitter and teachers: A mini workshop.” (Presentation Slides). Retrieved from: http://www.wiziq.com/tutorial/37678-Twitter-for-Teachers-by-Enza-Antenos-Conforti

BBC. (2003). BBC Uses Mobile Phones to Teach the English Language in China. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/ pressreleases/stories/2003/09_ september/02/chinese_mobile.shtml

Bonnington, C. (2011) Global smartphone adoption approaches 30 Percept, Wired. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2011/11/smartphones-feature-phones/

CBC (2011). Margaret Atwood says Twitter, internet boost literacy. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2011/12/05/margaret-atwood-digital-twitter-publishing.html

Chin, J. & Chao, L. (2011). Sina Weibo releases U.S. user numbers. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from: http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2011/11/16/sina-weibo-catching-on-in-the-u-s/

Chinese government’s official web portal (2011). China has 929.84 million mobile phone users. (Data file). Retrieved from: http://www.gov.cn/english/2011-08/29/content_1935558.htm

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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.

The blind review process of the blogosphere #change11

September 28, 2011 § 1 Comment

In “Digital scholarship”, Weller (2011) explores many ways that digital technologies are transforming scholarship, i.e., allowing scholars to network, socialize, collaborate, make their ideas known efficiently and in finer granularity, removing the filters establishing by traditional authority, and ultimately democratizing knowledge.

And yet, one of the questions hanging over the establishing digital scholarship remains the difficulty of establishing the process of peer review.

Yet, participating in #change11 MOOC, I couldn’t help but notice that our blogosphere or twitter space is somewhat analogous to the scientific community, which recognizes knowledge, not authority; and that the tweeting, retweeting, and bookmarking are somewhat analogous to the blind review process in the spirit of communalism in science. For instance, many blog posts, wikis, and tweets by participants in #change11 have undergone a sort of blind review process, where the participants first scan the content of the post and when they find value, they tweet or bookmark the post; the same way that a scholarly article is reviewed with the name of the author of a scholarly article removed. Only when the blog readers find the content valuable, they would go to the “about” page to find out more about the author.

But as Weller may remind us at this point that the analogy between the peer review process in academia that the use of webometric on the web perhaps should stop here. Citing Stephen Heppell (2001) and Fitzpatrick (2009), Weller (2011) points out that the attempt to mold digital scholarship in form of traditional scholarship can limit the possibility of digital scholarship. A further analogy here can be that digital text we have today would not have been possible if the focus had had been to measure the readability of a computer screen against that of a paper.

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