To celebrate the success of various teaching and research projects, the Language Centre hosted a Project Day on Friday 18th September. Several LSE Language Co-ordinators presented their experiences of experimenting with innovative technologies in language learning. The Day provided the opportunity to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of online learning systems, the merits of e-marking, and the ways in which video production can aid language learning.
The Day started with Dr Peter Skrandies (Language Co-ordinator: German) offering his views on how the online annotation of texts can assist traditional teaching methods. The benefits of this online learning system were clear to many Project Day attendees. The online annotation of texts by language teachers can compensate for limited contact hours. It also complements the learning objectives of in class activities. The development and use of the Moodle-integrated annotation tool was made possible through an LTI innovation grant and that the software tool was developed by Steve Bond from LTI.
On the other hand, one attendee suggested that this teaching method may only be appropriate for higher ability students. Dr Skrandies’ presentation reminds us that the use of online learning systems is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution.
In the context of UK Higher Education, language teachers often find it difficult to develop students’ grammar skills. Limited class teaching time and the pressure to develop communicative skills are just two of the challenges which language teachers face. In order to overcome these obstacles, Dr Lijing Shi (Assistant Language Co-ordinator: Mandarin) introduced Chinese Online Self-assessment (COS). COS is defined as a dynamic assessment that aims to assess potential for learning. It does not provide a static indication of achievement. COS carries a particular advantage. It enables teachers to quickly pinpoint gaps in students’ learning:
‘From my experience with level 5, COS is the quickest way for me to identify the problems students have in grammar or common mistakes made. I can then focus on specific areas of teaching to sort out these problems.’ Hongyi Xin, Co-ordinating Language Teacher (Mandarin)
As was the case with Dr Skrandies’ project, COS has certain drawbacks. The potential for technical hitches is problematic. Instead of focusing on language learning, Mandarin teachers may attend to the technical maintenance of COS, or liaise with IT services, when they could otherwise be planning seminar activities.
Towards the end of the Project Day, Dr Catherine Xiang (Language Co-ordinator: Mandarin) presented her project, titled ‘From Current Affairs in Mandarin to Students as Producers’. Dr Xiang emphasised the specific benefits of video production. Past students of Mandarin have produced short videos which allow them to focus on a topic related to the social sciences. However, these shorts film, interviews and documentaries are all conducted in Mandarin. The production of a TV style interview or short film provided students with the opportunity to gain confidence. By listening to their interview responses, students determined how much progress they have made. They could highlight areas for improvement, including pronunciation and grammar. However, Project Day attendees noted that this non-traditional form of learning was time consuming.
The final project was presented by Dr Xiang and Lourdes Hernandez-Martin Language Co-ordinator (Arabic) and Co-ordinator for Spanish Projects. They discussed their experimentation with e-marking. Approximately 60 participants (students and teachers) contributed to a pilot scheme. Programmes such as ‘iAnnotate’ and ‘Snagit’ were used. The benefits of using e-marking software were manifold. Students noted that having video and audio evaluation added clarity.
Assessed pieces of work could even be used for revision purposes:
“Video – it’s much better to hear something directly rather than having to try and work things out from comments or notes written down. Also allows things to be explained much more easily – you can learn from home, rather than having to come in for office hours.”
“The video feedback is very helpful especially for language courses because often ‘word’ feedback is not enough to understand grammatical mistakes. Besides, you can replay it for revision”.
On the other hand, e-marking carries certain complications. The ability to readily edit and review comments may incentivise teachers to add unnecessary advice which, ironically enough, may confuse students.
As the four projects discussed above demonstrate, use of language learning technology is not always a move in the right direction. Nevertheless, teaching staff at the LSE Language Centre continue to experiment with technology which can provide a diversified learning experience. Tailored according to individual teacher needs, technological innovations can significantly improve the teaching of Modern Foreign Languages in higher education.
LTI have just closed the first Grants call of the year however a second call will be announced in the near future.