Intelligent assistants in language learning: an analysis of features and limitations

Kukulska-Hulme, A. & Lee, H. “Intelligent assistants in language learning: an analysis of features and limitations.” In CALL for widening participation: short papers from EUROCALL 2020, edited by Karen-Margrete Frederiksen, Sanne Larsen, Linda Bradley and Sylvie Thouësny, 172-176 .2020

This short article presents the findings of a multidisciplinary literature review of research studies conducted over the past 10 years examining the development and potential applications of Intelligent Assistants, including chatbots, avatars and conversational agents such as Siri and Alexa, in the field of education.

The article focusses on the features and limitations of Intelligent Assistants to support language learning. Based on their analysis of over 170 studies the authors find that Intelligent Assistants have the potential to support language learners, at all learning levels. Using an Intelligent Assistant provides learners with opportunities for extensive simple conversation and pronunciation practice, anytime and place, and, since the conversation is taking place privately, can help reduce the anxiety that many learners experience when attempting to speak in a new language.

The authors note that research is needed to learn more about how Intelligent Assistants can be effectively deployed in the language classroom and what the role of the instructor could be in supporting learners to make best use of these tools.

To see a chatbot in action visit: http://www.costi.org/  and click on the icon at the bottom right.  The Orientation to Ontario chatbot provides basic information about living and working in Ontario. The chatbot allows users to chat in text, and to input questions verbally.

Retrievable from: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED611082.pdf

Technology and Second Language Listening

Gruba, P. & Suvorov, R. (2020). Technology and Second Language Listening. Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd.

This article examines how technology affects second language listening – how it is practised, taught, assessed and researched. The authors note a stronger emphasis on social interaction, augmented and virtual reality, and the use of global resources. The authors explore how instructors use features like play, pause, replay and distribute that are readily available on YouTube or Vimeo, sources of authentic classroom materials; they briefly discuss instructors’ use of technology to publish their own listening resources considering a range of factors that will help learners develop their skills in different situations. They identify how using technology in assessment situations demands consideration of factors that will impact test results, e.g., quality of recordings, scripted or unscripted texts, rate of speech, choice of topics, compliance with standards and security. As far as using technology for research goes, after discussing some of the research that is being done with and about using technology, e.g., the extent that listener performance is affected by presence or absence of captions, subtitles, transcripts, they present the activities researchers go through in the phases of a research project.

Retrievable from:

https://minerva-access.unimelb.edu.au/bitstream/handle/11343/240689/Gruba-Suvorov2020_ReferenceWorkEntry_TechnologyAndSecondLanguageLis.pdf

Evaluation of Language Training Services

Research and Evaluation Branch. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. December 2020.

This article cited below from the Toronto Star about learners’ and instructors’ perceptions of Portfolio based language assessment (PBLA) used in LINC classes led us to the latest evaluation of the Federal government’s Evaluation of Language Training Services (December 2020) . The evaluation report provides a number of recommendations and responses from IRCC. PBLA is examined in detail in Theme 2, Program Improvements for Fostering Success.

Retrievable from:

https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2021/08/05/its-a-system-meant-to-help-newcomers-to-canada-learn-english-but-critics-say-it-prioritizes-testing-at-students-expense.html

Retrievable from:

https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/ircc/documents/pdf/english/corporate/reports-statistics/evaluations/E4-2018_LanguageTrain_Eng.pdf

Taking Teaching beyond the Classroom

Davila, S., Taking Teaching beyond the Classroom, “Language Teaching” (blog), 21 May, 2021.

This short article provides a very useful description of immersive Virtual Reality (VR)) in the language classroom. Virtual reality (VR) is a new technological frontier for many language instructors, however it is one that holds promise for enhancing and extending language learning. There are early indications, in recent research, that VR can be an engaging and helpful tool for language learners, particularly in building confidence and in supporting retention and motivation.

The article offers an accessible overview of VR devices and possible applications in the language classroom, as well as introductory guidance on how to plan for the use of VR; choosing appropriate applications for the language classroom; managing the VR classroom, and the following set of questions for language instructors to consider as they begin to explore VR.

  • What does this application do that I cannot currently do with my online classroom?
  • How does this application improve or enhance the teaching and learning experience?
  • What changes and adjustments will I need to make to my lesson to ensure it is a productive learning experience?
  • How will the application provide new and exciting extensions of my current learning experiences?

Following this review of VR, the author concludes,

Using VR provides numerous opportunities for language educators to support all the needs of language learners. From initial introduction to concepts to creative fluent production with peers, the VR classroom is perfect for language learning.”

Retrievable from:

https://www.languagemagazine.com/2021/07/07/taking-teaching-beyond-the-classroom/

From Silos to Solutions: Toward Sustainable and Equitable Hybrid Service Delivery in the Immigrant & Refugee-Serving Sector in Canada

Liu,J., Cansu, E. D., Campana, M. Coordinated by AMSSA. Funded by IRCC. April 2021.

This report looks at the Settlement sector’s needs in the area of digital services, as a whole. COVID-19 resulted in the sector having to move to fully digital and remote service. The themes included in the report were identified through consultation within the sector and beyond from October 2020 though March 2021. The report makes a number of ambitious recommendations to IRCC using a “Now, Next, Later” framework. One of the examples of these is particularly relevant for language training as follows:

Next:
● There is also a need for consistent and ongoing training for staff, not only focused on how best they can use technology, but also how to train clients to use it in a service context.
● The sector and IRCC should develop guidelines on how to develop and implement digital literacy tools to assess clients’ digital skills. This guidance should include the provision of training materials, tools, and recommendations for agencies to support clients’ digital literacy skills.
Later:
● The sector and IRCC should develop a digital literacy competence framework conducive to the needs of the immigrant settlement sector.
● Consider a Digital Literacy Benchmark (DLB) as a complement to Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) to allow for Service Providing Organizations (SPOs) to quickly and accurately assess the digital literacy levels of newcomers to guide and support them accordingly.

Retrievable from:

https://km4s.ca/wp-content/uploads/EN-Settlement-Sector-Technology-Task-Group-final-report-and-recommendations-2021.pdf

In the section of the report on Change Management Tools & Practice, there are four tools listed that organizations can use to identify strengths and services, including The European Framework for Educators’ Digital Competence (DigCompEdu).

Retrievable from:

Digital Competence Framework for Educators (DigCompEdu) | EU Science Hub (europa.eu)

Technology-Mediated Language Training: Developing and Assessing a Module for a Blended Curriculum for Newcomers

McLellan, G., Kartchava, E., & Rodgers, M. (2021). Technology-Mediated Language Training: Developing and Assessing a Module for a Blended Curriculum for Newcomers. Canadian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 24(2), 177–202.

This paper reports on a study done in partnership with a Canadian program that includes networking, employment and second language training. It investigates the development of a blended second language curriculum for high beginner learners employed in customer service, using a task-based framework. The study looked specifically at learners who cannot consistently attend face-to-face classes and therefore provided support on mobile devices for convenient access when needed. Newcomers in the program meet with a volunteer teacher weekly with a focus on workplace language, but there was a need for more occupation-specific language training needed in addition to these meetings with the understanding that it would build on the face-to-face meetings.

The paper includes a literature review of Computer-Assisted Language Learning, Mobile-Assisted Language Learning, Technology-Mediated Task-Based Language Teaching and Needs Analysis and Technology-Mediated TBLT. This is followed by a description of a module focused on greetings and requests used in customer service, with examples of questions, video examples and comments from learners and teachers.

Retrievable from:

https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/CJAL/article/view/31533

Augmented and Virtual Reality in the Language Classroom: Practical Ideas

Bonner, E., Reinders, M. Augmented and Virtual Reality in the Language Classroom: Practical Ideas. Teaching English with Technology. (2018), 18,3 :33-53

This article provides a useful and accessible overview of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) and the potential for these technologies to support and enhance language teaching and learning.  Many of us, perhaps without knowing it, are already using augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR), in applications such as Google Translate, filters in Snapchat and Instagram, and in virtual tours of museums and art galleries such as The British Museum and The Louvre.

The article serves as an introduction to technology that isn’t in widespread use in language learning. It includes some interesting examples from foreign language courses that have tried out some AR/VR techniques and tools. For example, the descriptions of the affordances of the tools used in one of the activities to help improve presentation skills gives insight into what is possible. In each of the examples the authors provide step by step guides on how to set up and use these learning activities with students. The article also provides guidance around specific privacy and security issues that may arise with AR/VR as well as financial ones.

Although language educators are in the early stages of the use of these technologies for language learning, and challenges particularly related to general availability in the realm of language teaching remain, they have significant and exciting potential to enhance student engagement, extend learning, and to bridge the gap between formal and informal language learning.

Retrievable from: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1186392.pdf

Goodbye to classroom teaching? ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IN LANGUAGE LEARNING

Lotze, N. Goodbye to classroom teaching? Artificial Intelligence in Language Learning. (2018). Magazin Sprache. May.

This article offers a critical response to claims that are made about how Artificial Intelligence (AI) can profoundly alter the ways in which languages can be taught and learned, i.e.,  without the necessity for classroom teaching and learning.

The author makes a succinct and quite compelling argument that such technological innovation actually provides quite a limited range of potential for language learning. For example digital exercises, although they may appear innovative, are actually replications of what can be found in traditional exercise books, the usefulness of learning language apps with a chatbot, (Duolingo for example) is limited, in that such systems depend on simple, defined interactions and predictable dialogues.

The author concludes that learning language systems based on AI are useful when it may be difficult or impossible for students to attend language classes, and are best suited for beginning language learners to supplement classroom learning with a human teacher.

Retrievable from: https://www.goethe.de/en/spr/eng/gls/21290629.html

Teaching in Covid-19 Times: Challenges, innovations, solutions, and opportunities

Cummings,J., Sturm,M., Lawrence,G., Avram, A. & McBride, R. (2021).
Teaching in Covid-19 Times: Challenges, innovations, solutions, and opportunities. TESL Contact, 47,1(2021):21-35

This article from TESL Ontario’s Contact Magazine discusses the issues language teachers have faced globally and in Canada because of school closures and lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than presenting only challenges, the authors report on innovations, solutions and opportunities that have arisen during this time. A case study of a LINC (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada) educator showcases their principled approach to enhance student engagement in an online environment. The article ends with recommendations to leverage the benefits of teaching and learning online, including effective technology-mediated teacher education.

Retrievable from:

http://contact.teslontario.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Cummings-et-al.-2021.pdf

Countering Digital Disinformation

Light, J., Auer, M. WebSafe: Tools for Newcomers to Counter Digital Disinformation. TESL Contact, 47,1(2021):13-20

The March 2021 issue of TESL Ontario Contact Magazine reports on a number of topics of interest to the bibliography. One of them, WebSafe: Tools for Newcomers to Counter Digital Disinformation, describes a set of practical learning resources, one 50 projects funded to counter online disinformation by the Government of Canada since January 2020. The other projects are listed here.

Another of the 50 projects, from United Cultures of Canada Association, is an educational booklet that looks at three kinds of information with examples from COVID-19: Disinformation, Misinformation and True Information.

The topic of digital disinformation is being explored worldwide, including this conceptual paper  that focuses on the context of asylum seekers. It contains a literature review on the information practices of asylum seekers and provides insight into the kinds of misinformation and inadequate information they encounter. The authors propose a Social Information Perception Model to show what people may identify as accurate information, misinformation or disinformation.

Retrievable from:

http://contact.teslontario.org/

The What, Why, Who and How of Blended Learning for Adult Basic Skills Learners

Rosen, D., Vanek, J. The What, Why, Who and How of Blended Learning for Adult Basic Skills Learners. New York, New Readers Press, 2020.

This publication offers a practical and Clear Language guide to the implementation of a Blended Learning model in adult education programs. The guide is addressed to educators, program coordinators and curriculum developers. The guide was developed in the United States where adult basic education programs include language programs for immigrants, e.g., ESL, ESOL and ELL.  There are specific examples for blended language learning throughout the guide.

This useful guide is divided into 9 sections: 

Introduction – a general description of the contents. 

What is blended learning? –  a definition and explanation of blended learning in the context of adult learning. 

Why use a blended learning approach? – a comprehensive discussion and explanation of the features and benefits of blended learning. 

Getting Started – a clear explanation of the issues to be considered when planning the implementation of a blended learning approach. 

What does blended learning look like – a set of case studies from a range of programs in the U.S., describing the experiences of instructors and learning in working with blended learning. 

What online resources work with blended learning? –  strategies to locate and use online resources in a blended learning environment. 

What are some common challenges in implementing blended learning? – a discussion, based on interactions with instructors and observation of blended learning in adult learning settings, of the challenges faced by instructors, coordinators and learners in implementing blended learning. 

Conclusion – a short summary of the contents of the guide. 

Appendices – lists of online resources for further reading and exploration. 

Retrievable from: https://www.newreaderspress.com/filebin/pdf/ProLiteracy_BlendedLearningGuide_2020-11.pdf

A New Pedagogy Is Emerging… and Online Learning Is a Key Contributing Factor

A New Pedagogy is Emerging… and online learning is a key contributing factor. Teach Online.ca (blog),Contact North, August 4, 2020.

After the COVID-19 pandemic led to enormous numbers of students being involved in remote learning beginning in 2020, this post from Contact North asks a number of questions: What does engaged learning look like in this new environment? How can online learning produce outstanding learning experiences? It discusses what adult educators in many types of settings have found during the pandemic: that it is not practical or efficient to try to teach online the way they had in person. The authors present some of the solutions educators have identified. Although the post describes changes for post-secondary students, adult language-learning students and teachers will find the descriptions and definitions of seven key developments, three emerging teaching trends and examples of innovations relevant as well. There is a link to Contact North’s Pockets of Innovations Series that looks at what educators are doing in Ontario, across Canada and internationally. The questions at the end of the post will help readers reflect on changes they have already made to their teaching, the questions learners may be asking, and the technologies that are available to them.

Retrievable from: https://teachonline.ca/tools-trends/how-teach-online-student-success/new-pedagogy-emerging-and-online-learning-key-contributing-factor

Engagement, Technology, and Language Tasks: Optimizing Student Learning

Egbert, J.(2020). Engagement, Technology, and Language Tasks: Optimizing Student Learning. International Journal of TESOL Studies, 2 (4) 110-118.  

This paper presents six engagement facilitators that promote increased learner achievement and demonstrates how technology can be used to help with implementing the facilitators. Two examples of these facilitators are authenticity, i.e., that the task is relevant to learners’ lives; and the level of difficulty or challenge in a task, i.e., the perception that a task is doable but requires some effort. The author elaborates on each one of these. A model of language task engagement is accompanied by the suggestion that instructors start with one or more of the facilitators in their planning. The author also provides suggestions for creating tasks and using the facilitators in classroom settings.

Retrievable from: https://www.tesolunion.org/journal/details/info/8NzcudYWRh/Engagement,-Technology,-and-Language-Tasks:-Optimizing-Student-Learning

Broadening Perspectives on CALL Teacher Education: From Technocentrism to Integration

Asiri, A., Rajeh, H. S., Panday-Shukla, P., & Yu, Y. (2021). Broadening perspectives on CALL teacher education: From technocentrism to integration. Teaching English as a Second Language Electronic Journal (TESL-EJ), 24(4). 

This paper looks at four approaches that provide teachers with strategies that prepare them to emphasize language and content, to work on the 21st century skills their learners need and to use technologies in diverse contexts and with diverse learners. The paper is clear that training on software or specific technologies is not always what teachers need or can use in their classrooms.

The authors present four strategies:

  1. Content curation
  2. Educational escape rooms
  3. Flipped instruction
  4. Informal blended learning

Each strategy is described in detail, followed by a class scenario; a list of benefits to learners and language learning; a list of benefits to language teachers and teaching; and a summary.

Retrievable from: https://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume24/ej96/ej96a8/

A person-centred approach to L2 learners’ informal mobile language learning

Peng, H., Sake,J., Lowie, W. (2021). A person-centred approach to L2 learners informal mobile language learning. Computer Assisted Language Learning. [Published Online January 2021]

The study investigated the informal mobile language learning activities of the students, using a person-centred approach which the authors define as an  approach which “…views each individual as a functioning whole, with interwoven components jointly contributing to the process of individual development”: (p.5) The components include individual learning behaviours, motivation, emotion and learning context. This approach, rather than viewing the components as separate variables, seeks to view them as interrelated and as pointing to a learning pattern.

Cluster analysis of the data from a questionnaire resulted in the identification of 6 types of learners each with what the researchers describe as “a distinct package of motivational, emotional and linguistic interaction. The “learner types” ranged from those who spent little or no time on language learning outside the classroom to those who made extensive use of mobile technologies for informal language learning.   

Although this article reports on the methodology and results of a study conducted with 240 English language students in a Chinese university, the methodology used and the findings, will be of interest to researchers and language instructors in a variety of language learning contexts.  The article provides an accessible explanation of the person-centred approach and its potential to help to develop a clearer and finer-grained understanding of the complexities and possibilities of mobile language learning.

In addition, the use of a person-centred approach has the potential to support instructors in the design of tailored instruction and scaffolding at all learning levels  to better enable students to make productive use of self-directed, informal mobile language learning.

Retrievable from:

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/09588221.2020.1868532

Developing a Badge System for a Community ESL Class Based on the Canadian Language Benchmarks

McCollum, R.M., Tornar Reed, E. (2020). Developing a Badge System for a Community ESL class based on the Canadian Language Benchmarks. Canadian Journal of Applied Linguistics, Special Issue: 23, 2(2020):228-236.

This interesting article describes how instructors in a community-based ESL program in Utah developed a badge and checklist system, using the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) to enable students and instructors to measure and track language proficiency development for individual students.  The system was implemented to address some of the challenges of providing ESL instruction in a multi-level classroom, particularly in relation to motivation and regular attendance.

The authors provide an overview of a badge system, in which badges can be digital or physical, and its potential to support learner motivation and self-assessment, as well as providing a practical assessment tool for instructors. They also provide a clear description of the methodology used to implement the badge and checklist system and an account of learner and instructor feedback following implementation. Finally, they offer recommendations for the implementation of a badge and checklist system, based on their own experiences and suggestions for further research in the area.

Retrievable from:

https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/CJAL/article/view/30438

Building the porous classroom: An expanded model for blended language learning

Godwin-Jones, R. (2020). Building the porous classroom: An expanded model for blended language learning. Language Learning & Technology, 24(3), 1–18.

This thought-provoking article by the noted scholar Robert Godwin-Jones explores and discusses the concept of the “porous classroom” as a model of blended language learning. The author argues that such a model, open to the local community and combining digital technologies, teacher presence and a focus on intercultural understanding and social justice, has the potential to provide students with truly inclusive and transformative learning experiences. The article includes a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the use of LMS ( Learning Management Systems) and commercial publisher sites in the language classroom, and the potential for the use of existing or instructor developed OER ( Open Educational Resources) to support authentic language learning grounded in the actual learning needs and interests of students. Finally, the author argues for the critical importance of the instructor in supporting and guiding students to develop their capacity as autonomous learners, and in encouraging connection to the world outside of the classroom as part of their learning experience.

Retrievable from: https://scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu/bitstream/10125/44731/24_03_10125-44731.pdf

Teaching languages online: Professional vision in the making

Meskill, C., Anthony, N. & Sadykova, G. (2020). Teaching languages online: Professional vision in the making. Language Learning & Technology, 24(3), 160–175.

This study is based on 174 surveys from practicing language educators and interviews with nine respondents, to find out more about how they see their work, noting that as educators have moved from traditional classrooms, their roles and practices have adapted to the new environments often within cultures increasingly shaped by social media. The authors emphasize the importance of teacher accounts like these in order to see connections between theory, knowledge and practice.

Following short summaries of the nine interviewees’ experience and attitudes towards online teaching, the authors report on both survey respondents’ and interviewees’ foundational stances and qualities and give examples of those from the interviews as well as from the surveys. The study then looks at attitudes to online teaching and what it demands and provides; it also describes the amount of flexibility required to achieve what is needed for effective language teaching and learning.

Retrievable from:

https://www.lltjournal.org/item/3168

Technology-mediated task-based language teaching: A qualitative research synthesis

Chong S.W., & Reinders H. (2020). Technology-mediated task-based language teaching: A qualitative research synthesis. Language Learning & Technology, 24(3), 70–86.

This report synthesizes data from 16 (14 of the 16 focus on ESL or EFL studies) research studies that examined technology-mediated task-based language teaching, in second and foreign language classrooms between 2002 and 2017. Results of a literature search using identified keywords on digital libraries, major refereed journals and the World Wide Web; and a reference list that identifies the 16 research studies are provided in addition to the descriptions of the findings of each research study. The findings are presented as five affordances noted across the studies, e.g., Facilitating Collaborations, Interactions, and Communications.

Retrievable from:

https://www.lltjournal.org/item/3162

Planned online language education versus crisis-prompted online language teaching: Lessons for the future

Gacs, A., Goertler, S., Spasova, S. (2020). Planned online language education versus crisis-prompted online language teaching: Lessons for the future. Foreign Language Annals, 53(2), 380-92.

This timely article is intended to provide language teachers with “a roadmap for planning, implementing, and evaluating online education in ideal and in crisis contexts”(p.381).

The authors provide a thorough review of the processes of planning, preparation, design, implementation and evaluation of online language education under normal circumstances, and of the adjustments that must be made when teachers are asked to rapidly adapt to a crisis situation such as remote teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic.

For example, the authors identify and describe the key components of a plan for emergency remote teaching. Firstly, a review of the existing curriculum to identify course components that cannot be delivered remotely and which will have to be, at least temporarily, removed. Secondly, an assessment to identify the actual needs of instructors and students in relation to technology, including hardware, connectivity and access. Finally, a plan for effective communication, to enable and support students to become engaged in remote learning.

Retrievable from:

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/flan.12460