#IATEFL2015 | Plenary Talk | Day 2 | Joy Egbert

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Joy Egbert; Professor of ESL and Education Technology; Washington State University (Pullman, Washington)

The second IATEFL day plenary talk was delivered by Joy Egbert who is a professor of ESL and Education Technology from Washington State University in Pullman in the USA’s Pacific Northwest.


Engagement Principles and Practice in Classroom Learning, Language and Technology

Main Point: 

While it’s unclear whether atheoretical uses of technology actually provide barriers to learning, it is clear from the research that principled uses can lead to student achievement. But what principles? This plenary proposed that principles of task engagement can serve the educators and learners in technology-enhanced environments.


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  • Task engagement principles include the following:
    • Authenticity
    • Connection
    • Interaction
    • Feedback
    • Challenge/Skills Balance
  • Why are we worried? Joy spend 6 years at high school and university learning Spanish but didn’t learn anything until she went to Mexico! She also spent some years learning Russian using PLATO, which was an automatic computer programme for teaching instructions, but she can’t speak a word! The system doesn’t give the learner any feedback and you have to sit in front of the computer and find the correct answer! She also spent some time before the conference to learn British as a Foreign Language with ‘Doctor Who’ but because there was no social interaction and no feedback or support was provided, she finally lost her interest! So what can/should educators do to avoid such things? What can teachers really do to facilitate learning?
  • What are the teaching goals?
    • To Provide a learning Environment that will maximise the potential for student success.
    • To teach effectively and efficiently.
  • But how is the language learnt?Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 16.24.25
  • And the only factor which is under the teacher’s control is the ‘opportunity’. It is the teacher’s responsibility to provide the best opportunity for the learners to maximise learning. Student participation can grown if the opportunity the teacher creates is engaging.
  • Learners usually lose their interest and become dis-engaged when the activities don’t make any sense to them.
  • Engagement happens in opportunities with the following features:
    • authentic materials and tasks (authenticity)
    • some sort of connection with the learners’ lives (connection)
    • deep individual focus or modern social interaction (interaction)
    • proper feedback based on the learner’s individual learning style (feedback)
    • the right balance of difficulty and skills to keep learners focused and interested in the lesson (Challenge/Skills Balance)
  • What is the role of technology in these principles? Technology use can help teachers achieve these principles by:
    • Facilitating needs and other authentic assessments.
    • Providing resources at the right level.
    • Supporting accessibility.
    • Presenting opportunities to interact.
    • Offering connections to authentic audiences and materials.
  • So what are the issues with technology use? The issue might be:
    • No use of technology
    • No change in pedagogy to use the affordances of technology for student gain
    • Unprincipled uses of technology
  • Brief overview of engagement principles:
    • Principle 1- Authenticity:
      • Different materials can be found and developed for different learners.
      • An article from the internet suits one learner best while a song is the most interesting task for a different learner with a different personality type.
    • Principle 2- Connection:
      • Three kinds of connection can be made between the activity and the learner’s life:
        • Academic: “Yesterday we …, today we will … .”
        • Instructional: “You have said you like to learn by …, so we are going to try that today.”
        • Personal: “This makes a difference in your life. / This connects to your life outside of class in this way … .”
      • Social media can be helpful to make such connections.
    • Principle 3- Social Interaction:
      • How can we create a deep personal focus on the tasks in groupwork activities?
        • Encourage collaboration and cooperation.
        • Give roles to all learners e.g. typist, artist, content director, reader, searchers, etc.
        • Let learners answer their own and others’ questions.
        • Give learners a reason to listen!
      • These through-tech applications can be helpful to achieve this principle: Chat, Twitter, Facebook, E-mail, Wiki, Instagram, Voxopop, etc.
    • Principle 4- Feedback and Support:
      • Feedback and support can be given in various ways, through:
        • Extra resources: practice sites, relevant videos
        • Answers: class web pages, group wikis
        • Models: shared Google Docs, Dropbox, Google Drive
        • Previous examples
        • Clear rubrics
        • Extended feedback: MS Word comments, Voxopop
        • Just-in-time feedback: Twitter, Poll Everywhere, Texting
        • Native speaker/Experts: Voxopop, E-mail, Facebook
    • Principle 5- Challenge/Skills Balance
      • Learners should be in the ‘flow channel’.
      • ‘Flow channel’ is where the learners don’t feel anxious because the task is too demanding and don’t feel bored because the task is easy!
  • Guidelines and important notes on technology use:
    • No technology is inherently effective (or not); it’s good use that makes it effective. You need to understand what that specific technology can bring to your specific learning context!
    • Multiple technologies can help meet principles and objectives.
    • It’s hard to follow all tech tools available on the internet and basic tools can be very effective. For instance, e-mails can be very helpful in many ways:Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 16.50.07
    • Technology use has to be evaluated:Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 16.50.39
    • If technology helps you create engaging tasks, then use it; if not, don’t!

Need more? Contact Joy: jegbert@wsu.edu


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