My IATEFL 2015 (Manchester) Slides

I've received a few requests to share my slides from this year's fabulous IATEFL conference in Manchester so I've converted them to video and embedded them below. I usually keep text to an absolute minimum so those who missed my presentation may feel a bit lost in places (the dog's appearance isn't as random as it might seem). I still intend to do a write-up to expand on some of the ideas that I didn't have time to explore in the depth I think they deserved, especially the theoretical underpinnings behind my work with augmented reality and location-based experiential learning in general. This will probably be in June as I plan to take a month off to do some freelance writing and play around with some new techy ideas!

For now I've pasted in the abstract and a short(ish) summary of some of the things I covered. 

While the idea of augmented reality has received considerable hype, its practical, pedagogical application in the context of ELT has remained largely unexplored. During this talk, I will discuss and demonstrate how AR can be meaningfully integrated into the learning process through content delivery, task design and student-centred project-based learning approaches.

Augmented reality (AR) is the real-time superimposition of digital media over real-world physical environments. While AR has received considerable attention in recent years and a surge of interest from the ELT community, this enthusiasm has not often been matched with practical examples of its purposeful application for the ELT classroom. Tentative commercial efforts, which largely depend on high-end interactive 3D graphics and animations beyond the capability of the average teacher, have predominantly focused on content delivery for the STEM subjects.

If AR is to find a place in ELT we need to better explore the unique affordances of the technology from a perspective that acknowledges the dynamic interaction between the learner, action and the physical environment. In this talk, I will discuss the foundational role of embodiment in understanding how experience and context are constructed through the interplay of the digital and physical worlds and how this can empower teachers and learners to create engaging and personally meaningful augmented spaces and materials.

To illustrate my ideas, I will provide practical examples from AR projects that I have developed with language learners from different levels and backgrounds and share what was learned from these hands-on experiences. I will conclude by discussing the future potential of AR and provide ideas for how it can be used to create responsive mixed-reality surroundings to promote active learning and increase engagement. 

ELTons Awards 2015 Nomination!

Really delighted that my ARM (Augmented Reality Media) Cubes entry has been shortlisted for an ELTons Award this year. As with Spywalk (2013) and Urban Chronicles (2014) it's in the Digital Innovation category.

Fingers crossed again!

Here's my logo, a brief description of the product and a snap of my students using the cubes in a class.


ARM (Augmented Reality Media) Cubes are a new way for learners to interact with language and digital media in a tangible and fundamentally social and collaborative way. They are hybrid digital/physical objects that enable learners to organise, manipulate and even edit audio and video simply by reconfiguring the cubes in 3D space. When viewed through the camera of a smartphone or tablet, the six sides of each magnetic cube spring to life, displaying video directly on the cube’s surface. Learners work together to explore, create and (physically) build narratives, resulting in hybrid media sculptures.

Mobile Digital Video Production

Just a quick post to mention my new blog dedicated to digital video. It's called DigitalV and can be found right here

It's a growing collection of free video-based ELT lessons I'm working on with the talented Ben Goldstein, my co-author on Language Learning with Digital Video. Each post alternates between online video exploitation and creative video production activities. I hope you enjoy it and put it to good use!

Urban Chronicles Nominated for an ELTon Award!

I'm very happy to learn that Urban Chronicles, my location-based transmedia digital storytelling project, has been nominated for an English Language Teaching Innovation Award. 

The project began in a small city in northern Portugal. Learners took on the role of cultural narrators, documenting their experiences through photographs, video, text and speech to add their own stories of discovery and exploration to the town’s cultural heritage. There is a strong thread of "tactical urban intervention" running through the project, which encourages learners to take an active role in improving their neighbourhood by giving voice to the rich oral histories and spoken memories of the ordinary people that form the fabric of their local community. 

Win or lose, it's great just to be nominated. Last year one of my other projects, Spywalk was selected. It didn't win but fingers crossed for Urban Chronicles!

Creating hybrid digital/physical environments by embedding media into the physical spaces of the school.

This year I decided to attach digital media to many of the physical spaces in the school. The ones in this room are all student generated videos produced in the classroom. When you point your phone or tablet at the walls the posters trigger the videos to play as an overlay hovering over the image. The first clip is Pablo talking about Jack Kerouac's On the Road. The second clip you can see is Juan talking about Catch 22. Video tutorials can also be embedded in the physical space so that learners can check their understanding of specific language at any time simply by pointing their phones at the wall. Fast finishers can discover hidden extras that extend their learning.

The classroom doors in the school also contain embedded media. Early arrivers can point their phones at the them and, for example, watch a short video clip that will pique their curiosity about the theme of the lesson they are about to have. I'm still experimenting to find out what can be done with AR and I have a growing list of things to try out. 

Slides from the Kheiron professional development session I gave at Kings Oxford last week.

This year I've been using augmented reality to create differentiated video listenings for my fairly diverse intermediate group. Learners can take control of the material and listen multiple times. Using the headphones connected to their mobile devices they can simultaneously work on different (though thematically linked) material. The headphones also enable them to listen in a more focused way.

This year I've been using augmented reality to create differentiated video listenings for my fairly diverse intermediate group. Learners can take control of the material and listen multiple times. Using the headphones connected to their mobile devices they can simultaneously work on different (though thematically linked) material. The headphones also enable them to listen in a more focused way.

I had a lot of fun giving this session and there were some great questions at the end. Subjects covered included the use of augmented reality, green screens and digital video production, GPS-based pervasive games, the SAMR framework, project-based learning and tactical urbanism. One of the core themes was taking a combinatorial approach to exploring the affordances of mobile technologies. When considering which apps to use for a project the sum can be more than the parts, and collections of apps that work together might be considered as 'constellations of affordance'.

A workshop with a practical "how-to" focus will follow on March 27.

Project-Based Learning Using Mobile Technologies in the Classroom

Some work produced by a small group of my students as part of an ongoing project working towards creating an international news channel for the school.

This has provided a motivational and meaningful context for situated language production. The learners communicate through English during every stage as they prepare to share stories about what is happening in their individual countries in English. 

I've only been at the school a few weeks and it's been great fun teaching multilingual learners again. The class is a wonderful blend of Spanish, Polish, Italian, Turkish and Iranian people with unique and interesting perspectives on the world. 

The project has been scaffolded through building journalistic lexis and knowledge of collocations, writing articles, recording audio reports, dubbing television news and writing and presenting original news stories based on found footage (which is then used as a backdrop).


If you'd like to set up a game of INVADER with your students, I've written an article outlining the logistics and suggesting some of the language areas you might use it to focus on. Check out pages 17-20 of The British Council's In English Digital magazine or download a pdf of the article directly.

For the curious, I've been asked several times whether the binary code on the front cover of the magazine is randomly generated or actually means something. The answer is… that you'll have to type it into a binary to ASCII converter and find out! :)

IED 6 Binary.png

How to set up INVADER, a GPS-based pervasive game I designed for learners of English as a foreign language.

Embodiment, Technology and Locative Play

Had lots of fun interacting with people in the chatroom at today's joint LT SIG webinar and Keynote for the Virtual Round Table conference.

It was also great to have the luxury of a whole hour to talk about the things that most interest and excite me about language learning and technology (and a bit of German philosophy along the way!). 

Spywalk nominated for an ELTon!

Spywalk Logo.jpg

My Spywalk project has been nominated for an ELTon award! It looks like I'm the only individual teacher in the group too. All the others in the category of Digital Innovation appear to be companies or collectives and they're quite an impressive bunch of very worthy nominees.


ELTon Nominated.jpg

Many thanks to all the students who have participated in Spywalk as the gameplay and tech were being prototyped, and special thanks to Mark Appleby who has twice volunteered his sunglasses, fedora and espionage services. He's very sneaky.


Pervasive Games and Mobile Technologies for Embodied Language Learning


The electronic version of my IJCALLT article on pervasive games, mobile tech and embodied learning is (finally!) available online. Unfortunately I can't share the full article here as the journal is not open access, but here's the link and abstract along with the sample intro page they let you download for free. For anyone who came to my IATEFL talk in Glasgow last year, this article is essentially a write-up of some of the thought, theory and practice of my experiments with spatiality, location-based game mechanics and TESOL.


Thanks to the rapidly increasing adoption of mobile communications and wireless technologies, language educators are now empowered to sculpt interactions and design learning experiences using the real world as their canvas. City streets, shopping centres, cafés, and cemeteries can be augmented with new layers of meaning and narrative as learner-players use their language skills to navigate the chaotic and unpredictable environment of everyday life and achieve their objectives. Spatially expanded games provide a natural way to situate language production in context-rich, authentic settings, in contrast to the comparatively sterile confines of the traditional classroom. They are multimodal, multi-sensory, and highly personal immersive experiences. This paper explores the potential of technology-enhanced pervasive urban games for language learning and the pedagogic and philosophical foundations upon which these ideas are based. Examples are provided from an ongoing location-based research project.


Embodiment, Space, and Meaning

Across the Cartesian divide, movement prefigures the lines of intentionality, gesture formulates the contours of social cognition, and, in both the most general and most specific ways, embodiment shapes the mind.

(Gallagher, 2005)

In How the Body Shapes the Mind (2005, p. 206) philosopher and cognitive scientist Shaun Gallagher argues for the centrality of the body in how we perceive the world and interact with others. He rejects the idea that we understand others predominantly on a conceptual level, either by employing theoretical models, “... postulating the existence of mental states in others and using such postulations to explain and predict another person’s behavior.” or through the use of mental simulations to “emulate what must be going through the other person’s mind” as a form of “imaginary rehearsal.” Instead, Gallagher takes a more pragmatic stance based on the phenomenological viewpoint that our “... primary and usual way of being in the world is pragmatic interaction (characterized by action, involvement, and interaction based on environmental and contextual factors), rather than mentalistic or conceptual contemplation...” (Gallagher, 2005, p. 212) and suggesting that we “...think of communicative interaction as being accomplished in the very action of communication, in the expressive movement of speech, gesture, and the interaction itself...” (Gallagher, 2005, p. 212).

Typically, classroom language pedagogy and teaching materials also implicitly define the process of second language acquisition as an internal, cerebral process. This is largely the legacy of nineteenth century industrial schooling and is expressed in both the design and affordances (Gibson, 1986) of physical learning spaces and the sociocultural conventions that guide behaviour within them. Language is commonly treated as particulate and this is commonly articulated through the dissec- tion and analysis of the second language (L2) and its component parts. The course materials come pre-packaged and represent knowledge in discrete, rational and usually linear chunks. This pedagogic tradition, stemming from the application of Cartesian and Enlightenment principles, has survived through the mangle of Taylorism and Fordism to reach the classrooms of the 21st century as a stubborn anachronism.

Charts and tables containing prescriptive grammar rules and lists of non-transitive phrasal verbs are a staple of L2 course books, together with drilling exercises, vocabulary lists, sanitised role-play and linguistically sterile listening comprehension tests. The experience of classroom language learning is all too often cognitively rather than contextually weighted, and might be compared to attempting to learn to drive by studying car mechanics. The goal is complex, nuanced, socially embedded and physically embodied and yet the process is streamlined, sequential and dissociated from everyday settings. Context and communicative authenticity become peripheral considerations as learning is mediated through the reductive filter of metalinguistic grammatical rules and learners struggle to reconstruct meaning from component parts. This is also a consequence of both the inherent and perceived affordances of the learning spaces in which language is commonly taught, i.e., classrooms. According to James Gee,

Learning does not work well when learners are forced to check their bodies at the schoolroom door like guns in the old West. School learning is often about disembodied minds learning outside any context of decisions and actions. When people learn something as a cultural process their bodies are involved because cultural learning always involves having specific experiences that facilitate learning, not just memorizing words. (Gee, 2004, p. 39)

In recent years, however, there has been increased interest in more phenomenological approaches to learning which traverse the Cartesian boundary by shifting focus to the lived experience of language learning as it is embedded in the life-world (Husserl, 1936) of the learner. This has led to a shift towards theoretical frameworks which emphasise the importance of the sociocultural aspects of learning (situated cognition, social constructivism, cognitive linguistics, connectivism and embodied cognition to name but a few). This has resulted in what is now a broad multi-disciplinary awareness of the importance of context, intentionality, emergence and embodiment in understanding how we learn and the nature of human experience. There is also a growing body of evidence to support the “situatedness” of human behaviour from the overlapping fields of ecological and environmental psychology (Gibson, 1977; Barker, 1969) and human-computer interaction (HCI) (Dourish, 2001) in the context of learning environments.

Although these shifts have been somewhat slow to transfer to the practice of everyday class- room language teaching there is now, generally, an increased focus on less prescribed instruction and more interactive heuristic approaches such as Content-based Instruction (CBI), (Brinton, Snow, & Wesche, 2003) Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) (Mehisto, Marsh, & Frigols, 2008), Task-based Language Learning (TBLL) (Prahbu, 1987), and the Dogme English Language Teaching (Dogme ELT) movement and methodology (Meddings & Thornbury, 2009). However, while these approaches de-emphasise the structural accuracy of L2 in favour…


Social Mobile Web 2.0 Conference, Dublin 2012

I had an absolutely fantastic time giving my "playshop" this morning "M-learning in and out of the classroom: Locative Play and Mobile Media Creation". The attendees were a bright, eclectic and creative bunch of motivated teachers who approached the hands-on section with such vigour that I often felt guilty interrupting them to check on their progress and supply feedback.

Some lively and critical discussion followed each of the group presentations and i've already heard that several of the participants from different schools in Dublin are going to get together and try to take what they learned today further and adapt and build upon it to apply to their own teaching context. I'll be excited to see how that turns out and very happy to help out wherever I can.

For those who were unable to attend I've embedded a clip of the slides I prepared to introduce the first section. I had to remove some of the embedded videos clips and also the invader clip (which can be found by clicking on the yellow Invader link at the top of this page) to keep the file size down to a manageable level.

Ways of seeing ways of being

One of the things that has recently been keeping me occupied is my entanglement with 3 theoretical stances that each inform my exploration of gameplay as embodied interaction and my research on pervasive games and language learning as a whole. These are Phenomenology, and two "anthrodecentric" ways of thinking, ANT ( Actor-Network theory) and OOO (Object-Oriented Ontology).

While attempting to trace the places in which the lines between these philosophies blur and solidify I came across this beautiful, thought-provoking clip by Ian Bogost, game designer, media philosopher and one of the key proponents of OOO.

Issue V of In English Digital

Better late than never! This edition shifts focus from Brazil to Portugal, with articles on everything from multimodal learning and video projects to critical thinking in teacher development. No article from me this time but I hope I've made up for it through my efforts with the design and illustration.

Enjoy and please share the link with anyone you think might be interested!

Appropriating Location

While pervasive games, the urban dérive, parkour, urbex and flash mobs may all be strategies for subverting and experiencing public spaces in different ways, the establishment is never slow to appropriate these very same tools. 

Here's an example of site-specific guerilla advertising that is very much in tune with these ideas. It uses street theatre, triggered by a button in the same way you might change channels on your TV with the remote, and prompting the same blaze of gunfire, action, sex and drama that we are used to viewing on our screens. For a brief moment it generates a hybrid world in which onlookers, in a clear state of cognitive and emotional dissonance, become participant observers in a fictional spectacle beyond their control.


Dewey 1916

I've just been re-reading Democracy and Education, one of the books that first inspired me to start thinking about pervasive games as a possible approach to second language development. This section, which is essentially a criticism of mind/body dualism, stood out to me. It's from chapter 11 entitled "Experience and Thinking".


"…In schools, those under instruction are too customarily looked upon as acquiring knowledge as theoretical spectators, minds which appropriate knowledge by direct energy of intellect. The very word pupil has almost come to mean one who is engaged not in having fruitful experiences but in absorbing knowledge directly. Something which is called mind or consciousness is severed from the physical organs of activity. The former is then thought to be purely intellectual and cognitive; the latter to be an irrelevant and intruding physical factor. The intimate union of activity and undergoing its consequences which leads to recognition of meaning is broken; instead we have two fragments: mere bodily action on one side, and meaning directly grasped by "spiritual" activity on the other."