Hello my much neglected blog. It’s been a while. I really must update you more often.
Augmented Reality in the Language Classroom
Had a great time participating in the Russian SkyTeach Conference today as one of 30 speakers from around the world. I've already received several requests to share my slides so I've embedded them below.
The SkyTeach Conference is one of the main online events in the English Language Teaching Calendar for Russian and CIS English teachers. The conference is aimed at bringing together ELT professionals, sharing their knowledge and expertise and networking.
Yes! Great news! My book, Language Learning with Digital Video (Cambridge University Press) has won a prestigious English-Speaking Union Award in the Resources for Teacher category. I wrote LLWDV with the talented and prolific Ben Goldstein, and it has previously been nominated for the Ben Warren prize and an English Language Teaching Innovation Award (ELTon).
The ESU's English Language Awards help to celebrate and reward innovation and good practice in the field of English Language and English Language teaching. These awards focus on resources which aim to improve oracy skills in the English Language
The winners were announced at the awards ceremony at Dartmouth House, Mayfair, London on November 28 2016.
Meet Ken, the cheery, chatty fishmonger. He can be found on Wednesdays, standing proudly by his van at the Oxford Market in Gloucester Green, wearing his signature straw boater and stripy apron.
Ken kindly volunteered to be the first to tell his story in a series of 360 degree audio recordings I am making of local people in the centre of Oxford.
Aside from having loads of techno-artistic fun creating and exploring the affordances of experimental ELT materials design, my main goal for this project is to equip my learners to better deal with the everyday, local L2 encounters they are likely to experience during their stay in Oxford.
Bringing the outside world into the classroom through these authentic recordings is a great way to gradually expose learners to the kind of spontaneous, unscripted, unsimplified, disheveled language they are unlikely to have encountered in their course book listening materials. This is something I try to do as early as possible and in incremental amounts, even with lower-level groups (though with less complex tasks designed around them).
I see this as a gradual "weaning off" process that needs to be carefully scaffolded in order to ease the transition towards greater use of authentic listening materials. For this reason I tend to keep the recordings quite short. I may also cut the audio into snippets to highlight particular aspects of connected speech and raise awareness of the looser syntactic structure and phonological differences such as:
I spotted Ken while making some ambient 360 sound recordings during a lunch break. He stood out only in part due to his striking stripy apron and straw boater hat. It was his larger-than-life personality that really caught my attention as I watched him interacting with his customers. I knew he'd be an interesting person to talk to and he was very happy to spare me a few minutes of his time. He also agreed to allow me to record our chat and even volunteered to come and talk to my students in person!
I expected there to be a lot of talk about fish in the recording (and there is) but I wasn't prepared for the dark-but-fascinating turn his story would take towards the end. Have a listen (use headphones for a more immersive experience as this is a 360 degree recording).
I decided to illustrate Ken and his story in order to scaffold the listening by providing an entry point to activate my learners' top-down processing (schemata). He was also great fun to draw (except for the stripes on that apron).
The kinetic typography transcript supports bottom-up processing and the combination of text, image, sound and animation is an expression of my ongoing interest in multimodality and embodied cognition.
I've now connected the drawing of Ken to the kinetic typography video as an augmented reality poster. This is freely available to download and print from my Listening Post page. I've also uploaded the video to YouTube, so feel free to use it with your own students with or without the accompanying illustration. Here's the direct link: Meet Ken, The Oxford Fishmonger.
As a thank you, I had a print of the illustration framed and gave it to Ken to put up on his stall. He was dead chuffed.
This is how it looks when the AR content is activated.
It was really great to hear that The Listening Post, a site I created to share my augmented reality, kinetic typography and spatial audio posters with other teachers, has been nominated for a 2016 English Language Teaching Innovation Award (ELTon).
As with previous years, I've been nominated in the category of Digital Innovation. This is a tough group as I'm often the only individual language teacher in there, competing against large publishers or teams that have considerable budgets to develop apps, games or, as with last year's winner Oxford University Press, build an entire online dictionary.
I have a budget of essentially zero, so I have to try to compensate with creativity and hard work. For The Listening Post I record and edit all my own 360° spatial audio, design the posters, add the augmented reality content and create all the synchronised kinetic typography myself. I also designed the site. While this can be a lot of work, it also gives me an excuse to keep learning new skills as I go.
The Listening Post content stems from my interest and research into embodied cognition, one direct expression of this being the use of spatial audio to increase the level of immersion and engagement with the content.
The book I co-wrote with Ben Goldstein (Language Learning with Digital Video) has also been nominated this year, so I will definitely have my fingers crossed on both hands!
Since I bought an iPad Pro I've been revisiting some of the drawing and note taking apps that I've used in the classroom. The larger screen of the Pro makes it a lot easier to scribble, scrawl and sketch on the move. At my school we use Apple TVs to connect our iPads to the screen wirelessly, so this means I can carry the device around with me as I sit with different groups of students and support them with what they are doing. Whatever I draw/write on the iPad screen gets projected onto the main whiteboard via AirPlay.
Before I get stuck in, I should be clear that I've been using these apps on the new iPad Pro in conjunction with the Apple Pencil. While all the apps can be used on any iPad and without the uber-expensive Apple stylus, my views in this post are based on my experience of this particular setup.
The Apple Pencil is quite a remarkable piece of tech. I've used many capacitive styluses (styli?) before but always found their chubby rounded tips to be quite primitive tools. The Pencil has a fine point for precision work and is sensitive to pressure and tilt, so it feels very natural. With compatible apps, drawing with the Pencil in an upright position will give you a fine line, while more acute angles allow you to shade and add tone. Increasing the pressure also influences the thickness of the line or adds pigment with paints and softer materials. It's also very nicely weighted and quick to charge.
First up: Paper by FiftyThree.
Paper is one of the winners of Apple's App of the Year award and has been around for a few years now. I'd used it for brief note taking before but my sausage fingers made it tricky to write or draw comfortably on my old iPad mini. Using it with the Pencil makes a huge difference. The lines are smooth and accurate and feel as though they glide across the page. My favourite tool is the fountain pen. It's great for writing and equally good for ink drawing. The interface is clean and intuitive. Here's the basic toolset:
Paper has now become my go-to app for quick sketch-noting, simple illustrations and for on-the-fly board work during lessons. Here's an example from one of this week's classes:
I just used the fountain pen with a bit of marker pen to add colour. Recently, I also used Paper to draw this simple illustration for a blog post:
The ruler tool (which straightens hand-drawn lines and rounds crudely drawn circles) is very handy, as is the all-important undo button.
While Adobe Sketch is a great tool just for visual note taking, it also provides a full-blown set of tools that can be used to create very expressive, professional-looking artwork. The invaluable addition of layering enables you to add sketches, images and type at different levels and adjust them individually. These levels are also preserved when you export your artwork as a PSD to the desktop version of Photoshop. Again, the interface is very simple to learn, with the basic pencil, pen and brush tools appearing on left hand side.
If you compare the watercolour patch on the right to the example from Paper, you can see that in Sketch, the colours bleed naturally into each other as they would with real paints. This is mesmerising to watch as you lay down one colour next to another and see the pigment fanning out and blending. There is also a handy "fan" button that will instantly dry your digital paint to prevent mixing when this is undesirable. The pencil tool in Adobe Sketch is extremely realistic and a delight to draw with. The tonal range, natural-looking shading and ease with which you can adjust the size of the point make it ideal for sketching people.
I've saved the best until last. Procreate is, by far, the most powerful creative app I have ever used on a mobile device. From the enormous range of tools and customisable options to the natural look and feel of the materials, this app feels like a portable art studio. In fact, I've recently started using Procreate, the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil for my life drawing classes. I do still take a block of paper and chalks along for backup, but these haven't been used for weeks.
As with Adobe Sketch, Procreate also allows you to work on different layers. This is great for artwork as it means you can scan in different paper textures and use them as your digital canvas. You can also export images to Photoshop or print them out if you want a physical copy. One of my favourite features is the option to export the entire process of creating your artwork as a video. This is useful for screencasting board work or for reflecting on your creative process.
The downside of all these tools and options is, as the name suggests, that this app is aimed more at professional creatives. The learning curve is definitely a little steeper than for the other two apps I have mentioned, though there are plenty of online tutorials and a free PDF manual. Having said that, it is fairly easy to open up the app, pick a tool and start drawing or painting. It's an app that you grow into the more you use it. Here's a sample of some of the marks you can make with just a small selection of the digital materials:
A Tough Test
In order to see how far I could push the app I decided to have a go at drawing part of this Michelangelo chalk study (as you do):
Tools and Materials
I drew this using the compressed charcoal tool, adjusting the size and density as I went along. The Apple Pencil took a bit of getting used to at first. As I moved from finer lines to shading, sometimes it was hard to predict how the marks would look on the page. Fortunately, as I was drawing digitally, I could simply click the undo button whenever I needed to. As you can see, the digital chalks look and behave like their analogue counterparts. Towards the end I added some additional white highlights on the face and back, not seen in the original (just for fun). I then put the stylus aside and used the blend tool with my (sausage) finger to physically blend the white and red chalks.
Here's a detail that I think shows a nice mix of line and shading. It demonstrates the authentic mark-making and subtlety you can achieve with this incredible app. I can honestly say that after a short time I completely forgot I was drawing directly on a screen.
I've just designed a new augmented reality poster and added it to the Listening Post section of my site. I created this to use with one of my B2-level classes a couple of weeks ago. Feel free to use it however you see fit with your students. Read on if you'd like to know why I made it/what I did with it.
This is a first-person audio story that places the listener right in the middle of the action as a suspect is being questioned about a violent crime (a common trope we had looked at in TV shows and movies and a theme we had been exploring in the UK press).
The "Theatrical Dictogloss"
I recorded this for a "theatrical dictogloss" lesson that combined listening, speaking and writing skills. First, my students listened to the entire story, using their phones and headphones. At this stage I asked them to keep their eyes closed as they listened. This was partly to remove distractions and help them focus, and partly because I recorded this dialogue using "spatial audio" to capture the acoustics and 360-degree directional information of the original scene.
Just a quick tip here. Once the students have scanned the poster and the media begins to play, they can tap the screen once and then sit down. The media will expand to fill the screen and continue playing.
Next, the students formed groups of 3 or 4 and compared what they had understood of the story. They listened a second time (eyes open) and took notes of key lexical and grammatical chunks (collocations, verbs patterns etc.) and important story details.
For the next stage I asked my students to work in pairs to script their own versions of an interrogation scene, attempting to reconstruct as much of the original story as they could by combining their notes. I also encouraged the more confident to write their own original scripts by changing the details of the story or even the crime itself.
At the start of the next class, I gave the students time to practise reading their scripts. I had already placed a small table and a single chair in the centre of the room, along with my old trusty USB microphone. When they were ready, each pair acted out their scenes in front of the class. One student (the suspect) remained seated, while the student playing the police officer paced around, questioning.
There were some truly great (if a little hammy) performances! At the end I shared the recordings with my students so that they could listen to their own voices and pronunciation. Having these archived also enabled me to listen to each group's work and provide error correction and feedback on pronunciation, word and sentence stress and other aspects of connected speech.
I was going for a Hitchcockesque look with this poster design. You can download and print it, along with the others I have created, over here. You can also find the original, uncensored version that contains a couple of mild, PG-safe expletives.
This originally appeared as a guest article I wrote for ELTjam in July 2015.
The movement towards mobile computing is a great opportunity to rethink our relationship with technology and our relationship to digital and physical spaces. Computing and connectivity are no longer just personal, they’re increasingly pervasive.
The shift from the immobility of PCs to the mobility of tablets and smartphones allows digital space to interact with material space, both in and out of the classroom, in entirely new ways. At British Study Centres in Oxford, where I work, this was an important consideration in our decision to integrate mobile technology into the everyday practice of language teaching. We wanted to create learning spaces configured for doing, in which the elements of the environment would facilitate a multiplicity of interactive possibilities between learners, technology, teachers and course content. Places where instruction, social interaction and digital media could be woven together flexibly and seamlessly. This has taken a lot of thought and planning.
Computer Rooms and the Rhetorics of Space
In The Production of Space, Henri Lefebre writes ‘space is not a thing, but rather a set of relations between things (objects and products)’ and that ‘space is neither a “subject” nor an “object” but rather a social reality — that is to say, a set of relations and forms.’
A good illustration of this is the ‘computer room’, a place where students are taken intermittently to ‘do technology’. These spaces rose dramatically in popularity in the early 1990s and are still a staple in many language schools across the world. Until recently, the principle way that our students would access technology was through the portal of the computer room and, as far as computer rooms go, it was quite a nice one.
But if we take a moment to deconstruct this image, it becomes clear that this space is far from neutral. Even before we explore Lefebre’s ‘relations between things’, the fact that the computer room exists in its own detached space, disconnected from the everyday interactions of the classroom, carries the implicit message (to teachers and learners) that technology isn’tsomething that should be woven into the fabric of knowledge construction. It reinforces a digital/physical dichotomy by literally separating the two through distance.
Returning to the picture, we can see that the computers are arranged linearly, in rows, and there is a single chair in front of each fixed screen. A pair of headphones is connected to each PC for listening to audio. Collectively, this configuration of space, people and technology hinders movement and social interaction and encourages the isolated, passive consumption of digital content, as opposed to the active, hands-on social construction of knowledge.
To be fair, there is a certain amount of technological determinism at work here. Desktop PCs are designed for the individual. In fact, this is why they were called PCs in the first place. They are (usually) clunky, heavy devices intended to remain static. In the past their size was also a consequence of their technological limitations. With operating systems designed for input through a physical keyboard and mouse, a single, screen-facing chair of appropriate height also makes sense. On top of this, most ageing PCs would need to be hardwired to the Internet through ethernet cables plugged into wall sockets. For managers, teachers and learners, it is especially important to consider the impact of technology on learning, as there is a clear interplay between the ways in which we shape our technologies, how they impact the learning environment, and how these choices influence our interactions with media and each other.
Video games, cathedrals, theme parks, prisons, shopping malls and classrooms. The one thing they have in common is that they are all examples of highly formalised spaces. Each one, whether digital or physical, has been designed to encourage or limit particular types of movement and behaviour and to provoke a particular experience. Our movements and actions within these spaces form part of a dynamic interactive system. Designers of virtual spaces, such as those in video games, have an acute awareness of this. For example, in online multiplayer games in which players have to work with or against other human players, a delicate balance has to be achieved between competing factions. Even the careless placement of a wall can provide an unfair advantage for one team and ruin the game. The size and positioning of every rock or building, the layout of each interior space and the distribution of supplies, all have to be carefully contemplated.
If we consider space as non-neutral, we can begin to develop an empowering sense of spatial literacy and recognise spatial design as a medium, or form of discourse. Interactivity stems from choices, and spatial design silently but firmly communicates interactive possibilities.
Moving these ideas from theory to practical application was a significant undertaking for a large language school, involving major changes to infrastructure, as well as hundreds of smaller decisions regarding technology choices, new procedures and teacher training. After months of hard work, planning, ordering, refurbishment, design meetings and network upgrades (you can read about some of the painstaking details here), our former rigid computer room has now transformed into this. We call it The Port.
Aside from the (hopefully) obvious aesthetic improvements, there is an intentionality of design in both the form and technologies embedded in this new spatial configuration. The furniture is completely modular. There are different surface heights and areas to suit either standing interactions, seated groupings of various sizes or individual study. The tables have wheels and can fold together to create an open space for video production. There are different types of seating, with backless low stools for more casual, temporary occupation, normal chairs, and higher seating at the iPad bar. The permanent iPads are fixed and well-stocked with self-study resources and there is also a set of iPads for teachers and a class set for learners. There’s a standard whiteboard for traditional board work and digital media can be streamed to the large flatscreen TV through an Apple TV.
We’ve also upgraded our wireless network to a managed 100 Mb fiber optic connection throughout the school, including outside areas.
This has become a multipurpose space used for teaching and teacher training, as well as meetings and quiet self-study. There is no real centre of focus in the room for a ‘sage on the stage’ as this room was designed for more active forms of learning, allowing students to form breakaway groups to work at different speeds or to work on different challenges before coming back together to share or collaborate. It sets the tone for learner autonomy and creativity.
Our classrooms have been equipped with ceiling mounted HD projectors and Apple TVs. This means teachers no longer have to be seated and tethered to a fixed device for displaying digital content. Students, using their phones or a class set of iPads, can also wirelessly connect to the projector to brainstorm ideas or share their classwork, homework, projects and presentations with everyone in the room. This is ideal for peer correction and facilitates more collaborative forms of learning. It also democratises the use of the board, which doubles as a screen for projection while maintaining its original function as a writing surface.
We’ve embedded digital media into the physical environment of the school with augmented reality (AR) posters. We use these in classrooms to display student work, such as podcasts and video projects, and for delivering information about the social programme and special events. In The Port, we have kinetic typography AR posters containing study tips recorded by learners. This is a great way to pass on local knowledge and advice to new starters.
I've pasted in the abstract from my keynote talk at the Image Conference in Córdoba last year below, but to cut a long story short it was about interaction design and environmental storytelling in digital games, and how these can inform ELT pedagogy.
Game spaces are meticulously designed environments. The tennis court, the football pitch and the sumo wrestler’s dohyo are spatially and visually organised to embody the rules that inform the interactions taking place within their boundaries.
Virtual spaces are sculpted with even more painstaking care, as the digital architect can distort, subvert or completely rewrite the laws of physics and define the capabilities of the players and characters that inhabit these fictional worlds. In this talk, I will discuss how game design can inform ELT pedagogy by examining what games do well.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
Some of the slides from my talk on the theme of pervasive game design for ELT.
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! :)