Month: September 2016

Language Learners: Learners’ Perspectives

Language learners have a unique set of skills and challenges that they bring to the digital literacy acquisition process.  The Learners’ Perspective Brief introduces findings about English language learners’ language preferences as they work with tutors to learn digital literacy skills.

Let us know what you think in the comments section. What have you experienced in the area of supporting language learners as they acquire digital literacy skills? How might the findings we set forth in this brief help you continue thinking about ways to serve your population of learners?

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The use of multimodal tools in preservice English education

We are pleased to share the second of two guest posts from Raúl Alberto Mora (Ph.D., Language & Literacy, University of Illinois). Mora is an Associate Professor of English Education and Literacy Studies at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (UPB) in Medellín, Colombia. At UPB, he chairs the Literacies in Second Languages Project (LSLP), a research initiative exploring new and 21st century literacies in urban, virtual, and community spaces in Medellín. His research agenda combines ideas from alternative literacies, discourse analysis, and transmedia.


As a teacher educator, one of my biggest concerns as I work with my preservice teachers is to help them find ways to infuse 21st-century literacies in their classrooms. My preoccupation stems from some of the efforts I see in professional development in Colombia, which devote their effort to the inclusion of gizmos rather than a careful exercise of text design through technological tools. Without this careful reflection of an epistemological rather than instrumental nature (as authors such as Cope & Kalantzis or Lankshear & Knobel have pointed out) there will always be the chance that teachers just replicate offline activities with online tools.

With this intention in mind, we have begun to include a deeper reflection about the meaning of multimodality in the context of becoming an English teacher. We have zeroed in on two specific multimodal tools: WebQuests and multimodal video essays. In both cases, we begin with a similar approach by getting students acquainted with the notion of multimodality. As multimodality becomes a more ubiquitous idea in teaching scenarios, I sometimes worry about how we sometimes equate it with making videos. It is very important to always remember that what videos do is facilitate the creation of multimodal texts, but that videos are not multimodal by default.

Another very important consideration that we include in our discussions with our preservice teachers is three elements that I believe to be cornerstones of any multimodal text:

  • Intention = Whom am I trying to reach?
  • Meaning = What am I trying to say?
  • Design = How do I plan to say it?

The effect of these three considerations is to focus more on the actual text I am trying to convey and then think about how to maximize the resources (website designer for WebQuests; video and audio editors and YouTube for video essays) to help them come up with the most powerful message possible.

One final consideration that we discuss with our preservice teachers is the learning curve that is involved in the use of multimodal tools. Sometimes teachers fall prey to the assumption that since students are more familiarized with technological devices, composing multimodal texts is second-nature to them. Reality shows that while the acquaintance is true, using multimodal tools transcends familiarity and needs to include the three elements I mentioned earlier. In my case, I have made the conscious decision to embed the learning curve in the multimodal assignments I give my preservice teachers. In other words, I expect them to struggle with all the technical issues (the multiple recordings, the woes of using audio and video editors, problems uploading to YouTube, setting up websites, etc.). I made this choice not out of sheer cruelty, but as a pedagogical moment: I want them to think very carefully what it means to invite students to create multimodal texts, the challenges they will face, and the kinds of scaffolding and support they must bring to their classrooms.

The exploration of language appropriation strategies in the context of gaming

 

We are excited to share the first of two guest posts from Raúl Alberto Mora (Ph.D., Language & Literacy, University of Illinois). Mora is an Associate Professor of English Education and Literacy Studies at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (UPB) in Medellín, Colombia. At UPB, he chairs the Literacies in Second Languages Project (LSLP), a research initiative exploring new and 21st century literacies in urban, virtual, and community spaces in Medellín. His research agenda combines ideas from alternative literacies, discourse analysis, and transmedia.


This post was written  with the assistance of the LSLP Gaming Literacies Team

Gaming research has gained traction in recent years. Questions about the literacy practices that take place in the context of videogames (in particular MMORPGs) have also found a niche in the field. One area of interest that seemed as rather uncharted territory, however, was the language strategies that second-language gamers employed as they participated in multiple gaming genres. How different were the language needs as gamers approached these genres? What purposes did gamers set for their use of, in the case of our inquiries, a second language? Those were some of the larger questions that our research team at the Literacies in Second Languages Project (LSLP) has embarked upon since 2014.

As we set out to do our research, we first tackled the issue of the relationship between gaming and second languages. As my fellow researchers (all of whom are hardcore gamers, specialized in four different genres) explained, gamers develop the need for the second language (e.g. English) and not really the other way around. After this initial query, there was another question: Why do gamers need to rely on English in their games? Two answers came to mind: On the one hand, not every game out there has, in our case, a Spanish version. On the other hand, the answer was even more straightforward: Gamers need English to win the game. This implies that gamers must, in addition to mastering the game itself, they needed to understand the specific language needs of the game or genre at hand, in terms of vocabulary, expressions, and verbal interactions to play the game. This specific combination of language needs in the context of games comprised a notion that we have coined as Language as Victory, or LaV (cfr. Hernandez & Castaño, 2015 for a working definition).

Since 2014, relying on autoethnographic data from our four gamer-researchers, screenshots, and interviews, we have characterized the different language appropriation strategies in four genres: Flight Simulators, First-Person Shooters (FPS), Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG), and Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBA). We have realized that every genre poses unique challenges to gamers: Some genres, such as Flight Simulators require the mastery of very technical vocabulary directly aimed at ensuring flight capability. FPS, on the other hand, requires simpler, shorter commands for communication. The language in MMORPG and MOBA genres also relies on commands, but depending on the game, there will be a need for more elaborate communication. Another thing that we have discovered is that gaming genres work in a similar way to literary genres or even registers: language strategies from FPS or MOBA, for instance, may not translate too well into Flight Simulators. Gamers, therefore, must develop specific metacognitive strategies for each genre. One final feature that we are currently analyzing in our data is the more distinct strategies that happen across different stages of each game. Early data analysis seems to show that language strategies will vary at the beginning, middle, and final stages of each game.

We are currently profiling our next stage of research, where we will move language appropriation strategies from the games themselves into the gaming communities. We have also begun to propose pedagogical models to translate LaV into language classroom practices. As we envision it, LaV as a concept has plenty of potential to offer both within the gaming realm and into actual classroom practices.

Author’s Note: This post shares information about the research study Second Language Literacies, Video Games, and Gaming: A Digital Ethnography, project approved by the Center for Research, Development and Innovation (CIDI) at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Sede Central Medellín (Project code 515B-11/15-S80). Special thanks and all the credit go to the LSLP student researchers Sebastián Castaño, Michael Hernandez, Tyrone Steven Orrego, and Daniel Ramírez, for their valuable insights and hard work in developing this study.

Development of Self-Confidence

Vulnerable adult populations are more likely to experience barriers to digital access as a direct result of poverty and limited access to education. Lack of experience with and exposure to technology can lead to feelings of fear and anxiety of using computers and the Internet. However, computer anxiety can be overcome through positive experiences with digital technology. The Development of Self-Confidence brief highlights the ways that participation in a digital literacy acquisition program improved learners’ self-confidence and attitudes towards technology.

Let us know what you think in the comments section. Have you seen learners struggle with self-doubt, and what process have you seen them move through so they can be more confident learners? How might the findings we set forth in this brief help you continue thinking about ways to serve your population of learners?