Personal Learning Environments for Language Learning

Personal Learning Environments for Language Learning

Sarah Guth (University of Padova, Italy)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-190-2.ch024
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This chapter discusses the potential of social software and Web 2.0 tools to enhance language learning in a blended learning context. It describes an English as a Foreign Language course that introduces students to several Web 2.0 tools with the aim of helping them develop their own Personal Learning Environment. As students become familiar with the almost endless opportunities for accessing and participating in authentic language on the Web today, they must also learn to find appropriate resources, filter unsuitable materials, manage this information overload, and decide which tools best suit their own learning style. The chapter argues that accompanied with the right pedagogical approach, these tools enhance learning by allowing students to engage in self-directed learning and gain skills and resources that are transferable to their informal, lifelong language learning.
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Developments in Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) theory and practice are inherently connected to evolutions in technology and societal changes (Kern & Warschauer, 2000). The first phase of CALL in the 1960s and 1970s adopted a structural approach to language learning and was characterized by drill and practice methods. The most advanced technology available at the time was the mainframe computer, which was suited to these methods. By the end of the 1970s, behaviouristic approaches had been rejected in favour of communicative approaches to language learning based on cognitive/constructivist views of learning. These changes were accompanied by the advent of the personal computer, and at the end of the decade multi-media CDs and other software. Learners were encouraged to interact with the computer or to use computer-based tasks as stimuli for learner-learner interaction. The focus was no longer on merely learning form but on learning how to use forms. Though educators felt this was progress, by the end of the 1980s they were calling for more integrative methods for teaching languages that could take into account the many different aspects of the language learning process from form to communication to culture. The advent of the Internet in the 1990s made a shift towards integrative, sociocognitive approaches possible. The Internet allowed educators to implement Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) in their classrooms which led to a shift “from learner’s interaction with computers to interaction with other humans via the computer” (Kern & Warschauer, 2000, p. 11). In 1996, Warschauer (1996) claimed that CMC via the Internet was “the single computer application to date with the greatest impact on language teaching” (p. 9). Indeed the technology-centred approaches that characterized both the first two phases of CALL failed to provide the “killer” application for teaching and learning processes that would transform language learning (Cuban, 1986) just as time has proven that computers-as-tutors cannot replace teachers (Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1996). On the other hand, the learner-centred approach that characterizes the third phase can “help students and teachers to learn and teach through the aid of technology with a focus on how ICT can be used as an aid to human cognition and consistent with the way the mind works solving complex tasks and dealing with today’s information overflow” (Petrucco, in press).

At the turn of the century, the way the Web was used began to change significantly: rather than a place where information was merely made accessible, it was becoming a space where knowledge was being created. Users, everyday people, began to produce content and global communities of users sharing knowledge or just similar interests began to develop. Millions of software developers around the globe were voluntarily writing the code for open source software programs such as the operating system Linux and the web server Apache, which would rival proprietary software. Universities, such as MIT and Stanford, began to publish course content and lectures on websites open to the public. In other words, a revolution characterized by sharing, openness and co-creation was taking place. In 2003, Tim O’Reilly and Dale Dougherty dubbed this new revolution “Web 2.0” (O’Reilly, 2005). Some argue that the term is superfluous and that the Web today is simply an evolution of what it originally was. In a podcast interview, Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, stated: “If Web 2.0 for you is blogs and wikis, then that is people to people. But that was what the Web was supposed to be all along” (Laningham, 2006). Regardless of whether or not the term is used, the point is that the way regular users can contribute to the Web has changed. Berners-Lee goes on to explain that for some people Web 2.0 “means moving some of the thinking client side so making it more immediate” and it is just this immediacy and ease with which users can generate content on the Web and participate in online communities that will define what is called Web 2.0 in this chapter.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Feed Aggregators: A feed aggregator is a client software that allows users to receive syndicated web content from any type of website that uses feeds, such as newspaper websites, blogs, podcasts, etc. In other words, rather than having to regularly check websites for updated information, through the use of feeds (RSS, XML RSD, XML Atom), updated information is sent to the feed aggregator so that users have only one place to check for updated content. Users can decide how much of the updated information they would like to receive in the aggregator, e.g. a few lines or the entire text, and whether or not to receive just text or other media as well. Users can also go directly to the websites from the aggregator. Feed aggregators provide a useful tool for managing the information overload on the Internet.

Social Software: A generic term used to describe different types of software that enable people to collaborate and create and join online communities. The tools can promote different types of communication: synchronous one-to-one (instant messaging), synchronous one-to-many (Skypecasts), asynchronous one-to-many (blogs), asynchronous many-to-many (wikis), or asynchronous many-to-one (feed aggregators). These tools allow users to share and create content, collaboratively create and edit content and/or manage content.

Blog: Simply defined a blog, or weblog, is a sort of online journal organized in reverse chronological order where a person writes about their thoughts and interests, including providing links to relevant resources on the Web. Most blogs allow readers to leave comments. There are many different types of blogs from very personal journals to educational blogs. Different types of media from audio to video to images can often be integrated into a text blog. A blog may have one author only or several authors.

Podcast: A podcast is the distribution of audio files over the Internet using syndication feeds such as RSS so that users can subscribe to the podcast using feed aggregators to be notified when new content is added or so-called “podcatchers” such as iTunes or Juice which automatically download new content. Once downloaded the content can be played back using portable media players or personal computers. Although podcasts can often be listened to in streaming, what differentiates them from other online audio files is that they can be downloaded, are updated regularly and updates can be read by feed aggregators or podcatchers.

Social Bookmarking: Social bookmarking websites allow users to store, classify, share and search their own Internet bookmarks, as well as those of other community members, through using tags (folksonomies). Most services offer remote hosting so that users can access their bookmarks from any computer. Social bookmarking can serve as a filter for the information overload on the Internet. When users search on these websites, they are not searching the entire Web using an algorithm, as is the case on most search engines, but rather viewing websites other users have found to be useful, and taken the time to save, describe and choose semantically classified tags for.

Informal Learning: Informal learning is learning that takes place outside of institutionally defined contexts, for example learning on the job and in one’s personal life. It can be associated with other concepts such as lifelong and continuous learning, both of which are becoming more important in today’s information society.

Web 2.0: Although there is still controversy over the term, Web 2.0 is generally used to contrast the World Wide Web in the 1990s as a collection of websites produced by experts, institutions and companies (the read-only Web) with the changes that took place starting with the twenty-first century where Web applications allow end users to create and share content on the Web (the read-write Web).

Personal Learning Environment (PLE): Although there is not to date a fully agreed-upon definition of this term, in this context it refers both to the set of web-based tools that are used to aggregate content and produce content on the Web as well as to the personal experiences and processes that lead to learning. An individual has control over the tools and contents of his/her PLE, which is not limited to a given course or learning context (e.g. school or university) but may continue to grow and change throughout the learner’s life.

Complete Chapter List

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Mark Warschauer
Michael Thomas
Michael Thomas
Chapter 1
Michael Vallance, Kay Vallance, Masahiro Matsui
The grand narrative of educational policy statements lack clear guidelines on Information Communications Technology (ICT) integration. A review of... Sample PDF
Criteria for the Implementation of Learning Technologies
Chapter 2
Mark Pegrum
This chapter discusses the application of a range of Web 2.0 technologies to language education. It argues that Web 2.0 is fundamentally about... Sample PDF
Communicative Networking and Linguistic Mashups on Web 2.0
Chapter 3
Bernd Rüschoff
Current thinking in SLA methodology favours knowledge construction rather than simple instructivist learning as an appropriate paradigm for language... Sample PDF
Output-Oriented Language Learning With Digital Media
Chapter 4
Infoxication 2.0  (pages 60-79)
Elena Benito-Ruiz
This chapter reviews the issue of information overload, introducing the concept of “infoxication 2.0” as one of the main downsides to Web 2.0. The... Sample PDF
Infoxication 2.0
Chapter 5
Margaret Rasulo
The aim of this chapter is to discuss the effectiveness and the necessity of forming a community when engaged in online learning. The Internet and... Sample PDF
The Role of Community Formation in Learning Processes
Chapter 6
Tony Mullen, Christine Appel, Trevor Shanklin
An important aspect of the Web 2.0 phenomenon is the use of Web-embedded and integrated non-browser Internet applications to facilitate... Sample PDF
Skype-Based Tandem Language Learning and Web 2.0
Chapter 7
Gary Motteram, Susan Brown
Web 2.0 offers potentially powerful tools for the field of language education. As language teacher tutors exploring Web 2.0 with participants on an... Sample PDF
A Context-Based Approach to Web 2.0 and Language Education
Chapter 8
Lut Baten, Nicolas Bouckaert, Kan Yingli
This case study describes how a project-based approach offers valuable new opportunities for graduate students to equip them with the necessary... Sample PDF
The Use of Communities in a Virtual Learning Environment
Chapter 9
George R. MacLean, James A. Elwood
Prensky (2001) posited the emergence of a new generation of “digital natives” fluent in the language of cyberspace and familiar with the tools of... Sample PDF
Digital Natives, Learner Perceptions and the Use of ICT
Chapter 10
Steve McCarty
In a cross-cultural educational context of TEFL in Japan, the author sought to enhance the integrative motivation of students toward the target... Sample PDF
Social Networking Behind Student Lines in Japan
Chapter 11
Antonie Alm
This chapter discusses the use of blogs for foreign and second language (L2) learning. It first outlines the suitability of blogs for language... Sample PDF
Blogging for Self-Determination with L2 Learner Journals
Chapter 12
Revathi Viswanathan
Training ESL students in soft skills and employability skills with the help of Web 2.0 technologies is the current trend in Indian educational... Sample PDF
Using Mobile Technology and Podcasts to Teach Soft Skills
Chapter 13
Andy Halvorsen
This chapter looks at the potential use of Social Networking Sites (SNSs) for educators and second language learners. It views SNSs broadly through... Sample PDF
Social Networking Sites and Critical Language Learning
Chapter 14
Nicolas Gromik
This chapter reports on an ongoing project conducted at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan. A mixed group of seven advanced EFL learners produced... Sample PDF
Producing Cell Phone Video Diaries
Chapter 15
Thomas Raith
This chapter explores in how far Web 2.0, Weblogs in particular, has changed foreign language learning. It argues that Weblogs, along with Web 2.0... Sample PDF
The Use of Weblogs in Language Education
Chapter 16
Nat Carney
This chapter gives a comprehensive overview of blogs in Foreign Language Education (FLE) through reviewing literature, critically analyzing... Sample PDF
Blogging in Foreign Language Education
Chapter 17
Pete Travis, Fiona Joseph
In particular, this chapter looks at the potential role of Web 2.0 technologies and podcasting to act as a transformational force within language... Sample PDF
Improving Learners' Speaking Skills with Podcasts
Chapter 18
Volker Hegelheimer, Anne O’Bryan
The increasing availability of mobile technologies is allowing users to interact seamlessly with a variety of content anytime, anywhere. One of... Sample PDF
Mobile Technologies, Podcasting and Language Education
Chapter 19
Jenny Ang Lu
This chapter aims to investigate how podcasts can be made to fit into the repertoire of resources utilized by teachers, especially in language... Sample PDF
Podcasting as a Next Generation Teaching Resource
Chapter 20
Matthias Sturm, Trudy Kennell, Rob McBride, Mike Kelly
Web 2.0 tools like blogs, Wikis, and podcasts are new to the vocabulary of language acquisition. Teachers and students who take full advantage of... Sample PDF
The Pedagogical Implications of Web 2.0
Chapter 21
John Paul Loucky
This study describes a task-based assessment (TBA) approach to teaching reading and writing online. It then analyzes key factors emerging from the... Sample PDF
Improving Online Readability in a Web 2.0 Context
Chapter 22
Jaroslaw Krajka
This chapter contrasts the use of corpora and concordancing in the Web 1.0 era with the opportunities presented to the language teachers by the Web... Sample PDF
Concordancing 2.0: On Custom-Made Corpora in the Classroom
Chapter 23
Darren Elliott
This chapter looks at the ways in which teacher training and teacher development are taking place online. It seeks to address the ways in which... Sample PDF
Internet Technologies and Language Teacher Education
Chapter 24
Sarah Guth
This chapter discusses the potential of social software and Web 2.0 tools to enhance language learning in a blended learning context. It describes... Sample PDF
Personal Learning Environments for Language Learning
Chapter 25
Shudong Wang, Neil Heffernan
This chapter introduces the concept of Mobile 2.0, a mobile version of Web 2.0, and its application to language learning. The chapter addresses the... Sample PDF
Mobile 2.0 and Mobile Language Learning
Chapter 26
Euline Cutrim Schmid
The first part of this chapter discusses the transformative potential of Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs), by analyzing the opportunities of using... Sample PDF
The Pedagogical Potential of Interactive Whiteboards 2.0
Chapter 27
David Miller, Derek Glover
This chapter summarizes the work underway to chart, critically evaluate, and systematize the introduction of interactive whiteboards (IWB) into... Sample PDF
Interactive Whiteboards in the Web 2.0 Classroom
Chapter 28
Samuel Holtzman
The process of technological inclusion begins with an analysis of the features and functions of the specific tool in consideration. Pedagogy should... Sample PDF
Web 2.0 and CMS for Second Language Learning
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