Monthly Archives: May 2012

-Augmented Reality and ELT-

An interesting and fairly recent technology that is starting to be appropriated for educational purposes is Augmented Reality (AR). It is an augmentation of our ‘real’ physical word displayed on the screen of a computer, laptop or mobile device. By taking the live input of a webcam, the computing device and AR software then processes and analyses the incoming data, adding additional digital layers (computer graphics) over the top, displayed to the user onscreen, and all in real-time. In this way, AR is an enhancement of reality and not a replacement, which is in fact an older technology Virtual Reality (VR).

AR apps can be downloaded for mobile devices, such as Wikitude for iphones which displays information about the user’s surroundings, essentially acting as a live computer generated information guide on the street level.

By relaying information from an online database(s), from the ‘cloud’, and attaching it intelligently and accordingly to what is around us, AR offers what seems like almost limitless augmentation possibilities. One intriguing example of how AR apps can quickly innovate building on what has gone before is Streetmuseum, created by the Museum of London where locations around the city are augmented on the user’s phone with historical information.


Wordlens is an app for iphones, offering language learning opportunities as it reads and translates text that the phone’s camera is pointed at both ways (presently between Spanish and English and French to English). CamTranslater is a similar app for android phones, although with fifty different languages, and is also being marketed at travellers for on-the-spot translation of menus, signs, product packaging etc.

These types of AR apps as well as the ‘street modifying’ apps mentioned above, can be used by students when out and about, resulting in the everyday world around us presenting many exciting opportunities for learning. In this way, and in terms of materials, reality and its digital augmentation is the material and springboard for language learning activities.

There is some interesting discussion of AR and English language teaching on Nik Peachey’s and David Read’s blogs:

I have collected various videos from YouTube and published them within a Delicious stack, showing Augmented Reality in use within education and early moves into ELT.

One or two particularly stood out for me, and which are a different use of AR from the mobile apps mentioned previously. Paper printouts can be tracked by a computer’s webcam, and a digital image then appears on-screen (again in real-time) augmenting the user’s immediate reality in front of the computer. An innovative example of this for beginner level English language learners has recently been developed by ‘Letters Alive’. Here, a teacher or students use a number of cards, which work with AR software and webcam to build sentences in any way that they wish. On screen or on an interactive whiteboard, the cards produce colourful augmented animated images also with sounds, and according to the sequence of the cards within the sentence being built, real-time changes will occur.

It is worth noting here that augmented reality has a definite ‘wow factor’ at present, being primarily visual in nature and often provoking surprised and excited reactions from students and teachers alike. This is due to the technology not yet being ‘normalised’, a term used by Stephen Bax in his paper ‘CALL – past, present and future’ (2003), where he points out that new technologies take time to become commonplace and no longer seen not as exciting or even ‘technological’ in nature.  He states that teachers when technologies are new, will often view them as being on the fringe, and as a result they are marginalised and left outside of the ELT classroom. AR if and when largely normalised, might due to its nature of being able to provide multi-coded information in its combining of augmented visuals, text and audio together, continually provide an engaging and motivating medium for use within ELT.

 Augmented Reality as ‘Augmented Realia’

 I have been looking at potential uses of AR with beginner level students, and have set up a working system using my laptop, the free version of Google Sketchup (which allows for the creation of 3D objects) and a free AR plugin for Sketchup from ARmedia. The advantage of Google Sketchup is that it provides access to thousands of user-created 3D objects. Everything from everyday objects, people and animals, transport, buildings and national monuments. Any of these objects can be ‘dialled’ into Sketchup and by activating the ARmedia plugin, the augmented image will appear where your printed card is held.

Here is an example of a piece of furniture in action:

And here is a famous building, Osaka Castle:

It seems to me, that in this manner such AR objects could be described as digital realia or ‘augmented realia’. Instead of having to carry ‘real’ physical realia to the class, teachers could instead access a huge resource of augmented realia, stored on flash drives, the computer or online in the ‘cloud’. This could serve many purposes. For example, for vocabulary lessons, or having to simply to describe these objects and any associated contextually or culturally related language. Realia is seen as bringing the real world into the ELT classroom, and similarly, augmented realia could be viewed as virtual representations of the real world ‘imported’ into the classroom digitally. The concept of digital realia is not new. Brian Smith argued that what he termed ‘virtual realia’ could ‘improve the quality and availability of culturally based, authentic EFL materials’ (1997), which he envisioned being delivered over the internet. Augmented realia might be less limited than physical objects, as regardless of size they can be quickly resized, and being weightless are easily manipulated. In addition, the ARmedia plugin allows for multiple objects on different cards to be shown at the same time, allowing for comparisons to be drawn by students, and they may themselves source or create their own objects within given tasks using Sketchup.

In a recent discussion with David, we thought about how this technology could be used with more advanced learners. We concluded that any ‘AR media’ should be seen within the context of  a multi-media approach to English language teaching and learning.  Additionally, AR would be better as with any media, if used where the teacher feels it is actually appropriate. It could certainly activate interest in learners and drive discussion in a similar way to pictures and photos. For instance, students could use an AR virtual globe and through manipulating it, pinpoint areas for discussion that are pertinent to the topic at hand. As objects within Sketchup can be annotated with text labels, in this example the virtual globe could be labelled through student collaboration.

An example of a virtual realia globe in action:



Bax, S. (2003) CALL – Past, present and future. System 31 (1): 13-28

Smith, B. (1997) Virtual Realia. The Internet TESL Journal. 3 (7)


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A visit from Tom Ottway

This is a post that I have had ready for a few weeks but never got round to putting up. As part of our Materials Design module we have been visited by some authors with the aim of giving us a view of the world of materials design. Tom gave us some interesting insights into the world of the publishers and some very sound advice about how to become a ‘content producer’ – a name which has a ring to it. Of the authors who spoke to us I felt Tom was the most forward-thinking and technologically savvy and although the other authors also provided interesting viewpoints regarding the world of coursebook production I felt was definitely heading in the direction I want to go in.

An interesting point made made by Tom was regarding online identities. The way we use the internet and technology decides who we are online, which may not necessarily be who we are in the flesh. Of course we have virtual worlds such as Second Life where we actually consciously create a character with its own avatar but, as Tom said, we also create an identity for ourselves by our online behaviour and interactions with other people. This ties in with some reading I did a few weeks ago on the work of Bonnie Norton and Zoltan Dornyei.

Norton talks about the role of the language learner’s identity identity in language acquisition as multiple, a site of struggle and subject to change while Dornyei refers to the formation of the L2 self. They argue that every time learners interact in a second language they are engaged in identity construction and negotiation. I would put forward that creating a ‘digital identity’ would have similarities to this process and that the identity we choose to portray has to be very carefully thought out as it will influence most of what we do online. Dorian Wizniewski and Richard Coyne in ‘Building virtual communities’ refer to the concept of ‘masking identity’ pointing out that whenever an individual interacts in a social sphere they portray a ‘mask’ of their identity. they talk about about people’s reluctance to interact online because of different psychological and emotional dynamics. A ‘mask of identity’ creates a safety net for them and we as teachers need to be aware of these concepts if we are to understand student’s online interactions and behaviour.

Another thing that came out of our session with Tom was the importance of being able to design materials with any media and the grounding that knowing how to do this well provides for the materials designer. This is something that I have become increasingly aware of during the course of the module both from my reading and from conversations with people involved in materials design. Another important factor to mention here is the 90/10 approach that publishers have to new material in so much as they will only include 10% new material in any new course. As Alan Maley says in his paper ‘Squaring the circle’- ‘the high investment cost of publishing makes risk taking unattractive: hence the near clones in publishers lists (Maley:392)


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-Meetings pt3-

This was an interesting and particularly constructive meeting. In comparison with previous meetings we felt that after having now had some time to reflect, we were able to pinpoint areas that appear to be pertinent to the overall process of materials evaluation and design, as well as the writing of this blog.

We reached the conclusion that as a result of our collaboration, ideas for materials have not been left in isolation. Instead, from ongoing discussion and feedback within our meetings, Skype calls and blogging, they have been evaluated from at least two different perspectives, allowing for development or at times discarded in a critical fashion. Additionally, we thought that working together and being able to bounce ideas off each other has led to some understanding, or at least appreciation of how and why ELT coursebooks and other learning materials are created in pairs or teams. It’s not always a straightforward process, and at times feedback received can feel uncomfortable. It was something that Theresa Clementson described, who is one of the co-authors of the English Unlimited series of coursebooks, when she made an informative and insightful talk to us earlier on the module. She stressed that it is important to understand that participants involved within the design stage are not being intentionally negative towards you, but instead critical in a constructive sense. This is what individuals involved need to be prepared for, and to value all perspectives ‘around the table’ so to speak.

We also discussed some of our up and coming posts and rather than them being made in somewhat isolation, where in a sense they were monological in nature, we were clearer as to how they connected both of our sides of the process and discussion, and importantly to the wider discussion within ELT.

Some of the areas that we discussed for future posts included:

  • The learning opportunities afforded by students creating their own materials
  • David’s idea for a social network, which can be set up and administered at, and for where CAE students can help and support each other within an online ‘community of practice’.
  • Augmented reality and some examples of its use within education and ELT.  I’d created a ‘stack’ of related YouTube videos to help illustrate the potential of augmented reality in the ELT classroom. We then discussed how this technology might be used with higher levels up to advanced.


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Materials v activities and problem-based learning

Going back to a previous post by Alex it is important to consider the question regarding where activities end and ELT materials begin and whether they are actually the same thing. The role of teacher as ‘facilitator’ or as Ellis(2007) calls them ‘observer’ or ‘counsellor’ could also be modified to ‘scaffolder’. This follows on from the idea brought up in the Khan lecture yesterday in which the technology is the scaffolder. I recently had a group of German students who were studying for the FCE and CAE exams in their home country. They were also studying either librarianship or marketing and media studies. Myself and a colleague devised a week-long course for them in which our input was to provide an initial idea of an activity which was left very open to interpretation on the part of the students. We then provided scaffolding help during the activity. As such we didn’t really use materials but provided conceptual frameworks and suggestions of activities which the students were free to explore autonomously. The feedback from the students and their teachers regarding the course was exceptional.

Problem-based learning follows a constructivist perspective in learning as the role of instructor is ‘to guide and challenge the learning process rather than strictly providing knowledge’ (Dolmans et al. 2005) (Hmelo-Silver and Burrows 2006). Feedback and reflection on the learning process and group dynamics are essential components of this process.

As part of the course the students were asked to work in groups of 3 or 4 and to choose a company which was ailing in the market. They were asked to put together a proposal of how the company could be rescued by rebranding and changing the approach to marketing strategy. The librarians were asked to rescue an ailing library and make it competitive in the digital age. There were ample opportunities for students to use the internet and discuss ideas with teacher during the process.

I have included a video showing the presentations which were done by the students.

On a similar note, initially myself and Alex were interested in the possibilities of using adverts and advertising campaigns to allow students to analyse strategies and also language or imagery used for effect. This is something I used a lot in Portugal as I taught a Media and Communications studies class for many years. Analysing the impact of controversial advertising campaigns was very effective as it provides rich input for discussion and teaches the student to ‘look behind’ the picture to find out what is really going on. This is also very important in the context of FCE and CAE study as the students in these exams are expected to compare and contrast pictures in the speaking exam. Enabling the students to look at more than just the ‘face value of a picture’ provides them with the tools to be successful in this task.

A typical campaign which can be analysed would be the Benetton campaign fro the 90’s which bombarded the viewer with a series of disturbing images and was heavily criticized at the time.

In every activity we do it is important to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of the activity and analyse the learning outcomes. David Jolly and Rod Bolitho in Tomlinson’s book Materials development in language teaching (p.107) illustrate their process of materials design and evaluation using a flowchart. I would like to evaluate the materials and outcomes with the group mentioned in this post by working through the stages of the process although I would like to point out that there was a constant process of evaluation and adaptation taking place at all stages of the week.


We identified the learner need through use of a needs analysis and pre-test which identified weaknesses and requirements


Considering the age and the topic being studied myself and another teacher devised a week long program for the class, we felt it was essential to include a variety of communicative activities and also to incorporate opportunities for the students to explore the town of Brighton. We included a visit to a company/ library and devoted the mornings to language work and activities and 2 afternoons to preparation of the final presentation which you can see in the video.


The teachers proposed different activities based on the needs and likes of the students


As a team myself and the teachers found appropriate exercises and activities for the learners, we found that the students preferred working with media tools such as pocasts and the internet, we also used materials that we keep in our Ideas Bank, activities and ideas that have worked with previous groups.


The considerations for the production of materials including maps for the Brighton treasure hunts and the logistics of the final presentations fed in to the following category which was:


The students used the materials and were also involved in continued production as foolow-on activities


At the beginning of the week we analysed and agreed the objectives of the course with the students so everybody was clear what they wanted out of the course. There was an ongoing process of evaluation conducted by myself and the teachers in feedback meetings so we could analyse what went well and not so well. Our objectives based on the needs analysis were achieved.

It is important to mention at this point that a course or material needs to be analysed not only before use but also during and after. It is only through a combination of all this that we can properly evaluate the materials.


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Let’s use video to reinvent education

I wanted to share this amazing and inspirational video presentation by Salman Khan. In his talk Khan, the CEO of Khan Academy, talks about the possibility of using video to flip the classroom. In this concept what traditionally was done in the classroom ,i.e the input and content, would become video work at home. This would give the students a chance to absorb the content in their own time, to pause and repeat the video so that they could understand concepts and ideas. Consequently the time spent in the classroom would be devoted to tasks traditionally set for homework. The students could reenforce their understanding of the concepts with help and support from a teacher. Essentially Khan is talking about humanizing the classroom and removing the one size fits all view of education.

He goes on to talk about using technology to allow each child/ learner to work at their own pace and this to be recorded on their own profile so that they would only move on to the next concept when they had mastered the last one. This immediately brings to mind Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development and the idea of scaffolding the learning experience. The profile can immediately pinpoint the areas where the student needs help and allows the teacher to intervene in these areas, which frees up time and limits teacher intervention to people who need it. It also allows for peer intervention where fellow students can act as guides for weaker students in a particular topic area. Teachers are armed with as much data as possible about the students allowing them to focus on what they need to.

Interestingly, Khan talks about the fact that students may often during the learning experience get stuck on when area which it takes longer for them to master than another area. However, when they master the area of difficulty they may race forward again and often overtake the other students. Traditionally these students who fell behind may have found themselves placed in lower sets or marginalized due simply to the nature of the education system whereas from Khan’s point of view we now have the means to cater for all learner’s and to humanize and individualize their learning experience. I agree with Khan that this is a huge step forward. As someone who trained as a secondary school teacher and left the system due to enormous frustration this gives me great hope, albeit twenty years on.

To my mind this sort of innovative thinking is essential to the materials design process in that it provides a framework for change and will greatly influence how we think of learning materials. I believe the flipped classroom could well be a reality of the future.


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Using documentaries

The possibility of using documentaries or ‘real-life’ stories in the classroom is an interesting one. I think as Alex referred to in a previous post it would provide very rich material for speaking based activities, especially for the levels we are aiming our materials at (FCE, CAE). There is an apparent lack of good quality materials for these higher levels and I really think documentaries or inspirational stories provide a stimulus for active discussion. With this in mind I have been showing my CAE students various documentaries and excerpts from films based on true stories.

There is a very interesting documentary series in Channel 4 about hoarders which I showed to my students last week. The story tracks a man who lives in a village which enters the annual ‘Britain in bloom’ competition to find the most beautiful village in Britain. However, the man in question, Mr Wallace, who lives right in the middle of the village, is a hoarder incapable of throwing things away whose house and garden is full of what many people what term as rubbish. The story follows Mr Wallace and the efforts of a local landscape gardener, Andy, who sets about helping him.

I found that my students were fascinated by the documentary, as I myself was, and were inspired to have a very lively discussion on the topic.

I stopped the video at 10 minute intervals and asked them to discuss certain questions regarding the protagonists. I found that they were not afraid to discuss issues regarding psychology and were in fact inspired by watching the video. The basis for both myself and Alex’s ideas were these ‘taboo’ subjects which are often regarded as untouchable in the classroom when in fact my experience has been that they provide very rich lessons.

Another very interesting lesson was about a paraplegic called Nik Vujicic who is an inspirational speaker. Before we watched the video we had a class discussion about handicapped people and the difficulties they face in life. I then showed the video:

Following the video we reopened the discussion and it was interesting to note the changes in opinion. During both of these videos it was interesting to note the engagement of the students both in the video itself but also their willingness to speak in the resulting discussion.

The use of video helps the students to relate to the subject. Another recent example of this was a lesson I did on storytelling and lying. I used the film ‘ Catch me if you Can’ in which a schoolboy impersonates a variety of characters in 1950s America. Through his storytelling he manages to become an airline pilot, a doctor, a teacher and a lawyer throughout the course of the film. I showed a clip from the film before asking the students to engage in an activity where they had to work in groups and tell 3 stories to the other members of the group, 2 of which were true and one invented. The other members of the group had to decide which story was the lie. I tried this activity both with the introductory video and without with different groups and every time I found that the students engaged much more with the activity if they had watched the video beforehand.


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Materials and culture

With regard to materials and culture Ian McGrath (2002:212) quotes Brown (1990b) in saying that ‘knowing a language is inseparable from understanding the culture in which the language is spoken. This is a recurring theme in my reading at the moment. According to McGrath words conjure up images or concepts, they are not just lexical items. Words such as breakfast, home, school, polite, big etc. may be understood in distinctively different ways by speaker and hearer. In other words they are relative to the speaker and hearer and I believe it is this ‘relativity’ i.e the ground between the different interpretations of the words that it would be interesting for us as teachers to explore. The different types of negotiation that take place in this process are not merely negotiations for meaning but as Block (2003) proposes they are also negotiations of face and identity, there are a whole range of processes going on which are not only linguistic.


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