Ok, so my last day of IATEFL (not the last day of the conference by the way, but I had to get back for work reasons) and I saw a few more sessions that touched on both technology and EAP and were worth reporting back on.
First up was a panel session on MOOCs, four people with different perspectives on Massive Open Online Courses each gave a fifteen-minute presentation.

First up was Chris Cavey from the British Council talking about lessons learnt from their experience of running 6 different MOOCs over the last few years. A couple of interesting points that came out of it were that they reduced the number of quizzes significantly as time went on since students indicated in feedback that they didn’t find them particularly useful. Instead they focused more on creating interaction in the forums As students seemed to respond better to that. Clearly students are more interested in talking and engaging with other students and tutors rather than doing dull multiple choice questions. Who’d have thunk it?

Chris’ colleague Neil McLaren talked a little bit about the social side of the courses and how they managed to engender this social engagement by creating Facebook groups and holding Q and A sessions using a free video tool called blab. They also used other well known tools such as Padlet and Vocaroo to further involve them.

Claire Ross talked about a recent course developed on the platform for teacher development and how the teachers came from such a diverse cultural and educational background but were still able to share and learn from each other.

I’m still not 100% sure what the role of a MOOC is for an institution, a mixture of advertising, recruitment, commitment to open education and a desire not to miss out I suspect. My experiences of them myself have been somewhat mixed but I’m ready to be convinced by them. How well they work in an EAP context is difficult to say. The final speaker on the panel, Rosa from Shanghai University talked about a MOOC they ran for university students which relied on peer marking of essays for assessment, yet the feedback from the students was less than positive in terms of how useful they found it. Without significant learner training, this kind of assessment is likely to be frustrating or superficial for the participants.

Later in the day I went along to a presentation by Gavin Dudeney and Thom Kiddie about the setting up of an accreditation body for online teacher development courses called AQUEDUTO (apparently aqueduct in Portuguese as well as an acronym for, well, something or other). Anyone offering the organisation will have to pay a fee of £4000 (!) to join and then pay extra money – £1200 if my scratchy notes are correct – to have their courses assessed. Members will also be able to advertise their courses there.

Now I think it’s a good idea to establish such a body, some kind of accreditation would be useful to help teachers and institutions select appropriate courses. However some of the details were a little worrying. First off, there did seem a slight conflict of interest in that most of the organisations supporting the organisation such as the British Council, Consultants-E, NILE, International House are themselves providers of online training courses. I’m not sure how they will maintain objectivity when it comes to the inspection of their own courses, but they will clearly have to work hard to overcome the suspicion that it’s a body set up to serve its own backers.

As someone building online training courses myself, this is naturally of interest to me but I need to do a lot more investigation before committing to joining them.

The last technology related session – though not specifically EAP – was one on digital games by Paul Driver. This was a fantastic presentation, both in terms of delivery and content. His style was relaxed and anecdotal and his slides were superbly designed, not surprising given that one of his jobs is as a graphic designer.

The talk was explicitly NOT about gamification, Driver’s view is that the system of praise and reward that game-like elements foster in the class are not conducive to deeper learning. Instead he talked about actual computer games and how some of the motor recent ones are perfect for developing language skills.

He talked about Lifeline, a game where you have to read a story about a stranded astronaut and make decisions to try to keep him alive. Another one was Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, a game where one person can see the screen and the mechanics of a bomb that’s about to explode. The rest of the team have a complex paper manual for the bomb and they have to communicate with the person seeing the bomb to help them defuse it. It sounds a bit silly but in fact it’s a very compelling game as I’ve played it myself with my son and his friends and it does generate a huge amount of language.

Now, where this might fit into an EAP classroom I’m not sure, though the bomb one clearly might have implications for engineers or similar describing processes and mechanics. But I think it’s worth exploring some of these ideas with students to vary what we do with them.

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About David Read

I work at the English Language Teaching Centre at the University of Sheffield as the Director of TEL (technology-enhanced learning). I've been an EFL/EAP teacher and teacher trainer for over 20 years and have worked in 14 different countries. Settling down is clearly an issue for me.

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