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Teaching English as a Foreign Language in Palestinian HEIs: An e-Learning Initiative that Bridges Educational and Socio-Political Gaps “TEFL-ePAL”

#wlvmlearn tweeted by @mattsmithwlv

Aida Bakeer , Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education/ Curriculum and teaching methods, Al-Quds Open University.

This event was part of an Erasmus Plus research project and was designed to showcase digital language teaching in the UK to a visiting delegation of Palestinian university language teachers. It sought to emphasise the importance of pedagogical knowledge as the bedrock for purposeful technology use. The research is an EU-funded collaboration, focused on helping Palestinian academic and technical staff to acquire the knowledge and expertise and maximize their benefits from the high level of European expertise available.

The twitter footprint of the day illustrates the many activities and topics covered during a very interactive and extensive exchange between language practitioners. This account was in part written by one of the Palestinian participants, Aida Bakeer , Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education/ Curriculum and teaching methods, Al-Quds Open University.

The first presentation was The Use of Mobile Social Media Applications for EFL in Saudi Arabia’s Higher Education. Abdul Alshabeb’s presentation was centered on the utilization of Social Media Applications and Mobility ifor language teaching in the Saudi Arabian context. Abdul stated that Saudi Arabia has the highest percentage of active Twitter/Instagram/WhatsApp users among its population in the Middle East. In addition, he mentioned that education in the Saudi context is segregated by gender and that teaching is still didactic. Furthermore, culture in Saudi Arabic is crucial in the sense that educators and researchers have to take it into consideration when teaching. The aim of his research is to determine whether mobile social media applications enable or inhibit English language learning and how teachers can provide more opportunities for learners to take part in collaborative, motivated, cultural and contextual experiences. Last but not the least, he differentiated between Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) and Mobile-Assisted Language Learning (MALL) and introduced the new concept of Social Media-Assisted Language Learning (SMALL).

This was followed by Chris Martin (PhD student at Wolverhampton) presenting on Motivating the Foreign Language Learner. Martin opened his presentation by distinguishing between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, highlighting the underlying practices that lead to student demotivation. Some of those factors included:

  • complex tasks
  • teachers’ poor subject knowledge
  • overloaded whiteboards and presentations
  • teachers’ lack of awareness of students’ abilities, and
  • the heavy emphasis on high-stakes examinations.

Additionally, Martin introduced us to several motivational teaching techniques such as: (1) Learner-Initiated Feedback Technique (L.I.F.T.) where students annotate their work with questions or doubts.

Judith Hamilton (Senior Lecturer at Wolverhampton) presented on Using YouTube as a Pedagogical Tool for Reception. She demonstrated three activities for language learners using YouTube videos:

  • Name the Object: Turbo Diner. The students are required to name as many objects as possible within the allocated time.
  • Jigsaw Viewing: Departure of Love. In this video, students should work in pairs. The first student is to describe the video to his partner who should write the story without watching the film and then they exchange roles.
  • Write a Quiz: A short video clip is shared to the group who use it to formulate three questions with which they will challenge the observation skills of others in the class.

Collaborative Learning with Trello: Using the Language of Instruction by Karl Royle divided the audience into 5 groups and distributed handouts with different processes/steps. He requested that each group elect a leader to discuss and exchange the processes. Finally, the group leaders had to report back to their group members, arrange the steps in logical order, create a “how to” video, and upload it on YouTube.

The Use of Edmodo with Teenage ESOL Students in the U.K. was explained by Diana Tremayne who shared the following characteristics of the virtual learning environment provided by Edmodo :

  • Easy and free to set up
  • Students do not need an email to sign up
  • You have overall control of posts
  • Wide variety of tools you can access easily
  • Students like the Emodo interface
  • Mobile application is available
  • It is similar to Facebook, in terms of layout with the properties of Google Classroom
  • Edmodo polls allow for instant feedback
  • Quizzes are easy to set up with group/individual results
  • Other links can be integrated as well (i.e. Padlet )
  • Teachers can reward students with badges for their progress
  • Edmodo library features
  • “pinned” posts
  • Gives teachers the opportunity to find/share ideas and resources with each other
  • Compatible with Google/Office 365 accounts

Tremayne also shifted our focus on things to consider—building a sense of
community takes time, access to computers/devices may vary, students and teachers need time to familiarize themselves with technological tools, and it is easy to let Edmodo or any other virtual learning atmosphere become a repository.

From Computer Mediated Communication to Virtual Exchange was presented by Teresa Mackinnon, Associate professor at the University of Warwick. She began her presentation by defining Computer Mediated Communication (CMC), a field that evolved from CALL. Additionally, she informed us about EUROCALL and WorldCALL, international networks for Computer-Assisted Language Learning. She also mentioned Open Education – a movement which supports open access to learning opportunities for all through the use of digital technologies. Open Educational Practice helps practitioners to connect and share what they do, offering opportunities to improve and collaborate on resource creation. The way we work and interact has been transformed by the technological affordances of the internet such as hyperlink, social media and synchronous communication tools.

MacKinnon posed a question regarding where and how we obtain our professional networks and suggested a take-away task where we had to think of 3 things that we will do differently in our classes as a result of the day’s discussion. She wrote about the event in her blog post here. Last but not least, she closed her presentation and commented on the extent to which we can trust technology; stating that there is no clear cut answer, but we have to use technology with care at all times.

The final lecture for the day was given by Professor Michael Thomas, UCLAN. He asserted that technology is an endless cycle that keeps evolving and as a result, we are put in a situation where we are desperately trying to catch up with it and make it stable. He added that technology has been promising to revolutionize education for a long time via (1) educational radios, (2) talking movies, (3) language labs, (4) microcomputers, (5) video tapes, (6) Web 2.0, (7) interactive whiteboards, and etc. The highlight of Prof. Thomas’ presentation was the distinction between the roles of a teacher—(1) facilitator and (2) difficultator (neologism).

Furthermore, Prof. Thomas elaborated on the concepts of resilience, innovation, value-based learning, and the marketisation of education while using technology and stated that teachers need to familiarize themselves with the changes of technologies and adjust accordingly to the context at which they are situated. He stated that teachers should work towards enhancing the 3 C’s—(1) Communication, (2) Collaboration, and (3) Creativity—of their students. Lastly, Thomas told us to think critically about the integration of technology in our classroom and ask ourselves the following question: Who does it really benefit?

In conclusion, freedom and participation in the academic world are crucial factors that motivated Al Quds Open University to participate in the research. Integrating these tools in education can enhance learning activities in ways that can support more student integration and active involvement in the learning process, change traditional ways of teaching, foster language acquisition, and require tutors to be more creative in adapting and customising their own teaching materials and strategies.

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