Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Future proof CALL: what does it mean?

The theme for this year's EuroCALL conference, as you may have gathered from the publicity was "future-proof CALL". I had not really questioned this choice of theme at all prior to arriving at the conference, my assumption had been that the focus would be on how we could sustain the development and embedding of computer-assisted language learning into the future. I had seen the theme as a call to arms which recognised the vulnerability of this activity - something which resonates with me having seen the effects of the austerity agenda on education in the UK. 

Our keynotes really unpacked this theme and demanded that we look more closely at exactly what it means. The turning point for me came with Claire Kramsch's insights shared through our virtually connecting session . The discussion drew on other English expressions using "proof" - water-proof, fire proof, etc. What did we really mean by future proof? Did we have a shared understanding of what we meant? 

Mark Brown returned to the theme in his keynote (above) and then in the closing panel where Phil Hubbard (3 mins 20) and Mark Brown (11 mins 15) return to it with what may seem to be opposite interpretations: 
-the need to make CALL obsolete and 
-the importance of sustaining a healthy community. 
Having reflected on these views I see them actually being part of one and the same thing. 

Firstly, on obsolescence. I have often told my employers that e-learning is not about the e, it is about learning. The "e" perhaps helps them in their budget/targets, but it is unhelpful to practitioners. It encourages some to believe that "e" is an aspect of teaching or learning that is not for them but only for the technophiles. The CALL label can have the same effect. Our gatherings tend to unite folk with the same tech-leanings, we are dismissed by others as "tech evangelists". This conference identified that we should do more to clarify the pedagogy (not a word I am fond of, so maybe I should say "the approach to learning") which we adopt. 

Secondly on healthy professional communities. This is very close to my heart as I self-identify firstly as a teacher. Unsurprisingly perhaps as I have worked as a language teacher for over 30 years. I am worried about the institutions we are employed in, they have a disregard for the health of our teaching communities. I say that having co-researched the policies of HEIs looking for commitments to sustainable teaching. The publication was based on evidence from Australia but I also looked (where possible) at policies in the UK (most are not publically available if they even exist) and the same issue holds true. There is no clear commitment to supporting healthy teaching communities to underpin sustainable teaching in the future. Healthy communities need interaction, sharing, inclusive, open discussion. The ecological metaphor is totally relevant to the EuroCALL community which has seen innovation and should embrace it. The teaching community needs to be a living, breathing, evolving community of practice. This works best through open educational practice, locking people inside institutional systems only serves to suffocate the community, we need the fresh air of open educational practice to thrive.

During the conference I was able to watch Shona Whyte's presentation of research into teacher understanding of open educational practice and this clarified to me that teachers themselves are not really appreciating why #OEP or indeed what is #OEP. More work to do there on facilitating a more nuanced discussion with practitioners. All the time being aware of the monsters we are warned about in Mark Brown's keynote. 

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