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Artificial Intelligence | ELT EdTech

AI in the classroom.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has actually been around for decades. But only recently has it become an accessible tool for day-to-day tasks on our smartphones, picking strawberries, predicting crimes, and even English Language Teaching!

What is Artificial Intelligence?

A good working definition, which applies to the general understanding of AI, is Artificial Intelligence involves machines or computers that work and react like humans do.

The AI that is prevalent in current technology is what we’d call Narrow AI. That is to say it has a narrow focus and is very good at one or two jobs. For example, Shazam is very good at letting you know what song is playing, by listening to a snippet of the music, but it can’t tell you how many tickets are left for the theatre tomorrow night, or how tall Charles de Gaulle was.

An easy mistake to make is to imagine AI as machines that can think like humans do. This is called General AI, where a program could theoretically turn its hand to a variety of problems and, after a bit of observation, take up the task itself, as a person might be able to.

This kind of multifaceted intelligence isn’t replicable in computer programs (yet.) As Dr. Hadar Shemtov, Director of Research at Google, said in response to a question from the audience at an OUP dictionaries summit, “Computers are actually a lot dumber than the average guy thinks… they still need to be told what to do in the vast majority of cases.

How does it work?

There are two basic ways AI can work. The first is rules based – the program is given a set of rules and it keeps applying these to the problem to find an answer. The second is learning based – the program observes, finds patterns and matches patterns independently.

The difference between these two is that one is taught, whilst one is learned.

This is why AI is mentioned with such frequency in recent years. Previously, AI was all rules based – meaning its capabilities were restricted by the rules that could be defined by programmers. Modern AI has shifted to learning based, making it exponentially more powerful and opening up many more exciting implications. This has become possible because the vast data sets, and the computing power to analyse them (required to help a program learn) are now available with modern technology.

So what is Machine Learning?

Machine Learning is when AI programs learn how to complete a task. Machine Learning involves a computer analysing large quantities of data, recognising patterns in the data, and drawing out conclusions or solutions from these patterns. Often, in order for patterns to become apparent, huge quantities of data need to be looked at. The more data available, the more likely the AI is going to produce an accurate answer.

The initial algorithm for how to use the data is written by a human programmer, but the computer then applies this to vast data sets. This means that AI can notice patterns and provide answers far faster than any human – and sometimes provide answers humans would have been incapable of ever producing. But, it also means that the quality of the data needs to be good. If you input a poor data set into AI, you’re only going to get poor output. If you want to see Machine Learning in action, Teachable Machine is a great free tool developed by Google.

 What can we use AI for?

Well, just about anything. Uses of AI have already done great things to make our modern and connected lives more efficient and personalised. But there are also numerous potential benefits for education, which could improve the working lives of teachers and the learning journeys of students.

To date, Oxford University Press has already built products that make use of AI to personalise learning materials, we’ve partnered with Edwin to create an English tutor chatbot, and with Mobilinga to create interactive adventure stories, delivered via Alexa. We’re excited to continue exploring how we can make use of AI in education with our partners, using it to create new learning materials and content to help the world learn English.

Think you could partner with us? The Oxford University Press ELT Product and Innovation team are heading to the 2019 BETT conference in London later this month. Are you going? If you want to discuss potential partnerships with the team, please click the button below to get in touch and book a meeting.


Harry Cunningham is a Partnerships and Innovation Manager at Oxford University Press in the ELT division. He’s focused on enhancing and bringing OUP’s English Language Teaching content to life with the latest and best technological solutions.


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#IATEFL – The digital classroom: change of medium or change of methodology?

shutterstock_198926996Stacey Hughes, an Oxford teacher trainer with 20 years teaching experience, joins us to preview her upcoming talk at IATEFL, ‘The digital classroom: change in medium or change in methodology’, held on Friday 15th April at 3.30pm.

Today’s e-coursebooks and e-readers offer learners a range of tools that can enhance the learning experience, but is using an e-book really different? Does it require a different methodology? Does it have an impact on classroom management?  What are the benefits an e-book can offer?

First let’s think about a fairly standard lesson that uses a coursebook. You probably spend some time with students paying attention to you or to a listening track or video, some time with students working in pairs or groups, some time with them working alone. E-books don’t change that dynamic:

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If we are happy with the scenario in the left column above, why should we bother changing? Why introduce e-books? Firstly, e-books can add flexibility: in the above scenario, teacher could choose to allow students to listen to the audio track on their own with headphones or in pairs.  Secondly, e-books have some features that can be beneficial to students. For example, students could listen to a graded reader and read along. They can speed up or slow down the audio or pause it and rewind to listen to a section again. Some students might even replay a section again and record themselves at the same time in order to compare their intonation or pronunciation of words.

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Another reason for using e-books is that they are on tablets where students can also keep other learning resources: a learner’s dictionary, all their e-readers, and educational apps are a few good examples. Of course, with tablets and a wifi connection, students can use the internet to do webquests for projects that really open up and contextualize learning.

What about classroom management? Of all the fears that teachers say they have regarding introducing technology into the classroom, classroom management ranks highly.  However, managing a class with e-books need not be any different from managing a class with more familiar tools. The same management principles apply.

At my workshop at IATEFL, I’ll be asking teachers to think about some of the things they do in their class now before looking at some of the functionality of e-coursebooks and e-readers on Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf. We will talk about classroom management and think about how a class might look using an e-book. I hope you can join me!


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#IATEFL – Look out! It’s the future!

Villemard

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

David Pearce, a Digital Learning Manager at Oxford University Press, looks at the issues surrounding the implementation of digital technology in the classroom. David will be presenting on this topic at IATEFL 2015 on Sunday 12th April.

A charming image created in 1910, by the French artist Villemard, attempted to depict what a classroom would look like in the year 2000. To the right of the image stands a hand-cranked machine with a feeding chute at the top. A boy stands over the handle, cranking it round as the bewhiskered school master feeds books into the chute. Wires run from the machine to the ceiling of the classroom, leading eventually to headsets worn by the attentive pupils. Knowledge, ground out of the pages of the books and metamorphosed into some kind of energy, is transferred directly to their brains.

The scene says as much about the theory of knowledge at the time as it does about the imagined labour-saving transformations of technology. We are now less inclined to believe that learning is about the passive reception of knowledge. These days we think of knowledge as something actively constructed by the learner, and of knowledge as being only one part of learning, with skills like collaboration, communication and critical thinking forming as big a part, if not bigger, of what students need to learn. As for the technology portrayed, part of the charm of the image lies in how naïve the machinery seems to us, reflecting a time when the electrification of life was starting to become commonplace, it’s possibilities apparently boundless.

And yet Villemard was surprisingly accurate. A lot of the features of the 21st century classroom are as he depicted them. The classroom itself remains, there are still children seated at desks, and there is still a teacher presiding over events. And of course there are still lots and lots of books. We may not be grinding them into energy to beam straight into our students’ heads, but we are grinding their contents into data to go online, or into e-books, or onto interactive whiteboards. And perhaps we still hope that technology will somehow make the job of learning effortless – this is what the picture seems to say to me.

The centrepiece, however, is the machinery itself: for the time it is modern, bizarre, and a little bit fantastic. And isn’t this what a lot of us feel about the technology we’re expected to use with our own students? Although the technology depicted seems strange to us, is it any more bizarre than the actual technology we’ve ended up with? Just as Villemard was an artist working when electricity had become an everyday reality with boundless potential, we live at a time when the same thing is happening with digital technology. Making sense of its potential is not always straightforward.

My workshop – “Digital or Analogue: Making Choices About Technology in Lesson Planning” – is intended for those educators who want to bring modern technology into their classrooms, but who may be unsure about how or when to use it. There are lots of reasons why using technology might be difficult: a lack of expertise or confidence, inadequate equipment, poor internet connectivity – and sometimes simply not knowing where to start. In the workshop we will explore together how simple principles can be applied in our everyday teaching, and how small changes to our practice can build technology into what we do. Learning with technology may not be as effortless as Villemard suggested it might be, but teaching with it needn’t be a grind.


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Technology Enhanced Language Learning 

DeathtoStock_Medium10Aisha Walker, Associate Professor of Technology, Education and Learning at Leeds University, introduces her webinar, Technology Enhanced Language Learning, hosted by Oxford University Press on February 25th and 26th.

As I lead an MA programme in TESOL and ICT I frequently see draft student assignments that open with a sentence such as: “Technology is increasingly important in the world today.” The student may then go on to say that today’s learners are ‘digital natives’, that technology motivates and engages students and that all teachers should be using more of it.  Luckily, because we offer students the opportunity to get feedback on drafts before submission, I can catch these broad statements and ask students to be more measured and more critical in their approaches to concepts such as the ‘digital native’ or ‘technology for learner motivation’.

So why should language teachers make use of digital technologies?  I see two main reasons although there may be other pressures such as institutional policies (if a school has spent a lot of money on a new online learning environment, for example, they will want teachers to use it).  The first reason is that digital media are part of the way that we use language in the real world.  Much of our day-to-day communication is mediated by digital tools including email, SMS, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, What’s App and much more.  These tools are normal sites of language use and it is as important to explore these with learners as it is to explore older media such as newspapers and radio (now often online, of course).

The second reason is that technology can provide solutions to some of the problems that we encounter as language teachers.  For example, in the context of a single-language classroom there is little reason for students to communicate in the target language except that the teacher tells them to.  Digital tools may enable them to communicate with an audience outside the classroom, for example by posting blogs or videos either to a general audience or in partnership with a class of learners elsewhere.  Whilst I do not believe that technology is intrinsically motivating, novelty and variety do engage and motivate students.  Technology offers plenty of novel possibilities from new ways of presenting material to new games for language practice.

In summary, digital tools and media are part of everyday language use and should, therefore, be part of language learning.  In addition, the range of possibilities offered by digital tools mean that there are many ways in which technology can enhance language learning. But… ‘learners are digital natives’? It’s more complicated than that!

To explore how using everyday digital tools and media can be part of language learning, join us for Aisha’s upcoming webinar Technology Enhanced Language Learning.


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What is the impact of English on your town or city?

ESL EFL English in your town or cityNina Leeke, co-author of International Express, provides ideas for a lively lesson or homework activity around this topic. It’s also the subject of the International Express Digital Poster Competition, which challenges adult students to produce a digital poster around this theme.

Like the majority of teachers, I like to personalise lessons and make them as relevant to my students as possible. Students usually find it easier to talk about things within their own experience and are more motivated to do so, and the language learnt as a consequence is likely to be more useful for them.  As I generally teach in-company classes, we spend a lot of time talking about the students’ jobs and everyday work. But it’s also interesting to broaden the scope and look beyond the workplace.  The local town or city is a topic which everyone has an opinion on, as we experience our environment day by day. The International Express Digital Poster Competition neatly brings these subjects together.  It challenges adult learners to produce a digital poster illustrating the impact of English on their local town or city, and they must include something about the local work environment and social life.  The topic provides plenty of engaging content for a lesson or two! Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Take in some prompts to initiate the discussion. For example, you could choose English-language tourist leaflets, menus, photos of billboards or signs, workplace material such as company documents, newsletters, and emails, videos or recordings of spoken English such as public transport announcements, workplace conversations, or conversations with tourists.
  • Alternatively, you could set the question as a homework assignment. Ask learners to keep their eyes and ears open for evidence of the impact of English on their locale and report back in an upcoming lesson.
  • If English is a strong workplace requirement where you are, you could start by asking learners about changes in the job market and workplace over the years. What skills are necessary for their jobs? How is English used in their workplace? A good starting point is to take in local job adverts or have learners research job ads online.
  • Interviews and surveys always provide a lot of language practice – especially those question forms which students so often struggle with. Learners can create surveys or interview questions on the topic and then interview each other, their colleagues, or people on the street. Your students could then present their findings in graph form – which would provide content for the digital poster if you decide to produce one.
  • Have a debate! Start by brainstorming the pros and cons of the local impact of English. Then divide the group into two teams, for and against the motion English has had a positive impact on … (name of your town/city). This fun activity should facilitate useful language practice of agreeing, disagreeing and the language of cause and effect.

Once your students have come up with enough ideas on this theme, it’s time to get them started on producing their digital poster.  For many learners, this activity will represent a break from the usual routine, which is usually motivating in itself.  The learners I tried it out with – one of my in-company classes – were excited by the change! Plus participants can enjoy the visual appeal and the hands-on nature of the task. Digital posters also represent a good opportunity for task-based learning and collaboration. The results can be displayed either online or physically, and learners can present their poster to their peers.

If you and your students are new to the medium, the following tips may be useful:

  1. Provide your class with some examples first, either by finding them online or creating something yourself. Alternatively, you can have learners look for digital posters for homework and share their favourites in the next class. To avoid too wide a search, you can specify a site for learners to look at.  For example, choose a topic on the glogster education samples page.  Much of the material on this site has been produced by school-age students, but you will find content relevant to adults too.
  2. The examples should give learners ideas on the possibilities for content, for example, photos, text, and illustrations. If they haven’t come up already, you may also like to suggest the use of word clouds, mind maps and infographics. Free resources to try include wordle.net, www.mindmaple.com and www.easel.ly.
  3. Ask learners to select which posters they like best and why. Analyse the elements of a good digital poster, for example, interesting content and simple rules for presentation (such as not too much clutter, and text that is easy to read with appropriate fonts and colours).
  4. Simple software to use includes PowerPoint, Word, Photoshop and Google Drive (go to create/drawing). Glogster has more opportunities for multimedia content and is designed for educational use. There is a limited free version (which includes advertising) as well as various subscription options.
  5. You may wish to create some content guidelines or a template in order to focus the learners and prevent them from feeling overwhelmed by the possibilities.  If you use Glogster, there are various templates to choose from. If you are using other software, you could impose boundaries by specifying the number of different items on the page, or the mix of text/pictures/graphics. Conversely, you may well wish to give your learners the freedom to do whatever they like, if they are not the kind to be spoilt by choice!
  6. Allow enough time for learners to ‘play’ with the technology! If you are like me, they will be more adept at using it than you are! However, they will still need time to experiment.
  7. Having said the above, ensure that learners get their content ideas down on paper first! Otherwise they may spend most of their time trying out presentation options rather than thinking about their message and content.

So, if you are looking for ways to link your classroom to the wider world, the International Express Digital Poster Competition provides the perfect opportunity.  Digital posters present a good opportunity for task-based learning and collaboration – and they are fun to produce!  I hope some of these ideas inspire you, and good luck with your competition entries!

We’re awarding an iPad and an OUP business writing folder to the winning teacher.  Each member of the winning class (up to twenty five students) will receive an OUP laptop sleeve and the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary Ninth Edition.  Visit the competition website to find out how to enter.