Aisha Walker is Associate Professor of Technology, Education and Learning at the University of Leeds. With a background in linguistics, language learning and primary education her research areas include digitally-mediated communication, academic language and childrens’ engagement with digital technologies. Today she joins us ahead of her webinar Online risk and safety for language learners and teachers to preview what she will discuss at this online event.
The online digital world offers huge benefits to language learners and teachers. Much of our everyday language use takes place in digital environments and is mediated by digital tools. This means that it is sensible for language teachers use these tools with their students. After all, students will need to be able to communicate in the target language using digital tools as fluently as, say, handwriting (if not more so). Nowadays, we are likely to write business emails rather than letters; to send Facebook messages rather than birthday cards and to check the news using social media rather than the daily newspaper. Language learners need to be able to negotiate all of these new contexts and to use appropriate language in digital spaces.
Digital tools and media also offer opportunities for authentic communication with people across the globe. However specialised our interests we can look online to find people who share them. For example, the digital world is full of keen hobbyists sharing their ideas or patterns and showing off their newly completed work. Gamers meet in multiplayer online games where they plan and discuss strategies or they play casual online games such as ‘Words with Friends’. People use Twitter to talk about current events. Indeed, sometimes Twitter is the news! Learners no longer have to write work that will languish in exercise books to be read only by teachers and parents; their work can be published to a genuine audience through blogs or sharing sites such as YouTube or SoundCloud. The audience can, and will, respond by ‘liking’ the work or through the comment system.
The opportunities offered by the online digital world are undoubtedly exciting but there is also a dark side. Children may be exposed to inappropriate content or may use online shopping sites to buy goods that they are not legally old enough to purchase. Extremist groups use social media to publicise themselves and this may draw young people towards extremism. There are legitimate concerns about mental-ill health issues such as ‘thinspiration‘. Criminals may use social media or games to find and groom victims; two such cases were recently featured in BBC documentaries (Alicia Kozakiewicz and Breck Bednar) showing that the dangers are real.
Teachers have to navigate the benefits of the online digital world whilst avoiding the risks both for their learners and for themselves. For some teachers (and schools) this is too intimidating and so they avoid social media in their classes and do not encourage students to publish their work online. In this webinar we will talk about some of the fears that participants have about using online digital tools and media with their learners. We will discuss some of the options for safe online working and strategies that teachers might use such as setting ground rules for their learners. I hope that in this webinar we can draw upon our collective wisdom and that participants will be willing to discuss their own fears and ideas although I will, of course, have some suggestions to offer!
If you’re interested in learning more about safety for language learners and teachers online, please register below for this free webinar, taking place on 23rd and 24th March.