(Not so) Duolingo

As part of EDTC 0560 course requirements, I downloaded the Duolingo App for Apple on my iPhone and decided to brush up on my French. Here’s a bit of a review based on my first week with the app.

Duolingo (/ˌdjuːoʊˈlɪŋɡoʊ/ DEW-oh-LING-goh) is a free language-learning platform that includes a language-learning website and app, as well as a digital language proficiency assessment exam. Duolingo offers all its language courses free of charge (Wikipedia).

Duolingo is a well-designed, engaging  app designed for modern consumers. The little owl mascot is appealing, too. It is much more visually interesting than the Gaelic program I used on my laptop six or seven years ago (free language programs have been around for a while, though mobile apps are more recent).

It’s a game, and I keep hearing about the potential of gamification in education. I’m not sure a student would get ‘lives’ in real world learning, but there is something about a game that makes it appealing to learners, so why not? On the other hand, I hope it means more than the box-ticking structure and awarding of xp that Duolingo presents. There has to be a more effective way to use gaming to teach a new language. For instance, I find watching a subtitled movie an interesting exercise in language acquisition….by the end I honestly believe I am translating in my head!

Effectiveness (for Test Takers)
Duolingo wants to be taken seriously as a language training application. A number of independent studies have been done around the effectiveness of the application around effectiveness, reliability, and the linking of the program to IELTS and scores, and Duolingo posts research findings and reports on its blog.

Effectiveness (in the Real World)
I have not made it very far up the lesson chain, but it’s starting to feel like deja vu all over again vis-a-vis rote repetition of unrealistic, non-conversational language. Elementary school all over again! The program phrases things differently than fluent language speakers do (formal vs conversational?). I keep thinking of a Francophone school friend who would shake her head in French class when asked if she could translate a phrase. There’s a reason 10 years of French classes didn’t result in my ability to speak French. There’s got to be a better way to acquire language in a useful way.

Adult Learning
I think the program would work well with young learners who do not require context and explanation in the way adults do. Why’d I get that wrong? What is the grammatical context?  Explain! At this point, I’m not quite prepared to say: “I for one, welcome our new robot language teaching overlords.”


CSAM Model

As part of a review of Collaborative Situated Active Mobile learning strategies: a new perspective on effective mobile learning, Robert Power (2013), I reviewed the theories, strategies, and reflective practices included  in the model.


Modern mobile technologies provide the opportunity for active exploration by learners of all ages. The CSAM model proposes that an engaging and appropriate level of challenge stimulates interaction, but not frustration, in learners. Grounded in learning theory, it puts an emphasis on interactivity on as many levels as possible between learners, content and authentic situations (Power, 2013).


CSAM is informed by models such as FRAME and learning theories such as Activity Theory, the Zone of Proximal Development, Flow Theory and Transactional Distance Theory.

Activity Theory – A system that connects contextual factors, such as individuals, groups, work settings, rules, and tools (Shambaugh, 2009) and enables learners to interact with materials.

Framework for the Rational Analysis of Mobile Education (FRAME) –  A model developed to facilitate the understanding of mobile devices as distance learning tools through a mode of learning that encourages learners to interact while temporally separated (Koole, 2009).

Flow Theory – A learning theory that focuses on what people can achieve when they reach an ideal state of engagement and enjoyment (Csikszentmihalyi, 1998).

Flow Zone – The state of learners who are engaged in an activity that is both appropriately challenging and results in a concentrated focus. (Csikszentmihalyi, 1998).

mLearning – Learning across multiple contexts using personal electronic devices.

Theory of Interactivity – The interaction between learner-content, student-instructor, and learner-learner experienced in a distance learning environment (Moore, 1997).

Transactional Distance Theory – A learning theory that identifies the sense of separation is caused by the cognitive and physical distances between instructions and learners (Moore, 1997).

Zone of proximal development – Identifies the area of learning that occurs when a learner is assisted by a facilitator or peer with a higher skill set. (Chaiklin, 2003).

CSAM in the Context of Learning Theories

Power illustrates the four elements of the CSMA model and their basis in learning theory (right).


The CSAM model places an emphasis on controlling the interaction factor in managing the transactional distance. CSAM strategies include:

  1. Foster social, content and context interaction to enable learners to work together to develop concrete understandings and skill sets in authentic settings in order to satisfy previously abstract learning objectives (Power, 2013).
  2. Utilize mobile technologies and learner interactions to increase the range of learning tasks that students can achieve either individually or in groups.
  3. Enable the balance of challenge and engagement to focus students on required learning tasks.

The selection of learning strategies requires careful consideration of objectives, learner needs and available instructional resources. A strategy’s effectiveness is measured by its fit with these elements and its support from established learning theory.

Reflective Practice

Collaborative Does the design enable students to collaborate?
Situated Is the activity situated in a realistic content?
Active Do the students have an opportunity to engage with the content?
Mobile Are students freed of the traditional classroom?


Chaiklin, S. (2003). The zone of proximal development in Vygotsky’s analysis of learning and instruction. Vygotsky’s educational theory and practice in cultural context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Csíkszentmihályi, M. (2008). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.

Koole, M. (2009). A model for framing mobile learning. In M. Ally (Ed.), Mobile learning and the delivery of education and training, 25047. Edmonton, AB: AU Press.

Moore, M.G. (1993). Theory of transactional distance. In D. Keegan (Ed.), Theoretical Principles of Distance Education, New York, NY: Routledge, pp. 22-38.

Shambaugh, N. (2009). A Scenario-Based Instructional Design Model. In P. Rogers, G. Berg, J. Boettcher, C. Howard, L. Justice, & K. Schenk (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Distance Learning, Second Edition (pp. 1820-1827). Hershey, PA.

CSAM in Program Revision

The program I am revising is a face-to-face intensive that would benefit from an infusion of appropriate technology. There is currently very low tech in the programs, but cell phones and iPads are ubiquitous with this audience. Because of this, mLearning might be more beneficial than e-learning in this situation. In any case, technology will serve to enhance a face-to-face experience. The program structure already lends itself well to the CSAM model:

Collaborative– (learner/resources, learner/learner and learner/instructor) Participants and facilitators share resources and develop a reference library. Facilitators provide case studies and guidance to enhance rising leaders’ skills and knowledge.

Situated- (learning is situated in a real life professional environment to make the learning more relevant). Case studies and personal situations are part of the current approach.

Active- (learners are actively engaged in constructing their learning experience). Groups build responses to case studies which are presented to and critiqued by other learners.

Mobile– (mobile technology is integrated into the curriculum).  Participants and facilitators regularly utilize mobile devices in their  professional lives.

‘Access’ in Online Learning

While reviewing Bates (2015) SECTIONS model (framework for making effective decisions about the choice and use of media for teaching and learning), I found myself nodding in agreement to his identification of the broad categories:

  • Students
  • Ease of use
  • Costs
  • Teaching functions
  • Interaction
  • Organizational issues
  • Networking
  • Security and privacy

I didn’t get very far before I hit a topic I have not given a lot of thought to in the past: ‘access’, under the Students category. Bates notes: ‘Of all the criteria in determining choice of technology, accessibility is perhaps the most discriminating.’ And it’s true: no matter how useful a particular medium or technology may be, if students can’t access it they can’t learn from it.

Two factors that may affect accessibility to online learning are convenient and affordable access and access for students with disabilities.

BCCampus Open Textbook Project

BCcampus: Checklist for Accessibility

The focus of many open textbook projects is to provide access to education at no cost. But what does access mean? If the materials are not accessible to each and every student,  they do not fulfill the mandate to deliver fully open textbooks.

The goal of BCCampus’s  Accessibility Toolkit is to provide the needed resources needed to each content creator, instructional designer, educational technologist, librarian, administrator, and teaching assistant to create a truly open and accessible textbook. As part of the toolkit, BCcampus provides a checklist to help professionals build in accessibility (see right).

Universal Design (UDL)

Online learning may not be accessible to students with learning or other disabilities. A set of standards and practices designed to address ‘universal’ needs has been developed. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is the deliberate design of instruction to meet the needs of a diverse mix of learners. Universally designed courses attempt to meet all learners’ needs by incorporating multiple means of imparting information and flexible methods of assessing learning. It includes multiple means of engaging or tapping into learners’ interests. Universally designed courses are not designed with any one particular group of students with a disability in mind, but rather are designed to address the learning needs of a wide-ranging group (Brokop, F., 2008).

Learning outcomes x technology tools matrix

Q:  What learning outcomes from the program of study  in your Problem Statement assignment could be addressed by integrating digital technologies, and are there any examples on UNSW Selecting Technologies website that could meet those needs?

The website of the University of New South Wales in Australia includes a worthy section on Teaching and Learning including matrices on selecting technological tools to match learning outcomes. The page on  Selecting Technologies includes a table that matches learning outcomes, rationales and activities. I completed the very useful exercise of identifying outcomes for the program restructuring I will be doing by situating it within the UNSW matrix (below). This is a wonderfully useful and relevant matrix; so great, in fact, that I have contacted UNSW to ask what the basis for the outcomes is.

Learning outcomes for my proposed program restructure as per UNSW matrix:


TweetChat #Edtechchat

I participated in my first TweetChat and actually really enjoyed it. I also collected a couple of interesting resources and followers. All in all, a worthwhile hour in the life of me. What a great way to get like-minded individuals or professionals together to discuss and share resources.


TweetChats arscreen-shot-2017-02-06-at-8-06-03-pme an organized conversation around specific topics that are facilitated using Twitter. They typically feature guest presenters who pose, or answer questions that participants post to Twitter. A standard TweetChat uses a Q1 and A1 format to differentiate different questions. During the chat, the moderator or guest presenter posts a question (i.e., Q1), and participants post their responses (i.e., A1). Participants search for the relevant hashtag (#), read the questions and other participants’ responses, and contribute responses, links to resources, or related information. Participants also pick up new followers during TweetChats, and find people of interest to follow.

There are a number of popular TweetChats that focus on education and educational technology, and by mere chance, I happily landed in tonight’s #Edtechchat’s TweetChat. I knew the topic of screen time was not a consideration in my area of focus (higher educational professionals) but I found it a great opportunity to learn about the issues surrounding technology and children.

#Rethinking Screen Time

I am continuously amazed by how much technology has changed since my sons were young (they are only 19 and 21). A trip to the grocery store when they were toddlers was a thrill all around, from the ‘coloury place’ (produce) to the endless rows of bread to the ‘shivery place’ (refrigerated aisles) to the apex of the visit: the bakery section that offered free cookies to tots. Today I see babies with iPads in the Superstore and I wonder how different they will be from my own kids who themselves are digital natives. Beginning at around age 6 and until they were around 12, they, and most of their friends, had a total of one-hour per day of screen time.

I happened into a thread about recommendations on limits and uses of technology for young children, and it was an interesting and helpful conversation. I also picked up a link to the Office of Educational Technology’s (U.S.) Guiding Principles for Use of Technology with Early Learners. All in all, a very interesting experience!


Source: https://tech.ed.gov/earlylearning/principles/

21st Century Teaching: The Cracks In-Between

“Teaching in the 21st century is a thing. Teaching in the 20th century is not a thing, nor is teaching in the 19th century, unless it is in contrast to 21st century teaching. I am aware of this because I entered both terms into Google and a university library search bars and nothing came up (except for a scholarly article on the feminization of teaching in Brazil in the 19th century, which may warrant a peak). Technological advances have made 21st century teaching a thing and has led to the connectivism paradigm.

My Catholic school experience in the 70s and 80s was definitely informed by an objectivist perspective. By the time I was studying art education in the late 1980s, we were studying Piaget and Vygotsky’s views on constructivism. The art classroom was the perfect place to encourage students to construct their own learning, and to grow rather than progress. Student-created work, group projects, and critiques were the norm, with a side of slide presentations, lectures and testing. And, while my science, math, and history peers taught subjects more prone to the transmissive instruction model of my childhood, my generation of teachers had moved beyond being sages on the stage(s) and were starting to engage learning in more progressive ways. We called ourselves guides on the side.

Objectivist: An objectivist educator believes there is one true and correct reality which can be known to humans by using the objective methods of science. Generally referred to as transmissive instruction, where knowledge is transmitted from teachers to learners.

Constructivist: A constructivist educator believes knowledge is not independent of the learner, it is constructed. Knowledge can be constructed in by individual learners reorganizing their experiences and cognitive structures, or by communities of practice through social interaction.

Connectivist:  Connectivism is a learning theory that explains how Internet technologies have created new opportunities for people to learn and share information across the www and among themselves. A connectivist teacher guides students to information and answers key questions as needed in order to support students learning and sharing on their own.

The 21st Century Teacher
Fast forwarding to the 21st century, learning can happen any time, anywhere, on any topic, and with any learning style. Technology is integrated into learning and connectivism  emerges. In his chapter on pedagogical differences between media, Bates (2015) identifies five media: text, audio, video, computing, social media. His identification of differences between the media is worth the creation of a chart to keep for posterity’s sake:


Is there anything missing from the types of technologies that Bates discusses?  With the speed of technological change, I imagine an article such as this would need to be revisited fairly frequently for tools updating, but his categories are strong. I do wonder whether the inclusion of a mobile learning category might be appropriate, as it seems to be moving towards a unique experience (m-learning) with opportunities for constant interaction, bite-sized learning, and geo-location sensitive learning. He does a great job differentiating between the five media when there are so many overlaps between them. Learning does not happen through the use of any screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-12-06-09-pmsingle media, or through any one domain. It can’t really be attributed to any one aspect of a learning environment: it happens in the cracks between these places, and the best thing that teachers can do is to provide opportunities for students to construct learning, through the deliberate choice of media. I feel like Bates is on it. He includes a scale that places media on a teacher control – learner control scale as broken down along objectivist, constructivist, and connectivist lines (see above).

Choosing Media
Deliberation in choosing media is a point Bates makes as well as the folks in COFA Online (2011).  According to them, issues to consider before choosing a technology for online teaching are:

  1. Pedagogy before technology (fit for purpose)
  2. Benefits of starting with something simple
  3. Importance of providing technical support to students

All Fun and Games?
Technology is fun and engaging. Knowing its pedagogical purpose, however, is critical when integrating it into a teaching environment. As the folks in COFA Online (2011) argue, knowing why you are going to use a technology is key to its introduction. 21st century teaching offers unique challenges and rewards thanks in part to the contribution of educational technologies. Teachers are so much more than sages on stage(s) or guides on the side. Reflecting back on a post by classmate Jim Hounslow (2016) in an earlier course about the many sides of the teacher in a connectivist environment, I illustrated the multi-faceted role of the 21st century teacher:

[Jim’s original sources were Master Artist, Seely Brown, (2006); Network Administrator, Fisher, (n.d.); Concierge, Bonk, (2007); and Curator, Siemens, (2007).]




Rahimi, A, Ebrahimi, N.A., Contemporary Online Language Education Journal, 2011, 1, 89-103. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/4696067/Constructivist_vs._objectivist_learning_environments

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning2(1), 3-10

Bates, A. (2015). Teaching in a digital age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning, Ch. 7

COFA Online (2011), Learning to teach online: Considerations when choosing technology for teaching.


Pinterest is one of those sites that fills up my newsfeeds and has never really piqued my interest (not interested in collecting wedding dress images or kids’ party ideas).  I created a Pinterest page a couple of years ago to access something a friend had posted on Facebook (I think), but had never ‘pinned’ a thing until I had to create an ‘Educational Technologies’ board as a class requirement.

So I added some graphics/illustrations to my Educational Technologies board. I find thoughtful, well-designed illustrations can really help me understand an issue or demographic or process. I have several  EAB  (American higher education research and consulting organization) charts hanging in my office that I consult on a regular basis to clarify such things as technological differences between various demographic audiences. A good illustration can do more to enlighten me than just about any other resource. Now that I have ‘pinned’ all of these interesting posts, I just have to find the time to review them.


Unlike most social media sites, the content stays alive on Pinterest and can be re-shared over and over again. Facebook and Twitter, in content can be buried under posts in just a few minutes. Postings can be ‘pinned’ and ‘re-pinned’ to infinity and beyond. It also appears to be growing, which would create a growing audience to share and possibly collaborate with.

I think the number of resources available for Preschool- 12 teachers must be quite staggering.


Pinterest posts that go through my newsfeeds seem to reflect people’s interests and hobbies rather than more professional or scholarly pursuits. And, it appears to a marketer’s paradise (not that there’s anything wrong with this; it just doesn’t appear to be an environment that would encourage academic content and interaction).