The benefits of language learning

I found this infographic today on the benefits of learning languages.  I think we have to take some of these suggestions with a pinch of salt but there has been plenty of literature about the long term effects of learning a language on brain development and maintaining healthy brain activity as we get older.  Then again, doing sudoku, brain teasers,  crosswords, in fact anything that keeps us thinking critically as we age, is beneficial. I guess mathematicians could say that learning maths is highly beneficial too…. However,  as a language learner and teacher, I am happy to support the views this infographic proposes.

After spending a week in Fiji,  I was left wondering about how much better off to survive in the world many of the people in small islands who grow up speaking their native language as well as English are.  They  have all the benefits regarding brain health but also the ability to travel and work in other countries because they speak English, they can develop skills and communicate. Something which is only touched on in this infographic is the benefit understanding and speaking the language of a country you visit gives you in terms of understanding the people, how they think, behave, live. Having knowledge about cultural practices, societal norms allows you to get to know more people and helps you to be accepted into more familiar circles where you get to know the people and the country more intimately making your experience all the richer.

infographic explaining how learning languages benefits us in all sorts of areas of our lives

#Edcmooc Day 1

CD with shell
Shiny things

So, I have finally started! Just read through all the course information and had a moment of rising panic as the Tweets rolled round to the left of the page as I tried to concentrate!  Read that one person is going to use Tum,blr to collate all his thoughts, somebody else has created a pearltree (first distraction – had to find out what a pearltree was!), then noticed that lots of people have created a special blog just for the course.  Is that what I should do? How am I going to collate all the resources?  Is one supposed to?  I have no idea how to go about all of this but have decided that there is no right or wrong way and am about to take the plunge.

I will carry on blogging here, after all “E-Learning and Digital Cultures” is a part of my Learning Journey.  I will put the resources here and try to address some of the questions here too as well as Tweeting and Google +.  I have decided to sideline FB – too many other distractions and I need to focus!  So, video No 1 – Bendito Machine III

What is this film suggesting are the ecological and social implications of an obsession or fixation on technology? Do the film’s characters have any choice in relation to their technologies? What are the characteristics of various technologies as portrayed in this film?

I guess in a “throwaway” society where companies plan the release of new models of technological gadgets then market them so aggressively to a very specific target audience, the ecological impact on our fragile earth is significant.  How much rubbish with dangerous chemicals leeching out can the world absorb?  We have a garage littered with old technology – television, cassette players, cameras, record players,  computers, and none of them are more than twenty years old.  Already binned either because they no longer work, or more likely because something newer, smaller and shinier came along.  Humans have always vied to have the latest and the brightest new thing – it is not a new phenomenen.  But technology is developing at a phenomenal rate and advertising plays on our weakness for “oneupmanship”, to go one better than the Joneses.  It has become an obsession and I think that as in the film, we end up having no choice.  We see acquiring the next new gadget as the way to happiness, to instant gratification, to being successful….   (oops tea is ready – better continue later!)

But can we build some sort of sustainability of practice?  If we look at Roger’s bell curve of adoption, there are the innovators and early adopters, the folk that grasp the new shiny things, experiment with them, develop ways of using them, share ideas and practice and then move on.  Which leaves the next wave of people – the majority who wait for new technologies to be tried and tested before adopting them and maybe adapting the ways they can be used.   Again, I don’t think this is anythig that diverges from historical social behaviour.  We are all different, some people are predisposed to taking risks, others to more thoughtful behaviour and yet more who are risk averse.  The rate at this development is taking place now is different?  Or is it?

Ray Kurzweil talks about exponential growth – the rate of adopting new technologies is doubling every decade.  Biological and technological evolution are inextricably linked,  adoption and interaction of new technologies  create a capability that enables the next stage of development.

History suggests that our society can cope with change, it can cope with obsession, but can it cope at the rate change is happening now?  Parents have always complained about their children asking for the latest technology “because all my friends have it”!  They still do, and they always will because, as I have already said, it is part of human nature.  They also always say “Ooh, it was never like this in our day!  Life was much simpler…” and that too is true and they will continue to say it in the future.

I ma starting to ramble so it is probably time to stop….not sure if I have answered the questions!

Passive consumers or active producers?

Learning and teaching should not start with the embracing of new technologies, but rather it is a matter of contextualising the learning first before supporting it with technology  from Wikipedia

I have been looking at the results of the elearning survey that we conducted with our teaching staff which are interesting, although not necessarily surprising. One of the things that seemed to stand out to me as that as a group  we are all quite comfortable with the use of technologies.  Many of us may not see the technologies that we use as being relevant in a classroom context.  However, if you know how to program your video recorder/Freeview box/Sky thingummabob to record a programme that you want to watch that is on at the same time as another that you want to watch, you are far ahead of me. (we don’t even have a video recorder/freeview/sky thingy!) If you can do that, or programme your washing machine or set the timer on your oven, book a holiday online or shop online, or set your Navman to take you to that bijou restaurant in Auckland, then you have skills that you can transfer to a learning context.  Making that step depends on your motivation and also an understanding of how it might benefit the learners in your classroom.

We were all quite confident and deemed ourselves competent at using a variety of tools – Word, Excel, PPT.  I know that many people create excellent worksheets and presentations for their students. I am sure that as you have perfected your skills using these tools you have become more confident and your worksheets/presentations have improved and become more engaging for students and more effective learning resources.  I know that I also have learned a lot about my subjects through creating my own resources.  Lots of the other things though, the ones we are less confident about, we are using in a mainly passive way – we upload resources to Dionet reasonably confidently but few teachers are creating interactive tasks in classroom pages.  We show videos, but do we create them? We show videos but what do we expect the students to do whilst they are viewing them or once they have viewed them – is it a passive experience or an interactive one? We give them a worksheet but does it provide opportunities for collaboration, for reflection, for co-construction, for interaction?  Research has shown, and we all know this anyway from our own experience, that for learners to really learn, for them to exercise and develop deeper thinking skills, they need to be actively engaged in the learning process, they need to interact, collaborate, co-construct, take ownership of their learning.  Just as important though is the opportunity both during and after a task or a unit of work to reflect on what they have done, how they have done it, what they have learned and what they could do the next time to improve.

So, where to from here? I believe that if we are to encourage our students to take the step to being independent, critical thinkers, if we are to help them develop the lifelong learning skills to cope in the 21st Century, if we want them to take ownership of their learning, then we have to do the same.  It’s not going to be easy – the biggest challenge cited in the elearning survey for our teachers was the lack of time to practise skills and to gain confidence using them, but even more people said that they were excited and keen to embrace the opportunities that BYOD offered for teaching and learning. Let’s take up the challenge!

Just got sidetracked! Found these links that talk about the Learning Continuum and the relative merits of Formal Learning, Non-Formal learning and Informal Learning.  So much to think about it’s scary!

Informal Learning