Sunday, April 13, 2014

'Current' trends in instructional technology

It can be quite difficult to keep up with all the developments in the field of instructional technology. These videos might help with that.

Flannel boards - the DIY digital whiteboard alternative

Panorama - the fashionable record + filmstrip + book multimedia combo

And don't forget the many uses of YouCoronetTube - uhm, of classroom films!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Leaving outreach to the experts?

In one my last blogposts, I already quoted Brennicke's "Wollen Sie wirklich Wissenschaftler werden? ... dann los!". But while I consider the content of what I quoted before to be pretty much unacceptable, today's quote is a point on which I disagree, not one that I consider to be scandalous per se.
It's about outreach, or, as Brennicke puts it "Ein weiterer Abweg in die Verzettelung" [one further path to overdiversification]:

"Ein weiterer Abweg in die Verzettelung führt über das Engagement für Soft-Skill-Kurse, für die Fortbildung, für Kinder- und Rentneruni und für Schülerschnuppertage - schwarze Löcher dieser Art für pädagogisch wie didaktisch ungebildete Wissenschaftler gibt es unzählige. Welch Ehre, wenn zu einem Vortrag in der Stadthalle auch einmal normale Leute kommen. Aber wie viel Zeit und Nerven kostet so ein Engagement - Kernaufgabe der Uni ist das nicht. Natürlich sind viele solcher Aktivitäten moralisch gut und vielleicht auch praktisch nützlich - der Wissenschaftler muss sich bemühen, dem BILD- und ZEIT-lesenden Steuerzahler zu erklären, wozu er dessen Geld verwendet hat und was dabei an neuem Wissen herausgekommen ist. Das aber machen die Profis, die Wissenschaftsjournalisten, besser. Richtig und wichtig ist es, Kleinkinder und Jugendliche für Wissen und Forschung zu begeistern, aber dafür sind die Lehrer in den Schulen ausgebildet, der Wissenschaftler ist es nicht." (Brennicke, 169)
[Another path to overdiversification leads through the engagement for soft skill classes, for continuing education, for children's university or senior citizens' university, and for Open Days for - there are uncounted black holes like this for pedagogically as well as didactically untrained scientists. What an honour if normal people attend a talk at the city hall. But how much time and nerves does such an engagement cost - it is not one of the core tasks of the university. Of course many of these activities are morally good and perhaps useful for practical purposes - the scientist has to try to explain to the BILD- or ZEIT-reading tax payer for what he (sic) has used his (sic) money, and what new knowledge came out of this. But that is something the professionals, science journalists, do better. It is good and important, to enthuse infants and teenagers with science and research, but teachers at schools have been trained to do this, the scientist has not.]

Let's go through these arguments step by step.

Today, I answered a few quick questions of one of the editors of the MinD-Magazin, a club journal to which I had submitted a short paper on computer-assisted language learning. That probably took me half an hour. Writing the paper cost me part of a Sunday afternoon. Yes, that is precious time lost - time I could have also invested into watching a few MyLittlePony episodes my research. Engagement in popular science and outreach is an investment. It does not have to be a big one, but every half hour counts, right?

So, if engaging in outreach requires an investement of time and energy - is it worth it? Brennicke argues it is not. For one, he beliefs popular science and outreach are not part of the core tasks of the university. Scholarship has been compared with a three-legged stool: There is research, there is teaching, and there is service. Service are all the contributions we make to our scientific communities (as reviewer or conference chair or editor or event organizer), to our university (for example serving on one of the many boards or committees), and to our community - and this includes outreach and popular science. These are often things that happen "on the side". Few people dream of becoming a professor so that they can do a lot of committee work. And when you see scientists who seem unable to stop talking about their work, more often than not, they are talking about their research, not their teaching. But would you say that committee work or teaching are not part of the core tasks of the university?
Well, in the end, this might be a question of personal preference - of how we see ourselves as scholars. But what about the claim that "the professionals", meaning science journalists and teachers, are better suited for this job?
Science journalists are fantastic! I actually buy their work on a regular basis - what better compliment could I pay this profession? And teachers are great, too! They know their students, they know how each of them learns best, they know how this tidbit of information combines with that piece of text to prepare somebody for an important exam. A big "yay" for teachers!
Scientists should not aim to do what science journalists do, nor should they try to be better teachers than teachers - except, of course, whenever somebody loves one of these so much that they basically dedicate themselves to a dual career. But I very much belief that scientists can contribute as scientists.

Outreach events are a bit like a show-and-tell, just that we as scientists are both the person who tells, and the object that is shown. We are not just people loving science so much that they write and speak about it - we are actually the folks doing the science. Do you remember the scenes in Jurassic Park, where the group of visitors watches 'real scientists' doing 'real science' with 'real dino babies' through glass? Yeah, we are the animatronics ;)
And science journalists? Well, they cannot be everywhere. I don't know how many science journalists read the MinD-Magazin - but based on who contributes regularly, I can tell that a lot of scientists do. Science journalists write for a living. The amount of writing (and podcasting and video producing) they can do for small, local, specialized, non-commercial outlets is necessarily limited. There's enough work left for those people who don't science-journal for a living.

All this, though, ignores an important point: What do we get from participating in science outreach and popular science? Not much, I guess. Besides feeling like a rock star (when doing a science slam or winning a popular science price). Besides an opportunity to reflect about what our work contributes to society.  And besides giving us opportunity to practice putting complex ideas into simple, not simplifying, words. Obviously, this is not worth foregoing a few episodes of your favorite pony-based TV show reading one more paper...

Want to know more about my outreach?

Other blog posts on popular science and outreach.

My papers about the Schülerkolleg Pädagogik outreach project: 1 (with Marianne Wefelnberg), 2 (with Tobias Hölterhof), 3, 4 (with Michael Kerres)
(Oh well, this is another point to add to my "Besides" list, right?)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Academic writing and the non-native speaker

I am a non-native speaker of English. I started to learn English aged 11, and the only English-speaking country I have ever lived in was the internet. I am a non-native speaker of English, no other description fits me.
Yet, when people talk about non-native speakers as academic writers, I balk. I do not feel as a non-native academic writer. I am an academic writer, and a non-native speaker, but a non-native academic writer? Each term alone seems harmless enough, but its combination seems to imply things that do not ring true to me. Associations of "difficulty", "struggle", "awkwardness", perhaps even "deficiency". 
Yes, my academic texts have obviously been written by a non-native speaker – just read my FirstMonday paper, which has not been proofread by a native speaker, if you are in doubt about this. But I see no problem at all with my linguistic background being visible in my text. Why should I hide it? Yes, I want my text to be intelligible. I actually want it to be elegantly written (one can dream...). But, to me, none of these involve playacting 'being native'. If a journal asks me for native speaker proofreading before publication, I will oblige them (ReCALL did so), but I will take this request just as a stylistic preference of that journal, just like AE vs BE spelling, or the citation style chosen. 
I am a German writer of English academic texts, and I feel utterly comfortable as such.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Code-switching in speeches

The last year or so, I have given a couple of talks on code-switching. And I usually explain code-switching indem ich ganz praktisch demonstriere what that term means.

But how do I handle code-switching in talks NOT about code-switching?

This Monday, I had the rare opportunity to give a speech at Toastmasters as part of an evaluation contest. An evaluation contest is a competition where not the best speech, but the best evaluation of a speech wins. Ganz praktisch heißt das, that I gave a talk, and then three different individuals evaluated it. Which is fantastic, as you get triple the amount of detailed feedback! Drei zum Preis von einem, sozusagen!

The feedback I got was fantastically useful. Three different perspectives on my strengths, and on my weaknesses. But one of the evaluators really made me think. Not about my speech per se, but about code-switching in speeches.

I am a member of an English-speaking Toastmasters group in a German-speaking city. Everybody speaks English here, but what kind of English differs: Some members are at home in the English language, others in the German language, yet others in none of them.

The speech I gave was titled „Why grammar sucks – and how to unsuck it.“ and covered Krashen's theory of language acquisition. In the introduction, I discuss my own language learning experience:

When I was 11 years old, I started to learn English at school. One of the very first things I learned was that to form the third person singular present tense active indicative form of regular verbs, you attach an s to the stem.
Or, as I learned it: "He she it – s muß mit."
Nine years later, preparing for my Abitur exams, there were students in my class who still did not get this right. They would say The man walk. The cat sleep. One simple rule. Nine years of instruction. No effect.
My classmates weren't dumb, and my English teachers weren't bad. Studies show that explicit grammar instruction does not work as well as one should think. Even if you spend hours working on one grammatical construction, the effects on your actual language use can be tiny. Some grammatical rules do not pose much of a problem, while others may SEEM easy, but are very difficult to get right – just like the third-person-singular-s.

My use of German here was criticized by one of my evaluators, since the club – and the contest – were English-based. He suggested complementing use of German with a translation into English.

I know that one needs to be careful when using languages in a talk that not everybody present speaks. I had assumed that my use of German was justified for two reasons:
  • Heavy redundancy: "to form the third person singular present tense active indicative form of regular verbs, you attach an s to the stem", "He she it – s muß mit.", "third-person-singular-s" basically say the same thing, the examples of rule-violations (The man walk, The cat sleep) provide further examples.
  •  It's a quote. Not just any quote: It's a silly aide-memoire they taught me at school.

I expected that everybody in the audience would (a) recognize the format of mnemonic rhyme based on context and sound-structure, and (b) would be able to understand the content of this aide-memoire from context. I am not sure if this was or was not the case, of course.

I will need to think about why this is perceived by some as being problematic, and whether or not I want this perception to impact my use of different languages. Is it OK to code-switch in speeches as long as you can assume everybody will be able to follow the overall content? Should you avoid code-switching unless everybody speaks all languages involved? Or is code-switching never acceptable in public speaking? Code-switching, that one is for certain, can make an audience feel included as well as excluded, depending on the audience and the exact use of code-switching. 
(Since my talk was part of a contest (though not entered into the contest itself), there might have been rules on language choice too. If there are, I'm not aware of them – but that doesn't mean much, as I've never read the (extensive) contest handbook.)

I have a few topics coming up that, from my point of view, scream for code-switching for artistic purposes, especially my talk on "Languages at Toastmasters" and my talk on "Monolingualism ist heilbar". Till then, I need to find answers for these questions.

Do you use more than one language in your talks, presentations, speeches? If you do: How? If you don't: Why not? 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The grammarian

I often use this blog to write about my dirty little secrets. Today‘s secret is not that secret, though. If you have a good look at my CV, you might have already gotten an inkling of it: I actually like to give talks. I like to talk at conferences, of course, but I also love to do science slams, popular science talks or to prepare science workshops for teenagers. I love to use language as a tool to share what I know, share what I don‘t know, and share why both of it matters to me.

The better I get at giving talks, the more I enjoy them. So, while I am not „bad“ at giving talks (I even won a small sience slam last year), I fathom that I can get  better – and that I might enjoy it even more if I do. This is why I joined Toastmasters, a rhetorics club that gives me plenty of opportunity to practice and to get feedback from folks who have spent years practicing the art of giving feedback.

There are Toastmasters clubs all over the world, correspondingly there are Toastmasters clubs in a large variety of languages. But even within countries, in major cities, there will be clubs in different languages. Frankfurt sports German and English ones, but there are also French ones in other cities, and I‘ve also seen one or two that offer Polish. [If you happen to know any other-language-clubs in Germany, please let me know.]

The attendance of these non-German clubs tends to be pretty diverse. Last meeting, we had English speakers from the inner circle (e.g. USA), speakers from the outer circle (e.g. India), and speakers from the expanding circle (e.g. Germany). All joined in their purpose to improve their public speeking skills.

Feedback at Toastmasters is divided into several types. There are appointed feedback givers who comment on overall performance, focusing on things like structure, voice, body language, etc. There is the ah-counter, who focuses on, uhm, well.... counting hesitation marks, and gives feedback exclusively on the frequency of those. And, last but not least, the grammarian.

Throughout the meeting, listen to everyone’s word usage. Write down any awkward use or misuse of the language (incomplete sentences, sentences that change direction in midstream, incorrect grammar or malapropisms) with a note of who erred. For example, point out if someone used a singular verb with a plural subject. “One in five children wear glasses” should be “one in five children wears glasses.” Note when a pronoun is misused. “No one in the choir sings better than her” should be “No one in the choir sings better than she.” (Link)

This role description seems to assume that native speakers (or very proficient speakers) speak to an audience of native speakers (or very proficient speakers). How does the role, though, look in a context where English is not a native language for the majority of speakers, and where the level of language proficiency might differ significantly between individuals? It will look different, for certain. 

Now, since different people take over the grammarian position each week, it can happen that a non-native speaker comments on the grammar of native speakers and non-native speakers alike. A highly unusual situation - usually, it is the native speaker who judges grammaticality, usage, style... How does a non-native speaker give feedback on grammar and related issues to a native speaker? Or, when giving feedback to a non-native speaker, deal with the presence of native-speakers in the room, the traditional judges of target language use?

So far, I have seen two ways to deal with this conundrum. I‘ll call it "the descriptivist" and "the sub-expert". The descriptivist started off with a statement on language change, roughly „if we all make the same mistake, they won‘t be mistakes anymore, they will be grammar rules“. This way, he established a community of language users, without differentiating between native and non-native speakers. The sub-expert, on the other hand, first described his level of expertise in the English language (which was quite impressive!), and then subjugated his own level of expertise (and, it was implied, that of other non-native speakers) under that of any native speaker present. This was done in the introduction, and then again later, when he asked about a specific usage – but only addressed his question to the native speakers in the room.


Joining Toastmasters will propably be great for my ability to give talks. I guess it will also be great for my understanding of English as a lingua franca, the role of the native speaker, and English in the expanding circle. 

Now, let‘s hope I don‘t get nominated as grammarian of the week any time soon ;)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Twitter conflicts

In a paper I have written with Annabell Preußler for FirstMonday, we discuss what conflicts can arise when Twitter is used in formal settings. We looked at two different conflicts, one from the domain of education, the other one from the political domain. Both involved individuals within a "fully-focused gathering" (Goffman) using Twitter to share information about the event (a class, a council session) with people not attending it.

Here's a nice example for how the exact opposite can lead to conflicts, too: A member of parliament ( Sevim Dagdelen, die Linke) did not attend a specific session for health reasons, but watched the debate on TV and tweeted about it, commenting on the position stated by members of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen. Her tweet was then read aloud by a member of the Grünen (Britta Haßelmann), who criticized the fact that a person not co-present joined the discussion, and demanded from the member of the Linke currently presenting to the plenum (Andrej Hunko) to distance himself from that tweet, something he refused to do.

(If you're interested in conflicts about Twitter use, also check out this blog post, which discusses live tweeting during a political talk show.)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Doing DELF - again: Of culture and competence II

No, I didn‘t fail my last DELF exam. Actually, I did pretty good. Doing pretty good on A2 isn‘t exactly impressive, though. So, this time around, I tackled B1.

In my first DELF-blog post I mentioned how the DELF experience differed from the CPE experience. This time, I took my exam in Berlin and the difference was even more pronounced. If you‘ve ever done a DELF, you might remember that there are a few minutes of preparation time for the oral exam, when you already know one of the tasks for the oral exam and can read a small input text and make notes. For the first half of my 10 minutes of prep time, I was alone in the prep room. Entirely alone. Alone, with my purse, my jacket, my cell phone, and all the opportunities in the world to cheat. What a pity I‘m not the cheating type! For the second half, I shared the room with another examinee. No supervision at all. Oh, and I wasn't given any note paper, though taking and using notes is allowed for the oral exam. Eh bien, good that I carried some spare paper myself!

The written part of DELF was easy. Actually, I found it easier than the A2 exam last year - all this studying must be paying off! I got along just fine with the listening comprehension, which is usually one of my weak points. Reading comprehension, on the other hand, tends to be very easy for me – I‘m a voracious reader in all the languages I speak, and in some I don‘t speak – and the fact that the text discussed a linguist‘s perspective on the impact of informal online writing on writing in school contexts turned this into the easiest reading comprehension test ever. For the writing part I followed my own advice and lied – or, let‘s say, I took up a persona. I had to write a report from the perspective of somebody who moved from a major city to the countryside. This was much easier to write from the perspective of a retired university prof who now spent her days training for a marathon than it would have been from my honest/realistic/stick-to-the-facts persona (who thinks that living in Frankfurt AND Berlin at the same time is SOOOO COOOL). I‘ll probably loose points for writing way beyond the word limit. I didn‘t intend to. I was just carried away ;)

Now, let‘s talk about the painful part... Speaking. Ugh.

I took French classes till I reached A1 level. In other words: I took French classes till I was able to give my name, age and nationality in French, and inquire after the price for a cup of coffee. Since then, I‘m entirely self-taught. Reading books, listening to podcasts, writing a French blog – but no speaking. None. I had about 20 minutes of speaking practice during the last year - all of it during DELF exams... There is, of course, a certain transfer of skills, e.g. from reading comprehension to writing, or from writing to speaking, but an oral exam is perfectly suited to remind me how limited this transfer is. I had to introduce myself, answer questions about my daily life, then engage in a role play where I was a parent who wanted to organize a soirée musicale at her son‘s school („No, money isn‘t an issue for MY family. But there are families at our school who cannot afford even 200 Euro for a school trip...“). Finally, I presented the text I had had time to prepare, and engaged in a discussion about it. Fortunately, the text discussed academic dishonesty, something I have quite an opinion on, and I guess dropping references to Bourdieu is never going to hurt one in a French exam...

So, have I passed? I‘ll know in a few weeks. I expect my score for the written part to be OK, but the speaking section made quite clear how limited my French really is. I will not comment on my grammar or even my vocabulary: my pronunciation is so bad, it covers up most other deficiencies. Still, the examinator (certainly a man used to suffer through pretty bad French on a regular level) understood what I had to say, and I guess on B1 level, one cannot really expect much more. I do know, though, that to tackle B2, I‘ll need to practice my spoken French. Skype tandems, here I come!

Life, Language and E-Verything

So Long, and Thanks for All the Ghoti.