Many people ask me about the difference between an LMS and VLE, and also CMS and LCMS. Although you might find articles and posts that state otherwise, I believe that there is an important distinction between LMS and VLE, and I would also use the term CMS to mean something different. Let’s start with a definition of each.

LMS stands for Learning Management System. For me these are primarily for training, rather than education. They are often connected to mandatory CPD (continual professional development) and generally tend to be used internally rather than being client-facing or used in education. Having said this, JoomlaLMS is clearly calling itself an LMS and in my view it would fit in more with the description of a VLE. So, as you see the two terms are used interchangeably. I would like to create a distinction here for clarity, nonetheless.

VLE stands for Virtual Learning Environment. These would often be characterised by constructivist pedagogical principles and are often used as a place to collaborate and extend discussions rather than merely hosting trackable learning objects. Many VLEs and LMSs have the same features, but the emphasis and also way they are being used would distinguish them. It is possible to use a Moodle, for example, for purely behaviourist mechanical drills and compliancy training and thus it becomes an LMS through the way it is used.

The reason I am making this distinction is that I still see a lot of ambiguity about the terminology in eLearning, perhaps due to its relative infancy as a discipline. I have seen institutions make the wrong choice when considering commercial LMSs and VLEs and I blame the lack of precise definition for this. In language teaching as well, we are often in the rearguard when it comes to implementing new technology, and thus many institutions fall into the trap of simply buying or creating a load of online grammar and vocabulary drills which have been authored as eLearning and then making this available to their students as the final and finished component of their eLearning implementation.

Now, I am not saying this is bad or that we shouldn’t provide such resources for our students. What I am saying though is that this is not much different from a glorified practise book. While the online format means greater access and the possibility for flash animations and embedded video/audio, at the end of the day these are still drills which are useful primarily for test preparation, but not for helping students to acquire communicative competence. No matter how good such activities look, they still fall under the category mostly of Behaviouristic CALL. With small adjustments, it is possible to expand the eLearning platform into the realms of communicative and collaborative CALL. For example, one of the tasks for students on the VLE should be to introduce themselves on the forum. Moodle supports collaborative wikis which are ideal as group projects, and can be given as assignments or class work. There are also blogs, which can be created for free and allow comments and following. These are great ways to get the class working together on projects and have the advantage of showing students ways to continue learning and practising in authentic ways after their course has finished. Another idea would be to have a high scores table or similar, which gives students the option of posting their best scores on a game and challenging other students. This should of course be optional, but works very well for more competitive students, smart.fm is a brilliant example of this.

VLEs do not have to contain all the content within them either, they should provide links to outside content and encourage students to source their own materials. On our VLE we have a side block which shows the latest RSS feeds from the BBC learning English site, which also keeps your site contemporary.

I would love to hear what you are doing at your school and if you have any questions or ideas please share below and keep the discussion going!

Moodle 2.0

The moodle.org site is now using Moodle 2.0. Interestingly, it looks and functions in much the same way. This is a good sign as it shows that the new platform will be able to slide neatly over any current production sites using Moodle 1.9. There was a very interesting review in the Wired section of The Language Teacher (JALT newsletter), Ted O’Neill wrote an article entitled “What’s new for instructors in Moodle 2.0?” all about the benefits of Moolde 2.0. The release notes provide a useful summary, but I will summarise some of the core new features and their benefits for institutions.

Moodle 2.0 will install directly over an existing Moodle 1.9 installation and maintain course and category structure. It should also be able to allow course restore from backed up courses that come out of Moodle 1.9. This is not currently available with the current release candidate, but it is planned for the stable version of Moodle 2.1.

Moodle 1.9 had a severe limitation for administrators as it did not support site-level groups. This made it extremely difficult for institutions, such as my employer, who had multiple schools but with students enrolled on the same course. Moodle 2.0 supports ‘cohorts’ which will provide a solution to this issue.

Activity locking was a popular plugin for Moodle 1.8 but it wasn’t supported in later builds. This feature has been incorporated into the Moodle 2.0 main code and allows you to add conditions or pre-requistites to your courses, thus preventing students from doing activities in an arbitrary order. This will have a huge effect on the way eLearning courses are designed and delivered in Moodle, as the new conditional activities allow you to set tests and revisions or final assessments which build on previous activities and ensure students have done all the preparation work first.

Along with these developments Moodle 2.0 will also offer better SCORM compliancy, although it does not completely support SCORM 2004, this functionality is available as a commercial plugin called SCORM Cloud, which allows fully integrated SCORM compatibility. The new build will also feature an improved theme management system, which will allow users to put RSS themes and blocks on their profile page and support server-side caching making it more efficient for CSS 3, HTML 5 and Java Script. The way Moodle 2.0 is navigated is different as well, with a navigation bar which can either be expanded or collapsed much like in Blackboard Vista.

There will still be a range of 3rd party open source and commercial plugins, one of particular interest being the Adobe Connect integration.

You can read the full Moodle 2.0 release notes here, and download the release candidate here.

All in all, these developments should only help strengthen Moodle’s position in the global VLE market and bring it into the new decade of what promises to be an exciting time for the education sector as a whole and language learning and teaching in particular, as instructional technologies become more adept at providing socio-collaborative learning environments.

SLanguages 2010

This year’s SLanguages Conferences kicked off yesterday on October the 15th at 18:00 with a great plenary featuring Gavin Dudeney [Dudeney Ge], Heike Philp [Gwen Gwasi], Marisa Constantinides [Marisolde Orellana] , Randall Sadler [Randall Renoir] and moderated by Gary Motteram [Gwared Morgwain]. At first there were 18 or so delegates in the Holodec, but after a while there were over 50! There were also more delegates who attended via Adobe Connect.

The conference was very educational from both a technical and pedagogic point of view, and as it is free to attend it is definitely worth a look. The program is available here and to access it simply login to Second Life and head for the EduNation island.

You can read more about the conference here at http://www.slanguages.net/home.php. This is the fourth SLanguages Conference, which is held annually in-world. It runs for 24 hours so it’s well worth taking a look, even if you’re totally new to Second Life.

Teachers’ Attitudes to and Motivations for Using CALL

This presentation was given at both Antwerp CALL 2010 and EUROCALL 2010, Bordeaux. There is also a podcast of the EUROCALL conference and a recording of the EUROCALL presentation.

This presentation is based on research conducted as part of my master’s dissertation in Applied Linguistics and ELT at King’s College, London (supervised by Dr. Nick Andon). The slides from the presentation are available to view here or download in PDF.

You can also watch the video here

Teachers’ attitudes and motivations for using CALL in and around the language classroom from Richard Pinner on Vimeo.

Antwerp CALL 2010: Motivation and Beyond

This year I attended the CALL journal’s bi-annual conference in Antwerp, Belgium. The conference is held at the University of Antwerp in the Linguapolis department and was organised by Joseph Colpaert, the general editor of the CALL Journal. There were some fantastic presentations and sessions this year. Below is a brief overview of the event and some links to the original site. There are also links to the presentation given by myself and the audio file so you can listen online, although you may prefer to watch the video from EUROCALL 2010 where I presented the same study.

Day One: 18th August 2010

Keynote: Ema Ushioda

Ema Ushioda is one of the big names in L2 Motivation research, having written several books and numerous articles on the subject. Her speech summarised the present state of L2 motivational theories, starting with Gardner and his work in defining Instrumental and Integrative orientations, and moving to Dörnyei (2009) and the L2 Motivational Self System He states that this theory “represents a major reformation” (ibid: 9) of previous L2 motivational theory because it incorporates theories of the self from mainstream psychological literature whilst maintaining the roots of previous L2 approaches. Ushioda contextualised these theories to CALL by stating that the way hyper-media and ICT have blurred the boundaries between cultures is especially significant to CALL and the L2 Motivational Self System attempts to accommodate this by allowing for a deeper understanding of the L2 self. Within this system the Ideal L2 self is predominantly defined as a “desire to reduce the discrepancy between our actual and ideal selves” (ibid: 29) and as such incorporates both integrative and internalised instrumental components of motivation. In contrast, the Ought to L2 self has a focus on avoiding negative outcomes, such as failure or embarrassment or being able to meet with social expectations. Dörnyei argues that “the self approach allows us to think BIG” (ibid: 39) and as such it has the flexibility to approach a multicultural and globalised view of L2 motivation which is necessary for understanding motivations for using CALL.

You can access the PowerPoints and handout for the session here


Dörnyei, Z. (2009) ‘The L2 Motivational Self System’ in Dörnyei, Z. and Ushioda, E. Motivation, language identity and the L2 self Bristol: Multilingual Matters (pp. 9 -42)

Computer Oil – making the most of your classroom machine

WD40 is the magical sprayable oil which can fix almost any mechanical problem with a few well placed squirts. It is a mechanic’s best friend.

Sadly, WD40 does not work for computers, in fact it would probably not do your computer much good at all! When you are using an Interactive Whiteboard (IWB) for teaching, or any type of computer based applications, things almost always go awry. Believe me, I know!

Having worked as multimedia coordinator with hundreds of computers, where I supported not one but two flagship schools in central London which had both staff and student machines, each with a multimedia room and one with an additional computer lab, I have done a lot of trouble shooting both for my own and other teachers’ classes. One of the most common mistakes people make is to overestimate the power of their computer.

It is difficult to remember to conduct the basic maintenance that keeps a computer running efficiently when you are using it in front of a class. People tend to open up hundreds of new tabs on their browser, running very processor heavy sites such as BBC iPlayer, without closing windows which are no longer needed, or keeping other applications running in the background. IWBs often come with their own software and usually they are connected to low-spec computers which the school or institution buys en mass on the cheap, so don’t overwork them. If you want to keep your computer and IWB running and avoid crashing it, keep open only the windows and programs that you need and close things down when you are done.

Although I just told you to close windows, you still need to watch out for overheating issues.  The computer’s CPU produces a huge amount of heat when it is running, as much as the filament of an electric kettle. Overheating will cause your computer run more slowly and eventually crash. Think about the position of the computer. All computers have fans and vents, make sure these are not pointed at a wall or enclosed by a desk, as this will reflect the heat back into them. Also, don’t put things on the computer, as this can again lead to overheating. Another overheating risk comes from running too many applications and keeping too many windows open. The final thing you can do to avoid overheating is to ensure that the computer is not left on all night. Turning it on and off after each lesson may not be practical, but shutting it down each night will keep it running for longer and also is much better for the environment. You can create a scheduled task in control panel using a batch file which means that the computer will shut down automatically at a specified time each night. Just be sure that you remember to turn off the monitors and projector screens as even in standby these use a lot of power and again this is bad for the environment.

The computer will also run faster if you only have programs installed which you need. Many programs, such as apple Quicktime, will start themselves and run in the background upon startup even though you’re not using them. Check which programs are running in the startup and remove them from the registry to make the machine more efficient. You can also speed up the computer by ensuring that all the temporary internet files have been cleaned off, and that you defrag your hard drive often. By default, most Windows installations are set to use Virtual Memory, which is hard disk space acting as RAM. If your hard disk gets full and the Virtual Memory quota cannot be met by the physical remaining space on the disk then the computer is prone to crash.

If you are not sure about any of these things, ask your IT support to check them all. If you don’t have an IT support then you should ask your school or institution to hire someone in for the day to check all this, or do it yourself using online tutorials and ask for a pay rise!

Computers are sensitive animals. Many of them are made to work like slaves for long hours in hot sweaty conditions. It is not unknown for computers to be badly beaten when the pressure is too much and they begin to flag. This is not wise if you want your computer to work like a well oiled machine. If you click on something and it doesn’t work instantly, this means the computer is running slowly. Often people then fire a volley of double-clicks at the computer, which just means you are asking it to do the same job hundreds of times. Nothing slows a computer down faster than this clicking spree. Be patient with your machine, and don’t be fooled into thinking that whacking it has any effect.

If you combine all these small tips, you will notice a marked increase in the speed of your machine. If the machine really is a piece of junk, you can always buy more ram or re-format the hard drive and see if that makes it any quicker. Failing all this, ensure your school or college invests in decent hardware, but even if your machine is a top of the range machine, remember that a little love goes a long way and that there is no oil in a can panacea to make it run reliably unless you use it sensibly.

When to (and when not to) use tech in class

The question of when to use, and equally as important – when not to use, technology in class has been a question that sadly gets left out of many of the discussions around new learning technologies. Unfortunately, a lot of the choices about tech in class come from a top down implementation. So, your school gets a load of new interactive whiteboards. They give you a 1 hour training session, remove all the old whiteboards and say ‘off you go then’. Questioning their practicality often gets you branded as ‘negative’ or even ‘anti-progressive’.
Happily, there are those who dare to ask questions about this approach to instructional technology. People like Mike Levy, Phil Hubbard and Greg Kessler (among others) have voiced their concern over ‘tech for tech’s sake’ and this is coming from the leading CALL experts and advocators. Interactive whiteboards, for example, don’t do things that normal ones do. You can’t have more than one person writing on it at the same time, for example, so if you are doing a spelling race or something like that you won’t be able to use it. A lot of great software and apps are being released at an amazing rate, but all too often they are put into use without prior evaluation. As CALL practitioners we need to ask ourselves, is this useful? How so? When would this be useful and when would it not? These questions are not dissimilar to the questions teachers ask themselves when planning or evaluating any resource for a lesson. You don’t need to be an expert to conduct this kind of evaluation either.

A good example is a Blended Learning Lesson Plan I wrote myself for use in my institution. I was thinking about this lesson from a very top-down perspective, I’m sorry to say. I was concerned our Moodle forums were underused, so I thought ‘how can I get these forums to be used in class?’ I created a lesson plan where the whole class is taken into the computer room and forced to use the forum to post a response to something.
Not only did this only mean that forums were used a lot for the hour of the class and then never again, it was also questionable pedagogically. Why make people communicate over a forum when they are in the same room as each other? In the pecking order of communication, face to face is always best.

Forums are powerful collaboration tools, but the point is to allow asynchronous sharing and knowledge. The same lesson applied to learners who are in a separated by time and space would be great, but not if they could just have easily have actually spoken to each other.
We are at a stage now where technology is so ubiquitous that we are not always so keen to implement it for its own sake. We need to critically evaluate the new item, see if it works, decide what it is good for and what it is not so good for.

I woul like to invite you to post your comments about any new piece of technology you have used in class. Was it useful? What can it do well? What are its limitations?

CALL Teacher Education

There is a brilliant book entitled ‘Teacher Education in CALL’ (Hubbard and Levy eds. 2006) which details the current state of CALL teacher education – some of the predominant findings are that there is not enough CALL Teacher Education going on as part of INSET or PRESET training, and even when CALL is part of Teacher Education programs it is often considered unsatisfactory in terms of preparing teachers to actually use CALL applications in class.

In the TESLCA-L List-Serv I started a post about CALL and Autonomy and was soon contacted through the list by Greg Kessler, a researcher and CALL Teacher Education Specialist who contributed to the ‘Teacher Education in CALL’ book. The post took on a slightly new purpose then, focusing on CALL Teacher Education and how this can feed into Autonomy Training.

I decided I would expand the idea by adding a post here. By joining the free mailing list TESLCA-L you can read the archived postings and also add to them, or alternatively leave a comment here on this blog about the subject.

We are particularly interested in:

  • any CALL preparation courses you have taken
  • your attitudes towards CALL use and CALL Teacher Education
  • any experiences you have had while trying to integrate CALL into your classes

We look forward to reading your postings!

Second Life

There are some amazing resources emerging regarding the use of Second Life for Language Learning. There are in world virtual schools dedicated to a range of languages, most notably English, Spanish and French. There are also groups which are dedicated to language learning.

  • EDUNATION – This is the island set up by the Consultants-e. It’s a great place and there is a lot going on.
  • CALICO – This is a Ning Social network for the CALICO/EUROCALL groups’ Virtual Worlds Special Interest Group
  • AVALON – A group funded by the Lifelong Learning Program. There are some great events and discussions here.

To name just a few. If you are not already in Second Life then I would recommend that you go in and have a look for yourself. Flying around in the virtual world can be quite demanding on your computer if you don’t have a good graphics card, but I would recommend it nonetheless. It might be some time before the computer labs in schools catch up enough to fully support entire classes using SL, but to be honest that’s not how I see it going. For example, I went in last night and found an island where Japanese people hang out. I went up to a couple of guys and introduced myself, then tried as hard as I could to follow the conversation and join in using VOIP. This is a great way to practice authentic communication with real speakers. The value of this is particularly apparent if you are learning a language in a Foreign Language context (ie. there aren’t many speakers of the target language in your country).

Has anyone else had any experiences in Second Life? How did you feel when you were in there? Can you recommend any good places or groups?

For anyone interested my Avatar’s name is Richard Spiritor.