Digital culture and technology offer both new opportunities and new risks for the study of modern languages and cultures. As our survey into ‘Attitudes towards digital culture and technology in the Modern Languages’ demonstrated in 2019, language practitioners and learners already have high levels of digital engagement, which brings multiple potential benefits – including greater access to target languages and cultures through authentic materials, peer-to-peer inter-lingual interaction, collaborative learning and dynamic multilingual identity construction. At the same time, the survey revealed increasing anxiety over possible negative impacts, which include the perceived superficiality/lack of criticality that digital engagement may sometimes bring, the difficulty in embedding digital methods in the study of languages (and cultures) and the increased weakening of formal education structures for language learning as a result of popular apps like Duolingo (Spence and Brandão).
In its conclusions, the survey suggested that strategic thinking is required within the Modern Languages sector as a whole about the place and role of the ‘digital’ in its education and research practices, and while there is very strong engagement in some areas – such as translation, linguistics and Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) – overall the impact is uneven, with little debate across different educational levels, research areas or institution types. If we focus, for example, on Modern Languages departments at Higher Education (HE) level, we find that digital theory/practice is extremely localised and rarely transcends the boundaries between ‘language learning’ and ‘content’.
One area where uncertainty over how Modern Languages (and connected fields) should engage with the ‘digital’ is particularly acute is in digital literacy acquisition. Various training events we have contributed to since 2017 have demonstrated people’s significant interest in acquiring digital literacies appropriate to Modern Languages education and research, but also doubts about which literacies needed to be acquired and how to acquire them. This was confirmed in our 2019 survey, where respondents identified a lack of support for their efforts to engage with digital methods and pedagogies, manifested in a lack of credit/validation structures, training opportunities or formal infrastructure to enable the sharing of information about digitally mediated teaching resources.
Such studies highlight the need for openly available resources for people in the field of Modern Languages wishing to improve their critical digital skills, particularly at HE level, and testify to the importance of having resources designed explicitly from a Modern Languages perspective. This publication represents an initiative that aims to address these concerns and which forms part of wider research into digital transformations in Modern Languages (and the linguistic challenges facing digital culture) on the Digital Mediations strand of the Language Acts and Worldmaking project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) under its Open World Research Initiative.1
In February 2019 we launched a call for proposals for a Digital Modern Languages tutorial writing sprint, which took place in the summer of 2019. Put simply, the event aimed to produce a series of self-learning online tutorials on how to use digital tools and methods critically in researching or studying modern languages and cultures. The format of the event was broadly inspired by the ‘book sprint’ format which – adopting the ‘sprint’ approach popularised in agile software development – enables people to collaboratively produce publications in a short period of time (usually less than a week). The intended outcome was an edited collection of tutorials, providing a snapshot of digital methods for Modern Languages and which we decided to publish in this special collection. We explain the rationale of this digital modern languages (DML) initiative below, discussing how our objectives had to adjust to its experimental nature, and we present a series of what we believe to be accessible, engaging, imaginative and highly necessary tutorials. These tutorials function in their own right as open access learning/teaching materials which can be used (and adapted) in Modern Languages education, but they also offer critical reflections on the value of critical digital pedagogy in Modern Languages.
2.1. Digital pedagogies
Digital pedagogy is a vast field, which, depending on interpretation, may cover topics as diverse as MOOCs, blended learning, open educational resources, networked learning, new literacy studies, immersive technologies and critical reflections on educational infrastructure. It may focus on tools, platforms, content, process or learner communities and it extends from engagement with basic (and often commercially available) technology to the use of computationally advanced methods found, for example, in the Digital Humanities (Hirsch). Digital pedagogy is part of a wider educational context which some have argued is subject to a ‘permanent tension between two forces’, one treating knowledge as a form of ‘accumulating value’ and another viewing knowledge as a ‘commons’, representing culture and resources available to everyone (Ricaurte 8). This tension likewise informs the different understandings of, and approaches to, digital engagement in a Modern Languages context.
At its most effective, digital pedagogy is not a merely instrumental piece-by-piece substitution of existing teaching methods with digital alternatives, but rather a thoughtful and agile interrogation of educational ecosystems which takes advantage of a pedagogy of abundance in relation to content, creation and connection (Weller 90). Some argue that the top-down institutional experience of new technologies – exemplified by the institutionally imposed Learning Management System (LMS)-– often represents ‘the least innovative classroom practice and reposition[s] that digitally’ (Michael Morris). Contrary to that model, critical digital pedagogy contemplates new forms of action, new educational agents and new channels of learning, taking full advantage of the social and networked affordances of the open web and involving collaboration strategies which forge bottom-up alliances for culture-based knowledge production.2
Some have criticised the frequent technological bias of discourses around digital pedagogy – ‘the “digital” in […] “digital pedagogy” refers less to tech and more to the communities tech engenders and facilitates’ argues Stommel in his summary of early collaborative work in this area (Stommel) – and our understanding of the term is often hampered by the ‘boom and bust’ cycles which new technologies bring, often engendering excessive enthusiasm or mistrust. At present there is still relatively little attention in the humanities as a whole to the science of learning or the scholarship of pedagogy, and as a result digital pedagogy is largely underdeveloped, both theoretically and practically, with humanities educators, moreover, still commanding ‘limited control over the technologies they use’ (Fletcher 372).
2.2. The state of DML pedagogies
This state of underdevelopment does not apply equally to all areas of languages-focused education, where some have a highly advanced understanding of the pedagogical implications of digital mediation. A plethora of terms and acronyms – such as CALL, MALL (Mobile Assisted Language Learning), TELL (Technology Enhanced Language Learning), language learning in virtual worlds, eTandem – are evidence of the high level of digital engagement with digital in language learning. Platforms and journals such as Language Learning & Technology, Computer Assisted Language Learning and CALICO are representative of the breadth and depth in this area. At schools level, and in an Anglophone context, a lot of activity also occurs through informal networks, loosely organised around Twitter hashtags such as #MFLTwitterati, #langchat, #gilt_fb, #fslchat or #authres, and occasionally presented through online community resources such as #MFLTwitterati Podcast or the TiLT webinars – Technology in Language Teaching for the lockdown era.
If we survey the wider languages sector, the picture is more uneven, however, and there are currently few opportunities to explore cross-sector connections. At HE level, in particular, there are relatively few resources to bridge language and cultural perspectives in digital pedagogy. Likewise, little connection or comparison is made between work that uses off-the-shelf commercial or institutional tools, and the kinds of community-driven resources produced by applied/generative fields such as the Digital Humanities (DH). Finally, we see little research exploring how online/digital (and hybrid) pedagogies are mediated by languages and distinct geocultural perspectives – discussion is predominantly shaped around how ‘digital’ can transform ‘languages’, rather than the other way around.
2.3. Why focus on ‘digital’?
Debates and research on digital/computer-based pedagogies have existed for many decades now, so it is natural (and increasingly common) to ask why we need to focus on ‘digital’ at all. If almost everyone is active in digital environments in one way or another, the argument goes, shouldn’t we just be talking about ‘pedagogy’ rather than ‘digital pedagogy’, or ‘literacies’ rather than ‘digital literacies’. On one level we have strong sympathy with this argument: in the long term it is certainly desirable that digital technology be treated as just another technology, along with paper, (print) books, pens, whiteboards and all the other technologies that allow people to study modern languages, and ‘hybrid pedagogy’ approaches better reflect the mixed reality of learning experience in the twenty-first century classroom.3 One problem with this train of thought, however, is that, even in areas which have engaged relatively well with digital mediation on a theoretical and practical level (such as language learning), and in spite of the advanced level of research into digital pedagogy in fields such as CALL or TELL, the evidence is that there are still major deficits in understanding how digital culture transforms study in this field, both among teachers and learners. The dizzying array of tools, theories and acronyms presents a major cognitive challenge for Modern Languages education (Román-Mendoza 12–15) and the rapid transformations in technological usage and availability make it difficult to create sustainable digital pedagogies. Angus has noted that a 2007 Modern Language Association report recommended that training programmes for language teachers involve a significant digital element. Based on her own research ten years later into US language teaching syllabi, Angus concludes that the understanding and use of ‘technology’ modelled in language teacher training programmes still does not, generally speaking, match wider student expectations and practices regarding digital culture, and she argues for attention to digital literacies such as the ability to critically evaluate digital environments, rather than a focus on learning particular tools (Angus).
There is still much confusion over the why, who, what and how of applying digital media and methods in Modern Languages study, hampered by a relative lack of digital resources for those teaching the subject, in comparison to other fields. Moreover, the instrumentalist view of digital culture and technology that still dominates in the Modern Languages field is limiting, as it largely ignores the cultural plane and deprives the field of agency in defining its own identity in digital pedagogical theory and ecosystems. Equally, digital culture and infrastructures generally have an Anglophone bias, which obstructs full engagement with multilingual education and research. In summary, at present we face a double deficit: on the one hand Modern Languages as a field generally still does not have the same level of skills to interpret digital artefacts as it does to analyse print-era phenomena, while on the other, digital ecosystems (and indeed digital studies) do not adequately address linguistic and geocultural differences.
Finally, while this initiative was started well before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the sudden and dramatic transformations that the pandemic has brought to teaching and learning (at least in the short to medium term, and quite possibly for longer) have forced us to reconsider what we mean by terms such as ‘digital literacy’ or ‘digital pedagogy’, and what their implications are for Modern Languages education as a whole. This was a point made forcefully by a number of people in the final feedback stages of this publication, and one we believe reinforces the need for greater critical and practical engagement from within Modern Languages with debates about the role of the digital in learning and research.
3. The initiative
While the overall scholarly/pedagogic focus of their tutorials is quite different from ours, it was The Programming Historian platform that shaped our early thinking about the Digital Modern Languages tutorial writing sprint initiative. The Programming Historian (PH) presents open access tutorials (and accompanying sample materials) in Digital Humanities methods using a framework that combines a rigorous peer review workflow, highly interactive editorial support for authors and translation into other languages (currently French and Spanish), supported by bottom-up community involvement. While we have opted here for a fundamentally text-focused mode of delivery for our tutorials, we also took inspiration from the #dariahTeach programme, which aims to ‘develop open-source, high quality, multilingual teaching materials for the digital arts and humanities’. The #dariahTeach platform also has a dedicated YouTube channel which covers topics as broad as maker culture, visualising text, gender and stylistics, multilingual speech recognition or spatial humanities and social justice.
3.2. Our aims
As mentioned earlier, the training events we have contributed to and our 2019 survey have indicated an appetite and a need for learning resources to scaffold the learning and professional development of language-sector educators and researchers in the area of digital methods and literacies. Based on this, we started to plan an initiative with the following aims:
- to produce a set of learning resources that will improve critical digital literacies in Modern Languages learning and research;
- to facilitate greater engagement between digital practice and Modern Languages learning;
- to provoke discussion about possible connections between digital literacies/pedagogies at secondary and HE levels and beyond;
- to foster greater connection between Modern Languages and heritage/community language learning modes;
- to provide students and researchers with new modes of engagement with Modern Languages content and research;
- to contribute to greater awareness of the importance of Modern Languages learning and research, beyond established Modern Languages channels.
This initiative follows on from other landscaping exercises we have carried out mapping interactions between modern languages and digital culture, in this case focusing on the potential of critical digital literacies and creative digital methods to reshape how learners engage with modern languages and cultures. In addressing the aims listed above, the initiative intends to challenge still pervasive instrumental views of digital media, to experiment with form (e.g. when/how can a tutorial like this function as scholarly argument?), to integrate practice-based learning with reflection on its critical value, to connect sub-fields and to constructively disrupt existing knowledge silos and local disciplinary expectations.
The outcome was the Digital Modern Languages tutorial writing sprint, a physical and virtual event designed to create a variety of open educational resources demonstrating the critical use of digital tools and methods for teachers, learners and researchers interested in modern languages and cultures. It comprised two parts: (1) the sprint event and (2) the publication, which we describe in greater detail below.
4. The event
4.1. The call for proposals
The initiative was launched in early 2019 with a call for proposals (Figure 1) that should address challenges in the digitally mediated study of modern languages and cultures. We were not proscriptive in our definition of ‘tutorial’, although we did clarify that this might be thought of broadly as ‘how to’ use a particular digital method or tool, as opposed to a lesson plan.4 The call stated that tutorials would need to respond to identifiable needs within Modern Languages learning and research (at any educational level), and might involve either established or emerging areas within the field of Modern Languages and beyond, including (but not limited to): language pedagogy, digital arts, translation, linguistics, digital sociolinguistic and digital cultural studies, including ethnographic and discourse analysis approaches. A series of hypothetical tutorial titles was provided in the call, including topics as diverse as ‘Using a digital storytelling tool to facilitate secondary school language learning’, ‘Mapping colonial history in Brazil digitally’, ‘Exploring translation pedagogy in Open Translation platforms’ and ‘Exploring linguistic and geographic markers for digital identity creation in social media’. We did not wish to limit the scope of proposals, but it was felt that some examples were needed to help stir people’s thoughts for such an experimental form.
The call for proposals asked prospective authors for general metadata about their proposal, as well as the tutorial’s aims, proposed structure, scope/focus, educational level (primary, secondary, HE), expected level of progression (including entry level), list of digital methods used, list of digital tools used, a statement about the use of open source methods, the languages (or language families) that the tutorial might be applied to and a statement about whether the tutorial would be translated once published. In order to encourage early career participants, modest bursaries were available to facilitate travel and accommodation costs, and were provided by the AHRC-funded Language Acts and Worldmaking project.5 Proposals were welcome for both physical and virtual attendance at the writing sprint.
Where appropriate, authors were encouraged to provide test content (data) in their tutorial, which learners might use as they do the tutorials and for their own independent research/learning. Applicants did not need to have academic posts or to be in formal Modern Languages roles – we welcomed proposals from both within and beyond established modern language learning/research institutions (including, but not limited to, schools, HE, arts/cultural sector, digital practitioners and private sector).
The fundamental criteria given for accepting proposals were that:
- the outcomes will consist of self-guided online tutorials;
- they must fundamentally make a useful contribution to Modern Languages education or research practice;
- they may take a monolingual or multilingual approach;
- they should engage with digital tools for Modern Languages in new and interesting ways, and ideally be sustainable and globally focused;
- we favour the use of multi-platform/open access/source software in general terms, unless there is a very clear pedagogical rationale;
- tutorials will be approximately 4,000 words in length, and be written in approachable, non-expert language, with clear examples.
We explore the question of peer review in more depth later, but at this stage it is important to note that all proposals were peer reviewed and in addition to formal peer review, authors were given much more active feedback than would be typical for a scholarly journal article, for example.
We stated publicly in the call that we expected to select eight or ten proposals for the physical event, and a similar number for the virtual event. In practice, while proposals for physical attendance were healthy, we received very few proposals for virtual attendance. The tutorials in this published collection reflect the overall profile of initial proposals fairly accurately. So, for instance, there was an overall European bias to the languages covered, but we did have applications covering non-European languages (but no real engagement with heritage/community languages, which had been explicitly mentioned in the call aims, nor endangered/minority languages). There was a good balance of tutorials about modern languages and cultures, but all the applicants worked in academic institutions and the majority of the tutorial proposals reflected HE interests and concerns – whether the lack of applications from the school sector is down to the format not appealing to people working in schools, the natural bias produced by where we sit institutionally as editors, the time shortage that affects school teachers particularly acutely at this time or to other factors, is open to conjecture. We had indicated a preference for multi-platform/open access/open source approaches, although there was confusion over what ‘open’ meant in some cases, and proposals included the use of both commercial/off-the-shelf tools and more purpose-built open source tools.
4.2. Managing the event
The writing tutorial sprint/workshop took place on 4 and 5 July 2019, and consisted of a physical event over two days at King’s College London and a virtual event, with participants remotely connecting to the physical event. The physical event was designed to include a mixture of seminars, tutorial authoring, demonstrations and peer review; the virtual event operated in parallel, with feedback provided to and from virtual participants at periodic intervals during the event. In practice, there were more physical participants than virtual participants, which influenced the dynamics of the event.
The workshop was designed with advice from our Advisory Group and at the event itself we were assisted by three facilitators, Adam Crymble (The Programming Historian), Lucy Jenkins (Cardiff University) and Joe Dale (independent consultant) – all experienced in producing and assessing digital learning materials – who contributed in a number of ways, including presenting on learning models, facilitating sessions and mentoring/providing feedback to tutorial authors. The event was semi-structured, with a combination of plenary, group and individual work, supported by digital tools for documentation, communication, code management and file-sharing.
For much of the event, participants were divided into two groups of about five authors each, to encourage dynamic discussion, and in the unstructured periods authors were given the choice of being alone to write or working together, according to personal preference and writing habits.
The feedback we received from participants was positive overall, and it welcomed the balance of structured and unstructured activities – although our own internal reflection on the event was that a joint face-to-face and virtual event needs more scaffolding than we had planned. During the event, some authors expressed lingering doubts over how the tutorials should be structured. To a certain extent this is natural in an experimental event of this nature, and we were resistant to the idea of being too prescriptive in defining tone and structure, but while we had provided an example structure and pointed authors to general platforms such as The Programming Historian, more concerted and detailed work on our part to provide templates and examples would undoubtedly have been helpful.
4.3. About writing sprints
What is a ‘book sprint’, or more broadly a ‘writing sprint’, and how did such an approach influence the design of this event/publication? A book sprint involves gathering a small group of experts to write content collaboratively in a very short space of time (Zennaro et al.) and the emphasis is on face-to-face interaction, although online communication is important for preparation and post-production. This methodology works particularly well for technical documentation, policy documents and manuals, although it has been used to create other formats such as novels. Hyde conceives of book sprints as being at the ‘strong’ end of collaborative knowledge production – in contrast to crowd sourcing, which is ‘weak’. They constitute active engagement, with ‘strong human facilitation’, larger contributions and strong connections between collaborators (Hyde).6
The ‘sprint’ model has not generally been used for academic knowledge production, partly because the speed with which content is produced seems intellectually suspect to academic audiences (Berry and Dieter). One notable exception is the collaborative article ‘Modern Languages and the Digital: The Shape of the Discipline’, edited by Claire Taylor and Niamh Thornton in 2017 (Taylor and Thornton 2017), based on a writing sprint in 2015 which explored modes of collaboration, the digitally mediated writing process and critical reflection on how we present Modern Languages research (Taylor 2016).
While our event did not apply the methodology used in book sprints strictly, and the time available was more limited than is typical for such initiatives, in spirit it shared many of the underlying objectives and dynamics. In purely temporal terms, the collection of tutorials we present here is closer to traditional scholarly publications than to a sprint; and in format terms, authors were creating their own tutorial content, with a high degree of control over what went into them. But much of the event’s scaffolding borrowed from the sprint methodology in that authors (and facilitators) were able to view and interact with each other’s texts over a condensed period (two days) with an element of peer-to-peer review, and a substantial proportion of most of the tutorials was produced in a very short space of time. We employed standard academic processes of anonymous peer reviewing prior to both workshop and publication acceptance, but another experiment in DML tutorials might explore the kind of dynamic revision/print-on-demand publishing models that writing sprints favour.
5. The publication
5.1. About this publication
The second stage of this initiative was the digital publication you are currently reading. Our starting objective was to produce an edited collection of Open Educational Resources (loosely defined) on an open access platform(s) for deposit and long-term sustainability. This collection would be composed of tutorials, data and (where appropriate) tools.
We were aware of venues such as the excellent OpenLearn Create platform, hosted by the UK’s Open University, but the primary reference point for our publication model, in format terms, was the open access Programming Historian (Figure 2) platform, introduced earlier. Despite its name, this platform supports the learning of digital research methods throughout the humanities and these are increasingly not limited to programming. While we did not wish to limit our DML tutorial initiative to computationally intensive approaches, we did share with The Programming Historian a desire to ‘actively rebalance global access to computational skills and methods’ (Sichani et al.) – in our case in the field of Modern Languages – and to foster the use of open/modifiable methods and tools, avoiding, where possible, the ‘constrained practice’ that out-of-the box tools encourage (McClurken). As with The Programming Historian, we did not wish merely to enable the reader to acquire technical skills, but also to reflect on the practical application and significance of the tools or methods they were learning to use.
The Programming Historian follows a tradition of accessible technical or practical writing – evidenced in publications such as the (For) ‘Dummies’ series or ‘O’Reilly digital media’ books – made popular in the early self-help days of the World Wide Web and which favoured hands-on engagement with authentic examples, concise writing and an informal/approachable register. Similarly, these tutorials are strongly influenced by the self-directed learning model of online tutorials popular for learning to use digital tools, a genre that may be text based or video based and which typically employs practice-based ‘learning by example’ to achieve mastery of a given programme or tool. While we are open to the materials presented here being used and extended for teaching materials (and of course we hope this occurs), we also aim to foster discussion about how Modern Languages acquire particular digital literacies and engage with digital methods in doing so, which is why we opted for this format: a series of self-learning online tutorials. The collection is designed to work for both distance education and in-class learning (although clearly some tutorials will function better for one or the other), and the reader can pause and rewind at their convenience. As an innovator in online publishing in Modern Languages, and as the publisher of the two (aforementioned) highly influential pieces on digital mediations of Modern Languages, the MLO platform seemed the natural home for this collection.
As the initiative developed, a certain tension emerged on occasions between the cultures of pedagogical design and academic writing. This was natural, since the collection represents an inquiry into what is possible with digital pedagogy, a deeper engagement with the affordances (and risks) of digital mediation than is typical in online courses and an exploration of how it changes language learning and cultural engagement, but it led to debates on how to merge the two genres of ‘tutorial’ and ‘academic article’.
5.2. Peer review/criteria acceptance
How should we carry out peer review for a collection like this? These are tutorials in the how-to sense, but with critical pedagogical reflection. While experimental in form, they also function as academic outputs and so we opted for a ‘double blind’ review system commonly used in academic publication, in addition to peer-to-peer review which happened at the sprint/workshop event. We considered the ‘open’ peer review method used by platforms such as The Programming Historian, but instead selected a blind review system due to the difficulty in finding a large number of reviewers to cover the range of perspectives needed (language/culture, pedagogy and digital methods),7 and the lack of a strong open review culture in Modern Languages as a field. We encouraged reviewers to take into account the range of registers that authors might decide to use for their tutorials, but asked them to focus on looking for work that was original (or demonstrated perceptive analysis of existing techniques), provided ample pedagogical reflection or showed potential to connect language/culture-focused learning/research communities. Submissions solely about the English language and/or Anglophone cultures were not considered.
All tutorials were peer reviewed (by a review panel appointed by the project) at two points – at proposal stage and prior to publication. We are profoundly grateful to all our reviewers. The review criteria for the first stage are available in the initial Call for Proposals;8 these were supplemented in the second stage (MLO publication) by Modern Language Open’s general review criteria.9 In practice, the key criteria we emphasised to reviewers were the following:
- Does this make a useful contribution to Modern Languages education or research practice? (The Modern Languages perspective.)
- Does this engage with digital tools for modern languages in new and interesting ways? Is it sustainable and globally focused? (The digital methods/pedagogy perspective.)
Other criteria that we used as editors were: educational balance (we sought applications across educational levels); linguistic balance (we were looking for balance across languages, and between European and non-European languages in particular); and digital/technical balance (across platforms, ecosystems, methods – although we favoured open and stable resources over proprietary or ‘alpha/beta’ tools).
We will save most of our comments about issues that arose for the more general discussion which follows, but it is worth making a few brief observations now about the workshop proposal stage. As noted earlier, we initially found it hard to get submissions about non-European languages, in spite of some proactive measures to encourage such contributions. During the workshop proposal review stage, reviewers were generally comfortable with the framework provided but highlighted a range of issues in submissions, including: assumed knowledge of technical abilities; descriptive versus analytical modes of writing; the dangers of technopositivism and over-identification with a particular tool; over-dependence on a single, or proprietary platform or tool; extensibility and reuse potential; and ethical concerns over user involvement in social media platforms. It was at times challenging to evaluate the extent to which the originality or innovation of a particular tutorial lay in the tool/method used, in its application to Modern Languages in the pedagogical approach, or both.
A contradiction we grappled with for this multilingual initiative was the fact that the main language of submission, and the language used at the sprint/workshop, was English. This was justifiable on one level, as one of the main priorities was to draw attention to multilingualism and languages other than English in the Anglophone educational and research environments in which we ourselves work; but we also offered an option to submit translations of the tutorials – some of which will appear on the MLO platform soon, connected to the original. Translation is a major challenge for multilingual publications, for which there are currently no easy answers. Adding multiple languages involves another layer of complexity in authoring, copyediting and production, and we were fortunate to find authors and a publisher who were supportive in this regard.
6. The tutorials
This collection demonstrates how a combination of languages and digital methods can lead to productive encounters in pedagogy. It consists of a series of online tutorials, each aiming to enable learners/teachers to complete a specific task or explore a given pedagogical method.
Patti examines the pragmatics and pedagogical value of video-based approaches in her tutorial on ‘Digital literacy and Modern Languages: How to Make a Digital Video’. Making the point that contemporary language learning involves engaging with a variety of (both print and digital) media and methods, the tutorial argues for the use of digital videos to facilitate various languages skills through a combination of textual, video and audio content. It starts with a review of current video usage in Modern Languages, with a particular focus on the video essay; surveys current software for the creation and management of video, audio or textual content; proposes a workflow for digital video creation; then presents some use cases for Modern Languages classes.
In ‘Exploring Chinese Poetry Using Adobe Spark Video’, Chung and Wang present a transmodal and transmedia approach to learning about Chinese language and culture through video, imagery and music. This method is designed to foster learner creativity and autonomy in approaching the target language/culture. The tutorial also intends to overcome barriers in perception regarding classical (Chinese) literature, which can seem ‘dry’ to learners, by getting them to visualise works audiovisually. There are significant challenges in representing a classical Chinese poem, which may be quite abstract, as something concrete and accessible to a contemporary audience, but this process can provoke interesting discussions about different interpretations, and about the contrast between ‘old’ and ‘new’ forms of cultural representation or between ‘digital’ and ‘non-digital’ mediations.
Panzarella uses an examination of ‘The Online Presence of Italian Antimafia Associations’ to explore contemporary cultural events, embedding the interpretation of cultural content in the language learning process. In assessing the state of antimafia resources and the way in which they communicate their message, the learner will gain skills in evaluating digital resources while engaging with Italian culture through authentic content and developing intercultural competences. At a time when some are questioning the strong separation between language and culture at HE level, Panzarella provides a model for bridging the divide between both elements within a Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) framework.
The next tutorial, by Wang and Wu, looks at ‘How WeChat Facilitates the Learning of Chinese Business Language and Culture’. Using the China-based mobile platform WeChat, the authors set up a simulated environment modelling digital entrepreneurship in a semi-authentic Chinese linguistic and cultural environment. The learner is asked to create a fictitious start-up business in Chinese, with a framework to support the various stages and a combination of in-class/out-of-class interactions between student, teacher and classroom. In addition to learning business and language skills, the learner is encouraged to consider how to engage with another culture on its own terms. This simulated and task-based learning project cultivates a linguistic-professional skillset which can make connections between, or fill gaps in, current linguistic/inter-cultural skills.
In ‘Teaching Bilingual Literature and the Semantic Classroom: Using Scalar to Create Bilingual Collaborative Literary Resources’, Alexander proposes a model for creating bilingual collaborative digital editions in environments of mixed linguistic competency. Using a bilingual edition of a Chicano text as a case study, the author explores multilingualism in interdisciplinary contexts beyond traditional Modern Languages audiences and channels, and injects a degree of playfulness to the learning experience, which makes languages seem less daunting. A process of digital curation and annotation allows the learner to contrast linguistic contexts and reflect on the connections. The non-linearity of the Scalar platform facilitates multiple layers of interpretation which can be personalised by students as part of a creative engagement with literary translation and cultural context.
Targeting researchers and students interested in Latin American and Caribbean Studies (although it could be applied elsewhere), the tutorial ‘Recogito-in-a-Box: From Annotation to Digital Edition’ by del Rio Riande and Vitale considers the use of a free and open source online tool called Recogito to annotate text content semantically and to connect it to image-based and geospatial representations. Part of a wider push to improve multilingual (and geocultural) support in learning/research tools (and their accompanying tutorials), it employs the example of a colonial Latin American text to demonstrate how a text can be marked up before it is then semi-automatically enriched with historical gazetteers (platforms for managing records of attested historical locations). This approach can be used to map travel itineraries, to explore the flow of migration or commerce and to contrast various reports of historical events through different languages and cultures.
Dombrowski’s tutorial on ‘Preparing Non-English Texts for Computational Analysis’ looks at how to prepare multilingual content for text-based computational research. By exploring the different challenges posed by processing various world languages, she aims both to surface the innate Anglophone bias in assumptions underpinning current digital methods and to provide the learner with the necessary critical and practical skills to address linguistic diversity in digital research. Applicable both to instructors leading text analysis workshops and to modern language teachers, the tutorial addresses common challenges that face those preparing material for text analysis (character encoding, segmentation, stop words, casing, the treatment of punctuation and lemmatising) and provides a useful conceptual and practical framework for those carrying out sophisticated text-based digital methods multilingually.
Finally, in ‘Voices of the Parliament’, Fišer and Pahor de Maiti examine how, using parliamentary corpora, we can study language and communication practices in political discourse relating to the representation of women and their interests. Employing corpus linguistics methods, the tutorial combines qualitative and quantitative approaches to look at how data can be used to support socio-linguistic enquiry. It provides general background to corpora and corpus analysis tools, presents parliamentary corpora as a rich source of material for multilingual and cross-lingual research, and discusses gender-based language use, before presenting a worked example based on the siParl corpus, which captures debates at the Slovenian National Assembly. In so doing, it offers a template for multilingual and transnational corpus analysis which can be applied to other languages and topics.
The collection of educational resources we present here is the result of an experimental attempt to address a series of challenges facing those who study modern languages and cultures, both by creating practical resources which learners and teachers can use in their studies, and by fostering discussion on the challenges for developing digital learning resources in the future – across languages, across educational levels and across digital platforms.
7.2. Digital literacies and openness
The variety of teaching methods (and underlying digital literacies involved) on show here demonstrates the range of possible approaches to digital pedagogies in Modern Languages, which include project-based learning, visual reasoning, collaborative and personal learning spaces and data-driven methods. One key element of the collection is that we wished to explore the notion of ‘openness’ in DML educational resources.
Open pedagogies represent one aspect of an ongoing conflict over the future of education, where ‘things of value are being fought over’ (Weller 10) in a dynamic that affects content, working cultures/environments and professional development. Where possible, this collection has tried to demonstrate open tools (such as Recogito/Pelagios), open content (such as the CLARIN parliamentary corpora) and open editing/publishing frameworks (such as Scalar).
The collection itself is open, and corresponds to the five principles of Wiley’s definition of what makes an Open Educational Resource (OER): namely, that a user can retain copies, reuse content, review (and modify) content, remix (with other material) or redistribute without limitations (described in Wiley and Hilton III), subject to appropriate credit being given. There is already a significant amount of educational resources for language learning in particular – see, for example, items under ‘other languages’ on the OpenLearn Create platform, or under the broader OpenLearn platform – but digital methods themselves do not often feature significantly (or rely heavily on general purpose digital tools), and there is rather less available for the ‘content’ or ‘cultural’ end of Modern Languages. We have taken a balanced approach to the openness of tools used in the collection – roughly half employ open tools whereas the other half engage commercial tools – and this was one of the key debates during this initiative. Should we only include tutorials that use open tools, which are not subject to the same limitations or risks as commercial tools (in that they are not modifiable or because their licensing terms may change rapidly) but which do not always enjoy large user communities, documentation, strong interface design or support – the kind of things that tend to make the latter more ‘intuitive’ or ‘accessible’? Hubbard and Colpaert make the point that ‘content is lost at every new pedagogical approach, at every new curriculum’ (Hubbard and Colpaert). Moreover, content is increasingly connected (and locked into) particular digital tools, and for this reason we have encouraged authors to create approaches that could be easily reapplied to other environments, where possible. Openness permits reuse and ‘enhances collaboration, experimentation and innovation, and exposure to different pedagogical approaches’ (Alvarez et al.), but it also comes at a cost (and sometimes a risk), since content creation uses finite human resources and the citation and validation mechanisms for tutorials are not as clear as they are for scholarly research articles. We salute the imagination of our authors, who were prepared to commit time to an experimental process with some uncertainty about the nature of the outcome, and therefore the sort of recognition they might expect for their efforts. Despite good work to make OERs more accessible to language teachers, there is still uncertainty over how to access them and how to implement them (Comas-Quinn and Borthwick). There are not the same human or automatic mechanisms in place for tracking reuse in OERs as for tracking citation of scholarly research outputs, and yet information about reuse may be extremely useful for authors in monitoring the impact of their work. In this spirit, we encourage you to let both us and our authors know if you reuse their work in some way!
7.3. Discussion points
The collection also drew discussion about scope: should this be global or local, general or specific? Language coverage at the workshop included English, Slovene, Spanish, Chicano Spanish, Spanglish, Nahuatl, Korean, Chinese, Italian and Russian. The geography of participants included Argentina, Slovenia, Ireland, Wales, Belgium, England and the United States. Inevitably, the UK context of the convenors, the event and the initiative as a whole, had an influence here. Should tutorials aim to reach a global audience (as far as possible), avoiding culture-specific language and examples? Or should they recognise the local situatedness of the author and reader, and be written for particular educational contexts? This was not a debate we were able to resolve easily – the global approach does not work well with the persona-based approach that some favour for this kind of educational design, but equally you cannot predict who may use an online resource and, in any case, we were keen to move content and practice beyond ‘the Western canon’ where possible. Likewise, should a resource like this be aimed at specific audiences, languages and levels (with a greater likelihood that it will meet particular objectives) or should it be adaptable to other environments (increasing its potential impact)? This was again not a dilemma we sought to resolve, but we do feel that there is significant value in bringing together educational resources across different languages – too often these are siloed in particular institutional structures or language-determined disciplinary communities.
Another lively debate occurred around delivery format. Should the tutorial be fundamentally text based (perhaps with supporting audiovisual materials) or should it be principally video based? Text-based resources tend to be more sustainable, because they are easier to maintain and update; whereas video feels more immediate and stimulating, perhaps meeting the expectations of an increasingly YouTube-based popular learning culture. Why not combine the two? But then sustainability issues are potentially magnified – and perhaps lead to the unfortunate situation where one element still works but the other ceases to function. Our decision here has been to favour stability, preferring a text-based platform with a strong commitment to sustainability, but which at the same time still allows people to experiment within a permissive license. Video content exists for some of the tutorials here and is archived on the dedicated Digital Modern Languages YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zx--3clSGM4&list=PLfaB2f0CyBdu1OluU36KKLKXpKWDco62q (or https://tinyurl.com/dml-tut-youtube).
The growth of language-learning apps proves that there is an enduring interest in modern languages, even in Anglophone countries. Apps such as Duolingo and Memrise have their uses, but without the scaffolding of critical pedagogies and expertise in intercultural competence, language learners receive only a partial view of a language, which is largely decoupled from its cultural context. This seems like a huge missed opportunity for the learner – one of the things that digital media make easier is precisely the potential for connection to contemporary culture in the countries where a given language is spoken. This is just one example of where the more instrumental view of digital transformation in language education can be limiting. By contrast, the tutorials presented here provide examples of generative forms of DML pedagogy and, in what is a time of crisis for many involved in Modern Languages, critical digital pedagogies may offer new alliances and opportunities for innovation or development in language learning.
Hubbard and Colpaert, building on work by the Douglas Fir Group, propose a ‘stronger transdisciplinary orientation’ to CALL, involving psychological, computational, sociological, educational and linguistic perspectives (Hubbard and Colpaert). This kind of approach seems important in tackling the increasingly global challenges that face research and society, and which present an important opportunity for language-focused fields such as Modern Languages. We would contend that this collection demonstrates the value of, and need for, greater collaboration between language-based fields such as Modern Languages, linguistics, digital cultural studies, CALL, Digital Humanities, language technology studies and minority/endangered languages in responding to such challenges.
In summary, the tutorials we present here represent a connection between language learning and attention to different geocultural perspectives which national/regional institutional structures do not always favour. The collection intends to explore digital methods across various areas and aspects of the curriculum, eschewing an instrumental view of technology (and indeed languages) for a critical, hybrid pedagogical interpretation which can draw together both digital and non-digital elements of the learning experience. The various tutorials aim to address particular language educational needs, while allowing for reuse or modification. They can be applied in formal or informal learning environments to study a range of linguistic-cultural objects including language usage, literary texts, historical sources or the visual arts. In some cases, they are very clearly for teachers; in others, they might be more suited to learners, including researchers. They use both open access and gated access tools. And where possible, they have been translated into other languages.
The Digital Modern Languages tutorial sprint was an experimental initiative; at the time of writing, we have no plans to continue the exercise, although we are open to proposals for future collaboration. Some elements of the initiative influenced a pre-conference tutorial ‘write-a-thon’ planned by the Multilingual DH and GO::DH networks for the Digital Humanities 2020 conference. We welcome feedback about the tutorials, and hope that you enjoy reading and perhaps using them!
Please send feedback to Paul Spence: firstname.lastname@example.org