You slip your O.R. goggles on and you begin class on the virtual seaside cliffs outside a kechak temple of Uluwatu in Bali.
Some of you might be saying, "Oculus Rift Goggles for language learning? I don't buy it."
I'll admit it does sound like a sci-fi movie. However, I think the devil is in the details. As I mentioned earlier, looking at our future forecasts critically could provide some goals for our present-day actions. According to Jane McGonigal, we have the option to evaluate our future forecast's worth and choose whether or not to apply some of their principles in our lives today.
Let's look at the signals that got me to the virtual shores of Uluwatu and you can decide for yourself, whether or not it's a forecast you would like to see happen.
Signal #1: We will all be language experts and teachers
I have noticed a recent shift of responsibility of instruction from the teacher to other stakeholders, (e.g., students, members of the community) The teacher’s role is transforming from the only language expert in the classroom to more of a language coach and instructional designer.
When I was at the Future of Educational Technology Conference in Orlando, I looked for tech-enabled educators and how they were taught languages in innovative ways. I found a few of them were working towards getting their language learners to become language experts. This meant delivering the content in a flipped classroom setting which eventually led to them becoming familiar enough with the grammar to teach classes and make online language tutorials or screencasts.
Elba Ocando, of Canterbury School Florida, uses technologies like Voicethread in her lessons for students to converse with one another in Spanish. Additionally, her students were entrusted to learn one particular grammar function or usage and teach it to other learners through presentations or video casting in flipped classroom settings.
Other teachers were using Skype in the classroom with native speaking classes to talk about culture in the target language. A class from Mexico learning English was able to practice with students from the U.S. learning Spanish. The benefit of this was providing a cultural context to the language they are learning. No longer is the language, some foreign entity preserved in text books, but a living language connected to real people and real experience somewhere in the real world.
I presently play a similar game in my own language learning journeys. I have been admittedly addicted to a social networking app on my phone called, "HelloTalk". It's specifically designed to connect a community of people who are simultaneously learning a language while teaching their own. I am learning French and continuing with Chinese while teaching others English. However, the conversation sometimes falls flat. We run out of deeper topics due to our limited vocabulary. Not to mention, some people clearly need help in teaching language partners the nuances of their native tongue. As of now the way the users use the technology is on the lower rung of the SAMR ladder. Therefore, we have a little bit of a problem. So, how can we as a community fix it?
These signals show a shift from the teacher to the learners as the bearer of skills and knowledge aligns with the learning theory for the digital age otherwise known as, Connectivism. We are becoming highly connected in new ways and it's changing the way we learn and think about languages. No longer is there one-sage-on-one-stage but multiple language experts that can provide rich interactions and connections. Collaboration provides a higher level of differentiation because language lessons take place in highly interactive one-on-one settings. These tech-enhanced language learning sessions can provide shared support systems that are mutually beneficial for both involved in the exchange.
However, in my forecasted future, the importance of the teacher will not be diminished. Instead, learners will look to the teacher to teach strategies about how to teach and learn with others. The teacher's role will shift from the traditional language teacher to a metacognitive coach --acting as a bridge and facilitator between the students and the online language partners.
What does this mean for you and Putu? Putu will be a friend who adds a social and cultural element to the language. On the flip side, his avatar will always have ideas for conversation and be an expert in providing targeted instruction and extra practice for those stickier grammatical exceptions in Indonesian—in other words Putu’s artificially intelligent avatar is a complex engine that mimics his personality and speech patterns while being a very effective and responsive language teacher. Which leads to signal 2...
Signal #2: Highly adaptive personalized learning facilitated by artificial intelligence
A recent article discusses the importance of conferencing and personalised feedback in the language classroom. The personalised feedback allowed students to troubleshoot difficult ares while learning a new language subsequently narrowing the gaps. “Six months after course completion, students performed 16% higher on cumulative exams than conventionally taught students, and the knowledge gap between low-income students and higher-income students significantly narrowed” (Horizon Report, 2016)
The idea that technology can provide real-time feedback based on student's input followed by an almost immediate targeted instruction is an alluring option. Some very innovative school districts are already helping the diverse linguistic needs of their students in the classroom using tech: "Elementary schools in California are using Adaptive technology to narrow the gap in language proficiency. "Forty percent are English Language Learners who between them speak 10 different languages at home" (Burrows, 2016, edsurge) "For us, the decision to use adaptive technology was about helping underachievers catch up." The Edsurge report explains that adaptive technology is improving. More importantly, this report emphasizes an innovative shift in the way educators are using edtech to shape the habits of their students and differentiate their instruction. Once again, the importance is not placed on the tool or its functionality, but the way we adapt our work habits for its effective implementation. This signal is in alignment with my futurist forecast about technology being more responsive and adaptive to suit the highly diverse linguistic needs of learners in the classroom.
Speaking of predictions, Google's Deepmind has beaten the Go Grandmaster putting the current artificial intelligence standard ten years ahead of what they originally projected. This has major implications for not just gameplay, but a lot of the way machines interact with us. "The win is more than a novelty. Online services like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, already use deep learning to identify images, recognize spoken words, and understand natural language (Metz, 2016, Wired)" Since this proves that Artificial Intelligence is advancing enough to understand the nuances of our speech, not only will we be able to interact with computers like I forecasted with Putu's avatar but artificially intelligent language teachers will be able to respond to our requests, assess and evaluate our language performance and provide immediate targeted instruction.
Signal #3: Augmented reality providing emotionally safe fully immersive language learning environments
This signal has repeated itself in the strangest and quirkiest ways. From virtual field trips using Google Cardboard, to fully responsive augmented reality tutors such as GhostHands—it looks like augmented reality is here to stay. Not to mention my fellow iHub research resident’s FETC 2016 prediction of more AR infused in education. It’s hard not deny the potential it has for expanding the classrooms beyond it’s four walls either.
Language anxiety paralyses some beginners. Since our affective and emotional state has the ability to affect our language learning outcomes, an instructor needs to be sensitive to potential anxiety in creating an emotionally safe language learning environment for their learners.
As strange as it might look, augmented reality (AR) such as Oculus Rift could perhaps provide learners with an immersive environment where they can soak up the language and the cultural surroundings that go with it. Seeing native speakers at a kechak dance in Indonesia may provide the learner with a deeper understanding of the language because they can observe native speakers use it in authentic environments. Learners could explore these virtual worlds also safely interact with native speakers without the fear of making mistakes or feeling like a fool for not being understood.
What could this all mean?
So, language learning is 2026 looks like an exciting place. More interaction with native speakers is something I would like to see more of. I am going to make a conscious effort in my own practice to lead workshops on how this can be a reality. Through doing so, I hope to make it a reality.
To be honest: I’m still having a hard time visualising AR in the classroom and the thought of more technology disconnecting us from fellow humans in the room is reminiscent of Sherry Turkle’s work of living alone together. I would hope that as an effective language instructor, I could provide opportunities for learners to unplug and teach each others who are in the same physical space about what they learned in these far away virtual spaces. As far away as they might seem, ten years is around the corner and according to Jane I need to get moving on making this forecast come true.
Have thoughts on my forecast? Please feel free to comment below.