Your thoughts?

Textbook as technology

I brought back the set of English textbooks used in every public school in Myanmar from grades 1 through 11. It is about the only technology besides (maybe) a whiteboard that is used in most English classes there. Let me describe one.


The fifth grade text is about fifty sheets of B4 recycled paper, slightly thicker than tissue. These are fashioned into 100-page books by folding and stapling (one staple). An article has forecast that these texts will be improved, but that seems not to have happened.

Which brings us back to the point, that the textbook  and should be considered a technology along with the whiteboard as well as the audio or video player, the document and digital projector.

Parents in Myanmar are required the outlay of about $1 per book for each of their children. This sometimes means that some children simply can’t go to school. About 30% never attend, and of the other 70%, only half get beyond elementary school. Even when attending, classes for English (we taught some of these, it is exhausting) exceed 80 students, so most teachers revert to choral drills and translation, along with grammar manipulation. The exams reinforce this style.

In a way, though, the book does act as a focus of study, a guide for activities, that is cheap and accessible. When you think of the tiny amount spent on education there (1.3% of the GDP), I wonder whether a leap over fancy textbooks with pictures and functional communicative activities might be in order. Directly to digital. When it becomes cheap enough.

If you would like to look at the content of the textbooks, I have scanned all of them, available here.

Your thoughts?

Wiglets: Applied to language learning?

Lots of bright shiny toys appear on my screen. One of the first questions I ask, “Can it be applied to language learning?” Case in point: Wiglets. A kickstarter campaign (ends June 3) that uses augmented reality, or information digitally projected onto a camera feed of “reality”.


In this case it is for a children’s book. The book, when used with a camera-ready internet-connected device (smart phone or tablet), places cute little animated animals that follow physics and screen gestures by the reader to extend the story in the book, which is a collection of different backgrounds like a hillside or forest floor.

Here are some apps already available at wiggleplanet. They show the care that went into the design of the creatures, but also how they are applied as entertainment and learning tools for kids.


This one has me stumped. I know the technology could be adapted for language learning, and not only with kids. I just can’t get to any specific application ideas. Maybe someone out there who is more creative can leave a comment.

Your thoughts?

Visible Learning? A meta study of 50,000 studies

I first read that as Visual Learning, but it is not the learning style. The Japan branch of the ASCD is having a conference in Tokyo Feb. 28 and Mar. 1, and Debra Masters, from VisibleLearningPlus, is the keynote speaker. Member price is about $300 for the 2-day conference, which is a little high for Japan. Evidently she spoke last year and had many request for a repeat. I decided to find out why.

The announcement for the conference says

According to John Hattie’s widely respected research, using feedback that encourages visible learning is one of the most effective models of education. Deb Masters will focus on developing the skills of effective feedback to create visible learners.

And over at the Visible-Learning site, we learn what John Hattie did in 2008 to start off this whole thing.

Visible Learning is nothing less than a synthesis of more than 50.000 studies covering more than 80 million pupils. Hattie uses the statistical measure effect size to compare the impact of many influences on students’ achievement, e.g. class size, holidays, feedback, and learning strategies.


John Hattie was able to crunch the numbers and create what could never have been done before; to reach some very surprising results, and other indications which are not so surprising. His 2008 book on his meta-study lead to another with implications for teachers in 2012. In it he was able to make some deserved generalizations.

The following examples may give an impression of the scope of Hattie’s findings:

  • What’s bad? Retention, summer holidays
  • What’s neither bad nor good? Team teaching, open vs. traditional classes
  • What helps a bit? Class size, homework
  • What helps a bit more? Cooperative learning, direct instruction
  • What helps a lot? Feedback, Student-teacher relationships

This certainly looks like something that could use more attention. The teacher is at the core of the changes in students, and the relationship between them is all important. This from Visible Learning

According to John Hattie Visible Learning and Teaching occurs when teachers see learning through the eyes of students and help them become their own teachers.

That about sums it up. More about this as I find out.