The use of mobile technology to create a seamless learning environment has gained traction in recent years. Originally intended to help pupils from Nan Chiau Primary School master Chinese idioms, a mobile-assisted language learning platform created by NIE researchers has since spread to four other schools for the learning of Chinese vocabulary.
Mobile-assisted Language Learning
Aimed at creating authentic learning experiences and helping pupils learn Chinese idioms on the move, the model was first introduced to Nan Chiau Primary School (NCPS) in 2009. Since its inception, Move, Idioms! has enabled Primary 5 pupils to learn Chinese idioms using alternative means such as photo-blogging, animation and other social media artefacts. Pupils were encouraged to share and discuss their work with other classmates through the online platform.
The project eventually translated into a teaching tool kit launched at a conference in September 2013.
Developed by the Singapore Centre for Chinese Language with Lung Hsiang’s assistance, the “Teaching Chinese Idioms with Animation” tool kit comprises 13 lesson plans, PowerPoint presentations and animations designed to enhance lessons and language proficiency, and deliver new learning experiences for pupils.
“The tool kit allows pupils to generate content by themselves and through the social media in their daily lives,” says Lung Hsiang. “It is now available to all local school teachers looking to utilize these tools for their pupils.”
Moving beyond Idioms
With the successful launch of Move, Idioms!, Lung Hsiang and his team of researchers further customized the mobile learning design with MyCLOUD (My Chinese UbiquitOUs learning Days) – a scaled-up learning platform piloted in three NCPS classes from 2012 to 2013.
MyCLOUD is an extension of the Move, Idioms! learning model and encompasses learning of all types of vocabulary (not just idioms).
“A new mobile and cloud-based platform was developed for MyCLOUD, which included a personalized vocabulary dictionary called Mictionary, digitized textbook passages with text-to-speech reading technology, and a class-based social network space,” shares Lung Hsiang.
To “deepen” the intervention, plans were made to integrate MyCLOUD into the formal curriculum and scheme of work.
“In the first round, the learning platform was used in three Primary 3 classes in NCPS. We went to the school to work with teachers every week to design the lessons. This carried on until the end of Primary 4 for the same batch of pupils,” shares Lung Hsiang.
Then in 2013, Lung Hsiang and his team of researchers scaled it up. Four other schools under the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan clan association started adopting the learning model into their Chinese curriculum: Nan Chiau Primary School, Ai Tong Primary School, Kong Hwa Primary School and Chongfu School.
The learning outcomes have been positive. At an NIE seminar in January 2015, Lung Hsiang shared the vocabulary growth of 37 Primary 3 and 4 pupils over 13 months in a seamless Chinese language learning environment.
“We observed that these pupils have been more proactive and spontaneous in making meaning through interaction with their living spaces,” shares Lung Hsiang. “They are able to expand their retrieval of the learned vocabulary through increased opportunities to use the language.”
Lung Hsiang and his team also found that these pupils use more “less frequent words” in these informal environments, as compared to the classrooms – a noteworthy finding.
To further scale up the model, a subsequent study in 2015 expanded the use of this mobile learning platform into secondary schools. Focusing on meaning making and social interaction, the new model, called LI-nterChange (LI = linguistic interactions), was developed to encourage secondary school students to use the Chinese language in their online interactions.
“We wanted this design to go from one that is informal to formal” says Lung Hsiang. “The student may not start off comfortable using Chinese on this platform, but once we get them interested, they won’t feel the pressure of getting it right the first time.”
Different Approach, Same Principle
For Lung Hsiang, a workable learning model is one that caters for different needs and areas.
“It is not just about writing, but thinking and interaction as well,” Lung Hsiang shares. “We want pupils to start sharing their experiences more widely through these platforms.”
This is particularly important as teachers had feedback to him that their biggest concern for students is their composition writing.
“In primary school, the focus is on pictorial composition which helps the pupil frame their story,” shares Lung Hsiang. “This is different in the secondary school where the student is asked to write a composition based on a topic.”
Citing the example of a topic such as Internet addiction, Lung Hsiang says that the teacher will start by asking his students to write or take photos relating to the topic, and share them with their classmates through the LI-nterChange learning platform. Students will then comment and respond to each other’s photos and written observations. These discussion materials are then compiled for use when the students start writing.
Through such interactions, Lung Hsiang hopes that students can “progress from personal meaning making to social meaning making” and “extend their thinking and learning activities to outside the classroom”.
This is currently practised in two schools at the Secondary 1 and 2 levels. “We must have a core set of design principles that can be applied across all levels,” says Lung Hsiang. “Once these critical success factors are in place, the rest is up to the teacher to adapt according to his/her own approach and preference.”
It is not just about writing, but thinking and interaction as well. We want pupils to start sharing their experiences more widely through these platforms.
– Wong Lung Hsiang, Learning Sciences Lab
Keeping It Sustainable
With the steady expansion of seamless language learning over the years, Lung Hsiang hopes to translate the learning model so that it caters to the different needs and areas. He hopes that with the schools’ support, the model can eventually be diffused to junior colleges.
To ensure continued interest among teachers and students, Lung Hsiang points out the need to constantly redesign the learning model.
“Each time a teacher comes up with a new scaffold or activity design, they follow the same high-level process,” shares Lung Hsiang. “But the actual activity can be changed to suit the needs of the pupils.”
Finally, it’s important to constantly find ways to motivate the pupils to blend in to this social network.
“When they feel a sense of belonging to a particular social network, that is when the pupils will want to continue to contribute to the community,” says Lung Hsiang.