For me the TESOL convention would not be complete without at least one visit to the Electronic Village (EV). On Day 2, I found myself drawn to two presentations at the EV Fair. The first was given by Todd Cooper of Toyama National College of Technology (TNCT). “Kinecting to Your Listners: Development of Body Gesture Recognition Software for Language Learning” educated participants about the possibility of using technology to develop ELLs’ use of gestures as a part of their oral communication skills.
Todd and his colleagues received a grant for scientific research from Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. With that support, they began to work on software that would meet their students’ needs. These TNCT colleagues understand the importance of non-verbal communication yet face the challenge of handling large class sizes, so they aim to create gesture training software that learners can use with a virtual teacher (i.e., the teacher appears through pre-recorded video).
This group of techies has begun to modify Kinect and develop sensors for gesture recognition. So far, they have developed the user interface, improved skeletal coordinate matching, created a scoring system (Is the learner accurate in terms of timing and position?), developed 3D facial recognition, and begun to create a gesture catalog.
Todd shared the story of how he coached a young woman to first place in a national competition for English language learners. She placed 7th in a local contest, but with the same speech took first place after adding hand gestures and other non-verbal communication. Just imagine if more learners could benefit from that kind of coaching. With the help of software, that form of training that Todd provided will become more accessible. The TNCT team intends to create a learning system that combines verbal and non-verbal communication.
The second presentation I attended at the EV Fair was given by Lyra Riabov of Southern New Hampshire University. “Culture Integration in Action: Technology and Models Solutions” detailed a project that may inspire other ESL programs around the globe.
Anyone who has studied abroad knows that enrollment in an overseas program alone doesn’t guarantee immersion and meaningful contact with native speakers. Professor Riabov recognized her students’ need for interaction with domestic students and searched for ways to provide that. She had tried arranging various excursions, but those outings rarely led to lasting relationships with people outside the students’ ESL program.
Then she hit upon a great idea. At her university is a School of Education, in which many Americans train for careers as K-12 teachers. Wouldn’t they benefit from exposure to international students and the chance to develop intercultural skills? Indeed, New England has a diverse population, and practically all those future teachers will be working with students and students’ families from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Professor Riabov created Project Culture Integration in Action. This is an innovative cross-cultural exchange. It involves combined classes of international and domestic students on campus. Professor Riabov outlined three models.
Model 1: The students meet for one class period, and in predetermined small groups they begin to learn about one another. They discuss similarities and differences in their personalities and their lifestyles. During the interviews, students make use of Google Earth and SMART boards. Then they work together to prepare a brief oral report to share their reflections, which are recorded and posted to iTunesU.
Model 2: International and domestic students combine for two class periods. The first class is similar to Model 1, and then the second class is devoted to mini presentations using a short set of powerpoint slides. Professor Riabov emphasized the amount of purposeful languaged used to prepare and deliver the presentations. The ELLs also write their reflections in a short paper and engage in discussion board forums.
Model 3: This model expands on Model 2 by allowing for further exchanges between the international ELLs and domestic students from the School of Education.
Rather than share more details, I encourage you to visit the website devoted to this project. The students’ podcasts from 2008 to 2011 have been posted. The success of the project is evident. The ELLs not only received meaningful practice in all language areas, but Professor Riabov noted how the exchanges very often led to voluntary meetings beyond the required ones, and lasting friendships resulted from the shared assignments.