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How will we learn languages in the future?

The need to speak several languages is becoming more and more critical, whether for students, to afford the best schools, for workers, to get more opportunities, or for entrepreneurs who want to reach new markets. New technologies revamped foreign language learning, in this article we highlight out what to expect in the upcoming years.

Chatting with robots

What if the teachers from the future are robots! When we talk about the future, we often think of robots, and in the case of foreign language learning, this may well become a reality.

The company Aldebaran Robotics already presented its NAO robot a few years ago, and it has been used as the basis for many projects, such as L2tor, a European project that seeks to use this robot to teach English or German.

This robot can learn languages and teach them but does not have sufficient social intelligence to be able to transmit its knowledge as humans do.

Speech recognition to improve pronunciation

The technology to learn a foreign language is at your fingertips! With your smartphone, you can practice pronouncing words or phrases in English, via your phone’s voice recognition. Your voice will then be compared using voice recognition technology, and you’ll see just how proper your English pronunciation is. Your voice will then be analyzed using voice recognition technology, and you’ll see how precise your English pronunciation is.

Before you go too far and judge yourself too harshly, make sure you get a good quality voice recognition on your phone. To do this, take a test in your native language to make sure your phone understands what you’re saying.

You can also use a computer to work this way, as more and more applications now offer speech recognition. Even simple free apps like Google Doc can be enough to work on your way of pronouncing words in a foreign language.

Teaching languages with a tutor

Technologies can develop rapidly. Some methods will remain essential for developing language skills, such as MOOCs or tutoring.

You can learn the language of your choice, not with a person who speaks the language you are targeting, but with a native and pedagogical person! It could allow you to make progress, both in grammar and pronunciation.

Whether you are at home, in a hotel, at school, or work, you can receive tutoring. There are no limits, as long as you have an Internet connection and good working conditions (a bright and quiet space).

Language learning via virtual reality

Immersion a good way to learn a living language. But when you don’t have the opportunity to travel. Stroll in a foreign city, on a train, and converse in other languages, as if you were abroad, but from your couch! Convenient to get away from it all after a long day.

You won’t talk directly to real people, but with chatbots, which will allow you to practice the language educationally. That can help people who don’t dare to practice a foreign language in public to get started.

Learning the basics of website hosting

In this article, we are going to share some knowledge regarding web hosting.

The server and the client


How will a user be able to access your website?

As a general rule, they will have to open a browser (Firefox for example) and type a request, ask to access your website by typing, for instance, the address (URL) of your website.

The computer that will request access to a web page is called the client.

On the other side, there’s going to be a waiter. The server will be the computer on which the requested site is hosted.

A server is also a computer, but it will have some exceptional features. First of all, a server will (theoretically) be connected to the Internet 24 hours a day, seven days a week so that your site is always accessible.

Secondly, a server will generally be much more powerful than a “normal” computer.

The role of the server will be to host your site and generate (if necessary) and send the web pages requested by your users.

What is a web host?


From a technical standpoint, a web server will “host” your website. If you have followed everything so far, you should ask yourself if you can’t be your server.

In theory, this is entirely possible: you can transform your computer into a server and host your website yourself and send it yourself over the Internet.

However, this is strongly discouraged. First of all, you would need a very, very powerful setup and a continuously operational computer. Second, your installation would require a good internet connection so that your visitors can access your website correctly, and that would cost you a lot of money.

Then, you would need a lot of specialised knowledge in network architecture to properly configure different aspects of your hosting and your website to have an operational website on the one hand and a secure site on the other hand.

These two constraints mean that we will always prefer to use a professional hosting company, which specialises in website hosting.

Why do I need professional hosting?


a server rack
A server rack

Hosting your website on a server will allow you to make it accessible to everyone via the Internet.

We will use companies specialised in this field for two main reasons: reliability and cost.

Indeed, good hosting companies have had to make significant investments to obtain robust and reliable servers.

Then, these hosts will offer to rent us a part of their server, or even an entire server in some cases, so that we can install our installation there.

This procedure can be compared to MRI (medical imaging); for example, machines used to perform MRIs are extremely expensive. So when you have to have an MRI test done, you’re not going to buy the machine yourself; instead, you’re going to go to a specialised hospital and pay a specific price for using this equipment.

Web hosts, in addition to having very powerful servers and connections, will generally also offer third-party services such as customer service, automatic installation of specific software, access to ready-made site themes, etc.

Preliminary remarks concerning this analysis


First of all, I would like to point out that this analysis has not been “sponsored” by any host, unlike some others that you may find on the net.

In this one, I try to study as objectively as possible the different criteria that seem important to me in choosing a host.

This analysis is nevertheless necessarily subjective: I am only giving my opinion on some hosting providers I have personally tested.

a web server

The criteria that attracted my most attention were the following:


  1. The company’s reputation and size or strength history;
  2. The reactivity and relevance of the support;
  3. The general quality/price ratio of the proposed offers;
  4. The degree of specialisation of the host (Managed WordPress host, e-commerce, etc.);
  5. The proposed language(s);
  6. The additional services offered.

Our favorite web hosts of 2019:


Siteground – Siteground is a well established hosting company offering top of the line managed services rankings from shared plans to dedicated powerful servers. Their prices are very competitive for the price you will have to pay. It is one of the best performing hosting company of the past 5 years, and there is a reason why it is often recommended in review guides!

PlanetHoster – PlanetHoster is a bit more expensive than Siteground but if you are operating in the Canadian and French markets this is an amazing host to partner up with! Their offer is simple. Choose from either a shared plan “The World” or their powerful “Hybrid Cloud” dedicated server plans to get access to a powerful infrastructure. Litespeed and LS Cache are available in option. This French website offers a comprehensive review of this host!

InMotion Hosting – This is one (if not the) of most respected North American web hosting you will find out there in 2019. Their range of services are impressive and they have been consistently reviewed (by both users and tech editors) as one of the best value for money host for about a decade. They offer incredible reliability and will help you achieve amazing website speeds and performances.


Educational Technology- the future of Higher education.

Technology has created a new phase for higher education over the past few years as more and more educational institutions adopted emerging technology into their curriculums and systems.

1) Redrawing the boundaries of space and time.

One of the most critical achievements of educational technology is the fact that it has managed to make education accessible to people all over the world irrespective of time zones and hemispheres. It has helped millions of people who can’t physically go to schools get an education. Be it after work, or waiting at a station, in your room, learning can come to you. Single moms, struggling workers, and every other person can get an education because of educational technology. You can study for a however long or short amount of time per day as per your schedule. No matter what corner of the world you are at or whatever time the clock shows, you can get your education anytime, anywhere.

2) Effective teaching and learning

Incorporating technology into the educational systems have been found to have multiple benefits on both learning and teaching. For example, there are many ways to teach students with the pedagogy tools provided by technology like videos, powerpoint presentations, and so on. These tools, in turn, enhance the learning experience of students in both traditional classrooms as well as online classes. The multiple ways to impart knowledge will help students to retain information better. Technology has also provided means for the students to access their course material anytime!

3) Collaborative and individualized learning

Technology can give collaborative learning to students through peer-based education, group activities, and interactive chat rooms. This will lessen the burden on the teachers by reducing the amount of information that they are expected to teach. When teachers have lighter workloads, it will help them devise strategies to help individual students based on their competence and performance. This can help them meet their personal and career goals.



4) Better quality with lower costs

Another significant contribution made by the educational technology that is currently available is the fact that education becomes affordable. The one-time investments made on technology will provide cost-effective education in the future. It will also improve the quality of education that will now be accessible to a broader audience of students.

5) Innovation

Educational technology has made learning an innovative process through the use of stimulations, game-based activities, hands-on experiences, and so on. It helps students develop their interests very early on in life and to improve upon them. With such innovative techniques, technology inspires students to be creative themselves. Solution-focused learning helps them to understand the world better and to apply their skills effectively.

Why Choose Online Learning

Online learning has now become recognized as an effective method of education, just like traditional education systems. As the approval for the online learning programs increased progressively, more and more number of people have started applying for the same. Some even claim that online learning methods to have more significant impacts and benefits than conventional ways.

Here are some of the reasons why you should pursue online learning.

1) Innumerable Courses

Universities and colleges usually have a specific number of courses or subjects that they offer. Every student is expected to adhere to the particular amount and the kind of subjects. For example, a biology student rarely gets the opportunity to learn finance and vice versa. Such flexibility can, however, be attained through online learning.

2) Concentrate on your careers.

Online learning enables you to plan your study time around your working hours. It helps you to continue learning and getting educated even when you have to go to work. It provides you with the opportunity to expand your knowledge and skill set required for your career even without having to take a break from work. Being able to choose specific subjects and concentrate only on that adds to the advantages that online learning can have on working individuals.

3) Time and cost-effective

Online learning can both save your time as well as money. This is because the students don’t have to worry about wasting their time commuting or at any other time-consuming college activities. They can directly go into studying in their very rooms. Online learning is also much more cost effective as most of the courses available are affordable.

4) Convenience and Comfort

The major pro that most people report about online learning is the fact that they can study, any time, any place. Whether it’s a long wait in an airport, if you’re a morning person or night person, online learning is for you. You don’t have to worry about fitting into someone else’ schedule. Your education fits right into your schedule. You don’t have to wait for any teacher or student. You can take a neuroscience class in your pajamas too.

5) Increased one-on-one time.

In the online setting, as opposed to the conventional classrooms, students get the individual attention of the teachers. They can work on personalized problems with tailor-made goals for the academic year.

6) Networking

Online education opportunities allow students to interact with fellow students and teachers all over the world. The number of people that you know engaged in your field of interest will increase and only help you gain a firm peer ground in the area.

Google Wave in a Sentence

Well it’s been a week since I was kindly sent an invitation to Google Wave. I have to admit that at first I was a little underwhelmed but since then, as I have started to add contacts, I I have started to see it’s potential. Before I talk a bit about it’s positives I would like to try and answer what I think it actually is in one sentence.

Remember this is based on just one week’s usage.

Here goes:

Google Wave is a tool that allows asynchronous communication (similar to email or discussion boards), semi-synchronous communications (similar to Twitter or FriendFeed) and synchronous communications (similar to instant messaging) all wrapped up with wiki-like capabilities for collaboration.

That’s as close as I can get at the moment to a one sentence explanation. There is probably/possibly a lot more to it than that, we’ll see. Give me another week and it may be something a bit more deep and meaningful.

In terms of educational technology it may well replace the functionality of the discussion, chat, email and wiki components of an LMS. It is exceptionally easy to create a wave and then use this as a group workspace. Students could create their own groups very quickly and easily. A similar wave might be used as an information space for the whole class.  These might be called ‘standing waves’ or am I slipping back into school physics classes?

Of course these things can be created quickly and easily already using existing tools. Probably the really positive thing about Google Wave is that all of these different things are contained in the same tool. I do like the idea that the functionality for group workspace creation is created outside of the LMS and is a private space for the group unless they invite their teacher but again there is nothing really new in that.

In summary I think it will be very useful as an educational technology tool. I can see that it will be embedded into learning management systems (LMS) but it will also run in independent environments. This will mean that users are less reliant on the LMS for communications than may have been the case before. It certainly isn’t an LMS replacement but combined with other ways of delivering content and changing attitudes to the control of content it will probably contribute to the decline of the LMS as a key educational technology platform.

BTW if you want to wave me I am masmithers at googlewave dot com.

Teaching lecturing online: is this the definition of irony?

This morning I was unfortunate enough to attend a vendor presentation for a series of online academic staff development modules. Basically a series of SCORM packages (so HTML pages, images and Flash content with a little xml thrown in). I won’t mention the vendor’s name for fairly obvious reasons.

The pitch was as follows; here is some prepared content that we got a bunch of professors from overseas to put their name to, that is ‘ideal’ for academic staff development and can be contextualised (read re-written) by you. Oh you have a license for three years so even if you do rewrite all of the content then you still can’t use it after the license expires. Oh and quite a lot of the content is Flash based so it’ll be no good for all of you iPad packing academics wanting to do something on the go. Oh and you just pay us x thousand dollars for the privilege.

Having recently re-discovered the BBC’s Dragon’s Den program in which hopeful entrepreneurs pitch to multi millionaires I could only imagine what Douglas Ballantyne and the other Dragon’s would make of this proposal.

Now all of this could have been forgiven if the content reflected contemporary practice (dare I say forward looking) but it doesn’t. It is entirely based on traditional face to face delivery. Two of the modules deal with the practice of lecturing, others deal with facilitating discussion and feedback. Good topics but wholly focussed on face to face situations.

Now the conservative amongst you will say there is nothing wrong with that and I would go along with the idea that having academics that are more skilled in delivering face to face learning is better than having academics that are less skilled in the same. My point really is that we should be focussing academic staff development of whatever type it is on contemporary and anticipated future practice.

The irony of using online learning modules to develop face to face teaching skills is just too delicious. I almost wonder if the whole enterprise is just some sort of cruel joke being played on unsuspecting universities.

A Draft Educational Technology Landscape Map

I’ve been working on educational technology strategy and implementation for what feels like as long as I can remember but one thing I have always intended to do was to develop a visualisation of educational technologies in the form of a ‘map’. There are a number of such maps around already. Some of these are very good but they were never quite what I wanted. Specifically they focussed on the product rather than the tool or technology. So you would get a map that nearly always showed the LMS/VLE product at the centre with an eportfolio, some streaming media and some other technologies around the edge. I wanted something that showed the tools but also showed where they fitted in the landscape. Whether they were learning tools or management tools and whether the tools were focussed on the student or the staff member etc. I also wanted to get away from the LMS being at the centre of the tool map becuase the LMS is basically a collection of tools in one product that combine some management and some educational functionality. This isn’t because I am against the LMS as a concept but because I wanted to show that there are alternatives and that not everything needs to fit within an LMS.

I actually found the development of the map quite difficult when it came down to allocating tools to spaces in the landscape. Is the landscape I have drawn the correct one? Are the tools in the right places? Have I selected all of the educational technologies that should be there. Even as I type I realise I have missed what many would consider to be a big one. For this reason I have decided to put version 0.2 of the map up to public debate. The video below gives a brief overview and the original MS Visio file can be downloaded here. You can also click on the image at the top to see it as a full size gif image. It is released under a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike V 3.0 license so you are welcome to use and reuse it as you see fit. Of course, if you do modify it, I’d be delighted if you’d let me know so that we can create something better between us.

eLearning at Universities: A Quality Assurance Free Zone?

Over the last couple of months I have been asked to help a university (that will remain nameless) in its transition to a newer version of of its Learning Management System (LMS). As part of this I have had to access many LMS course spaces to check that content has migrated successfully and that that things are working as they should.

It has been a profoundly depressing experience. I knew it would be and you’ll appreciate why I knew if you look at my current full time occupation.

Let me begin begin by saying that there are a few dirty little secrets about online learning at traditional universities. Here are two:

1. Not many courses have any form of content online whatsoever (even when the university promotes a policy of minimum online presence).

2. When a course does have online content it is invariably rubbish.

Here are some things that typify the courses I have seen recently:

Poorly structured sites with no narrative, no instruction, no guidance for the student.
Un-capitalised headings and grammatically incorrect sentences in mixed and garishly coloured fonts.
HTML using deprecated tags and with strange symbols that are presumably the remnants of copying and pasting from MS Word.
Links to PDF, DOCX and PPT files that are often way too large with no indication of the size or file type before the user clicks on the link.
Discussion forums that are not used or are used in very strange ways indeed.
Student blogs where the student is expected to print their blog out before submitting it for assessment. Although it should be said that I’m impressed that course was using blogs at all because I reckon only maybe 2-3% of course sites would have a blog set up.
But worst of all perhaps is the content itself. I had the misfortune to visit one site that was being used to teach web design. You’d think that this site would be really good but sadly no. It displayed many of the features I’ve listed above but worst of all the content of this site was at least three years old and made reference, in many cases, to information that was 8 or 9 years old. From this site I learnt that Alta Vista was the third biggest search engine and Netscape Navigator 4 was a major browser. If this was a human anatomy course then older content might be fine but a course like web design needs to be updated almost monthly the pace of change is so rapid.

To put the icing on the cake, this course was a wholly online course being offered to students as part of an Information Systems degree. I kid you not.

All of this brings me to the title of this post and the observation that there appears to be no quality assurance applied to elearning at most universities. The only surprising thing about this observation is how little it is spoken about. Senior academic managers appear to be totally unconcerned. I suspect they don’t know and probably don’t want to know. If they knew about it then they would have to do something about it and then all of a sudden you have to deal with academic staff who cry ‘academic freedom’ at the drop of a hat and we all know how much fun that is.

What has happened is that academics have been allowed to continue into the online environment their thousand year old practice of engaging in a secret communion with students that happens in the classroom . I remember, as a young course leader at a university in the UK, being asked a question by a very respected Professor and external examiner (now there’s a novel thing). He said “Mark, how do you know that the lecturers are teaching what you want them to teach in the classroom?”. I, of course, had no idea so I mumbled something about outcomes and assessment. I could have said to my teaching staff that I thought it would have been a good idea to have some peer observation of their teaching but that would have gone down like lead balloon.

And there is the problem. Academics don’t like non students (dare I say, people who are not beholden to them and therefore are more likely to be critical) in their classroom and they don’t like them in the online course spaces.

Of course a really brave Vice Chancellor or President would say, right we are going to have all of our content as open courseware in five years time and the first thing we are going to do is allow every member of the university, staff and student, to be able to see the content in every course. Not sensitive data but just the learning content itself. We’re going to identify and reward the staff members working on the best courses so that everyone can see good practice. Finally we are going to provide course development resources to help you transition your content to an engaging online format and to ensure it is only made available when it has been through an appropriate QA process to meet some mutually agreed standards.

Such academic leaders are few and far between. Many (most) senior academic managers don’t understand online learning at all. I remember being at a meeting of Deans of Faculty who all thought that uploading Powerpoint files was the same as blended learning.

In the meantime student expectations increase continually as they engage with high quality content from many other providers as part of their daily online activities. Something is going to give and it may be sooner than we think.

Is lecture capture the worst educational technology?

Many institutions seem to be completely obsessed with lecture capture technology as a method of generating flexibly accesible learning content. For me though the large scale implementation of lecture capture is probably one of the costliest and strategically misguided educational technologies that an institution can adopt. Now before I go on let me say that I wouldn’t be here now if not for lecture capture. I used nascent lecture capture technology at a UK university in 1994 to record myself and then used the recording as part of a succesful job application to be an academic at an Australian university. In fact I don’t have a deep seated dislike of the technology itself, just the way that it gets used. It certainly has some uses, like getting a job.

Furthermore I don’t believe that the lecture is dead. I just think that it is vastly overused in higher education and that most learning can be delivered in better ways. So just mostly dead. I do, for example, believe that there is a place for capturing important presentations given by a visiting subject matter expert. This means having one or two venues equiped to record a presentation. What many HE institutions have done is to invest heavily in technology (not usually in staff development) to record in large numbers of venues.

The other thing I should say before telling you why I think lecture capture is so bad is to say that I think that associated technologies such as desktop capture actually have great promise and, with appropriate staff development and leadership, can lead to much higher quality material that leverages off the existing skills of academics.

So why is this widespread use of lecture capture so bad?
Large scale recording of lectures perpetuates an outdated and increasingly discredited passive learning experience. Before all the great lecturers jump up and down and say how great lecturing is you have to admit that you are the exception and not the rule and most academics, although they may be good educators, are poor presenters in the lecture theatre.
The technology does nothing to engage the student who instead of sitting passively in a lecture theatre checking their text messages will now sit passively in front of a screen at home checking their text messages.
Traditional lectures aren’t designed for online delivery. They’re too long. Their length is designed to fit in with the timetabling constraints of the buildings in which lectures take place not for any pedagogical reason. Why should this physical constraint be allowed to migrate its way into flexible online delivery?
Using the technology takes away technical effort, funding and other resources that could be better used in consolidating other enterprise wide educational technologies and in providing more widely available and timely staff development and support.
Why do the technocracy promote wide scale lecture capture?
1. They say the students love it.

Well, lets face it, the students are starved of any decent content that they can access flexibly (uploads of bullet pointed Powerpoint decks do not count as useful online content). It is not surprising that students say they like it. But wouldn’t they much prefer richer content designed specifically for online flexible delivery? This could be short desktop recordings of 10 to 15 minutes made designed to help develop a particular point and that fits in with a students attention span and/or their ability to study flexibly from the workplace in a lunch hour for example. Or it could be any other sort of quality content that conveys ideas and information efficiently.
For me, the ‘students love it’ argument doesn’t wash. Students love getting the notes before the lecture and being given exam hints (oops, I meant guidance) but that doesn’t mean that either of these are good practices.

2. They say the staff love it.

Well that’s patently untrue otherwise utilisation rates would be higher. The fact is that a relatively small number of academics like the technology. Probably because they consider themselves to be particularly good at lecturing.

3. They say it provides flexibility and doesn’t involve any staff development

The argument is that staff can deliver their material online but still maintain their traditional delivery practice as well. That is to say, all they need to do is click a button and they’re delivering material online. I’m not really quite sure why an ability to avoid providing staff development is seen as a positive attribute for an edtech but it would seem to the case here. Actually, I do know the reason, it’s because staff development involves cultural and organisational change within a higher education institution and that is much harder than installing servers and recording devices.

I’m sure there are lots of other reasons that edtechnocrats promote lecture capture that I’ve missed and there are probably quite a few more reasons why it should be considered the worst used educational technology than I’ve listed. What do you think? Am I wrong? Am I right? What other educational technologies might vie with lecture capture for the worst educational technology? Clickers comes to mind for me but I’ll save the devices that try to turn academics into game show hosts for another post.