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3. Technologies

3.1 Technology trends

The internet capabilities in all parts of the world have drastically improved over the last years. People from all around the world can connect and chat, even with internet, in near real time (Digitaltrends,2012).

Cisco (2012) forecasts that the internet will be four times bigger in four years. They also found five other trends which affect internet speed:

 

  1. An increasing number of devices, forecasted by 2016 to be nearly 18.9 billion connections.

  2. By 2016 there are expected to be 3.4 billion internet users

  3. Faster broadband speeds, average fixed broadband speed expected to increase nearly fourfold from 9 megabits per second (mbps) in 2011 to 34 mbps in 2016.

  4. More video, by 2016 1.2 million video minutes would travel the internet every second

  5. Wi-fi growth, by 2016 over half of the worlds internet traffic is expected to come from Wi-Fi connections


Based on this, it is safe to assume that the use of internet technology to support learning processes in collaborative environments is a good choice, as the support and quality of service is high and will continue to grow in the coming years.

3.2 Dictionary tools

There are plenty of different technologies that enable building a shared dictionary. Google docs may be used, and has the advantage that if offers real-time co-editing and a chat. Other alternatives that are good, but less interactive, are using a blog platform like Wordpress, or a smartphone app like LingoBee.

3.2.1 Google docs / Google drive
Google drive is an online folder system that is used to keep your Google docs. Through this free service you can create documents, share them and edit them together in real-time. Users can also chat while typing. Setting up google accounts is relatively simple, and as this a widespread tool, lots of documentation is available online. One place to start is for example http://support.google.com/drive/.
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Figure: a screenshot of the google docs environment. You can see the documents, and the markes of the different colors that belong the each co-author online. On the right side is the list of online users, and the live chat below.

3.2.2 Wordpress
Wordpress is a free blog platform that has advanced capabilities. If you have techical skills, there is almost no limits to what you can do concerning design and added functionality. It is, however, relatively easy to start using right away. There is also a vast amount of help available online, through user forums and official documentation. By going to http://wordpress.com/, the teacher can create a free blog and receive help to get started.
IDEY1EfLb-pU5PuQq1H6PvavGfEr4ljh3zQhdH9RFigure WordPress administrator interface

3.2.3 Lingobee
Lingobee is a promising application that supports language learning and can be used on smartphones and tablets. Users of LingoBee can take pictures of objects, add a description and share them instantly with other LingoBee users. This gives the opportunity for others to learn new words in a visual way. However, it currently only works with android devices, and is at the moment rather buggy.

As mentioned, there is a lot of potential here, but the main challenge is the device limitation. Each school would have to purchase android devices, making it a large investment. The project page http://simola.org will give you more details on how to use it.cIBagW2r6WSM5m8A_Gtdwn0MdZ0Jz7DAUdOqims4
Figure: Lingobee user interface with large and user-friendly icons

3.3 E-pal tools

 Skype
What is Skype? According to Skype’s webpage, Skype is for doing things together, whenever you’re apart. Skype’s text, voice and video make it simple to share experiences with the people that matter to you, wherever they are.

Clearly, Skype could be used to realize this scenario. As a teacher you could register multiple accounts to be used in the course beforehand, having everything set up with the other class before the pupils arrive. Then they can initiate a call to their e-pal and start the session.

For the basic usage you can use it for instant messaging. For the more advanced pupils they could set up a call. If you’d like to bond even more, it is also possible to enable the web-cam so that the pupils can see each other, making things even more real.
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Figure: A screenshot of how a Skype video call can look like.

Discuss & brainstorm