“Hey Siri, what is assistive technology?”
Whether it’s Siri, Alexa, Google or Cortana, how many of us have used a voice assistant to aid with our everyday queries? These are vital accessibility features that support people living with disabilities. “Assistive technology is an umbrella term covering the systems and services related to the delivery of assistive products and services. Assistive products maintain or improve an individual’s functioning and independence, thereby promoting their well-being” (WHO, 2018)
In the context of language, assistive technology can help people communicate and reach other communities that were once restricted. While many people appreciate the convenience of assistive technology, particularly when it comes to functions like language and translation, it could be considered a crutch to language learning. Learners that constantly rely on spell-checkers or translation engines may take less effort to further develop their own personal vocabulary or grammar.
Our OER focuses on the use of assistive technology for English Language Learners and examines the broader assistive technology market for learning disabilities. We have also introduced a new venture, Sanako, and included activities for you to explore in the role of educators to use assistive technology for language learning.
Here is our website: https://sites.google.com/view/assistivetechnologyell
Activities for the week:
- Read through the OER website and participate with the activities
- Reply to one of the three discussion prompts below in this post
- Share your final thoughts on this topic in the discussion
- In the spirit of metaphors in language, Crutches are used to help you walk, but you still have to strengthen the leg. Would you consider assistive technology to be a crutch for language learning? (This caused a great debate amongst our group members)
- What other markets do you think assistive technology for language learning will break into next? (Example: employee onboarding)
- Drawing upon what we have learned about in previous OER’s, what do you envision for the future of assistive technology to support English language learners (or in general)?
30 responses to “Week 8- Assistive Technology for English Language Learners”
Thank you so much for a great OER. It was truly informative and engaging. I liked the idea of building cultural literacy confidence and enabling teachers to connect with their EBL. It is so amazing what technology can help us achieve in this area!
Sorry, hit Enter by mistake. Anyway, back to technology helping in building teachers’ confidence, I mean it couldn’t be easier, right?
I enjoyed the Sanako experience. Thank you for introducing us to such a helpful technology.
As for the future of AT to support ELL, the most important thing for it to prosper is to keep the user in the centre, like Dr. McElroy explains. I am hopeful that AT will be more accessible moving forward. Hopefully, more differently-abled students will easily overcome obstacles that hinder their learning. In addition, more learners who aim to participate in cross-cultural discourse will be enabled to use foreign languages more proficiently especially on the speaking level. I am very optimistic about AT in education, which paradoxically makes me wonder how or why things might go wrong?
Glad you enjoyed the Sanako experience. We wanted to present a AT specifically designed with language education in mind for TEACHERS not learners.
We as educators have so much to learn from our students as well! As technology improves, AT can become adaptive and personalized based on individual needs and strengths, however, deepening the divide between who has access to this kind technology. There has been a greater effort by governments and organizations to make AT more accessible, especially in areas that lack the infrastructure.
Thank you Jocelyn, Petros, and Trevor for this detailed and well crafted OER. I’ve learned a lot about Assistive Technologies and what the future holds for this market. While reading your OER there are many connections to previous OERs in the course. Immersive Technology is a big one. Practicing language by immersion is one of the best ways to master a new language (Savage & Hughes, 2014). Immersive technologies will assist English language learners to practice in a low risk environment and simulate different scenarios with different conversations to prepare them for real life interactions. Another OER topic that I can see will help with the future of assistive technologies is Learning Analytics and Big Data. Teachers and institutions can collect data on ELLs and detect any trends on anything that the students especially struggle with and develop something that can help the ease of learning for that subject. Using this type of technology will also help with placing ELLs in the right cohort of English levels. Currently for the school I work at, a standardized test is used for placing ELLs in corresponding English level cohorts. This process can be much easier and more accurate with analyzing learning data collected throughout the school year to predict their English level for the following year.
Savage, B. L., & Hughes, H. Z. (2014). How Does Short-Term Foreign Language Immersion Stimulate Language Learning?. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 24, 103-120.
… and imagine if ELLs could be thrown into virtual classrooms at scheduled time with learners THEIR OWN LEVEL, rather than mixed-level classrooms? IT would make language teaching easier!
Thank you Jocelyn, Petros and Trevor for a great OER. I enjoyed your website layout, all of your great graphics and videos, and you sure packed in a lot of information onto each page – thanks for that! I went into this OER with my thinking of AT limited to SIRI and translation apps, so it was really useful for me to learn more about its applications in education and where you think the market is headed. In response to Discussion Prompt #1: I understand the metaphor of AT as a crutch for language learning, but I think you’ve done a great job in your OER in presenting AT as a tool to reduce barriers to entry in ELL and in education. Holly Morris’s Tedx talk shows us how AT can bridge cultural gaps, and initiate student – teacher and parent – teacher relationships that otherwise would not be forged. The video “How assistive technology supports students with learning disabilities” showed us students that would not be able to engage with traditional classroom content if it were not for AT technologies. These are incredible breakthroughs, and I would suggest thinking of at not as a crutch (if we view student needs of AT as a weakness, that is not going to empower them), but as stepping stones to support students in moving towards their educational goals.
Well, our argument behind the ‘crutch’ is that HAVING assistive technology in language learning could foster dependence rather than critical thinking in learner independence, I know a lot of ELLs who’ve stumbled into higher classes thanks to GRAMMARLY but then were caught unable to perform at that level without it.
This crutch analogy was one of our first group conversations and I definitely agree that AT is tool that provides equity in education by supporting students with specific needs, whether its a disability or learning a new language. From the this inclusionary perspective, AT has such positive benefits in the classroom and beyond- I like how you phrased AT as a tool to empower students! I really struggled with using the term ‘crutch’ to describe AT. On the flip side, I can understand how in some cases, specifically with ELLs, they might begin to rely on AT to support their language rather than developing the necessary skills to do so without it, possibly hindering their proficiency and mastery of learning a new language.
Hi Trevor and Jocelyn, thanks for your responses and clarification on your use of the crutch as an analogy. I can also absolutely understand how some may begin to rely too heavily on AT and can also relate to that (I use Microsoft Word Spelling Check and just recently started using Grammarly.. and holy smokes what have calculators done to my simple math skills…). But I can see this as an issue with language development… where you want to reduce the initial barrier and encourage student participation… I would imagine that some programs would have plans for this and have programming to reduce dependence… or on the other hand, perhaps some programming (like Grammarly, I’m sure) would want to keep “forever customers.” Lots to think about – thanks again!
In the spirit of metaphors in language, Crutches are used to help you walk, but you still have to strengthen the leg. Would you consider assistive technology to be a crutch for language learning? (This caused a great debate amongst our group members)
As a teacher, I believe that assistive technology is a tool that you can use to strengthen understanding of the language being learned. Of course, language learners can rely heavily on using assistive technologies to help them learn a language, but if they aren’t attempting to use the language aside from the assistive technology, it can definitely act as a crutch. I teach a grade 4/5 class, and last week, I had a new student enter our classroom. She is from Colombia and does not speak any English. This is least English that I have ever had a student know, so we are really starting with the basics – ABCs. Assistive technology, such as Google Translate, is used often in our classroom to support this student. She doesn’t understand any of my instructions, so we use Google Translate quite a bit. When I have her do simple work, I use Google Translate and write words in Spanish on the sheet so she can connect the Spanish language to English language. That being said, I still expect her to go out and practice the English language as much as she can while she is at school. So, I would say it is an amazing tool to help people learn a new language, but one cannot rely on just this technology when learning the language. It is one tool in what should be a toolkit of strategies/resources/games/activities to help someone learn a new language.
Thanks for sharing your experience with ELLs. You described it wonderfully, our teammates had argued that a crutch is used to strengthen the leg but eventually the crutch is removed and the legs can walk on its own. Similar to AT, as you mentioned, when Google Translate is not available, it is an opportunity for your student to be fully immersed in the English language and to practice/ strengthen certain skills.
Hi Jocelyn, Justine, and everyone who is sounding off on the “crutch” debate. I completely agree with you both here. These tools are used as a support to promote equitable learning. I find the term ‘crutch’ has taken on an unintentional negative meaning in our society. There is a connotation in the word ‘crutch’ that it is a tool that is not actually needed. I find that our culture’s focus on individualism and ‘not being lazy’ leads to an automatic defensive approach to any perceived advantages from these kinds of tools.
Personally, I believe that all assistive technologies can somehow end up benefitting all learners. Think of how we all can benefit from Speech to Text innovations in the use of subtitles or closed captions.
Thanks for sharing your project, Jocelyn, Trevor and Petros!
Crutches help us walk but only when our legs are broken. If the goal is that we can walk on our own two feet again, then we have to strengthen the leg. However, what if assistive technologies are like cars? Then it wouldn’t make sense to walk somewhere when you can drive there in half the time. I view assistive technology less as a crutch and more as a catalyst for growth. If a technology can help us reach a certain point, and the technology is reasonably persistent, then it makes sense that skills that are no longer relevant in a technology enabled world become out of date. I don’t think assistive technologies are a crutch for ELLs in the same way I don’t think calculators are a crutch for mathematicians. We should be moving towards increased integration of useful technologies in our learning contexts so we can focus on learning as much as possible the skills that technology cannot replace.
Hello Leon! I do agree that it is important to keep learning and integrating useful technologies in learning contexts, but there is the argument out there that if everyone were to have access to the ATs students with particular needs use, that learners would become more lazy when learning and potentially become a crutch towards their education. I fully see your point, and I do agree with you with your point on technology integration in the classroom. Thank you for your post!
What other markets do you think assistive technology for language learning will break into next? (Example: employee onboarding)
I have been facing a lack of assistive language comprehension in Health and Education market in Brazil. According to the Continuous National Household Sample Survey, released by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) in 2019, of the 50 million Brazilians between 14 and 29 years of age, 20%, that is, 10.1 million, did not complete any of the stages of elementary or high school. Despite being able to recognize letters and numbers, individuals who cannot understand simple texts and perform more elaborate mathematical operations are called functional illiterates. Indeed, we aren’t talking about learning disabilities but low access to the Education system without mechanisms to identify exceptional cases and adjust educational tools. Then a cascading effect begins, as the functional illiterates present extreme difficulties in the health system, which uses a complex language and is not very accessible to most of the low-income population. As a final result, there is no diagnosis of a disability, and neither can the school be inclusive. Differences and inequalities increase. Subsequently, the public health system cannot recover the already established differences.
This concern is so great that I work with a linguistics teacher to transform texts according to the population reached since the poorest layers do not understand the health recommendations.
Thank you for your excellent OER!
You’re quite welcome and thank you too for sharing.
In your specific context, do you think the Brazilian education system has the infrastructure to support this level of assistive technology in the places that most need it?
Drawing upon what we have learned about in previous OER’s, what do you envision for the future of assistive technology to support English language learners (or in general)?
Social vulnerability is a multidimensional concept that refers to the condition of individuals or groups in situations of fragility, which exposes them to risks and significant levels of social disintegration. I believe that assistive technology can find places for people who have lost their space in our society. Differently from Canada, here in Brazil, we still struggling to teach the native language, Portuguese, and we need to teach English as soon as possible to include our people in the global context. Assistive technology to support the English language should be scalable to cross the borders of countries that already write and speak English.
Based on the market analysis section, we expect assistive technology to continue growing, and be provided to more people around the globe. It is hard to measure if AT’s can lead to people become more social disintegrated in society. It is more of the opposite. In the educational setting, AT’s help students with particular needs be more integrated in the classroom and be more collaborative with their classmates and learning overall. AT’s are there to HELP students achieve their academic/personal goals, and not for students to fully rely on the technology. Thank you for your comment!
1. In the spirit of metaphors in language, Crutches are used to help you walk, but you still have to strengthen the leg. Would you consider assistive technology to be a crutch for language learning?
I put myself through University by working in Optometrist offices as a licensed Optician (I made glasses) and I used to have a similar debate with the Optometrist I worked for about glasses. Do you prescribe right away when someone has a slight prescription or do you hold off and let the eyes work a bit, then later on prescribe? He had a good analogy; glasses are just a tool, like a hammer. They help you see better (and look cooler!) and allow you to go on with your daily life. But, once you’ve got that hammer, are you ever going to go back to hitting nails with a rock? No!
Assistive Technology is more of a hammer than a crutch. It’s a tool that people can choose to use; but once they’ve used it, they are not going to go back to the way they were before using it. Crutches are also temporary; I don’t see Assistive Technology as a temporary assistance. Sure, the learner may not use it as much (maybe he bought a nail gun!) but there will be a time that they will go back to it. And, especially as how quickly technology evolves, that AT may be an assistance in another aspect of that learners’ life.
Anyway, great OER! I love all the resources; I plan to show these to the ELL teachers I work with in my high school. My only worry, as an administrator, is cost of course. We have quite a vast compliment of ELL learners in our school and even thought I see the benefits of these technologies, I am also aware that it has a costly infrastructure and that most of the students need this cannot afford it. And schools don’t have the budgets… hopefully costs will start to come down!
Sanako is DIRT CHEAP – $1000-$2000 cdn depending on the situation. <=== not a sales pitch!
I really enjoyed the content of this weeks topic. Although I worked in teaching English as a foreign language for several years, I must say that my exposure to assistive technologies was very minimal when I was in the field 10+ years ago. The most I saw in use was when my Japanese students who were learning English would usually carry around these super-expensive electronic dictionaries to help them with language learning. I think for many years, hardware and software were not evolved enough to make self-contained assistive technologies that were portable and affordable. There was only so much memory to hold an entire language in a single device. However, over the past 10 years and with the advent of mobile phones apps, there is no longer a need for a specific hardware device to deliver these assistive technologies. Many modern devices with a good camera, audio and mic can be used as a high-quality input/output hardware, and connectivity to the Internet allows for almost real-time processing. On the one hand, this may have huge potential to help language learners build and enhance their skills. On the other, I do worry about the issue I’ve heard called the “automation” effect, which is that sometimes when we rely on external electronic devices to do some of the cognitive load for us, we can actually lose some of the skills. I think that it is important for educators to keep a close eye on whether the technologies we introduce are actually helping to build skills rather than helping us lose them.
Jocelyn, Petros, and Trevor….What a great topic! Accessibility has been an area I have spent a lot of energy and research into lately. It is an amazing thing the tools we now have that makes the world a little more inclusive for everyone. our statistics on the vast number of people who speak multiple languages and would benefit from speech-to-speech tools for example. It was also great to learn about all the current tools that exist and those we can benefit from. I would definitely consider investing in assistive technology software.
Question for the team – How would you address the limiting factor you define, is more training needed to improve people’s language skills to reduce the limitation of the NLP technology?
Good Question Emma….
– some of it is hardware (you can’t always have the best microphones in a phone)
– some of it is involves the system learning the user (like Dragon)
– some of it is the strong difference in grammar (SVO languages like English work well with other SVO languages [like French] but NOT with SOV languages like Japanese)..
– for simultaneous translation, you’re looking at the processing power of a device and the simple limitation of having to wait till a full sentence is completed AND THEN wait for a translation.
– a “standardization” of language would help, but new words are always entering and exiting use … do you know the grammar rules for WHOM in sentences? How many younger people do?.. will it fall out of use?
Thanks for this awesome OER, so much rich information to explore! In response to the prompt, I’d shift the statement to “crutches are used to help you walk, AND to help you strengthen the leg”! AT can be considered a crutch of sorts, but a necessary and efficient one. Ideally AT for language learning expediates progress towards learning goals, and helps to build skills to eventually reach learning goals independently without the AT. So much of language learning is repeated practice, and even if that practice is supported by AT as long as learners are seeing and hearing feedback in their learning language while practicing the language will eventually sink in, “strengthening the leg” in the process.
Hello Emily! AT’s are there to help students with particular needs reach their learning goals, but it can also be used by students as a tool to help them succeed also. The only time we believe AT’s can become a crutch to learning is when students decide to FULLY rely on AT’s to complete tasks for them. in our OER, Sanako is a great platform to use in order to create learning a variety of learning experiences for students in which the teacher can give excellent feedback. Instructors can mark this audio work directly on Sanako Connect, specifically highlighting and commenting ( either with oral comments or written comments) at the specific time frames where the students make mistakes.
That was an excellent OER! I wanted to comment on the statement from your first option. I do understand how Assistive Technology can be seen as a crutch, however, I do think there is more to it than that. I think that AT has the ability to be a fantastic start for English language learners but it also contains tools that are useful for even those who have mastered the English language. It can help language learners build skills to the point where they would not need it (sort of like a crutch to eventually walk), but I still think it offers more than that. I feel like it would be best to view it as a picking a mode of transportation to get to a destination. You can bus, bike, drive, or walk to your destination and these modes all have benefits just as the different ways we learn do (including through AT). At the end of the day, regardless what mode of transportation you took to get to your destination, you still made it!
Hi Petros, Jocelyn and Trevor,
Thanks to much for such a great OER! It was fascinating to read through!
In the spirit of metaphors in language, Crutches are used to help you walk, but you still have to strengthen the leg. Would you consider assistive technology to be a crutch for language learning?
During my time as an FSL teacher one of the biggest frustrations my students encountered was lack of vocabulary to discuss concepts at the same level they would in their first language. My younger students didn’t understand why they could only use present tense, a tense that is admittedly limiting and not very often used in isolation in day to day speech. The way that second languages are taught are systematic and designed to allow students to master basic concepts before moving on to harder ones, but this can be extremely de-motivating for bright and eager students who want to express themselves more freely or share more complex thoughts in a new language. I view assistive technologies as something that can keep students motivated by allowing them to use a broader range of vocabulary and sentence structures that than their current skills allow. Adaptive language devices also allow students to learn high frequency vocabulary that fits in with their specific way of speaking or conversational topics.
Additionally, AT can be act as a gateway into learning a new language or can be used to spark an interest in language acquisition. Translating apps in various forms are becoming more common on phones and several people I know have made use of them when traveling. While these friends had no intention of actually spending years learning the language of the country they visited upon their return, they were able to interact more freely with locals using language specific AT and had a richer travelling experience. Despite using AT as a “crutch” they still had the chance to practice more of the language than they would have if they only interacted with English speaking tour guides and hotel staff. They could also use AT to translate labels and packaging which helped them recognize the meanings of words the next time they saw them. AT provided opportunities for language learning on their trips, which is appealing to many travellers, giving language based AT applications for both commercial and educational uses.
Hi Jocelyn, Petros, Trevor,
Thank you for producing this exceptional resource. My employer asked me to do learning support services (LSS) this term. I am working with small group of students with learning disabilities. It’s always helpful to find resources with good ideas as you’ve done here in this project.
Thanks a lot,
You are quite welcome