By Brontë H. Lacsamana
Remote learning on digital platforms poses unique challenges for language teaching, said teachers in various webinars on multilingual education.
“To what extent have we integrated digital literacies in the language classroom? Often, people respond by giving a list of platforms — Zoom, Google Classroom, learning management systems (LMS). We become so focused on tools,” said Ron R. Darvin, a linguistics professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), at a webinar organized by the language program of the University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV).
Teachers must match platforms or technology with effective teaching practices, especially since the level of access and connectivity varies from student to student, he added.
In the Philippines, only 25.58 million students enrolled for school year 2021–2022, a 2.5% dip from 26.22 million the previous year, based on data from the Department of Education (DepEd). To improve the state of education, the agency also proposed a higher budget to fund computerization and connectivity for both teachers and students.
The inequality of access is unavoidable, however, according to Mr. Darvin. He cited his experience teaching English to two 16-year-old Filipino students — one from a high-income family with three devices at his disposal and one public-school student living in a household that shared one computer. The former regularly read news apps and published online novels that had a global following, while the latter played mobile games and sometimes posted drawings on Facebook just for family to see.
“Inequalities shape the way learners use and perceive language and technology, even how they are directed to certain information,” said Mr. Darvin.
EXAGGERATION AND EMOJIS
Clement C. Camposano, chancellor of UP Visayas, emphasized the key difference in remote learning: “Being limited to a video conferencing platform clearly shifts the context of language. It also shifts the learning context. The way languages will be learned will be very different in that setting.”
The language needs of students change as they’re shaped by platforms that are either chosen by teachers or frequented by young people during their free time.
Mr. Darvin explained: “When we talk to people online, are we speaking or writing? Nowadays language is anchored on ‘tellability’ — making use of capitalization, exclamation marks, repetition, exaggerated quantifiers, and even emojis.”
Even online practices affect how students read textbooks or learning materials. With their eyes used to avoiding ads on the sides of a website, students now skip the side notes in language textbooks, added Mr. Darvin, making it insufficient to simply hand these out to read without a proper lesson.
Filipino sign language (FSL), a form of visual and manual communication that uses facial expressions and body movements, suffers a similar issue, according to Raymond J. Manding, coordinator of the Deaf Advocacy Program at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde’s School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies (SDEAS).
“We currently have proposed a project with DepEd in teaching and improving the educational system for the deaf,” he shared using sign language during a webinar on FSL in September, organized by the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP). “With online or distance learning, the DepEd should be aware of deaf students.”
He added that video conferencing platforms like Zoom are more effective as they avoid the unguided nature of a student navigating an LMS or module on their own. The best-case scenario would be a one-on-one session.
“Deaf learners have a hard time understanding modules by themselves. Better materials should be introduced using video format so we can use FSL,” he said. This practice is already being done at Benilde, where the LMS Brightspace developed by the edtech company Desire2Learn (D2L) ensures inclusivity.
A well-designed LMS like Brightspace is not enough, however, as even D2L themselves have admitted in July — teachers must still rewire ways of teaching in a remote setting, which teachers at the deaf school in Benilde made sure to do.
CUHK’s Mr. Darvin explained: “Because of technology, there is more opportunity for young people to get exposed and interact with a great plurality of languages and language varieties. It raises their awareness that the language we learn in class is still a specific conception that is shaped by the teacher, or the school, or the curriculum.”
Digital literacy, according to Mr. Darvin, should help students navigate the online world, where social media posts, articles, and videos are constructed in various ways to inform or persuade and where disinformation and fake news easily spread.
“They also need to be guided on how to communicate and exchange ideas on an LMS,” he said, acknowledging the differences in context from student to student, especially with how students process information depending on the device being used to view it.
“It’s not about the tools. It’s learning the literacies to be able to use these tools,” he added.