Articles by Mike

Language teacher and researcher, posting about language, education, technology, and society.

Large Language Models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT or other “AI” Chatbots can produce coherent and grammatical text, but does this make them good proxy conversational partners for students in language courses? I recently led a roundtable discussion on some of the problems and possibilities my elementary French students and I experienced when using ChatGPT to practice written conversational French. Below are some (anonymized and paraphrased) chat logs from the chatbot conversations, as well as student commentary.

My elementary French students had the option to complete certain “partner chat” activities using ChatGPT. They prompted ChatGPT to “write like a first-year French student”. Hilarity ensued:

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Having wandered down a random street in Paris on our way to the Métro this holiday, my wife and I stumbled upon a little museum called Mundolingua, dedicated to all things linguistic. I’m glad we took the random turn we did (and that the museum was open on Christmas day!), because we ended up spending a few hours exploring each of the exhibits.

Like most places in Paris, the museum economizes on space, meaning ever square metre of the museum is filled to the brim with interesting items. This wonderful gem of a museum boasts dozens of exhibits and hundreds of items on a wide array of linguistic topics, including:

  • Language acquisition
  • Phonetics and phonology
  • Linguistic variation
  • Endangered languages
  • Writing systems
  • Gesture
  • Sign language
  • Language technologies
  • Historical linguistics
  • Constructed languages

There are multilingual audio guides, interactive exhibits (including “guess the language” quizzes), and even a replica of the Rosetta Stone!

Image of a Rosetta Stone replica, behind glass, at the Mundolingua museum. The top third of the stone has hieroglypics, the center third of the stone has Koine Greek, the bottom third has Ancient Greek. On the shelf below the replica, there are various informational pamphlets about the history of the stone.

If you should find yourself in Paris, I can’t recommend Mundolingua highly enough. It’s a great institution for educating the general public about language and linguistics.

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I attended a webinar last Friday on Student Debt and the Future of Higher Education (edit Nov. 30: recording available), featuring very corporate-oriented conceptions of the roles and functions of higher education institutions. Three experts from three different institutions shared their takes: Arizona State University’s Director of Online Engagement Ara Austin, economist Bryan Caplan from George Mason, and information technology and marketing professor Mike Smith from Carnegie Mellon. From each of their professional vantage points, they ostensibly came to discuss student debt, though the primary focus of the conversation ended up being the current and future roles of higher education in America, in terms of the student population conceived as revenue streams. In this post, I summarize the discussion and dispute the underlying, unaddressed assumption that higher education must be run as a business.

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With the recent acquisition of microblogging giant, Twitter, by the apartheid-emerald-mine heir, over one million users have fled the platform and hundreds of thousands of people have started joining Mastodon. Being a tied into various online academic circles, I’ve been seeing discourse about moving the academic conversations that happen(ed) on Twitter to Mastodon, and how universities and scholarly groups can leverage the new platform. It’s neat that these conversations are happening, and people are moving away from corporate-owned walled gardens, but the proposed use-cases look so much to me like trying to squeeze a square peg through a round hole. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and I’m here to show you some different tools you can use.

This blog post is an extension to a short thread I made on Mastodon inspired by some of the more… interesting… ideas for how academics and academic institutions can use the platform.

In the first section of this post, I’m give give a lay-overview of how web-based communication works, how megacorporations have segemented the internet, how Mastodon and other federated social media platforms work, and how they’re different from current social media. In section 2, I discuss the reasons behind choosing specific internet publishing channels, including whether you really need two-way communication, whether you need to chase virality on a public platform, and the merits of creating more intentional communities. In the third section, I propose some solutions for leveraging these technologies especially for scholars conducting academic work, including maintaining an online presence, hosting conferences with equitable access in mind, and organizing communities of scholars to support the people excluded from and exploited by professional academia. Finally, I conclude with a summary and call to action. I encourage and challenge you to stick with it and learn a bit more about the affordances and restrictions of these different platforms.

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Hey all! It’s been a while since my last post, but that’s been largely due to my latest projects which have just launched: an open online course called The Senate and the Roman Peoples: On Diversity in the Ancient Mediterranean and its companion podcast, Ancient Problems, Modern Solutions.

The Senate and the Roman Peoples: On Diversity in the Ancient Mediterranean

This 5-week, 50-hour course is for classics instructors, classics students, or newcomers to the ancient world who are looking for a more rounded picture of the peoples of ancient Rome. Learners will engage with both primary and scholarly sources which emphasize both the social diversity and inequity of Roman society, with an emphasis on questions such as:

  • What were the ethnic, racial, and class distinctions made by the Romans? Where did these distinctions come from, and how were they cemented in law/custom?
  • Who called themselves Romans? Who was allowed to call themselves Roman?
  • When Rome expanded its territory through conquest, whom did the Romans assimilate? Whom did they enslave?
  • Why is it important to teach about the social diversity of the ancient world and the ancients’ methods for social classifications?
  • What are the ramifications of uncritically teaching about inequity in the ancient world?

You can enroll in the course for free via Carnegie Mellon’s public-facing Canvas LMS.

Ancient Problems, Modern Solutions podcast

I developed the SPQR course alongside a limited-series podcast called Ancient Problems, Modern Solutions, which you can listen to wherever you get your podcasts. I spoke with some guest experts about a few different topics. The first three episodes, which were subsidized by Carnegie Mellon University, include:

  1. Teaching Latin inclusively
  2. Queerness and Relationships in the ancient world
  3. Ancient ethnonationalism and its modern legacy

Check out the first three episodes and see if you like the content! I’d love to keep working on the podcast, and if you’d like to hear more, you can support it on Patreon to help fund future episodes and get access to an exclusive subscriber Discord server.

If your work is relevant and you’d like to be a guest on the podcast, reach out to me via email and we’ll see if we can make an episode work!

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Last August, I wrote about the differing outcomes of the two Intensive Elementary French sections I taught: one remote synchronous, the other remote asynchronous. My write-up included some descriptive statistics, and ultimately concluded that learners in the synchronous course achieved higher scores than those in the asynchronous course. At the time I wrote the post, my statistical literacy was less than it is now, so the purpose of the present post is to determine whether these findings were statistically significant.

I. Do final course grades differ between the two modalities?

I took the two sections, asynchronous (n = 19) and synchronous (n = 10), and conducted a two-sample t-test to determine whether there is a meaningful, measurable difference in the average final course grade for each modality. The data from each section were normally distributed according to visual testing and the Shapiro-Wilk test (asynchronous p = 0.12, synchronous p = 0.26). An F-test revealed that the data were not of equal variance (F = 13.66, p < 0.001, 95% CI [3.69, 40.01]). The Welch two-sample t-test revealed a statistically significant, large difference between the asynchronous and synchronous sections (t(22.49) = 3.87, p < 0.001, d = 1.29, 95% CI [-2.04, -0.53]). The observed difference in means was -26.46, with a 95% CI [-40.63, -12.29]. A post-hoc test revealed an actual power of 0.80.

Boxplot comparison of the two groups' final course grades. Left boxplot tracks the asynchronous scores, right boxplot tracks the synchronous scores.
Plotted using ggplot2 with R.

As you can see from the visualization, the learners in the asynchronous course had a much wider spread of final grades, compared to the learners in the synchronous course. The huge, statistically significant difference between the modalities can be seen most glaringly: nearly 75% of the synchronous scores fall within just the fourth quartile of asynchronous scores.

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When I started this blog, I imagined it as a professional space for me to write about what I’m doing in terms of teaching and research. I have deactivated the majority of my social media accounts in response to the disgustingly shady practices of these for-profit tech companies which mine and sell our data to influence elections at worst and bombard us with ads at best. As a result, I curate this site as my main web presence, and recent events in my personal life made me feel the need to blog like it’s 2002 and I’m on LiveJournal.

This past week and a half has been exceptionally rough on my wife and me, and I’m still honestly not sure when this emotional tumult will be over. Robin, one of our ferrets, took a terrible turn in health. The long and short of it is that my wife and I spent about three days cycling through the various stages of grief, and decided that it was probably time for Robin to “cross the rainbow bridge”. I have a tendency to write a lot, and plan on cataloguing Robin’s life here, so I won’t hold you in suspense: as you’ll see by the end of this post, dear readers, Robin is still with us, and she’s feeling much better than before.

Before I get into her present state, let me establish a bit of background:

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While role play activities are a popular mainstay in language textbooks, I’ve always been dissatisfied with how shallow they can be. In this post, I’m going to compare the traditional role play activity found in American language textbooks to Robert Di Pietro’s (1987) Strategic Interaction scenarios. I start by defining each of these activities before discussing what happened in my French classroom the other week when I ran a Strategic Interaction activity, and drawing some conclusions about the two different activity types.

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This past Summer, I taught two sections of the same French course during the same six-week session at a large, public R1 university. The main difference between these two sections was the mode of distribution: one was delivered asynchronously, while the other section met synchronously over Zoom for 80 minutes twice per week. I wanted to record some of my observations, in an attempt to explore some of the different student outcomes. Note that this is an informal comparison, and no personally-identifiable data are being shared.

I’ve broken down this post into several sections:

  • Course description and distribution model
  • Modifications for online distribution
  • Student population
  • Unexpected roadblock
  • Interaction and engagement
  • Grades
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
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Last week, I gave a brief, 20-minute lesson on introducing oneself in French. We went over some common greetings (bonjour, bonsoir, salut), giving one’s name (je m’appelle…), and asking/responding to comment ça va?. I ran this lesson over Zoom for a graduate course on integrating technology in the language classroom. This post contains my organization process, my own assessment of how it went, and feedback I received on the lesson. I have broken this post into three sections:

  • Planning
  • Justifications
  • Feedback and Reflections

Planning the lesson

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • Introduce themselves in French
  • Ask how others are doing in French
  • Respond when people ask how they’re doing
  • Use FlipGrid to have an asynchronous French conversation
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