Virtual – Inclusive – Diversity focused – Open educational – Work modules

Digital Tools for Inclusive Foreign Language Education
development of comprehensive and versatile digital educational modules

European educational policy makers envision the development of communicative competence as the main goal of institutionalized foreign language (FL) education (Council of Europe, 2001) and hope for the realization of the Barcelona Summit (2002) “mother tongue + 2” objective. Yet, the relatively long list of various subcompetences, types of knowledge and affective variables that communicating in a foreign language encompasses, highlights how complex and multidimensional the process of learning a foreign language can be and, therefore, how difficult it is for everyone to learn foreign languages easily, in a comparable manner and with similar success. In fact, learning a foreign language can often prove challenging, especially to learners with special educational needs, as they experience pedagogical disadvantages because of a range of conditions stemming from biological, environmental, and psychosocial causes that affect their cognitive development and educational attainment (Carpenter, 2005). International organizations such as UNESCO and the OECD see this risk and promote the implementation of inclusive education systems that enable all learners to actively engage in learning and reach their potential. However, on a practical level, not all educational systems and not all agents within them are truly ready to realize such task on a daily basis. Some foreign language teachers even report strong feelings of being overwhelmed and disillusioned with the prospect of offering equal opportunities to all their students (Dose, 2019).

In response to this situation, VInDOW aims at creating digital learning modules for tertiary foreign language teacher education that demonstrate how the principles of inclusion – in their broad, diversity-oriented interpretation – can be applied in the field of foreign language education. Specifically, the project will develop virtual digital courses that include theoretical, empirical and evidence-based knowledge, insights from language teaching practice and educational policy guidelines about the following topics:

1. Dyslexia and reading skills in the FL classroom
2. Social, emotional and linguistic challenges in spoken FL communication
3. Multilingual/multicultural challenges in FL classrooms
4. Autism in the FL classroom
5. Neurodiversity as a challenge in the FL classroom

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The modules will also provide concrete examples of (digitalized) lesson plans, teaching activities and diagnostic tools that make foreign language education accessible to all learners. By combining the perspective of inclusive pedagogy with insights from fields such as language teaching methods, second language acquisition, psychology and neurolinguistics, the modules will offer an interdisciplinary foundation of the topic. In addition, the digital and virtual modules will also address the question to what extent and in what ways digitalization of learning materials can prove an asset in inclusive learning environments.

The needs of target groups: The primary target group of VInDOW are foreign language teacher educators, who use the modules in the teaching of pre- and in-service foreign language teachers (secondary target group). These two target groups are multipliers who have the capacity to implement the transfer of knowledge and competences to the tertiary target group, namely foreign language learners. The OECD (“Teachers matter” 2005) points to a link between the quality of teaching/teacher education and student attainment: Effective teaching depends to a large extent on the expertise of teachers. Therefore, in order to promote a more sustainable inclusive approach to foreign language education and to address the specific needs of ALL foreign language students, foreign language teacher educators as well as pre- and in-service foreign language teachers need to be equipped with innovative tools for teaching, which VInDOW provides them with.

Transnational character: Successful design of the modules requires transnational dialogue between various agents engaged in foreign language education – teacher educators, researchers, applied linguists, neurolinguists, engineers, experts on digitalization as well as pre-/in-service teachers and students – to combine their knowledge and experience and to deliver solutions for a more sustainable implementation of the inclusive approach to foreign language education that can be generalized to many contexts. Creating such solutions calls for transnational cooperation because of:
– the unique experiences with inclusive education that each member state brings to the table, which if combined, offer a more meaningful whole;
– the need of continuous (re)testing, (re)evaluation and (re)modification of the developed materials in various program countries so that the developed modules can be implemented
and tested in various educational systems across Europe to prove their effectiveness.