Lancaster University: British Council award for Lancaster team’s comics app to support language learners

A Lancaster University-led project team have won a highly prestigious British Council ELTons Digital Innovation award for work on an imaginative comics app to help dyslexic and non-dyslexic learners learn a second language.

The collaborative project, led by Dr Julie-Ann Sime, from the Department of Educational Research, included Professor of Second Language Acquisition Judit Kormos, from the Department of Linguistics and English Language, together with colleagues from Germany, Greece and Cyprus, and was co-funded by the ERASMUS+ Programme of the European Union.

This very important award, in the world of English language teaching, is given in recognition of their international project ‘Comics for Inclusive English Language Learning’ (CIELL) which aims to develop the competences of second language learners by promoting the use of comic art, and other visual representations.

The project also aims to enhance the quality of language teaching materials used for teaching writing in a second language by supporting the needs of dyslexic learners in a socially inclusive manner.

The award recognises the CIELL learning app that is designed to support students, with and without dyslexia, and offers an inclusive, gamified approach to learning how to plan an essay.

Sample essays in the app are based on the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, and spread awareness and raise serious social issues in an innovative way.

The project was also given a ‘Judges’ Commendation for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion’.

In their comments the judges said they ‘loved’ the visuals.

“This would be such a boon for dyslexic students, or even students in main stream classes, who struggle with writing and ideas,” they added.

The CIELL App offers an inclusive, gamified approach to learning how to plan an essay at intermediate and advanced levels of English language proficiency.

Students like the colourful comics saying it’s ‘an interesting, exciting and easy way to learn how to write essays’, ‘it’s a fun app’ and ‘it’s like a game’.

Teachers like that the app can also be used in-class, or at home, for talking, reading and listening activities, e.g. listening to essays read-aloud by six authentic voices.

Dyslexia is a specific learning difference characterized by difficulties with word decoding, spelling, handwriting, reading, memory and attention span which affects around 10% of the population.

Says Dr Sime: “Dyslexic-type difficulties also cause challenges in writing in another language, which is often assessed in high-stakes testing contexts and is an essential skill in higher education across Europe.

“Therefore, there is strong need for new tools and raising teachers’ awareness of inclusive practices in teaching second language writing to dyslexic students.”

Professor Kormos added: “The CIELL project is a collaboration between comic artists, language teachers and learning technology researchers, to create innovative open educational resources that enrich teaching practice and support dyslexic learners.”

The CIELL project is an extension of the ERASMUS+ Visual/video literacies project that aims to improve the visual literacies of educators, making learning more visual through static (e.g. comics, mind maps), dynamic (e.g. video) and interactive visuals (e.g. virtual reality). The CIELL project further develops static visual representations in learning.

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