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Specialised digital learning platforms help low literate adult migrants to integrate

Migrants who have low levels of literacy face significant economic and social barriers in their host country. Teaching low-literate, culturally diverse learners to read, write and speak the language of the country they have resettled in, offers them the best possible opportunities to integrate, enabling them to contribute as workers, taxpayers and consumers. However, due to a lack of resources and research-informed guidance, the majority of educators – many of whom work part time and/or are volunteers – are faced with difficulties when teaching this population. Northumbria’s Dr Rola Naeb is working with seven partners from six countries to deliver free online training and development modules, helping teachers improve migrants’ educational attainment levels on a global scale. 

A senior lecturer in applied linguistics and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), Dr Naeb is an expert in technology-enhanced learning environments. Her research focuses on the linguistic integration of low educated adult migrants, and her specialism has been integral to EU-Speak, an eight-year project that seeks to improve the educational outcomes of migrants with little or no education.   

From 2013–2018 Dr Naeb was a co-investigator on EU-Speak 3, a project which sought to develop and analyse a free specialist CPD programme for LESLLA (Literacy Education and Second Language Learning for Adults) teachers, comprising six distinct distance learning modules for speakers of English, Finnish, German, Spanish and Turkish. Dr Naeb’s research on the human technology interface and computer assisted learning helped to guide module development, particularly module six, and provided educators with cutting-edge research findings as well as innovative pedagogical approaches. Within the project lifespan, over 900 participants from 47 different countries enrolled on the EU-Speak 3 training modules. Dr Naeb continues to provide expert advice to the EU-Speak board, contributing to the continued expansion and development of this resource. 

Alongside this, Dr Naeb acted as Northumbria’s lead on a similar EU-funded project known as the ‘Digital Literacy Instructor’ project (DigLin), during which she analysed the use of Computer-Assisted Language Learning – advanced learning materials that allow individualisation of instruction and learner-focus. This research revealed that phonics-based online materials provide a great opportunity to meet the diverse needs of LESLLA learners, insight which Dr Naeb used to support the development of DigLin, an online digital literacy platform funded by the EU that supports LESLLA learners.

Since becoming involved in this project in 2013, Dr Naeb has helped to shape DigLin by analysing user-behaviour to develop an intuitive platform with appropriate content. This work enabled teachers to effectively monitor student progress and led to the creation of an advanced level, comprising more than 1,500 resources (multimedia texts, exercises), 13,000 sound files (sounds, words, sentences, texts) and 5,600 images to support learner development. In addition to developing all of the English content, Dr Naeb collaborated with colleagues in the Netherlands and Spain to support the roll out of the Dutch and Spanish versions of DigLin.  

Newcastle College, one of the UK-based users of DigLin, now see this resource as vital to supporting their role as a major provider of English language education. Since May 2018, DigLin has become central to the college’s delivery for low-level learners of English. Teaching staff have praised the resource for helping them to feel much more confident about their ability to successfully teach phonics, monitor learners progress, and provide tailored learning both on-site and at home – a development which became essential during the Covid-19 pandemic. The college acknowledge that DigLin has without a doubt boosted attainment and retention rates among students. Other UK-users include the CLEAR Project, an education charity and leading provider of specialist advice and opportunities for refugee and migrant communities, based in Southampton.  

In September 2020 Dr Naeb was elected President of Literacy Education and Second Language Learning for Adults (LESLLA) – the first and principal organisation to focus on migrant and refugee-background adults and adolescents. Within this role, Dr Naeb works to highlight the importance of digital learning platforms for educationally-disadvantaged people at conferences and media events. As she points out, many refugees, asylum seekers and chain migrants with limited or no education are still able to use technology such as smart phones to navigate themselves around Europe geographically and linguistically. Understanding how to effectively harness this knowledge will not only improve their learning experiences, but will provide migrants with the necessary tools to successfully integrate into their new homes. 

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