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Strengthening collaborations during COVID-19: OISE Research Centre hosts online research symposium on language education

May 27, 2020
picture of conference organizers
CERLL members on the symposium organizing committee, from left to right: Ahmed Aly, Riah Werner, Stephanie Shuler, Enrica Piccardo, Hamidreza Moiniasl, Reza Shalizar.
On May 8-9, OISE's Centre for Educational Research on Languages and Literacies (CERLL) held an online symposium on New Perspectives in Language Education. The conference organizer and Centre Director Professor Enrica Piccardo had to planned for months a research event which would bring to OISE researchers from different Ontario Universities. When all campus events were cancelled in the wake of COVID-19, she was determined to adapt to an online platform. "I wanted to support our community of faculty and student researchers during this challenging, isolating time" Piccardo stated. “Especially at a time when all other conferences had been cancelled, I wanted to provide a forum that would enable presenters and participants to contribute to the scholarly reflection by sharing and discussing research.” 
Over 150 participants and presenters were in attendance to share new research directions in language education. The success of this two-day event is due in large part to a collective planning effort. CERLL members and OISE graduate students Ahmed Aly, Hamidreza Moiniasl, Mohammedreza Shalizar Jalali, Stephanie Shuler, Riah Werner assisted with organization and planning. Researchers from departments and faculties across southern Ontario, including the University of Toronto at Mississauga, the University of Western Ontario, York University, and the University of Waterloo, joined CERLL members on the organizing committee, reviewing paper proposals, and inviting researchers in their institutions. 
OISE Professor Emeritus Jim Cummins set the tone in an opening plenary. He discussed the barriers faced by children in immigrant communities in Canada and abroad, examining how the roots of underachievement go beyond language differences between home and school to include factors associated with socioeconomic status and systemic discrimination and marginalization, which limit students’ educational progress. He argued that schools can minimize – or even reverse – the negative impact of these factors on academic achievement by implementing evidence-based instructional strategies in language education. Professor Bernd Rüschoff from the University of Duisburg Essen, former President of AILA (the international Association of Applied Linguistics) gave the closing plenary. He discussed the normalization of digital tools as a fact of social life and communicative practice emphasizing how these tools are becoming an essential ingredient in language learning. By presenting the newly developed descriptors for competences needed in online interaction from the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), he discussed the shift towards seeing learners as social agents and action-oriented language classrooms as very much focused on real-world relevance.
Collectively, the paper and poster presentations during this two-day event present a compelling case for investing in resources in language education in Ontario and supporting collaborative research in the field. 
In the final debriefing session, participants expressed their appreciation of this unique opportunity to present their research and receive feedback and input from other researchers working in related areas. The symposium recreated the authentic atmosphere of a conference, with participants networking in the chat strands and even including breaks for a virtual coffee as well as a “wine and cheese” informal session at the end.
Now that the event has concluded, Piccardo is looking forward to future efforts. "There is a need for collaborative research in the field of language education," she said, "and this symposium has enabled us to gain momentum on community-building." As an OISE Centre, CERLL will continue to provide a forum for OISE researchers to connect with each other and with researchers in the wider community. 
The entire Symposium has been recorded and the videos will soon be online. Stay tuned for updates on  the CERLL webpage