Below are my slides and a brief(-ish) write up of what I spoke about at the xtern.ru’s International Online Summer School for English Teachers on 30th June. Always pleased to be involved in these webinar events – great way to share ideas and experiences without the added time and expense of travelling to conferences.
Tech is of course such an ingrained part of everyday lives that we take it for granted. How long are you awake before you check your phone (its alarm might even wake you up)? How many ways do you communicate with friends and family? How many of those ways rely on technology? When you take a step back and think, it’s actually quite staggering how much tech we use on a daily basis.
So is the outside world reflected in the classroom? In my case, it certainly hadn’t been before this year. I wouldn’t say I was ever a technophobe, someone who dislikes tech and doesn’t want to use it, but it certainly bewildered and confused me, so I was reluctant to frustrate myself by opening my classroom door to this monster. So rest assured, all the tech tools I suggest will be very simple and accessible to even the greenest ‘techy’.
So why did I start including more tech-based tasks in my English lessons? The learners benefit!
1. The English lesson and the world outside it should be mutually useful.
There’s no need for English lessons to lag behind the rest of society in a time warp: books, pens and paper everywhere, whereas most people’s homes and offices became tech-heavy decades ago.
For younger learners, we should also be teaching them useful life skills along with English language. Incorporating simple tech into ELT kills two birds with one stone, and presents the language in the digital forms they are more likely to use in the future.
Of course, we can’t expect every classroom to be kitted out with a tablet or laptop per child and an interactive whiteboard, so the uses I’ll suggest are more apt for home tasks using an Internet connection and any simple device.
2. Interaction possibilities
Learners enjoy interacting with other learners, sharing knowledge and experiences through English.
Using tech widens the potential number of interactions to billions of people worldwide. An Internet connection is the only requisite to be able to connect with other English speakers across the world, so lessons should include tech to allow this to happen.
Humans are social creatures, as Atul Gawande’s quote on slide 8 expresses, and teachers can use tech to tap into that.
This is a key ingredient in anything we do. In this experiment by psychologist Dan Ariely (slide 10), we see how effort and output decrease when the work produced has no lasting purpose.
Like the participants in the study, most learners will not work hard at something just for the sake of it. Technology can help us to tick two crucial boxes to motivate learners: making work that is long lasting and that has purpose. Long lasting because storing things online archives them much more effectively than using paper (look through your 2010 Facebook posts, for instance), and purposeful because the Internet provides a wider audience than is available in any one classroom.
Tech doesn’t have to replace teachers, but if we can harness it and use it well, it can greatly improve our students’ learning experiences and drive to improve.
1 – Blog
I used my blog to publish a collaborative writing project by my C2 learners. Following several weeks of looking at different aspects of culture, they each chose a different aspect of their own culture in Latvia and contributed a section to the class piece. The final product certainly taught me a lot about Latvian culture.
Of course, we could have produced this with pen and paper. But knowing beforehand that the work would be published online and reposted on the IH Riga Facebook page (and consequently by IH World, which was great), the learners knew that the audience would be much wider than if I’d just stuck it up on the classroom wall.
Using a blog as a public display is really effective actually, and increases the sense of purpose that is so important in finding the motivation to produce something. I have a ‘By Students’ section on my blog site for exactly this reason.
2 – Email
As I said, there is nothing complex about the tech I’m using in class!
Email is a great way to bring the age-old classic of international penfriends into the 21st Century, and save a lot of time waiting for the next round of correspondence to arrive, which means many more rounds and much more English written and read.
Once you’ve found a partner school (through the Cambridge Penfriends project or personal contacts), teachers can communicate directly and set a theme for the round of emails, making it a very educational cultural exercise too. Moreover, speaking from experience, it’s great to connect to a fellow professional in another country, which really increases teacher motivation that can only transfer on to the learners.
3 – Google doc
I used this for a critical reading exercise, having learners use IELTS writing criteria to assess a transcript of Donald Trump’s speech to mark Black History Month (then posted some highlights on the blog, actually).
Again, this could be done with pen and paper, but the format of a Google doc makes it much more interactive between teacher and student: instead of waiting for the next lesson to take in their corrections and comments and give it back the lesson after, I could comment on the Google doc immediately after them and shorten this feedback loop considerably.
It’s beauty in it’s simplicity: upload a document to Google Drive, get your learners’ email addresses and send them an invite to edit the document. During the webinar, we also discussed other possible uses for a google doc:
- Collaborative writing project
- Peer-to-peer correction
4 – Twitter
It’s not something you’ll find in a traditional textbook, but understanding and writing tweets is a practical way in which classroom English isn’t always in tune with what’s happening outside its four walls. Speaking of interaction, there were 319 million Twitter users as of the end of 2016, which exposes learners to a fair few other English speakers.
So how could Twitter be incorporated into lessons? Having learners bring in their Tweet of the week and explaining why; learning about shorthand English, abbreviations and ellipsis; having learners summarise something in the form of a Tweet in fewer than 140 characters.
5 – Edurio
edurio.com is a Latvian startup company based just down the road here in Riga, Latvia, specialising in online surveys for students, transforming the data into simple graphs so action can be taken to improve. As well as being used in hundreds of Latvian schools, it is also expanding globally, with flagship partnerships currently underway in the UK and South Africa.
By using Edurio’s pre-made questions and/or creating your own, you can send learners, parents and other teachers specific questions on their opinions and experiences. All answers are anonymous, so people are free to express themselves honestly and openly.
As I’ve described in a previous post, Edurio can be an invaluable tool in both Needs Analysis and end of course evaluation for learners, by finding out key insights straight from the horse’s mouth, rather than relying on prediction and intuition. It also has the potential to reset the class dynamic, in that learners are encouraged to assess and take responsibility for their own learning, rather than be a passive consumer of the teacher’s decisions.
If the sample size is large enough, it’s also a really useful tool to be able to compare classes and teachers, and provide guidance for where time and resources should be spent to improve learners’ experiences.