Posted in EFL

Setting up a SIG Week 5.2

Special interest group

Inspired by my course so far, I sent round an email at work to see who might be interested in developing their use of digital technologies for language teaching. Every year we are required to complete an action research project which, unfortunately, is often seen as another imposition on top of all the other administrative tasks we have to do. Despite this, two very experienced teachers decided to take part in the special interest group (SIG) and we had our first face-to-face meeting on Friday.

Where shall we start?

We set out by focussing on specific areas where we felt we were failing our learners or where little progress was being made. We then tried to identify which digital tools might provide new solutions to these issues. Areas that came up included learner agency, learner autonomy, engagement and personalisation. We also came to the conclusion that investigation into our learners’ attitudes towards the role of digital technology in their learning was needed. We felt the best way to start would be with a questionnaire for our students and perhaps even one for ourselves too. One of the teachers used SurveyMonkey to complete her research last year for both qualitative and quantitative data using ranking, multiple choice questions and comments. We therefore decided to focus on this tool as our first structured use of digital technologies with our students.

What questions do we need?

The questionnaire will need to focus on the following areas for both students and teachers:

  1. Attitudes to learning languages.
  2. understanding of teacher and learner roles.
  3. Past experience of technology for language learning.
  4. Current use of technology for learning.
  5. And finally, perhaps some evaluation of digital literacies.

Please join in!

This is by no means a complete list, so please feel free to suggest other areas which you feel should be included. When the survey is completed I would like to share the result here for further evaluation and for any teachers that would like to use it with their classes.

Posted in EFL

Invisible technology Week 5.1

Introduction

Back in 2003, Stephen Bax described ‘normalisation’ as ‘the stage when technology becomes invisible’ and sets this as an aim for truly integrated CALL (Bax, S. 2003). Digital technology has come a long way since 2003 and most learners now carry tiny computers in their pockets that are vastly superior to what was available back then.

So, has technology become invisible in our classrooms? 

My students were initially surprised when I started using a BYOD approach, but I believe mobile phone use in class can reach a certain level of ‘normalisation’ with time. However, this is helped by my current context where class sizes are fairly small and students expect something different from their normal lessons in state schools. Having also worked in a number of primary and secondary state schools in China and Italy, it would seem that the ‘normalisation’ of digital technologies in mainstream education is a long way off. That said, most students nowadays do have smart phones hidden under their desks, so perhaps it is mainly an issue of teacher/student attitudes and training. Another reason could be that many teachers feel threatened by the information students have at their fingertips. Either that or they associate mobile phone use with distraction and disrespect, which does need to be addressed. That said, by banning mobile phone use completely, teachers are denying their students and themselves a wealth of opportunities.

Bridging the gap

Charles Leadbetter sees cheap ubiquitous mobile devices as the solution to the ‘digital divide’ (TED.com, 2010). In his talk on TED.com Charles looks to what is happening in the poorest communities in Brazil and Africa for inspiration. He states that in these situations, learning needs to be connected to the realities of life i.e. finding a job and surviving. Mobile devices allow learners to access the collective knowledge of the Internet and take learning beyond the confines of the classroom, perhaps even to companies. I think there is a lot of potential to overcome social-economic divides through the ‘normalisation’ of smartphone use in education. I also believe that educational institutions in the developed world have a lot to learn from other less privileged contexts. Towards the end of the video Charles states that ‘we are on the verge of the schoolification of the world’. However, this talk was made five years ago and we still feel a long way off from this dream. If the technology is already here and ‘normalised’ in our everyday lives, what is stopping the digital divide from being bridged?

References

Stephen Bax, CALL-past, present and future, (Elsevier Science Ltd, 2003)

Charles Leadbetter, Education innovation in the slums, (TED.com 2010)

(visited 27/10/15)

Posted in EFL

Tentative steps towards a digital classroom update Week 4.2

This blog post is just a quick update on my experiences with Edmodo, Quizlet, Popplet and Wikis in my classroom.

So, how did Edmodo go?

For some unknown reason my initial Edmodo class just disappeared! This was possibly due to it being registered with my school’s email address or perhaps even my own digital stupidity. Despite this minor setback, I was still able to access my students’ posts through my work email. I had asked my students to find a video on TED.com that interested them, then write and post a summary of the main points on Edmodo for the rest of the class. I am very interested to see how Edmodo can encourage learner autonomy and collaboration. My plan was to ask them to use their phones to access Edmodo in class and then summarise the longest summary but instead, I had to print of the summaries. I have since set up new Edmodo groups with all my adult classes with my personal email address and everything seems to be working now.

Next thing to try

We have been using Moodle as a VLE on my distance learning course and I would like to make use of Edmodo in a similar way for a blended learning experience. One affordance of some VLEs is synchronous CMC, which could be used in class to encourage shyer learners to participate. I would like to try starting a discussion in pairs, face to face, then invite the students to post their ideas to Edmodo. I can then display the posts on the IWB to give feedback, or the discussion could continue beyond the lesson.

Quizlet

I have also started using Quizlet with most of my classes to act as a student storage space for lexis. This has received mixed reactions, Adult classes took to it immediately, but surprisingly my teenage learners have not. I think I need to find a way to integrate it into lessons more to highlight its usefulness and give it more relevance. Quizlet generates games based on the lexis you input but it lacks a real social element, which might also explain why my younger learners are disinterested.

My learning with Quizlet, Popplet and the Wiki

Seeing as I was trying out these web 2.0 tools with my learners, I thought I might as well use them too. I have therefore set up a Quizlet set for lexis related to digital technologies and a Popplet mind map for web 2.0 tools to encourage collaboration. Our tutor has also provided a Wiki page for us to use as we please. I am unfamiliar with Wiki pages so I am trying to experiment with it as much as possible to get some experience. So far I have created a page for digital lesson ideas, a page for video and text-based content related to the course, and added links to the Popplet and Quizlet set mentioned above. From what I can tell Wikis provide a storage space for all our ideas, notes and discussions, but so far most of the interaction has taken place on Moodle. When I become more confident with Wikis and fully understand their affordances I will experiment with my learners.

Posted in EFL

New learners or a new way of learning? Week 4.1

Our changing world

When Marc Prensky coined the terms ‘digital immigrants’ and ‘digital natives’ back in 2001, he sparked a debate which still rages today. (Prensky, 2001, p.1,2). Nowadays however, it is generally accepted that such a clear divide between ‘native’ and ‘immigrants’ is both misleading and dangerous. (R. Land & S. Bayne, 2011, p.159), (Stoerger, S. 2009, p.Conclusion). Despite this, there is little doubt that the way people live has changed dramatically since the advent of the internet. We use the internet to apply for jobs, book holidays, find somewhere to live, keep in touch with family or even to find a partner. This coupled with the widespread distribution of ever cheaper digital devices means that we are forever connected to the rest of the world.

Here’s a link for more insight into how our lives have changed:

national.deseretnews.com

Social Networks

twitter-revolution.jpg

One phenomenon of this connection has been the spread of social networks, some of which have even been held responsible for social change. Twitter, for example, has changed the way we communicate political views, breaking news, celebrity gossip and activism amongst others. (Lee, D. BBC 2013). Apart from changing how we interact with the world, some people believe our exposure to digital technologies will lead to a new type of learner owing to the increasing plasticity of the brain. (Prensky, M, 2011, p.18). Others urge caution and call for more theoretically based research to truly understand learners have changed as a result of exposure to digital technologies. (Bennet, S. & Maton, K. 2010, p.329).

Here is a video of Marc Prensky arguing, amongst other things,  for the case that digital technologies are changing our minds:

So, is our exposure to digital technologies really having an impact on the way people learn?

Growing up with it

Children growing up now have never known a world without digital technologies and the internet. This technology permeates every corner of their lives, from when they are stuck in front of a YouTube video as a baby to when they copy and paste a thesis from a google search. This ‘growing up’ with digital technology must surely invoke certain expectations from education. Another major change in behaviour amongst the majority of the population is our approach to privacy. In a culture of sharing and openness, a large number of our students now have a photographic record or their entire lives available to their friends or the wider public. The invention of the selfie stick for smart phones can also been seen as a manifestation of our desire to document our lives and self-obsession.

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 13.54.05.png

Non-Linear learning

No matter what age, almost every student at my school has a smartphone begging them for attention with WhatsApp messages and Facebook updates throughout the day. This influx of interactive information could develop skills in prioritising and multi-tasking which in turn could lead to disinterest in more linear tasks.  Most syllabi and lesson plans do currently tend to take on a rather step by step approach to second language acquisition which might be inappropriate for our multitasking digital learners. That said, Bennet & Maton believe that we need to distinguish between knowledge acquired outside educational contexts and within them. And that a linear method of instruction may be more effective for certain subjects (2010, p.327). Adding to this, it can be equally argued that learners have always been multitasking or even that multitasking causes distraction rather than aiding learning (Bennet, S. et al. 2008, p.779).

Here is a list of interesting articles on multitasking:

journalistsresource.org

‘Digital wisdom’

These digital learners may also have new perceptions of authority, or disregard the teacher as provider of knowledge, when they have access to the wealth of information on the web. Prensky makes reference to the data stored on the web when he discusses ‘digital wisdom’. He suggests a new type of wisdom fuelled be our collective knowledge online and our ability to navigate it using critical thinking skills. (Prensky, M. 2011, p.18). It’s possible that today’s learners will not be convinced by more teacher centred approaches and may already be autonomous learners by the time they start their first language lesson. I have definitely noticed a shift in the last few years of students who feel the need to check answers on google in class.

GOOGLE_chappatt.jpg

New learners or new ways of learning

Even if the idea that there now exists a new type of learner may be hard to accept, the affordances of digital technologies do appear to offer new ways of learning. Whether or not these new opportunities support current theories of second language acquisition or require a change in pedagogy is still unclear to me.

What do you think?

References

Dave Lee, (2013) How Twitter changed the world, hashtag-by-hashtag. Pubished on BBC.com. (Viewed on 19 October 2015).http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-24802766

Bennett & K. Maton, (2010) Beyond ‘digital natives’ debate: Towards a more nuanced understanding of students’ technology experiences, Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Bennett, S., Maton, K. & Kervin, L. (2008) The “digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence. British Journal of Education Technology, 25, 5, 775-786.

Land, R. & Bayne, S. (2001 ) EDs, Digital difference: Perspectives on Online Learning, Sense Publishers, pp. 159-169.

Prensky, M. (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, MCB University Press.

Prensky, M. (2011) Deconstructing Digital Natives, Young people, Technology and the new literacies. Editor Michael Thomas Routledge; 1 edition.

Stoerger, S. (2009) The digital melting-pot: bridging the digital native-immigrant divide. First Monday. 14: 7. (html)http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2474/2243

Images

Featured image: http://betakit.com/majority-of-canadian-schools-havent-adopted-mobile-learning/(viewed 8/12/15)

Twitter http://www.ikkevold.no/2013/03/what-happens-to-social-media-after-a-twitter-revolution/ (viewed 8/12/15)

Selfie stick http://www.theverge.com/tldr/2015/2/12/8027137/watch-president-barack-obama-use-a-selfie-stick (viewed on 8/12/15)

Google https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-nbdJAOfdGlY/Tyu4y45YLgI/AAAAAAAAIyM/pK98iwfjTtA/w506-h327/GOOGLE_chappatt.jpg (viewed 8/12/15)

Video

Prensky:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wowZRDx344, Published on Feb 26, 2014 (viewed on 8/12/15)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in EFL

Tentative steps towards a digital classroom Week 3.2

Introduction

Being week three of my course in Digital Technologies for Language Teaching, I decided it was high time I actually started experimenting with the Web 2.0 tools we have been introduced to with my classes. I feel that only through first hand experience can I determine whether technology will lead us to a new pedagogy in SLA. Below I will lay out a very brief profile of the classes, the technology I used and it’s effectiveness or ineffectiveness for SLA, as I see it at this point.

Know your tools

The first class I’d like to consider consists of a a small group of teenagers at C1.1 level (CEFR). The aim of this part of the lesson was to raise awareness of twenty lexical items related to globalisation. Students were required to categorise the Lexis and add it to a mind-map. I decided to use Padlet on the IWB and students’ mobile phones, instead of board markers and the whiteboard. My rationale was to set up a mind map that would be available to the students online and therefore outside class.

Unfortunately, I had not spent enough time getting to know the software and its affordances and I quickly realised that I was using the wrong tool for the job. I was drawn to Padlet because of its apparent ease of use, allowing me to invite contributions using a QR code or password. However, Padlet is not as versatile as Popplet for mind-mapping, it seems to act more as a notice board. Due to this error on my part, I cannot evaluate the effectiveness of Padlet for SLA. That said, I have learnt a valuable lesson, make sure you know your tools!

A difficult class

The second class were a group of younger teenagers, aged 11 to 13 at B1.1(CEFR) with considerable behaviour issues. The aim of this lesson was to review tenses studied the previous year and develop speaking skills. The final activate (ESA) activity was to record a celebrity interview on laptops. I decided to use students’ mobile phones and google to help students generate ideas for their invented celebrities. I also hoped that recording the students would develop spoken accuracy due to increased planning time, rehearsal and the ability to listen and re-record their performance.

Voice recording

Whereas in the past similar activities with this group bore fruit to only short lived interactions, recording students led to at least twenty minutes of oral production in the target language. This is definitely a use of technology I feel should be exploited more seeing as most of us now carry portable recording devices in our pockets.

Mobile phones

Some of the behavioural issues of this group were related to inappropriate mobile phone use, so I was concerned about using them. I therefore gave the students a time limit for their research by using the timer tool on ActivStudio and got them to work in pairs on one device. Despite my concerns, The students stayed on task and managed to collect a wide range of data to use as inspiration. My conclusion is that clearly defined use of mobile phones in class can enhance SLA by tapping into resources from the collective knowledge of the internet.

A community of learners

The last class I would like to focus on is an adult class at C2.1 level (CEFR). Recently with my classes I have taken on a more flipped approach to learning by asking students to research a topic or watch a video before a lesson. Students would then bring in articles, discuss them in class and share new ideas and lexis. However, students rarely read or watched each other’s findings due to limited class time. For this reason, I decided to set up an Edmodo class to encourage interaction and perhaps transform the group into a community of learners. The first assignment is to find a video on ‘change’, comment on it and comment on at least two comments of other students. I have only just done this so I cannot comment on its effectiveness but I am looking forward to seeing what happens.

Posted in EFL

Blake’s four technological myths Week 3.1

Below is my reflection on ‘The four myths about technology and L2 acquisition’ from Brave New Digital Classroom(Robert J. Blake, 2013 p9)

Technology is Monolithic

I bought my first smart phone about one year ago and I had resisted owning a more basic mobile phone for years before that. The main reasons were for fears of radioactive waves and all the hypnotised mobile zombies I saw on the train everyday. It was my students that finally convinced me to up-grade my life by showing me all the things you could do with mobiles in class.

I have definitely met teachers who refuse to engage with digital technologies or see them as having a negative effect on SLA. They feel that the use of the IWB, laptops and other devices, creates barriers or an unwelcome distraction. After initially getting irritated by mobile use in class, I eventually started to take advantage of their ubiquity and affordances for SLA.

Another aspect that fuels teacher resistance is the unreliability of equipment or Wi-Fi connection. This has been an issue in recent years in my school and has caused me to shy away from internet based lessons. Instead, I tend to use the internet spontaneously to bring up a map, image, online dictionary or YouTube video. This makes me feel more comfortable as I am not reliant on the Wi-Fi connection.

Technology constitutes a methodology

At the moment I agree with Blake when he describes technology as a tool that is ‘theoretically and methodologically neutral'(Robert J. Blake, 2013 p.9) but I am open to the idea that this might change in the future. For example, Cambridge exams are now mostly computer-based, meaning that students with a better grasp of digital literacies might have an advantage. Strategies for receptive skills need to be reconsidered, students can no longer highlight key words or underline answers in the text. As for productive skills, students need to type in answers and are able to edit their text more easily. All of this will have a technologically positive backwash effect on any Cambridge exam course, but it also means that teachers who do not engage in technology might be failing their students.

Today’s technology is all we need to know

Last year my school introduced Google Docs as an option for storing and sharing student work. Unfortunately, due to problems with the Wi-Fi and the procedure for using laptops I never really explored it and still have uncertainties about cloud computing. Technology is changing very fast and it is easy to get out of touch, that said can see patterns in the types of apps or websites that are being created. I think that understanding the general concept behind common Web 2.0 tools like social networks, VLEs, MOOCs, blogs and wikis, helps you identify how new applications can be used for SLA.

Technology will replace teachers

Again, I think I agree with Blake’s idea that ‘teachers who use technology will probably replace teachers who do not'(Robert J. Blake, 2013 p.9). However, in practice I often see digitally literate teachers using technology ineffectively. This is especially true when it comes to the use of linear 150 slide PowerPoint presentations which offer little flexibility and take hours to prepare. So I would change Blake’s message to; teachers who use technology effectively will probably replace teachers who do not.

References

Robert J. Blake, (2013) Brave New Digital Classroom. Washington DC (Georgetown University Press.

Featured image

Robert J. Blake, (2013) Brave New Digital Classroom. Washington DC (Georgetown University Press.

 

Posted in EFL

Digital trees Week 2.4

Learning from other contexts

Harry Kuchah from the University of Bath gave a very interesting talk at Iatefl in 2015 entitled ELT in difficult circumstances in which he touched on learner agency. He describes the over-flowing classrooms and lack of resources in sub-Saharan Africa and the way he dealt with these difficulties. His approach was take the students out of the classroom and put them in small groups under trees. Each group would have a designated teacher who would find material and design tasks around them. Harry’s job was to monitor the students and make sure that the material was appropriate for the syllabus. His solutions taught him the following, amongst others; ‘learners are partners’, ‘learners have a variety of talents’, ‘learners are resources and resource providers’. (Kuchah, H. Iatefl 2015).

Digital trees

Harry’s approach not only struck me as being highly effective in any context, but also as a metaphor for the online classroom or digital classroom. In the classroom the trees would be workstations with computers and groups working on different tasks while in the online world the trees could be groups working on a Wiki page. Unfortunately, outside many classrooms and lecture halls there is no space, or trees for that matter, but most classrooms in the developed world can take advantage of the affordances of computers/devices and a Wi-Fi connection to foster learner agency.

References

Harry Kuchah, ELT in difficult circumstances. (Presented at Iatefl in Manchester 2015)

https://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2015/session/plenary-harry-kuchah

Posted in EFL

What is a ‘facilitator’ in ELT? Week 2.3

I will try to answer the above question using my handy A-Z of ELT by Scott Thornbury!

The facilitator

The general idea is that the teacher is not directly responsible for learning, the teacher’s role is to aid learning by creating the right conditions. Thornbury states that the idea of the teacher as facilitator comes from humanist educational theory and critical pedagogy. Both of which I need to look into more. One consequence of acting as facilitator is that of increased learner agency, whereby learners take a more active role in the learning process rather than acting as passive receivers. One example of this in practice given in the A-Z of ELT is community language learning. (Thornbury, S. an A-Z of ELT, Macmillan, 2006).

Learner agency

From my experience, when there is more learner agency, students are more engaged and learning is more personalised. In a way, the tutorial I had on Adobe Connect last Friday was an example of facilitation and increased learner agency. The initial material for discussion was provided by the teacher before the session on Moodle, taking a flipped classroom approach. The teacher then used comments from the discussion forum to structure the tutorial. As we discussed our views, the students and the teacher had the opportunity to notice gaps in our understanding or use of terminology. The teacher then helped us by eliciting notions, asking questions and uploading a pdf file for extra support. In my opinion, this is far more engaging than simply being told the facts in a passive, one-way ‘traditional’ lecture format.

References

(Thornbury, Scott. an A-Z of ELT, Macmillan Publishers Limited, 2006)

Posted in EFL

Personalisation as an affordance of digital technologies Week 2.2

Personalisation

Sir Ken Robinson in his book ‘creative schools’ argues that while personalisation is on the increase in commercial sectors it is often missing in education. Yet it is in education that catering for multiple intelligences, different interests and pace of learning are of utmost importance. (Robinson, K. Allen Lane 2015).

Disillusioned by the MOOC

Ronnie Burt argues in his blog that recent developments in online education, namely MOOCs, tend to promote a more teacher-centred approach with a pre-defined course path and little or no room to respond to learner needs. He criticises the approach MOOCs often take to learning, using video lectures and reading lists to deliver content which is then tested at the end of each module through quizzes or “drill and kill exercises”. (Burt, R. Edublogs Jul 23, 2013).

The EFL world

In regard to the EFL world, there are a multitude of course books with pre-defined syllabi, which can be equally restrictive. That said, I would hope that few teachers follow their course book page by page. This should also apply to MOOCs which I see as a tool for learning not an approach. One of the key elements behind student success is engagement and motivation. If the syllabus has no room for personalisation, students will soon lose interest in their studies and may even stop coming to class. According to Wikipedia, this is exactly what is happening with MOOCs, completion rates are lower than 10%. (1). Despite this rather pessimistic data, this may well be due to the fact that most MOOCs are free or offer no official accreditation rather than the approach teachers are taking.

The affordances of technology

Joe Dale in his article for the Guardian, paints a far rosier picture of technology-enhanced learning and states that the affordances of technology allow for greater creativity, collaboration and personalisation. Dale gives examples of making films, animation, blogging, recording audio and video conferencing to back up his claims. Despite this, Dale suggests that a large number of teachers only use technology for technology’s sake and fail to promote higher order skills.  Finally, Dale sums up his argument by saying that effective technology-enhanced learning ultimately depends on the pedagogy that a teacher employs. (Dale, J. Guardian 2013). I also currently believe that technology is a neutral tool, it has no pedagogy attached to it, and like any tool it can be used well or misused. Nevertheless, due to the personalisation and choice we all enjoy in our digital worlds, some educators might need to up-date/transform their approach to meet learners’ expectations.

References

Joe Dale, Are language teachers leading the way with education technology. (The Guardian Thursday 16 May 2013 07.00 BST)

http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2013/may/16/language-teachers-technology-social-media

Ronnie Burt (Edublogs Jul 23, 2013)

http://www.theedublogger.com/2013/07/23/moocs-and-online-teaching/

Ken Robinson. Creative Schools, (USA, Allen Lane 2015)

(1)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massive_open_online_course#Completion_rates

Date visited (5/10/15)