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Making Your Digital Classroom More Interactive

Zuhal Aydin takes a look at some popular resources you can use in your classroom to make it more interactive for your students

In recent years ELT researchers  have  become increasingly interested in designing digital classrooms and an inter-connected web-centric world. There has been a spate of interest in cutting-edge technology. To ‘digitize’ a classroom means to implement technology into the classroom. The teaching techniques have to catch up to the new pace of learning.

There is a huge need to involve learners in communicative activities. Web technology is changing rapidly every day and the Internet has become an important part of life for people all over the world. The powers of technology are constantly improving. The implementation of technology integrated method language learning has brought some serious changes that can be benefited from. In this interactive environment we try to involve the students into the classroom and we incorporate blended learning. This is a combination of interactive digital learning. You can enhance reading, writing skills in an authentic real world context and provide opportunity for creativity. Learners can communicate easily and collaborate with other students. Unlike a teacher-led classroom, students can participate in an active way.

Teachers can use technology to enable students to meet people of different cultures, explore new worlds, do source research. In this case these materials appeals to students and motivate them. It opens up a new world for the students. It creates  flexible learning paths in learners’ minds. Teachers as  facilitators try to involve learners in the class by using Web 2.0 tools.

Here are some great tools which you can use to digitize your classroom:

  1. FutureMe – This is a website about writing letters to your future self. The student registers and writes something about their life so that they’ll practice writing in English.
  2. Penzu – Penzu is a simple online tool for creating a personal journal.
  3. Storybird – This is about digital story telling. You as teachers can create digital stories and you can read these stories in your class. You can also create one account for your class as well. The students will enjoy it!
  4. Animoto – Here you can create videos to share in your classroom. You can upload some photos for these videos and any kind of music to accompany it.
  5. Staged Project – A digital tool for creating animated comics. You can make your stories easier to read and understand.
  6. Voice Thread – Digital storytelling program that enables users to upload pictures or documents.
  7. Domo Animate – Animations to bring students more fun in their learning.
  8. Little Bird Tales – Capture your student’s voice with a creative story and share them with their family and friends.
  9. Vocaroo – Voice recording service.
  10. Soundcloud – Share your sounds!

How do you digitize your classroom? What resources do you use?

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Teaching ‘screenagers’ – how the digital world is changing learners

Ahead of his talk at IATEFL 2012 with co-author Tim Falla about how best to exploit currently available digital resources, Paul Davies looks at how the digital world is changing learners.

The term screenager was coined 15 years ago by the author Douglas Rushkoff in his book Playing the Future. He used the term to refer to young people who have been reared from infancy on a diet of TV, computers and other digital devices. On the surface, screenager is just another mildly-annoying made-up word, like edutainment and infomercial. Look deeper, however, and the word contains a clear implication: that teenagers are somehow more different than they used to be because their brains have been permanently altered by constant exposure to technology.

In the media, headline writers love to seize on reports which appear to confirm that implication. “Facebook and Bebo risk ‘infantilizing’ the human mind,” warned the Guardian on 24th February 2009; “How the internet is rewiring our brains,” lectured the Daily Mail on 7th June 2010; “Web addicts have brain changes,” claimed the BBC news site on 11th January 2012.

But go to the primary sources and you’ll find that very few of these studies actually claim to show what the headline writers claim they claim. For example, while the study of web addicts did indeed show their brains were different from non-addicts, the differences are just as likely to explain their addiction as be caused by it. The researchers took no ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures of the addicts’ brains and could therefore make no claims about changes – but you would never know that from the media coverage.

Perhaps it is not surprising that newspapers should have a grudge against today’s teenagers (who don’t buy them) and against the internet (which is killing them off). So, claims which reflect badly on both are given top billing. When Susan Greenfield, the Oxford-based brain scientist, recently suggested a link between the Internet and autism, it was splashed over several front pages. But again, the headlines turned out to be misleading and Greenfield later clarified her position: “I point to the increase in autism and I point to internet use. That’s all.”

Not all the headlines are negative, of course. Some claim that modern technology has boosted young people’s cognitive skills and ‘rewired’ their brains (whatever that means) in positive ways. Today’s youngsters are supreme multi-taskers with brains that are more active and more efficient than previous generations. They may appear to lack focus, or be unable to concentrate, but that’s because we adults don’t quite get what they’re like. In fact, they’re fully evolved to live in a digital environment which has, to a greater or lesser extent, left us behind. Personally, I find these positive claims more refreshing, but the science behind them is equally shaky.

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The digital age of teaching: It’s time to evolve!

Woman looking at computerHaving taught us that you don’t need to be a digital expert to teach with digital, Shaun Wilden, a freelance teacher trainer and materials writer for OUP, discusses how embracing the digital age can help you and your students.

As teachers, our role needs to evolve from being the ‘fount’ and the ‘model’ to that of helper and guide. We need to link our classroom practice with the wider world, accept that the four walls are gone, and show students how to extend coursebook topics into the real world.  At the same time, we should acknowledge that for students to attain their full language learning potential it is important to let them loose on their own. Let them find out what works best for them.

I am sure we all agree that no matter how good a teacher we are, learning doesn’t take place solely within one lesson; we’d be fooling ourselves if we finished a 60-minute vocabulary lesson thinking our students would remember every word. Research indicates that 80 percent of learning is lost within 24 hours of the initial learning and yet, no matter how often we try to convey to students that opening their notebooks a little each day will help, we often seem to be fighting a losing battle.

But that’s understandable. With busy lives, students can be forgiven for not always opening their notebooks to study, or for not having their notebooks with them when they do have a moment. That’s life.

However, this is another area where digital material can help. Publishers now provide support to students in different ways. With workbook materials on CD-ROMs or online, students can load the material on to their computers and do the exercises in a five-minute break instead of having to remember where they put their paper notebook. Even the student who says they are too busy to study is running out of excuses. Listening materials, for example, can now be put on to mp3 players and Smartphones so students can learn on the move. And, of course, there’s a myriad of mobile learning apps now available.

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The digital age of teaching: You don’t need to be a digital expert

College student using computerShaun Wilden, a freelance teacher trainer and materials writer for OUP, gives us an insight into the role of the teacher in the digital age, as well as a reminder that you don’t need to know everything!

Twenty-first century teaching is no longer about the four walls of the classroom. There was a time when a learner of English had to rely almost solely on what went on within those walls. A really motivated learner might have been able to listen to the BBC World Service, see a film in English and, if they could afford it, buy an English newspaper or book, but the teacher’s role in the students’ language learning was key – they were the fount of all knowledge, the model for the language, the ‘one true source’. The classroom provided the space for the once, perhaps twice weekly, forays into an English-speaking world.

But that was before the coming of the digital age. Now, thanks to the Internet and the advent of digital media, a shift is happening in language learning and it’s a time for teachers to be excited, to embrace their new roles, and to watch and help as learning English moves into a new era.

Any technophobes out there might be tempted to stop reading, but before you do, consider this. Teaching has always adapted to its circumstances methodologically and physically, moving from lecture to pair work and from translation to communication, for example. Likewise, we have always tried to make the best use of any materials that we could get our hands on – from slate to whiteboards, from hand-written postcards to authentic magazine articles, from radio recordings through to DVDs.

Why do we do this?  Because we realize our students have needs and interests that run beyond the classroom. If we can spark that interest, we spark motivation. A motivated student is a better learner. And the digital age has given us the greatest opportunity yet to motivate our learners so they will engage with English in a way that most interests them and best suits the way they learn.

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Not Digital ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’

Laptop on legs on the grassMany of us have heard of the so-called Digital Natives / Immigrants divide (if not, read Digital Natives: Fact or Fiction?). In this post, David White, a researcher at Technology-Assisted Lifelong Learning (TALL), an award-winning e-learning research and development group in the University of Oxford, introduces us to an alternative distinction: that of Digital Visitors and Residents.

At TALL, we have been taking a close look not at what technologies our students use but at how they use them. We found that our students could not be usefully categorised as Digital Natives or Digital Immigrants – i.e. this distinction does not help guide the implementation of technologies, it simply provides the excuse that “some people ‘just don’t get it’ which is why your new approach has failed so badly…”

Anyway, our students’ appropriation of online services did not seem to follow a simple pattern based on skill level. It seemed to depend on whether they saw the web as a ‘place to live’ or as a collection of useful tools. This underlying motivation led us to outline two main categories of distance learning student.

The ‘Resident’

The resident is an individual who lives a percentage of their life online. The web supports the projection of their identity and facilitates relationships. These are people who have a persona online which they regularly maintain. This persona is normally primarily in a social networking sites but it is also likely to be in evidence in blogs or comments, via image sharing services etc. The Resident will, of course, interact with all the practical services such as banking, information retrieval and shopping etc but they will also use the web to socialise and to express themselves. They are likely to see the web as a worthwhile place to put forward an opinion. They often use the web in all aspects of the of their lives; professionally, for study, and for recreation. In fact, the resident considers that a certain portion of their social life is lived out online. The web has become a crucial aspect of how they present themselves and how they remain part of networks of friends or colleagues.

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