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Video cameras in the hands of learners

Asian woman using video cameraJamie Keddie, author of Bringing Online Video into the Classroom, looks at the benefits of handing over control of the video camera to students. Jamie will be hosting a webinar on this topic on 15th and 16 April.

Filmed presentations

Anyone who is involved in rail transport will know that stopping trains at stations wastes time, energy and money. Unfortunately, it is also necessary to let passengers on and off! Today, your students are highly-creative problem solvers. Their task is to work in small groups to design a high-speed train which doesn’t have to stop at stations, but which still allows passengers to alight and disembark.

After sharing ideas and reaching a consensus, each group prepares to present their solution to the rest of the class. This involves creating diagrams to reinforce ideas. When they give their presentations, you sit at the back of the classroom and film their performances.

Later, you show students the following video which illustrates an idea for a train which doesn’t have to stop at stations:

From teacher’s to students’ hands

Filming presentations and other performances can be a great way to motivate students and document their work. However, in the activity described above, the technology stayed firmly in the teacher’s hands. The result of this could be missed opportunities for student creativity, interaction, and learning.

By giving control of the video cameras to students, the activity could have been completely different. Rather than the traditional speaking-at-the-front-of-the-class format, groups of students could find their own quiet corners (either in or out of the classroom) and work together to create a video in which individuals communicate their group’s idea to the camera. The resulting videos can then be delivered to the teacher and later played on the classroom projector for everyone to see and comment on.

Group of adults watching class presentation

Here are some thoughts about why this second option may be favourable:

1. Students’ own devices

In many situations, students will come to class with video cameras already in their hands! Smartphones and tablet computers both have video-recording functions which are perfectly adequate for the classroom.

2. An open learning space

If students make use of their own video devices, the filming process can extend to outside the classroom. Assignments in which students create videos for homework become possible.

3. Less stress for students

Speaking English in class can be stressful enough for many students. When the teacher points a video camera at such learners, the experience can be even more intimidating. The camera may be less daunting in the hands of a classmate.

4. Technological control means creative control

If students control the technology, they can get creative. For example, they may want to think carefully about the filming location or props to include in the frame. They may also want to edit their work, include close-ups of visuals, decide what to leave in, decide what to take out, add credits, etc. In addition, with control of the technology, students can go at their own pace. They can film as and when they are ready. They can also do more than one ‘take’ in order to get the result that they are looking for.

5. Content ownership

Digital content is notoriously ‘slippery’. It does not deteriorate with time and can easily fall into unintended hands. Understandably, students may be concerned about what happens to videos that you create in the classroom. When students make use of their own video devices, they automatically become owners of the content. This can make the process less intimidating. In addition, if you would like students to share their videos online, they can choose to do so on their preferred video-sharing site.

6. Parental permission

Permission to film younger learners and teens can be easier to obtain if we can demonstrate to parents that we want them to make use of their own video-recording devices in and out of the classroom. As well as the ownership issue mentioned above, we can ask parents to take an active role in the video production process. For example, if we want students to upload their work, parents could monitor video content first before giving the go-ahead.

7. Reduced workload for the teacher

Perhaps the most important point to make! Tablets and smartphones can be regarded as all-in-one devices. Students can use them to create, edit and share video. There is no need to transfer video files from one machine to another (camera to computer, for example), a potentially time-consuming step that many teachers will be familiar with.

8. Engaged viewing

For some inexplicable reason, most teenagers that I have worked with engage better with video presentations than with live classroom presentations (see image above). With students’ attention, we can make use of the pause and rewind buttons for language feedback. This can include drawing attention to good language and communication, and error correction.

To find out more about using video in the classroom, register for Jamie’s webinar on 15th and 16th April.


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Webinar: Apps, e-books and digital resources for Business English

Pete Sharma shares some thoughts on mobile learning in Business English from his webinar on 28th February entitled “Apps, e-books and digital resources for Business English”. You can watch a recording here.

I’m teaching two groups of students this month. They are mostly young adults, from China. As I gaze round the classroom looking at my students, I’m struck by how many of them have a smartphone. Some have tablets. They seem to have these devices in their hands all the time – sometimes checking new words, sometimes using the Internet to look something up. Sometimes, they are ‘on-task’, but more often than not, they are multi-tasking, updating their Facebook page or text-chatting with a friend – and certainly not in English!

Mobile phones have been described as a ‘disruptive technology’. If a phone rings in the classroom, the lesson is disrupted. One teacher in Brazil told me recently that mobile phones were banned by law from being used his school, in his state. Last year, I visited a college in India where the following sign is displayed in each classroom: “No mobiles!” Yet it is clear that such devices have benefits, and certainly for Business English students who often travel a lot, usually with a smartphone, tablet or laptop… or even all three!

What then are the benefits of mobile learning for Business English students? What are the drawbacks?

In my webinar, I’ll first focus on apps. There are apps for just about everything, and we’ll look at some that are especially helpful for Business English students. These include apps which are good for vocabulary development, as well as apps for developing language skills such as speaking, listening and reading.

Then, we’ll look at how using e-books can add new dimensions to language learning. I’ll be demonstrating this with a popular title from the Express Series, English for Presentations.

Finally, I’ll be focussing on some of the many technologies and digital resources which can be used by Business English teachers, including VLEs (Virtual Learning Environments).

I’ll argue that, providing we start from the ‘pedagogy’, there’s plenty that technology can offer to enhance our teaching. I hope you can join me.

Watch a recording of Pete’s webinar here.


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White paper on Tablets and Apps in School

White paper: Tablets and Apps in SchoolThere is a growing interest in using tablets in the English language classroom. Teachers are interested in them for a number of reasons. Firstly, is their potential for the higher student engagement that comes with using a device that is interactive, intuitive and with scope to use a multitude of tools for personalised learning. Teachers also appreciate the benefit of having some course components that give instant feedback to students thus saving marking time. Another compelling reason is the ease with which teachers can create lessons for classes that are more targeted to individual needs.

If you are considering using tablets with your students, our new white paper Tablets and Apps in Your School is a great place to start your journey. It supports and guides decision-makers with the who, what, why, where, and how of implementing tablets.

Download your free copy of the white paper now.

The authors, Diana Bannister, MBE and Shaun Wilden are familiar to many in the ELT world. Bannister works directly within the education sector, helping schools implement and develop learning technologies, and is working on two long-term projects focusing on the use of tablets in European schools. Wilden trains teachers in the use of new technologies, as well as writing blogs, conducting webinars, moderating the #eltchat group, and delivering talks worldwide.

Bannister and Wilden understand that, for a school leader, it’s not just a question of whether the technology will benefit the students or if the teachers want it; they also need a vision for how they will be implemented – from introduction to training to maintenance and on-going cost. In the paper, Bannister and Wilden look at the questions that leaders need to ask themselves before embarking on a tablet programme, including, “Is my school ready for tablets?” and “Which tablets do we buy?”. Importantly, they also address issues of e-safety and parental involvement.

As well as parents, teachers need to be on board and open to the idea of adjusting their classrooms for tablet use. Bannister and Wilden suggest steps to take to ensure teachers are comfortable with the new technology and outline the benefits of starting small.

Perhaps the key issue for teachers is the use of tablets and apps for good teaching and learning. How can they help students learn English better? In the final section of this paper, Bannister and Wilden address this issue by setting out some guidelines for best practice. Most importantly, they outline the key questions teachers need to ask about tablets to ensure their use fulfils learning outcomes, and give a rationale for how specific apps can fulfil specific aims.

One of the most convincing arguments for using tablets in the classroom is the possibility for students to then take that learning outside of the classroom – they can use the digital materials they are familiar with from class on their own devices at home.

Bannister and Wilden conclude that tablet use in education is moving into the mainstream, but that we are still in an evolutionary stage. They recommend that school leaders do their homework and carefully consider not just the technology, but the impact implementation will have overall.

To find out more, download the white paper now.


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9 Questions for iPad Party Poopers

Potato Pals tablet in schoolPatrick Jackson, author of the popular Potato Pals series, questions the assumption that there’s an app for everything – especially where young learners are concerned.

My son Kai went for a sleepover with his best friend Aedan last night. As we were packing his bag, he asked if he could take his iPad with him. We said he couldn’t. “You’re going to play with Aedan. You don’t need an iPad”. Shock! Horror! As far as Kai is concerned, we are totally wrong about this and have done him a great injustice. He reckons that it’s just another toy and playing with an iPad with Aedan is just like playing with Lego or running around in the garden. I think not. I even rang Aedan’s mum and asked if Aedan was going to be using his iPad. I was delighted to hear that he had already been banned for a week for some unspeakable and unnamed crime earlier in the day. I didn’t ask what. I tell you – digital parenting in suburban Dublin is a mine field!

Thank goodness technology has not yet managed to replace most of what happens in old-style play. Where it replicates it we have a poor cousin to the real thing. There are apps that you ‘run’ on and apps that you ‘paint’ on but unless you are stuck on a long car journey, neither will be as fun or valuable as the real thing.

There are well-understood reasons why kids need to play ‘naturally’. They need to socialise. They need to move. They need to be creative. They need fresh air. They need to communicate in the wonderful way that kids do when they are playing and they need to get dirty. They need to be dancing to their own wild inner drums and until the unlikely day that technology catches up with the ‘real’ world, Kai’s iPad is staying on my desk (where I can play with it) for most of the day and particularly when his friends are around.

Apps are all around though and aren’t going anywhere soon. Parents, teachers and educational administrators are dealing with these issues all over the world. In our home, we deal with it with a sophisticated and continually negotiated system of time limits, rewards, checks and balances. We hardly even understand the system ourselves.

To make it more confusing, we distinguish between educational apps and those that we consider to be a pretty good waste of time or ‘just fun’. There are many that are virtually impossible to distinguish. We are totally aware that we could be wrong about many of the calls we make. We may indeed be denying our son a future in a world where a key skill will be catapulting different types of birds at distant pigs. Anyway, our current rules allow Kai a 30-minute iPad session in the morning before school during which he is allowed to do creative or educational things. Then he gets 30 minutes of free iPad time after his homework when he can do whatever he wants. The only things we forbid completely are games that show graphic violence. Incredibly, that is not the case for all of his classmates.

For language educators, apps are a hugely valuable resource. They will increasingly become part of how languages are learned. We are now just at the beginning of the mobile age in ELT and, for better or worse, it’s only going to become a larger part of what we do. Being able to sort out the digital chaff from the grain is going to be a key skill for the language educator. Knowing when to say “No. We can do this activity better in the real world” will be important.

The danger is that educational systems will err by replacing real world activities with cheaper, cleaner, more addictive tech alternatives. The irony is that in many cases in the ‘developed’ world, giving a classroom of children more time on tablets will save the system the time, money and the trouble of organising and cleaning up after real play while creating the illusion that this is preparing them better for the 21st Century.

We need to be able to recognise when an app can do the job better and in a more compelling way, and when it can’t. Some apps definitely enrich and support learning in a valid way. Some are really just addictive eye-candy or one-offs without any real lasting depth.

So what questions should we be asking when we look at an app? What should app authors and developers be aiming for as they work on the latest educational apps? What should teachers and administrators be asking as they make these important decisions?

I’ve found myself asking a few questions while working on an app for young learners that’s just arrived at the big party going on over on the App Store.

Does this app allow students to interact with the target language in a way that would be difficult or impossible to replicate in traditional ways?

Does the app offer students opportunities to communicate with friends and family beyond the classroom using the target language; opportunities that would not exist otherwise?

Can the app deliver authentic language in a more efficient way than by traditional methods?

Can students use this app to create personalised learning that puts them at the centre of the target language and helps them to tell the story of their own lives?

Is the app going to support home study and take-home sharing, building a bridge between the classroom and the home?

Will this app develop student autonomy; helping them to take responsibility for their own learning?

Does this app deliver existing materials in a more efficient or more compelling way and does it supplement and enrich those materials?

Is the target language delivered through the app in an integrated and linked way?

Does the app use a good variety of skills and engage those skills meaningfully?

It’s great fun at the app party now but it’s wrong to believe there’s an app for everything. As parents and educators we need to be able to think clearly; know when to be party poopers and know when to jump in and join the fun.

Patrick Jackson is an ELT author and teacher. He is author of the popular Potato Pals series, which has just been released as an app for iPad. You can download one story for free from the Apple App Store, with the option to purchase 6 more stories from within the app.


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10 ways I use Google Forms in my tablet classroom

Google Drive in education

Image courtesy of TBR

Mohamed El-Ashiry takes a look at ways of using Google Forms in the classroom.

I am one of Google Forms‘ biggest fans! I have many reasons to love the service, and I use it in many different ways.

While there have been many other advantages, the biggest advantage of using Google Forms in my classroom is being able to give students immediate feedback. I often connect my tablet to the projector, and hide the column displaying the names of students submitting their responses (whether they are responding to a test, or self-assessment or peer-assessment, etc.). The students like to see the spreadsheet being populated by all their submissions. We use this as an evaluation and feedback exercise after a test or quiz, for example: we look at each question and together agree on the most accurate and well-written responses. This is also a very useful literacy-building exercise because we look at the way the best answers are structured.

In my classroom, students have had tablets (iPads) for two years now. I started using Google Forms about 18 months ago, and I keep finding new ways of using it all the time. Here are ten ways I use Google Forms in my tablet classroom (including hyperlinks to examples of each):

1. Student self-assessment

Student self-assessment is a very powerful tool in any classroom. Tablets have also made that easier, since students can ask a classmate to record a video of them presenting something. After the presentation, the students watch themselves on video and then fill in a simple self-assessment checklist that I’ve prepared on Google Forms. In this situation, the biggest advantage of Google Forms is being able to see a summary of responses in a visual format (bar graphs). This gives me an indication of which specific skills I may need to focus on a bit more in the following classes. Sharing that visual summary of responses with the students also shows the things they may have in common in terms of which skills/techniques they need to develop further or improve upon.

2. Peer assessment

Peer-assessment also plays a critical role in any classroom. Students watch their assigned peer’s presentation while using a peer-assessment checklist that I’ve prepared on Google Forms. The visual ‘summary of responses’ can also be very useful in these situations. Students then conference with each other to share their feedback. Sometimes, I ask the students to take screenshots of the peer assessment checklist before they submit it, and email that screenshot to their peer.

3. Rubrics

In my classes, whenever I assign the students a major assessment task, I show them them the rubric that will be used to assess their work. I use Google Forms to create these rubrics, and while I am marking/grading the students’ work, I just tick the relevant boxes on the rubric. All student grades would then be compiled by Google Forms in a spreadsheet. A great idea I got from my PLN is to print the whole spreadsheet and cut it into strips, then just give each student the strip that shows their marks/grades.

4. Classroom management logs

Google Forms has been a great way of documenting student merit points and rewards for positive behaviour. At the beginning of the year, I created a ‘merit points log’ and a ‘behavior management log’ on Google Forms. Then I QR-coded the links to both forms, and stuck them right next to my teacher’s desk. At the end of every lesson, I quickly scan the code and input the merit points given to the students who earned them (I write them on a chart on the board during the lesson). Additionally, if there were any discipline issues, I use the behavior management log to record the type of behavior and how I responded to it. I can also share each spreadsheet with the relevant year-level coordinators as a way of keeping records of discipline issues inside my class.

Merit points log

Behaviour management log

5. Documenting PD

Teachers are required to maintain evidence of any professional development they undertake. Sometimes, this can be a hectic task. I started this year to collect all my PD on a Google Spreadsheet. Once a PD event was finished, I would scan the QR code to access the PD log I created on Google Forms. I would write the title of the activity, a brief description of it, a brief reflection on it, and the teaching standards it satisfies. All my PD is now compiled in that one spreadsheet.

PD log

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