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The iChild: Young learners and digital technologies

Girl sat at computer smilingNicky Hockly has been involved in EFL teaching and teacher training since 1987. She is Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E, an online teacher training and development consultancy. She is the prize-winning author of several books about language teaching and technology, most recently Focus on Learning Technologies (OUP, 2016). We look forward to hosting Nicky’s talk at this year’s IATEFL conference in Glasgow.

Children and teenagers today can mostly be found staring into screens. Mobile devices, PlayStations and Xboxs, even the occasional laptop… today’s youngsters spend a significant amount of their time interacting with and via a range of digital devices. And because of this, the argument goes, digital technologies should be increasingly present in the English language classroom. The general feeling is that teachers should be using these technologies to enhance their teaching and to increase their students’ motivation, both in and outside of class.  However, one essential question – Do digital technologies actually help students learn? – is not always asked. Arguably this is because the answer is less than clear.

Why is this? One reason is that it is very difficult to make comparisons across studies, when research is carried out in different contexts with very different groups of students, with different teachers, using different technologies and tools, and with widely differing aims and task types.

Sometimes studies on exactly the same area (such as using blogs to improve teenage EFL students’ writing skills) show differing results – in some cases blogs appear to be effective in doing this (1), while in other cases it doesn’t seem to make any difference (2). But it’s worth bearing in mind that research studies tend to be self-selective. Researchers will often only publish studies that show positive results – those that show negative or contradictory results may never make it to publication. And although researchers try to avoid it, they are inevitably biased towards positive outcomes in their own studies. All of this means that it’s difficult to make sweeping generalisations such as ‘Technology helps students learn English better’ or even more nuanced statements such as ‘Blogging helps adolescent EFL students improve their writing skills’.

Where does this leave us? For me, the important point is that we need to be critical users of digital technologies, and critical readers of research in the field. We need to be particularly wary of techno-centric views of technology that claim that the latest hardware/software/game/app/program will somehow magically help our students learn English ‘better’. In short, we need to be critically aware consumers of new technologies – both as users ourselves, and as teachers interested in using digital technologies with our own young learners and teenagers.

References

(1) Raith, T. (2009). The use of weblogs in education. In Thomas, M. (Ed.). Handbook of research on web 2.0 and second language learning (pp. 274-91). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

(2) Sercu, L. (2013). Weblogs in foreign language education: Real and promised benefits. Proceedings of INTED2013, 7th International Technology, Education and Development Conference, Valencia, Spain, pp. 4355-66.


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8 tips to help implement technology use in your classroom

shutterstock_198926996Oliver has taught a wide variety of students at the kindergarten, primary, secondary and adult level and is now one of OUP’s Educational Services Managers. In his more than 20 years spent living and working in Asia, he has created and delivered Professional Development workshops and seminars for thousands of teachers in countries across the region.

Educators are often asking themselves, ‘why should we engage with technology in the classroom?’ One of the key reasons is that technology provides valuable learning opportunities for educators which can then be applied to ensure technology is adopted in a cost effective, pedagogically sound way that is more likely to lead to learning.

To help illustrate this, let me tell you a story.

“…and this is our language lab!” the English teacher said, as she opened the door.

I was ushered into a large room with TV monitors hanging from the ceiling, a stage, a giant screen, and a console with lots of buttons and switches. As a brand new teacher at a secondary school in Japan, this was my first exposure to a well-equipped language lab in my workplace.

It was also almost my last.

Over the next three years we used those facilities for classes only two to three times annually. Each class would be led into the room and shown part of an English language film for 20-40 minutes. I will never forget the initial excitement among the majority of the students when they first started watching the film, or the boredom or disappointment among some students that set in during the course of the lesson by the time they left. To my knowledge, the language department never used that room for any other purpose during my time there.

So, on reflection, what were the lessons from this?

  • Valuable, limited class time for language learning can be wasted on technology and activities with little impact.
  • Student enthusiasm can be wasted by misuse of technology.
  • Valuable financial resources that could be used better for other purposes can be wasted on hardware and software.

Even though that was the mid-1990’s and technology in education in much of the world has marched on from the “language lab” (most of us carry powerful multimedia computers in our pockets!), I feel that these lessons still hold true. Yet, as more policy makers, schools and teachers look to implement technology there needs to be more focus before decisions are made on what technology should be used and how. Technology has great potential as a tool for language learning, but that without adequate pre-planning, teacher education and educator-led testing and research this potential can be wasted.

With this in mind, I’d like to offer some approaches that schools or even individual educators should consider taking before school-wide adoption of technology in classrooms.

Before using widely:

  1. Have a clearly defined plan for introducing technology at the school and class level, reviewing its effectiveness over time, and evaluating whether it has been successful (or not) against the original goals.
  2. Identify everyone who will be affected by the technology. Consult with them to get buy in about the potential benefits of the technology, and what it can and cannot do. (The latter is particularly important). This includes IT departments, parents, students and school leadership.
  3. Plan for sustained teacher education and training, both on general pedagogical principles around technology use in class AND the actual tools that teachers are expected to use. This should be regular and ideally involve sharing between teachers in your school so it is practical and relevant to your specific situation.
  4. Double check you have the right infrastructure in place to use the intended technology. If there are going to be tablets with wireless connections, is your network reliable?

When first using in class:

  1. Try the technology in a limited way. What works well? What doesn’t? Does it fulfil your goals?
  2. Take a long term view to using technology successfully. Just as you would when trying any new activity, be prepared for challenges and failure, but see these as learning opportunities.
  3. Don’t assume a technology is “easy to use” for students. This can vary depending on the age of the learner, their personal experience and their language level. (You will have heard a lot about younger students being digital natives, but contrary to popular opinion, that doesn’t mean young students are automatically interested in technology, or know how to use it effectively or responsibly).
  4. Take a critical approach to the use of technology. This should be on both a strategic and daily basis. Ensure that there are clear benefits to using the technology over more traditional forms of media.

There is no doubt that technology has an exciting and influential role to play in language education both in and outside of the classroom. Therefore teachers, publishers and policy makers have an essential role to play in working together. We should ensure we maximize the opportunities for students to learn effectively, however and whatever technology they use, with as little wasted time, effort and resources as is possible.

 

 

References:

Tablets and Apps in Your School, Best Practice for Implementation (Diana Bannister and Shaun Wilden)

Focus on Learning Technologies. Nicky Hockly, Oxford Key Concepts for The Language Learning Classroom (Oxford University Press)

Technology Enhanced Language Learning. Goodith White and Aisha Walker (Oxford University Press)


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Easy, motivating and meaningful ways of using digital tech in the classroom

shutterstock_287594936James Styring taught English and Spanish to students of all ages and levels. He also ran teacher-training sessions and was an oral examiner for the Cambridge PET, FCE and CAE exams. James worked for ten years in editorial roles at OUP before becoming a freelance author. He has written more than 50 ELT titles. He joins us today to preview his upcoming webinar, ‘Easy, motivating and meaningful ways of using digital tech in the classroom’, taking place on August 24th and 25th.

How do ‘screenagers’ learn?

Everyone born in the last 15–20 years (AKA Generation Z) has grown up in the digital age. Tablets and smartphones are not an add-on but an essential part of daily life, something Generation Z has never lived without. Generation Z expects wifi and 4G as a basic need, the same as an expectation of running water and electricity for older generations. Trying to engage a classroom of Generation Z students doesn’t always hit the mark if a vital component of their life is missing: their digital side. ‘Screenagers’ and young adults miss the devices through which their life is mediated. Success with this generation depends on appropriating the students’ digital world and deploying it in valid ways in the classroom.

As teachers, what’s of interest to us are the character traits of Generation Z. What do we know about Generation Z and their learning style? They may have less-developed social skills than older generations, as they stumble along the pavement catching Pokémon. They like communicating in bite-sized messages and they’re masters of multi-tasking. This means they respond well to classes which involve a variety of inputs and a varied pace.

How can teachers help screenagers?

The webinar looks at how teachers can vary interaction patterns and pairings, mimicking students’ everyday communicative experience of flitting between Instagram and Twitter and WhatsApp within seconds and without missing a beat. Mimicking these patterns in class can stop itchy feet and dispel boredom. One way of achieving this is bringing classes to life digitally. Most teachers know this but many feel overwhelmed by the proliferation of ‘digital’ in TEFL. The blogosphere is alive with talk of LMSs and MOOCs and big data. ‘Digital’ can quite quickly start to feel alienating and off-putting, not to mention time-consuming and expensive to implement, as you imagine your school spending thousands on tablets or on access to a digital platform.

Well, the good news is that you don’t need any of that. There are lots of classroom activities that you can do for free and often with zero preparation utilising the phones or tablets that most students already have in their schoolbags. You can achieve meaningful outcomes from students taking out their tablets or smartphones (or even older ‘feature’ phones) and using them as a natural part of the lesson. All you need is an open mind and a little imagination. The reason for doing this is not some sort of gimmick. It’s a reaction to who we’re teaching. On average, Generation Z-ers reach for their device every seven minutes during the day to check status updates, to read messages, to post comments, and so on. There are pedagogically worthwhile reasons for having students get their phones out during class for a range of activities. So rather than battling through lessons with students feeling twitchy because they’re desperate to look at their phones, free the phone instead.

To hear more, join my webinar on 24th and 25th August. I hope you’ll also feel comfortable in sharing your own experiences of digital and contributing ideas for making it work.

register-for-webinar

 


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25 ideas for using WhatsApp with English language students

shutterstock_287594936Philip Haines is the Senior Consultant for Oxford University Press, Mexico. As well as being a teacher and teacher trainer, he is also the co-author of several series, many of which are published by OUP.  Today he joins us to provide 25 engaging and useful classroom activities for language learners using WhatsApp.

There are three main obstacles to the use of technology in ELT. First is the availability of technology and internet connection in the classroom. Second is teacher techno-phobia. The final, and perhaps the biggest problem, is knowing how to use it for language learning purposes.

WhatsApp or similar messaging services can help overcome these obstacles. If our classrooms are not well equipped, we can take advantage of the technology that students have on their phones, even if there is no internet available in class. Many activities can be set up by the teacher and extended beyond the classroom when students later link to Wi-Fi. Alternatively, students can show each other their phones at different stages of activities.

Many self-confessed, techno-phobic teachers that I know use WhatsApp on a regular basis in their private lives, so already feel quite comfortable with it. However, the trick is to set up activities that make students do all the work without the teacher needing to share contact details. Each student need to have a WhatsApp buddy in the class who they communicate with via WhatsApp and carry out the activities.

Here are 25 ideas of how to make good use of WhatsApp for language learning. WhatsApp was the starting point for these ideas, but teachers will see that other applications and messaging services will work just as well. For these activities I make use of the following five features: text, photo, video, audio and emoji.

whatsapp1

whatsapp2whatsapp3


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#IATEFL – The digital classroom: change of medium or change of methodology?

shutterstock_198926996Stacey Hughes, an Oxford teacher trainer with 20 years teaching experience, joins us to preview her upcoming talk at IATEFL, ‘The digital classroom: change in medium or change in methodology’, held on Friday 15th April at 3.30pm.

Today’s e-coursebooks and e-readers offer learners a range of tools that can enhance the learning experience, but is using an e-book really different? Does it require a different methodology? Does it have an impact on classroom management?  What are the benefits an e-book can offer?

First let’s think about a fairly standard lesson that uses a coursebook. You probably spend some time with students paying attention to you or to a listening track or video, some time with students working in pairs or groups, some time with them working alone. E-books don’t change that dynamic:

digital1

If we are happy with the scenario in the left column above, why should we bother changing? Why introduce e-books? Firstly, e-books can add flexibility: in the above scenario, teacher could choose to allow students to listen to the audio track on their own with headphones or in pairs.  Secondly, e-books have some features that can be beneficial to students. For example, students could listen to a graded reader and read along. They can speed up or slow down the audio or pause it and rewind to listen to a section again. Some students might even replay a section again and record themselves at the same time in order to compare their intonation or pronunciation of words.

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Another reason for using e-books is that they are on tablets where students can also keep other learning resources: a learner’s dictionary, all their e-readers, and educational apps are a few good examples. Of course, with tablets and a wifi connection, students can use the internet to do webquests for projects that really open up and contextualize learning.

What about classroom management? Of all the fears that teachers say they have regarding introducing technology into the classroom, classroom management ranks highly.  However, managing a class with e-books need not be any different from managing a class with more familiar tools. The same management principles apply.

At my workshop at IATEFL, I’ll be asking teachers to think about some of the things they do in their class now before looking at some of the functionality of e-coursebooks and e-readers on Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf. We will talk about classroom management and think about how a class might look using an e-book. I hope you can join me!