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Teaching English with e-books from Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf (Part 1)

teaching English language with e-books and tabletsShaun Wilden, a freelance teacher trainer and expert in online tutoring, shares his advice for teachers new to using digital coursebooks in the classroom and offers practical guidance for getting the most from the Oxford Learners’ Bookshelf.

Part 1 – Preparing for your first lesson

If you’re starting to teach with digital, tablet based coursebooks for the first time, you may be wondering how best to get your students off to a good start. With this is mind here is the first in a series of blog posts to help you get started. Following the few key steps outlined below before you start, will have you facing your first digital coursebook lesson with confidence and a clear sense of what you are going to do and achieve.

Preparing the tablets

If your school is providing the tablets, make sure that the IT person who looks after the tablets has downloaded the free Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf app (OLB). If students are bringing their own, they’ll need to download the app themselves. For iPad go to the App Store, for Android tablets go to Google Play.

iPad_add_book (2)

 

 

Students need to register with Oxford, or log in with an existing account. Having an account means that your students’ e-books are safely saved in the cloud, and students can access them via the newly launched web player at www.oxfordlearnersbookshelf.com, as well as on their tablet. This video will show you what’s changed and how to register and access your books.

If you haven’t worked with a digital book before, open the OLB app and log in and you’ll see the Bookshelf  with the books that have been added. If you don’t see your book it might not yet be downloaded from the cloud. Look at the bottom of the screen and you can alternate your view between device and cloud. If the book is in the cloud, you can tap Download to transfer it to the device.

Ideally, the e-books will have been downloaded onto the tablets before the first lesson. They are quite large files, particularly the ones with audio and video, and can take a while to download. Your students can start looking at the books as soon as they start downloading, but it may take a while before any audio or video is available.

If the tablets are ready before the class, do check your own and some of the students’ tablets are working well before your first class. This gives you a chance to go back to the IT person to sort out any hiccoughs.

Getting to know your new coursebook

Tap on the cover of the book you want and it will open. If you compare it to the paper-based version of the book then you’ll notice the content is the same. Now you can breathe a sigh of relief as you realise all those wonderful lesson plans and activities you used last year are still relevant.

I can hear you muttering, how are they still relevant, we’ve gone digital. Well, the second point to remember is that you are not going to use the tablet all the time. Most of use wouldn’t use a paper coursebook for the whole lesson so why would we change that? As I am sure you have heard before, the coursebook is one of the many tools at the disposal of the teacher, digital or not. To maximize language learning we want to encourage interaction as this leads to communication so sometimes, perhaps more often that you currently think, you’ll be asking the students to switch off the tablet. Therefore those lovely laminated cards you have to prompt discussions are still going to make an appearance at some point.

So what are the differences? Rather than turn the page, a swipe changes it. Pinching can enlarge a picture or a text, something you can’t do with paper. Remember that when you want the students to look in more detail at a photo or when the student who has visual impairments needs a bigger script.

As a I talked about in a previous blog post, for most books listening is inbuilt and some even have video. Play around, click on some of the icons on the page and see what happens. As I say to my students, you can’t break anything. By the end of your playing make sure you also know how to input text into exercises. Now think about how you are going to show your students how to do these things, will you simply let them click and discover? If you have a projector in your class, do you know how to connect your tablet so that students can see your screen? If you have Apple TV or Google Chromecast, do you know how to reflect your screen so all can see?

There is of course one other feature that you need to get to grips with, the interactive tool bar.

OLB interactive tool bar

You should see it on the screen a grey bar to the left of a page. To open it, tap the white arrow and it will appear. Personally I use this as part of the orientation process in the first lesson. So let’s move on and think of that.

Student orientation

Tablets ready, book downloaded, time for the first class. We’ll assume that the school’s administration has already gone over how they are to be used with the parents and students. So you’re entering the room tablets at the ready. I tend to prefer students sitting in groups when using tablets so I arrange desks into islands rather than in rows.

If you do this make sure everyone has sightline to the board. The first thing I would do is leave the tablets to one side. It is after all the first lesson of the year, time for students to tell you what they did in their holidays and get out their mobile phones to regal everyone with photos of whichever exotic location they spent their vacations in. Remember that students are used to doing things on their phone as most probably are you.   There is already a digital know-how to tap into. But bear in mind that it would be wrong to assume that students have touched a tablet before and therefore know how to use it. So before we get going on the digital books we need to discover what they know. In true traditional classroom style, what better way to do this than a ‘find someone who’ exercise. You know the one I mean, students have a set of statements that they walk around the class turning into questions and searching for someone who answers yes.

Here are some (for an iPad) that I show on a screen and get students to do:

Find someone who:

  1. Can switch the tablet on
  2. Take a screenshot
  3. Search the iPad
  4. Mirror the iPad through apple TV
  5. Turn up the volume
  6. Turn up or down the brightness
  7. Lock the screen’s orientation
  8. Take a photo
  9. Open an app
  10. Close an app

Give students time to circulate and try and find people. Do feedback with the class, now is a good time to hand out the tablets so students can teach each other. This is where sitting in islands aids peer teaching. You can ‘check’ students are getting comfortable with the tablet by walking round to each island, offering advice and helping as necessary.

After this task, I get the students to put the tablets down, give them some paper (yes paper!) and ask them to come up with a list of rules / limits for classroom use of tablets. These include factors such as staying on task, not downloading apps (though hopefully your IT person has locked down the wi-fi or added a content filter).   This is like making a class contract but not simply covering rules about punctuality and homework.

It is now time to launch the digital coursebook and start getting the students used to the tools. If you need the students to make their own accounts to download the books then walk them through it using your tablet on a projector. If the books are already there, then get them to log in and start getting them used to the tools. It’s perhaps best not to go over them all in one lesson so as not to overload. On my tablet I project a word cloud of some of the tools like this:

Word cloud

(made with the Word Art app)

Get the students to switch on their tablets and tell them how to find their coursebook in OLB. They then work together to identify the features named in the wordcloud. When you’re ready to check the answers, switch your tablet to display the book and ask students to name the tools. If you are projecting onto a whiteboard you can of course write the name of the feature next to the tool.

So that’s it, I hope that’s helped you overcome any first lesson dread. When you think it about it, starting with a digital coursebook is not that different from any lesson using a new coursebook.   At first preparation time might increase but it will improve as you get more familiar with your material, the same as it would with when using the new coursebook. Often in a first lesson, a teacher does an orientation quiz and here it’s not different though we’re orientating to tools not the book itself. What’s more as I mentioned earlier, a lesson using a digital coursebook doesn’t have to be dominated by the book. Here we spoke, collaborated, mind mapped and perhaps most importantly we got the students communicating in English.

Right, now that’s the first lesson under your belt, time to get ready for the next one, which we’ll look at in the second post.


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How tablet devices can help with mixed ability classes

Indian woman a tablet PCShaun Wilden, a freelance teacher trainer and materials writer for OUP, considers how tablets and apps can help you encourage the less confident students in your class.

As a teacher trainer, I’ve often been asked how to deal with mixed ability classes. The asking teacher is generally of the opinion that mixed ability is something unusual. To me, it’s always seemed the norm, perhaps best summed up by this near twenty-year old quote.

We do not teach a group but (up to) thirty separate people. Because of this the problem of mixed abilities in the same room seems absolutely natural, and the idea of teaching a unitary lesson – that seems odd.”
Rinvolucri 1986, quoted in Podromou: Mixed Ability Classes

Mixed ability classes bring with them a whole manner of challenges for teachers to overcome. Students who perceive themselves as weak are often the ones that go unnoticed, the ones that are too shy to ask, the ones that don’t ask for the listening exercise to be played again and the ones who feel the pace of the lesson is too fast for them. Of course, should a teacher try and slow it down then those who are more confident complain the pace is too slow. Teachers have always been creative in finding ways to overcome the mixed ability issue. Be it through adjustment of course materials by subtle adaptations and grading or imaginative regroupings during exercises.

If, like me, you spend a large amount of your time reading about and using tablets in education, you’re bound to have run across the idea that tablets are the saviour to all things mixed ability. This, of course, is not true. However, perhaps tablets do offer some genuine alternatives for a teacher and their class. While we’re still a long way from most schools having class sets of devices, over the last couple of years we have seen a slow move towards tablet-based course materials. While some view this negatively, there are immediate advantages for the mixed ability class. Take for example, a listening lesson. Typically, such a lesson is more akin to a listening test.

The teacher establishes context, does a variety of pre-listening exercises and then presses play. Playing a few times but generally working with the class as a whole. Here’s where the mixed ability student falls behind: not getting all the answers and not asking for it to be played again. A tablet-based coursebook and set of headphones are a step towards overcoming this. Since every student has a copy of the listening, control can be handed over to them and they can listen as much as they like (and no one will know how much they needed to listen).

In this example from English File Pre-Intermediate you can see how the student is able to control the listening themselves

In this example from English File Pre-Intermediate you can see how the student is able to control the listening themselves.

Staying on the topic of listening, adding audio to reading texts is another way to help some students. In a class you’ll have students who enjoy reading, some who enjoy listening and some who have difficulty with one or both. A tablet-based coursebook gives them the chance to do both, giving the students a choice they wouldn’t necessarily have. Having the choice makes such a task more amenable to a mixed ability class.

In this example from Solutions Pre-Intermediate, you can see how a student is able to listen and read.

In this example from Solutions Pre-Intermediate, you can see how a student is able to listen and read at the same time.

A tablet-based coursebook also gives every student a voice. Not literally, of course, but a voice when it comes to working with, for example, pronunciation. As a digital book can do more than simply have the printed word, the students at appropriate times can record themselves and listen to their own pronunciation when compared to a model. In a large class, it is difficult for a teacher to be able to hear and react to everyone. Recording also builds the student’s confidence as it acts as rehearsal time, so if they are then asked to say something in front of the class they feel more able to speak.

As you can see in this example, from English File pre-Intermediate, a student is able to record and play back their pronunciation.

As you can see in this example from English File Pre-Intermediate, a student is able to record and play back their pronunciation.

All these tools allow for self-pacing. The ability to work at one’s own pace is a key element of differentiated learning. However to be able to measure and then tailor learning, the teacher needs to be able to get feedback on how a student is doing. A tablet combined with cloud storage can add a digital equivalent to material adaptation; for example, a teacher can use a word processor to create individualised questions for a reading comprehension. Saving a copy of the questions for each student to access them, do the text and re-save via a cloud link on their tablet.

There are a number of apps that can be used on a tablet to achieve this. For example, Socrative, a student response system, is an app that allows a teacher to create exercises, quizzes and games that they can then get each student to do on their device. As they do it, Socrative gives feedback on each student and how they are doing. It provides the digital equivalent of ‘Do you understand?’. However, unlike when asking the question to the whole class, feedback is telling you exactly how each student is doing. Or to put it another way, the shy struggling student is not put on the spot in front of everyone. In a similar vein, an app such as Nearpod allows a teacher to create presentations that cater for a mixed ability classroom, creating lessons that include listening, video and presentations. The presentation is sent to the students’ device and while they are working the teacher can get instant feedback on how the student is doing.

Once a teacher has this feedback, they know who needs what help and where. They perhaps then can use a tablet’s screen recording ability to produce personalised instruction.

By this point you might be thinking that using the tablet in this way is turning the classroom from a place of communication into one where the students sit silently staring at tablet screens. However, that is assuming I am advocating these things are done for the whole lesson, which is not the case. In the listening, the individualised listening is a small portion of a larger lesson. With perhaps the pre- and post-listening tasks taking place as they usually would. Using the student response app is only done selectively, perhaps taking up only a few minutes of lesson time. Furthermore, such assumptions overlook a third way tablets can help address mixed ability: project work.

Project-based learning (PBL) is coming back into fashion as a result of what a tablet and its apps can do.

In most books on the subject of projects you’ll find reference to mixed ability:

…they allow learners with different levels of competence to co-operate on an equal basis in the completion of the tasks the project requires. This goes some way to solving the problems of mixed-ability classes.”
Projects with young learners: Phillips, Burwood and Dunford, p7.

Project work leads to personalisation – another factor known to help confidence in mixed ability classes. All tablets can record sound, take pictures, and record video, giving the students tools that were previously difficult to get either in or out of the classroom. Collaborative projects involving things such as podcasting, film making, and digital stories need more than language skills to be successful. They involve good direction, a steady hand with the camera and an eye for design, so those that lack confidence in language can gain it by bringing those skills to the project.

An article in the Times educational supplement lists three categories of differentiation to help deal with mixed ability:

  • differentiation by task, which involves setting different tasks for pupils of different abilities
  • differentiation by support, which means giving more help to certain pupils within the group
  • differentiation by outcome, which involves setting open-ended tasks and allowing pupil response at different levels.

While teachers have been finding ways to do these things in the language classroom for years, using tablets can perhaps do this to levels previously never considered. Used effectively, and at the right moments in a lesson, they can help overcome what many teachers see as the difficulty of teaching mixed ability students.


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How to choose an Android tablet for teaching English

Android

Image courtesy of lynnwallenstein via Flickr

Matt Steele, a specialist digital publishing consultant, looks at the use of Android tablets in the classroom and gives his tips on what to look for when purchasing devices.

There are now Android apps available that add real value to any ELT classroom, from pronunciation apps (English File) to dictionaries (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary), game-based vocabulary apps (Headway Phrase-a-Day), Graded Readers (Bookworms), and last but not least, complete coursebooks and Readers as e-books via the Oxord Learner’s Bookshelf app. See all of Oxford’s ELT apps and e-books here.

Many of these offer a distinct edge over paper-based options by virtue of their interactivity, and in particular their use of video and audio.

But which device do you buy? This post concerns itself with Android devices – what to look out for, and what to avoid.

Introduction: What it means to use tablets in the classroom

I’m going to make some assumptions about you based on the fact that you are reading this post:

  • You’re prepared at least to entertain the idea of using a tablet device in your classroom
  • You’ve done a bit of research into methodology and some of the apps available to you
  • You’re aware that the tablet software market is divided roughly into three main competitors: Android, Apple’s iOS, and Microsoft Windows
  • You’re thinking of buying an Android tablet

What you may still be in two minds about is who will use the tablet device in the classroom. Will it be you, the teacher, presenting content on the tablet, using the tablet as a lookup device, finding pictures, videos, or collocations to illustrate certain parts of the lesson?

A lot of the discussion around tablet usage in an educational setting assumes the possibility of the teacher and the teacher alone using the device. But why would you do that? Why wouldn’t you simply use a computer connected to a projector and/or an interactive whiteboard?

So, if we can assume that when we are talking about using tablets in the classroom we are talking about everybody in the classroom using tablet devices, then we are forced to the conclusion that, unless we work for a particularly wealthy school or college that can afford to purchase at least one classroom’s worth of devices, then the only realistic scenario for using tablet devices is BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device.

The idea behind BYOD is, broadly speaking, that the student brings their device along to the lecture and uses it to take notes, to view material, online or offline, that the lecturer provides. They might even do interactive exercises or tests that the lecturer might assess via his/her own device during or after the class. This means that a student might turn up with their Android / Windows / Apple smartphone, tablet, or even ‘phablet’ (a phone that is almost tablet sized). What should your policy be in that case? Should you allow, and support, any mobile device at all, with any operating system?

In my view, unless you will be relying solely on Apple technologies for classroom management and monitoring purposes, then you should be all-inclusive in your approach. The only thing that you might insist on would be that your students bring along a device that is practical for reading and writing with, which for me would mean a screen no smaller than 7 inches in width, with a resolution of at least 1024 x 768 pixels.

Overview of the Android tablet market

Android is the single most popular Operating System for smartphones and tablets. The reason for this is twofold: firstly, Android has the backing of almost every hardware manufacturer in the world other than Apple, most notably Samsung; and secondly, it’s owned by Google.

In that sense the Android tablet market is like cable TV: lots of choice but also lots of things to avoid.

The Samsung connection is an important one for educational customers. The Samsung hub is an ever increasing set of educational content and services that is set to rival Apple’s iTunesU.

While Android is owned by Google, it is still open source, so the code is constantly added to by developers not necessarily in Google’s employ. The upshot of this is that any given piece of hardware can run its own version of Android, and its own set of software applications. This means that there is a lot of variety available – some better than others.

Things to think about when thinking about buying an Android device

Android tablet checklist

Here are a few things you should bear in mind when selecting which Android tablet to choose:

Android tablet checklist infographicHow much should you expect to spend?

Android is a free operating system, so the money you spend on an Android tablet is determined by its build quality (especially its screen), the quality of its components (especially its processor), its size (7”, 9”, 10”), and any additional software that the manufacturer includes. For me, the screen size is only of importance with regard to its resolution and how it affects the price of the tablet: bigger screen size means higher price. Because you are either connecting it directly to a projector or mirroring it through the laptop that is itself connected to the projector, the size of the screen is of little importance. The resolution of the screen is important, however, for two reasons:

  • A higher screen resolution means more detail and a more attractive interface. Many reasonably priced tablets now come with full HD displays.
  • Many websites now check what your screen resolution is when you land on them. Often anything below 1024 x 768 will mean that the website will be shown as a ‘mobile’ site compatible with smartphones, rather than the ‘desktop’ version with more information. For me, this alone was the reason I dropped my Nexus 7 for a tablet with a higher resolution.

An important point to bear in mind is whether or not Google Play is available on the model you want to buy. Many of the cheaper tablets won’t give you access to Google’s app store, because Google require that they pay them for its distribution, which will condemn you to buy apps from no-name app stores with no guarantee of quality.

For a school setting it seems to make sense to focus on the build quality first and foremost. Prices vary enormously, from around £70 for a ‘white box’ tablet (manufactured in huge numbers in China), to the superlative Asus Transformer Pad Infinity currently retailing at £600. For our purposes, however, expect to pay anything from around £120 to £370.

Can you test one out?

If you buy in store, yes. Obviously this would mean you couldn’t purchase online, which is where you will find cheaper examples of the same high street product. Like so many things it’s a trade-off between cost and peace of mind.

Do you want to restrict what students can do / download on the tablet device?

How can you know that your students are doing what they are supposed to be doing when they are bent over their tablet devices? Well, there are ways. It means installing software on students’ machines called Mobile Device Management (MDM). There are a number of MDM software vendors about. Most, if not all, support Android. There is a good comparison site here.

Device Support

This is very important. A lot of the very cheap models will provide you with no resource to upgrade the Android operating system. This will seriously inhibit your tablet’s shelf life, which in turn will mean you have to spend money on new hardware sooner.

Some models worth thinking about:

For around £100

Asus Memo Pad HD 7

This 7” pad has an HD resolution of 1280 x 800 px, which isn’t bad. It has a micro SD slot, and a very useful standard USB port. For around £100 it’s a decent budget tablet.

Lenovo IdeaTab A2107A-H

Again, this is a 7” model. Lenovo is the Russian hardware manufacturer who bought the licence to build IBM’s ThinkPad laptop. The build quality of the IdeaTab is every bit as solid. It has two cameras, which is unusual for a tablet costing just over £100.

For around £200

Google Nexus 7 (2)

This is the second generation Nexus 7. It’s a 7” tablet that compares favourably to the iPad mini. It has a huge screen resolution at 1920 x 1200 px. It also sports an extra camera. Drawbacks, though, are its lack of an HDMI port and an SD card slot, so memory can’t be expanded.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1

This has a 10.1” screen and is the descendant of the hugely popular Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.

For around £300

Acer Iconia Tab A200

This is a 10.1” tablet, with 12.5 GB of internal memory, and a micro SD card slot should you want more.


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Why aren’t we using web-based tools with our students?

Blog keyboardSean Dowling, an Educational Technology Coordinator, looks at why the uptake of Web 2.0 tools in the classroom has been slow, and offers some solutions.

On a daily basis, many of us are using web-based tools. For example, we are using Facebook and Twitter, watching YouTube and accessing a variety of other web-based resources for news, shopping, and planning our lives. Some of us also keep blogs.

However, when it comes to using these resources in the classroom, we have been reluctant to do so. Why? I believe that there are three main reasons for this.

First, there is the problem of “digital dissonance” (Clarke et al, 2009, p. 57); despite using web-based tools in our daily lives, we still haven’t seen the potential of using the tools for learning.

Secondly, using web-based tools for learning is not compatible with current curricula that emphasize knowledge consumption and reproduction of this knowledge in assessments (Dowling, 2011).

Finally, even if we have the opportunity to use web-based tools for learning, as the learning focuses not just on the product but also the process, assessment presents more challenges (Ehlers, 2009; Gray et al, 2010).  But these complications are not intractable.

First, select appropriate web-based material for your students. While the Web provides vast amounts of learning material, finding appropriate material can be problematic for learners, particularly those in the early stages of the learning cycle or whose English skills may be weak. I have found sites such as Learn English (British Council), Learning English (BBC World Service)  and Elllo useful for this.

Second, develop appropriate online assessments for web-based learning. As this type of learning perhaps focuses more on the process and social interaction than on the product, use specific rubrics to take this into account. For example, if students need to use blogs, marks can be given for posting on time, title, content formatting, replying to comments, number and quality of comments made on other student blogs, etc.

Finally, track and support learner activity. A Twitter hashtag or Facebook page could be used to do this. Or use a blog, for example WordPress or Blogger, to not only give access to online resources but to also deliver your lessons online and give support (see my blog web2english as an example). If privacy is an issue, or you need more learning management functionality, web-based tools such as Edmodo and Claco allow you to set up secure online learning environments where you can track and support all the learner activity.

References

Clarke, W., Logan, K., Luckin, R., Mee, A., and Oliver, M. (2009). Beyond Web 2.0: Mapping the technology landscapes of young learners. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 25, pp. 56-69.

Dowling, S. (2011). Web-based learning – Moving from learning islands to learning environments. TESL-EJ, 15-2, September 2011.

Ehlers, U-D., (2009). Web 2.0 – E-Learning 2.0 – Quality 2.0? Quality for new learning cultures. Quality Assurance in Education, 17, 3, pp. 296-314.

Gray, K., Thompson, C., Sheard, J., Clerehan, R., and Hamilton, M. (2010). Students as Web 2.0 authors: Implications for assessment design and conduct. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 26, 1, pp. 105-122.