10 technological do's and don'ts for a DoS

On the wall of my office: Enabled

On the wall of my office (detail in the image above), along with the photos of my children and bits and bobs that seem to have grown there, there's a very old photocopy of an ad that used to hang on the wall of an office I had in another lifetime, when I was Director of Studies (DoS) in another language school.

It's an ad for what was once called Cheshire Homes, a charity which "enables" the disabled. There's a sign on the table you can see above which says simply that: "Enabled".

I believe that's the job of a DoS — to "enable" all of his/her staff to do their jobs better and I think that also ought to be the role of technology, to enable us to do things better, quicker, more efficiently, with "things" in a school including (but not limited to) teaching and learning.

Do's and don'ts for a DoS
In July at IH Barcelona, we have a Director of Studies course on which I give a session on technology. The following is an edited version of the round-up from that session.

  1. Keep up with how technology is developing. It's bringing lots of opportunities with it — mobile devices and mobile learning, social media and social media marketing, and cloud computing, to give just three examples. Places like Edudemic, Edutopia, Mindshift and TeachThought (and following them on social media) will also keep you up-to-date.
  2. DON'T buy into technological gimmicks. Don't spend a fortune on installing interactive whiteboards (IWBs) or providing every learner with an iPad, just because you think doing so will give you an advantage over your competitors: it won't unless (a) you provide proper training for your staff and (b) the "gimmicks" then get used for better, more engaging learning.
  3. Provide the best possible technology you can afford for all staff (and not just teachers but for your reception and admin people too) and learners; what is in offices and staffrooms and the bar is just as important as what's in classrooms. As far as the learners are concerned, especially if you have lots from abroad, "technology" includes high speed, ubiquitous wifi, which doesn't grind to a halt when everyone who wants to use it attempts to log on.
  4. Enable your staff. Through technology, and through virtually everything else you do as DoS, enable your staff to do their jobs better, faster.

Training and technical support are more important than technology, which really has no place in a school if the training and support are not in place to back it up

  1. Training. Provide ongoing, just-in-time training for both teaching and non-teaching staff. With things like IWBs, it has to be ongoing, not a single session before the year begins. And with technology, just-in-time works far better than just-in-case.
  2. Technical support. Ensure that you have technical support, preferably in-house, who deal with problems fast; training and technical support are more important than the technology itself, which really has no place in any school if the training and support are not in place to back it up.
  3. Ensure that technology is used well in classrooms. "Well" means that it leads to lots of language learning, that it leads to engagement rather than merely entertainment. You will best achieve that through both training and observation and/or peer teaching, as well as having some way of sharing of ideas that work (or don't!) and gathering feedback from all (Google Drive forms are amazing for that!), including the learners.
  4. Encourage and contribute to the sharing of ideas. You probably want to provide a digital platform on which that can take place (Edmodo or a blog — the latter private or otherwise — would be my platforms of choice, though a Google+ Community or Moodle, if you are already using the latter, would be alternatives)
  5. Give cyberspace the attention, time, effort and resources it now requires. Cyberspace includes your website (its design and mobile-friendliness; its updating; and its search engine results (aka SEO); your social media presence and social media marketing. Your school probably needs to be on Facebook and Google+ and Instagram and Twitter and YouTube but you don't really want to be there if you aren't going to have someone devote time and energy to it. While you're at it, as DoS, you and your school should also probably be on LinkedIn.
  6. Encourage, appreciate and reward everything your staff do — with (and without!) technology, at every opportunity.

See also

Do you really want to invest in 500 iPads?

iPads ! Cool !!! But what would you actually do with them in language teaching…?

On our Director of Studies (DoS) course the week before last, the subject of iPads came up, specifically what a school should do with the iPads it has already purchased.

That's in fact probably a question that ought to have been given careful consideration before the purchase was ever made and there are others, too.

Some time ago now, I was asked to advise on whether or not another language school should invest in a very large number of tablets — in excess of 500 (!), that was.

In approximate order of the urgency in which they need to be considered, these were the issues that I raised:

  1. Number 1, the provision of wifi. If the school doesn't have an excellent wifi network, providing fast, excellent coverage to ALL classrooms, I'd forget the whole idea. At IH Barcelona, we've seen a spectacular increase in the number of people using our wifi network; what was excellent a year ago is now at times swamped by the demand for it.
  2. Who is actually to buy the tablets? The school or the learners? As technical support, I'd not want to be responsible for either the security and maintenance of a large number of tablets, or the installation and updating of apps on them. If the learners use their own, none of those will be the school's responsibility. You really wouldn't want to have to do that in a school unless you had in-house technical support with time on their hands!
  3. Are tablets necessary, anyway? What percentage of the learners are bringing their own tablets and smartphones to class in their bags and pockets? If that number is anywhere above about 33%, personally I wouldn't even consider buying them as a school but get the teachers to make use of the technology the learners are bringing to class (but in that case, make sure that you've dealt with #1, above).
  4. What is their intended use? That is, what pedagogical purpose/s are they going to serve? What exactly are the learners going to do with them? And will doing that mean that they learn more, better and faster?
  5. What training is going to be provided for teachers? I"ve left this one to #5, but if the answer to this question is "None" or "It's not necessary", I'd veto the whole idea (not, regrettably, that the IT people ever get power of veto 😉 !)

Assuming that we have clear answers for 1-5, I'd then and only then start to look at what makes and models can be obtained at what price (and I would not be blinded by the bullshit about how iPads are better than anything else!).

I've not included it in the list above, as I've made the assumption that the whole idea behind buying tablets is not just to look more modern in the eyes of the prospective student! It's not just a publicity gimmick, is it? I've seen far too many "initiatives" involving technology that in essence were that, virtually all of which have been fiascoes.

All in all, I would much rather see money spent in a language school on tablets than on interactive whiteboards (now there was a gimmick if ever there was one, unless you could really come up with truly interactive actitivites for it).

But I suspect that, given that so many learners now have their own smartphones, funds would be better spent on (1) training teachers to use technology better; (2) providing better in-house technical support; and (3) on subscriptions to things like school access to OneStopEnglish (€450 a year for up to 10 teachers) and the pro versions of tools like Animoto (€120 per year), Glogster (from $39), GoAnimate (from $99) or the amazing VideoScribe ($138).

Those tools don't come cheap, but what amazing things your learners (and your marketing team!) could do with them.

10 do's and don'ts for ELT teacher trainers using technology

Too long creating materials
How to really mess up a class: spend too long preparing materials, and not give yourself time for other, possibly more important things. See also (6), below.

In the summer here at IH Barcelona we have a ELT trainer training course (this year, July 27-31), on which I have a session on technology.

These were my 10 technology do's and don'ts from that session, here slightly expanded, intended for language teacher trainers, but I would say most the same things to language teachers, too.

  1. Do keep up-to-date with technology. You want to be at least aware of how it's developing and what new tools are coming along and what possibilities they might have for teacher training and language learning (and try the most promising of them out!). Following sites like Edutopia and MindShift is a good way to keep up, with an RSS reader like The Old Reader a useful tool to keep your head above water in the avalanche of new information.
  2. Do get beyond the photocopier and printer, PowerPoint and the projector. None of that is 21st century technology, which puts technology in the hands of everyone (like your learners), not just in the hands of a select few (like the teacher), as might have been the case when technology meant chalk and a blackboard eraser. A long time ago, I disabled my own photocopy code, and have never since taken a photocopy to a language class; would your trainees become better or worse teachers if you at least restricted access to photocopiers (you could of course actually smash the photocopiers!) ?
  3. Do take advantage of mobile devices. In most of the classes I come into contact with here in Barcelona, whether with language teachers or language learners, there are now almost invariably more smart devices than people. We shouldn't be leaving such things in bags and pockets for the entire class! You want to design tasks, and get your trainees to design tasks, that will incorporate smartphones for creating things like audio (aka podcasting), video and images (with Instagram opening up some fabulous possibilities).
  4. Do model good use of technology to trainees. You can't expect them to have their learners use mobile devices if you stuck with PowerPoint and Google Images. You want to show them how collaborating on shared Google Drive documents, for example, is so much more useful, and more powerful a tool for language learners to use, than sticking with Word.
  5. Do have learners not teachers using technology. Both with language teachers and language learners, I like not to touch the technology in my class at all, ever. Instead, I put someone "on keyboard", for the classroom computer but it goes way beyond that: you want learners collaboratively creating text and images, audio and video of their own for the purposes of active learning, rather have you displaying content you've selected for them to passively listen to and watch.
  6. Don't allow your trainees to waste a vast amount of time creating materials. In our computer room, I observe so many people on CELTA courses going so wrong on this one, spending hours trawling Google Images at the expense of more important things, such as language analysis and good task design: do your trainees actually know the language they are going to be teaching and the likely problems that will come up? If they don't, they would probably be better off with their noses in Practical English Usage (and see 7, below) or Scott Thornbury's How to Teach Vocabulary (Amazon) rather than trawling through hundreds of images on Google (which in any case is probably going to provide them with the wrong kind of images). See also the image from my IWB, which begins this post.
  7. Do encourage the use of technology for autonomy and independent learning. If you are training teachers, apps like the Macmillan Sound App and the Practical English Usage app are brilliant. If you have teaching practice with them, having the trainees discreetly video at least parts of their lessons on their mobiles is also great (I recommend having a peer filming on the phone of the person teaching, who can then watch him/herself afterwards, in private). With language learners, we want to be encouraging them to use apps like Memrise outside the classroom [see also this task]; and we want to persuade them to do simple things like change the language configured on their phones to English, and do the same for any tool they are using.
  8. Do take advantage of social media. A WhatsApp group or a private Google+ Community works well with trainees. Many of the trainees I come into contact with seem to have the former set up way before any of their trainers suggest they might. The latter we use for post-course support groups (now with 3000+ people!). Both are also great for trainees to see tools they could then use with their own language learners, with Edmodo being another option, especially with young learners. See also (9), below.
  9. Do encourage the use of technology for professional development. Whoever you are training, however much teaching experience they have, as teachers we all need to go on learning to teach. You can take formal courses, perhaps online (at IH Barcelona, or with publishers like Macmillan, or things like EdmodoCon or the EVO sessions or IATEFL Online); but there's so much informal ongoing professional development that can be done on places like Twitter (assuming you follow the right people and — especially — unfollow the wrong people) or some of the IATEFL SIGs. Technology isn't really for teaching, and while it's great for learning, it can also help teachers become better teachers.
  10. Do step outside your comfort zone. Word and PowerPoint never let you down, do they? I'd better stick with them…! Er, actually, don't do that! That's the equivalent of a language learner knowing the simple present plus everything  in the word list in their first coursebook, feeling safe with that and not wanting to learn anything else new. Try podcasting! Try Google Drive!

If you were in a foreign country, you wouldn't just order chicken and chips, would you? You'd try out the local dishes, wouldn't you? And you might ask the locals, or find out online (like, on social media!), what other things you might like, mightn't you?

Technology is still a foreign country to many people old and experienced enough to be teacher trainers. But Word and PowerPoint are chicken and chips and you know what Dr. Seuss would say… !

Grandpa and Me and a Helicopter to Heaven

Grandpa and Me and a Helicopter to Heaven from Aeon Video on Vimeo.

This one, which I found because I follow Vimeo on Twitter, and keep my eye open for their Vimeo Staff Picks, I found profoundly moving.

I'd say it's too long for use in class (and perhaps too moving as well?) but it's exactly the kind of thing that you could share if you were on social media with your learners.

But as a starting point for either writing or speaking about the memories we have of our grandparents it's so wonderful and as material for classes memories are so much more powerful than anything we could pick up off the trash pile that is Google Images.

3 brilliant videos to share and comment on via social media

In a session last week on one of our Spanish teacher training courses, we were talking about using tools  such as Edmodo or a Google+ Community or other social media — and the question was raised on what you should do if learners start sharing things that have nothing to do with what you've been doing in class.

My answer to the question would be "Brilliant!" — for two reasons: (1) that's exactly what I want to happen with shared digital spaces used with learners — I want them to take charge of running it, rather than me doing all the work; and (2) if it leads to more interaction and use of language, fantastic! That's why we're on social media with language learners!

An example would be the video above, shared by a learner in an Edmodo group being used by a colleague, Esther, who then shared it with me.

Here's another example, one I posted on Twitter the other day, which I shared with the teenagers I have in a small private class which meets only once a week, sometimes not even that — circumstances crying out for a digital space in which to share and comment on such things:

These things can be a bit hit-and-miss: I thought I'd got zero response (!) on this one, as none of them "replied", but face-to-face it turned out that they had  all watched it and they found such a lot to say about it!

And while we're on the subject of great videos for class, here's another TED talk that looks great material if you teach adults B1 or above who spend any amount of time attending meetings:

You might try this generic activity with it, and then talk about whether or not they think the idea would work in their company and why/why not.

If you don't have a lot of learners doing that kind of job, it's still a brilliant one to share with them — both for the listening practice and for any discussion it might generate. It won't always do the latter but that's not going to stop me posting such stuff!

See also this video on how (not) to motivate people, great for discussion with adults.

A class blog would also make a perfect platform for such things.

Next question: How do you correct all the errors learners then make?