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… !

Too much information, too little attention

We have way too much information coming at us, don't we? Here's a quotation I came across the other day (thanks Jackie!) and liked:

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it | Herbert A. Simon

I love quotations! Why, I've even given entire workshops based on quotations. This one came from the quotations page on lingholic.com, which turned up on Twitter, where I get (and dispense!) an overdose of information myself.

It's probably worth being on Twitter (for the images, if for no other reason) — but one of the secrets of staying sane on Twitter is this: what matters is not who you follow or how many people you follow but who you unfollow and how few people you follow. Stop following anyone who is boring you! Move away from them as you would at a party!

The other thing I always recommend is RSS, for which you'll require an RSS reader like The Old Reader. At the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy again, it's so much more organised than all this newfangled social media nonsense 😉 !

One for your learners
Lingholic is a site you might like to recommend to your learners as (a) there's lots of good advice there for language learners and (b) you want independent learners!

On Twitter I'm @Tom_IHBCN and add to the information overload myself, with one little thing a day (max.) that is hopefully of interest to language teachers.

You want comments, not likes

750 shares but only 2 comments

Nearly 750 "shares" and "likes", but only 2 comments…

Here's one that comes from a great blog I follow, Creative Bloq. It's not related to ELT, but the problem you can see them having above is one the vast majority of blogs have nowadays (including this one!): they're getting very few comments.

In language teaching, if you're using a class blog, or something else (an Edmodo group, or Facebook, or whatever), you want lots of comments, as well as the posts. Both should be produced by the learners as often as by the teacher and  you want the comments particularly (a) because it suggests the learners are finding the content interesting and (b) because comments provide meaningful opportunities for more interaction and use of the language.

To get such comments, you really have to add a "comments" stage to your task design, and require it of your learners. It's not enough just to "like"!

Apart from what you're doing with your classes, if you're reading blogs (etc.) for the purposes of professional development, you want to write comments. You want to do so because "liking" and then immediately forgetting and moving on to the next thing to "like" really isn't engaging the brain in any meaningful way whatsoever. Actually having to write some sort of response does, as does entering into dialogue. To develop as a teacher — or as anything else — you need to brain to be engaged. "Liking" isn't enough!

If you think you just don't have time to "comment", my advice would be to stop "following" so many people or use something organised like The Old Reader to follow blogs via RSS, rather than wasting your time "liking" stuff on Facebook (etc).

Rant over. Am I starting to sound like a grumpy old man…?

What I learnt from my first 100 tweets

My first 100 twees

I lost a bet on this one (I owe you Kate!): I really didn't think I was going to get to 100 tweets. They were supposed to be one a day but it in fact took me 123 days to get there (stats shown were gathered with metricspot).

The figures shown must have been calculated on the first 99 for some reason. There are more details below but you can see that I probably didn't enter into nearly enough conversations (only 5% of my tweets were "replies") to fully appreciate that interesting Twitter avenue.

What the people I follow tweet
This is actually my second go with Twitter and, though I got to 100 (and beyond!), I'm still not convinced.

Occasionally there's something that makes you stop and think:

And occasionally, amongst all the chatter, there are practical ideas which are actually useful, like this:


And jobs! For anyone job-seeking, Twitter does seem useful, with sites like TEFL.com being worth following (see @tefldotcom).

What I tweeted
You can see below what I tweeted most. Apart from posts on my own blog (!), things on TeachThought were most common: what I like about it is that it makes you think about what you're doing in the classroom, particularly with regard to how technology is being used.

Next was The Guardian: I scan it every morning, not because I agree with its politics but for things that might make good materials for class (I loved the idea of learners creating something like this or this for example).

What I tweeted

Among the "mentions" I made, two of my favourite sources of materials for class: Kieran Donaghy's wonderful Film English and Luke Neff's brilliant Writing Prompts.

Twitter with learners
But what I was really interested in when I began back in June is discovering ways in which learners could use Twitter. Getting them to "follow" celebrities Kate tells me "works" for some but by no means all learners, with a big drop in interest after a week to ten days. There were several other projects we came up with but in the end — due to considerations of privacy (we're talking teens) — used Edmodo for them.

One that has worked really well (though again not with all): having teens "follow" feeds pumping out "inspirational quotes" (like @DavidRoads, for example), which really got learners — especially the girls — interested in reading (albeit in 140 character lots… or less!). Thanks to Sandy for trying that idea out.

And this idea for creative writing with Twitter is one I like a lot.

100 tweets later…
So, all in all, I'm surprised that — despite the appalling amount of frankly pretty pointless tweeting that goes on — Twitter actually can be useful; I am going to continue my one-a-day tweets (@Tom_IHBCN); but still think an RSS reader (I've been using theoldreader, since the demise of Google Reader) is way more organised and more useful.

A photocopier or an iPhone: which is more powerful?

The slide, above, comes from a session I gave on a CELTA course at IH Barcelona last week, during which I asked the question which gives this post its title, referring to their possible use in a language classroom.

I asked the trainees to place the two tools on a scale of 0-10. "What's a '10'?" someone immediately asked, a question which I perhaps hadn't given sufficient thought to in advance (!). I said "mind-blowing", and then altered that to "mind-blowingly amazing"… And then said, "Actually, a '0' is mind-blowing, too: mind-blowingly boring".

My point was that in order to take full advantage of the potential technology has nowadays, we need to get "beyond the photocopier" and start using — start our learners using, that is — some of the (to my mind) far more powerful tools available to us (and which are quite possibly in our learners' bags and pockets).

To see some of those possibilities, and to keep up with how technology is/should be changing education, I suggested the sites also shown in the slide:

They are perhaps particularly good on mobile technology (smart phones and tablets) and current trends (like the "flipped classroom"). They do have a tendency on occasions to be a little vague and short on actual practical ideas (though here's an activity that has worked great!). But, apart from helping you to keep up, they have another bonus: they make you think.

Articles posted on such sites are often in the format "10 ways to…". They sometimes then disappoint when you start to read them but it's interesting first to try and make up your own "10 ways", before reading the article. A couple of recent examples:

To "follow" such sites, you probably want Twitter or an RSS feed (for which TheOldReader or Flipboard, the latter for mobile devices, would be my choice).

So which is more powerful…? As I remember it, my trainees' highest score for both was an "8". Feel free to disagree (I do!) in the comments!