Searching without Google

I've been landed a job that looks tough: persuading the teachers and trainers in the school where I work (International House Barcelona) that they should use the 10 eBeam interactive whiteboards (IWBs, or "smartboards") that we've just acquired (image, right, the annotation tool palette).

It looks tough first of all as I don't have a lot of experience actually using an IWB as a teacher; secondly because I've preferred not to, being cynically unable to see the return on investment — by which I mean the amount of learning produced for the time invested.

So — obviously — the first thing I did, this morning, was open my browser… and then I didn't go straight to Google-is-Evil. What I wanted was a few expert opinions on how the technology should be used, how we might increase that return on investment.

Instead, I went to places I already knew and trusted and thought might well have ideas (not something I can say of Google), and used the search options there:

I did go to Google-is-Evil afterwards to search for "interactive board": the Wikipedia interactive whiteboard entry was first, there were some resources, particularly for UK schools [here and here], but not necessarily for language learning and teaching — but what I was really looking for, expert opinion, wasn't there, at least not in the hundreds of results for people trying to sell me an IWB.

But that's Google-is-Evil for you… Fortunately there are some excellent alternatives.

Would you still hate Micro$oft if you took full advantage of it?

Dare to explore those menus!

Everyone hates Micro$oft, don't they? I'm not actually one of them, myself, as I wonder how people would do their jobs today without it.

One of the things I like Micro$oft for is its Insider Newsletter, which you can subscribe to and get tips and tutorials and links that will help you to learn more about Word and Powerpoint and Outlook and so on.

I always read it when it lands in my mailbox, and make a habit of actually picking at least one link in it and going to check see if I can learn something new about programs I've been using fairly proficiently for years — and I can and do (like copying and pasting multiple items, or things I didn't know about using BCC in email…)

Most people — myself included — use only a small proportion of the potential of their computer programs. They learn the basics and then they just stop learning, and make-do with the basics (not something they would encourage their language learners to do).

On the training courses we run at IH, I always suggest the following: explore the menus in whatever program you use (Micro$oft or otherwise), try some of the things on them.

Using Word (or whatever) is like being in a restaurant in a foreign land: are you just going to eat chicken and chips every mealtime, or are you going to try something new that is there on the menu. Try something new, I'd say: you might like it — and find that it's useful to you!

And here's a thought for you: why do people hate Micro$oft but love Google-is-Evil…?

More evidence that Google is Evil ,- ) !

My husband… Now would that be "Google search" or "I'm feeling lucky"?'s bizarre news "Quirkies" section is one of my default start pages — partly because some of stories amuse me greatly and partly because there's often a text there that you can use in class.

Among the headlines this morning, "Wife's £5m Google surprise":

A woman is suing her husband after she Googled his name – and found out he had won £5m on the lottery. >> Full story

What could you do with such a text…?

  • Before reading, you could speculate from the headline what the story might be, something which you might do in pairs, with each pair then telling the whole class "their" story
  • During reading, you could get people to determine which pair they think got closest to the actual story, which can get them to read more closely, and gives a natural reason for "talking about meaning"
  • After reading, there are any number of discussion points that might come up — do they believe the story, what can they guess about the people involved, have they ever "Googled" their own names (or those of their spouses!)

Persuade your learners to change their default start pages to a website where they are going to get themselves some reading (or listening) practice — it's one of the most useful things you can do for them!