10 factors that may (or may not) influence how successful technology is for you in a classroom

The list below — for the purposes of debate only — is for a forthcoming workshop I'll be doing (yes, I know, I did say I'd retired, but I couldn't resist the temptation to come out of retirement for just one day ūüėČ !).

Factors influencing success with technology

The question: Which two or three will make most difference to how successful technology is in your classroom?

Note that I'm not suggesting that these necessarily do make a difference — and in fact there are at least two in my list there that I would say make no difference at all.

Note also that I'm thinking your gender, your age, not that of your learners, though if you think that's important, feel free to say so. There's no right or wrong answer, though I will later suggest what my own answer would be.

Suggestions, opinions…? In the comments…

Technology post-CELTA (3): Technology for teaching

The Axis of pEvil

The Axis of pEvil

In some of the (literally) hundreds of sessions on using technology that I¬†did on CELTA courses I used the term "Axis of pEvil", and suggested that ¬†— after your course has finished — you need¬†to get off it.

The Axis of pEvil is a series of things that all start with "P". It starts with a PC, which churns stuff out of the printer, which is then taken to the photocopier and possibly¬†also requires an accompanying PowerPoint presentation displayed on a classroom projector¬†— all of which your CELTA course may in fact have "taught" you to use.

It's not that you should never use any of those things — there's a time and a place for them (though, actually, come to think of it, a PowerPoint- and photocopier-free CELTA course would be nice!). But you want to get off the Axis of pEvil if it's the only road you travel in your time as a teacher.

Get in lane! Get in lane!

Get in lane!

Did we just ignore the warning signs?

We're 16 years into the 21st century and technology has kind of moved on. I strongly suspect that lots of us in ELT missed the warning signs. If it's only the teacher using the technology, it must feel really weird to people born this century (some of whom are now nearly 17!) whose parents parked them with iPads at a tender age (a really bad idea!) and who grew up on Facebook and Snapchat (etc).

I'm not a big fan of Kahoot but I think, post-CELTA, you want to look at it and be at least aware of how amazing it is that kids could do that on the phones that they're been itching to get back out of their pockets ever since the last time you told them to put them away. If you're not asking yourself how you could exploit the technology now back in their pockets (and not just as dictionaries!), you should be! If your CELTA course didn't raise that question, then it ought to have done!

People playing Kahoot on their phones is amazing; your PowerPoint, in comparison, frankly just isn't, no matter how meticulously you prepared it. A smart phone is an amazing thing — just think of¬†how many amazing things you can do with it. In comparison, a photocopier is a rusting pile of 20th century junk.

One of the ways in which, it seems to me, CELTA veers you off in the wrong direction is that you end up spending too long preparing materials, too little thinking how technology could be used by your learners for communicative tasks:

As a teacher, because — let's face it — you're frankly fairly badly paid in ELT, in most countries, you just can't afford post-CELTA to go on spending hours preparing lots of materials and perfect PowerPoints (an oxymoron).

So what lane should we have gotten into?
Fewer photocopies, less technology!
The road not travelled: less is more! 

For teaching you probably want¬†fewer photocopies than your CELTA course may have taught you to use; less use of Google Images;¬†less use of PowerPoint (preferably no use of PowerPoint — certainly far fewer slides than trainees seem to create, like 3 or under for any given class!). You probably want¬†fewer materials and less technology — particularly as used in the classroom by the teacher.

Partly, I suspect, the problem is the teacher's fear of technology: fear that it will go wrong and they won't be able to fix it if it does go wrong in class — so best stick to what we know, namely PowerPoint.

But what we really need to know about technology is not how to operate it — because our learners are going to do that (see next post in this series) — but how to exploit it so that, when they use it, they learn more, better. More than anything else it's a question not so much of our making good use of technology in teaching, as one of designing good tasks which technology can enhance for learning.

The lane we should have got into wasn't Runway 1, it wasn't a flight path, as teachers we aren't supposed to be the pilot — and we're not groundcrew technical support, either. What we are¬†(or should be) is aircabin crew, preparing and serving nourishing meals (better known as lessons), handing out assistance as and when required but what we don't want either is passengers sitting there meekly like sheep. And on ELT Airlines, mobile phones are allowed!

Good tasks from good materials
For what our learners could be doing with their mobile phones, I recommend this book (and this one is excellent, too!)

You can find ready-made tasks making the sort of minimal use of technology that I would advocate on places like Kieran Donaghy's excellent film-english.com and on the equally excellent ViralELT, both of which exploit materials to be found on YouTube or Vimeo (where the superb Vimeo Staff Picks are well worth following, perhaps via Twitter).  

Here's one example from Vimeo:

A Film by Vera Vaughn from Sorrel Brae on Vimeo.

For what you could do with that, see these generic YouTube tasks.

TOP TIP: Don't touch the technology in your classroom.
I mean that literally. Don't start and stop the video yourself: have your learners operate it for you. That's a first step in the right direction.

For more materials which, with a little imagination, can easily been turned into tasks for the language classrooms, I highly recommend spending¬†60 seconds skimming The Guardian (or the BBC, or some other big media site) every morning. Here's one that came from there — and, if you teach in Spain, you've got an entire lesson there, as everyone (and their Mum/their granny) knows the real way to make paella!

Here's another, same source: Hunting for hygge, a new ingredient in Denmark's recipe for happiness. What is the recipe for happiness? One of the generic tasks I've probably used most often in class: brainstorming our ideas and then comparing ours with those we then pick out of an article, and then discuss.

Another favourite source of brilliant ideas for speaking and writing activities is WritingPrompts on Tumblr.

Five vital considerations you need to make

1 | Don't use technology just for creating more "exercises"
Assuming, post-CELTA, that you're using a coursebook with your classes, your coursebook gives you the exercises. Technology gives you opportunities to be more creative.

Take songs, for example. You could just turn the lyrics into a cloze test (aka filling in the gaps) but pick the right song and you can actually get people to talk about it. Just the song (there's the technology, either via YouTube or by Spotify), no exercises or photocopies, and a couple of questions to spark the discussion — which will take you down the materials-light, conversation-driven path advocated by Dogme language teaching, another direction you want to explore post-CELTA.

Here's Bob Dylan, for an example:

You want songs that tell stories, songs with question marks in them. How about some Bobbie Gentry?

See also 50 Ways To Use Music & Song

2 | Ask yourself what your ROI is
ROI stands for return on investment and in business will usually be a question of money. In ELT, it's a question of time — your time! If you're spending an hour preparing material for a five-minute activity, your ROI is appallingly low. If 5 minutes skimming gives you one great headline that will spark an hour's class discussion, you're on the right track.

3 | You are NOT a graphic designer!
I work in a computer room: I see CELTA course trainees spending an awful lot of time looking for the perfect image and picking the "right" font size.

But, as a teacher, you aren't paid to do art or graphic design and the "right" font size won't make for a better lesson, or teach your learners any more English. The art of teaching is asking stimulating questions. It has nothing at all to do with your choice of font size!

4 | Understand how amazing Google Drive is
Of all the webtools I've used, firstly because it is so brilliant for collaboration — with peers and with learners — Google Drive¬†is unquestionably the best. Brilliant for learners giving collaborative presentations — but we'll come back to that one in the next post in this series.

See this for how to share Google Drive files.

5 | Ask yourself how you could exploit social media
Your learners are all on Facebook, right? Even though, at first sight, you might not want to be there with them, another question you ought to ask yourself is this: is there some way you could be exploiting the communicative possibilities of Facebook (etc) with your learners?

Next in this series, we'll look at how you might exploit a shared digital space (Facebook would be an example of that) with your learners.

See also:

And if you really must use PowerPoint, know what Death by PowerPoint is, and learn to use PowerPoint properly! These activities might be worth examining, for example.

More tips

See also
My top 12 sites for language teaching and learning

Coming up in this "Technology post-CELTA" series

Hand over the tools: technology for learners, not teachers

My presentation for OneStopEnglish at IATEFL 2016, in Birmingham last Saturday.

For OneStopEnglish, I have written a series of articles on tasks which involve the learners, not the teachers, using technology either inside or outside the classroom.

The articles, for a wide variety of levels and ages, include around 70 different tasks learners can do and share these three characteristics:

  • They have the learners not the teacher using the technology
  • They involve using only a minimum amount of technology
  • They are designed to produce a maximum amount of interaction and use of language

In his plenary session the previous day, Andrew Wright was talking about learners creating their own stories and said this:

They're not doing it for you, they're doing it with you, for themselves.

21st century technology allows people to do precisely that — or at least it does if you the teacher take your hands off the mouse and keyboard, and hand over the technology to your learners.

Subscription is required for full access to OneStopEnglish. but you can also have a free 30-day trial, and school access is another possibility- As there are over 9,000 resources there, it's a site I highly recommend.

Tips for success with learner-centered technology

Tips for success with technology

The above tips were suggested during my OneStopEnglish webinar on February 10th. Here, I've added a few further notes to them.

1 | Find out what apps (etc) your students already use and start with those
If many of your learners are already using, say, Instagram, that's probably the place to begin. Their familiarity with it means that you don't have to teach them how to use it, and if some are unfamiliar, their peers can provide the technical support.

See also (5), below.

Conversely, if many of them are not really using things like Facebook at all, start with one that no one uses (Edmodo and a private G+ Community would be obvious choices; see also (4), below). The fact that they will only be using it for my class (plus the fact that I've made it private) has persuaded even some of my most technophobic learners to come on board.

And one that's caught me out: if they don't use email, don't use that, use WhatsApp instead!

2 | Don't touch the technology yourself, ever
I mean this one literally. If you have a computer and projector in your classroom, the best possible piece of equipment you can purchase is a wireless mouse and keyboard — and then put one of your learners on it. You want to show a YouTube video (or whatever)? Get one of your learners to do it for you. Handing over the technology takes so much of the stress off of the teacher!

You think technology "always" goes wrong in your classes? Make one of your learners handle it for you and you'll be amazed: it never seems to go wrong!

See also (5), below.

3 | Have your students use technology to create things
You can do wonderful things with YouTube but you don't just want to have your learners sitting there watching videos, something which they could be doing at home! And if your learners are simply passively consuming your PowerPoints, rather than creating their own, then you're perhaps using 1% of the potential of 21st century technology.

What you really want to be doing (and what lots of your learners really want to be doing ūüėČ !) is to have them use technology to create things — photos or text, or audio or video, all of which can be done on the smartphones you might actually have just told your learners to put away.

See also (6), below.

4 | Have your students set up a shared digital space
You get your learners to (a) create things; but after that they'll need somewhere they can (b) share them and (c) comment on their creations. The commenting is an important stage of your task design because it provides further opportunities to use language. That's where a shared digital space comes in, a class blog on which your learners are all authors, or an Edmodo group (great with teens!), or WhatsApp or a Google+ Community (those last two with adults).

You want to be using social media with your learners (though that's a term I generally avoid using with them, so as not to put anyone off!)

5 | Have your students provide the technical support; you provide the linguistic support
Using technology successfully in a classroom is very much a question of getting learners into good habits (backing things up, using safe passwords, keeping the noise level down, speaking in English… etc.). One of the habits I most strongly recommend you to get your learners into is to have them turn to their peers if anything goes wrong, rather than turning to you.

Especially if they're young, you want to identify which of your learners are great with technology, and make use of them. Your learners calling out "technical!" if they have a problem and your new assistants then getting up and going to provide that help is another great habit to get them into. Your job is to help with the language, not the technology! On the former, not the latter, you're the expert to turn to.

Here's possibly the best ever scheme for providing technical support in a school that I've ever come across, described by my son Toni.

6 | Create tasks that require your students to play with language, not just technology
Technology can be exciting and, yes, you can do amazing things with it. But I often wonder whether or not our learners get so excited about it that they switch into their own rather than the target language, or else fall totally silent (bliss ūüėČ !) and end up doing a lot of excited clicking, but not much in the way of language work and practice. The latter is what we're there for, after all.

I think it's probably best to devote the usually limited number of hours our learners have in class to them talking and we the teachers helping them to talk better, providing language and improving performance, as well as to things like pronunciation, intonation, etc.

To have this happen, in other words:

What I want to happen in my class

If in class we've provided them with the ideas and the language and the practice and the rehearsal, outside class they can do the clicking and editing that pulls everything together, preferably collaboratively, perhaps using the shared digital space we've set up, to produce a digital end product like a story or a podcast or a presentation to be rehearsed at home and performed in the next class.

The way to go is probably talk inside, click outside the classroom.

7 | Never be afraid students will know more about technology than you do!
One of your learners will always know more about some aspect of technology than you, some more about all aspects of it.

They do? Be happy, not intimidated! You need technical assistance? You have it sitting right there in front of you!

See also
What's the recipe for using technology successfully?

More on using technology in language teaching

Subscribers to OneStopEnglish have access to a series of articles detailing activities for many of the tools mentioned above.

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… !