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… !

Edueto: is creating exercises really Web 2.0?

Here's a site I've not tried out with learners and which personally I actually don't like the idea of.

However, Edublogs drew my attention to a post by Larry Ferlazzo which says that Edueto — for creating online exercises (multiple choice, gap fill, matching…| example) — "has got to be one of the best teacher & Web 2.0 sites of the year".

It's free, it's easy to use but I have two principal doubts: (1) is creating exercises the best use teachers can make of technology — and do they have the time or get paid enough to do that, for what return-on-investment; and (2) is Edueto really a "Web 2.0" tool anyway?

True Web 2.0 tools ought really to involve people in creating and sharing things, and commenting on things other people have created — and thus creating interaction and dialogue.

You could argue, of course, that Edueto is letting you create things and share them with your learners. But, to that, I'd say that you want to flip not your classroom, but flip who is using the technology in your classroom.

I never tire of saying this:

It's not about what YOU do with the technology!

Yes, Edueto will save you a certain amount of time if you wanted to create "interactive" exercises… but is that really the use you should be making of your time, and of technology?

Recommended | I picked this one up from an Edublogger email update. I don't actually use Edublogs (I prefer Blogger, and recommend that to teachers) but if you do blog, using whatever platform, it's well worth subscribing to get the new Edublogger posts.

July courses: Success with technology in language learning

Teacher serving in a restaurant aka a classroom

They pay you to teach — but in fact you're a restaurant manager, a cook and a kitchen slave. In the digital age, are there magic ingredients, recipes, that will make your "restaurant" a success?

Enrolment for the July courses we run for the Generalitat de Catalunya's Departament d'Ensenyament starts this week and is open May 14-29.

We've running 4 courses this summer, three in Barcelona and one in Lleida, with me as tutor on courses (1) and (4) below:

  1. Technology for project work in the English classroom (Barcelona, July 1-7)
  2. Improve your language analysis for teaching purposes (Lleida, July 1-7)
  3. Making the most of your ELT time in Primary (Barcelona, July 6-10)
  4. Success with technology in language learning (Barcelona, July 8-14)

Success with technology
The two technology courses are designed to be hands-on as far as possible — so be prepared to have your fingers on keyboards or smartphones for up to about 75% of most of the sessions.

I've mentioned recipes and magic ingredients there in my question in the caption below the image above. We'll be using various bits of technology (we stay as jargon-free as possible 😉 !) to discuss those but I'll say now that I'm not sure that such things exist — certainly not ones that will apply to all teaching circumstances. What I hope you'll come away with will be "recipes" that you can try out and adapt in your "kitchen".

To a considerable extent, I don't like to go into these courses as the tutor with a fixed "menu": as the teacher, you're the person best-informed to decide what is going to work best in your classroom. But I'll advance this: I'm a big believer in the teacher not using technology and handing it over to the learners to use for language practice.

Both of the technology courses are really about how we can do that.

Note that these are closed courses for school teachers in state schools in Catalonia. Enrolment is via XTEC.

See also
We offer other ELT summer courses at IH Barcelona, including CELTA and DELTA (the latter already full) as well as other professional development courses.

Best practice: have your learners use smartphones to make video

Flipped learning: technology is not about the teacher does with it!

Here's on I posted on Twitter this week:

The project and competition is here (you have only until 1st June to get your learners to complete it, so hurry!) and the book is this one, Film in Action, by Kieran Donaghy, who produces the ideas for using film clips in language teaching on the brilliant Film-English.com website.

Go to any language teaching conference nowadays and you're all but guaranteed to hear someone speaking about flipped learning and how it's the Next Big Thing. I'm sorry, I just don't buy it, not for language teaching. In ELT, I don't think we're paid anywhere near enough to be producing video content, no matter how easy smartphones have made that. Now getting learners to produce the videos — as in the competition — that's surely the way to go!

Here's another brilliant example of the sort of thing learners could produce, which I also tweeted this week, from Mike Harrison:

Can your learners — not you, your learners!!! — tell a video story in 6 seconds (or 15 if you use Instagram)?

A tweet from the Innovate ELT Conference this weekend quoting Ceri Jones suggested that we should "Ask not what your tool can do, ask what it can help you to do". IH Barcelona replied:

It seems to me that real innovation, revolution if you like, isn't going to come from tinkering with what teachers do or don't do, or from what teachers do with technology, but from what teachers get learners to do with technology.

Recommended | The other titles from Delta Publishing are well worth exploring. See also two excellent ones on technology — Going Mobile (Nicky Hockly and Gavin Dudeney) and Teaching Online (Nicky Hockly and Lindsay Clandfield).

On Twitter, as @Tom_IHBCN, I post a maximum of one thing a day which I think will be of interest to language teachers and/or learners.

8 assumptions you need to make about using classroom technology

Assumptions, in handwritten notes, explained below (just in case… 😉 !)

In July, I teach two face-to-face technology courses for local secondary school teachers working for the Education Department of the Generalitat de Catalunya, the dates of which have just been confirmed for this summer.

In doing the spring cleaning here on my blog, partly in preparation for the summer, I came across the image above, of handwritten notes I made about this time last year, on the assumptions I make about using — or rather not using — classroom technology.

For anyone struggling with my handwriting (!), here's what the list says, with the notes expanded and commented on:

  • It's NOT the teacher but the learner that's using the technology which, among other things makes it less stressful for the teacher and puts the focus on the task and interaction not on the technology. In other words, as far as possible, technology is something that should be used for language learning rather than language teaching
  • There are lots of things that technology has NOT changed, for example you will still want linguistic aims  and language practice — lots of language practice! If the use being made of technology induces a lot of clicking and passive watching, but not much communication and active use of language, then technology isn't moving us forwards, in other words!
  • All classrooms should be creative spaces — and because technology, including mobile phones, allows us to do things like create text and images (both photographs and video) and audio [see the posts on podcasting here on this blog], we should exploit those possibilities and have our learners create such things
  • Simple is better — by which I mean that I never attempt to do, or ask my learners to do, anything complicated with technology. I never edit audio or video (at least not for class), for example, and never ever waste class time having my learners do that. It's far better — from the learner's point of view — to rehearse properly and, if necessary, to re-record as the return on investment is so much higher

It's wrong to copy and paste!

  • It's wrong to allow  students to copy and paste from Wikipedia [etc]. In designing tasks for my learners to do that will require them to use technology, I try to ensure that the answer is ungoggleable and not to be found on Wikipedia. I also always point out that copy-and-pasting from Wikipedia (or anywhere else) is an automatic zero for any assessed work. Copy-paste-cut-quote-and-cite is fine, copy-and-paste is not — because it requires neither thought nor understanding, nor any manipulation of the language, which is where learning occurs.
  • It's wrong to steal images from Google Images — both for the teacher and the learners, that is. As far as the teacher is concerned, I believe we should use fewer, better images; and as for the learners, they have the technology in their pockets to take (and find) their own images, which are of far greater interest to them than 99% of what you could find for them on the Internet. Again, I always try to design tasks that cannot be illustrated with the aid of Google. A pet hate of mine: an imaginary webquest trip to London or New York, illustrated by theft.
  • Creative Commons images are also not a good idea, for the same reasons. A Creative Commons licence may solve your problem of copyright, but it's not making your classroom a creative space and, though it may provide a modest amount of pride in our search skills, is not providing the learners with any real sense of pride in their own project work — an essential ingredient of motivation ("We made all this!")
  • It's impossible (and counter-productive) to attempt to correct every mistake. One of the most frequently-asked questions I get: how do you correct all the errors learners make on places like blogs and Edmodo? The short, simple answer: I don't! As a teacher it's not primarily my job to correct every error that arises, as if errors were cockroaches to be stamped on. It's not my job to correct my learners' language, it's my job to make their language better, by providing help as much as "correction". Here's the long answer to the question.

As you can see from the illustration at the head of this post, these were originally notes handwritten on a sheet of paper taken from the trash bin. They were merely thoughts jotted down, here somewhat expanded, but never intended to be a complete list.

What have I missed, do you think…?