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 😉 !) 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 😉 !) 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… !

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.