Top tips for successful use of technology in classrooms

One I tweeted yesterday…

The link there is to a session I gave at the Macmillan Teachers' Day in Zaragoza in 2013 but I find myself repeating those ideas on a regular basis, when teachers ask "How do you make technology successful in a classroom?"

Well, that's my "recipe" — or rather my rules of hygiene, as I suggested then.

On Twitter As @Tom_IHBCN, I post one thing a day, max., always something I hope is of interest to language teachers.

See also Great Twitter feeds for images for your class

8 tips for providing technical support in class

Provide help with language, not with technology

This is a "muddiest point" from my workshop last Friday. At the end of the session, someone asked:

Learning training: isn't it a lot to take on board for learners to become familiar with X, Y, Z apps? How do we "prepare" them for it? Any tips?

Nowadays, do you need to teach people how to use their smart phones? It does depend on age, but in my experience you don't, and especially you don't with anyone under the age of approx. 25.

My #1 tip would be…

  • DON'T you provide the technical support — that's NOT your job!

Other tips:

  • Do find out right at the start of term which of your learners are "good" with technology. Make sure they're on board and willing to help others (in English!), if the need arises
  • Do have a technically-savvy person in each group when you do groupwork
  • Do have people in the class listening for the alert "Technical!": when someone has a technical problem have them either work it with a partner or else call out "Technical!" and have other people, from other groups — not you — go and see if they can help
  • Don't constantly be asking people to download new apps, however cool they might be. Instead, get a lot out of a few — like Spreaker, for example, for podcasting; or get a lot out of something like Edmodo or Instagram, using it for a lot of different activities.
  • Do keep tasks simple! Don't waste time — yours or that of your learners — with things like editing sound or video. If that is necessary, rather than edit, re-record — that's so much better for language practice!
  • Do these things both with adults and with young learners. It's amazing what the latter know about technology — often instinctively, without you having to provide a step-by-step guide!
  • Do practise with the technology you are going to use before you have learners use it; but you're doing that not so that you'll be able to solve every difficulty that might arise but so that you'll feel more confident that it will work and, believe me, if you do feel confident, it will, especially if you don't intend to provide the technical assistance yourself

Vital, I think, is to remember this: you are there in class to provide help with language, not with Photoshop or PowerPoint or Prezi…

See also | This brilliant school-wide technical support project my son experienced.

Any other tips, anyone? Do add them in the comments!

Less grammar, fewer photocopies and images

Above, something I'm 99% sure Michael Lewis said at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference back in 2008, though it isn't something to be found in the handout (.pdf) from the session.

In my own session for this year's event I'm going to be suggesting that in ELT we've got lost, at least as far as technology is concerned. In the session, I'm not going to deal with who's to blame but, for what it's worth, part of what has gone wrong is that in many schools we've provided teachers with unrestricted access to photocopiers, with the result that whilst the rest of the world has raced on into the 21st century, a significant proportion of language teachers (data in the session) are still waiting in the queue to waste rainforests.

I suppose what Michael Lewis said stuck in my head (I know I wrote it down somewhere!) and I realised the other day that I was paraphrasing him in a training session when I said this:

I've always wondered what effect having the photocopiers stolen would have on teaching in the various schools I either work in or have contact with. Assuming we did actually want to get new monsters, if they couldn't be installed for a week, or a month, and we assessed honestly at the end of that period (the longer the better), would we find that our teaching — and our learners' learning — had suffered, or gotten better in some way?

There are good reasons why we might in fact want to try going photocopyless (one of my favourite words, but only 3 results in Google!!!).

We could say the same for images:

The notion that "an image is worth 1000 words" is another of the things that, it seems to me, has led us astray. What we want is fewer, better images, ones that will produce more — and more meaningful, and more communicativelanguage from our learners.

Reason #1 to go to conferences and workshops: the little things you scribble down that then go on to make a difference to how and what you teach.

The rain forest wept! Stop doing this, now!

Computer, laptop, MP3 players, mobile, CD
What you see in the image above has come out of the printer that I sit next to around 25 hours a week, and has been printed by a trainee on a pre-service course (probably CELTA), who is probably about to ask to borrow my scissors to cut the words up.

In this example, we have a list of words; often it's sentences, each word of which has been printed at font size 100 or so, also to be sliced up, so that the sentence can be BluTacked to the wall or lain out on the floor (possibly first having been photocopied into identical sets), after which the students "mingle" and put the sentence back together again.

Photocopy of mobile phone
Sometimes it's images of every day objects — like Metro tickets and mp3 players and mobile phones, as you see above — that could so easily have been drawn or pointed to instead, but which have been printed under the absurd notion that an image is worth 1000 words, when often it really isn't!

The other day, we had someone printing single phonetic symbols (!!!), as huge as possible, each on a separate piece of paper, then to be magnified further via the photocopier.

This  happens all day, every day, whether the trainees are on CELTA or Spanish teacher training courses, and I suspect that someone somewhere (a coursebook writer…?) must have come up with this "idea", and people on teacher training courses must now be taught that this is a great (???) "activity" or "task", or whatever they call it.

It has to stop.


I say that partly as further promotion for my one-man, entirely unsuccessful campaign to smash the photocopier in all language schools around the world and I say it for these three reasons:

  1. It's unsustainable environmentally. If every sound (not word, sound!!!) we ever taught language learners needed to printed, how long would it take us to wipe out the rainforests? This matters! Even if you still refuse to believe the evidence of global warming (video).
  2. It's an absurd waste of the trainee's/teacher's time. Do you really need to go and find a computer and print and photocopy the term mobile phone (or find an image of one) when there's a mobile phone in everyone's pocket and they already know the word anyway?
  3. It's so 20th century. As course tutors we need to stop recommending this activity. It encourages trainees to continue backwards into the 20th century, to imagine that PC+projector, together with printer+photocopier is technology, when in fact the world has kind of slightly moved on from that, and it may well be that those four "P"s are things the learners only ever encounter in the time warp they enter when they set foot in a language classroom.

When was the last time a trainee doing teaching practice on a CELTA course got the learners to use an app? Perhaps, just perhaps, they should be doing that…

Single word get printed out
Get? The rain forest wept! You don't need to print the word get!

Will an Apple watch lead to more learning?

Just a couple of thoughts on this:

I'm a big fan of Edutopia (also their excellent Twitter feed), it's excellent for keeping yourself up-to-date with what's happening in technology and how advances there might be profitably used in education.

But this question, to which they have a sensible answer, is frankly daft (though possibly quite clever as link bait).

NO! It won't lead to more learning! NO technology ever leads to more learning!

It's only good use of technology by the learners — and good task design by the teacher — that leads to any learning at all, let alone more learning!

Incidentally, as well as being a big fan of Edutopia, I'm a self-confessed big hater of all things Apple, but perhaps it's best not to get into that…