What's Second Life? What's an interactive whiteboard (etc)?

I've been teaching on "technology for teachers" seminars for the last three weeks (and a very late "Hello" to you all if you are attending!).

Many of the questions that the teachers ask begin "What's…?" Blogs, interactive whiteboards, ipods, mp3 players, podcasting, smartboards, Second Life… What are they, and how can you find out what they are?

Places to go to find out
Fortunately, there are places to go where you can find out what a particular piece of technology is. Note, again, how far down my list Google-is-Evil comes.

  1. Ask a colleague, some in the family, one of your kids (your own or someone in your class)
  2. Wikipedia, which is great for the basic information, and will provide links if you want to find out more. Wikipedia gets slammed for being inaccurate, but it provides you with information and has no interest in selling you anything, unlike Google and the sites that appear on it
  3. YouTube, on which you can find great videos (ok, and some that are dreadful) of the technology in action
  4. Teachertube, on which you will find the same, with videos designed particularly for teachers and teaching and learning
  5. Somewhere else on the web, a blog like the one you are reading now, or a directory like TeachingEnglish.org.uk
  6. Last and least, Google-is-Evil

Getting the most out of your OHP

Collecting dust in the corridor: ye olde OHP…

I guess chances are your school either long-since abandoned its overhead projectors (aka OHPs) in favour of interactive whiteboards, or else, er… hasn't actually got to the OHP stage of technological evolution yet.

The excellent TeachingEnglish.org.uk site has a new article on using OHPs (which it describes as "the most underused and sometimes misused" of classroom technology resources).

Another place where you'll find good ideas on using an OHP (and lots of other resources, too) is Chandler and Stone's The Resourceful English Teacher, one of the titles in a great "Professional Perspective" series from Delta Publishing.

MySpace or Our Space?

The Electric Shoes: Great band, great example of what you can do with MySpace

In the US in particular, My Space is hugely popular, though there have been doubts raised in US High Schools about security problems (do you want it to be that easy for all those crazy people out there in cyberspace to contact your young learners?).

Here's a great example (not ELT-related) of what you can do with MySpace.

MySpace is very easy to use, and I can see why your teenagers might love it…

Our space, not my space
Personally, however, I've got two things against it, one the security issue (check how many of the MySpace FAQs refer to security: there must be a problem with it!).

The other is that I hate the name "my space".

One of the technologies I do like a lot for language learning is blogging, particularly if what you've got is a collaborative, team blog, to which all your learners contribute.

Then you're talking our space, not my space…

Creating your own (multimedia) material

Worksheets
There are lots of sites on the Internet where you can generate your own exercises such as crosswords and other puzzles – like Puzzlemaker and Puzzle.com.

You will find other similar things on the Discovery "School" site, and also on MakeWorksheets.com (though not all of them are for ELT).

Important considerations

  • Creating exercises and worksheets can be very time-consuming. Is it the most profitable use of your time? What's the "return on investment", in other words?
  • Is it more exercises that your students need anyway? Or are there more exciting ways you could use technology – perhaps involving them in genuine interaction and communication with other people (either in the class or in another school and/or country?)
  • True, for some students, doing exercises may in fact the way the learn best
  • It shouldn't be the teacher doing all the work in a language classroom and you could have the students produce the material. In other words, get them to make the Puzzlemaker exercises. Apart from anything else, it's a great way to make them look back through their coursebook to revise vocabulary.

Authoring packages
An authoring package is basically software that enables you to generate your own interactive exercises.

Places you could start to look (though read the notes below first!) include:

Notes

  • Authoring packages can make particularly heavy demands on your time, as apart from anything else you have to learn how to use them.
  • For interactive exercises to be good, the feedback has to be very carefully thought out – it's not enough for it merely to be "right" or "wrong". That is particularly time-consuming.
  • Programmes like HotPotatoes give you only very limited control over what your end-products are going to look like. Generally speaking you will find that they don't look particularly good — not when you start to compare them with video games
  • They are "interactive"… but are they really going to excite kids who have grown up on video games?

NiceNet: Your own virtual classroom

NiceNet… Certainly nice and easy to set up.

Several teachers have recommended me NiceNet recently. It allows you to set up a "virtual classroom" within seconds, and then "conference", share documents and links and so on.

I've not used it myself other than setting up my own classroom (see image above) to try it out. As a great fan of Yahoo Groups I think personally I'd stick with them… Or possibly a wiki, but it certainly looks a good alternative to those.

More about NiceNet.