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

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