Technology tops language learning is an article I was asked to write recently for the Spring Issue of IQ Education, an ebook produced by Ten Alps Publishing who make programmes for such clients as Teachers TV and the BBC. The magazine is electronically distributed to around 33,000 education professionals apparently and can be read online for free.
My brief was in 750-1000 words to give a broad overview of the different types of resources and technologies available to language teachers including self-authoring tools, presentation software, blogging, podcasting, handheld learning and videoconferencing.
Here is the article. I'd be interested in your thoughts.
Technology tops language learning
The types of technologies available to modern foreign teachers have significantly improved in recent years, resulting in the creation of many new learning opportunities both in and out of the classroom. For example, the internet now gives access to a rich resource of authentic information including foreign language video clips, train timetables, restaurant menus and podcasts. Hardware such as interactive whiteboards, laptops, digital cameras, microphones and video recorders are now common place in schools enabling pupils and staff to produce excellent outcomes when used effectively. Likewise, the spread of broadband connectivity has facilitated the ease of publishing pupils' work to a worldwide audience and given them a real purpose for using their language. Faster connection speeds have also made free videoconferencing with a webcam a possibility, raised intercultural understanding and helped to forge international links with native speakers in other schools. Similarly, the flexibility of digital resources and the willingness to share work online has allowed colleagues to recycle and tailor materials to best suit their pupils' individual needs.
For whole class teaching, presentation software can enhance the traditional use of an overhead projector or flashcards by introducing movement, animation and sound effects. Colour can be used to remind students of grammatical points, such as word type or gender. This is particularly effective as a visual prompt if used consistently in other presentations and wall displays around the classroom.
Teachers are able to increase the pace of their lessons by launching audio and movie clips quickly and easily without the need for separate hardware. In addition, any annotations made during the lesson can be saved and returned to later for revision purposes. The IWB software lets you drag and drop text cards or images around the screen and when combined with a wireless mouse and keyboard the board can be accessed remotely allowing pupils to play games or do text manipulation exercises from their seats, a particularly useful technique for the shyer ones.
Taking pupils to an ICT suite allows them to work more independently and practise interactive activities such as listening and reading comprehensions, matching, reordering and gap-filling exercises at their own pace. Traditionally dry exercises are transformed into something far more engaging and the immediate feedback allows pupils to monitor their own progress more easily and compare it with their peers. Students also tend to complete more activities in the available time than they would have done if they had been done on paper and the mechanical and repetitive nature of the tasks can give them the rigour they need to embed the content more deeply.
Some teachers like to create distance learning opportunities for their pupils to download and use for independent revision at home or on the move via an mp3 player or mobile phone. This could be publishing text, audio or video resources online on a departmental blog or the school's virtual learning environment (VLE). For example, students could use model questions and answers for speaking examinations which the pupils can listen to as many times as they like whenever and wherever they are.
Blogs give pupils and others the opportunity to leave comments as a form of electronic assessment for learning. Blogs also provide a showcase of pupils' work and raise the profile of the languages department within the school. Pupils are motivated to produce their own resources such as cartoons, photo-stories, podcasts or video projects using technology and find working with tools they are already familiar with engaging, particularly if they know that what they produce will be put online. By working in small collaborative groups in this way, pupils can peer assess each other's contributions and access higher order thinking skills in the process. This is particularly effective for gifted and talented pupils who like the nature of this type of open-ended activity.
Technology can play an important role on an educational visit to a foreign country too. For example, a teacher can keep parents informed of their child's whereabouts by sending regular updates to a blog from a mobile phone or laptop connected to the internet using free wifi or a USB mobile internet connection. Moblogging or mobile blogging as it is called can be very reassuring to parents and provide pupils with the opportunity to reflect on their experiences abroad.
It is important to consider that some language teachers may feel overwhelmed by the expectations put on them to improve their ICT skills to meet the demands of 21st century learning. This is a genuine concern and schools need to consider how they can help staff gain the training they need. There is help at hand, however, through the form of RSS feeds, blogs, podcasts, micro-blogging services and how to guides on video-sharing sites as well as commercial courses. One thing is certain though, technology and the internet are not going to suddenly go away and colleagues must now reflect on how they can develop their use of ICT to create greater learning opportunities for their pupils in the future. Hopefully, this article will provide some pointers to help them on their way.
Embedded in the article is a short video clip which I've included here as well along with a transcript and audio only version. I hope you find them useful. Thanks to Ten Alps Publishing for letting me upload the original as the quality is far better.
"Well, there's a huge variety of ICT available to language teachers from PowerPoint for whole class presentation to blogs and podcasts and more emerging technologies. I think that the main reason why language teachers should use ICT is to enhance learning and to build on traditional methodology. There's no point using ICT for the sake of using ICT. So for example, you can use PowerPoint to introduce vocabulary. You can use colour for background to reinforce gender for example have a blue background for masculine nouns, pink background for feminine nouns and a green background for plural nouns. You can use audio files which you can launch automatically from the PowerPoint. You can have movement. So the images can be animated or you can be having them coming in from the left or the right or moving around and that's much more engaging, I think compared to a static OHP you would have used traditionally. So it's using traditional methodology, but it's enhancing it using ICT.
Once you've done that, you can then take the pupils into an ICT suite and they can do interactive activities. There are various free applications as well as commercial applications that you can get hold of and you can author them yourself. You can add your own items, your vocab items or expressions and get the children to manipulate the language over and over again and reinforce it, by really giving the rigour that they need for language learning. I think that is very important and then you can be more creative as well. You can use Flip cameras or you can use video cameras in the classroom. You can use mp3 recorders so that you can record the audio of the children. You can video them. Obviously you need to have parental permission if you are going to publish that. You could then get your own school blog. You could publish that on the school blog to a worldwide audience, to a real audience and the pupils can find that very engaging.
At the moment, there's a small committed group of language teachers who are doing this sort of thing, who are publishing their resources to the World Wide Web and I think that with the new curriculum as it is at the moment, with the new KS3 curriculum for example and that the way that curricula are changing in general, that these are the sorts of things that we should be trying to do, forging international links, being creative and giving the pupils a real purposeful reason for language learning.
So, all in all I think that ICT has a huge amount to offer, but at the same time, it can be quite bewildering for some people who maybe don't feel very techno-savvy. They might sort of think, well how possibly do I actually put all of this into practice. Well my advice would be to start off small and to grow from there and to, if you like be part of a community and get support from other people from within your own department or within your own school.
And it all plays a part, doesn't it within the kind of digital arena, the sort of roll out of digital as described by the government.
Absolutely, I think that's a vital point. I think that in the 21st century, it's really important that teachers take on board these sorts of ideas and use blogs and podcasts and VLEs and wikis and all these other tools which are really important as well as more traditional ICT such as PowerPoint and word-processing and things like that in order to make sure that the pupils are not 'powering down' are not 'turning off', are using these sorts of tools which they are using in their own time. They are using social networking sites. They are communicating with each other via MSN etc and it's really important that we channel this creativity, educationally speaking in the classroom in order to tick all the boxes if you like of the new curricula that we are now seeing, that the government are promoting us to use.
As you say, some teachers can be kind of technophobic. The answer for them is to start small, not be overly ambitious?
Exactly, yeah definitely. Start small for example learning how to use PowerPoint for introducing vocabulary, introducing expressions, maybe set up a blog. You can get a blog up and running in a matter of minutes and more importantly speak to somebody else within the department or within the school to get some support. I think that you can get help and support from for example, video tutorials on places like YouTube and places like that which are great, but also having the sort of human factor, someone sitting next to you and showing you what to do and where to click and as I said starting off small and going from there. Also perhaps joining Twitter and meeting other language teachers who are on Twitter and being part of a community. I think that is very important."