Does technology enrich or disrupt lessons? Should I use technology in my classroom? Do digital tools and applications offer something besides the novelty thrill? Russell Stannard explores the topic and gauges how much technology is enough technology when it comes to our English Language lessons.
Technology is not seen as something seamless in the language classroom. It is still viewed as something different in most cases. Playing a YouTube video, using PowerPoint slides and projecting pictures onto a screen is pretty ‘normalised’ now but, in my opinion, a lot of uses of technology, especially in the classroom are still seen as a novelty and something different. Things may change in the future. I do get to observe a fair number of lessons and it is still the case that setting up activities in the lesson using say Kahoot, Padlet or some other game or activity using digital tools takes time and often means the lesson is disrupted. That means that precious time is being lost and the result is, many teachers ask themselves the question ‘Should I use technology in the classroom?’
Should I use technology in the classroom?
My first answer to this would be to first take a step back. In the world of ELT there are lots of creative ideas that don’t include tech or use just a little tech. When I started teaching in 1987, I was inspired by the ideas of Mario Rinvolucri, Jill Hadfield and Peter W. Jones. I liked delving into the teacher’s book and looking at all the additional suggestions that are often suggested in such books. I liked making use of card games and the photocopiable materials some books provide. I also always liked using a course book and now I am a student I still like working from one. I never worked through a course book page by page, but I took the content and sometimes changed and adapted things and jumped around the unit. Our central job is to teach languages and a well-trained, creative teacher who is familiar with a range of materials and techniques can do an incredible job in the classroom with very little use of technology.
Where technology can impact
My own interest in technology was initially with the impact it could have outside the classroom. I saw the potential to revolutionise the homework I set for my students. With the introduction of Web 2.0, I could get my students to watch videos at home, listen to podcasts, research topics, use Quizlet, record themselves speaking or even collaborate as a group or class on a particular activity.
I wasn’t so interested in what technology could do in my classes as I was generally happy with my lessons ( of course I had my off days!) but with what technology could do outside my lessons.
This is actually why the Flipped Classroom took off. Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann saw how technology could revolutionise what the students could do at home and how this could then connect to the lesson. Sams and Bergmann took the idea one step further. They were not only suggesting that homework could now be much more interesting but also that we could view what happens outside the classroom and what happens in the classroom as part of the same lesson. Homework and the classroom were not two separate components but could be viewed together as one complete lesson. The connection between what I do in the class and what my students do outside of the classroom is at the heart of my own interest in technology.
Technology can also have an impact on language autonomy. It is amazing for me to contrast how I learnt to speak Spanish, basically between the years 1988 to 1999 and the way I am currently studying Polish. I wake up in the morning and while feeding my baby daughter, I listen to YouTube Videos. When I am sitting on a train, I often get out my phone and study vocabulary in Polish through my Quizlet app. I listen to podcasts in Polish, keep a record of the words I want to learn in Google Translate and listen to audiobooks in Polish before I go to bed.
The point here is that time spent in the classroom showing students things that they can do at home is probably good use of class time. So one of the questions I used to ask myself was ‘If I use this technology in class, will this be something that will help my students work more independently?
So, teaching students how to use Quizlet, how to search for videos with subtitles in English, how to create playlists on YouTube, and how to find useful Podcasts on Google Podcasts. All of these are things I did in my lessons, but the focus of this work was really to help the students understand what they could do outside the classroom.
Technology can play a role in the class. In low-resourced classes where students might not have access to a coursebook, it may perhaps play a bigger role. I am working with groups of teachers from Malawi and the teachers use their smartphones to access listening material in English as they have no other ways of accessing audio. Technology might also play a bigger role in well-resourced contexts where the internet connection is seamless and setting up activities doesn’t slow down the flow of the lesson. For the rest of us, somewhere in the middle, where the Wi-Fi might be a bit problematic, the technology the students have access to is limited, we really need to ask ourselves whether our time might be better spent in different ways.
I am not saying don’t use technology, but I am saying consider all your options.
ELT is an incredibly creative industry and there are loads of ideas, games and methods that we can incorporate into our classroom. We don’t have to use technology to be effective teachers. Start with the course book and learn to be innovative and creative with the way you use it.
Outside of the classroom, yes technology has a much bigger role to play. If students have access to the internet, use technology to make the homework more interesting and think of ways of using the technology to build a stronger link between the homework and the time in the lesson. Encourage students to make use of YouTube, Google Translate (or alternatives), Quizlet and Google Podcast. You will need to use some of the classroom time to show them how to use these tools effectively, but I honestly believe that it is time well spent.
If you are interested in learning more about using technology in the classroom, Russel’s video on Classroom Tech gives insight into interesting technologies and the ways to introduce them to your class!
Russell Stannard is a multi-award-winning Educational Technologist and founder of www.teachertrainingvideos.com. He has more than 70,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel. He received awards from the British Council ELTONS, the Times Higher and the University of Westminster for his work in the use of ICT in education. He is especially known for his work in using technology to enhance feedback, and teaching online and blended/flipped learning. He currently works as a consultant on educational technology at Kings College University London and Kwazulu-Natal University in South Africa. He is also an associate trainer at NILE. where he teaches in the MA programme and runs courses in blended/flipped learning.