Technology in Education is so hot right now! Since the technology boom of the mid- to late-nineties, high-tech gadgets have been creeping into the classroom and into our lives in general, for better or for worse. But, does educational IT really help our students learn?
Maybe, if it’s used well and for the right reasons. Below are several tips on effectively incorporating technology into your ESL class.
Prepare in Advance
One of the first traps many teachers fall into when attempting to use technology in the classroom is the lack of adequate preparation. Typical preparation for a course includes building and reviewing a lesson plan, creating or finding didactic materials and ensuring that all needed peripherals are in place. Educational IT, however, requires a little more attention. First, in heterogeneous classrooms, the students will have varying levels of ability with IT. The learning curve with new technology will be very different for the students involved. It is highly suggested to prepare instructions on the use of the technology, model its use with students in class and make sure all IT components are in place. You should probably also arrive to class a half-hour in advance just to make sure the internet is working, test your headset and microphone, adjust the projector, etc. Briefly, once prepared, IT can still go wrong, so ensure it is working before class. If things still don’t go your way, have a plan B at hand.
I am not a fan of smartboards, especially for an ESL class. For those of you familiar with this technology, you probably know that these boards are very trendy. Institutions have been purchasing and installing them for nearly ten years now, with minimal success. While they are very cool gadgets, they do very little for the language student. Smartboards are like tablets, but up on the wall. You can directly manipulate the objects on screen, add comments, zoom in and out, etc. While applicable for an industrial drafting course or for chemical modelling, it just doesn’t enhance language learning to the same extent. Besides, just turning them on and getting them going can be a nightmare. Stick with markers and chalk, you will save yourself a headache.
Apply a TPCK Model
Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) is perhaps the best framework for thinking about how to integrate technology effectively. As ESL teachers, we all have “content knowledge” (CK) that we want our students to learn. Attached to this type of knowledge, in this case physiological language ability, is an appropriate knowledge of pedagogy (PCK). Or, in other words, as ESL teachers, we understand how to teach languages. When we incorporate IT, another layer is added in which we are forced to ask the question: “What is the most effective way for the content, pedagogy and technology to interact?” See the following link for more on TPCK: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_pedagogical_content_knowledge
As an Education Advisor, I constantly hear teachers complaining about smartphones and how students are distracted by them while in class. Many of these teachers don’t allow the devices to be used in class and reprimand students who do. The blame is placed on the technology and the student when I believe it should be placed solely on the teacher. First, this type of classroom philosophy is “teacher-centered” – not the most effective in generating language ability. Second, you are swimming against the current if you think you can prevent IT from floating into your class. Instead of trying to stem the tide, include their devices. Encourage students to “Bring your Own Device” (BYOD) and use them to leverage the course. Smartphones can be used as dictionaries, note-taking devices (instead of jotting down notes, take a picture), and even clickers. See: http://www.socrative.com/
Extend Class with an LMS
Often, when a given class ends, the student does not return to learning until the next class session. By using a Learning Management System (LMS) such as Moodle or Brightspace, you can essentially create a “Facebook” for your course. Learning can continue from home; students can submit assignments online, pre-read concepts, participate in discussion forums and ask questions. Using an LMS boosts a sense of class community and makes all course material easily accessible, not to mention helping you organize and grade all of your assessments.
What do you think about tech in class? What are some of the challenges you have faced when incorporating IT into your teaching?