digital tools

Last weekend I was at the ISTEK Conference- a truly fantastic, indescribable ELT event held in Yeditepe University  in Istanbul.

There were lots of well-known educators gathered in one single event. What I most liked about this event was that I had the chance to meet and attend some great educators on my PLN. The whole event- the plenary, the keynotes, the workshops, the topics, the cocktail party, and everything else was beautifully planned and organized thanks to the amazing woman Burcu Akyol.

As one of my primary learning goals this year is to learn more about Web 2.0 tools I can use in my teaching/training, I mainly attended sessions of some marvelous educators who focused on digital tools in teaching, namely; David Mearns, Gavin Dudeney & Nicky Hockly, Nik Peachey, Russell Stannard, Shelly Terrell & Sue Lyon-Jones (respectively in alphabetical order). No need to mention Lindsay Clandfield and Scott Thornbury who have been among my favorite educators. Whenever I learn something new and practical, I feel amazed and exited about the opportunity to experiment with it and refresh myself as a teacher/trainer, which was exactly what happened to me. In a word, in terms of my professional growth, it was not only truly a rewarding experience but also one that will always be remembered!

Thinking and reading lots about digital technology, and attending those insightful sessions,  I have finally come to believe that using digital tools is valuable as it can add some variety to the lessons and enrich learning. Attending the sessions made me, once more, realize that we can make the learning experience more enjoyable and more useful by implementing some digital technology into our teaching.

Not to mention, the new generation spends most of their time on digital technologies, therefore, we should create opportunities where students can make most of their learning in the real world with the help of Web 2.0 tools. Technology can cater for different learners; thus, provide with tremendous opportunities to learn both in and out class. Then, why not using this opportunity?

I am happy to have collected a huge list of ideas and examples, some of which I found really useful and applicable for my teaching context are as following:

  • Blogging: A blog could be used as a shared space where both the students and the teacher can write and make attachments, which could serve as a platform in which students could further work on a task either individually or collaboratively. Let’s say you have done a reading class, as a follow up activity you could have students discuss the ideas as if they are contributing to a forum or as if they were commenting on something in Facebook, which they already do everyday. If the school you work for does not provide a platform for blogging, or you don’t want to pay for a class blog, there are some free sites you can make use of as well. For example, one good web-site for blogging (suggested by Nick Peachey) is Posterous where students can automatically create their own blogs. Posterious is good in that it is very easy to use. The only thing you have to do is to send your post to [email protected].  (Please also check Larry Ferlazzo’s blog post for further great ideas). Since September this year, my colleague Jesus Gonzalez from Mexico and I  have been working on a “global class project” in which my class and his class blog and share ideas on pre-defined topics and criteria we had established. Thank to Laureate International Universities that provided us with a platform, we have been able to try out different activities in order to have students collaborate by using L2 in a more meaningful way. What is good about it is that students have indicated that they have loved the idea of communicating with learners of the same level of English. There are still some areas we need to work on, though. Hopefully, by working on these areas, it will become much better in the second run. Once we have collected some feedback from our students, I will share the outcome here as well. Meanwhile, any ideas you have are more than welcome.
  • Video Recording: I also very much liked Peachey’s idea of using video recordings. One tool he suggested was VYou. You can create your own video and have students ask their questions related to what you have done in class, and students can make use of the opportunity to ask you questions even when they are home. It is a great tool in that it is both authentic and interactive. Here is a link to an example of Nick Peachey’s VYou.  It is great, isn’t it?  If you don’t want to be the one who records answers to their questions, students can have their own VYou where they can ask questions to each other. With this simple tool we could cater for different styles allowing them to make use of it the way they prefer it.  I am sure they would love doing this as an extra-curricular activity. So, why not making use of this tool?
  • Voice Recording: As  Russell Stannard suggested in his session, after doing ‘Simple Present Tense’ in class, for a post assignment activity you could ask your students to record a typical day and have them send the recording to you via email by using a tool called Vocaroo . The program is very easy and user-friendly even for someone like me who is not very tech savvy can use it quite easily. What is great about this tool is that such an assignment could promote students to produce language both in a more fun and meaningful way, and again cater for different learning styles. Other than that, recording and then listening to it can also help students see how fluent they are, and subsequently help them identify areas that they need to work more on, which, in turn, could enable them to take the responsibility of their own learning. By just clicking here you can listen to Russell Stannard’s talk on how to do it along with some practical suggestions.
  • Video-feedback: Stannard, who also won Times Higher Education Award for his work on video feedback, did a live presentation on how to give video feedback to students’ work, which I found very very useful. It’s not like the traditional method at all! You wouldn’t be giving feedback to students work by writing and marking notes on the paper in red, instead, with his innovative technique, students go through the feedback by viewing the parts being highlighted along with some verbal explanations given by their teacher, which I found very useful and more meaningful. The good part of this is also that students can go back to the recording and view it again as many times they wish to see where they need improvement on. Stannard suggested two software programs for this technique; Camstasia and a free software called Jing. You can listen to Stannard’s teacher training video on how it is done here . I also went to David Mearns’ session where he presented how he went about this technique using Camstasia in details. He also mentioned about CamStudio which is free.

In short, the sessions have provided me with lots of great insights and ideas. If I added all the ideas I had gathered, this post would probably be several pages long. I tried to keep it short so as not to lose track of what I am planning to do. Believe me! It is really short when compared to what I took down from the sessions! ;)

I would like to conclude that whether it is a digital tool or any other means to practice the language; we should bear in mind that it should cater for the diverse needs and wants of different learners. If it is used just because it is fun without really thinking of the rationale or how it matches to the lesson objective(s), or in other words, the lesson outcome, it may not really serve the need and therefore just remain as a “fun tool” but a redundant objective. Nonetheless, if harnessed carefully with a clear lesson objective in mind, there is no way that it can’t be advantageous. Wouldn’t you agree?