When to (and when not to) use tech in class

The question of when to use, and equally as important – when not to use, technology in class has been a question that sadly gets left out of many of the discussions around new learning technologies. Unfortunately, a lot of the choices about tech in class come from a top down implementation. So, your school gets a load of new interactive whiteboards. They give you a 1 hour training session, remove all the old whiteboards and say ‘off you go then’. Questioning their practicality often gets you branded as ‘negative’ or even ‘anti-progressive’.
Happily, there are those who dare to ask questions about this approach to instructional technology. People like Mike Levy, Phil Hubbard and Greg Kessler (among others) have voiced their concern over ‘tech for tech’s sake’ and this is coming from the leading CALL experts and advocators. Interactive whiteboards, for example, don’t do things that normal ones do. You can’t have more than one person writing on it at the same time, for example, so if you are doing a spelling race or something like that you won’t be able to use it. A lot of great software and apps are being released at an amazing rate, but all too often they are put into use without prior evaluation. As CALL practitioners we need to ask ourselves, is this useful? How so? When would this be useful and when would it not? These questions are not dissimilar to the questions teachers ask themselves when planning or evaluating any resource for a lesson. You don’t need to be an expert to conduct this kind of evaluation either.

A good example is a Blended Learning Lesson Plan I wrote myself for use in my institution. I was thinking about this lesson from a very top-down perspective, I’m sorry to say. I was concerned our Moodle forums were underused, so I thought ‘how can I get these forums to be used in class?’ I created a lesson plan where the whole class is taken into the computer room and forced to use the forum to post a response to something.
Not only did this only mean that forums were used a lot for the hour of the class and then never again, it was also questionable pedagogically. Why make people communicate over a forum when they are in the same room as each other? In the pecking order of communication, face to face is always best.

Forums are powerful collaboration tools, but the point is to allow asynchronous sharing and knowledge. The same lesson applied to learners who are in a separated by time and space would be great, but not if they could just have easily have actually spoken to each other.
We are at a stage now where technology is so ubiquitous that we are not always so keen to implement it for its own sake. We need to critically evaluate the new item, see if it works, decide what it is good for and what it is not so good for.

I woul like to invite you to post your comments about any new piece of technology you have used in class. Was it useful? What can it do well? What are its limitations?

CALL Teacher Education

There is a brilliant book entitled ‘Teacher Education in CALL’ (Hubbard and Levy eds. 2006) which details the current state of CALL teacher education – some of the predominant findings are that there is not enough CALL Teacher Education going on as part of INSET or PRESET training, and even when CALL is part of Teacher Education programs it is often considered unsatisfactory in terms of preparing teachers to actually use CALL applications in class.

In the TESLCA-L List-Serv I started a post about CALL and Autonomy and was soon contacted through the list by Greg Kessler, a researcher and CALL Teacher Education Specialist who contributed to the ‘Teacher Education in CALL’ book. The post took on a slightly new purpose then, focusing on CALL Teacher Education and how this can feed into Autonomy Training.

I decided I would expand the idea by adding a post here. By joining the free mailing list TESLCA-L you can read the archived postings and also add to them, or alternatively leave a comment here on this blog about the subject.

We are particularly interested in:

  • any CALL preparation courses you have taken
  • your attitudes towards CALL use and CALL Teacher Education
  • any experiences you have had while trying to integrate CALL into your classes

We look forward to reading your postings!

Second Life

There are some amazing resources emerging regarding the use of Second Life for Language Learning. There are in world virtual schools dedicated to a range of languages, most notably English, Spanish and French. There are also groups which are dedicated to language learning.

  • EDUNATION – This is the island set up by the Consultants-e. It’s a great place and there is a lot going on.
  • CALICO – This is a Ning Social network for the CALICO/EUROCALL groups’ Virtual Worlds Special Interest Group
  • AVALON – A group funded by the Lifelong Learning Program. There are some great events and discussions here.

To name just a few. If you are not already in Second Life then I would recommend that you go in and have a look for yourself. Flying around in the virtual world can be quite demanding on your computer if you don’t have a good graphics card, but I would recommend it nonetheless. It might be some time before the computer labs in schools catch up enough to fully support entire classes using SL, but to be honest that’s not how I see it going. For example, I went in last night and found an island where Japanese people hang out. I went up to a couple of guys and introduced myself, then tried as hard as I could to follow the conversation and join in using VOIP. This is a great way to practice authentic communication with real speakers. The value of this is particularly apparent if you are learning a language in a Foreign Language context (ie. there aren’t many speakers of the target language in your country).

Has anyone else had any experiences in Second Life? How did you feel when you were in there? Can you recommend any good places or groups?

For anyone interested my Avatar’s name is Richard Spiritor.

Autonomy

Here is an updated Bibliography now listing only articles that deal with both Autonomy and CALL or Technology. This list was updated thanks to comments by Steve (see below).

If anyone has experience using technology for Autonomous langauge learning or experience with Online Self-Access Centres (OSAC) please add a comment to the discusion below.

Continue reading “Autonomy” »

Using VLEs

How many of us are now using VLEs to provide students with access to supplementary resources, lecture notes, additional or useful information and links to other repositories?

Many university level lecturing jobs and teaching posts are asking for experience with eLearning. This page aims to provide a forum for discussions about how best to use these resources for Language Teaching.

VLEs
VLEs