A very large portion, if not most classes are currently being delivered online. This has brought with it a significantly steep learning curve for many teachers. While some of us have been very lucky (Taiwan where I am based specifically) and our classes are running as normal, the current crisis – and what it holds for future lesson delivery – might bring about changes for the better. In this post, Gerhard Erasmus offers a framework of analysis for the uptake of technology in the classroom and in schools, with a focus on making sure of the benefits and keeping pedagogy and practicality in mind.
While most teachers have little choice at the moment in terms of going online and using the platforms their schools have chosen, there will be a time in the future (and possibly now) where we can think of how to best analyse the usefulness of technology and how it can benefit teachers, students, and other stakeholders. The range of applications and devices currently available makes it as difficult to choose as what my children probably experience when they walk into a candy store with millions of different sweets and cookies to choose from. Especially if there is a limited budget.
All the options – How to choose
The framework in this section is based on a Trinity Diploma session that Adam Malster, senior teacher of adult courses for the British Council Taiwan, delivered as part of his training to become a Trinity Diploma tutor. While we had a layout of what to cover in the ICT section, I asked him to come up with something more current and relevant, considering the current situation that many teachers were in. His session was basically a pair work activity to look at a specific application, followed by a sharing session. It was a very useful session and I am grateful for his agreement that I can share it here with you with minor adaptations and additions.
Overview: What does the application do? How is what it does useful for the teacher and how does it benefit the students?
Cost: Is it free to use? If not, who pays and does the cost justify the usefulness discussed in the overview?
Learning curve for the teacher: What is the learning curve for the teacher? Are there applications that offer similar benefits, but are easier to use? If training is required, who will deliver it?
Learning curve for the students: What is the learning curve for the students? Are they using similar applications at the moment or are there similar applications with a less steep learning curve? How and by whom will the students be trained to use the application and optimize its use?
*The learning curve question could be asked for parents, other stakeholders, and non-academic staff of the school if applicable
Equipment needed: What equipment would the teacher and the students need? Does it work equally well on a phone as it does on a computer? Do you need a camera? It is fairly surprising how people with access to technology assume that everyone else has the same access to webcams, internet, microphones, or even smartphones.
How to use it: Exactly how do you use it? An example, probably to my detriment here, is Kahoot. When I first used Kahoot, a teacher friend sent me a few Kahoots and explained to me how to use it in class. It was great. I only realised after about a month that I could make my own. I only realised after about six months that there was also something called Kahoot Jumble. Granted it was a new addition to Kahoot, but I spent no time learning more about Kahoot. I now use both Kahoot and Socrative, but for different purposes.
Advantages: What are the advantages of using the application? While Kahoot and Socrative appear very similar in nature if you have never used it, they offer significantly different advantages. Another example is LINE or WhatsApp. While many prefer WhatsApp, my preference is LINE simply because you can put albums and links in a separate window so people in the group do not have to scroll up and down to find links to articles or recordings that you have posted earlier.
Limitation/disadvantages: What potential limitations does the application have? Can it be used offline? Is free now and paid in the future?
Dangers: Will student data be safe? If you are teaching children, does it adhere to your school’s child protection policy? Can only a certain class access it at the same time? Are there, or can you put measures in place to avoid bullying, or the sharing of personal information?
It’s still teaching
Language acquisition and pedagogy should remain at the centre of what we do as teaching organizations. Technology should not be used if it detracts from what we know as language specialists. Philip Kerr has written a series of very good blogs about research and pedagogy in education technology that can be accessed here and here. There are also numerous articles about technology in education from Modern English Teacher and English Teaching professional. Gavin Dudeney and Nicky Hockly have an excellent book called How to Teach English with Technology (Pearson, 2007) that is a great place to start for teachers and managers if they want to understand the benefits and limitations of technology in teaching.
My main concern with everything going online was the lack of proper training available to teachers and the sudden move where teachers were expected to teach online like they teach in a class. Gavin Dudeney spoke about the importance of just addressing the immediate need by placing the computer in front of a whiteboard and teaching as normal. And he was completely right. But, potentially, we could have more sessions on using technology in training courses like the CELTA or the Trinity Certificate and potentially also in higher level qualifications. Managers need to take action and ensure that there is regular technology training and support for teachers, and decide strategically how we can best incorporate technology in our current teaching practices.
The global crisis we are experiencing with Covid-19 is shocking and anxiety-inducing, but not completely unprecedented. We might be fearful of the future and what it holds for our organizations, and ourselves, but it is also an opportunity to reinvent ourselves. The question should not be ‘When are we returning to the way we did things?’ but rather ‘How are we going to be doing things in the future?’ Technology might play an integral part in teaching in the future and if correctly employed by people adequately trained, it could contribute massively to education, results, cost-savings, and efficiency. I hope that the links in this blog and the framework offers something to start with. I am still learning, and I only now realise how much there is still to learn.