For those of us in far-flung places like Perth, opportunities to attend ELT conferences are few and far between. Fortunately, there are a lot of presentations and webinars online, and I was recently able to catch a number of IATEFL 2016 talks posted by MacMillan. I’d like to highlight a couple in this post, because both presenters provide useful sets of guiding principles for incorporating technology in our lessons.
Michelle McDonnell-de Graaf’s main message is that it is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tech tools that are out, so how and why we’re using these tools is more important than which tool we use.
For McDonnell-de Graaf, a good tech tool . . .
- stimulates interaction.
- does something the teacher can’t. For example, Kahoot! does a much faster and more efficient job of maintaining a leaderboard during a class quiz than a teacher ever could.
- allows variation in skill and content.
- facilitates peer assessment. Collaborative online spaces such as Google Drive, Wikispaces and discussion boards are great for this.
- stimulates creativity and depth. (McDonnell-de Graaf gives the example of a student-created Kahoot!)
- promotes autonomy.
Tom Walton maintains in his presentation that who is using the technology is just as important as how and why, and he makes the case for placing tech as much as possible in the hands of students. This is a complete inversion of how I imagine many teachers think about technology in the classroom: we generally see ourselves as the IT gurus in the room, whereas Walton argues technology should be managed by the learners. Given that most of our learners are digital natives, and given that we want them to be more autonomous, Walton’s notion makes perfect sense.
Here are Walton’s guidelines for cultivating a learner-centered approach to technology in the classroom:
- Start with the tech that your learners are already using (ask them).
- Never touch the technology yourself. (This is one I’m not sure about: surely there’s scope for demonstrations/modelling–but I guess more confident or tech-savvy students could be used for this.)
- Get your students to create things using the technology.
- Get your students to set up a shared online space (WhatsApp, for example).
- Make your students responsible for tech support; your responsibility is language support.
- Tech tasks should be language-focused, not technology-focused–and should involve uncomplicated technology. (Walton provides some examples of these tech tasks, and more are available on one stop english.)
- Your learners will probably be more tech-savvy than you . . . and you should take advantage of this.
So there are your takeaways: be discerning about the tech tools you use in your lessons, but then be ready to cede control of them to your learners.