IATEFL Part 6 – Shelly Terrell on BYOT

In a talk entitled ‘Transforming Trends – a journey into the work of BYOT’, Shelly starts talking about the importance of allowing teachers and students to bring in their own tools so as to overcome the economic obstacles that might be faced by the school and the students.

Taking an audience poll, it was clear to everyone that the majority of us type, take and edit pictures, take videos, download apps, post things on the web, all using either their mobile devices or their computers/laptops and are familiar with using our own tools and devices.

Through a video, she exemplifies how she uses technology and mobile devices (smart phones, ipads, etc) to create stories, conduct a show and tell, make app commercials, and publish the students’ work.

‘Mobile Monday’ signifies a special day of the week that the students can bring in their own devices and use them in class. But beforehand, it is important to teach the students digital citizenship and learn about how they should act online. If students do not pass their digital citizenship, they do not get ‘Mobile Monday’.

At this point, Shelly gets the audience to take out their own devices and choose a picture to show and talk about in pairs/groups. With such activities, students get to know each other better and all this can lower the possibility of cyber bullying.

As an example of an individual activity, Shelly gets the students to start a Flickr account on which they would post a picture under themes like ‘In a Restaurant’ or ‘This is Art’. Students then add tags or a paragraph of a comment to their pictures.

In a version of ‘I Spy’ ,we then took super-closeup photos of objects around us and in a mingle activity, we walked around the room asking people to guess what shapes our objects were and what the photos were were of. Bruno Andrade showed me his photo of a glowing blue cylindrical shaped object, which turned out to be a close-up picture of his pen. In class, we could use the app ‘I Know Quiz’ to put up the photos students have taken.

In another group activity, Shelly uses Twiddla.com to pull up an online whiteboard to brainstorm to lists problems and solutions that teenagers face. In groups, students then picked one of the problems and create an imaginary app to solve the problem. They then go on to create a video advertisement for the app they have created.

You can also get students to download a particular app at home ahead of time and bring it to class with them. Ideas Sketch for mind mapping, Google drive and Evernote for sharing information amongst the class, and Twiddla for recordable whiteboard.

Shelly ends the talk with an inspirational quote by Jean Piaget saying,
‘The principal goal of education in schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.’

Well said.

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IATEFL Part 3 – Isil Boy on MLearning

Isil Boy’s session starts with her asking the basic question – what is Mobile Learning? We can learn anywhere anytime…even in the toilet!

Showing us a slide of early men using slates to carve on, Isil asks us what the difference is between a slate and an iPad. Aside from the price (laughter from audience), connectivism is what makes a difference.

She goes on to highlight the illusion of mobile learning: e.g. Using tablets only in the classroom. Are schools using tablets because other schools are using it, or is it to truly enable mobile learning? Are iPads merely a substitute for a paper dictionary? Are we using tablets for the sake of using them?

The apps as classified by the SAMR model (substitution, augmentation, modification, redefinition) could transform education. But remember that the tablets are not transforming education, you are.
Does this mean that we teachers become the performers and the magicians with the help of technology? Or should we be handing over to students and letting them perform the magic instead?

How then can we integrate mLearning into teaching?
Dropping hardware into a classroom and dipping teachers into training does not work.
So, if you have a principal who says to you ‘I’ve bought the tablets! What should we do now?’, what would you do?

5 Tips for integrating tablets into your classroom
1. Define our objectives
2. Provide on-going training
3. Teach kids how to stay safe online
4. Establish a protocol for parents
5. Set some rules to switch tablets off

Isil then moves on to asking the audience what their dream app might be.
Do we know how to search for apps?
There are search engines for apps e.g. Quixey and App Crawl which we can use.

As a framework for teaching with apps, one can categorise apps into Searching, Bookmarking, Organising, Creating, and Sharing.
An example of an app that helps with Organising is U-Pad lite that helps the user to complete and sign forms.
Educreations help turn your iPad into a recordable whiteboard with voice recording.
Isil also recommends Edmodo for Organising information and sharing them with students.
Storykit is another free app that allows us to add text, voice and create digital stories with our students.

But why are we using these apps? According to the affective context model, if we can learn things whenever we need it, it becomes more effective. With the help of mLearning, we can learn anytime and anywhere we want. We don’t need to convince students to use the iPads and push the information on them. We are instead pulling the information that they have found out from them.

The conclusion Isil the draws is that schools should develop a technology plan, create a policy for tablet use, and have primary control over the downloading and syncing of apps. Teachers should be involved in the decision-making process and students should be allowed to keep the tablets and take them home, otherwise it defeats the purpose of having tablets in the classroom.

Isil ends the presentation to the packed room with a useful link to her blog isilboy.com.

TESOL Greece Blog Challenge : Playing the Devil’s Advocate

TESOL Greece Blog Challenge

As a celebration of the launch of the TESOL Greece blog, a blog challenge was launched.

We were asked to answer the following question:

‘During an economic crisis, resources (books, budgets, infrastructure) are limited, but high standards and qualifications are required so that learners can survive on the job market. Can the use of technology help learners and teachers overcome this problem? If so, how?’

 

This ‘technology versus anti-technology’ debate has taken place on multiple platforms repeatedly over the last few years, and will again be had at the TESOL France conference this November. Reading the excellent posts written by the bloggers that have responded to TESOL Greece’s blog challenge, I’ve come to realise that it is far easier to think of the advantages that technology can bring to the classroom and to the students’ learning process than to bask in negativitiy.

And I’m sure the very fact that we are bloggers, and therefore eager users of online tools, has nothing to do with it at all.

But seriously, what’s there not to like? One only needs to take a look at the multiple posts on Twitter and in the blogosphere about M-Learning, the Flipped Classroom, Digital Storytelling, and the use of social media, wikis, class blogs, computer games, online corpuses, Youtube videos, etc that could provide the practitioner with hundreds, if not thousands, of new lesson ideas.

To debate against the use of technology in education would be debating against learner autonomy and learner choice.

To debate against the use of technology in education would be debating against having a wide range of free, but well-thought-out and professionally-presented resources.

To debate against the use of technology in education would be debating against ways of helping our learners increase their exposure to the target language and getting involved in communities of practice outside the realm of the classroom.

In short, to argue against technology online would be courting death in the online TEFL arena.

But surely someone needs to play the Devil’s Advocate in this?

Here are some counter arguments against English teachers being expected to use technology in the classroom:

  1. Some teachers feel that they don’t want to have yet another new thing to learn.

    They have spent years learning about the language and dealing with the different designer approaches and fads in ELT. And now, they are being told that all the knowledge and experience they have accrued from teaching English is not enough if they are unable to get to grips with the latest device or online software.

    They feel that the ability to use technology has got nothing to do with learning English per se, and if such high standard and qualification are needed for learners to survive in the job market, then these learners should be taking classes in IT, and not be relying on their English teacher to provide them with such training.
    .

  2. Teachers are not paid enough to spend all their free time learning to use new digital tools and implementing them.

    It takes hours to moderate a wiki or Moodle account, to respond to comments on a blog, to find appropriate games and video clips, to maintain the students’ interest in class chats on Twitter or Facebook, and to read other teachers’ blogs for more ideas and development.

    And most schools do not pay teachers to do this.

    I constantly get told, ‘You must not have a life outside TEFL. I treasure my private life and I am certainly not sacrificing it to do more work’.

    I don’t blame them for thinking that at all.
    .

  3. Not all students want to participate in the use of online tools.

    There could be several reasons for this. Some of my teenage learners equate the use of social media and blogging with something that is done with their friends, and not something that is done with their teachers as part of the curriculum. Making them use the same tools for learning might just turn something fun into something repellent. Just like the use of text speak. It’s just no longer cool among teenagers.

    Some learners from less-privileged backgrounds might feel left out and inferior. They might not be as familiar with certain online platforms and styles of games because they do not have easy access to a computer or a game console at home. They might not have a smart phone and have to share a classmate’s.

    Some learners simply don’t have the time to participate outside of classroom hours. This is especially true when teaching Business English or doing cultural training. These clients not only have a busy work schedule, but might not see the teacher any more than once a week, or even once a month. Class participation is extremely hard to maintain under such circumstances.

    So we know that we can’t force students to use or participate in the use of these digital tools. But how then can we cater for those students who choose to opt out?
    .

  4. Some schools cannot afford to invest in the latest technology.

    The bigger schools and the more profitable chains are keen to invest in this move towards an E-Learning and M-Learning environment by purchasing the latest computers, Interactive White Boards, newest programmes, subscriptions to the fancy online tools, and iPads for every student enrolled. They advertise this fact and this helps their marketing efforts.

    Meanwhile, the smaller schools that offer perfectly student-centred classes that cannot afford such luxuries are seen as not keeping up with the times.

    What are these times we live in? Times where the bigger co-operations drive out the smaller ones?
    .

  5. Many educators who talk about the use of technology in a classroom often assume easy and available internet access.

    Those who are involved in ‘in-company’ training would identify with the fact that wifi access is often blocked and the use of firewalls is not uncommon so as to protect company secrets.

    Essentially, this means that you can’t bring up a picture on Google images to explain a word away easily. It means that you can’t connect to Youtube or any video streaming sites for your listening activities (unless you download them illegally…and you don’t want to do that). It means that you can’t use social media, chat rooms, or any backchannelling software.

    Of course, there are digital tools that do not require an access to the internet, but your hands are pretty much tied if you are providing training in such a context.
    .

As many have mentioned (Christina and James, among others), it is not about being anti-technology. It is simply about being judicious in its use and not letting technology dictate what happens in the classroom. And perhaps an awareness of the issues that face teachers who are wary of the exponential increase of technological tools might help us be less evangelical in helping them utilise technology in the best way for their learners and their teaching context.

At the end of the day, perhaps the issue is not whether to use technology in the classroom or not.

That would be like adamantly saying, ‘I’m not going to learn to use the photocopying machine coz it’s just too much hassle.’

Neither is it about whether to help our students use technological tools as part of their learning process.

That would be like stubbornly saying, ‘I’m not going to teach my students how to write emails because I don’t use the internet.’

As modern technology and the internet becomes more and more part of our everyday lives, we ought to move pass the ‘technology versus no-technology’ debate.

For what really matters is the way we use it, the context that we use it in, and the learners who we use it for.

Devil’s Advocate vs Shelly Terrell on Technology & Young Learners

This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA).

The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous instalments of DA here.

So the ninth victim on the hot seat is Shelly Terrell.

Shelly Sanchez Terrell is a teacher trainer, author, and international speaker. She is the host of American TESOL’s Free Friday Webinars and the Social Media Community Manager for The Consultants-E. She has co-founded and organized the acclaimed educational projects, Edchat, the ELTON nominated ELTChat, The Reform Symposium E-Conference and the ELTON nominated Virtual Round Table language and technology conference. Her prolific presence in the educator community through social media has been recognized by several notable entities, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, UNESCO Bangkok, and Edweek. Her award winning education blog, Teacher Reboot Camp, is filled with training resources and free materials for teachers. Keep an eye out for her book, The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators published by Eye on Education. Find her on Twitter, @ShellTerrell. Shelly has taught English language learners at various levels since 1998 in the US, Greece, and in Germany. She currently presents and hosts workshops on integrating technology effectively with young learners and adults. Shelly holds an Honours BA in English and a minor in Communication with a specialization in Electronic Media from the University of Texas in San Antonio and an Honours MA in Curriculum Instruction ESL from the University of Phoenix.

 

Chia:  Hi Shelly, thanks for sparing some time to be here today!

Shelly: Thanks for inviting me.

Chia:  I’m just really honoured to have you here because I know that you are huge in the field of technology for Young Learner (YL) education all around the world.

Shelly:  Yes, I do support teachers using technology to effectively help their kiddos learn.

Chia:  But don’t you think that kids today just spend way too much time on their computers already as it is? Why are we encouraging them to do that more often?

Shelly:  Unfortunately, that is more of an issue that falls on parenting and I think teachers need to be cautious when we make these assumptions. Plus, I believe effective technology integration involves engaging parents and asking their participation in the technology for learning journey.

Chia: Are you suggesting that teachers have no responsibility for keeping their students away from all the technology that surrounds them? That it is their parents’ duty to strike that balance?

Shelly: What I mean is that parents need to know how to help their children use technology effectively to learn…

If we assume that parents are allowing their children to use the technology too much at home then we address these issues. I host parent technology workshops at the beginning of my classes where I ask parents their fears of technology.

I show them what technologies I plan on using. I get their permission and we come to an agreement of sorts of what we are both comfortable with.

Chia:  But why go through all that effort just so that we could use some of that technology in teaching? Children were learning effectively before, without the use of all this technology. Aren’t we just using technology for technology’s sake? Aren’t we just using it because it’s there?

Shelly:  See, I don’t believe that children were learning effectively before. I think that for a long time many classes are filled with teachers lecturing and I think the ICTs today help our kids get out of their microcosm and begin to learn about the world. If we don’t teach them to communicate and problem solve effectively with technology, then when they become adults and must use it in their careers and future, they won’t use if effectively. We see signs of that already.

When we think of a teacher-centred classroom, we often think of boring technophobic teachers.
Is this the image that comes to mind?

Chia:  Interesting. Let me address the first point you made before going on to the second…

In the more traditional approaches, classrooms were quite teacher-centred and there was too much of ‘transmitting of information’ going on. That, I totally agree with. We’ve since moved on to an era of ‘learning by doing’ and focusing on the student-centred classroom.

However, by using technology, aren’t we simply replacing the ‘lecturer’ with ‘technology’, and turning the classroom into a ‘technology-centred’ one, instead of a ‘student-centred’ one?

Simply swapping ‘teacher-centred’
for ‘computer-centred’?
Are we letting the tail wag the dog?

Shelly:  There are many technologies that are now put in the hands of learners. One of the ones I am a huge supporter of is mobile technology. It’s hard for a teacher to lean over the student and take control. This dynamic of having it in the hands of the learner means it supports student centered learning.

Whereas there are some technologies I would agree that when teachers are trained improperly would support teacher-centered teaching. One example is an IWB.

Chia:  But I envision student-centred learning to be one where the student is at the centre of it all, with the teacher mediating and supporting the learning process. With mobile technology, since it’s hard for the teacher to monitor the situation and contol it, wouldn’t it simply serve to cut the teacher and other students off in an anti-social kind of way?

For example, wouldn’t it be harder for the teacher to know if the student is really doing the task that has been set and not just texting their mates?

Mobile Learning or students just fooling around?
Photo from IH Barcelona Tech ELT Blog

Shelly:  This is an issue of teacher training which is really important to the effective integration of technology with learners. In my training, I suggest teachers do things like have students go on scavenger hunts with the devices. This promotes bringing the real world in the classroom, illustrates learning is all around them, and also gets students out of their seats moving around. This is an example of an effective way to use technology support learning. W

I’d like to address the issue of managing off tasking as well…

Chia:  Yes, go on.

Shelly:  Students will go off task even without technology. They will daydream, write notes, etc. A teacher who properly knows how to facilitate and be a guide will walk around while students work in pairs or groups or complete short tasks. This again deals with training. It is easier to manage students who are doing hands-on tasks rather than an entire group at once we are lecturing to.

Chia:  But surely some of these hands-on tasks are tasks that make the teacher so redundant that learners can do them at home (as homework, for example). Why waste precious classroom time fiddling with gadgets instead of milking every moment the student has with the teacher as their guide?

Without guidance, young learners can get buried under all the issues technology can pose.
Photo from #eltpics by @dfogarty

Shelly:  At home students will use technology and they will rarely have any guide either than their friends. We have problems like cyberbullying and texting that resulted from this. It is important kids learn to use the technology in effective ways with a mentor and the classroom offers that opportunity.

Chia:  Could you expand on the effective ways YLs could use technology in the classroom?

Shelly:  One way is to collaborate with peers worldwide. I address that in this post.

One example is that my 4 to 6 year-olds in Germany skyped with Emma Herrod’s 5 year-old son, Thomas, in the UK. Thomas showed my students how to create an origami box. This was hands-on, my students got to interact with another child from another country, and they also got to communicate in English in a more natural way.

Chia: Was this an English language lesson?

Shelly: Yes

What kind of origami were they being taught on Skype?

Chia: But instead of wasting all that time setting up the Skype call and ensuring the technology was working right, you could have showed them how to create an origami box yourself, couldn’t you?

Shelly:  No. That is more teacher talk time. They got to interact with a child around their age and heard and tried to understand that child’s accent and culture. They were speaking a child’s language if that makes sense. It was a child’s conversation in English between two cultures and that is more effective and powerful for learning than my teacher talk any day.

Teacher Talking Time doesn’t always have to be like this…

Chia:  Wait a minute…let’s not demonise teacher talking time too much…

Any FLA (First Language Acquisition) research would tell you that the feedback and scaffolding given by adult talk is part of what promotes acquisition. Surely teacher talking time is useful for YLs in SLA (Second Language Acquisition) too?

Shelly:  Yes. The teacher will talk but I’ll play devil’s advocate. Teachers already use tons of teacher talk time and so I rather take the stance to make teachers aware of that because the least likely thing most teachers worldwide do is have children communicate with other children around the world and I think that is what needs to be highlighted, shared and promoted. My goal isn’t to make a teacher feel better about their use of TTT but to make them aware that more time can be spent in getting children to use ICTs to communicate in English with others.

Chia:  YOU are playing devil’s advocate? Now I’ll be out of a job…

So, technology can provide YLs with opportunities to communicate with other young ‘uns around the world and help them realise about the world out there.

Anything else that technology can do that the teacher can’t?

Using technology to motivate and engage YLs to collaborate and work on tasks together.

Shelly:  Teachers can use technology for so many learning issues like diversifying instruction, getting students to problem-solve and learn about others worldwide, teaching to various learning styles, and more but at the end of the day one of the most important things to remember is what Bill Gate’s said, “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.” I don’t believe in technology replacing teachers. I believe it can help teachers.

Chia: Fair enough.

But let me take this debate in a different direction.

The constant use of computers, game consoles, and mobile devices are giving rise to some not-to-be-ignored physical ailments ranging from bad eyesight to RSI, not to mention the mental issues such as ADHD. YLs are already exposed to these electronic devices for the majority of their time awake. Should we really be encouraging them to spend more time dong so?

Shelly:  Part of my job is to inform parents and I think this is happening already but working with parents we can help teach them about balance. I limit the time we spend in the classroom with technology. It’s not an everyday thing. The most important is for kids to play, get out of their desks and move while learning. We sing songs, play games, do fingerplays, color, and many other activities that don’t involve technology. I also give parents options for out of the class exploration in my wiki. You will see tech based activities as well as options to play with the children and learn English. http://englishstorytime.pbworks.com W

Chia:  Thanks for the link!

You see, the problem I have with the internet and modern technological devices is that it seems to encourage a short attention span and spawns a generation of restless kids.

Shelly:  I understand but I like to take a proactive approach. If I don’t teach and train the students and parents how to effectively balance or use the technology then this problem will continue. Perhaps, it is because parents weren’t taught when they were children how to balance and I believe through guidance and addressing these issues we can help solve these problems.

Chia:  Well, most of these parents we are talking about didn’t have the internet and mobile devices to contend with as children, so I doubt if we know about striking the right balance, or what that balance might be.

Speaking of which, what would you say is the right balance, anyway?

Shelly:  I believe we start how we use any tool. For example, a pencil is a tool and if kids spend a majority of the class time sitting down writing that isn’t healthy. It’s the same with technology.

We give kids tasks where they move or don’t stay dormant in front of a computer for more than 15 minutes. I think more research is needed but I tend to try to get kids to use the technology for 5 minute increments like record a short video, record their voices, or take a picture.

This is for very young learners but as kids get older they can have a little more access. This depends on the age level as well. I refresh myself with the stages of development. John Piaget is an excellent source. Then we do other things like sing songs, have story time, etc. The technology is only used if I believe it will be more effective for that particular section of learning.

Don’t demonise technology!
Sitting down and writing for too long could cause health problems too.

Chia:  Well, I’m more a Vygotsky kind of girl myself.

Let me clarify.

While Piaget believed that the development of a child takes place before learning occurs, Vygotsky saw learning as arising from interpersonal interactions.

By speaking aloud to oneself, the thought process acts as a mediator, enabling the child to plan actions and thereby bringing about the learning process.

It is through interpersonal interactions and its accompanying sociocultural influences that prompts the intrapersonal.

I know you mentioned the use of Skype to encourage interactions with other children around the world earlier, but other uses of technology, on the other hand, seems to be rather anti-social to me.

How can this aid development?

Does technology make us more sociable?
How different is online interaction from face-to-face interaction?

Shelly:  I’m a big fan of Vygotsky as well. I think his learning theory is very effective. But the point is we need to reflect on how kids develop and how we use technology and how much time they spend in our classrooms with the technology.

Chia:  But do you find that technology encourages anti-social behaviour?

Shelly:  Again, that is on how we choose to use the technology. The teacher makes the choices. For example, we can decide if the children we teach will play a game for 30 minutes to learn particular the alphabet or we can choose if they will use something like VoiceThread to crowdsource the alphabet. Barbara Sakamoto has a perfect example of this.

Chia:  Wow. Seems like quite a lot of effort just to get students learning the alphabet. Won’t the alphabet song do the trick? It did for me as a kid…

Shelly:  Every kid learns differently. The children in Barbara’s voicethread learned new words, were exposed to different accents worldwide, and have a digital Alphabet book made with others that lasts a long time. Moreover, they were having fun and motivated to continue learning with others and continue their exploration of English words.

What’s the best way to learn the alphabet?
Photo from #eltpics by @hartle

Chia: Now, I know this is going to sound like it’s contradicting what I said earlier, but bear with me for a moment and hear me out.

We’ve been talking about limiting the time that a child should spend using technological devices, and I’ve been saying how the nature of the internet tends to give rise to short attention spans, right?

Shelly:  Yes…

The global phenomenon of the short games

Chia:  In fact, with the advent of apps of mobile devices, even games are starting to get shorter. A student of mine who develops game apps for mobile devices revealed to me that gone are the days of Role Playing Games and strategy games. People now want shorter puzzles and games that they can whip out and play with on their short train rides or while waiting for friends.

Games like Angry Birds, Bejewelled, Cut the Rope, Guitar Hero, etc are good examples of that.

So while shorter games, shorter clips on Youtube, and shorter blogposts (this sure ain’t one) can capture the attention of the young digital natives better, and can allow teachers to limit the time spent on using these electronic devices, does it not lack pedagogical continuity?

What I mean is when we used to watch Sesame Street on TV, there was a beginning, a middle and an end. It was pedagogically sound as it didn’t just present language to us. It allowed for time to absorb, practise and recap.

A short 3-minute clip of Oscar the Grouch on Youtube just isn’t going to have the same pedagogical credibility.

Does Oscar the Grouch have a short attention span too?
Wonder how many friends he has on Facebook…

Shelly:  I think when using technology in a classroom you can only use short bits to make sure that the teacher has time to scaffold and guide the student with the technology. Technology used at home for self-learning is entirely different. I think young learners need constant guiding and scaffolding with the technology. I’m not too comfortable with leaving a young learner to watch or play a video game or mess with an app with no one around. I think that’s a bit lazy.

Chia:  So you think that parents should constantly monitor their children’s use of technology then?

Shelly:  Yes I do believe that. I don’t mean recording all the information but I do believe it is important to be in the same room a child is playing a game or exploring the Internet or even watching a television program.

Don’t forget to monitor your children when they are using the computer.

Chia:  No computers or TVs in your future children’s bedrooms then? ; )

Shelly:  Nope! I plan on playing with my children constantly 🙂

Even if I’m worn out! 🙂

Chia:  And will you be playing with them with the use of an iPad? ; )

Shelly:  Yes! I will! 🙂

Chia:  I so envy them! Will you play with me and my iPad too?

Shelly:  Yes 🙂

Chia:  Okay, I’ll quit fooling around now. ; )

Shelly:  LOL! 🙂

Chia:  Thanks so much for spending time with me today and letting me challenge you…

You’re a hard nut to crack though, Shelly, coz you are just so balanced in your views.

Shelly:  LOL! : )

Chia:  At the end of the day, as you said, technology is a tool for us teachers to exploit, but should never become the tail that wags the dog, wouldn’t you say?

Shelly:  Yes! Well said!

Chia:  But could I at least get you to admit that in the wrong hands, technology in the classroom can become a way to simply wow the students before its novelty factor wears off?

Shelly:  I will admit that without proper teacher training that is always the case with any learning tool whether it be a pencil, the slate, desks, books and so many other tools we’ve seen that have been used to drill children into believing learning is boring, tedious, and difficult when really it is being curious and learning to explore those curiosities and having the chance to do just that to see where it leads.

Chia: A fantastic summary to a well-balanced argument!

Shelly:  Thanks for expanding my thinking. Always great to run ideas off with a very resilient and beautiful Devil’s Advocate 😉

These were once considered high tech toys by some too…
Photo from #eltpic by @fionamau


Epilogue: Shelly’s opinions are her own and do not represent any organisations she is associated with. Chia was trying to play DA but Shelly’s views were so balanced and logical that it was hard not to agree with her.

The BESIG Paris Summer Symposium 2012

The BESIG Paris Summer Symposium (in association with TESOL France) might have only been a day long, but it was certainly one of the best conferences I had ever attended.

It was well-organised. – From the moment the speakers’ proposals were accepted to the day of the conference, key information was disseminated in good time, queries were answered before they were even asked, and the speakers were even sent photos of the rooms that they would be presenting in.

It was well-programmed. – Like many conference goers, I had become used to attending conferences where inevitably there would be talks that might make one feel like the opportunity cost was little high, to put it diplomatically. This conference had no such talks. Every single session I went to either gave me useful ideas to implement in my teaching or brought up certain issues that made me think. And from what I heard, the sessions that I was unable to attend due as they clashed with the sessions I went to were just as good (Eric Halvorsen, Vicky Loras, Michelle Hunter, Adrian Pilbeam, Nick Robinson, Ian McMaster & Deborah Capras: Sorry I couldn’t come to your sessions, but I have been hearing so many positive things about your sessions!) So kudos to the selection committee and to the presenters for that.

It was well-attended.– There were about 160 delegates at the conference venue attending the talks, but there were also some 70 delegates that had congregated in Argentina, Serbia, and Croatia, watching some of the talks simulcasted live into their conference rooms. On top of that, there were those who were watching the talks live from the comfort of their own homes through the Adobe Connect rooms. This meant that talks like mine which had the privilege of being simulcasted were able to engage not just the live audience in the room but also the audience in Argentina, Serbia, Croatis, and those online, involving them in the workshops and the discussions.

However, by well-attended, I’m not simply talking about the large numbers in the audience. I’m also talking about the ‘quality’ of the conference delegates. The BESIG Summer Symposium was attended by some of the most influential people in the TEFL industry, from the iconic Business English book writers and speakers like Evan Frendo, Pete Sharma, Marjorie Rosenberg, to the intercultural experts like Barry Tomalin and Adrian Pilbeam, to the online celebrities like Brad Patterson and Vicky Loras and the new generation of TEFL movers and shakers like Nick Robinson, Mike Hogan, and Bethany Cagnol (conference organizer and speaker).

Kudos to the BESIG committee…
– photo by Mike Hogan
…and the folks of TESOL France!
– photo by Mike Hogan

For me, this conference was also about finally getting to meet up with some of the Twitter PLNers and Twitteratti in person (Christina @RebuffetBroadus, Eric @ESHalvorsen, Sue @SueAnnan, Vicky Loras @vickyloras, Brad Patterson @Brad5Patterson, Mieke @mkofab, and Carolyn @kerrcarolyn) and they are as marvellous if not more than their online presence!

The BESIG and Twitter PLN combined!

On the 16th June, the day of the conference, I walked from the hotel to Télécom ParisTech, where the conference was held. After an efficient registration process by the friendly TESOL France volunteers and committee members, and some early morning coffee with members of the PLN, I then headed to my first session, Barry Tomalin’s Teaching International Culture in Business – The Framework Approach ©.

Adding his own take to a mix of the dimensions and frameworks of Hofstede, Trompenaars and Richard Lewis, Barry creates the RADAR profile that helps us to learn about ourselves, before comparing our styles to others. Following some effective explanations and relevant examples, Barry had the audience first measure their expectations of business relationships by reflecting upon the following dimensions:

1. Are you more quality driven or cost/finance driven?

2. Are you more risk embracing or risk averse?

3. Do you prefer close contact or distance?

4. Are you more relationship driven or task driven?

.

We then measured our communication styles through the following:

1. Do you tend to be direct or indirect?

2. Do you often state your objectives before the reason or the background to a task before the objectives?

3. Do you tend to be formal or informal?

4. Are you more likely to be emotional or neutral?

.

Our organisational styles were measured according to the following:

1. Do you prioritise efficiency or effectiveness more?

2. Are you more time tight or time loose?

3. Do you tend to prefer top down or delegation?

4. Do you prefer individual decisions or team decisions?

Photo by Chia Suan Chong

Using framework provided by Barry, we marked out our answers to the above questions and then mapped it against the perceived styles of someone we work with, and considered the areas in which most gap was seen. Giving us the useful tip ‘Change 20% of your behaviour to get 80% of a change in the attitude towards you!’, Barry ended the session by encouraging us to think of a problem that we might have with another culture by going through the procedure he had taught us:

  • Identify your style;
  • Compare your style;
  • Empathise;
  • Manage your skills;
  • Reflect.

Judging from impressive attendance and the high levels of engagement, this session was certainly a resounding success. After a 15-minute coffee break, I managed to get a seat next to Christina Rebuffet-Broadus in one of the simulcasted talks, Pete SharmaApp-tivities for Business English’. Pete began by alerting us to several basic questions that we should ask ourselves about apps. Are they for the right platform? (Apple iPhone? Android? etc) Are they ELT apps or authentic apps? Do we need to pay for them? Is the app free-standing or does it need an internet connection to work?

Photo by Mike Hogan

He then went on to give us plenty of useful and exciting suggestions for teachers who own smart phones and iPads and would like to exploit their use more in the classroom. Here are some of them:

  • For listening practice, TED or BBC iPlayer.
  • For reading practice, newspaper apps can come in handy.
  • For pronunciation and familiarizing one with the IPE chart is Macmillan Sounds. The paid version comes with multiple activities for students.
  • Presentation tools like Brainshark or Prezi can be useful for the Business English Classroom
  • Prezi Viewer can help students to organise complex subjects like ‘culture’, ‘online learning’ or ‘the environment’.
  • Camera apps like Acrossair for geo-tagging, or Android apps like Google Goggles can provide information of one’s surroundings.
  • Screenchomp can turn our iPads into IWBs (Interactive White Boards)
  • Mindmapping software like Simple Mind can help our business clients with their tasks.
  • Fun and games like the British Council apps can motivate our learners.
  • Flashcode Reader reads QR codes. Using a QR code writer, a teacher can make treasure hunt clues, web quests, or simply send a students to an IELTS practice website.
  • Flashcard apps are widely available and can be used for vocab review

Pete’s book App-tivities is now in the labs of The Round, so we can go to www.theround/labs for a free sneak preview! Next up was Mike Hogan and Bethany Cagnol’s ‘Managing Your Brand as a Trainer’, where the freelancers and school owners in the audience were made to seriously think about their business plans and how much they invested in themselves and their brand. Asking the key question, ‘When people hear your name, what do they say? What does your brand say about you?’, Mike and Beth takes the audience through the different aspects of managing one’s brand, from professionalizing oneself by thinking about our niche markets and how we appear to our clients, to considering our online presence when a client or employer ‘Googles’ our name, to taking part in our clients’ conferences and courses/workshops, and even specialized training, so as to understand the environment our clients operate in.

Photo by Chia Suan Chong

Reflection clearly has a huge part to play when examining our brand. Amongst many other useful tips, the audience left the talk with the following questions resonating in their heads:

  • Are we able to present and negotiate our services with our clients?
  • Are we adapting to the changes in the market?
  • Are we investing in ways to boost the quality of what we offer?
  • Are we getting referred by our clients? If not, why not?

My talk was scheduled for the slot straight after lunch, so a few of us went to the nearby sandwich shop and I bought myself a ‘Skipper Sandwich’ with a chopped-up beef patty and fries between two chunks of bread, just to ensure that I would be as sleepy as my audience during my presentation.

Photo by Mike Hogan

As I often feel uncomfortable summarizing my own talks and presentations, let’s just simply say that my ‘Myths and Controversies in BE Teaching’ was largely based on the discussions that were had on the Devil’s Advocate interview here on chiasuanchong.com (see I’m trying to manage my brand! Mike and Beth would be so proud!). Polls were conducted both with the ‘studio audience’ and those watching from Argentina, Serbia and Croatia, and those at home, and we were able to get some very interesting discussions going. Thanks for participating, everyone!

The video of the talk will be up on besig.org soon! Another talk that was also simulcasted was Evan Frendo’s ‘Using Corpora in Materials Development’. Introducing the Hong Kong Corpus of Spoken English and the Enronsent Corpus for written corporate communication, Evan encourages us to get Wordsmith Tools, a concordancing tool that will enable us to analyse the corpora data using word lists and frequency lists. Keyword lists can also be another useful tool for ESP teachers as it helps us to find words that are significantly more frequent in a corpus when compared to another corpus. Demonstrating some possible uses of the corpora, Evan shows us the common collocates used when discussing a CNC machine, something guaranteed to be quite foreign to the lay person, highlighting the usefulness of a corpora to help us teachers become more familiar with the language our students’ need.

Photo by Chia Suan Chong

But using the corpora is not just for ESP teachers. The answer to the question “What is the difference between ‘going forward’ and ‘looking forward’?” can be found by simply looking up examples of use in the corpus data, therefore avoiding precarious situations that might arise from teachers guessing the use of certain lexis by using their instinct. Evan then ends his talk with an optimistic ‘Isn’t this what we do as Business English teachers? We analyse the language, and then we teach it.’ If only all BE teachers were this conscientious, Evan… Just before the closing plenary, Divya Brochier and Brad Patterson provided the audience with an interesting and useful way of encouraging speaking in the classroom with their presentation ‘Using Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats to Boost Conversation Classes’.

Photo by Chia Suan Chong

Illustrating the fact that some students are simply not very motivated to talk through a hilarious roleplay with Brad and Rakesh Bhanot playing bored business students (Bravo for that French accent! It was so real I almost forgot that you both weren’t French!), Divya and Brad that goes on to show us how the use of the Six Thinking Hats could solve this problem.

The White Hat: Unbiased fact

The Green Hat: Creativity and Growth

The Red Hat: Emotions

The Black Hat: Problems. The Devil’s Advocate.

The Yellow Hat: Optimism and solutions.

The Blue Hat: Organisation

So the next time your student says something to the tune of ‘I don’t know’ when you ask them to comment on Global Warming or some topic in a reading text, try move around the six hats instead: What are the facts? (White) How do you feel about it? (Red) What are some of the problems with this? (Black) What are some of the advantages/benefits? (Yellow) How can we move forward from here? (Green) How would you summarise what’s been said? (Blue)

The fantastic conference then came to an end with David Crystal’s closing plenary ‘Language and the Internet’. David sets the tongue-in-cheek tone of the plenary by asking if we were addicted to the Internet and whether we check our emails when we wake up at night to go to the toilet? Surveying the audience with the questions, ‘How many of you here blog?’, ‘How many of you here tweet?’, and ‘How many of you here are tweeting right now?’ (I had my hand up to all three questions), David jokes about the fact that there now exists Twitter Scores that indicate how many people are tweeting in your talk. Clearly, the more people who tweet, the more important you must be!

How many of you tweet?
– photo by Mike Hogan

What was known as Computer Mediated Communication in the 1990s no longer seems to be an appropriate term as the distinction between phones and computers blur. We now talk about Electronic Digital Communication. In fact, the mobilization of the internet means that by 2020, 80% of access to the internet will be through mobile phones.

While adults criticize text messaging and text speak as the way young people are harming our language through abbreviations, David Crystal debunks this myth, stating that text messages are NOT full of abbreviations as only 10% of texts are abbreviated, and we are now seeing abbreviations die away in text-messaging perhaps due to the fact that the novelty has worn out. (One Twitterer tweeted as a response to this, saying that this could be due to the dominance of predictive texts…but I’m not sure if this applies to smartphone users).

Interestingly, using ‘U’ for ‘you’ and ‘c’ for ‘see’ have been around for at least two centuries, and the very parents that criticize today’s teenagers for abbreviating were probably just as guilty doing the same with acronyms like ‘SWALK’ (Sealed with a loving kiss) at the back of envelopes. More interestingly, the earlier one gets their mobile phone, the better a speller one turns out to be. Text messaging is upping our literacy and not harming it.

Photo by Mike Hogan

Defining the difference between electronic communication and the spoken language, David Crystal highlights that electronic communication features successive feedback as opposed to simultaneous feedback. But we can be rest assured that there has not been many changes to the lexicogrammar of our language even with the advance of the internet. Perhaps the most noticeable change is in orthography, i.e. spelling and punctuation, but even so, this is a marginal feature.

Moving on to Twitter, David shows how the move from asking ‘What are you doing now?’ to ‘What’s happening?’ has made tweets less introverted and less about ‘I’ and more about ‘they’. Twitter is now used for business and for reporting on the things that are happening around us.

Ending his talk with a bit on blogging, David entertains the audience with a little skit on ‘blue bottles’, demonstrating how the internet and blogging has led to the start of many romantic relationships between the online users who share a common interest. The one and a half hours flew by with David Crystal telling anecdote after anecdote that the audience could engage with and relate to, and making his points loud and clear, all without the help of any slides or notes. It was certainly an impressive and thoroughly enjoyable presentation, and a great way to end the BESIG Summer Symposium.

Here’s a fascinating interview David Crystal himself by the BESIG Online Team.

The Presentation Award winners
– photo by Mike Hogan

All that is left is to congratulate the winners of the BESIG first-time presenters’ Award Vicky Loras, Eric Halvorsen, and Luke Thompson and Andy Johnson, and it’s off to the nearest restaurant for some escargots and frog legs!

(For more photos of the BESIG Paris Summer Symposium by Mike Hogan, go here)

My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 11 – Steven Thorne’s Plenary

Wednesday, 21st March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.

The IATEFL Day 3 Plenary Speech by Steven Thorne

Day 3 started with IATEFL President Eric Baber giving us some important facts about this year’s conference. In addition to the acre of tree that were planted to offset IATEFL Glasgow’s carbon footprint, there were 2300 delegates, 100,000 online attendees, 26 scholarships, 5 plenaries, 14 evening events, 500 presentations, and 650 presenters in IATEFL 2012. We can only be in awe of the IATEFL organizing committee for being able to not only find a venue that could accommodate us all, but for being able to organise and run the conference so smoothly.

Like many other decisions the organizing committee made this conference, the choice of the Day 3 plenary speaker was absolutely spot-on. Steven Thorne was energetic, inspirational and had the type of enthusiasm that was catching – qualities that were clearly needed on a day when the strain of absorbing a non-stop flow of information and knowledge combined with non-stop networking and socializing only meant that most conference delegates were starting to ‘fade’.

As Steven Thorne shared with us his knowledge and research on pedagogical experimentation with technology use, such as social media, fan fiction communities, and online gaming, I realized that I was extremely honoured to be sitting beside Graham Stanley, author of the recently ELTon-nominated book, Digital Play, an excellent resource book for teachers about the use of computer games to promote ‘stealth learning’ (When learning takes place without the learner realizing it…perhaps because they were having too much fun doing so.)

Presenting under the title of ‘Awareness, Appropriacy, and Living Language Use’, Steven poses the question ‘How can we make good use of the online options available to us while being critical of its use and appropriacy?’ A tremendous amount of life learning happens in non-instructional informal organic contexts (see: stealth learning above) as humans continue to learn, change, adapt and develop throughout their lifespan. How can we incorporate this kind of learning as teachers?

As linguists, we tend to dip a ladle into the sea of language that we use and take out a bit to examine the micro-processes that help us to mean, and quoting Tomasello, Steven states that all linguistic knowledge derives from comprehension and production of specific utterances on specific occasions of use.

If the above does not convince you that Steven Thorne has Hallidayan tendencies towards Systemic Functional Linguistics, his following remark about how explicit representations and models of the world simply get in the way could leave one wondering if he is making a snide remark at the Chomskyan representation of the idealized native speaker.

However, regardless of his affiliations, one could not help but agree that it is better to use the world and authentic materials as its own model of language use. And the availability of such authentic materials for English teachers and learners with the development of the internet could only be expanding. We are in a golden age for language teaching, especially for those who teach English. Let’s consider some out-of-classroom activities and consider how we can re-mediate them for classroom use.

There are now:

  • 2.1 billion internet users worldwide;
  • 156  million accounts on Runescape;
  • 14+ million played World of Warcraft at peak;
  • Approaching 1 billion on Facebook, 800 million visits per month, 400 million visitors visit daily;
  • 200 million Twitter accounts;
  • Users of social media ‘curate’ online personas (Clive Thomson, NY Times, 2008);
  • Technology use starts early.

These numbers clearly show us how online gaming and use of online social networking is emerging. It has never been easier to communicate synchronously: text, skype, video, virtual environments, etc.

While some purport that the Internet is creating a generation of ignoramuses with tiny attention span (Andrew Keen, The Independent), others might say that it provides more opportunities for learning and cognitive development, engages players/users in settings where their collaborations matter and creates qualities in the user that are highly-esteemed in the workplace. In a clever comparison, Steven shows us how the gamer disposition matches the desirable qualities listed by the Harvard Business Review. ‘Wanna find a CEO? Find someone who manages a guild, called a guild master!’ (Knobel)

In a related dichotomy, the traditional emphases in schools tended towards analytic rigor (I am guessing they are not referring to most education systems in Asia then), epistemological and linguistic prescriptivism (high stakes tesing, written language bias). This creates a tension with the ‘open source epistemology’ of Web 2.0 (Lankshear and Knobel, 2007).

In another double-bind contraction, Steven talks about the frustration of every sociolinguist. While high stakes power genres (or what we TEFLers might call formal registers) are needed for communicating e.g. writing reports and letters, at the workplace, we also have high frequency vernaculars which are useful but often considered highly stigmatized varieties especially in schools. This includes the emergent digital vernaculars used in writing e.g. in chatrooms or online games.  Sociolinguists like Labov and Bourdieu have clearly shown how our use of language (including our accents) is a basis of being judged by others, and carries a kind of social and cultural capital upon which our ‘worth’ is determined by those around us.

Not unlike David Crystal’s ‘The Gr8 Deb8’ where he argues that contrary to what many seem to believe, text messaging language requires a kind of creativity and understanding of how language works in order to manipulate the language to produce text speak, Steven Thorne highlights the following utterance (on which a whole 10,000-word academic article has been written on) and asks for our interpretation of it.

‘afk g2g too fe to regen no poms’

Meaning ‘Away from keys, got to go to Elven Forest to regenerate, no mana potions’,

i.e. ‘Just a minute, I have to go the Elven Forest to regenerate. I’m out of mana potions.’

Referring to Malinowski, and establishing that Malinowski trained Firth, who then trained Halliday, the founder of Systemic Functional Linguistics (I knew it!), Steven Thorne states that you cannot really know what’s happening in discourse unless you are actually there present or share a cultural knowledge. You cannot really interpret things like vague language, deictic references that aren’t clarified or explicated, and yet, this is the kind of language we use in everyday life, this is kind of talk that is the quotidian, and we make sense of each other like this all the time. After all, quotidian utterances reveal ‘forms of life’ (Wittgenstein) and the context of culture and context of situation is everything when it comes to trying to understand and trying to mean (Malinowski).

Yet, this kind of language is never privileged in a classroom, partly because it’s hard to reconstruct for the classroom such situations and conditions in which the everyday forms of discourse is found.

Okay, try and think about something you know about together, and then underrepresent it in the talk you use. Go!’ is simply not an instruction that we can give to students.

However, what we can do is to expose students and help them notice (Schmidt, 1992) and make salient the features of language and discourse. And gaming environments are perfect for this.

At this point, Steven turns to his research regarding the complexity of the language found in gamers’ utterances both in online gaming and fan fiction communities. First showing us the ways of assessing linguistic complexity and then revealing that empirical data showed a right-skewed ‘U’, where there was evidence of some simple sentences but the majority of utterances were very complex. These users were using scientific method to better recreate.

Hammering in his point, Steven Thorne summarises the reasons why teachers should expose our learners to gaming to aid language acquisition.

He then suggests the following bridging activities for teachers to use with students…

…and the ways we can help students not just with the lexico-grammar in the texts but the questions we can asks to increase saliency of the discourse…

…showing the way critical and experiential awareness in using gaming can work with each other.

An invigorating talk that established credibility of the speaker and subject in question, providing reason for us teachers to listen, providing empirical evidence to show the complexity of the texts seen online, and finally relating it to the practice of the language teacher. A tall order to fulfill in an hour, and only made possible by Steven Thorne’s contagiously energetic style…

And as several tweets said at the end of his talk… ‘Now breathe…’

My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 8 – Diana Laurillard’s Plenary

Wednesday, 21st March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.

The IATEFL Day 2 Plenary Speech by Diana Laurillard

The day began with a plenary by Diana Laurillard, a professor of Learning with Digital Technologies, who started off her presentation ‘Supporting the teacher as innovative learning designer’  by highlighting how we can learn through technology. Combining digital tools with what we already know about the learning processes, Diana Laurillard shows us the available technological resources that spur us on to look to technology, allowing for a shift from classroom teaching to personalized learning, and making learning more productive. After all, as she says, teaching is not telling people stuff, but engaging them in activities.

Learning through…

discussion can be done through synchronous webinars with chat and playback, and asynchronous chat forums;

practice can be done through digital interactive tools with meaningful feedback on actions;

collaboration can be done through roleplay simulations with user-generated scripts in interactive games;

production can be done through user-generated digital multi-media combinations of film, animation, sound, images, captions, etc.

Reminding the audience not to let technology wag the dog, she asserts that when we use technology, we should always think of the educational requirements and what it takes to learn, and ask ‘What are we trying to do?’. Then we can challenge the technology to produce that for us. And if technology is doing its job, we hope this might mean less admin work for all of us.

As a professional learning community, we teachers can also make use of technology to:

  • Build on the work of others;
  • Articulate our pedagogy;
  • Adopt, Adapt, Test, and Improve Learning Designs
  • Sharing learning designs
  • Comparing conventional with digital teaching

(These are things that teachers are now using Twitter, Facebook, and even Second Life for these days)

Diana Laurillard then goes on to make some lucid points about the learning process, showing how technology could better suit the learner.

  • Learning isn’t a one-way process from teacher to learner. The learner must be required to think, to be asked to do something, and be given feedback on what they have done.
  • Meaningful feedback doesn’t always have to be from the teacher telling the learner. They can review themselves and their peers can too.
  • Teaching is neither a science nor an art.

Below are the learning cycles that take place.

And here are the tech tools we can use in those learning cycles, and a significant advantage of digital tools is its ability to help the learners do their own reflections, generate new concepts and modulate their own actions.

Diana Laurillard then goes on to show the audience a pedagogy patterns collector, that could possibly collect lesson frameworks to suit different contexts and students…something that for some reason reminded me of Roald Dahl’s The Great Automatic Grammatizator… or should it now be called the Great Automatic Lesson Plan Generator…?

Regardless of one’s biasness towards or against such a tool, one has to admit that digital technology is here to stay and can become a huge advantage to not just our learners but to us educators, and our own continual professional development.