Developing Digital Literacies for Teachers
The thing is, this is not a reaction to my students tackling some carefully crafted web quest or using iPads to create animated video clips (simply because I don’t usually do those kind of tasks but more on that later!) It is often a reaction to my class using an app like Padlet to collaborate or Kahoot to create their own quizzes.
“I didn’t do that,” is usually my answer. “I just set it up and my students did the rest.”
“But it seems so complicated,” they continue. “I could never do something like that.”
When a teacher is reluctant to use technology in class, there are two reasons they may offer – “I don’t know much about technology,” and/or “my students are much better with tech than me so how could I teach them anything with it?”
This is all a matter of perspective. The first response usually doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. We all use technology in our everyday lives through our phones, home and office computers, when we go to the bank, the supermarket or run other errands… It’s just that we don’t think about it. We don’t focus on it. The technology has become ubiquitous and invisible.
And that is something we should be aiming for in class – not a lesson where the technology on display dominates but a lesson with the focus on learning outcomes with the tech simply a resource (see this blog post by Ana Cristina Pratas for another perspective on this).
The second response also tells me a lot about how the classroom is viewed. This suggests that the teacher sees themselves as the leader, an authority figure who should remain in charge and control of all elements of the lesson. Technology, in this view, may expose gaps in the teacher’s knowledge and therefore erode their authority.
So, how can we encourage teachers who are reluctant to bring technology into the classroom to develop their own digital literacy? Here is my advice for teachers and trainers alike:
Embrace the Gap
Instead of worrying that we risk losing our ‘expert’ status when our students are more comfortable using technology than we are, we should embrace the gap and turn it into a learning opportunity.
Take one of my favourite examples – Minecraft. A few years ago, I noticed my students were seriously into this game as it started to show up in their project work. I knew very little about the game and had never played it but that did not matter. I got them to teach me about the game instead! (See this article for more details). This proved to be a productive task. Not only did I learn about the game, but they got a great opportunity to practice giving instructions and advice. In this case, the technology was a catalyst for a process of learning and engagement on all sides.
Whatever happens in class, we will always remain the experts in the language. If our students our experts in other areas, we should take advantage of that. I often ask students for their input and ideas when we are approaching a task. In terms of task management, production, or presentation, I invite their suggestions for any tech, web tools, or apps we can use. They explain how it works and how it can be of benefit for the task at hand and then we try it out. After all, if technology is to be successfully integrated into lessons, the students should be the ones using it, not me.
Keep it Simple
Another key point to bear in mind is that technology in the classroom does not always have to be complicated. Of course, when well-designed and done with learning aims in mind, activities like web quests, interactive stories with QR codes, or augmented reality presentations can be thoroughly engaging and informative. These can put teachers off as they seem to require a lot of technical know-how and also a considerable amount of preparation time. However, not every lesson featuring tech needs to be like that.
For teachers who have not used mobile devices in class before, for example, I usually recommend they start with the built-in camera and microphone. Using iPads for speaking tasks or assessments (as covered in my most recent TeachingEnglish post) is easy to do and allows for much more in-depth feedback. Likewise, handing students a device and asking them to make a video of a role-play creates a sense of purpose to the activity that encourages students to show their best side.
Apps like Quizlet and Kahoot are popular for a reason and that is because they are simple to use. Through a teacher account, it is easy to create sets for students, and we can also encourage students to create their own vocabulary reviews of end of unit quizzes. This again puts the technology in the learners’ hands and takes the pressure off the teacher.
Experiment and Reflect
One key element of teacher development is to reflect on our experiences. Whenever we try a new activity or approach with our students, whether with technology or without, we should always go through a cycle of reflection. This helps us focus on not only what went well or wrong but also why it happened that way. This can then inform our future practice so we can improve and develop.
As an example, the first time I created a Quizlet vocabulary set for my students to use in class, it didn’t go well. I displayed the link on the board but it was difficult for them to type it out on their mobile devices and we lost a lot of time to just accessing the resource. Thinking there must be a quicker way to access the link (student accounts were not an option in the school I was in at the time), I asked colleagues who had used the app and mobile devices in class before and was directed towards QR codes. These provided a simple way for students to access the material and the next attempt to use it in class went much better.
But my reflections didn’t stop there. After reading about how other teachers were using Quizlet in a blog post, I thought that my students might benefit from using it as a revision tool. I therefore pitched the idea to my class of them creating their own vocabulary lists. They liked the idea and were soon sharing links to their sets on our class blog. Without reflecting and experimentation, we may have given up on using it after the awkward first attempt.
Collaborate and Share
In the above example, I mention how both my colleagues and teachers in my online networks helped me reflect on and develop my ideas – and that is something we should aim for when trying to expand our digital horizons. If you are a teacher, encourage a group of colleagues to join you on your digital journey. If you are a trainer, set up regular meetings to discuss and share ideas.
In my current teaching centre, we have weekly workshops for using iPads with a focus on sharing ideas. We will look at an app, brainstorm ideas for using it in class and then come back together the next week to reflect on how we used it in class and share success stories or issues we faced. This all helps make that question of “How did you do that?” an inquisitive one rather than one of surprise.
It is also an important reminder of the need to constantly develop. We can’t ‘learn’ digital literacies in one workshop, nor can we improve them in one training day. We can only develop them through experimenting, reflecting, and collaborating with our colleagues and with our students. Then, they will be come as ubiquitous and invisible as the smartphones, websites, and all the other technology we use so naturally.
David Dodgson, originally from the UK, works for the British Council in Bahrain as an ICT coordinator. He has also worked in Turkey and Gabon, gaining experience with young learners, adults, exam preparation and EAL classes. He runs two blogs, davedodgson.blogspot.com, which is about his teaching and learning experiences, and eltsandbox, which focuses on using digital games as authentic materials for language learning.