As learning technologies become more and more ubiquitous in our teaching, how can we ensure that pedagogy is at the centre of what we do to increase learning?

As learning technologies become more and more ubiquitous in our teaching, how can we ensure that pedagogy is at the centre of what we do to increase learning? What tools do you incorporate into your teaching and how do you ensure they help learning?

I would like to start this blog post with two quotes:

  1. "Technology that can be taken for granted is already light years ahead of the profession's ability to integrate a principled use of it into the classroom and the curriculum" (Chapelle, 2009:751)
  2. "A principle role of schools is to provide learners with not just a body of knowledge, but the tools to modify and expand that knowledge beyond their formal classroom education" (Beatty, 2010:51)

As teachers of English in whatever context, we find ourselves in the position of mediating between on the one hand our learners, their learning and their needs, and on the other hand, a rapidly changing technological landscape, with tools and resources designed for educational purposes and otherwise, all jostling for our attention. We make choices as to what tools to use in the classroom and what tools to help our learners become better independent users of, and in the process we make choices about what technology to develop our own competence as users.

As far as direct use of technology in the classroom is concerned (and avoiding the issue of what constitutes technology!), for me, the main questions I ask myself before using it are:

  • What is my purpose in using <insert tool name here>?
  • How is using <insert tool name here> actually going to benefit my learners?
  • Will using <insert tool name here> benefit my learners more than a non-technological alternative?

In my opinion, less can be more: We should avoid using technology for the sake of using it and make sure we make principled use of it, with clearly defined purposes in mind. In this way, we can avoid getting knocked off our surfboards by the massive waves of technological innovation and instead harness their power to our advantage.

The main focus of this blog post, however, relates to the second of the two quotes I started by sharing. How can technology serve our learners beyond the classroom? How can we help them harness technology to enhance their language acquisition in the many hours they spend not in the classroom? It is here, I believe, that technology can be most powerful.

As this is obviously an enormous topic, and this is a blog post not a book, I will narrow the focus to two tools, which each represent a different aspect of technology. These two aspects are:

  • Computer-mediated communication
  • Corpora and language analysis

For the first aspect, I will focus on Edmodo (www.edmodo.com), which defines itself quite simply as ““a free and safe way for students and teachers to connect and collaborate”.

For the second aspect, I will focus on wordandphrase.info (www.wordandphrase.info) , which is a user-friendly interface for analyzing a corpus – the COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English).

As with using technology in the classroom, when we want learners to use it outside the classroom, we need to ask ourselves questions regarding purpose, procedure and principles:

  1. Why do I want my learners to use these tools in their free time, when they are away from the classroom? How can these tools help them?
  2. How can I help my learners use these tools most effectively?
  3. How can I ensure that our learners remain motivated in their use of these tools and use them independently rather than just when I say so?
  4. What principles of teaching and learning can I draw on for defining purpose and procedure?

I will now answer these questions in relation to Edmodo and Wordandphrase.info:

Edmodo

  1. I want my learners to use Edmodo as: a means of collaborating and communicating, as it is an opportunity for meaningful communication in English outside the classroom. Learners will benefit because Edmodo not only enables meaningful communication, but is also a space for them to learn from each other. It will also help them by: allowing me to set homework that is more communicative and interesting, and that scaffolds their independent use of it as a learning tool.
  2. By demonstrating its flexibility as tool: If I show learners different ways in which it can be used and encourage them to try these different ways, via homework and via other means, they will hopefully recognise its potential value and start to harness this themselves. By integrating it into their learning: if they see using it as a part of the learning process, rather than some strange add-on that bears no relation to it, then they will be more likely to use it and benefit from it.
  3. By bringing it into the classroom: Through discussions related to the activities they have tried, learners as individuals can draw on the motivation generated by the learners as a group. Through goal-setting: If learners make goals with regards to their activities outside the classroom, including use of Edmodo, they will be more likely to do these activities. By giving them ownership: Giving learners opportunities to make decisions regarding their use of Edmodo, and the space to carry out their ideas, will increase their investment in using it as a tool for their learning.
  4. In order to ensure that I implement use of this tool effectively, I can draw on theories of: learner autonomy, motivation and CALL (computer-assisted language learning). These three areas of research provide a wealth of helpful resources for successful implementation of technological tools in the classroom – and outside it!

For more information about Edmodo and using it with learners, you could read these blog posts of mine:

• How to use Edmodo (i.e. technical know-how) [http://reflectiveteachingreflectivelearning.com/2014/03/28/edmodo-workshop-2832014-a-how-to-for-teachers/]
• 5 ways of using Edmodo to make homework more interesting and communicative [http://reflectiveteachingreflectivelearning.com/2014/02/07/5-ways-of-using-edmodo-with-language-learners-part-1/]
• 5 ways of using Edmodo within learner autonomy development [http://reflectiveteachingreflectivelearning.com/2014/02/20/5-ways-of-using-edmodo-with-language-learners-part-2/]

Wordandphrase.info

  1. I want my learners to use wordandphrase.info because it provides a means of learning about how language is and isn’t used, without being reliant on a teacher. They will benefit because: if I implement use of it well, they will develop greater noticing skills and ability to find patterns in language use, putting them in the role of language researcher as well as language learner/user. It could also help them because: as well as a tool for developing understanding of language, it is also a tool that could be helpful in using language, for example in pieces of writing that learners might produce “in real life” rather than for homework.
  2. To use this tool effectively: learners will need both technological know-how as well as the ability to interpret the data generated and to notice patterns in examples of language. Both of these areas will require careful scaffolding so that learners are not put off by difficulty and do not lose motivation. I can help them by incorporating activities that enable them to develop the necessary skills in a supportive environment and integrating the tool into their learning so that they see the value of it.
  3. By bringing it into the classroom: Both through incorporating scaffolding activities and through giving them opportunities to share what they learn by using the website. In this way, they can learn from each other and be motivated by the success of the group as a whole, as well as by their own success as individuals, and allowing any difficulties to be collaboratively troubleshot. This process will also ensure that learners recognise the value of the tool and so be more motivated to use it to help themselves learn.
  4. In order to ensure that I implement use of this tool effectively, I can draw on theories related to: learner autonomy, motivation, CALL and corpus linguistics.

For more information about wordandphrase,info, how to use it yourself, using it with students and ideas for scaffolding activities, you could read the following posts of mine:

As the final post above suggests, I firmly believe that an essential part of using technological tools successfully with our learners is reflecting on and evaluating the use we make of them, so that we can use them more effectively in future.

Conclusion

Technology has the potential to enhance language learning and acquisition, but we, as teachers, must harness that potential by questioning our use of it and ensuring that this will really benefit our learners rather than just briefly dazzling them.

References:

Chapelle, C. A.(2009) The Relationship Between Second Language Acquisition Theory and Computer-Assisted Language Learning in The Modern Language Journal vol. 93. Focus Issue.

Beatty, K. (2010) Teaching and Researching Computer-Assisted Language Learning. 2nd Edition Pearson Education Limited. Harlow.
 

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