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Using digital tools in the classroom

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Promoting autonomous learning outside classroom to focus on learning goals

Traditionally language learning has always been associated with reading books, listenin to and using the language to communicate and so on. With digital technology pervading our lives, reading paperback books has taken a back seat. With so much information available on all digital platforms, reading is one important form, albeit binge reading I would say.  In a way it is good as there is more exposure to the language, different genres and text types. This in a way facilitates learning outside the classroom where people are learning newer items, vocabulary and forms all the time. However, exploiting this scenario and making it more focussed and meaningful to help promote autonomous learning can turn around things.

I used Edmodo to get my spoken English class to stay connected and focussed to achieve the learning goals. Edmodo helped us collaborate on discussion topics, stay organized, and access materials that I ‘d post, such as Youtube links, TED Talks, trending headlines or any other content. For spoken English classes videos and listening tasks are huge pedagogical powerhouses and I used them a lot to bolster their exposure to authentic sources and materials. For instance, having seen/ heard some authentic input, it would become easier to get straight into the lesson and give more time for interaction and guided practice activities.

After an initial ‘getting to know’ and needs analysis exercise, I figured out that my students spent a lot of time on social media and preferred to stay connected that way and so I signed them up for Edmodo. It was a closed secure space and students were also encouraged to post messages and links. There was communication and updates regularly. I posted dilemmas on current issues to solicit their opinions. Initially I encouraged them to communicate and spell out their mind on current events and this drove them to read and explore the topics in detail. Having got them into this mode, I started off with debates on social and local issues; I would post a topic on the group every week and let them put forward their ideas. For example, students would write their ideas/opinions, for and against on the platform (some even recorded and posted). I would use it to lead them up to the final real time discussion in the classroom. It was a great way of brainstorming, and getting to know diverse views and would save a lot of prep time in the class room. This led them to read more in their own time. It gave the much-needed scaffolding to reticent and shy students.

In the classroom all it would take is to introduce the topic and put them into groups and let the discussion / debate flow. Since they had background reading, they wouldn’t get struck and there was spontaneity. The students engaged well in the group discussions and got over their hesitation that could hinder their spoken skills. Also, exposure to authentic material through Edmodo, inculcated a culture of reading news stories. I could see its benefit coming through as they often made references in their interactions. Even though they had content, which side would they be  required to speak on in the class was the surprise element. This was to add to the challenge of speaking about new topics.

I used Edmodo for assessment and feedback as well. I asked students to prepare one-minute public speech (audio or video) and post it for peer and self-assessment. For example, on a given topic all students prepared speeches and shared it on the platform. Using the assessment parameters and pointers they reflected on their own speech as well as gave feedback on others. This worked very well as they got feedback from their colleagues and could visualize their own mistakes. It cannot be denied that doing individual exercises on personal devices can isolate and deprive students of the interactive experience that language learning should be. However, collaborative platforms such as Edmodo classrooms can fuel interaction and help students focus on specific learning goals. It was a great way to share information, collaborate and support each other outside classroom hours on specific topics. It encouraged them to share clips of interesting news items or talk shows or anything meaningful with their classmates. Digital learning technology is there to stay so it’s better that we as teachers help students channel their energy to sift through authentic and legitimate sources.