Classroom technology: pre-sessional 2016

 EAP, ESP&EdTech, Technology  Comments Off on Classroom technology: pre-sessional 2016
Jul 012016
 

This is my main classroom this year. The seating arrangement has changed into a horse shoe at the front for whole class activities. The seats at the back are used for break-out sessions / group work. On the teacher’s desk, there is a computer and screen with camera, a visualiser, a podcast recording device (the round microphone behind the keyboard, and the small screen with which everything is controlled. In the room, there are 6(!) whiteboards, a projector and large screen. There’s also wifi (throughout the campus) so that students (and teachers) can use their own devices.

All students in my classes have smartphones and laptops, only one or two have a tablet. This hasn’t changed over the six years that I’ve been teaching on these pre-sessional courses.

IMG_2681 IMG_2680 IMG_2679 IMG_2678 IMG_2677

Good or bad, valuable or worthless?

 ESP&EdTech  Comments Off on Good or bad, valuable or worthless?
May 292016
 

Huseyin Can March 2106Last week, I had to take care of my nephew, Hüseyin Can, for a couple of hours. Hüseyin Can is special. He’s got cerebral palsy. You can watch some videos of him on YouTube.
I wanted to keep him occupied but also get some stuff done that I wanted to do, which was to sort through the latest batch of photographs I had taken. I had never done this while my nephew was present. So, while I was flicking through my photographs and deciding which to keep and which to delete and talking aloud to keep him engaged, he was watching what I was doing. He’s good with computers and also learns quickly by observing. After a while, he motioned that he wanted to take control of moving forward to the next picture and the delete button. I was still talking about the images: ‘This is nice, I’ll keep it. Move to the next one. This one is blurry, let’s delete it…’ But then, Hüseyin Can started to decide himself and was proceeding to delete some images I wanted to keep. I had to stop him and explain that I liked them, but he disagreed and showed that he didn’t like them. Then came pictures he liked and he nodded with his head and made sounds of approval meaning Yes,! This is pretty! This we’ll keep! Sometimes, we agreed, but sometimes, I didn’t like an image that he liked a lot.

Why am I writing about this on my professional blog? Well. to me, besides having had a great time with my nephew, it was a special moment because he was expressing his feelings about what he found beautiful and what not. He always says what he likes or dislikes, whether it’s a new toy, a new t-shirt, a TV programme, etc., but this was different, it was about photography, about colours, shapes, light!But there was something else why I found his reactions interesting: Although we agreed on some photographs, we mostly disagreed on which were beautiful, or good, or worth keeping and which weren’t. It took me a day or two to make the connection between this and teaching and learning. How often do we choose material and prepare a lesson that we like, but it falls flat on our students. However, it’s also happened to me that I didn’t like a lesson, but at the end, a student walked up to me and thanked me and said it was great and they learned a great deal.
We know this can happen, but it was good that my nephew reminded me of how different opinions can be. In the case of the photographs it didn’t matter so much, I got to keep the ones I liked, but am aware that not everybody will like them. Fine with me. In a teaching context, however, it can mean the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful lesson, so, worth finding out why students liked or disliked a particular lesson.

Apr 152016
 

The details, abstract and slides for my talk

Hall 9

1025-1055

Writing for publication can help teachers develop in their profession and further their career. However, many teachers might think they don’t have what it takes to write for publication. Others want to do it, but don’t know how to get started. This talk is a personal account of my writing journey hoping it will inspire other teachers.

The talk is for the ‘less experienced’. It’s about both Teacher Development and Materials Writing

(The slides can be downloaded at this link.)

The idea to talk about this topic came to me last year when I had blogged about why to write and how to start writing and it seemed to inspire colleagues.

I like to write or talk about my own experience, about how I did things, rather than talk about abstract concepts. This way, I hope that other teachers will say: “If she can do it, I can to!”

At the same time, because the talk is about my own writing journey, there are many others with their own stories. For this reason, and for allowing participants (and non-participants) to add their questions and comments, for which there might not be sufficient time during the talk, I have created this Google document for my IAEFL Birmingham talk.

One problem with starting to write (or any other new things we want to finally do) is that the inspiration or motivation doesn’t often last long enough to actually do it. This is why I will ask the participants

What’s your next step?

… and invite them to talk with each other about their next concrete step and leave a comment in the Google document or below what this will be.
If you do leave a comment, I’d be very happy if you came back and left another comment after you’ve taken that step, no matter how small or big.

Thanks

I’d also like to thank Cleve Miller at English360 for making it possible for me to attend the conference and for Valentina Dodge for all her support and encouragement.

Update

In the meantime, I have given the talk and written up my reflections on how it went here.

How to NOT set up a role-play if your students have smartphones

 EAP, ESP&EdTech, Teacher Development, Technology  Comments Off on How to NOT set up a role-play if your students have smartphones
May 082015
 

There’s is a very nice role-play activity which our coordinator shared with me in my first year teaching a pre-sessional summer EAP course and which I like to use with my students in the last speaking lesson of the course (unfortunately, I don’t remember the book it comes from).  It’s fun, but also very useful as the role-play situations are authentic: student and librarian, student and accommodation officer, student and head of department, etc. There are no scripts. For each role, there is a role description, which they have to read carefully. Then, the pairs can sit together and prepare their role-play deciding who says what.

However, I didn’t like how students wrote down the complete dialog and tried to memorise and act it out. The dialogues were hilarious and we all had a great time, students did use the language well and it was speaking practise. But it didn’t feel authentic and it didn’t really show how good students where when they had to reply spontaneously. So, I changed the preparation part a bit the following year: I didn’t tell the students who their partners would be! This way, they could prepare for their role, but they would have to listen carefully to what the other person was saying and they would have to react spontaneously. Ingenious! Or so I thought.

When I had given each student their role-play card making sure pairs were not sitting next to each other, I started monitoring and helping where necessary. But I noticed that something was going on; the students had all started using their smartphones. First, I thought they were looking up words in their dictionaries, but that wasn’t it. When I asked them what they were doing, they said they had found their partners and where preparing their role-plays! I felt like a fool! We all laughed about my failed attempt to set up the role-play with surprise partners 🙂 I asked them to switch off their phones, so a bit of the surprise element was there in the role-plays. It was a lot of fun, as usual, but they could also show their real speaking skills. So, I had saved the situation, but learned a lesson too.

This happened a couple of years ago. Although, I was aware of social media apps and was using some tools myself, and although I knew that students were sometimes messaging during class, it didn’t occur to me that they would use it as they did for this role-play task. For them, it was the most natural thing to do, though.

Why I wanted to share this story

– We often discuss which tools we use in class and which we don’t, or even whether we use technology in class at all or not, but there is also the students and the technology THEY use. We need to be at least aware of how they use their tools they bring to class, whether it’s their electronic dictionaries, or their smartphones and tablets.

– Even teachers who like to use technology and who train other teachers in using technology can make mistakes. But it’s hardly ever a disaster as long as one has good rapport with the students and talks about these things in class.

What I learned from this

Since then, I’ve always shown more interest in what kind of apps my students have on their phones and we talk about this at the beginning of the course. Since then, I also try to manage the use of smartphones in class better by, for example, telling them at different stages to put away their smartphones (even if they insists they need the dictionary!). Am I always successful? No! But I’ve come to terms with this. If I see how teachers or other professionals “multitask” or chat with others during conferences webinars, or meetings (including myself) and “claim” this helps them focus, I don’t think I need to manage my students’ use of technology one hundred percent.

 

Do you have a story to share about a “failed” attempt to manage your class due to technology? What happened? How did you react? How did your students react? What did you get out of it?

Wow your students, not! — Technology in pre-sessional EAP courses

 EAP, ESP&EdTech, Technology  Comments Off on Wow your students, not! — Technology in pre-sessional EAP courses
May 072015
 
Another pre-sessional EAP summer is approaching. Once the intensive course starts, there is hardly any time to reflect on what I’m doing in the classroom. So, I want to look back a bit, in a couple of blog posts, at how and for what purpose I have integrated technology in the course in the previous years. But before doing that, I want to list what kind of technology or tools are available where I work and try to come up with criteria for using technology in pre-sessional EAP courses. Finally, I hope that these reflections will help me to look ahead and think about any area where I could or should do things differently this summer and decide whether technology can help with this.

Unpredictable availability of technology

What makes it sometimes a bit difficult to prepare to integrate certain technology  in pre-sessional courses is that we are not in the school or environment that we are familiar with. Even those of us who have taught at the same university for several years are assigned different buildings and classrooms, and they can all have a very different set of technology that is available. There can be classrooms with just a blackboard (yes, black, with a small “b”!). In many science buildings/classrooms, for example, they prefer the blackboard for certain things. If you are lucky, there will be both black and whiteboards, but no other technology, no access to wi-fi due to the location of the classroom.
Then, there are what I call the “standard” classrooms with a large whiteboard, a computer connected to the internet, a projector and screen, integrated CD-player and loudspeakers, and broadband wi-fi for everyone.
At the highest end, you will have a large classroom with several whiteboards, possibly even blackboards, a computer connected to the internet, a projector and screen, and broadband wi-fi for everyone, and a visualiser, plus thick curtains that you can shut automatically when showing something on the screen.
However, all students (and teachers) have access to quite a lot of technology outside the classroom: broadband wi-fi on campus, lots of computer clusters, scanners, printers, … and, of course, the technology they bring with them: smartphones, tablets, netbooks, and laptops.
Here’s a simple list of some of the technology I’ve used in the pre-sessional courses:

HARDWARE

  • whiteboard
  • blackboard
  • IWB
  • computer
  • CD-player (mostly integrated in the computer)
  • projector + screen
  • loudspeakers
  • Wi-Fi
  • visualiser
  • computer clusters
  • smartphones (the students’)
  • iPad / tablet (mine or the students’)

SOFTWARE

  • MS Word (or other word processors)
  • presentation tools (PPT, prezi, keynote)
  • PDF viewer
  • internet
  • GoogleDocs
  • email
  • Blackboard
  • Turnitin
  • video and audio player on the computer
  • Youtube or other video sites
  • screencasting software (e.g. Jing)
  • electronic or online dictionaries
  • apps for the iPad (to view document, take notes, record audio)
  • apps or tools that my students use
As you see, nothing extraordinary really. So, this is not about the latest “toys” that you can wow your students withs. In fact, if there is one thing I would like teachers who might read this to take away is that this is not about wowing students at all. I would even say that the less they are aware of the technology the better. I don’t want to draw attention to the technology, I want them to be interested in the content, the language, the ideas, etc. If I can accomplish this by using technology fine, but if this can be accomplished in a different, non-tech way, that’s fine too. A simple example: After a couple of weeks, certain tasks become repetitive, or students simply get tired, which is absolutely understandable in a relatively long, intensive course. Sometimes, a simple change of setting helps them to focus again or to make the same task more interesting. For example, I tell them they can do a discussion or group work task outside if they want to, on a warm, dry day. Sometimes, we go to the library for tutorials, so when I talk with one student, the others can do research or continue writing their essay, or can give each other feedback on their writing.
At the same time, we use technology to do certain tasks: During the tutorial, we might look at a student’s writing on my iPad and talk through it. Students might be using the library computers to find books or articles for their essay. Other students might be using their laptops to write their essay. The technology is just there to do certain tasks, nothing extraordinary. So, this would be on criteria for me. I’ll list this and others in no particular order below.

Criteria for technology use in pre-sessional summer courses

  1. needs to me “normal” or normalised (aim is not to wow students but to help do something better or easier, not to distract them with the tech)
  2. no training needed (there is no time for training other than for a brief explanation; this is also connected to the first point)
  3. no sign up required (other than maybe for tools which I think they might continue using, but I really try to avoid this. There might also be a policy at some schools where teachers can’t simply ask students to create accounts or sign up to a website or tool without the school’s consent).
  4. used in a way or for tasks that are authentic (for example, they will use a Word processor and it’s comment or track changes function after the course when continuing with their studies,so it’s good for them to get used to this in the pre-sessional course as the objective of the course is not only to help them improve their academic English, but also ease them into the academic life at a UK university).
  5. help make a task easier (sending drafts by email and for me commenting in word processor is easier and more efficient than asking students to print out each draft and hand it to me, etc. However, I know teachers who prefer printed drafts, so this is my personal choice.
  6. accessible to all students
  7. available for all computer systems (which the students use)
  8. free (no fees for the students!)
  9. available on the university computers or accessible online, or my students have their own (if I want to use them in class)
What are your criteria? Why?

Images take a central stage

 ESP&EdTech, Materials Writing  Comments Off on Images take a central stage
Apr 212015
 

There seems to be a growing interest in images in coursebooks. Several sessions at the IATEFL conference in Manchester focused on this topic.

I attended two:

  1. Maximising the image in materials design by Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones (MAWSIG PCE Day)
  2. Can a picture tell a thousand words? by Hugh Dellar

The main message for me in both sessions was that in the past images in coursebooks were mostly used for decorative purposes, but today, they are often more central to the unit (Ben and Ceri), in fact, sometimes even the driving force for a whole page or eve double page (Hugh Dellar). Having trained as a photographer and having worked with images a lot, I was happy to hear this.

Hugh Dellar listed the following functions that images can have in coursebook:

  • to illustrate the meaning of lexis > limited, often nouns and actions BUT these are often not problematic to sts, – these don’t help sts speak
  • to test sts have remembered lexis
  • to serve as decoration
  • to act as prompts for grammar drills / practice > peculiar use of English (he is cooking)
  • to check receptive understanding
  • to set the scene for role plays
  • to generate language and ideas
  • to generate discussion, opinions, stories, etc

He suggested that the last three are the more interesting uses.

I would say that all uses, including decorative uses of images are good if the images are chosen well and don’t confuse the learners. But I agree that images can and should sometimes have a more central role.

Due to my personal interest in images, I have often based a whole lesson around them, sometimes around a single image. Not only do learners often feel engaged by images if they are well-chosen and meaningful, but as their isn’t much or any text, a lot of language emerges from the learners.

I’d like to give one example of an image and how I used it for a lesson. This is just one example, and in this case, it was I who chose the image as I felt strongly about it. However, I also knew my students and their interests well and knew they would have a lot to say about the image. Of course, learners can be asked to bring their own images to the class and possibly even create their own questions and task around them, or simply talk about them.

In this case, the image was that of a new church that was being built in my city then, but not many people knew about it yet, and this was crucial as otherwise the activities I had planned wouldn’t have worked. It’s also important that it has got some relevance to the students. In this case it was an image of a local building in a newly developed area. Also crucial when choosing an image is that it shows something controversial or something that would trigger highly emotional reactions. The architecture of the church was extremely unusual and it was planned as an ecumenical church, another hot topic for many.

Here are two images of the church — the one I used was black&white and there was no green park and no glass windows.

Maria-Magdalena-Kirche im Rieselfeld

Maria-Magdalena-Kirche im Rieselfeld

I had several students who were taking general speaking classes and liked talking about different topics of interest. I don’t remember the complete lesson plan, but I started by showing the students the image which I had cut out from a local newspaper and asking the students questions about the building:

  •  What kind of building do you think is this? (Answers varied from museum to prison to bunker; none said church).
  • When do you think was it build?
  • Where do you think is it located?
  • Which adjectives would you use to describe it?
  • How does it make you feel?

Once they new what it was, I had prepared more questions:

  • Do you think it was designed by a male or female architect? Why
  • Would you want to visit / attend mass in this church? Why/Why not?
  • If you had the chance to talk to the architect, what would you tell them?
  • What would you change about the church so you’d like it more?

I had more questions ready which gave the students the opportunity to produce and practice different grammar, vocabulary and skills.However, I didn’t always go through my list of questions with the students. Sometimes, they wanted to talk more about one question or aspect of the church or the controversy, etc. A student who was a regular worshipper was interested in different questions or aspect than one who was more interested in architecture, for example. Sometimes, a student would take over and make it completely their own lesson, talking about things I hadn’t thought about.

I used the image mainly in general English speaking lessons, but it can easily be used for practising other skills. The students could, for example, be asked to write a letter to the mayor, the architect, or the newspaper to state their opinion, etc.It could also be used in ESP classes with a different set of questions.

The lessons with this particular image were always interesting for the students and for me; the discussions were never the same and I always learned something new from my students too.

This is only one example of a lesson based around an image. It could have been done entirely differently. What also works well is image comparisons with multiple images. Another “classic” image activity: The teacher brings some personal images and tells stories about them; then, the students are asked to do the same in the next lesson. I’m sure you know many more. I’d be happy to hear about your favourite image activity.

Can such lessons flop? They certainly can. There’s a lot that can go wrong when images are used, which might be worth another blog post…

Book Chapter — Blended learning: Podcasts for taxi drivers

 ESP&EdTech, Teacher Development, Technology  Comments Off on Book Chapter — Blended learning: Podcasts for taxi drivers
Apr 142013
 

BC Blended Learning book coverI contributed a chapter in this new British Council publication on Blended Learning in English Language Teaching: Course Design and Implementation. My contribution (part 3, chapter 11, pages, 131-139) describes how I used podcasts in a blend of interactions and tools for an ESP course for taxi drivers.

The book looks at various case studies that describe how the  Blended Learning was used in the English Language Teaching context.

 

 

 

The main part of the book consists of twenty case studies, which are grouped into four areas:

  • Part 1: EAP (English for Academic Purposes)
  • Part 2: Teacher Development
  • Part 3: ESP (English for Specific Purposes)
  • Part 4: English as a Foreign Language/General English

The book can be downloaded for free in PDF format or purchased in print.