Wednesday, 25 March 2009

New Techologies in the ELT classroom

Audio transcript

Charles Dickens gave us some vivid images of victorian Britain in all aspects of life from the workhouses to the bourgeios landowners, but he also documented a Victorian education system that had children sitting on hard benches for hours on end writing on slate with a thick piece of chalk. I wonder how modern school children would react to these conditions if suddenely transported to the grim smog ridden landscape of C19th London where a simple whisper in class would result in a sevre beating with a cane from the school master. Well times have changed in the education system for better and for worse, and no quicker has it changed than in the last 10 years. We have seen incredible changes to text book design, new teaching styles and methodologies have emerged, but perhaps the biggest change lies in the technological advances that are enriching our daily lives. We call it the new technologies and yet some of these tools that many of us use in its very definition are becoming obselete. In fact this article, in six months time, will also be obselete. What I would like to demonstrate using this wiki however, is to make those who are not familiar with using 'new technologies' more comfortable when approaching the subject.

We start with the internet which as a information tool has been around for many years but in the last five years or so has become a major communication tool that has affected our daily lives. Ok, so we've had email for much longer than five years and which is a communication device, but with the introduction web 2.0 (second generation web) five years ago the internet became a platform for all kinds of applications, which were able to allow idiots like me who don't know anything about web design and application to create spaces, upload and transfere video and audio, and create whatever we like all on the net.

The blog is perhaps the most versitle tool available for our classroom. Easy to set up and easy to control, we can publish articles, videos, photos and have easy access to websites that may interest us. A blog documents and archives everything we do to be refered to at a later date. In order to see how a blog works, you can enter my blog richmondelt where you can find advice on how to start a blog and see a typical layout. The name blog comes from web-log, and does exactly that, records your daily thoughts and projects on the internet just as a diary would on paper. A wiki is something slighty different, as easy to create as a blog is, it is far more static than a blog and resembles the function of a web page with one big difference, it can be edited by anyone. Perhaps the biggest example of a wiki is wikipedia. Social networks are interesting phenomenas that are slowly taking over the world with their ability to consume our precious time poking people. Facebook, the most famous of them, reunites friends and allows them to dive into their lives through photos, videos, quizzes, messaging etc. Although difficult to apply in the classroom it can be an interesting tool to use. By creating controled groups your students can talk to eachother and share projects as they would on a blog. An interesting stance on social networking is Second life. Second life is a virtual world where you have to create a new you and find your way in the world. In this world you can find English classes where student's are free to attend. These classes are given by actual teachers and can interact with other students in the class. Blogs, wikis and social networks are the templates to where you can create all kinds of activities, the other elements in the list there are tools designed to help you make these templates more attractive and dynamic which could include anything from streaming videos to podcasts.

Interactive white boards are a recent classroom phenomena, but slowly becoming more and more indispensible. There are many different types of interactive white boards three of the most popular ones are listed here, ebeam, promethean and the smartboard. One main advantages of the ebeam is that it is portable and can be used almost anywhere. This can be a great advantage for those schools that don't have a specific English classroom where the static interactive white board can be kept. What can we do with them? Well practically everything apart from making a cup of tea! If you don't know how one works imagine your computer with a tactile screen so instead of using your mouse to open programmes and documents you can use a special pen by clicking directly over the icon. This pen also works as a pen so you can write on the screen and save it for later use. This means that anything that can be used on a computer can be used on an interactive white board, from simple word documents to Hollywood DVDs and internet surfing. Of course there are many other tools that go with the interactive whiteboard as well, please watch the video as an example;

One of the greatest draw backs of the interactive whiteboard as you can see from the video is the shadow it creates from the projector as one tries to write on the screen. In order to overcome this problem you could use a tablet PC, which linked by bluetooth connection, is a small pad that can be carried to any where in the classroom and from there we can manipulate the screen as if we were next to it.

I just want to finish by saying brief word on materials. Materials are becoming more demanding every day. Teachers require flexible, easy to use and attractive platforms to help them teach with the interactive whiteboard. At Richmond we have a special department dedicated to innovating digital materials to use with these new technologies. They can be anything from a CD Rom to an digital book or an e-book. Digital books and ebooks are resources designed for the teacher to give them greater control over there course book. They are interactive course books which allows the teacher to play listenings, zoom in to inspect pictures and texts, find out the answer, take extra activities, focus in on a skill, jump from course book to work book and then to the teacher's guide, to highlight words and motivate their students all at a click of a button. Long gone are the days when we have to carry a million different books and resources into the classroom, we just need to make sure we have a digital book.

So as we can see we have come a long way from Mr Dickens' bleak classroom, and we have entered into a dynamic environment where teachers and students alike can be enthused by the amazing tools available to us. Remember however that these are just tools and the creativity and learning process still lies at the feet of the teacher. We are teachers because we know what and how to teach it, just as Dickens used to present his books with public readings nearly 150 years ago to engage his audience we can use the new technologies to help present the content we want to teach to engage ours.


Interactive white boards:
  • ebeam
  • promethean activboard
  • smartboard
  • tablet PC

Digital white boards (projector & computer)
CD Roms
Digital books/e-books
Cameras (Digital video)

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