How I Use Technology to Enhance Student Learning

I was asked to write this short piece for a job application and thought people might find it interesting. Enjoy… (and please bear in mind I only had half an evening in which to write this)

With the rapid development of technology, and the increasing reliance of people around the world on technology, I believe it is an important, even necessary, tool to be harnessed by the English language teacher. Over the course of my teaching career I have used technology to improve my students’ learning experience in several ways. I will now briefly highlight those that I think have been the most important in developing my students’ English ability.

A primary objective of my current position is to prepare students for international communication. This objective was the catalyst for a technology based linked-classroom project I organized with high schools in Japan and Brazil. The aims of the project were for students to:

• Develop an awareness of the varieties of English used around the world.

• Learn about other cultures around the world and the affect their cultures have on communication.

•  Improve their ability to use English as a means of international communication.

• Demonstrate how technology can be used as a learning tool.

The project was conducted by setting up a website through which the students could communicate (unfortunately, in order to respect students’ privacy, I cannot link the site). Technology was used to facilitate this communication in a number of ways; firstly, delayed interviews were used to promote oral communication. The students digitally recorded questions for their partner students in the linked classrooms. These were then uploaded to the website, listened to by the partner students in Brazil and Japan and replies made with follow up questions. Video documentaries were also made about a certain aspect of the students’ culture and these were shared, offering a unique chance for the students to discover about the lives of similarly aged peers around the world through the discussion of topics such as interests, relationships between their countries and recent events. Also, short articles were written and uploaded to Scribd with questions for the students in the linked classroom and video documentaries were made, uploaded and shared with the linked classrooms.

Within regular classes, I believe harnessing the technological tools our students are using can help actively engage them in the learning process. In project classes tablets and smartphones are, for example, used by students to conduct research for group projects. My students also use their portable devices to record each other completing communication activities. The students can then watch themselves on the video and use it as a means of reflecting on their performance and developing their own action plans for developing their English ability. I also enjoy building relevant media into my lessons as a source of authentic materials. For example, when teaching a module on climate change I created an activity utilizing this two minute trailer for ‘There Once was an Island’ to show the effects of climate change while exposing students to non-native varieties of English. Another example includes my use of this clip from ‘Mr. Baseball’ to highlight the importance of culture in everyday life and the need to be aware and sympathetic towards an interlocutor’s culture.

Finally, I also enjoy using technology to maximize the students’ opportunities for interacting with myself and their peers outside of the classroom. Through experimenting and reflecting on ways of increasing interaction outside of the classroom, I have realized the importance of using social networks to promote both student-to-student and student-to-teacher interaction. It is very important, however, that when engaging with students on a social site such as Facebook, an alternative account is created to maintain the student-teacher relationship parameters. Social networks such as Facebook are also useful for sharing supplementary materials with students related to class topics, providing them with a forum through which they can ask questions about class work, discuss topics with other students on the course and interact with myself. Twitter, meanwhile, is an excellent platform for encouraging students to use English outside of the classroom by creating a network with English language learners all over the world. Unfortunately, I have not had chance to use the Moodle platform with my students. I have, however, used it to complete my MA TESOL and I am extremely excited about the learning potential these types of platforms hold for English language teaching.

To conclude, while technology forms an important part of my teaching toolkit, I strongly believe that technology should remain a tool to be used at the correct opportunity. I find that, with the ever increasing range of technology available to us, it is becoming increasingly easy for an English language teacher to fall into the trap of using technology for the sake of using technology, and that we are in danger of becoming over-reliant on it. In my classes I try to avoid this by, when planning on using technology in the classroom, identifying what its learning purpose is, how it helps students to achieve the objectives of the lesson, how easy it is for students to utilize and understand the technology and whether it is more effective than non-technology based methods. My experiences with using technology and my reflections on those have, however, taught me that when used correctly, technology is a tool that simply cannot be ignored by an English language teacher.

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