Technology for Language Learning: Best Practices

New technologies provide wonderful opportunities for language learning, yet teachers and learners alike should be aware of the potential pitfalls. When implementing educational technology, the fundamental question is whether the tool is an efficient way of achieving the pedagogical aims. In this workshop the presenter will outline some considerations for good practice, illustrated with examples from his own classroom. Amongst other things we will discuss mobile learning, the relationship between autonomy and technology, inclusivity, ethics and security.

What do we mean by ‘technology’?

“A process by which humans modify nature to meet their needs and wants” (Selwyn, 2011, p.6)

Technology is not tools alone, but the knowledge and skills necessary to utilise them. Technology is also associated with ‘improvement’ – doing things cheaper, better and faster. It’s important to remember that devices themselves have no intrinsic values. Technology is situated in culture and society.

Do you and your students perceive technology in the same ways?

Digital Natives (see Prensky, 2001), in contrast with digital immigrants, have grown up in a multimedia, web-enabled world. Prensky’s original metaphor was compelling enough to take hold and has had an impact on educational policy. More recent research (see Bennett et al., 2008,  Hargittai, 2010, Jones, 2011) has uncovered a far more nuanced picture. Nonetheless, there may be some generational differences in how digital technology is viewed by students and teachers.

 

traditional modern
professional(spreadsheets, word processing) leisure(YouTube, Social Networking)
archival and searchable(email) transitory and ephemeral(snapchat, line)
situated(desktop, CD’s) mobile(smartphone, streaming)

Why use technology?

There are a number of things which digital technologies may help you do better, faster or more efficiently (although probably not cheaper)

Out of class collaboration, learner autonomy, learning management, portfolio building, reflection, learner ownership, engagement with authentic materials, ‘real world’ language use, curation and collation of learning resources, testing and assessment etc.

Case Study One – Digital video for reflection and creativity.

More details available at my previous post ‘Creating and Using Digital Video with Learners’

Case Study Two – Google Forms and QR codes for classroom management. 

I use Kaywa to create QR codes, and QRafter to read them. Google forms are a very simple and paperless way for teachers to assess and track students.

Case Study Three – Prezi, Diigo and Google Drive for out-of-class collaboration 

Prezi is an online presentation tool. Instead of a series of slides, the presentation is one big slide which the user navigates. The final product is not to everyone’s taste, but it has a couple of pedagogical strengths. Firstly, I like that it encourages non-linear thinking in a brainstorming style. (unlike PowerPoint, which is a very linear process). Secondly, it is easy for several students to work on one slide at the same time, even if they are in different places.

How to Analyse Online Media

Prezi Sample

Google Drive is a suite of tools in the cloud, including word and excel – like software, which can be edited, shared and accessed amongst users. Collaboration can be between students, or students and teachers.

Diigo is a social bookmarking tool, in which online research can be easily tagged and shared amongst a group.

Further Reading

Hargittai, E. (2010). Digital na (t) ives? Variation in internet skills and uses among members of the “net generation”*. Sociological Inquiry, 80(1), 92-113.

Jones, C. (2011). Students, the net generation, and digital natives. In Thomas, M. (Ed.). (2011). Deconstructing Digital Natives: Young people, technology, and the new literacies. Oxford: Taylor & Francis.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants part 1. On the horizon, 9 (5), 1-6.

Selwyn, N. (2011). Education and technology: Key issues and debates. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

JALT CALL has an excellent and regularly updated blog at DMLL with practical advice and ideas.

This post is a development of ideas first presented in this post five years ago. No doubt there is plenty more to do!

Some Questions – A Technology Checklist

Accessibility Do you need a password to access the site? Do you need to log in every time you access the site? What kind of internet access does your institution allow?What are the opening hours of your institutional computer rooms? Are students able to access institutional servers off “campus”? Is the equipment powerful enough to do what you want to do?
Mobility Is the material accessible from a mobile telephone? How much of it? Can students add or edit material by mobile phone?
Hardware BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) or teacher supplied? Who will maintain and store the hardware? How long will it last?
Security Are the students going to upload or create their own work? Is the site searchable on search engines, or can it be hidden? Can anonymity be protected? How much information does a student need to give in order to register with or use the site? Are students comfortable with their work being published? Are the students aware of net security issues? Do the students have good security software at home? Is there a danger that your project could be damaged by viruses?
Navigation Is it easy to get from one place to another? Do hyperlinks pop up in new windows? Is the colour scheme readable? Is it well designed, for both aesthetics and utility? Does the interface change depending on the user (e.g. does it automatically set language based on the userʼs ISP?)
Usability Will the students require a demonstration? Is it simple to use, even for those who generally lack confidence or experience with computers? Is it easy to back up and save work, and are previous versions retained?
Management Will you be managing alone, or with others? How will you delegate management tasks? Who will have access to which parts of the tool? Will students be able to edit? Where will your site be hosted (if necessary)?
Cost Can you find a free version? Can you get an educators discount?If you pay a subscription, is your school willing to commit long-term? Will there be any other expenses? (equipment etc)
Stability Is the site still at a beta testing stage? Does it crash or freeze often?Does it work in the same way on different browsers, computers or networks? Does the look of the site change frequently? Are features and functions often added or removed?
Support Does your school have technical support staff? Are they aware of your project, and willing to help? Does the site have support? How does it operate?Is there a lot of other unofficial support available from the web, colleagues, etc?
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