Let’s get ready to rumble! Fight, fight, fight, fight! It’s EdTech Vs Good Teachers: Who Wins and Who Loses?

These days we receive so much training on the ‘how-tos’ of using technology, mostly represented by tech tools for creating online content, that I thought it would be interesting to focus on the ‘why’ of using educational technology (EdTech) for in-person instruction, and see what (and if) it may help us (EFL/EAL/MFL teachers) achieve that we might previously not have been able to. 

‘Cursory evidence indicates that many teachers dislike technology’

Or find it unnecessary, which in the end is pretty much the same thing. 

Technology is either treated as an inevitable evil needed to deliver language classes online – mimicking what we do in the physical classroom, or as an ad-hoc tool, often in the form of fancy looking learning apps/platforms designed and developed following a general content-based approach. In many cases, they serve their purpose, be it engagement or assessment, but once the effect of novelty wears off, we realise that they do not deliver more than our tried and tested tools – ONCE YOU’VE HAD A PUPPET, YOU NEVER GO BACK. As a result, they rarely get integrated into regular classroom instruction. Why change a good thing?

My feeling is that the situation is unlikely to change anytime soon unless teachers are trained to ‘master ideas, not keystrokes’. For this, we should know not only how to use particular EdTech solutions – which ‘buttons to push’, but have the skills required to learn, assess the value and use a range of solutions to make our teaching more effective. Otherwise, the ‘brainware’ will stay the same. 

Here, I will try to explore e-learning as a practical way to integrate technology into the teaching-speaking cycle and see what we actually gain with and without technology.  

Setting the Stage

Teacher: enthusiastic, friendly, easy-going, able to develop rapport with learners, creative and open to new ideas. Has 2 lovely dogs.

Students: B2 level. Adults (20-42 yrs). Motivated, have clear expectations and goals. 

A coursebook: For our ‘experiment’, I have used a unit from Let’s Talk About It!: The Ultimate ELT Conversation Book self-published by Jose Roberto A. Igreja. 

Jose kindly offered a sample unit from his book together with the recording for free download for our readers (see the download instructions at the end of the blog post). 

The sample unit – Lessons from the Pandemic – focuses on the topic of COVID-19, and has 3 Discussion & Conversation sections. It starts with pre-listening/reading questions to focus students’ attention on the topic. Then students listen to a dialogue – about 4.27 mins – between two characters, Justin and Brian. A transcript of the dialogue is given, with key phrases highlighted. After listening to the conversation, students complete a True, False or I don´t know? exercise, a matching exercise and a gap-fill exercise. Finally, students discuss Discussion & Conversation 1 questions.

As such, the sequence of activities is quite straightforward:

Warm-up → Provide input (listening tasks) → Check comprehension → Speaking tasks → Language focus tasks → Speaking tasks → Language focus tasks → Speaking tasks

The Note to Teachers accompanying the coursebook suggests that students should ideally listen to the dialogue before the class, on their own, to ‘get the gist of the content’. This is reasonable because it may free up more time for speaking in the classroom – ‘If time can be devoted outside the classroom to meaning-focused input (listening) and language focus tasks, the amount of time for speaking/ fluency-based activities in the classroom should increase significantly.’ [How much time should we give to speaking practice?

This is where EdTech can come in handy. However, it should bring more value compared to a non-tech scenario to be considered for a potential spot in the process. 

Non-Tech Scenario

Students are asked to listen to the conversation to get the gist of the content, as a homework assignment. Additionally, students may be asked to think of answers to one or several pre-listening questions. When giving the task, the teacher will provide instructions detailing how to complete the task.   

Learners will listen to the recording on their own. We cannot guide or influence the process.   

Potential gains: more time for speaking practice in class.

Now let’s try to transform this input into a microlearning module for learners and see what we can gain by tailoring learning experiences with personalised e-learning. The module can be shared with learners on my website or on the school’s LMS/platform, or on a flash drive. This way, we avoid giving out our students’ data to third-party platforms. 

Option B (EdTech Scenario):

Students are asked to complete a microlearning module, as a homework assignment: Lessons from the Pandemic_Part 1

Learners listen to the recording, answer pre-listening questions and complete a listening comprehension task. However, unlike the no-tech scenario, we can guide the process and provide opportunities for individualised learning, planning speaking and reflection.

Make learning an individual experience

We can make learning an individual experience by capturing the learner’s name and using it in personalized messages, including feedback, throughout the module.

Interaction with the learner

We can also write messages that speak directly to learners and allow an opportunity for personal reflection and direct interaction with the learner.

Make learning visible

We can make learning visible by asking the learner to write their answers to the question before and after they listen to the recording.

Offering choices

Learners are able to chart their own learning path by selecting activities they would like to start with or skipping activities that are not relevant to them. In this module, learners can choose whether to start with the True or False exercise trying to predict what Brian and Justin said before they listen to the conversation, or listen to the conversation straight away.  

Personalised feedback

We can also personalise feedback for learners. For example, depending on the answers, learners may be asked to complete different tasks.  

Personalised media

Learners may customise the player’ settings and turn on closed captions, or change the speed of the recording.

Tech or No-Tech?

As we may see, both scenarios result in the increase of time for speaking practice in the classroom. However, more time for speaking practice does not necessarily translate into better learning or a better quality of learner talk. 

The scenario with the technology helps:

  • make learning an individual experience, which may result in greater motivation;
  • provide opportunities for reflection and make learning visible, which may lead to an improved sense of achievement; 
  • improve the quality of learner talk by preparing learners for speaking tasks and providing opportunities for repeating the task/tasks in new settings and re-using the language they have studied.
Can We Teach Without EdTech?

We surely can. Whether we can teach more effectively without technology is yet another question.

If you’d like to try how this works with your students, click here to access the e-module: Lessons from the Pandemic_Part 1

Free download

Click on the links below to download the sample unit with the audio from Let’s Talk About It!: The Ultimate ELT Conversation Book self-published by Jose Roberto A. Igreja. 

Resources

Transforming how teachers use technology, June 02, 2021

Kerr, P. (2017). How much time should we give to speaking practice?
Part of the Cambridge Papers in ELT series. [pdf] Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

3 Comments

  1. Excellent read. Could you tell me how you made the emodule? I’d love to create something like for that my yls.

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