Big English, 21st Century Skills in the classroom

Captain’s log: the future is here

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the TV show Star Trek – I liked a lot of things about the show, but the part that interested me the most was the cool technology that the crew of the USS Enterprise had. I watched in awe as Captain Kirk, standing on the surface of an unknown planet, flipped open his communicator to talk to Mr. Spock, standing on the bridge of their spaceship.

Nowadays many people have their own version of the Star Trek communicator (aka smartphones or tablets), and in the last ten years or so, we’ve seen these devices increasingly become able to connect us to people, places, and information in ways that only a few decades ago would have been considered science fiction.

So, asking a question now like ‘Are digital tools and resources important in a learning environment?’ seems strange. For most digital natives, technology is already firmly integrated into their lives. Perhaps the question we should ask is, ‘How can we harness the advantages of digital tools and resources to help students learn?’

Navigating a universe of digital choices

Does technology always make our lives easier? Well, it depends! Most of us have probably been in that situation where we’re asked to give a presentation using some kind of technology – whether it’s an overhead projector or a few dozen slides on a computer – and we all know that things can go wrong.

There can be problems bringing new technology into the classroom as well. Not everyone knows how to use every type of device and application. Not all apps are useful for learning. Both users and institutions are constantly trying to find ways to protect their privacy online. And when not used properly, technology can even be a distraction to learners in the classroom.

But with proper preparation and implementation, technology offers a universe of advantages not only to learners, but to instructors as well. Here are just a few examples:

Personalization of teaching and learning

Instructors can set individual learning pathways for students based on their needs, their interests, or their levels of proficiency. Learning tools allow us to assign tasks, perform ongoing assessments, and view and analyse results far more efficiently than paper-based examinations. This helps us make key decisions in order to improve each learner’s experience.

Digital literacy

Digital tools don’t only provide opportunities to study language, but to use language. Through the use of social media tools, learners can connect, collaborate, and problem-solve with other learners. As students move toward their prospective jobs and careers, knowing how to use digital tools to accomplish tasks is seen as a necessity for most of us in the 21st century.

Automation and efficiencies

Digital tools can save teachers a lot of time. Test generators can create assessments in seconds, online learning management tools can help teachers provide quick feedback to learners, and chatting online with a student who needs help understanding a task can allow an instructor to save valuable class time for additional learning opportunities.

Charting our future course

In 2016, the US Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services published an Early Learning and Educational Technology Policy Brief, which provides four guiding principles for using technology effectively with younger learners:

1. Technology—when used appropriately—can be a tool for learning.
2. Technology should be used to increase access to learning opportunities for all children.
3. Technology may be used to strengthen relationships among parents, families, early educators, and young children.
4. Technology is more effective for learning when adults and peers interact or co-view with young children.

Of particular interest to me are principles 3 and 4. The policy document recommends that instructors incorporate the use of technology in a way that is collaborative, rather than individual. In the world of language teaching, there has been a large focus on developing tools that individual users can access to access additional content and build their own skills. It seems that it may even be more important to consider how to bring on-screen learning together with face-to-face learning. Here are some ideas for doing this:  

  • Make online learning materials available to parents, so that they can discuss with their children what they’re learning about in class.
  • Have students co-view online videos or work through activities together on one screen, so that they are able to collaborate socially as they complete a digital task.
  • Use online video chat programs to schedule calls between instructors and their students, and include their parents to help strengthen the connection between the classroom and the home.

One thing is certain. Digital tools are a reality outside the classroom, and they are naturally entering classroom instruction as well. Just as Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock met hundreds of unknown challenges in the 23rd century, we can help prepare ourselves and our learners for the challenges of the 21st.

Introducing Big English 2nd edition

This is where Big English comes in. Not only does the new and improved 2nd edition provide teachers with a digital platform full of interactive resources, it also includes a digital teacher presentation tool with step-by-step lesson flows allowing you to deliver effective, engaging lessons.

What’s more, there’s a online student platform where your learners can log-in to find and complete homework activities and monitor their progress, effectively extending learning beyond the classroom.

These digital tools go hand-in-hand with the 21st century skills which are embedded throughout the course, helping students develop essential skills for life such as Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, Creativity and Digital Literacy. 21st Century Skills are signposted sections in the teaching notes. There is also a Think Big feature that appears 3-5 times each unit.

Read more about what’s new in Big English 2nd Edition or head over to the website, where you can download a free sample to try with your students today.


4 Guidelines for Early Learners Using Technology

Early Learning and Educational Technology Policy Brief  (US Dept of Education and US Dept of Health and Human Services, October 2016)

The Pros and Cons of Technology (By Amanda Ronan on January 16, 2017)

Value of Digital Learning (MIT/Office of Digital Learning)

Skills for Today: Digital Literacy & The Importance of the 4Cs in a Global Context (Erin Dowd, Director of Curriculum, Level Up Village on April 24, 2017)


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