Technology in the classroom: 5 ways I survived it


I must admit that I used to be no great fan of technology. I considered myself lucky when I started teaching almost 20 years ago and ‘using technology in the classroom’ meant using a cassette player with, at times, a speed adjuster. A few years later CD players became the norm and I missed the good old tapes.

Soon after moving to the north of Italy in Lombardy, I had to start using computers in class to play listening exercises, but I avoided using other technology at all costs. That is, until I was teaching two lower-secondary students who had no idea who Marco Polo and Louis Armstrong were and along came task-based lessons using the computer we had in the classroom. There was, however, only one computer per classroom in the school where I was working and no projector, so most of the lessons were course book-based. At the time, I would only run technology-based lessons occasionally, when students were plateauing and needed to be pushed or when I felt like writing my own materials.

Two years later, I sent my CV to a private language school in Milan. I felt the interview was going well  and then they asked me about the kind of technology I was using in the classroom. “Do you use PPT?” I was asked. “At times, in companies,” I replied (translation: maybe once), “IWB?” I probably gave them a blank look. “Interactive white board?”– “Ah! Never used one but can learn how to.” Clearly the right answer, as I got the job. Pity I had no idea whatsoever what an IWB was.

1. Don’t overuse technology just because it’s there

It took a while to familiarise myself with the two different IWB programmes being used but I managed to learn the basics. But I then made one of the biggest mistakes newbies make, I went over the top and tried to do everything: PPT presentations, Promethean or Smartboard flipcharts for every single lesson. It became a bit too much, I would spend hours preparing lessons, aiming for perfection. You can just imagine how upset I was when the server would crash and there was no access to materials. Thinking back, those lessons without technology – with me planning them again in under  15 minutes –were probably the best. I soon came to realise that I was overdoing it.

2. Don’t forget why you really became a teacher

I was trying to follow the trend of placing emphasis on technology and forgetting what I was really there for: to teach English. Using technology can and does make lessons more engaging and meaningful for the students but trying to create perfect lessons can put a lot of pressure on teachers, educators and schools alike and not really benefit the learners as much as you hope.

After getting a little carried away, I have taken a step back from the use of technology in the classroom.imiting its use to a range of activities, e.g. online quizzes and grammar exercises, will, I believe, benefit the students and the type of activity  may vary depending on the instructional and institutional contexts.

3. Be adaptive and flexible with technology in different teaching contexts

For just over a year now I have been working as an EFL teacher both in the private language school and in a private university. The teaching contexts are very different in terms of tools but the same classroom strategies can be applied and adapted.

In the private language school there is an IWB in every classroom for the teachers to use either as a presentation or annotation tool and to which links to videos and listening tracks can be added. It is very easy to convert the file into a PDF to upload to the virtual classroom for students to refer to. When the server or the shared drives are down I simply use the traditional white board in the classroom as there are no more than 14 students per class.

4. Be patient (and even a little creative) when applying technology to meet learners’ needs

At university, things are a little different. The courses are blended, i.e. a face-to-face and an online component. There is a computer and a projector in every classroom but no IWB. Using the small board present in the classroom was a bit of an issue: students at the back of the room were not able to see what I was writing and those with dyslexia were unable to copy everything because of lack of time and space. Last term I also found myself creating PPT presentations at home but then not being able to annotate them as the software was different.

So I thought it through and came up with the idea of making notes with the ‘announcement’ tool of the LMS (Learning Management System). Not very practical, to say the least! This year I have the same software both in the classroom and in the office but I have decided to continue with typing up notes and then posting them. The students with SEN (Special Educational Needs) have thanked us for adopting this technique as it has allowed them to concentrate on fluency in class and to study and or copy any new language at home, without worrying about falling behind in class.

An LMS is a great example of a tool supposed to make a teacher’s life a little easier but this is not always the case. Maybe you’re working on an old computer, or maybe the LMS is offline for maintenance or worse yet your software crashed. When using one, especially for the extra resources, make sure you have back-up: audio CDs, DVDs, the transcripts of the recordings you were hoping to use in class. All this said, LMSs are great! For a class of about 30 students, your workload is halved: students’ work is all in one place, exercises are marked automatically, the teacher can monitor progress and marks throughout the course.

5. What works for your colleague might not work for you – and that’s OK!

One of my colleagues at the private school is a great believer in BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to class and using it to learn English, whereas I didn’t like my students using them. Now that I have large classes and cannot waste time, nor paper, printing off extra resources for lessons, I allow my university students to use their phones or tablets in class to look up words, look for images for their partners to describe, and practise specific language points using online exercises.

It has taken a while but I must admit I have been won over by technology and have learnt to appreciate the benefits to my teaching and my own professional development. I do, however, believe that using technology should be a personal choice. Teachers should not be forced into using tools they are not confident or familiar with but find ways of integrating technology into the lesson. Students would definitely benefit from blended lessons in which both more traditional and technological methods are used.

Share your innovation for a chance to win the Pearson ELT Teacher Award
We’ve just launched a new Pearson ELT Teacher Award! Aiming to recognise and celebrate teachers, the Award is open for any English teacher who has developed innovative ways of teaching in their classrooms. You may have used technology or digital tools in unique ways or re-invented traditional tasks. The Award encourages teachers to enter who can show that their ideas are not only unique but have improved learner engagement, motivation and success.

Prizes include all-expenses paid trips to IATEL or TESOL. Deadline for entries is 1st January, 2017 so enter or nominate a teacher today!

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