This post is adapted from an article published in Business Issues, the IATEFL BESIG Newsletter, Autumn 2014, Issue 88, and is reproduced with the kind permission of the Editor, Julia Waldner.
In the Cert IBET course I moderate, one of the ten weekly modules is given over entirely to the use of ICT and blended learning. We introduce and discuss a number of teacher-friendly technologies the participants can use to meet specific learner needs. Recently, a Korea-based teacher on the course summed up her thoughts on technology in teaching with these comments:
- lack of technical support can be demotivating for learners and trainers alike
- technology should enhance not intrude on the learning taking place
- self-study requires a commitment of time regardless of whether it’s technology mediated or not
- the skill set required by both learners and trainers to use a technology needs to be taken into consideration
- training may be needed to get the most of some technologies
- sometimes using no technology is better a better option.
The observations struck me as stemming from an extremely well balanced approach to technology use in teaching, especially from someone who had had relatively little experience of blended learning either as a learner or teacher prior to taking part in the online Cert IBET course. They also suggest a very useful checklist for those contemplating the use of technology in their classrooms, and reflect some of the concerns that I’ve frequently heard expressed by teachers over the years. Many complain, for instance, of being more or less coerced into using technology without being given the requisite training to use effectively the tools in question. Moodle is a typical case in point, with many teachers being instructed to use their college or university’s installation without actually being shown how to make good use of what is quite a sophisticated, and, at least at first, not particularly easy tool to grasp. The result is often frustration and the kind of demotivation the teacher alludes to in her comments.
Working with large groups
The teacher in question works in higher education, and one of the issues she faces is providing effective language training for larger groups in a lecture-like setting that more often than not is likely to disengage rather than engage learners in her classroom. The spread of mobile technologies has given rise to a proliferation of simple easy-to-use tools that don’t require either learners or teachers to add greatly to their technology skill set, and generally conform to the checklist for technology use implied by the teacher’s observations above. What follows is a look at how one or two of these tools can be used to foster engagement. The suggestions are drawn from personal experience with larger groups (15 – 30 students) when I teach university rather than my in-company learners, but I’ve learned from a quick survey I conducted (use this link to participate: http://bit.ly/1omqyIX), that teachers working in in-house corporate settings with smaller groups (5 – 10 students) sometimes also make use of some of the tools mentioned below.
A very simple application I often use with larger groups is the free polling tool called Mentimeter. It allows you to pose a question to your students and get instant feedback on that question through any device that is connected to the Internet (mobile phones, tablets, laptops). A nice feature of this tool is that once you’ve created an account, you can make (and store for subsequent use) as many polls as you like. Here in Germany learners can access the Internet almost anywhere using their smartphone 3G or LTE connections, or Wi-Fi when that’s available. As mentioned in a previous article, one of the first things I do with a new group is ask them to install a QR code reader on their devices (I use i-nigma). Once they’ve done that, they can use their phones or tablets to quickly access all sorts of quick, and sometimes not so quick, activities. Getting back to Mentimeter, you can create quick questions, for example, to check understanding or gauge opinion, and ask the group to answer using their mobile devices. They answer anonymously, which is sometimes good as it may save embarrassment, and they can see the results coming in ‘live’ projected onto a screen at the front of the class via a data projector connected to a laptop or iPad.
The image on the right shows an example of a simple poll used to introduce the topic of careers: Why do people quit their jobs? With the QR code displayed on the screen at the front of the class, learners can go directly to the question. And as they enter their answers, the results of the poll can also be displayed on the screen. You may ask why not simply ask for a show of hands? Is technology the better option? Doing it this way turns it more into an event, and generally speaking, learners enjoy using their phones. Everyone, including the less forthcoming, gets to contribute to what’s happening at the front of the class on the screen.
Plus the results are there for all to see and can be used as a springboard for discussion.
Polling in this way is relatively low-tech. It works quickly and reliably and isn’t intrusive in the sense that it doesn’t take up valuable classroom time teaching learners new technology skills. A list of alternative polling tools is provided below in the Apps to go section.
Student response systems
Student or audience response systems using ‘clickers’ have been around for quite a while. Universities, especially in the USA, have invested in quite expensive, interactive systems that allow lecturers to ask questions and students to click in their answers using remote transmitters that they are sometimes asked to buy (see here for interesting articles on how these systems are used). As we saw with the Mentimeter example, however, similar results can now be achieved using a BYOD (bring your own device) approach that doesn’t involve any additional expense for institutions or learners. An application we’ve mentioned before in this blog, Socrative, has proven a particularly popular BYOD (bring your own device) classroom application, and as it’s recently received a makeover that makes it a still more attractive proposition, it’s worth taking another look at some of the possibilities it offers.
Socrative works with all web-enabled devices and once registered, teachers are assigned a ‘classroom’ number, and can prepare a range of activities with multiple choice, true/false and short answer questions. In their real world classroom, teachers can then log in, select an activity and make it available to learners. Students sign into the online classroom using the number given them and interact in real time with the content. The teacher can monitor progress and can also download a report of the results.
Socrative works well in both desktop and mobile browsers. Android and iOS apps are available in both teacher and learner versions. Here are some smartphone and tablet screenshots of how students see a quiz being used to check how successful an explanation of the uses of ‘will’ has been.
As the learners enter the room and answer the questions the teacher can monitor progress.
Socrative automatically produces reports of the learners’ results that can be viewed online (as above) or downloaded as an Excel sheet. Here’s an extract from the results of a longer Socrative activity used as a progress test with learners preparing for BEC Preliminary examination.
One big advantage of using Socrative with larger groups is the ease with which it’s possible to very quickly identify areas that need further work with the group as a whole (column 1 in above image), or individual learners who have need of more support (row 2 in above image)
Teachers are using Socrative in classrooms in many interesting ways. Here are one or two examples:
- needs analysis – multiple choice and short answer questions, with the former providing a menu of areas which can be covered in the course and the later used for comments
- warmers & lead-in activities – single question activities to engage interest
- concept checking questions – any combination of multiple choice, short answer and true/false questions to check understanding
- review quizzes – the in-built space race game to recycle activities and introduce a competitive fun element
- progress tests & assessment – any combination of multiple choice, short answer and true/false questions
- I learned statements – end of lesson questions using the ‘exit ticket’ in the dashboard.
Designed by teachers for teachers, Socrative, as the examples suggest, is being adopted for use at all the different stages of language courses and lessons. And below you’ll find some links with more activity ideas, together with alternative tools that can be used in similar ways.
There are times when simply asking learners to raise their hands is the best option, but when used with discretion and a little imagination, web based student response tools can enhance classroom activities without adding significantly to a teacher’s preparation time. They can be used to gather invaluable information and feedback. Their use can change the dynamic of lessons by involving learners much more actively in large group settings. And, as learners work with their own devices, little time is lost in learning how to use the simple applications. They represent, in short, the kind of classroom technology that both avoids the problems and meets the criteria suggested by our Korea-based teacher at the outset.
Apps to go
Tools that can be used to ask groups to quickly respond to single questions
Student response tools
Tools that can be used to ask groups to quickly respond to more complex activities as well as single questions