In the CertIBET course I used to moderate, we introduced the participants to a number of teacher-friendly technologies, and one of the ten weekly modules was given over entirely to the use of blended learning in teaching. A teacher based in Korea summed up her thoughts on technology by making these observations:
- 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 a better option.
This struck me as being a very well-balanced approach to the topic, especially from someone who had had relatively little experience of blended learning either as a learner or as a teacher prior to taking part in the CertIBET course. And the comments reflect the concerns that I’ve frequently heard expressed by many 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 the tools in question effectively. Moodle is a typical case in point, with many teachers being asked to use the installation their college or university has hosted on their servers without actually showing them how to make good use of what is quite a sophisticated, and, at least at first, not a particularly easy tool to grasp. The result is often frustration and the kind of demotivation the teacher alluded to in her comments above.
With the spread of mobile technologies, there has been a proliferation of simple easy to use tools that don’t require either learners or teachers to add greatly to their digital skill set. And often, these simple tools can be used to add variety or perhaps even enhance the kind of activities we’ve been accustomed to using in our classrooms for some time. Here below is the description of just such an activity that I’ve used with larger groups when I teach in a higher education setting.
A very simple application I use with my learners, especially if the groups are a little larger, is the polling tool called Mentimeter. Once you’ve created a free account, you can make (and store for subsequent use) as many simple 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. One of the first things I do with a new group, therefore, is ask them to install this QR code reader on their devices: i-nigma. Once they’ve done this we can use their phones or tablets to do all sorts of quick and sometimes not so quick activities. Getting back to Mentimeter, I can create quick questions, for example, to check understanding or agreement and ask the group to answer using their mobile devices. They answer anonymously, which sometimes is 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 my laptop or iPad. There is also a Mentimeter PoerPoint add-on that makes it possible to embed polls in your slides.
As an example, I’ve used this simple poll to introduce the topic of personal finances: Do you have a … I display the QR code on the screen and this takes them directly to the question:
As the students enter their answers, the results of the poll are displayed on the screen at the front of the class:
If you scan the QR code and then enter your answer, you should see the result appear in the poll results window above. You may need to refresh the page though.
You might be asking why I don’t just ask for a show of hands. For some young adult learners holding up their hands can seem a little too school-like, and doing it this way turns it more into an event. Generally speaking, learners love using their phones, and everyone gets to contribute to what’s happening at the front of the class. Plus the results are there for all to see and we can discuss them and check the language. I last did this with a B1 level group and it was clear from the poll results that some didn’t really know the difference between the two types of cards, but I’m pretty sure they do now!
Polling in this way is a relatively low-tech example of technology in the classroom. It works and isn’t intrusive in the sense that it doesn’t take up valuable classroom time teaching learners new digital skills. Used with discretion and a little imagination, it can enhance classroom activities without adding significantly to a teacher’s preparation time. It represents the kind of technology use, in other words, that doesn’t raise some of the concerns teachers have, as typified by the comments made by the Cert IBET participant mentioned at the beginning of this post. If you’ve not done something like this before, give it a go. It only takes a minute.