Making your e-dreams come true...

Feeling your school should introduce innovation and enter the digital era but you are not sure how?  Do you dream of using Interactive Whiteboards, computers, the Internet and gadgets on a daily basis in your lessons but you are afraid this may turn into a nightmare?
Here’s a brief survival guide to integrating technology into the school’s curriculum in 10 steps:
Graph1 "Making electronic dreams come true" D. Primalis 2012

Step 1
Share your vision with your teaching staff and be prepared to modify or enrich it. Set clear aims -this will instill a feeling of security and act as a compass. Invite teachers to contribute with ideas when designing the syllabus. Their creativity and experience can be the key to success.
Step 2
Even though teachers may be familiar with technology, training from both technology experts and teacher trainers will give them the necessary qualifications and insight to actively implement innovation in class.
Step 3
Allow ample time for piloting activities and material using technology in class. Teachers are like pilots. They need time and practice to feel confident to use the equipment and new activities extensively rather than showing off once or twice a year.
Step 4
Receive feedback in various forms such as observations, questionnaires, interviews and assess what works and what doesn’t. Modify the syllabus accordingly.
Step 5
Present the changes to parents and students separately. Parents can be powerful allies if they perceive the benefits of technology. Be receptive to their fears and concerns. Provide training sessions to acquaint them with what equipment and tasks their children will be using. Technology stirs enthusiasm among students and increases motivation.
Step 6
Set clear rules from day 1 in class and define what is acceptable and what not. E.g. uploading photos with derogatory comments about your classmates is NOT acceptable. In the case of one-to-one (1 computer to 1 student) propagate the idea that computers are valuable tools apart from expensive toys.
Step 7
Implement innovation on a large scale. What seems to be working when piloting with a smaller group may need to be modified or diversified in order to accommodate the needs of other groups.
Step 8
Reward effort and good practice. Teachers and students go out of their way to implement change and often feel that their previous achievements seem to be at stake. Acknowledging their effort, keeps them going. Encourage teachers to work in groups and share material and experiences (peer support group). It relieves the workload and creates team spirit.
Step 9
Receive feedback from all stakeholders (teachers, students and parents) in various forms.
Step 10
Like a good orchestra conductor, based on feedback, make the necessary modifications and redefine the aims for next year.

Here are 10 more practical tips that will facilitate innovation and transition:

1.    Involve all stake holders (parents, teachers, students). Inform, discuss, take into consideration their fears and apprehension. They are not the last cog in the wheel. In fact, they are the steam engine of innovation if they feel they are part of it.
2.      Educate parents, train teachers. Knowledge of the subject keeps away fear and hysterical reactions to minor problems that may arise.
3.      Provide ample time for piloting of new ideas. It all needs time to fall into the right place.
4.      Receive feedback in various forms and from all stakeholders. This will give you a better picture and help you prevent future repercussions.
5.      Provide technical support for teachers, students, parents. Technology is fragile and lets you down when you need it most.
6.      Be open to discussion and modification of curriculum. Keep what works and scrutinize what doesn’t. The final outcome may differ significantly to your original vision but your top priority is to ensure that the whole project is functional and effective.
7.      Reward effort and good practice. Teachers and students go out of their way to implement change and often feel their previous achievements seem to be at stake. Acknowledging their effort, keeps them going.
8.      Encourage sharing of knowledge between teachers and students. The latter’s contribution often saves time and effort when using gadgets and computers. It also builds bonds and bridges the teacher-student gap.
9.      Ensure that you create a working environment that promotes innovation. Dispel the fears of teaching staff that this will endanger their employment. Stress the benefits they will gain as professionals in terms of professional development.
10.  Innovation takes time, patience, effort and an open mind. It can be slow and laborious but can eventually be extremely rewarding for all stakeholders.

Don’t bluff your way to innovation. Experience it!!!

Dimitris Primalis



Thinking of presenting but too shy to do it? Tips and hints for newbies

It’s the end of a long school year and you’ve accumulated experience, got a couple of ideas that worked in class or a topic that can spark discussion. If you think they are worth sharing with other colleagues, then you are on the right track and summer is the best time to work on a presentation for a convention, conference or any other EFL event.
Presenting in public can often seem to be daunting and many teachers who have a lot to share, usually shy away shortly before or after submitting a proposal. Yet, it is usually front line teachers who stimulate the audience’s creativity and contribute with their down-to-earth, practical tips to professional improvement. If you are afraid that what you want to share is not original, just bear in mind that we often get stuck in our daily routine and we appreciate simple practical motivating activities and practices that can give a boost to our classes. Another thing you should remember is that you’ve already survived the most demanding audience in the world – your class. At an event, colleagues know that you have spent time and effort to share your knowledge so they are favourably predisposed.
Below you can read some tips for those of you who would like to give it a try.
What do I want to present?
Jot down the main aim(s) of your presentation. Just like the way you do it for your lesson. Take the following into consideration: Is it on a practical or theoretical issue? What kind of audience does it appeal to?
Title, summary and abstract
Write the abstract focusing on the rationale and the content of your presentation. Be as precise and close to your aims as possible without giving too many details (usually the word limit is too short for a detailed account). It should give the reading committee a clear idea of what you have in mind and intend to do.
The summary for the event programme can be in less formal register – usually inviting teachers to attend.  A pun is usually ideal for the title but make sure it is not misleading. Both summary and title need to clearly and concisely illustrate what you intend to present. There is nothing worse than misleading your audience or raising false expectations.
Type of presentation
Talk, workshop, discussion group or…?
This will define forms of interaction and your style of delivery. If it is a talk you need to be prepared for a long period of presenting which requires a lot of rehearsing and good notes.
For a workshop you need to design hands on activities and different forms of interaction to involve the audience.
In a discussion group, you need to give yourself the role of the orchestra conductor who knows when to let the orchestra (members of the audience in this case) elaborate and manage time efficiently leading to an outcome that is of use to the audience.

Visual and other aids…
There are many presentation tools available, the commonest being MS powerpoint. Whichever you choose, make sure you feel confident to use it. Attaching sound, videos and photos can make your presentation more impressive as long as they don’t make the file too heavy and give your computer a hard time. There’s nothing more demotivating than a computer-based presentation that keeps getting stuck. In any case, even though technology is exciting, it can let you down when you need it most. Download videos in your computer and have a plan B if the internet or the computer decide to “go on strike” without prior notice.
Be concise and avoid long texts that distract the audience while you present. Avoid at all costs, reading aloud the slide. Your audience can do it without your help.
Different types of audience
Cater for different types of audience the way you do for your class. A heavily audio focused presentation (the endless preaching type) can easily put off visual and kinesthetic types. Different forms of interaction and types of input (visual aids) can help you convey your message more effectively to a larger number of people. Don’t forget that your audience consists of trained teachers who will work in pairs or groups more willingly than your students. All you have to do is give them clear instructions and a time limit.
Allow time for the conclusion and give the audience the opportunity to ask for clarifications or contribute with relevant ideas or experience. You will be pleasantly surprised by how much you can learn by them.
Rehearse your final draft in front of an audience of two or more colleagues who you trust and will give you honest and constructive feedback. If done about two weeks before your presentation, you will have time to make the necessary modifications to improve it and feel comfortable with these changes.
Once your presentation is ready, print enough handouts for the maximum number of people that can attend your presentation. You can find the room capacity by asking the organizers. Always print a few spare ones for people who may not have the opportunity to attend but would like to know more about the subject. It doesn’t have to be on expensive paper, or in full colour but a well designed handout with space for notes is always appreciated. If you use MS Powerpoint, you can use the option “notes” on the print menu.
The day before 
Last but not least, acquaint yourself with the room and the seating arrangement before your presentation. Walk down the aisle, feel comfortable with the room, try projecting your voice and make sure your computer plugs –if you use your computer – or the version of the programmes you use are compatible with the computer and equipment provided by the venue. Should something go wrong, ask for the technical support provided by the event organizers.
It’s showtime…
The big moment has arrived. At most conventions, there is a speakers’ room to allow you to concentrate and have a last look at your presentation. Put on your best smile, welcome the audience and remember that you are there to enjoy every minute of it. After all, you don’t have the opportunity to share ideas and experience with colleagues openly and without distractions every day!
Dimitris Primalis