4.8.22

When devices are left to their own…devices!


When devices are left to their own…devices!

How can technology work in class? 


 



Every now and then, I can see articles popping up on the media with huge, eye-catching headlines like “School ditches tablets”. Flashy stories come as no surprise. But what comes as a surprise is educators endorsing them without a second thought, without using their critical thinking skills. Condemning in public technology seems to be quite trendy lately but is it justified? The very definitions of Learning Technologies encapsulate the role of educator and the instruction, placing them at the heart of integrating technology into the syllabus.

Before playing the blame game and starting heated discussions, let's take some time to reflect not on the superficial question "Is technology  bad or good?" but on "How do we use technology in class?" 

Do we really use it to serve a specific purpose/learning aim or do we use it as the dictionary entry below describes?

leave someone to his or her own devices

 idiom

 

Definition of leave someone to his or her own devices

to allow (someone) to do what he or she wants or is able to do without being controlled or helped by anyone else —often used as be left to one's own devices The students were left to their own devices when the teacher failed to appear on time.

Source: Merriam – Webster online dictionary


If one replaces the word "students" with "devices" in the example given in the above entry, one might get an idea of how technology is often used by educators. 

Apparently, having used - and often abused technology during emergency teaching in the pandemic- we tend to use devices or software as fillers or patches, without thinking much about how these can accommodate learner needs. Consequently, learning technology is often rejected outrightly by learners, educators and parents alike as distracting, alienating learners or acting as an impediment to the teaching process. 

Integrating technology into the syllabus to engage learners and boost motivation has nothing to do with witch-hunting or orthodoxy. It is a tool like any other - including the educator's voice and gestures- that can enhance learning if used in the right way.  The key question here is not whether we should use technology or not but "how can we use it effectively to the learners' benefit?"

There is no recipe or step by step guide to do it but below you can find some questions that stimulate reflection on how we currently use technology and whether we do it effectively or not:

Do we use it as a mere substitute of books?


In other words, do we use the tablet in class to ask our students to read PDF files without any interaction? If this is the case, then we give technology a bad name. If on the other hand, we use mutlimedia texts (texts enriched with sound, video, animation and links that can offer valuable insight to the reader), then students have the opportunity to learn making the most of LT's (Learning Technology's) potential. Combining such a multitext with a mini gamified quiz based on what learners have studied can pleasantly challenge learners and offer valuable feedback to the educator. For instance, a   brief ®Kahoot, ®MS Forms or ®Quizizz quiz with instant feedback appearing on the learner screens can be very engaging. 

Do the tasks we design incorporating technology support learner interaction?

No matter how exciting an app might be if there is no interaction between learners, then the lesson is doomed to be tagged as utterly boring. Even popular online games with spectacular graphics entitle players to engage in the game in pairs or groups. 

Make the most of the class layout and ask learners to work in pairs or groups; to discuss potential solutions to a problem; create content and present or negotiate the outcome of their pair/groupwork with the rest of the class. This will serve both linguistic and class management goals with learners focusing on a task and producing the target language rather than browsing irrelevant websites or exchanging messages on the social media platforms. 

Are students required to use their critical thinking skills?

Doing the same old mechanistic tasks in a different environment won't save the day. Filling in the gaps, transformations and multiple choice exercises may be more fun with technology but this can be assigned as an asynchronous task and offer instant feedback combined with explanations to the learners. 

Technology lends itself for searching, assessing, synthesizing, and interacting. How about showing learners a story and asking them to find out if this is real or fake news? What if you ask your learners to find data about an environmental problem and then present their solutions on how to deal with it effectively through a video and/or blogposts/ posters/ infographics? What if you arrange a joint project or debate with a school from another country?

Do the tasks stimulate creativity?

Do we ask our learners to copy-paste information and present it in front of an uniterested audience or do we challenge them to share their own views? LT gives learners unique opportunities to create content and share it with the local and international community in various forms and genres: blogposts, articles, podcasts, videos, games, interviews, posters, infographics and there are more arising as technology advances. 

Are learners given feedback?

Very often students are asked to create a presentation, create a project or carry out another task using technology but are not given feedback which diminishes the value of their work. If the task is a revision quiz, technology can accommodate instant feedback accompanied with written feedback explaining for example why the distractors in a multiple choice questions are wrong (see first question above).

If it is content creation, like a presentation, a project or a post, then you can make comments on the draft e.g. on a ®MS Word File, or provide feedback on a separate field provided by platforms like ®MS TEAMS (Assignments) that only learners can see. Alternatively, you can give oral feedback recording your voice and sending the audio file, or create a video or even try screencasting which allows you to give feedback using a virtual whiteboard, your voice and image and send it to your learners. 

Why try that? Because it will save precious classroom time; it is a discreet way to deal with linguistic issues, away from noisy classroom environments; students appreciate the fact that you address them personally - from my exprience, they tend to regard written comments on paper as impersonal and too formalistic.

Final thoughts

Using technology in class is not panacea or Pandora's box. If we plan ahead and we know exactly what we want to achieve with our learners, then it can stmulate their interest and engage them in class. If I was asked a "golden rule" on how to use it, I would say that in a lesson "technology is the special effects but pedagogy is the protagonist".

Dimitris Primalis 
August 4th, 2022






10.4.22

Formative assessment through asynchronous activities

 

Formative assessment through asynchronous activities

Simple ways to find out more about your learners’ progress


Monitoring learner progress throughout the course can be a useful source of information for the teacher. Even though we tend to rely heavily on tests (summative assessment) to grade learners, summative assessment can give us an opportunity to have a clear picture of the impact of our teaching so that we can adapt it or shift focus on areas our learners need to work on.



Asynchronous learning can offer quite a few opportunities for such assessment even with young learners. Teachers can assess learners at their own time away from classroom distractions and keep a record of the learner progress individually and as a class, without much effort.  Below you can read about  some ways that you can exploit asynchronous learning with popular tools used widely on a global scale. 


Word clouds at the beginning and end of a unit.

Invite learners to brainstorm on a topic at the beginning of a unit or a story by forming a word cloud. For instance, “Write 4 words to describe the character of the story” or “ What are the benefits of healthy eating?”. Students can be given the link to enter the words at home and you can present the final outcome in class. At the end of the unit repeat the task. This will allow you to assess in an indirect way the extent to which learners have enriched their vocabulary.  There are several tools that you can use to form a word cloud. Below you can see a sample using ®Mentimeter. The learners were asked to write up to 4 words to describe Mr. Hoppy – the main character of Roald Dahl’s  “Esio Trot”.  Comparing the two clouds has given me a good picture of the learner progress.

 





Expressing views or reflecting in writing

Students often welcome the idea to reflect on current issues or learning  and express their views and feelings.  You can either invite them to share their thoughts or opinions on a virtual “wall” e.g. on “Posts” on an ®MS TEAM or an LMS (Learning Management System),  a digital notebook such as ®OneNote or a document they can share with you. The content they will produce is valuable since – unlike the guided writing practice given in class- it gives a genuine picture of the strengths and weaknesses of each learner in a freer practice activity. It will also allow you to give delayed feedback or plan remedial lessons focusing on specific areas. 

 


Tools such as ®OneNote provide personal pages that can be seen only by the individual learner and the teacher as well as collaboration spaces where learners can share their work with others. With students who do not feel confident to “expose” their work to the rest of the class, you can provide personalized feedback on their page and then encourage them to share the edited draft with the rest of the class on virtual space that can be read by their peers.  In addition, reflection on their progress and how they perceive the learning process may help you support them effectively by adapting your teaching or offering tips and hints on how to deal with difficulties they face in specific areas.


Gamified activities

®Kahoot, ®Quizizz and many other similar online tools rank high in students’ preference because they offer a sense of gaming in learning. Few, if any at all, learners would resist the temptation to do a quiz on one of the above-mentioned tools, as part of their homework. Apart from motivating learners, another benefit is that the teacher can have the data, sometimes very analytically – depending on the tool and the version – which will allow them to assess the level of the class and individual students in specific grammatical or lexical items. Even though asynchronous quizzes and tests cannot be considered as reliable as the ones learners take in class, they can still chip in to form the greater jigsaw puzzle picture of the learner profile.


Listening Comprehension with videos

Students love videos. Assigning for homework a video with a few comprehension tasks can be exciting for learners. You can use either ®MS Forms  or  ®Ed Puzzle. They both allow multiple choice - they can provide instant feedback to learners-  or open-ended questions while you receive the data and you can easily do the statistics or draw conclusions about the level of your students when it comes to listening comprehension and writing (if you opt for the open-ended answers).   ®Ed Puzzle enables the teacher to incorporate the questions on the video and pause on selected scenes so that the learners can reply. It is a safe platform but there is a limit on the number of videos in the free version and you need to declare the name of the school you are working for.

 



Closing thoughts

It is can argued that asynchronous activities may not be a reliable indicator of the learners’ level and progress because students may be helped by parents, private tutors or even share the correct answers with their peers. They may be right but experienced teachers tend to compare data and can easily tell if learners have completed the tasks with or without help. The type of assessment discussed on this post can offer supplementary data that – added to other forms of assessment – can provide a clearer depiction of learner’s strengths and weaknesses.

Learning technology can facilitate formative assessment by providing accurate data which is easily stored, accessed and analyzed by the teacher at their own time and space, away from the distractions or biases of the classroom.

Dimitris Primalis


14.3.21

Online lesson fatigue? What's gone wrong? Can I prevent it?

 

Online lesson fatigue?

What's gone wrong? How can I prevent it?



It’s been nearly a year since online teaching was adopted - practically overnight - and it has been on and off ever since, for most teachers all over the globe. The initial praising by learners and parents who appreciated  teachers’ hard work seems to have been replaced by a feeling of fatigue, both for learners and teachers. According to Stanford  researchers, it can be attributed to 4 causes related to the technical features of video conferencing (Four causes for Zoom fatigue and their simple fixes)

 However, there are elements of lesson planning that may contribute further to online lesson fatigue.  Below you can read some possible causes of fatigues and some suggested solutions. Though they may not be panacea, they can help you improve the lesson or prevent further fatigue.

 

·       Excessive TTT 

Excessive Teacher Talking Time (Teacher Talking Time) can tire learners in a “brick and mortar” classroom, let alone a virtual one.  Often teachers feel that the only tool they have is their voice but in fact, they can make the most of the tools given by inviting learners to contribute with their views in the chat box; applying different forms of interaction through breakout rooms and inviting learners to share their work in the forms of presentations.

·       Balancing synchronous and asynchronous

Not all tasks can or need to be done synchronously. Long texts, checking vocabulary and grammar exercises can take a long time of the lesson which often results in learners switching off their cameras and their minds. Dividing the tasks that need to be done synchronously (during the teleconference) or asynchronously (students do them at their own time and pace) is a necessary part of online lesson planning.

An array of tools like Forms, Quizizz, and Kahoot  allow you to turn tedious tasks into game-like activities (gamification) that can give learners instant feedback and the opportunity to do them as many times as they need. In addition, the teacher can receive (often detailed) valuable statistics based on the learners’ performance and exploit it to provide further feedback focusing on weak areas.

·       Use of visuals, video and audio prompts

Engage learners with visual or audio stimuli. Apply techniques that stimulate their interest such as: play video sound off and invite them to infer the dialogues; share on screen cartoon strips or memes without captions and ask learners to write their own in the chatbox; play sounds or brief audio clips and ask learners to guess the background and the next parts of the story.

·       Challenge students

Appeal to the learner’s critical and creative thinking skills. Start the lesson with a riddle or question that may intrigue them. In an educational system where students are constantly spoonfed and asked to do meaningless drills, asking them to use their brain is a change that is more than welcome.

 

·       Ownership and collaboration

Students often feel that they are left out of the learning process and they are treated as robots that do repetitive tedious tasks. Giving learners the opportunity to choose between two tasks helps stave off that feeling.  

Students also appreciate pair and groupwork, particularly now that they are locked at home. Using tools that promote collaboration can help learners to produce language. For instance, you can share with your students an online  MS Word document or a Powerpoint presentation and invite them to create their project on this file.

·       Incorporate short tasks

Don’t forget that you students have probably spent many hours in front of a screen before your lesson and their attention span is short. Plan a series of short tasks rather than a long one. The change is more than welcome and learners are highly likely to respond better.

            

 Hope you have found the above points useful. No matter how many difficulties arise, you can rest assured that your learners appreciate your hard work and support.

Dimitris Primalis




12.12.20

Break out of the online routine: Tips and Hints on how to use "breakout rooms " with MS Teams

 Break out of the online routine!

Tips and hints on how to use "breakout rooms" with MS Teams


One of the problems of online teaching is that interaction is usually limited to plenary form i.e. Teacher to Students or Student to Teacher (and class). “Breakout rooms” accommodate the need for pair work and group work by creating smaller virtual rooms to host pair or group meetings during the main session.

Although the feature is user friendly, -it only takes a few clicks to set them up- many educators feel uneasy with the idea of allowing learners to be allowed to act autonomously online.  For this reason, this post will not focus on the technical details – you can watch here an introduction- but on how to apply effectively the technique  with your online classes.

 

§ Give clear instructions

Once your students are in the breakout rooms, they are highly likely to forget your instructions. Give clear instructions and check understanding by asking one or two students to explain what the class has to do. Alternatively ask concept check questions. This is to ensure that you will not have pairs or groups lagging during the activity. It will also allow you to focus on observing the level of language  rather than rushing from one (virtual) room to another to repeat instructions.

§  Set a deadline

   The sudden sense of privacy, after prolonged exposure to plenary sessions, is likely to tempt learners to chat about trivial issues. Setting a tight time limit will help them focus on the task. You can make a written announcement, which is visible to all the rooms and participants, shortly before the deadline expires or remind them the instructions if necessary.  

Assign an end-product

This will give students a purpose and combined with the time limit (see above), it helps them concentrate on the task and make the most of the time given. It will also give you a clear picture of the work done during the activity and allow you to give learners delayed feedback based on the end-product of the activity. Students can also send you their notes or end-product through the chat. 

  Move from room to room

Your brief presence in every room can be reassuring for learners who may need support during the task. It is also a way to remind them that you are present even if they are in a separate virtual room and that you can mingle with them, more or less in the way you do in class when learners work in pairs or groups.

Create a genuine information gap

At the end of the day, it is methodology and pedagogy that count. If the task you have assigned is not communicative; it does not require collaboration; there is no need to bridge a gap with information with the contribution of all the members of the group, then no matter how impressive “break out rooms” are.

  My experience

My pupils loved it and welcomed the opportunity to work in pairs and group after months of working individually or as a plenary. Covid19 restrictions and social distancing hindered pair or group work, but now they are given the opportunity to interact with their peers and exchange ideas and views. In terms of language practice, it allows them to practice and the teacher can observe the strengths of the class and they areas they need to work on. 

If you are still in two minds, all you can do is try it with your class and enjoy a break out of the online lesson routine!

Dimitris Primalis 

 



22.11.20

Quick Video Activities for engaging online lessons: Part 2











Do classrooms need to be isolated from the real world? Real life incidents and current affairs  often lend themselves for heated debate in the classroom and can stimulate interest in classes that have long given up trying.

This set of activities aims to help learners (B1-C2 CEFR levels) develop :
1. speaking and writing skills
2. reading and listening skills 
3. critical and creative thinking skills
4. environmental awareness

"Should this ad be banned?"

Watch the video with your learner. Explain that " Rang-tan" is short for orangutan.  Pause to elicit  how the girl feels. Ask students why they think the orangutan is in the girl's bedroom and where they normally live.  





Disclaimer: The resources on this post are mentioned for educational purposes only. The author of the post does not own or claim the copyright. 

Explain that department stores and super markets in the U.K. usually choose to convey a message that raises social awareness in their Christmas commercials. This advertisement was adopted by a chain of super markets ("Iceland") in the U.K. but it was not allowed to be broadcast on the mass media. This raised controversy and became widely known as "Iceland's banned ad". Ask learners to think of the reasons why this happened. 

Follow up tasks

1. Read the article on the TV advert below and voice your opinion on a FlipGrid board (B2-C2 CEFR levels)
https://www.theguardian.com/media/2018/nov/09/iceland-christmas-tv-ad-banned-political-greenpeace-orangutan
  • Defend Iceland's decision 
  • Defend the decision not to broadcast it
2. Watch one or more of the following videos, take notes and present the main points in class. 

3.(B1 CEFR level) Write down the poem and find the rhyme.  Invite them to write their own poem about wildlife and why we should protect it. 
4. Create an ad or commercial to raise public awareness on an environmental issue. 

In a Flipped classroom context, you can open a class OneNote (online notebook), post the video there and invite learners to watch it before joining the online class. 
You can ask them to:
1. Reflect on their personal page, writing their reaction and thoughts on the issue. 
2. Find information on the issue and prepare a short presentation for next lesson.
3. Create a poster with facts about palm plantations to raise awareness. 
4. Divide them into two groups: Environmentalists and palm farmers. Ask them to write short articles on the issue from their point of view. 
5. Invite a group of learners to take part in a live debate during the online lesson. The rest of the class can complete a survey on Forms  voting in facour of  the most persuasive speakers. 

Hope you enjoy the activities with your online classes!
Dimitris Primalis


15.11.20

Quick video activities for engaging online lessons

 



Online lessons can be challenging for teachers and students alike. Fatigue caused by extended exposure on the screen, and social distancing can make even the most efficiently designed lesson plan fail. Short activities that engage learners can offer an opportunity to spark interest and promote interaction in an online class. 

This blog post, the first in a series,  aims to offer  activities and ideas to the teacher of English as a Foreign Language  who is often overwhelmed by the workload of teaching online.


A millenial job interview


Disclaimer: The resources on this post are mentioned for educational purposes only. The author of the post does not own or claim the copyright. 

The following  set of  activities is based on the above video. They aim to help learners (B1-C1 CEFR level):

- Recycle or enrich vocabulary-related to personality and employment

- Practice speaking, listening and writing (through follow-up activities)

- Develop critical thinking skills

- Practice looking up word in online dictionaries

You can select which one(s) you should focus on, depending on the needs of your classes.

Pre-watching   

1.Ask learners to think of the necessary qualities for an applicant in the 21st century. Ask them to write up to 5 words on www.menti.com (www.mentimeter.com is a webtool that allows learners to form a word cloud with their input).

2. Share on screen the video and point to the title. Elicit the meaning of the word “millennial”. If they do not know it, ask learners to search the meaning in an online dictionary and write it in the chat box. Make it sound like a competition.

Tip 1: Praise the student who has found it first.  

Tip 2 :  Give them a tight  time limit. In this way, they will not have time to browse aimlessly on the internet.)

Tip 3: You may need to explain the word HR (Human Resources) and its function in a company.

2. Divide the online class into two or three groups (depending on the number of students). Ask group A to watch the video and observe the body language of the candidate. Group B to observe the register and degree of formality the candidate uses. Group C to write down the qualifications and the skills of the candidate.

While watching

Pause the video frequently and elicit from each group their views on body language, register and qualification. Ask the class prediction on whether, the candidate will be hired or not with a brief justification. With my students it worked well with the following pauses: 0:10, 0:24, 0:35, 01:25, 01:51.

Post watching

Invite learners to discuss one or some of the topics below:

- the reasons why the candidate was not hired

- what message the director of the video intended to convey

- how is technology involved in recruitment (see reading follow-up below)

- skills and qualifications required by firms

- what makes a successful job interview

- are employers biased when it comes to hiring millennials?


Follow-up tasks

Writing

Write a letter applying for the position

Write a blog post advising Amy (the unsuccessful candidate) how to do well at an interview

Speaking

Students can use  Flipgrid to create a video to apply for a position and explain why they are the ideal candidates. 

Reading

https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20201102-asynchronous-video-interviews-the-tools-you-need-to-succeed  Asynchronous video interviews

Closing Thoughts

All the above are mere suggestions on how you can exploit a video as a lead-in with your classes.  You know better the needs of your classes and how you  can adapt these activities to cater for the needs of your learners.

Enjoy the brilliant acting of the actors, the sense of humour, and the interaction this video will spark with your students. 

Dimitris Primalis







16.8.20

Insights and thoughts on the new academic year..

 

2020-21 Annus horribilis or mirabilis?

Insights and thoughts on the new academic year...

The new academic year is about to start and millions of educators around the globe wonder whether this is going to be a horrible (horribilis) or a miraculous (mirabilis) year for education. Noone can guarantee even the basics: whether lessons will be  online, hybrid or face to face. Yet, as educators, we need to ensure that learning takes places despite hindrances and unfavourable conditions. Can we turn these challenges to opportunities for our learners though, by making the most of what we learned from last years emergency teaching, and the current conditions and trends? 


"The changes which occurred in the educational process during the lockdown, no matter how unwillingly applied in lessons, may give a boost to education to move into the 21st century in terms of approach, methodology and tools."


First, let’s summarize some valuable insights we gained last year and we can apply this year:

·         Pedagogy precedes technology

Students were quick to praise the teachers whose online lessons had clear learning goals and scaffolded learning with the aid of technology. They were equally quick to dismiss teachers whose lessons used technology without a clear aim.

·         Plan sensibly and give feedback

On the first days of the lockdown, there was excessive homework and relatively little feedback. Now, we know that the amount of homework needs to be sensible and constructive feedback can help learners and motivate them.

·         Trust and support learners

During the lockdown, I was pleasantly surprised by  the progress and high levels of engagement of learners who previously were too timid or unwilling to participate in class activities. From the feedback that I later received from parents and learners, it turns out that students appreciate being trusted and given support by their teacher, especially under challenging circumstances.

·         Explore and exploit

 Teachers realized that they can adopt technology and master new techniques by introducing them  gradually into the class.They also discovered that taking a step at a time may be more successful than trying to immerse themselves into a new approach overnight.

·         Seek and provide peer support

Switching to new  practices like online teaching can be overwhelming. However, wherever educators shared ideas, experience and knowledge, the burden was lighter and support groups were d formed ad hoc that absorbed most of the pressure and anxiety. This can set an example for how future changes can be introduced successfully.

·         Maintain communication with all stakeholders (students, parents, teachers)

Direct communication helped to deal with problems on the spot. It also offered the opportunity to make learning goals more clear to parents and learners. In addition, it fought the stereotype that educators are aloof creatures living in their own ivory tower.

 

Here are some thoughts on how we can make the most of the existing opportunities.

·         Learners are familiar with technology

Our students are more than capable of coping with learning technology tools. What we need to clearly signpost is the rules of the game and define the lines that should not be crossed.

·         Parents have finally realized

The vast majority of the parents have realized that technology can be educational and can contribute to learning. This year they are highly unlikely to resist the use of educational technology. On the contrary, most of them expect to see a seamless integration of technology into the curriculum to the benefit of the learners. 

·         Customization to meet school and learner needs

Established IT companies as well as start-ups worked hard to customize products and services and meet the needs of education under lockdown conditions, based on the feedback they received from the educational community. Now, more than ever before, there is a wide range of affordable tools and apps to accommodate any need or learning goal!

·         Schools are more open to innovation and change

The recent crisis has made school leaders more aware of the need to embrace 21st century pedagogy and support it with tools and teacher training. Thus, they are more likely to listen carefully to fresh ideas and problem solving suggestions recommended by frontline teachers. 

  

Some final thoughts

Undoubtedly, this year is not going to be a rose garden with uncertainty hovering over the heads of educators and making planning a daunting task. Last year,those who hesitated or were not flexible enough to adapt their teaching practice and use new tools to reach their students were left aside and their image was tarnished.  On the contrary, the educators who dared managed to help their learners.Thanks to them the prestige of the educators in the community was reinstated and teachers are now seen as the ones who strive to facilitate learning.

 The changes which occurred in the educational process during the lockdown, no matter how unwillingly applied in lessons, may give a boost to education to move into the 21st century in terms of approach, methodology and tools. To a certain extent, we are the ones who will define this year as horribilis or mirabilis.  Let’s make the most of the positive aspects of the current trends, to the benefit of our learners!