Has this ever happened to you?
You head into work one morning, all excited because at last you’re going to try out that awesome new app all the cool language teachers have been talking about.
You’ve been dreaming of this moment all week.
And then…the moment arrives. Filled with joyous anticipation, you watch as the students get out their devices. You give them a quick tutorial and wait for the magic to happen.
Now for the moment of truth. Instead of exclamations of happiness, students instantly start complaining.
“This isn’t working.”
“What do I do next?”
And worst of all, “What are we actually learning?”
And on your way home that day, you vow never to use technology in the classroom again.
Then one day, another tool piques your interest…and the cycle begins all over again.
Getting the Most from Your Use of Technology in Language Teaching
Many teachers have a love-hate relationship with technology.
While it opens up so many amazing possibilities within the language classroom, technology can also create some amazing problems!
As a result, there are usually two types of teachers: Those who jump right into every new app or gadget that’s offered, and those who’ve sworn off technology forever.
The truth is, neither of these two extremes are a good solution.
You see, the issue isn’t really about technology at all. At its heart, it’s about good teaching. And like anything else, technology is nothing more than a tool in the service of good teaching, just like textbooks, worksheets and popular language-learning videos.
In other words, the technology that you use isn’t so important. It’s how you use it that really matters.
In this article, we’re going to explore the power and the pitfalls of technology in the classroom. Most importantly, we’ll give you some pointers for using technology as a way to remove problems, not exacerbate them.
First of all, let’s take a look at what you’re already doing with educational tech. Are you using it the right way or the wrong way?
Telltale Signs You’re Using Technology the Wrong Way
Yes, there is so much to love about technology! It’s a wonderful tool which can transform your classroom.
But are you using it to its potential? Or has it become just another distraction from your teaching goals?
Here are some ways you can tell that you’re teaching with technology the wrong way.
Your objective is to implement technology rather than facilitate language learning
Remember that technology is only useful when it supports learning goals for your students.
If you find yourself constructing an entire lesson around a particular tool that you’re enamored with, then it’s a good time to backtrack.
We know you can’t wait to try out that digital quiz game or that new voice recording software. But don’t lose sight of the real reasons you’re using it.
Keep your technology use aligned with your teaching goals—not the other way around.
Your technology is boring the students
Do you keep falling back on the same tool for the same purpose day after day?
Here’s a thought: If you get tired of doing exactly the same thing every day, then so do your students.
Even the most exciting technology becomes stale and boring if it’s used repetitively.
How about coming up with a fresh, new way to bring it in the classroom.
For example, try using your favorite document sharing app for a class discussion instead of the collaborative editing that you usually use it for.
Or have students prepare their own questions for your favorite quiz game app, instead of making them yourself or choosing from a pre-made list.
Students are becoming frustrated with your tech tools
We often hear about how the students in our classrooms are digital natives, comfortable with technology and flexible in their ability to learn new skills.
And as digital natives, they are keenly sensitive to tools that aren’t user-friendly.
When students are frustrated, their learning can quickly become derailed. They might even give up entirely.
If the technology that you use is taking away from your students’ learning experiences, then you’re not using it the right way.
Technology use is interrupting your language lessons
Do you feel like you are actually pausing your lesson so that you can take some time to “do technology?”
If so, then that’s a really big clue that technology is not integrated properly in your classroom.
Technology is a seamless part of a good lesson. The goal of any educational tech is that students don’t even think about it when they’ree using it. It’s simply part of what they learn.
Signs You’re Using Your Tech Properly
It’s hard to know sometimes whether your technology supports your learning goals. In fact, your excitement about gadgets and software can sometimes cloud your judgment.
Look for these signs that you’re using it the right way in the classroom.
There is an environment of collaboration
One of the best uses of technology is in support of student collaboration.
You can tell your classroom is collaborative if your students help each other solve problems, if they contribute creative ideas and if your role as the teacher is more to facilitate than to lecture.
A good way to create this type of learning environment is by teaching with FluentU. Unlike other curricula, FluentU turns actual material like movies, television shows, songs and news articles into language lessons. By doing so, students get to learn a foreign language naturally, while gaining firsthand exposure to its culture.
Students demonstrate excellent problem-solving skills
Good technology use allows students to find creative solutions to problems. They no longer have to look to the teacher to give them the answer to every question. Instead, you can empower your students to use the right tools to find solutions on their own.
Students are engaging with the outside world
Students in English class are video conferencing with a tour guide at the British Museum.
Kids in a Spanish class are posting videos about their daily life to a blog they share with a class in Mexico, as well as watching the Mexican children’s videos in order to compare.
And a high school kid learning Mandarin Chinese learns to form Chinese characters while typing in Google Drive, sharing his experiences with an online Chinese pen pal.
Technology opens up incredible opportunities for students to engage in hands-on experience, taking them beyond the limits of their textbooks and the classroom walls.
Students use technology in new, innovative ways
Of course, as teachers, we always want to find the freshest, most cutting-edge way of using technology.
But it’s even better when students come up with innovative uses for it on their own.
So next time a student proposes this fantastic idea for a new way to use Google Hangouts, don’t brush it off. Listen to what they have to say. It just might transform your classroom, giving your students a feeling of pride and ownership in the process.
How to Use Technology to Enhance Your Language Classroom
Are you still stuck on finding creative and positive uses of technology in your lessons?
It helps to have some concrete examples. Hopefully, these give you some inspiration on how you can implement tech in new, exciting ways.
Go on a trip without leaving the classroom
Every language teacher dreams of taking his students to visit the Louvre or to view the awesome power of Machu Picchu. Seeing pictures in books is just not the same. Encountering these landmarks first-hand gives students an intimate perspective on the history and culture of the language they’re studying.
There are some wonderfully user-friendly apps that can allow your students to have this experience virtually. Google Tour Builder gives students the ability to create an interactive slideshow with street scenes and maps directly from Google Earth.
Another fun tool to try is Timeline Art Museum. It presents art from different periods of history in a unique and interactive timeline format, making students feel like they’re touring an art gallery that spans across time limits and borders.
Create video newsletters
You know those old-school letters that you used to send home every week to parents? Most of us have upped our game to email newsletters or blogs. But you could take it one step further and create a video every week to share with parents or prospective students, if you’re teaching adults. Feature different kids showing off something they did, learned or accomplished. Include announcements about upcoming events or field trips.
Videos could be shared via email or on your class website.
This format makes your weekly newsletters much more fun and memorable, and will keep everyone informed and engaged.
Make a review game with a slideshow
We’ve all used Google Slides or PowerPoint to present new material or to give students a medium for creating visual presentations for projects. But what about using these apps to create your own review game?
You can model your game after popular shows like Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune, with images and sound effects to match. As you advance the slides, students will be presented with questions or puzzles that you’ve created. They can compete in teams or individually.
If you’re not sure how exactly this might look, check out this collection of PowerPoint game templates.
Use digital polls as exit tickets
This is a great spin on the old-fashioned exit ticket, giving you instant insight into how students are doing without the stack of messy slips of paper on your desk when they leave.
PollDaddy and Poll Everywhere are both free apps that give students a convenient and non-threatening way to let you know how they feel about a particular lesson or concept. And this yields data that you can refer to as you prepare your lessons and activities the next day.
As you can see from these examples, technology is not some kind of magic Golden Ticket, nor is it a scary death trap. It is neither to be worshiped nor feared.
It is simply a tool which, like a hammer and nails, can be used the right or wrong way.
Whether you love technology or secretly hate and fear it, you can harness its power to support your goals.
Just make sure that you’re the one holding the reins.
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