How I Became A Tech-Convert at Digital ELT Ireland 2014

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Jane SeelyAs a self-confessed Luddite when it comes to classroom technology, I must say that I was looking forward to the 3rd Digital ELT Ireland conference more for catching up with colleagues and friends than talking about technology. In my five years in ELT, I had never had the opportunity of working in a school with a technological focus, so it was basically a non-issue for me, and I also just assumed there was no point as I had other resources at my disposal. “Books never stop working!” I proclaimed smugly to the other attendees as we gathered in the Auditorium before the first plenary.

After welcoming remarks from the event’s organisers: LTSIg’s Paul Sweeney, ELT Ireland President Dr Lou McLaughlin, and Marketing English In Ireland’s David O’ Grady. Gavin Dudeney took to the stage to talk about “Big Data and Little Data”; how statistics and numbers have led to conflict between quality and quantity in the matter of who can get ahead in EDTech. He addressed the impact that “Big Data” can have on research and quality driven educational organisations, who often become eclipsed by larger, more powerfully funded organisations for whom learning is not at the same level of priority.

I didn’t have much time to ponder this issue, however, as Dr Nellie Deutsch was next up. We all stood up and clenched our fists tightly, mimicking the stress and anxiety that teachers, and students, often feel before entering the classroom . She highlighted the need to remember the people behind the teaching and learning, and that in our own ways we are all trying to make our students happy, as well as helping them to learn. Collaborative learning was the theme of this plenary; helping students use the technological resources at their disposal to teach each other and become active participants in their own learning.

In the final plenary of the morning Sylvia Guinan gave her talk to the ‘home supporters’ as it were, having worked away from Ireland for the last several years. This talk was filled with wonderfully creative ideas and suggestions for using comics, poetry and visual imagery in the classroom. Sylvia illustrated that we can go beyond the confines of course-books and curricula to collaborate with our students in order to create stimulating and engaging materials.

Although the plenaries had got me thinking about technology in a way that I hadn’t considered before, I still wasn’t convinced that it was for me. After a rejuvenating lunch-break and invigorating gossip with colleagues old and new, it was time to divide up for the shorter, concurrent talks. This was the time when difficult decisions had to be made, as there were so many fascinating options. I chose the talk which would be discussing my one and only love: the photocopier. Peter Lahiff, a teacher trainer and Director of Studies, ready to convince us about moving towards a paperless classroom, set us some fun but challenging questions about everyone’s favourite staffroom machine. (Quick photocopier trivia – in 2002 the country of Belgium produced over 10 billion photocopies for educational purposes!) Peter illustrated to the tech-phobes in attendance that, as well as saving a few million trees, there are classroom uses for Google Drive that had never occurred to us. Peter finally got everyone giggling when we had the chance to type our own notes on the big screen using Padlet, which highlighted myriad uses for the app in the classroom.

Next up was a talk which had me struggling to keep up with writing down all the excellent websites and their classroom uses introduced by John Byrne during his session on Blended Learning. I had never realised that Twitter, whatsapp, Facebook and Tumblr could be so engaging and supportive for my students, as well as more structured sites such as Moodle and Blackboard. In the final session of the day Caroline Moore gave a fascinating insight into writing educational materials for the digital market, with some helpful tips on how to get started, before a rousing debate between Gavin Dudeny and Andrew Walkley and I went home with my mind buzzing with new ideas.

The next day we were back again for workshops led by the plenary speakers, Gavin, Nellie and Sylvia. Once again difficult decisions had to be made, but I was lured into Gavin’s session by the promise of iPads for everyone in the audience! (We’re still waiting for those…)Although my tech-phobic mind had been gradually opened by Saturday’s sessions, I can honestly say that it was Gavin’s workshop on the uses of mobile devices in the classroom that made a full convert of me. Devices in hand, Gavin talked us through the countless apps available for ELT and their extremely fun and practical uses in the classroom, as well as ways of using mobile phones in the classroom that had never crossed my mind: anyone for a camera phone scavenger hunt?

The weekend spent at Digital ELT Ireland was genuinely paradigm-shifting for me as a teacher; I learned that any teacher can use the resources that are freely and easily available to open up our classroom, turn students into teachers, and engage students beyond the level of the coursebook.

Jane is in her fifth year as an ELT teacher and currently teaches FCE preparation while completing her DELTA. She is a founding committee member and Secretary/Treasurer of IATEFL Affiliate organisation ELT Ireland. When she’s not writing her vegan baking blog she is specifically interested in researching learner autonomy and linguistic competence.

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