Putting the ELT back into Technology By Russell Stannard

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Russell Stannard, plenary speaker for Digital ELT 2015, on technology and transformation.




Apparently technology is transforming our education. At least that is the impression I get when reading all the tweets that zoom through my feed on Twitter. The buzz words abound but that is not actually what I see when I go to schools , universities and colleges to work with teachers. Far from transforming education, technology creates lots of apprehension amongst teachers and a feeling that it is overwhelming them and they are somehow not doing their job right. My feeling is that the message is all wrong. Technology is not going to transform education, it is principled teachers with a clear ideas of what they are hoping to achieve with their students that is going to do that. Harnessing the true affordances of technology is about having a solid theoretical basis that underpins your teaching. If you have this, you can clearly see when a technology might add value to your teaching and learning but even importantly what activities you can use to really exploit its affordances. My argument is that it is not the technology that really makes teaching and learning transformative but really the activities we build around the technology.


Russell introduces himself and gives us a preview of his plenary.



Introduction to SAMR


I am not always in favour of the many frameworks and models that I come across in my reading. The SAMR model has its faults but it does help teachers to think about how and when they should really be using technology (SAMR). It is particularly with young teachers who are often eager to use technology when and however they can. I would argue however, that the SAMR model tends to focus too much on the technology. In truth the affordances of a technology are very much associated with the way it is exploited. In other words you can use a technology in quite a traditional sort of behaviouristic mode but you could also use the same technology in a much more innovative way, where you really are transforming education.





In 2006 I began a range of tests around developing students speaking. Using tools such as Fotobabble, MyBrainShark (which has recently closed) and screen capture, I got students to do regular recordings and then to either add these to a blog for easy access or in some cases simply to share the links to the recordings (Michelle). My first big challenge was creating the right environment in which to motivate the students enough to do the recordings. This was really about linking what we did in class with what I was asking the students to do at home. So class time was used to practice, focus on the grammar and vocabulary and prepare for the recordings. Out of class was when the students actually did their recordings and sent them to me.


To anyone teaching for more than 15 years, this is quite an innovation. I have read about teachers who used tape recorders to get their students recording themselves speaking ( Peter Schneidar) but this type of activity would have been pretty difficult to set up before Web 2.0 come along. It also focuses on speaking, a skill that is pretty fundamental to language learning, very much part of CLT, encouraged more and more through the examination system and in my opinion of the most cognitively difficult skills to develop.


However, I wouldn’t call these ideas transformative. Yes, there is real value in introducing the technology but it was the ideas that we introduced after that made these activities transformative. Students were expecting feedback on their recordings and also on the PowerPoint presentations that they had produced and this took up a lot of time. I noticed for example that a lot of the feedback I was giving the students was repetitive ( ie students were all making similar mistakes) and also that a lot of the feedback they could have worked out for themselves. So I decided to experiment with getting the students to review their own work. I gave them a list of questions to think about after they had done their recordings and I broke these down into 3 sections. I did some learner training in the class, so that the students had a chance to work with the marking scheme and get familiar with it.


The slides


How much writing did you have on each slide? Do you think it might distract the listener?
Have you got consistent title sizes and font sizes?
Have you used any pictures? Do you have permission to use them?
Did you read off the slides or talk around them?
Is the design of all the pages equal?
Are the font sizes big enough to read?


The Process


What did you do to plan your presentation?
Did you practice before doing the recording?
How many times did you do your recording before sharing it?
Did you have notes to help you add your voice to the slides?
Did you write down useful vocabulary or language to help you when making the slides?
Did you play back your recording before sending it?


The Recording


Are there any pauses in your recording?
Do you talk between slides?
Do you ever go off point/topic?
Do you read from the slides rather than talk around them?
Do you think your voice sounds engaging?
Do you start with an introduction where you explain what you are going to talk about?
Do you finish with a set of conclusions?


Introducing this into the lesson meant that not only are the students creating their own PowerPoint presentations, adding their voice to the recordings, learning to upload them into MyBrainShark etc but now they were learning to review and evaluate their own work too. Hopefully, apart from developing their fluency, this activity will encourage them to become more autonomous. In the feedback, what the students did say was that they became more aware of the importance of the actual presentation slides and also the process involved in creating the recording.


What they didn’t like was that there was no feedback on the grammar and vocabulary. We don’t always need to focus on the grammar and vocabulary. For example students may make 4 or 5 recordings, self-evaluate them and then choose one they want to submit for feedback on language. Icy Lee did a similar thing with portfolio writing ( Icy Lee). My feeling is that accuracy can be improved as much by the students focusing more carefully on the process and preparation they do before making the recording as it can by the teacher going over some of the common grammar mistakes. I tend to view these activities more in terms of fluency development and therefore avoid too much focus on grammar.


The point I am trying to make overall is that what makes this lesson transformative is really the way the feedback has been approached. It is more about the way the technology was used and the fact the students were asked to review their own recordings and then complete the feedback sheet. The affordances of a technology are to some degree dictated by what the technology does but they are perhaps even more defined by the way we use them. For example I could have taken this activity a step further and even suggested that the students peer reviewed each other’s work. It might have also been more interesting if the students had created the original recordings in pairs etc. There are many ‘innovations’ that I have could have included.


I remember my early days in teaching, learning from the ideas of teachers like Jill Hadfield, Mario Rinvolucri and Peter Watkin Jones. There are lots of great ideas in ELT and I sometimes feel that we focus too much on the technology and not enough on the creative activities that really exploit the potential affordances that technologies have to offer. That is why I say that we really need to put the ELT into Technology. Hopefully in the presentation I do at IATEFL I will have more time to look at this issue and draw other examples from my own work around feedback and reflection.


SAMR A clear explanation of the model. Available at
Icy Lee (2010) Balancing the dual functions of portfolio assessment ELT J  64 (1): 54-64


David Kluge(2000) Boosting student fluency through partner taping.
Available at http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Kluge-PartnerTaping.html

Michelle( 2010) Example of student creating a PowerPoint then sharing her voice. Available at

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