miércoles, 13 de enero de 2016

From flashcards to blackboard/moodle: 
A journey into technology

By Zarela Cruz

Flashcards, cassettes, DVDs, overhead projectors, chalk, blackboards, posters, wall chart papers, magazines, newspapers…. Are you familiar with them all? And what about these ones: Hotmail, Yahoo, SMART Board, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp? The shift from the first series to the second one has not taken very long. But you don’t have to get overly anxious: before we have mastered most of the procedures, there will be new ones at hand. So, it is better to begin getting prepared. We are about to start a journey into technology.

The old days
The key component in the old days was a brilliant imagination. Teachers did not have many resources available and had to make use of their own creativity to make the most attractive and eye-catching flashcards ever, buy or design their unique posters, get the most colourful magnets, clips and stationary. Sharing materials with their colleagues was a must, otherwise it would have been impossible to  cover all the angles.

Technology in the classroom
Schools embarked on investing a lot of money on modern overhead projectors and personal PCs for classroom use, projectors and even SMART Boards. The transition has not been that easy since teachers were not familiar with technology. Schools also incorporated the use of institutional emails and little by little a platform of their own. They began training their instructors in the use of the new devices.  
Language schools, on the other hand, invested on modern laboratories, PCs, and software for  their students to enhance their language practice. Then, they adopted the newest technology available provided by Cambridge. Some went further and started to make use of other platforms such as Blackboard or Moodle. At the language center where I work, we use digital textbooks as well, which allow more interactive classes since there are activities that come across quite different when presented on a digital format. Something students really appreciate is having access to written feedback on exercises on the board, so they can make sure they have grasped it.

Class environment nowadays
In language centers students are eager to use their gadgets in class, so the BYOD (bring your own device) approach works well. Besides, they usually have unlimited access to Wi-Fi and love to unearth the requested information. Many times they do contribute with interesting, complementary details. What we need to remind them is that their sources should be reliable and valid, but all in all it is worth to give it a try.

How has education changed?
It is not only a matter of technology. We all are now very conscious of multiple intelligences and dissimilar learning styles. To be assertive teachers, we should include activities for all of the pupils, although not necessarily at the same time. We instructors are expected to get to know our students gradually but swiftly, and tailor our class to their needs, no matter how long our courses last: a month, a semester or a school year.
We should keep in mind that education is not restricted to within the classroom walls any more. Students can work on their own at home, or from any place for that matter, by means of the existing technological devices.
That is not all. We know classes are no longer supposed to be teacher-centered. Conversely, they ought to be student-centered. We, teachers, have switched roles to be facilitators, among other responsibilities we take. Easier said than done, right? In the Latin American Congress of Teaching English for Specific Purposes, held at the Language Center of Universidad del Pacifico for the 9th time, some attending teachers did not agree with this approach. They believed their class management would be at risk. Not truth at all. When we say student-centered we mean that students’ interests need to be taken into account when designing our classes; their participation and contribution should be overtly welcome since they shall be capable to get genuinely and personally involved in the matter and will not be necessarily expected to tag along with whatever the teacher says. In a word: this change should be reflected in a more personal manner of learning.

Online Course Limitations and Solutions
Regarding online courses, some might argue that they are flawed, lacking. For example, a fixed schedule for students to meet the teacher and ask questions regarding the topics covered in class. Another common complaint arises whenever the platform malfunctions preventing students to upload assignments or post comments on forums in due time.
These problems can be easily avoided through brief, clear and short recommendations given to learners at the very beginning of the course. For example, reminding them that even if they have a week to upload a piece of homework, it is advisable to take the time to have it ready at least a day or two before the deadline just in case something goes wrong with the platform. The same applies to material downloaded to study, or the above mentioned comments on forums, even when they are not graded. These  simple steps have proved to be very useful to ensure quality standards.
Regarding time to meet the teacher, and enquire about any doubts, tools such as BlackBoard collaborate easily to allow it. With a user-friendly interface and even a “raise hand” button, this and other similar software provide real–time interaction between teacher and students.
In the end, the superiority or inferiority of online courses relies heavily on every students’ and teachers’ opinion. If they find them appealing, their attitude will most likely lead to better results than those from unmotivated students. However, disliking virtual platforms should not be a reason not to take advantage of the benefits technology offers.

Teaching languages online
The practice of teaching languages online  is expanding quickly. This summer some language centers are offering  100% online courses for teachers as well as blended courses, with about 75% of the course face-to-face and 25% online sessions.  Some institutions have even started offering such online courses beyond their own countries, making it an international experience to learn with teachers and other students from around the globe.

To go deeper into the matter, it would be great to know what you reader think and/or what you have experienced  yourself either as a teacher or a student. Leave a comment and share your experience with us! It is very easy. You just need to have a gmail account. If you don’t, creating one will take you only a few minutes!

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Zarela Cruz graduated from Ricardo Palma University as a translator.  She also finished her master’s studies in Linguistics and took some specialization diplomas in English and Spanish: Higher Education, Virtual Courses Design, and Spanish for Foreigners. She has also completed a number of certificates:  Teaching the Working Adult, Online, Hybrid and Blended Education, among other self-study courses.   During her more than 20 years’ teaching experience, she has been a teacher trainer in Huaraz and Ayacucho and lectured in some Congresses for EFL teachers in Lima. This article is a summary of her workshop at the 2015 Annual Congress at CIDUP.