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!

References
21st Century Education vs. 20th Century Education
The Four C's: Making 21st Century Education Happen
20th vs. 21st century teachers

Biodata
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.

26 comentarios:

  1. Great article! I remember learning English at high school with blackboard and chalks. On the other hand, in college, I found the clases more interesting for the online platforms we had at hand. We have to take advantage of these times and learn as much as we can with the help of technology.

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  2. Dear Liz,
    to go with the times is a must. Nice to see that this article took you to your school days and allowed you to compare the shifts you went through regarding education. I am sure we have lots more to see in the coming years.
    Keep following us! ZC

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  3. Very good article! Although I'm not a technology lover I've got to say that in most of cases is quite useful and faster than face-to-face classes. However, I'm one of those students that strongly believe that better results are shown in face-to-face classes. Finally I'd like to say that above all is a matter of inner motivation, it goes beyond technology. Regards Mrs. Zarela.

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  4. Dear Daniel,
    nice to hear from you. Thank you for your insights. They have been very helpful. We may feel tempted to overgeneralize about the benefits and uses of technology based on a person's age. However, comments like yours let us know what you think, and most importantly exchange viewpoints.
    Until soon! ZC

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  5. A very interesting article. I was talking to a friend about teaching online courses just a few days ago and this article will surely be a huge help for her. And for me, when the time comes.
    While learning English, me being a kid among adults, I remember how they benefited more from the classic teaching tecnics than the newer ones. I grew up watching my English teachers put all their effort in their class material to encourage participation. Nowadays, software's makes it a lot easier. But still, there's a lot planning to do to get the right effect on students and motivate them.
    As a person interested in teaching, I think it is a must to learn about the new technologies to interact with the newer generations, since they are practically born "tech".

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    Respuestas
    1. Dear María Fernanda,
      deep reflection. Thank you for sharing your learning experience with us. Glad to know that you find the article useful, not only for you, but for your friend.This encourages us to keep writing on methodological issues.
      Looking forward to your post in the coming articles!
      Regards.ZC

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  6. Language teaching has changed considerably thanks to these softwares and platforms. Currently there are many online courses that help students and professionals. As a student, what I like the most is that it gives the chance to get organized and sometimes students can choose when to participate in these courses, also it is more interactive and encourages students to learn more. Interesting article teacher!

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    Respuestas
    1. Dear Ariana,
      I do appreciate your enthusiasm regarding this topic. For us, your perception and viewpoint as a student yourself are very helpful.
      It is true that students can choose when and where from they participate, but they will soon realize that organizing their study time is equally important.
      Regards.ZC

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  7. What a great overview! For me, all the tools which contribute to teaching or learning are always helpful. As a student, I used a plataform where teachers let homework, useful info and unit content so we have a review of the class just by checking it. Technology is just part of everybody's life as It's for teaching and learning.

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    Respuestas
    1. Dear Ysabel,
      thank you for following us! One of the advantages of using platforms is that students have access not only to the material seen in class, but also to supplementary links that have proved to be helpful. These links are chosen considering students' needs. Using technology, teachers can easily see if students are making the most of them by tracking the number of visits and/or using an ASK THE TEACHER FORUM in case they need to clarify some doubts. There are very proactive students who also share their own links. In a word, we all benefit from this tools.
      Until soon! ZC

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  8. I have never stopped myself to think how it must be for a teacher to go through the rapid changes in technology (and how it is used in a classroom) while maintaining the focus on the subject they're teaching.

    English classes started when I was little, so probably the only way to catch a kid's attention was by having beautiful stationary and stickers for when we said something clever. As I grew up though, the need for technology increased as it provided a faster way to exercise one's use of the language. We didn't have to wait for the rest of the class to finish, because we could keep going. But the exercise can only come after you have taken your time to learn properly. So I think that a combination of both, technology and face-to-face interactions, is important to not only get better at reading and writing exercises but at listening and most importantly speaking. Favouring one over the other might result in an "uneven" knowledge of the language.

    Nonetheless, it's important to know the audience. Working with kids that are already submerged in technology would be different than working with adults or young adults.

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    Respuestas
    1. Dear Cynthia,
      thanks for sharing your experience! This is exactly what we need: to know what your viewpoints are, either as a teacher or as a student. Stickers work very well with very young kids. Primary teachers have a number of strategies to encourage participation and to reward children's efforts.
      I do agree with the use of blended courses. Each component is important of course, but as you well pointed out, we should take into account students' age and generation.
      On the other hand, I can see that your education has been bilingual since you were very young. Keep practicing the language! In a previous article I recommended excellent websites. Besides there are institutions that offer courses for free and you can benefit from them.Any further detail, feel free to ask.
      Keep following us! ZC

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  9. Nice article! Like Ysabel said: all the tools are important to learn a new lenguage. Every single person is a different world so for that reason he/she will choose the best way. For example, I'm one of those that love the traditional way to learn a language. Nothing against with technology, it is just the way that I feel comfortable.

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    Respuestas
    1. Dear Renato,
      nice to hear from you again! and much nicer to see that you agree with other readers!
      Some people do not feel comfortable with taking online courses since for them, human contact is very important and make the difference. I am under the impression that you are a teacher too and enjoy your face-to-face classes. I fully understand them. I incorporate technology in my classes because I find some resources very useful , but I also enjoy fast replies and spontaneity in face-to-face classes.
      Thanks for sharing!ZC

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  11. I think the issue here is the end product, which is for our students to learn the new language effectively and faster.
    If we use the term student-centered, we mustn´t forget the individual who is at the other end of the line. Improving the process for delivering classes relying on technology might sound appealing and learners could find it motivating, but are we really getting better learning results through the use of these new tools? I have not heard of any research done on that respect and I think it´s too soon to know. I admit that with technology access to information is incredibly improved but have we developed new cognitive skills to adapt to the new era? Or rather, are the new devices shaping the way we think, leading us to believe that we are smarter than preceding generations?
    As Carr, N. (2008) said, “just as there’s a tendency to glorify technological progress, there’s a countertendency to expect the worst of every new tool or machine.” Therefore all this new trend calls for a more discerning and responsible attitude on language teachers and not simply embrace the changes with goggle-eyed adoration.

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    Respuestas
    1. Dear Oswaldo,
      your post is really thoughtful and I am sure other teachers think alike.
      You know that every time a new approach burst into the methodological scene, there are many followers and what I call "early adopters". After some trial and error period, the wisest thing to do is to adjust it to our needs and working conditions. In the end, we all use an eclectic aproach, which is good since we have to be open to new ways, but always with a critical eye that will allow us to see which works and which doesn't in our classes.
      Last, but not least important, thank you for follow-up questions and quote.
      Regards.ZC

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  12. This is a really nice article! I do not consider myself a technology lover; however, I do have to admit that online courses are becoming more and more popular nowadays. And I think this is the kind of approach education will take in the future. Nonetheless, I really believe it's important that students (whenever they take an online course) get the appropriate guidance and feedback from teachers, so they don't feel lost in the process. I'm the kind of student that prefers face-to-face classes; however, I do see the benefits of taking online courses: it is not only about choosing your own schedule or saving time but also about teaching students to get involved and interested in the learning process. I haven't taken an online language course, but when I was learning English I really liked the interaction between students and teachers. Unfortunately, there's something that techonology can't bring...and that's spontaneity, those comments or things students say on the spur of the moment that lead to further discussion about an specific topic in the classroom. Anyway, technology is our reality, so we have to adapt and take advantage of it.
    Regards,
    Carla

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  13. Dear Carla,
    there is a considerable number of people that do not feel comfortable with online courses, so you are not alone. Basically, they like the face-to-face learning environment and socializing, making new friends, working in pairs/groups, changing partners and getting immediate feedback not only from the teacher but also from their peers. Hence, body language also plays an important role not to mention the tone of voice and all the pragmatics of each situation. I also enjoy students' witty responses and/or comments. However, there are useful education technology tools that can be used and we can benefit from them to a greater extend. Giving a try is worth the effort so you can compare and decide the kind of teaching (and learning) that fits you best.
    You also made a good point: some students mistakenly believe that taking an online course demands no study schedule. Totally wrong. You must be very disciplined when taking an online course since there are tasks to be submitted on specific due times.
    Looking forward to your participation in the coming weeks. Stay tune! ZC

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  14. Technology is definitively in the life of our students and it is true to say that, they want the most of it in class. I remember some of my students suggesting the use of tablets in class instead of books. Probably soon, I just replied.

    Good luck and I look forward to your response!

    Rosario Uribia.

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    Respuestas
    1. Dear Rosario,
      thanks for sharing your experience as a teacher. The digital version of the textbook is available but just for the teacher, since a license has to be paid. There are e-book readers, but that is a different kind of material. Using smartphones and/or tablets may work very well as long as you plan it beforehand.
      You also made a good point which, incidentally, concerns middle-aged teachers: this transition stage is not that simple for us, teachers who were taught with a different approach and who are not that used to current tools which evolve so fast.
      Once again, thank you for your interest and nice to hear from you after such a long time!
      Keep following us! ZC

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  15. Very interesting article. I personally prefer face-to-face classes, however, I believe it's all about balance. A teacher's objetive is to transmit knowledge to their students, so every tool is benefitial for accomplishing it.

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    Respuestas
    1. Dear Diego,
      something that keeps surprising me is that despite all the benefits of technology, students prefer face-to-face classes once they have tried online courses. I guess it is due to what I call "the social factor" that some of our readers have refered to in their post as "spontaneity" in class.
      I couldn't agree with you more: it is all about balance.
      Thank you for your post! ZC

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  16. Dear Zarela,
    Really interesting article! I agree a lot with Diego's comments above...As a psychologist I prefer face to face (learning, counselling, meetings), but agree that balance is important. I now integrate some technology into my counselling sessions like apps to practice skills or youtube clips - but I think there is something special about face to face that links with our innate human need for connection, that just can't be replaced by purely online delivery.

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    Respuestas
    1. You are right, Gemma. I called it "the human factor", which is essential in all kinds of human relationships. As a psychologist yourself, your voice is important.
      On the other hand, I never figured out that your counselling sessions could also make use of technological tools. Thank you for sharing your experience!
      Keep following us! ZC

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  17. Dear Carmen,
    Thanks for a fresh reminder of how valuable our work is and for helping us understand that being a good language teacher involves a lot more than simply being a native speaker of a given language.

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