What’s New in the EFL World Today
An IATEFL Report by Jean Theuma
One of the main topics for discussion at IATEFL 2009 in Cardiff was the role of technology for the language learner. A large number of sessions were devoted to dissecting, examining and criticising the use of computers, the Internet, interactive whiteboards, mobile phones and other gadgets in the EFL arena. Speakers’ talks stretched from explaining the tried-and-tested to looking into the potential of completely new, emerging aspects of technology. Emotions ran high as those who think that technology is all a passing phase clashed with those of us who know that it is here to stay!
Many students are distant from any area where they can access a face-to-face teacher. For these people the benefit of VLEs, Moodles, and video conferencing is immense. While simply sitting at your computer in the comfort of your home, you can be part of a language learning community. In practical terms, everyone from adults who are stuck in weather observation outposts in the Arctic Tundra to children who are caught in war torn countries now have access to an education ordinarily denied them.
Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs)
These can look and feel like real classrooms on the Internet. Take, for example, "Second Life" - a virtual world in which British Council has had great success with their ‘British Council Island’. Students and teachers take on cartoon-like characters called ‘avatars’ and meet in a virtual classroom. Students can interact with their teacher, who can conduct the lesson in the ‘classroom’ or use a function of the web-site to ‘teleport’ to different locations around the site. The students can carry out the exercises that their teacher sets them, interact with actors who play roles in the virtual world or can interact with each other in relaxation areas such as bars and cafes – all, of course, virtual!
These are sites on the Internet where courses are run along the style of blogs. Moodle has been used to introduce an online Delta course to compliment the new modular Delta.
For Module 1 and 3 candidates are set research projects via an online blog. They then receive peer and tutor feedback on their work which they can access by going to their Moodle website.
Module 2 also utilizes the Moodle as the candidate has two tutors; one face-to-face (RDT) and one online (OPT). Between the tutors and the candidate online discussions are held and feedback is given. Finally, the candidate’s work is assessed and uploaded onto the Moodle for record-keeping.
Live video conferencing
Students from all over the world can meet with teachers, face-to-face, online, using webcams and online telephone systems such as Skype. Alternatively, the meeting could just be in a chat room such as MSN live.
This is the latest buzz. Twitter is an Internet site where anyone with a Twitter account can send an instant message which can be picked up by your mobile phone for the price of an SMS. You can also send messages to twitter, which is called tweeting as what you send is a tweet, and this can be seen by all those who are following you. The main draw of Twitter is the many celebrities who have taken to tweeting their every move to the site. You can follow almost anyone from Stephen Fry to Britney or Miley.
There is no pedagogic use for Twitter yet but technophiles such as Graham Stanley, Pete Sharma and Nicky Hockley are excitedly looking forward to seeing what applications teachers can find for online communities such as Twitter.
How many of us have used the excuse that we do not use technology with our students because we do not have access to any in the classroom? Those days are gone! Almost all of our students bring their mobile phones to school and the technology in a modern-day mobile is more than the computers that put the first man on the moon.
Emerging applications have yet to be explored fully but here are a few of the things under development which were discussed during a session at IATEFL:
- Downloadable language games which are sent as an SMS link or are accessed from the Internet from the phone. These could be quite conventional language learning tools such as gap-fills or multiple choice exercises.
- Mini-lessons sent to the student as text messages such as the difference between "say" and "tell", the meanings of phrasal verbs or when to use " yours faithfully"
- Downloadable reading texts which can be stored and viewed on the mobile phone for students on the go
- Various activities in the class when the teacher and the students exchange short videos, pictures etc., using blue-tooth
So, what’s new in the EFL world today? Well, what is really new is the change in attitude that teachers will have to undergo if they want to survive in this new technological atmosphere. The younger generations are growing up confident and able to use all these modern day tools. But let me point out that tools are all they are; just as a stone tablet was overtaken by papyrus which evolved into paper, this will now be superseded by a computer screen and an Interactive whiteboard. The teacher is not being replaced…..they are just being given a wonderful new set of tools to play with!
We are proud to let you know that during the past year, three of our members have had their names along side the internationally known big names in ELT -
Jeanette Theuma gave a session, entitled "Project Work: Creative techniques to Keep Teens Interested, at the IATEFLAConference in Cardif in April 2009. This session was based on the belief that by involving teenagers in the creation of their own lessons they are more likely to take responsibility for the learning too!
Alan March had an article, "In Private", published in the popular EFL Magazine, English Teaching Professional, in Septemeber 2008. This article gave some useful tips and techniques for teaching one-to-one.
Joe Bonello had an article, "Are Teachers Therapists", published in IATEFL's magazine, Voices. You may read the article in the Articles section of this website.