As any good teacher knows, the year doesn’t really start in January, September is where it really matters, a fresh start with new students and new groups and (hopefully) new resolutions and ideas for the classroom.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t join in with the rest of society and have a few habits to kick and new things to try in the calendar new year. And in that spirit, I wanted to suggest a few tech-related things you can try in your EAP classes come the start of term. Nothing too ground-breaking, just a few ideas, websites and activities that you might not have tried before and a few tips/hints for how to do them:
create interactive videos for your students
Most of us have used YouTube video in class with our students, it’s a great source of news clips, lectures and documentaries. Normally, we’ll create worksheets or give students questions and treat it as a traditional listening activity. However, if you feel like setting some listening for homework or want to take them to a computer lab to let them work at their own pace through a listening task, there are many sites where you can embed the questions directly into the video or for the video to stop at key moments to give the student time to reflect and answer.
One thing to note about most of these sites is that they work on the Freemium model, meaning they’ll let you have some content or features for free but others you have to pay for. With these particular sites you’ll get certain question types (e.g. multiple choice/short answer) for free but if you want to use other question types, you’ll have to pay some kind of subscription. They might also hide some reporting features behind a pay wall, so if you want a detailed breakdown of each student’s answer, that’s something included in the subscription. Anyhow, just check with the site and see what it says, particularly take a look at any special offers for teachers or schools or the ability to upgrade to better features by inviting friends to the site. These can often get you several months of the premium features.
I’ve used a few of these both in and out of class and students have really engaged with them and found the ability to work through it at their own pace particularly motivating.
Zaption, Educanon and EdPuzzle are all quite similar in that you can create a set of questions around a YouTube video, though EdPuzzle is notable in that it’s completely free and doesn’t require any kind of payment (though don’t count out the possibility of that happening in the future). You’ll need to explore each of them to find out which offers the best features for what you want to do.
Another site where you can get students to comments or respond to comments on questions on video is Videoant. This is slightly different in that you are not creating particularly types of questions with right/wrong answers, but rather giving students the chance to annotate a video in the same way you might annotate an article or book. You can bring in any Youtube video, even those you’ve created yourself and it can be a great way to get students asking questions about videos. I’ve used it to show presentations and then asking students to annotate it with any useful language or presentation techniques they notice. You create your own ‘Ant Farm’ of videos and you can decide to share these with individuals or as a link so that anyone can view or comment on them.
Get your students blogging
Getting students to blog (and by that I mean writing publicly or for a specific audience on the web) can be a great way to motivate them to write more frequently and to make the process more authentic. We tend to think of blogging as more informal writing, but there’s no particular reason why it has to be, and if you want your students to blog in a more formal style to develop particular academic writing skills, that’s fine.
There’s a range of ways you can set up and use blogging with your students. They can create their own blogs or you can set up one blog for them all to contribute to. You can make the blog completely open to the public or it can be private to just the students in the class. There are many platforms that can be used for blogging, the most common being WordPress and Blogger but you can also use platforms set up specifically for educational blogging such as Edublogs.
What can students blog about? Anything really, from their experiences of living in a foreign country (if you’re in the UK) to reactions to something they read in the news or in an academic article. The important thing is that they do it regularly and they have an audience, either other students or people at the school, though it’s important that any comments are genuine reactions to what they’ve written rather than analyses of the quality of their English. Just as we don’t want to stifle their extended reading by constantly testing them on what they’ve read, we don’t want to do the same for their writing either.
Use your VLE for homework discussions
Most of us have access to a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) or Learning Management System (LMS). This might be a more traditional higher education VLE such as Blackboard or Moodle or you might be using something with more of a social network feel such as Google Classroom or Edmodo. Or something in-between such as Canvas. Whatever we’ve got, it’s not always easy to incorporate them into courses naturally and they either end up not being used at all or being used as a place to drop documents related to the lessons.
But there are good reasons to try to use them more, not least because of student expectations, but also because there are significant findings that blended learning – combining online and face to face learning – can be extremely beneficial to students. [need source here, American overview].
The trick is using the VLE habitually, finding ways to incorporate naturally into your course and lessons that doesn’t require too much technical knowledge or extra work on the teacher’s part. This can be done by setting up routines for students, a few ideas might be:
- if you have a reading or listening task coming up, set a brainstorming or pre-task question in the VLE’s forum or post stream for them to respond to for homework ahead of time.
- after the weekend, ask them to share any new words they’ve encountered in their reading or listening and what they learnt about them. Pull them up on the board on Monday morning for discussion and analysis.
- Most VLEs will have some kind of wiki function, a document that all of them can contribute to for pooling ideas or knowledge. If it doesn’t, you could always use a posterboard tool such as Padlet or Linoit or create a shared document through something like Google Docs. This can be used to create summaries of what students have learnt (‘What did you learn about paraphrasing this week?’) during the week or over the module of a coursebook.
- most VLEs will have some kind of private journal function where students can write and it can only be seen by the teacher. This can be a useful way to get students to regularly reflect on their learning or to prepare for tutorials you might have with them. Again, try to make this a regularly activity, maybe once a week or every two weeks for 10–15 minutes.
Make it mobile
There’s nothing particularly faddish anymore about mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. All of our students have them and they are seemingly surgically attached to their hands, often at times when they probably shouldn’t be. I know some teachers ban them from their classes, but I’m not sure that’s realistic anymore and, if used correctly and sparingly, they can be a fantastic source of learning for our students. So, here are a few ideas for effective and engaging use of mobile devices in the classroom.
- in the section above on VLEs, I mentioned that students could post about any words that they’ve come across outside of class; this could easily be done by them taking a picture with their mobile phone (especially if they see it when out on the street) and then shared in class or in small groups.
- use QR codes to promote self-study, Hazel McAllister’s recent post on this topic is particularly useful to read over.
- Revive the ancient art of dictation by getting them to do it on their mobile phones, I’ve done this with students and they absolutely love it, I think just the novelty of doing this on a mobile device is engaging for them. No special apps are required, they can just do it into any notes app on their phone.
- create classroom quizzes that can be answered on a mobile phone, I’ve written in the past about Socrative but there are others such as Kahoot. These are normally simple to set up but can be an engaging way to revise key vocabulary or grammar from your course.
These are just a few ideas for naturally integrating technology into your classrooms in the new year, maybe pick one or two and try them out, see how they work and how students’ respond to them.