IATEFL and BALEAP Part Two…. 1

In my previous post I talked a little about the presentations I did at the two conferences but I wanted to use this one to reflect a bit on the sessions I attended – especially tech ones obviously – and talk a little on whether I saw any particular trends or themes emerging.

Shortly after I arrived at Bristol for BALEAP I got a tweet asking me what I thought about my session being the only tech session in the whole conference.

I was a bit surprised by this but when I looked at the programme it was indeed true. The colour coding showed that mine was the only session specifically labelled as technology. Was this a sign of the waning of technology, a fad that had lost its lustre among teachers and students? 

I don’t think so…or at least I hope not. Over the two days at BALEAP I saw many excellent sessions that had overt uses of technology within the framework or process they were describing.
For example Tyson Seburn from the University of Toronto and his colleague, Alexandra Guerson, gave a talk on how they created stronger links between the in-sessional programme delivered by Tyson and the History course run by Alexander through the use of Google Docs. 

My colleague from Sheffield, Chris Smith, also gave a fascinating talk on the use of dialogic feedback on a pre-sessional course and central to the process was the use of Google Drive to create a dynamic portfolio of documents that both teachers and students had ongoing access to. 

I saw several sessions on corpus linguistics and how it informs EAP learning and teaching, Michael McCarthy gave an excellent talk on what insights we can gain about academic speaking through analysing corpus data while Hilary Nesi and colleagues from an Omani college talked about how they created a corpus in a low resource context. 

I also saw an excellent talk by Norazida Johar from the university of Singapore describing a project to provide interactive online EAP content for students to improve their writing skills. 

And in fact one of the plenary talks by Libor Stepanek on creativity in EAP put the role of video conferencing front and centre. 
And there were several others on the programme that I didn’t attend but a cursory glance through the session description made it clear that technology was an integral part of what they were talking about. 

What I think was happening was that technology wasn’t the prime focus of the sessions, instead they focussed on a particular skill such as reading or speaking or whatever and the technology simply provided the opportunity to try something new or do something more efficiently. This was certainly the case with the session that Tyson Seburn and Alexandra Guerson did on collaboration between the EAP and subject teacher, the use of Google docs just made the process so much easier.

This is a good thing. This means that technology is becoming normalised and integrated naturally into what teachers are doing in class and is no longer seen as a separate ‘thing’ that needs to be addressed. Technology use is not an aim in itself, rather a tool that gives opportunities and affordances for language learning. 

This is a process that happens with all technologies in the classroom, to begin with they are seen as confusing and exciting but gradually they become absorbed into a teacher’s repertoire. Imagine if you went to a conference session today and the presenter felt the need to constantly mention the role that the photocopier or the CD player played in the process, it would seem a bit odd. But that was probably the case 20-30 years ago when these tools offered new opportunities in the EFL/EAP classroom.

I felt the same about IATEFL, there seemed far fewer dedicated tech sessions yet at the same time many of the sessions had technology implicitly involved.

Just to give one example, I saw an excellent session called the Selfie Observation by John Hughes. This focussed on how teachers could use the technology they have on them such as mobile phones to record their own lessons (audio/video recording, photos of their classroom/whiteboard etc). 

David Dodgson also gave an excellent session on how he used blogging and online networks as a source of CPD and self-reflection on his teaching.  

It was noticeable how cloud documents such as Google Docs/Slides came up several times across the two conferences, I think this is something that teachers are beginning to realise offer incredible advantages in the EFL and EAP classroom, particularly for collaborative writing and formative assessment. 

Where to next?

I feel we’ve hit a plateau in technology at the moment as we wait for the next big thing. At BETT (educational tech trade fair) recently everywhere we turned there were technologies designed for ‘making’ things: 3D printers, programmable circuits and robots, this is clearly the next stage in primary and secondary education for STEM subjects but I don’t think it has so much relevance for languages.

For EFL I think the next innovations are likely to come in areas such as virtual and augmented reality. The ability to place language learners in authentic contexts where they can practice the language is clearly a very attractive proposition. However, the technologies are a little too expensive and little too clunky and buggy to be easily integrated at this stage. You can see it beginning to happen, a company called Mondly have created a virtual reality app which puts you in authentic learning situations. 

Or Aurasma, an app that creates augmented reality objects and literally makes text and pictures spring to life when you point your phone at it. I’ve seen demonstrations of this in use for various subjects, but haven’t really yet seen its application to language learning. 

I think these tools are likely to be more relevant for EFL rather than EAP as you can easily put students into conversational situations (cafes, shops etc) that are not so relevant for university students, but they could have some applicability for preparing students for meetings with their supervisor or seminar skills for example. 

If you have any thoughts on any of this, I’d love to hear them. 

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About David Read

I work at the English Language Teaching Centre at the University of Sheffield as the Director of TEL (technology-enhanced learning). I've been an EFL/EAP teacher and teacher trainer for over 20 years and have worked in 14 different countries. Settling down is clearly an issue for me.

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One thought on “IATEFL and BALEAP Part Two….

  • Tyson Seburn

    Hi David – Sorry I haven’t seen this until now. I echo many of your thoughts, particular that technology itself isn’t the primary focus of the session, but something used within its pedagogy. I think this is very good. I personally don’t tend to go to tech-focussed sessions because it’s not the tech that I’m really interested in, but rather the activity/rationale/pedgagoy instead. I agree that hopefully this is a sign of normalisation. Also, when BALEAP asked us to select the focus for our talks, I purposely didn’t select technology because I’m now of the feeling that if that’s the focus, our aim is simply to introduce the value of the tool, not the actually activity/rationale/pedagogy…