English Australia Conference
18th – 19th September, 2014
I’ve been away from the English Australia Conference for four years, so it was interesting to return to the conference this year in Melbourne. One trend that struck me was a definite upswing in the number of sessions focusing on educational technologies. While many of these adopted a practical orientation towards classroom tools, others investigated bigger themes related to the benefits and drawbacks of these technologies.
In his talk, Engaging Digital Learners, accompanied by a website, Paul Forster explored a range of interactive web- and app-based technologies that can be used by teachers in the classroom, including quiz tools like Kahoot, Padlet, Quizlet, annotation tools like EduCanon and Curriculet, and QR and AR tools like Aurasma and Plickers.
The session Digital Literacies for Teachers and Students: A Toolbox of Practical Ideas was delivered in the format of three pecha kucha presentations by Lachlan McKinnon, Lindsay Rattray and Thom Roker. Lachlan recommended screen capture video freeware including Camstudio (Windows only), Screencast-o-matic, Jing and Screen2exe (also Windows only). Lindsay suggested that instead of asking students to switch off mobile phones, we should ask them to set their phones to English. He went on to outline activities where students skim websites in response to trivia questions; video self-introductions using their mobile phones; and take part in jumbled dictations where they type the dictated sentences into their phones, then work together to compose the full text. Thom promoted the idea of a paperless classroom, suggesting this can be achieved by using many of the apps available through Google Drive . He also spoke of the educational potential of Google Classroom.
In their presentation, MOOEC Showcase, Chris Evason, James O’Connor, Ken Trolland, Susannah McCallum and Cecile Baranx showed examples of effective ESL materials on the MOOEC platform. It was pointed out that there is an opportunity for teachers not only to consume existing materials, but to create their own materials for their students.
In their presentation, We’ll See You on the Flip Side: The Flipped Classroom Model in Practice, Adrian Smith, Olivia Cassar and Carol Aeschliman pointed out the advantages of a flipped approach in giving students more language practice, and allowing them to engage in collaboration and production activities in the classroom. There is a reduction in teacher talking time, and there is more time for personalised attention to students at the point of need. However, this may not involve so much of a paradigm shift in TESOL, since many of the active learning aspects of flipped classrooms have been employed for some time in English language teaching. Making materials available before class time turned out to be particularly empowering for the weaker students, who could spend extra time preparing before coming to class. Recommended web services and apps for creating flipped videos include Educreations, GoAnimate, Prezi, Tellagami and VideoScribe. Students can even learn to use apps like Tellagami to respond to flipped videos.
In my own session, Walking and Talking Around the World: A Snapshot of International Mobile English Learning, I outlined the trade-offs that educators, as learning designers, make when they are creating mobile learning experiences for their own students in their own contexts: balancing up affordability and affordances, deciding what types of mobile learning to promote or support, and making choices about which mobile agendas to align their designs with. I rounded off with four case studies of successful mobile English language learning projects, highlighting the different decisions made in varying contexts to create effective learning designs.
This was followed by a panel, Is Educational Technology the End of the World as We Know It?, chaired by Donna Cook. Along with Kyle Smith, Vesna Stevanof and Piedad Pena, I took part in responding to a wide range of questions about educational technologies (with our responses informed by questions previously submitted by the audience through Facebook and Twitter). It’s apparent that a lot of people are experimenting with new technologies in the classroom, and encountering a mixture of successes and challenges – and there’s a lot we can learn through sharing and discussing these experiences.
At the Learning Technologies breakfast on the second day, at which I was the special guest, attendees discussed the benefits and challenges of using new technologies. A competition to produce a digital overview of participants’ experiences of educational technologies in different ELT centres produced some informative multimedia entries using tools such as Knowmia, Tellagami and VideoScribe.
Technology was also a topic which surfaced in the context of presentations on other themes. In his plenary, English and Economic Development, David Graddol outlined his concerns over the economic rationalist basis for the English language development going on around the world. He pointed out that there are two narratives about the use of technology in the classroom – one is about empowering individual teachers to do more in the classroom; but the other is about big corporations convincing education ministries that students should be plugged into educational packages, which diminish the need for highly trained teachers. Corporations are now selling directly to parents as well.
Of course, not every presentation was about technology, but technology has become an increasingly present theme, mixed in – as it should be – with broader pedagogical, cultural and sociopolitical themes.