Tag Archives: ELT

“Professional development – that’s what I want!” – #AusELT chat summary, 3rd July 2014

What do we want imageWhat a lively chat about professional development! @cioccas posted some questions for us to think about before the chat and then structured the chat around these. This was a great idea because we could formulate some answers before the chat and this made it easier to post (copy and paste our pre-written ideas) and took the stress off us to constantly type (well, at least that’s what I did!) The questions and issues we discussed are below, and the main comments are summarised.

 

What do teachers want and expect from PD?

@andrea_rivett posted: “It should be relevant, interesting and get me to think about my own practice.” @Penultimate_K commented that newer teachers wanted direction and skills development and more experienced teachers wanted refinement and innovation. @KateRoss0901 reminded us that some teachers wanted traditional forms of PD such as post-graduate study, seminars and workshops. @sujava and @sophiakhan4 wondered whether all teachers wanted PD. @sujava mentioned that any PD should include a takeaway for use in the classroom as teachers are time poor.

What is PD?

@Penultimate_K reminded us that self-directed PD is often forgotten as a form of informal PD. @KateRoss0901 made the insightful comment that we encourage our students to be self-directed learners but don’t seem to follow this approach in our own PD. @andrea_rivett raised the question of a definition of PD. Is it formal, informal, online, F2F, written, spoken, individual, collaborative, paid, unpaid, teacher-directed, institution-directed? Does it result in a certificate / assessment / observation / some form of classroom practice? Is it private reflection? Who defines it and how do we motivate teachers to participate in it?

@cioccas said that teachers should choose what PD they wanted and that it should be differentiated. @sophiakhan4 recommended we all read Karen Benson and Phil Chappell’s contribution on PD in the English Australia Journal as it deals with a program for differentiated PD.

Expectations around PD

@sujava said that some teachers felt pressed for time and felt that PD was an imposition. @MeredithMacaul1 reminded us of teacher workload as obstacles to attending PD. @cherrymp asked if these things were excuses. @sujava mentioned that some people want to teach / do their job and then go home and @SophiaKhan4 asked if we had unrealistic expectations of teachers. Are people in other professions required / expected to do PD?

A few people mentioned that PD should be provided as part of the job and @aparnajacob said that people expected to be paid as part of PD. Personally, I would expect mandated PD to be paid but anything I was interested in I could pursue myself. It’s always worth putting in a proposal to management to have PD subsidized (e.g. travel and accommodation expenses). Online PD would save costs here but @cioccas has observed that online PD is not always accepted by managers.

What do managers want and expect from teacher PD?

@andrea_rivett said PD was everyone’s responsibility but teachers and managers could suggest, deliver and organise it. @michaelgriffin asked how we can encourage and support teachers to manage their own PD, seek opportunities for PD on their own and become independent learners. This is a question those in management and teacher development constantly grapple with.

 A PD budget

The conversation turned to how to allocate a PD budget. Some recommendations included:

  • any budget for group and individual PD should be aligned to organizational goals
  • teachers who were sponsored by their organisation to attend an event could come back to their campus / college and share what they learned
  • learning institutions could take turns in hosting PD to keep costs down
  • teachers can share delivery (reduced prep time) so a guest speaker is not needed (and therefore no payment required)
  • teachers can put in proposals for external PD conferences and if accepted their college could pay for them to go
  • get staff to deliver PD, everyone votes and the best presenter gets a PD allowance (to attend a conference etc.) with the aim always being to bring back and share the ‘learning’

 Sharing PD opportunities

The conversation then turned to how to share PD opportunities / advertise PD. Some ideas were:

  • Bulletin board, newsletter, group / email list
  • Scoop.It (online magazine), English Australia newsletter

@cioccas asked how information about PD opportunities was disseminated to teachers who weren’t connected and @KateRoss0901 commented that this could be approached from various angles (formal, informal, electronic, spoken, written), which would catch a wider audience. She also commented that employees had a responsibility to develop themselves.

Who participates in PD? Why / why not?

@hairychef asked the pertinent question: “Has the issue of low engagement in highly qualified staffrooms been addressed?” @sujava mentioned PLNs: Facebook, Pearltrees and Twitter and showing people how to sign up. @cioccas mentioned that she has seen little take up of this from teachers even after several attempts.

This prompted the question from @cioccas: “How to encourage and support teachers to manage their own PD, seek opportunities for PD on their own and become independent learners?” @cioccas suggested a series of teacher-led PD sessions, which are starting to take off where she works. @sophiakhan4 mentioned the benefit of having models to inspire and show others what is achievable. She met her models through social media. A few people commented that managers should model best practice.

NB: If interested, you can

What is the role of teachers in their own PD?

 Some suggestions included:

  • to think about what they are interested in vs what they “need” to improve in
  • to run a PD session each – nothing too fancy (30 mins)
  • to do PD in pairs
  • to have active roles in Professional Organisations

Explore here for more ideas on:

What is the role of managers in teacher PD?

 Some suggestions included that managers should:

  • give PD presenting opportunities and responsibilities to teachers
  • have active roles in Professional Organisations
  • model good learning and development (mentoring)
  • use / allocate mentors to promote enthusiasm and commitment

Engagement and feeling valued

The conversation turned to teachers not feeling engaged because they didn’t feel valued and two points were raised. Firstly, do teachers not feel valued because of low self-esteem? Secondly, is the issue here industry baseline standards? Should entry to TEFL be like entry to medicine with the same standards? Would this make teachers more engaged in PD? @hairychef suggested ongoing demand-high teacher training. @KateRoss0901 mentioned that teachers may feel that remuneration didn’t warrant further investment in their careers. @cherrymp suggested we keep working on it that change will come.

On that hopeful note the chat was wrapped up at 9.30pm and we were all left with ideas for moving forward with PD in our centres. I suggest we try some of these ideas and report back from time to time on the AusELT Facebook page.

This post by @sujava

 

Professional Development – that’s what I want!

The next #AusELT Twitter chat will take place on Thurs 3rd July at 8.30pm Sydney time (click here to see the time where you are). #AusELT stalwart Lesley Cioccarelli has kindly volunteered to manage and moderate this one, on a topic which is close to her heart: professional development. In this pre-chat post she shares some questions and resources to get you in the mood 🙂 

What do we want image It seems that everyone wants more Professional Development (PD), teachers and managers alike. But do we want the same things, and do we want them in the same timeframes, formats, etc.?

These are some of the questions we could discuss in the chat:

  • What do teachers want and expect from PD?
  • What do managers want and expect from teacher PD?
  • What is the role of teachers in their own PD?
  • What is the role of managers in teacher PD?
  • What do each of these groups think the role of the other is?
  • What happens when these are NOT compatible?

We are all trying to teach, encourage and nurture independent learning skills in our students. So how well are the teachers doing in their own independent learning? In a conversation with a highly respected teacher educator recently, where I was lamenting the reluctance of some teachers to seek their own learning opportunities, even when they were offered to them on a plate, she commented:

I think some people only think PD is relevant if it directly answers a current and immediate problem for them. They do not see it as an opportunity to broaden horizons, or think differently or even just connect with others. What can you do?”

So what can we do? My next question:

  • How do we (as managers or teaching colleagues) encourage and support teachers to manage their own PD, to seek opportunities for PD on their own, to become independent learners?

I would love to discuss how we can encourage teachers to share, reflect on, and discuss their learning, both in their workplace and beyond, but I think that might be a topic of another discussion.  🙂

I realise that discussing this on #AusELT is a bit like preaching to the converted, but I think that through sharing experiences and ideas on these issues and more, we can maybe brainstorm some solutions for the benefit of us all.

Some resources to think about

These are mostly related to the role of the manager (or principal) and all come from school sectors, but I think there are ideas we can borrow.

    • Pedigo, M. (2004). Differentiating Professional Development: The Principal’s Role. Melbourne, Hawker Brownlow Education. I love this little book! It has many practical ideas in the ‘Action Steps’ boxes in each section. It’s quite cheap, but unfortunately is not available as a download that I can find. You can view sample pages on the publishers website. There’s also a review here.
    •  Johnson, J. (2011). Differentiating Learning for Teachers. Connected Principals (blog). Extract: “After attending Lyn’s session (*), I started to wonder: Why have they become complacent? Why are they not continuing their own professional learning? Have we given teachers an environment in which they have had an opportunity to continue to grow as professionals? Have we given them the autonomy to expand their knowledge/skills and take risk in the classroom?
    • *Hilt, L. (2011). Differentiated Learning: It’s Not Just for Students! Reform Symposium RSCON3 2011. (Recording). This is the session referred to above. In her session, Lyn talks about Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and experiential learning for teachers. Also checkout her slides and list of resources referenced in the talk here.
    • Hunzicker, J. (2010). Characteristics of effective professional development: A checklist. Extract: “Effective professional development engages teachers in learning opportunities that are supportive, job-embedded, instructionally-focused, collaborative, and ongoing.” NB: The checklist on page 13, customised to your environment, might be useful for both managers and teachers alike.
    •  Jayaram, K., Moffit, A. & Scott, D. (2012). Breaking the habit of ineffective professional development for teachers. McKinsey on Society (blog). More focused on the manager (or school/college) providing the PD for teacher, but has some useful ideas.

Hope to ‘see’ you next week for the chat – looking forward to sharing ideas with you then!

This post by Lesley Cioccarelli (@cioccas)

Upcoming #AusELT Twitter chat: Management Issues, with Andy Hockley

andyhockleyIn response to recent interest in discussing ‘management issues’, we’ve invited honorary #AusELTer Andy Hockley (@adhockley) to join us as a guest moderator in our next Twitter chat, which will take place on Thurs 5th June at 8.30pm Sydney time (to check the time where you are, click here).

Andy is the lead trainer on the IDLTM (International Diploma in Language Teaching Management), and he frequently delivers workshops, conference talks and other trainings on the subject of ELT management. He is also the co-author of From teacher to manager: Managing language teaching organisations (CUP, 2009) and Managing education in the digital age: Choosing, setting up, and running online courses (The Round, 2014), and a long-standing committee member of the IATEFL Leadership and Management Special Interest Group (LAMSIG).

Whatever type of academic manager – or ‘managee’ – you are,  please come along to share your experiences, ideas and tips, and to get constructive advice on problems you may be facing right now.

Some questions that might get you thinking:

  • What do you regard as the key skills of an academic manager?
  • What do you wish you had known before you took on a management role?
  • Are there any issues that particularly affect us in Australia? How can these be addressed?

These are just a few ideas – feel free to bring your own questions to the chat or post them below. And see you on Thursday!

 

This post by @sophiakhan4

 

 

 

 

‘Hype, hope, and what are we actually meant to do with it all???’ Attitudes to edtech.  Part 2 of the #AusELT chat summary ‘The mouse that roared? Issues with edtech in ELT’ (6 Feb, 2014)

Photo: Victoria Boobyer @eltpics

Photo: Victoria Boobyer @eltpics

This is the second in a series on 4 blog posts summarising the many issues that were raised in the recent #AusELT chat with Scott Thornbury on the subject of edtech in ELT. The title quote is a comment made by @eslkazzyb during the beginning of the discussion. References or links have been included as far as possible but let us know if we need to make corrections or additions.

 

@Eslkazzyb gave us a neat summary of the different attitudes towards the use of edtech in our #AusELT community. The ‘hype’ is the technoevangelism – the idea that you have to use tech in ELT because it is ‘better’ and that means, whether you like it or not, you should embrace it and incorporate its use in your lesson planning. This is definitely an idea that has frustrated and annoyed a lot of teachers.

Then there’s the ‘hope’. Edtech has its supporters too – some are approaching it cautiously, beginning to see benefits where before they saw none, gradually coming around to the idea that there might be some scope for the inclusion of tech in the language learning classroom.

Others (the technovores!) are the early-adopters. Not necessarily technoevangelists, they are the daily users, those who have fully integrated edtech into their daily teaching, manage to get the right blend for their blended learning and appreciate the advantages that it brings, while acknowledging that there can sometimes be a downside. These people already have an idea of ‘what we are actually meant to do with it all’.

 HYPE

There is a push to use edtech but it isn’t necessarily coming from educators. There were suggestions that blended learning is driven by publishers and corporate training/e-learning (@ElkySmith), by sales and marketing (@tamzenarmer, @Penultimate_K), and that there is a perception that this is something that the learners want – students are meant to be motivated by tech so we’ll sell them tech!

TamzenATweet

@thornburyscott stated that ‘we need to be suspicious of technology when it is being co-opted by multinationals to commodify education for profit, as in the US.’ This need for suspicion extends to directives that we ‘must use tech’ or ‘tech improves teaching/learning’ with @harrisonmike making the point that we should show the quote below to anyone who tells us this is so:

BfyFYkkIAAAcpzt.jpg-large

@Penultimate_K mentioned that it seems that often the choices we are meant to be making when it involves tech have been curated for us and there are ‘so many lists of what we’re meant to do/need.’ You don’t need to look very far to find ‘The Top 10 Apps to Use in Class’ or ‘7 Effective Ways to Teach Language with iPads’ and, of course, this leads to a ‘race for money’ (@trylingual) by the developers of those apps and the makers of those iPads, and along the way the need for those tech tools to be pedagogically sound is lost.

@thornburyscott supported this idea as tech being the driver rather than the tool with this 2003 quote from Diane Laurillard:

“Technological innovation is driven by many factors, but not one of them concerns a pedagogical imperative.”

And the results of the hype? Confusion and frustration. The decision to use edtech or not, to believe in its advantages or not, can divide teachers (@Eslkazzyb). Both @ChristineMulla and @roboloughlin mentioned the sense of demoralisation that teachers experience when you don’t live up to the expectations to use tech. In some cases, teachers can even be penalised for not including tech with @harrisonmike commenting that Ofsted (the UK Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) will not grade a teacher as ‘outstanding’ if tech is not used. This also brings us back to the problem of where the expectations are coming from: from accrediting bodies such as Ofsted, from students, from managers, or from sales? If you don’t make the effort to use tech, then who exactly are you disappointing? @thornburyscott commented that ‘teachers are often blamed for not instituting tech, but maybe they don’t see the need?’ and too often this blame is coming from technoevangelists who ‘lose sight of the learners and the learning’ (@ElkySmith) and who may not even be teachers.

The pressure to use tech can often be seen in institutions with blended learning courses, where teachers feel an obligation to use, for example, the Interactive Whiteboard, just because it is there or just because content has been developed for it. This can result in reduced teaching quality when the focus becomes ‘having to use the IWB’ rather than the learning objectives. There can also be avoidance, ‘When we got IWBs, teachers wanted to use them just for effect. Many just avoided them and used the WB’ (@MerMac) and use that has no real pedagogical benefit, ‘often only use IWB to display IWB notebooks of Word documents – and to project the Internet.’

HOPE

‘It is easy to feel that the edtech tide is going out and you’re getting stranded’ (@ElkySmith) but there is hope for those who are feeling somewhat left behind. @trylingual asked ‘Can teachers change this? Are we responsible?’ and the answers seem to be ‘yes’ and ‘yes’.

If we take @ElkySmith’s view and consider technology ‘equal alongside all [the] other methodological technologies’ then it becomes a slightly less daunting prospect. It isn’t ‘a silver bullet’ (@Shaunwilden) but another tool to add to a teacher’s repertoire. The fact is that rarely do teachers use edtech wholesale.

While the plethora of edtech (the tools, the apps, the sites, the techniques) can be daunting, the majority of teachers are working to get past this and see the potential. It’s the difference between not writing off IWBs because you’ve been pushed into using them but also not writing off IWBs because you don’t know how to use them effectively (@SophiaKhan4 and @thesmylers).

And let’s not forget the students in all this. @thesmylers asked about what the students expect and @Eslkazzyb commented that she hadn’t seen the demand for the use of edtech that she had anticipated, which made her wonder about how much impact its use has on engagement and motivation. If this demand has been exaggerated, then the onus is off teachers to provide tech-centred lessons all day every day, and return to a pedagogically-focused class with tech as just one tool among many at the teacher’s disposal.

WHAT ARE WE ACTUALLY MEANT TO DO WITH IT ALL???

@mattellman pointed out that yes, there might be hype and hope, but there is no actual evidence of disappointment and that learners have a lot more access to English now via edtech. Technofundamentalism is not restricted to the sphere of ELT – it ‘pervades all sectors of society’ (@english_safari) and there are many who feel there are benefits to be gained from it while maintaining a balanced perspective.

The teachers who feel the most hope seem to be those who have been able to harness the tech as a tool rather than a driver and who perceive the use of tech in ELT as augmented learning rather than blended learning (@Innov8rEduc8r & @forstersensei)

Augmented learning can be implemented either by teachers or tech developers or a combination of the two. The teachers will look for pedagogically sound applications (@ElkySmith) and the developers will create ‘tech specifically designed for ed rather than tech which could be used for ed’ (@Penultimate_K) or as @forstersensei put it, ‘don’t sell tech, sell education and let tech be incorporated.’

@lukeealexander pointed out the liberating effect of using free tools (‘if you know where to look’) and also commented that he perceived tech ‘as a site of contestation rather than (a) monolithic force for neoliberalism.’ Tech can be time-saving or let you expedite the exposition stage, freeing teachers up to engage more with students. Tech can bring breadth to your lesson content.

@innov8torEduc8tor summed up the balanced approach best with this idea:

GregCtweet

 

References

Coffield, F. & Edward, S. (2009). Rolling out ‘good’, ‘best’, and ‘excellent’ practice. What next? Perfect practice? British Educational Research Journal, 35 (3), June, pp. 371-390. Retrieved from http://teambath.bath.ac.uk/education/documents/seminars/ORE_Reading_Group_01.07.13.pdf

Laurillard, D. (2002). Rethinking University Teaching: A Conversational Framework for the Effective Use of Learning Technologies (2nd ed). London: Routledge/Falmer.

McCann, U. (2008). Universal McCann Social Media Tracker Wave 3. Universal McCann, New York. Retrieved from http://www.universalmccann.com/Assets/2413%20-%20Wave%203%20complete%20document%20AW%203_20080418124523.pdf

Postman, N. (1993).Of Luddites, Learning, and Life. Technos Quarterly, 2(4). Retrieved from http://www.ait.net/technos/tq_02/4postman.php

 

This summary by @Penultimate_K

“What is the problem to which this technology is the solution?” Part 1 of the #AusELT chat summary: ‘The mouse that roared? Issues with edtech in ELT’ (6 Feb, 2014)

Question Mark Key on Computer KeyboardThis is the first in a series on 4 blog posts summarising the many issues that were raised in the recent #AusELT chat with Scott Thornbury on the subject of edtech in ELT. The title quote is drawn from Neil Postman. References or links have been included as far as possible but let us know if we need to make corrections or additions.

 

Scott (‪@thornburyscott) started by outlining his position based on his recent #AusELT blog post:

‘The framing of digital technology as a generally “good thing” has become an orthodoxy within education thinking’ (Selwyn, 2011). Yet history of edtech has been one of endless cycles of ‘hype, hope and disappointment’ (Selwyn, 2011, p. 59). Witness: radio, TV, films, microcomputers, language labs, IWBs. Now mobiles, tablets, one laptop per child.

Techno-fundamentalism: an uncritical faith in the inevitable benefits of technology. Does it pervade ELT? I argue that it does. Typically it takes the form ‘101 things you can do with Blogster/Wordle, etc.’ Is this the way to make pedagogically sound choices?

Better to ask ‘What is the problem for which this tool/aid/app is the solution?’ (after Neil Postman)

So what problems have you encountered for which some technology has provided a solution? Specifically:  1 input, 2 output 3 interaction 4 feedback 5 motivation and (possibly) 6 data. How does technology solve these?

This summary looks at what the chat participants had to say on those 6 areas (NB: some of the areas have been collapsed together, not because they don’t deserve individual attention, but because the issues are related and ran together in the chat).

INPUT & DATA

No one would disagree with ‪@lukeealexander that “tech provides sts in TEFL contexts far more authentic material/input than 10-15 years ago.”

Participants were also quick to point out that “tech allows more universal access to corpora, from Google all the way to Corpus of Contemporary American Eng for example” (@ElkySmith) and that “explaining vocab, particularly abstract ideas, is much easier via images online.” (@forstersensei)

‪@thornburyscott stirred the pot again, suggesting that while digital media may offer massive input, it is at a low level of engagement:

“The Web is a technology of forgetfulness” (Nicholas Carr)

@sophiakhan4 agreed and suggested that it also often offers a low level of language development: “Lots of beginner and elem stuff – tapers off noticeably above intermediate level.”

OUTPUT & INTERACTION

I thought people might have a bit more to say about the extent to which edtech really helped their learners produce meaningful language in meaningful contexts, but it was a fast moving chat and it seemed to fall by the wayside somewhat – although some of the issues return in the section on FEEDBACK (below).

Several participants were positive about the the role tech can play in promoting interaction:

  • “Found tech wonderful for real-world communication tasks – real-meaningful-purposeful tasks” (@Innov8rEduc8r)
  • “interaction . . . learning beyond the classroom is a big plus. Apps, social media (when used properly) & online tools” (@forstersensei)
  • “Have just set up a wall for an exam class to link and add to. Faster comm from me to them, them to each other (I hope) . . . I find it great to allow SS to come together and solve problems. Fosters autonomy and builds a team.” (‪@ChristineMulla)
  • “I love to use pages and walls for exam classes – they use them to share photos, ideas and chat using target language.” (@PeloKaren)

@MeredithMacAul1 agreed with this, having experimented with Moodle forums to get students adding comments on a topic, but she added that it was “difficult to get everyone to participate.”  @Eslkazzyb agreed and commented that students “really have to see value very explicitly to participate.”

@trylingual took a neutral position: “Tech has brought the real world into my classroom. But it does not solve everything and often creates more issues.”

FEEDBACK

Participants were quick to pick up the connection between output, interaction and feedback. Arguably, in terms of language learning, output and interaction always requires feedback of some kind, whether that comes from the teacher, the software, a friend, or some other source.

  • “Feedback is the big Q for me. St seem to like using authentic tools, e.g Facebook, but less interested in feedback loop . . .” (‪@Eslkazzyb)
  • “Computers aren’t ready to respond to real output. Still need people” (@SophiaKhan4)
  • “Feedback is an issue for tech with a closed design. i.e. Only one correct answer.” (‪@trylingual)

‪@thornburyscott, as ever, had a quote to hand:

“Conclusion: CALL products ‘are not yet able to offer an alternative to human support or interaction’ (Nielson 2011).”

However, chatters were keen not to throw the baby out with the bathwater:

  • “Agreed.. but they can assist. Socrative is a great example of a tool that can be programmed w/ feedback.” (@forstersensei)
  • “How [else] to collect audio samples from all Ss in one short lesson so you can give individual feedback, individually? (@cioccas)
  • “Tech can b used 2 facilitate feedback between sts eg mobile phones to record and send speaking task, other st gives fb” (@lukeealexander)

‪@thornburyscott agreed that recording students output seemed to be at least one positive use of mobile phones for example, though @GwendaAtkinson queried the wisdom of winding up with 100 recordings to grade at home. @cioccas, however, thought that “recordings used like taking home papers to check” was a good idea and noted that we can provide audio feedback instead of written.

‪@thornburyscott was also quick to jump on the fact that tech doesn’t correct writing, “nor give-at-the-point-of-need feedback on meaning.” @ElkySmith proposed that this was just a matter of time, though @cioccas was less optimistic: “I’ve seen tech that tries & if that’s the future I’m worried.” @forstersensei felt that edtech could still assist, nonetheless, and suggested trying Kaizena for providing oral feedback on writing (according to  @trylingual there is a plug-in for Google Docs that does the same).

@IH_Barcelona also suggested that if the problem is getting feedback from learners, then Google forms is a “brilliant, easy, useful” solution.

MOTIVATION

I’m not sure motivation and engagement are the same thing but for the purposes of this Twitter chat, they were certainly closely intertwined.

Tech is engaging – but where’s the evidence?

@Shaunwilden started off with: “I’m not sure if it is a problem per se but [tech] definitely helps engage sts.” @Innov8rEduc8r agreed: “Engagement was sky high with tech for my sts. And desire to improve pronunciation, grammar was also high.”

@thornburyscott wasn’t willing to take this as evidence: “If technology engages learners, where is the proof? Questionnaires (Do you like using mobiles in class?) are unreliable . . . Better to assess motivation by degree of attention, time-on-task. Evidence is not good . . . I’d just love to see some evidence that students are more engaged.”

There were many responses:

  • “My proof would be watching lessons before and after” (@Shaunwilden)

Where’s the evidence that ANY tool is engaging?

@TomTesol set the cat among the pigeons by drawing an analogy with textbooks: “Where’s the proof that textbooks engage learners?“

‪@thornburyscott was quick to respond: “Textbooks don’t engage learners either. Other learners do. And teachers.”

@Eslkazzyb thought the analogy was very valid: “The skill is in the T using the book and tech to suit their learners’ needs & interests.” ‪@SophiaKhan4 agreed that whether textbook or tech, “life has to come off the page/screen. They can help but not alone.”

As a final word on this topic,  @forstersensei implied that the combination of textbook and tech might be the best of both worlds: “digital textbooks can be much more engaging than photocopies . . . add interactive content” – however, the jury was definitely out on the whole area of this kind of blended learning tool (more on this in Part 2!)

Whether tech is engaging or not depends on . . .?

Returning to the problem of motivation/engagement, participants were clearly divided on whether they saw tech as essential or not.

Admitted technophile@Innov8rEduc8r was all in favour: “Engagement was never really an issue if I designed projects that catered to their interests and needs . . . My students were more engaged – more attuned to their English skills – and where they needed to improve – and had a sense of agency.”

On the other hand, admitted Luddite @Eslkazzyb wrote: “Interestingly I don’t see as much drive from Sts as expected. They seem to prefer solid lessons with or w/o tech . . . Tech did not necessarily add to levels of engagement for my classes . . . Seems some of the most simple ‘low tech’ ideas are often most effective.” ‪@Penultimate_K agreed, putting it in a nutshell: “I’ve never had a student come to me & complain that they don’t use enough edtech.”

@Innov8rEduc8r wrote: “Wonder if our approach is affected by our own engagements with tech. Me: I love tech” and @tamzenarmer thought there was definitely truth in this: “The teachers in my institution who love tech most can get Ss to engage.”  @PeloKaren summed it up: “It’s like any topic/idea: if the teacher is engaged in it the students will be more engaged – but it has to be balanced.”

Is there evidence that tech is NOT engaging?

‪@thornburyscott then widened the scope of the discussion by equating motivation to attention and arguing that the internet as a whole may be contributing to reduced attentiveness: “Motivation = attention. But Internet fosters ‘continuous partial attention’ and reading online is typically ‘shallow.’”

@trylingual didn’t take this as read, asking: “Can we install better habits? Have these phenomena been verified to be present in all st populations?”

‪@thornburyscott  referred to a study that tracked more than 100 very motivated students using online self-study software. The study found that only 5 of those students completed the course. This rang bells for several chat participants. @cioccas said: “I’m not surprised given most self-study courses I’ve seen. Still need humans for real support, FB, etc.” and @SophiaKhan4 felt that it was “easy to enroll [on an online course]/buy a package. But w/o real-life feedback [it] is meaningless in long term . . . much easier  to enroll & feel like that is an achievement than do the work & finish.”

However, the quality of the self-study package that the study evaluated was questioned, with @IH_Barcelona asking “Was the fault with the course design or the technology itself? . . . Was the online experience primarily a technological one? Or a social one? Social way more likely to ‘work.’” @forstersensei asked: “Was there a concrete outcome in the course? ie. a degree? If not, why do it?” and he also added “Tech can’t be the sole medium . . . better as a support.”

And there you have it. If you have some more ideas in response to Scott’s 6 questions, please let us know in the comments. Part 2 looks at attitudes to edtech in more detail, including ‘technofundamentalism’ and how teachers really feel about the implementation of blended learning programs.

References

Postman, N. 1993. Of Luddites, Learning, and Life. Technos Quarterly, 2(4). Retrieved from http://www.ait.net/technos/tq_02/4postman.php

Selwyn, N. 2011. Education and Technology: Key Issues and Debates. London: Continuum.

This summary by @SophiaKhan4

Ed Tech: The Mouse that Roared? by Scott Thornbury

EAJ 28.2_CT_10 questions_Scott Thornbury IMAGE#AusELT is privileged and delighted to be able to welcome Scott Thornbury as our first Twitter chat guest of the Year of the Horse. One of Scott’s current research interests is the “ed tech” phenomenon that has dominated ELT in recent years, and exploring what this means in practical terms. He will be joining us on Thurs 6th Feb at 8.30pm Sydney time [click here to check the time elsewhere in the world] to discuss some of the questions he raises below – we’ll see you there for what promises to be a very thought-provoking discussion.

As long ago as 1966, Pit Corder warned that ‘the use of mechanical aids in the classroom is justified only if they can do something which the teacher unaided cannot do, or can do less effectively’ (1966, p. 69). Nevertheless, the craze for newer, better gadgetry has continued unabated, creating what one writer called ‘the caravan effect’: ‘a metaphor in which the travellers (technology enthusiasts) stop for a while to drink from the waterhole (the latest technology) until they have had their fill; then they move on to the next waterhole to drink again’ (Levy 2009, p. 779). Moreover, each innovation arrives garlanded with claims that are seldom if ever realised, such that the history of educational technology in the 20th century has been characterised as a continuous cycle of ‘hype, hope, and disappointment’ (Selwyn 2011, p. 59). Why is this? One reason (adduced by Selwyn) is that the power of technology is often enlisted in order to solve problems that are non-technological in nature, language learning being a prime example. If we accept the ecological view that language is a complex dynamic system, subject to multiple and interconnected influences, social, psychological and environmental, the idea that change can be effected by a quick technological fix is ingenuous, to say the least. The history of the social sciences is littered with the unintended consequences of such interventions. Beware of geeks bearing gifts!

In order to guard against the hype, any recommendation for integrating a learning technology into our current practice should be countered with Neil Postman’s oft-cited riposte: What is the problem for which this technology is the solution? To which might be added a second question, based on Pit Corder’s aforementioned warning: Can the technology do it better/more effectively than the teacher unaided?

What, then, are the problems that technology might solve? To answer this question, it’s useful to draw on the current state of research to remind ourselves as to the necessary conditions for learning a second language, which, for the purposes of the argument, I’ll frame as problems:

1. The input problem, i.e. how does the learner obtain sufficient (comprehensible) input?

2. The output problem, i.e. how is the learner provided with opportunities for (pushed) output?

3. The interaction problem, i.e. how does the learner engage in (scaffolded) interaction?

4. The feedback problem, i.e. how does the learner get optimal feedback at the point of need?

5. The motivation problem, i.e. what motivates the learner to make best use of these input, output, interaction and feedback opportunities?

To which might be added (because it’s debatable as to whether it’s necessary)

6. The data problem, i.e. how does the learner readily access useable information about the target language?

It’s my contention that technology (meaning here ‘digital technology’, and especially that which is available online) has made significant advances in terms of helping solve at least some of these problems, such as the input problem and especially the data problem, where it easily outperforms the unaided teacher. But it has some way to go in terms of the output, interaction and feedback problems, while the evidence with regard to motivation is inconclusive.

I would go further, though, and add that one of the unintended consequences of an uncritical commitment to educational technology might be the effective disempowering of teachers in the interests of servicing the neoliberal ‘knowledge economy’. As Lin (2013) warns: ‘Language teaching is increasingly prepackaged and delivered as if it were a standardised, marketable product […] This commodifying ideology of language teaching and learning has gradually penetrated into school practices, turning teachers into ‘service providers.’ The invisible consequence is that language learning and teaching has become a transaction of teachers passing on a marketable set of standardised knowledge items and skills to students.’ This commodification process is, of course, massively expedited by digital technologies.

Cover of The Mouse That Roared by Ray Jones (Piccolo) - unknown illustrator

Cover of The Mouse That Roared by Ray Jones (Piccolo) – unknown illustrator

In the early 19th century a group of English textile artisans aggressively resisted the threat to their jobs and lifestyles posed by the development of new technologies. They were known as Luddites. Ever since, the term has been used to disparage anyone who questions the assumption that technological innovation is always beneficial. But were the Luddites so wrong?

References:

Levy, M. 2009. Technologies in use for second language learning. The Modern Language Journal, Focus Issue: Technology in the Service of Language Learning.

Lin, A. 2013. Toward paradigmatic change in TESOL methodologies: Building plurilingual pedagogies from the ground up. TESOL Quarterly, 47, 3.

Pit Corder, S. 1966. The Visual Element in Language Teaching. London: Longman.

Selwyn, N. 2011, Education and Technology: Key Issues and Debates. London: Continuum.

Setting up a peer observation scheme

In April of this year, we had a very popular #AusELT Twitter chat on the topic of setting up and running effective peer observation programs. In a follow up to that, we’d like to share a great article by honorary #AusELTer, Andy Hockley. Andy specialises in leadership and management training, and has conducted research in the area of peer observations. This article was first published in the IATEFL LAMSIG newsletter, and is reproduced here with his permission – thank you, Andy!

MC900439343Professional development for teachers can take many forms, and as academic managers and supervisors it is our responsibility to create and facilitate opportunities for such development. In many cases it is additionally a requirement of an accreditation scheme.

Training on the International Diploma in Language Teaching Management (IDLTM) for many years has given me an exceptional opportunity to hear about the performance management and professional development schemes of over 300 LTOs worldwide. In that privileged position I have been a party to countless discussions and debates over one major feature of such schemes – observations. In this article I would like to focus, in particular, on peer observations, because it is something which interests many LTO managers and supervisors, but, it seems, it’s often set up in such a way that it doesn’t really work. By peer observations, I mean teachers observing other teachers in a structured or semi-structured way, and in so doing creating the conditions for dialogue over shared experiences.

Why Peer Observations?

Peer observations can be, if properly organised, a really useful tool for professional development. The benefits of observation for both observer and observed are self-evident as a learning tool, and in general it’s an excellent source of professional development which is sitting right there in your LTO. The observed teacher gets the benefit of a second set of eyes who can see things that they may have missed, while the observer gets the chance to see how another teacher may handle certain situations or activities in a different way from them.

As such it is not only useful, but it is also an inexpensive form of PD (though its low cost should not be taken to suggest it is of little value). Unlike other types of observations, it is not (or rather shouldn’t be) perceived as judgmental, but rather as developmental. And finally, a successful peer observation system opens up the channels of communication in the staffroom and can be a step along the road to creating a culture of feedback.

So, why not?

Despite the fairly clear advantages, it looks as if few LTOs actually run successful peer observation systems. In late 2012 I carried out an onlne survey on peer observation systems, in which more than 60 teachers and managers answered questions about their own organisations. Only 12.5% of these respondents said that their LTO has a system in which teachers participated enthusiastically and from which they gained a lot.

There are two main reasons for this gap between the obvious benefits in theory and the lack of them in practice: attitudinal and practical.

Attitudinal

  • A fear of observations in general, brought about by people having had bad experiences, or because observations are the way we are judged/evaluated in most training courses (and often in LTO performance management schemes).
  • Because observations, even peer observations, are seen as imposed from above.
  • Because they are seen as not important. A curious side effect of the importance attached to judgmental observations, is that developmental ones can, if not sufficiently promoted, feel unimportant.

Practical

  • Teachers don’t have the time to organise and actually do the observations
  • Teachers don’t have the time to do it well. Perhaps they do the observation, but don’t meet before and don’t have a worthwhile feedback session afterwards. 
  • Teachers don’t know how to observe. 
  • Teachers (and others) don’t know how to give (and receive) feedback.

So, there are a fair number of reasons why peer observation may not be as successful as we might hope.

What does the research reveal?

Through the survey , the following data emerged: Of the LTOs surveyed,27% had obligatory peer observation, 38% encouraged it, and the remaining 35% had no system. In response to the question ‘Do teachers participate enthusiastically and gain a lot from the process?’, 13% responded “yes, very much so”, 50% “some yes, some no”, 9% “it’s just an obligation” while the remaining 34% that it “never happened”.

As for the details of the systems that were in place, the vast majority were perceived as imposed by the DoS/management. Before the observations, sometimes teachers would meet, or sometimes there were forms to be completed, but often there was no formal contact between observer and observed before the lesson itself. During the observation, sometimes there were tasks, or observations sheets to be filled in; in other situations the role of the observer (and what they were observing for) was negotiated by the two teachers, and in some cases there was no clear idea of what should be done. Post observation tended to be described as a discussion, with, in some cases, a form to be completed (and subsequently put on file).

Developing a successful peer observation system

So, given the reasons for the given above for the gap between theory and practice, how can we come up with a system that actually works more effectively? Can we develop a system that can actually be a great way to enhance professional development, and open up channels of communication and feedback within our LTOs? It seems there are a few ways which can, at the very least, create the conditions for a more successful system.

To begin with, let the teachers themselves decide how it is to work . It may be that the virtues and value of peer observation are not entirely obvious to everyone, so you may have to sell the idea to them, but once you have, let them design the system – how it will work, what the structure of the system will be, and what the details are. If necessary, make some suggestions, or at the very least, provide some articles and reading materials to help the teachers choose among some options. Ruth Wajnryb’s book “Classroom Observation Tasks” is perhaps a good starting point.

Secondly, offer training in the skills needed to observe one another productively. Run a training session in how to observe – it’s a skill that many people need to acquire. Maybe someone in your staff is an experienced observer and can offer such a session. Put together a training session on giving and receiving feedback.Not only is observing someone a skill, but giving and receiving feedback is very definitely a skill – and one which will not only be useful in the after-observation discussion, but will benefit the LTO anyway. Peer observation, and by association professional development is important, and it needs to be seen as such. It’s no good telling everyone you believe wholeheartedly in peer observation, but don’t support them in doing it. So,thirdly demonstrate its importance through concrete actions . Give teachers the time to do it by making it part of their contractual professional development time, as well as making it an integral part of the annual performance management systems.

Finally, one more aspect that tends to tie people in knots when thinking some of this through is the question of proof. If you make peer observation a contractual requirement, then what kind of evidence will you be looking for to confirm that the observations have taken place? If you require observation notes or lesson plans, then immediately the “between peers” aspect of it becomes subverted, and whatever resistance you might have managed to overcome could reoccur. But, many DoSs argue that if there is no paper trail then they can’t be sure that the observations are taking place. I would suggest you put this point to the teachers too. Perhaps one compromise option is to ask teachers, in their annual review meeting, to discuss how it went, what they got from it and how the peer observation system itself could be improved.

Peer Observation in Practice

I’d like to close with an approach devised by Pip Linney-Barber, an academic manager in Australia, as part of his work on the IDLTM. Called the ‘peer-support model’, it is based partly on the work of Jill Cosh (reference below). Pip was working in a situation in which he felt teachers were extremely resistant to being observed both for historical reasons and because of the perceived power dynamic. The peer support model flips the power relationship of the observed lesson. As Pip puts it, “In this model, a teacher with a particular concern or interest e.g. pacing or a specific grammar point, will request to observe a colleague who they feel might give them some insight, or new ideas, about how to address the particular area of interest or concern. In this model the observed teacher is assuming the mantle of teacher trainer. The emphasis shifts from the observer judging the lesson to the observer learning from the lesson.”

His proposal was to introduce this idea to the teachers. Prior to the meeting they were given a handout on peer observation and peer reflection (from Jeremy Harmer’s The Practice of English Language Teaching) to spark discussion and thinking about peer observation. At the meeting the peer support model was proposed, and discussion began about how to make it work and what would be helpful. The final version was as follows:

1. All teachers identified an aspect of their teaching practice that they were interested in developing

2. Teachers were then invited to the lesson of a teacher who felt they had something to offer in this area.

3. Prior to the observation, the teachers sat together to discuss the upcoming observation and to determine whether the observer could contribute to the lesson in a co-teaching capacity.

4. The observer attended the lesson for an hour and filled in the ‘peer support activity’ form (a form which was developed by the teachers as part of this process)

5. After the lesson, either on the same day or the following day, the teachers met for a follow up feedback session which was guided by their completed ‘peer activity support’ forms. (Before this training had been given in giving and receiving feedback) [Linney-Barber, 2012]

Having recently been in touch with Pip, I gather that the feeling from him and the teachers is that the new system is working. However, there is a remaining difficulty: finding the time for teachers to do the observations (especially in a situation whereby the teacher needs to be substituted from their own class in order to observe). He is currently trying to come up with a solution. But in general, he feels that in a difficult environment, the peer support model has stimulated discussion in the staffroom, has got people thinking about their teaching in a more open way, and has been done in such a way that the teachers feel they have made it their own, with the result that enthusiasm for the system is high.

Obviously, this is just one possible solution of many, and which one works best will depend very much on context and situation. A highly motivated teaching team who already share a lot of ideas will probably aim for something slightly different from a group of suspicious teachers who jealously guard their teaching “secrets”. I’d argue, however, that an effective, well run peer observation scheme is something which is very much worth striving for, as part of your organisation’s professional development plan for teachers, and as part of the quality assurance programme that your LTO may be involved in.

References

Cosh, J. (1999) Peer observations: a reflective model. ELT Journal, 53(1), 22-27 Harmer, J. (2011) The Practice of English Language Teaching. (4th Ed.) Edinburgh, Pearson Education.

Linney-Barber, P. (2012) A Peer Observation Model as part of a Performance Management System. Unpublished Manuscript. Institute of Continuing and TESOL Education, UQ, Brisbane

Peachey, N. (2008) Peer Observations. Retrieved from http://www.englishonline.org.cn/en/teachers/action-research-toolkit/peer-observation

Porter, L. (1982) ‘Giving and Receiving Feedback: It Will Never be Easy, But It Can Be Better.’, in NTL Reading Book for Human Relations Training.

Wajnryb, Ruth (1992) Classroom Observation Tasks. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

White, R, Hockley, A, Van der Horst Jansen, J, Laughner M. (2008) From Teacher to Manager: Managing Language Teaching Organisations. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

andyhockleyAndy Hockley trains and writes about management in ELT. He is co-author of “From Teacher to Manager: Managing language teaching organisations” (CUP, 2009),  and co-author of the upcoming book “Managing Education in the Digital Age: Choosing, setting up, and running online courses”.  He is the lead trainer on the IDLTM (international Diploma in Language Teaching Management) and regularly visits  Australia in that capacity.   He frequently delivers workshops, conference talks and other trainings, primarily on the subject of ELT Management.  He is a long standing member of the IATEFL Leadership and Management Special Interest Group (LAMSIG) committee. He lives in deepest Transylvania. He doesn’t update his blog at http://adhockley.wordpress.com often enough.