Find the perfect balance of high-tech and low-tech in ELT

Technology is becoming an integral part of education represents something that seems to be inevitable. Our everyday lives are affected in almost every aspect by technology, be it home appliances or medical equipment, and not to mention all of the alternatives in personal communication devices. Technology has engrained itself in our society and because of this it is no surprise education is also part of it. I, for one, believe that technology brings an element of interactivity into the classroom that no other tool had done so far, so I love using it. I consider myself a tech geek and love finding new ways to include apps, interactive activities, BYOD lesson plans into my teaching, but at the same time, I am not blind to the difficulties, disadvantages and maybe even misadventures it could bring to my classroom. So, to be honest, I don’t think technology on its own is the only answer to changing education and engaging students. There must be a balance between high-tech tools (or notions) while not leaving behind the low-tech materials and props that can make your class unforgettable.

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Advantages to using high-tech

There are many advantages that jump out at you when you consider high-tech in an ELT classroom. Some of the obvious ones are having access to immediate almost unlimited resources, which is a huge time-saving tool for us, teachers. But let’s look at some other advantages that high-tech aids could represent for us.

  • Faster and mobile: Any activity, in theory, will be faster and mobile allowing students to interact, participate and move around while they do so. The fact of having technology on small devices like tablets and phones opens the door to the types of activities that we can plan.
  • Collaborative: Of course, being connected allows our students, ourselves and even fellow teachers to interconnect and collaborate in a way that they’ve never been able to before.
  • More engagement and motivation: Especially for younger learners who have been brought up around technology, learning through these devices seems to be more engaging, entertaining and motivational. Students will usually get excited about doing an activity in front of a screen rather than on paper.
  • Transferable technological skills: Today’s world needs more professionals that are tech savvy and feel comfortable innovating and finding new ways to change the status quo. With an increasing number of nomad workers and professionals, technological tools will come in even handier. Who knows, maybe that tool they used with you in class will come in handy down the line.
  • Learner independence: Once they learn how to use the tools, where to find the information and how to find what they need and want, they are free to do it on their own, as independent learners.
  • Integrate CLIL, project-based and content-based learning: In the case of any of the new emerging methods, you can easily integrate them into your curriculums with access to technology and devices in the class. It will make finding the content, sharing it and keeping track of student’s work relatively seamless.

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Advantages to using low-tech

When analyzing how low-tech activities can help in an ELT classroom, some teachers may feel it’s just easier to use tech, while others still prefer to make those flashcards themselves. I think low-tech tools for the classroom are just as beneficial to students and can bring their own advantages.

  • Hands-on activities: Our students are so used to doing everything on a device that some have even lost practice writing by hand, drawing or doing anything manual for that matter. This gives our students of all ages the opportunity to do hands-on activities that allow them to show and explore their creative side.
  • Promote face-to-face communication: Our society is becoming more and more isolated as our communication is reducing itself to social networks, even with family and close friends who live in the same city. Promoting activities that allow our students to interact in ways that don’t involve a screen will help their interpersonal skills.
  • Creative and critical thinking: Facing students with situations where they have to interact, discuss, debate and create with classmates will not only help them become engaged but will help them discover new skills that they will need later on in real life.
  • No budget, doesn’t matter: In many schools around the world, there is simply no budget to have a device for every child, or even one for the classroom, which leads to teachers wondering how they will ever engage and teach students. The fact of the matter is that with low-tech ideas teachers won’t have to depend so heavily on budget and lack of technological resources at schools.
  • Promotes resourcefulness: The fact of having to go “old-school” for a lesson plan may seem like something quite difficult, for those of us accustomed to using tech in our classrooms. In reality, not using it promotes resourcefulness not only for students but for teachers. We as teachers can also find benefits in figuring out ways to get our students to be engaged without using a device.
  • Transferable skills: By prompting students into an environment that promotes creative and critical thinking, hands-on activities and interpersonal skills, they will begin to see useful applications for them in real life. In fact, some of these skills are the ones that are lacking in many of our youth today, and in part this is because of their inability to develop skills in a context other than their devices.

 

Finding the balance

In cases where teachers do have access to technological devices for their students, it’s all about finding a balance. Blowing off low-tech activities all together can also be problematic for a number of reasons like not allowing students to develop their other real-life skills. On the other hand, for those who don’t have technology available to you and your students, don’t worry. At the end of the day, we are trying to get our students to acquire knowledge of the language through content and a series of skills, and this can be done just as well through low-tech or high-tech activities. Don’t underestimate the power of a paper and pen, the best ideas have come from notes that were written on a napkin. Let’s focus more on the content, rather than the mean used to deliver it. I have seen inspirational teachers get their message across to completely engaged students with little or no resources. Let’s dream big and find ways to make our students fall in love with English and want to become autonomous learners, independent if we use high-tech or low-tech resources.

 

Find new innovative ways to use QR codes in your classroom

I don’t know about you, but I’m always trying to find new ways to create interesting and innovative ways to share content with my students. I ran across an article a few weeks ago and started doing some exploring of my own on how to use QR codes in the classroom. I know they didn’t really take off as expected, at least not in Colombia, but you can easily get your students to download an app that reads QR codes. Here are some ways that I’ve either been using myself or have read online about.

Classroom Hot Spots

If you’re teaching in a room of your own, you can set up QR codes in specific places around the room to give your students access to materials they will enjoy, that will compliment the class or as extra work when they have finished. I would use at least one “hot spot” as a trivia corner, and would change it every week that ways students would know to always look in the same corner for a new riddle, or challenge. I would change it up to keep it fun like tongue twisters or a funny dictation.

Differentiated instruction

In some groups we may have to give different instructions to different groups who have varied language and learning skills, so in these cases you could color code your QR codes, assigning a color to each group, where they will find the differentiated instructions to the same activity. It’s easier to color code them so they always know which color they have to scan. To get more ideas on how to differentiate, check out this post by Rachel Roberts.

Scavenger Hunt

If you want to try a fun game like a scavenger hunt, but want to really make sure they won’t get the information until they get to that particular station, use QR codes in the different locations so they can scan them to lead them to the next clue. You can use this great website to create your very own QR scavenger hunt in an easy way.

Roll the dice

You can even make your own dice, so that students are completely surprised with what’s going to come up. You can get some ideas as to how to make your very own QR code dice here.

Easily update your QR

Link your QR code to a Google Drive folder, where you can update the content easily and always have the handouts or quizzed available to your students. This way you don’t have to constantly change your QR codes, but instead use the same code, and simply change the content on the link. Another option is to create a dynamic QR code, which means even after it’s printed you can change the content.

All in all, by using QR codes you can surprise your students and hide behind them information that will allow them to use language in new and exciting ways. If you get any more ideas please be sure to post them in the comments.

More links:

Create dynamic QR

Create color coded QR

Good read if you want to get tons of new ideas! (Free PDF downloadable)

Using technology in the classroom – Prezi Vs PowerPoint

The English classroom becomes more and more technological in some schools, which allows us to include some creative twists to our sessions integrating different programs such as Prezi and Powerpoint. Ever wonder which is best for your class?

Prezi is a virtual canvas that allows you to tell a story in a dynamic way. It has been used avidly since 2008, when it was created by Zui Labs, a Hungarian company. It allows users to make a presentation similar to PowerPoint, with the difference that this online tool will pan and zoom, and to size, rotate, or edit any object located on its canvas. Now, some may say that it’s no different or others say it’s overrated. Decide for yourself.

First of all let’s take a look at some of the similarities:

  • You can upload and use: images, sounds, videos, texts and charts
  • They can be used in all kinds of contexts: academic, personal or business

Now, let’s take a look at each tool separately and analyze what pros and cons each one has.

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Pros

  • Free, if you don’t mind your Prezis being public (unless you upgrade or have an educational account, which is fairly easy to obtain)
  • Sensation of being more fluid and visual
  • Web-based (work from any computer or tablet)
  • Collaboration feature
  • non-linear navigation
  • short learning curve (if you give it a real chance)

Cons

  • If you go nuts with the zoomable features, you can make people dizzy (Use grouping and frames to avoid this sensation)
  • Limited printing options
  • Web-based (when you have internet, unless you upgrade. Although you can also download your Prezis, they will no longer be editable)
  • Animated feature can become too much and not be as cool after about 10 presentations
  • There is a learning curve

lemon-tree-song-pptPowerpoint

Pros

  • More features and options in latest versions
  • PowerPoint animations CAN impact a crowd
  • Linear slide format and design (some prefer it)
  • More people are familiar with the format, which usually means they prefer it
  • No learning curve

Cons

  • Animation is not as smooth as Prezi
  • If not used well may come out as boring to the audience
  • Usually only the most common features are used (about 10%)
  • Linear slide format (finding a slide after you’ve passed it could be a hassle)

Prezi Vs PowerPoint

I’ll begin with saying how important it is to mention that independent of the tool you use to give your presentation, the result will rely solely on your ability to plan and include meaningful content.

Prezi:

Great for presentations that need:

  • to look at the big picture – details
  • to skip back and forth
  • map-like layouts
  • brainstorming
  • timeline
  • whiteboard effect

PowerPoint:

Great for presentations that need to explain:

  • reports
  • step-by-step ideas
  • processes
  • linear
  • numbers and data

Things to remember

  • Don’t overuse animations (or zooming in Prezi’s case)
  • Focus on the content. Don’t get so wrapped up in the tool and all the cool fun stuff you can do with it, that you forget the most important part: meaningful content.

Now, the good news. You don’t have to choose just one. You can mix and match based on your presentation. Now, as an EFL teacher I’ve found it extremely useful because it allows me to have a pre-made whiteboard that I can flip through easily, following my lesson plan with ease. Even though I usually create a kind of route that will take me step by step, it also allows me to zoom out and make use of the whole canvas in a very global way giving me a certain flexibility that PowerPoint doesn’t. Now here are some useful links that have tons of ideas as to how to use either PowerPoint or Prezi in the classroom.

Ideas for using Prezi or PowerPoint

Here are some links to get you started and a bit more informed as to how to use Prezi and PowerPoint in the ESL classroom.