When I was nine years old, my brother and I ordered our very first computer. Our brand new slim and sleek little Sinclair ZX-80 took quite a while to make its way over to us from the UK, but it was worth every penny of the $299 we paid for it (plus taxes and shipping, of course). I had used an Apple II in our classroom at school and I wanted to have a computer so badly at home. Our little gem of a device had a whopping 1KB of RAM, had to be hooked up to our black and white TV, and took about an hour to load programs off of the cassettes that came with it. But don’t be fooled, this was the beginning of what would be a lifelong obsession with computers.
Even then, I could envision the role computers would play in the future of my education. Whether it was with that machine or the many different makes and models of desktops and laptops I would possess after that, I found new and fun ways to learn about music, mathematics, science, and pretty much any other subject I was interested in that moment.
Fast-forward a number of years, and I am still obsessing over computers. I have had the privilege to give a few conference sessions on the use of technology in the language classroom and I see myself growing in my role of facilitator and supporter of classroom technologies. I love helping other teachers grow in their knowledge of educational technologies and that is the very reason I started this blog. I wanted to share some of those things online so others around the world could learn along with me.
So where does that lead to today? Why am I writing this blog post? Well, mostly I wanted to give some advice to teachers on how to get started or how to continue moving forward in using technology in the classroom. So without further delay, here is my list of tips:
- Start small. Don’t become overwhelmed by it all and get discouraged in the process. Find one thing that you think could be done online or by using computers or cell phones or whatever device you have available to you and use it for one lesson. Don’t be afraid to give it a try and see how it works. Of course it goes without saying that you should try it yourself before using in the classroom, but don’t be afraid to see how it works with your students. They just might surprise you on where they end up taking it. You could try using a collaborative writing tool such as TitanPad or maybe a voice recording site such as RecordMP3.
- Be consistent. Find something that works for you, such as a favourite website or online tool that you can re-use in multiple situations. I have a favourite writing website that I like to use and when we go to the computer lab, my students know how to use it and they don’t have to ask me where to post something or how I would like something done. This saves so much time and it takes the anxiety off of both you and the students.
- Don’t try to do too much in one activity. It might seem cool to take from one tool and add another item and then connect it to this or that site and… well, you get the picture. Too much at once is asking for trouble. Keep it simple. I tend to plan my lessons in the same way I always have, but then I look back and see if there are places I can add technology in order to enhance the learning. It shouldn’t simply be a substitution. It might be that the technology saves paper or simplifies the process. It might also be something that we couldn’t do before such as talk with another class or go on a virtual tour. The biggest single thing that I feel technology adds to the lesson is the ability to turn over much of the learning process over to the student. They are able to find things on their own and share it with their fellow classmates. Collaboration is another big plus to technology. Students can work together much more easily than with a simple piece of paper.
- Don’t be afraid to ask the students for help and advice. One of the things I like to do is have students share things that they use online that help them with their language learning. I have even had them type up and post instructions on how to use these online tools and how they are helpful to them so that others in the class can use them. They love sharing. Just look at how much they like to share on Facebook and Twitter. This is in their blood. I have learned quite a few new websites from my students, some of which I continue to use.
- Ask for help. There are lots of places to get help with getting started. There are a number of excellent resources online including blogs such as Larry Ferlazzo or RIchard Byrne. Twitter is an invaluable source of information for me, but I understand can be a little overwhelming at first. You don’t even have to sign-up to use Twitter. You can search for things or follow people by using the Twitter search. In the past, I have used these questions from people to create blog posts that have gone on to help others in the same situation.