Making the right digital choices

Diana Peña
Working as a freelance teacher trainer for … read more
Diana Peña
A young female teacher sitting in from of chalkboard and looking very confused.

I remember the days when we used to struggle to find authentic materials to use in our classrooms, like magazine articles or leaflets, and the endless hours spent creating beautiful flashcards and wallcharts. Luckily for us now, with computers and access to the internet, we have instant access to a vast number of resources to use in the classroom, like Quizlet, for example. Undoubtedly, the development of digital technologies for learning and teaching has been extremely useful and has made it easier to customise materials for specific groups of learners.

But are we now relying too much on technology or web-based resources to supplement our lessons?

As a teacher trainer, I often observe lessons in a variety of contexts in Mexico. I have seen teachers playing videos from YouTube, using printed worksheets and games taken from ELT websites, working with apps on the iPads that students have been provided with, and using PowerPoint presentations to explain grammar points or vocabulary. However, in some cases, I have noticed that these teachers have removed useful and well-designed tasks from the coursebooks to incorporate an element of ‘technology’ in their lessons. And although learners are generally attracted by the stimuli these resources often provide, the learning outcomes are not always as good as you might think.

So, how can we be sure we are making the right choices when using technology or digital tools in our classrooms?

One key skill that teachers need to develop is the ability to identify and evaluate learning tools and resources effectively, whether technological or otherwise. And in addition to the practical and technical aspects of the resources, we must also be able to assess the pedagogical value of them.

A practical way of doing this that my trainees and I have found useful is to try out the tool or resource ourselves first. For example, we recently explored Kahoot, which is a free learning platform that allows teachers to create quizzes that can be answered in a game mode. Learners can use their own devices to answer and get immediate feedback. And everybody can see who got the most points by responding faster and correctly. We played a few games and then each trainee made notes on the parts they liked or disliked, whether the level of challenge would be right for a specific group of learners, and any potential issues with using this resource in the classroom. The discussion that this sparked when we shared notes was invaluable. We then evaluated Jumble, which is another game in Kahoot in which players have to place answers in the correct order. We have also created a short checklist of the pedagogical features that we expect the resource to have and we use it as a guide when evaluating it.

I strongly believe that teachers should take advantage of all the new digital resources and tools that are being created and improved every day to help enhance our teaching or to facilitate learning. But we should also look for different ways to assess their suitability and effectiveness to achieve the aims of our lessons.