In 2021, the benefits of using technology to teach English are HUGE. Last year (a year I’m sure we will all be telling our grandchildren stories about), we were all stuck in our homes for large portions of time. With the global pandemic; businesses, schools, social lives as we knew it all ground to a halt. We had to adapt and we had to do it fast. Education organisations scrambled to transition face-to-face learners to online and we all worked towards finding our way to a new normal.
The shift towards teaching English online and technology-based learning isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are many benefits to using technology to deliver English lessons, both within the classroom and online learning spaces.
We’ll discuss strategies for teaching English online later in this article, but first we want to talk about why you should be using technology to teach English:
1. Unpressured participation: With appropriate online English programs, students can each work at their own pace. ‘Quieter’ students who would normally be reluctant to participate in a discussion may be encouraged to contribute online when they can do so in an unhurried and less-pressured environment.
2. Increased motivation: Motivation increases when tasks and methods are relevant and interesting. In this day of increasing technological literacy demands, learners are motivated towards developing their technology skills in addition to their English skills.
3. Enriched learning experience: teaching English online can allow learners to use programs and activities that capitalise on learning styles that may not be well-accommodated in classroom-based activities. Use of the internet opens up access to some great resources. A class can ‘travel’ together to any part of the world, visiting places of interest, investigating cultures and researching scientific phenomenon. Through the internet and social media, we can interact with a wide and diverse range of people.
4. Use of authentic materials and language in authentic communication: This is currently one of the main principles underlying language teaching and learning, and use of the internet brings a seemingly limitless supply of authentic language direct to our devices. When participating in online English lessons, students can practice completing real forms, searching for information from up-to-date timetables and weather charts, finding real job vacancies of interest to them, finding out about qualifications necessary for the job they want to do, locating recipes and instructions for how to do or make something. The possibilities are endless and have real world application.
5. Individualisation of input and learning activities: Students in an online English class that is studying procedural texts, can each find the ‘how to’ instructions for something of interest to them personally. They could then be asked to demonstrate the process for the online English class through screen sharing. This means what has begun as a research and reading task, becomes an oral presentation. In relation to the more mechanical aspects of language learning, activities relating to grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary abound on the internet. Each student can pursue an area of personal relevance at their own level of ability. This can be used to develop autonomous learning skills, as students become aware of their own learning needs and discover the resources available to them for meeting those needs.
6. Development of much needed technological skills: Teaching English online also develops technology skills, which are becoming increasingly sought after by employers and are an absolute necessity in most tertiary study contexts (especially with the shift towards online learning!). In many workplaces the use of technology is routine with video conferencing, emails galore and cloud-based software, just to name a few. Employers value employees’ technological abilities to use basic systems, word-processing programs, managing databases, emails etc.
7. Experiential learning: Learners are using English as they use technology to complete tasks, for example researching a topic. Along the way they will need to look up the meanings of new words and grapple with new grammatical constructs. All of this is done within a field of knowledge that is personally meaningful, thus increasing recall.
8. Understanding writing as a process: Using technology greatly eases the processes of review and revision in writing. For a language learner this is a real bonus, as newly created texts invariably need some correction. Revisiting texts on technological devices is far less onerous (and far more environmentally friendly) than writing with pen and paper, and therefore editing is far more likely to happen, if it can be done electronically.
9. Increased flexibility in the teaching and learning schedule: The internet is a 24/7 system makes the online English classroom open anytime you want. Teachers can post input via blogs, or give feedback and correction via email, and students can engage in group work at a time that suits them rather than within the constraints of class hours.
10. Development of a global view of the world: When teaching English online, your students could be logging in from anywhere in the world! One of the effects of high speed travel, the internet, international trade and international participation in matters of local security, is that we are all residents in a global village, and as such community consciousness must rise above physical or geographical location.
Strategies for planning effective technology-based lessons & activities: The success or failure of integrating technology into classrooms or online activities is dependent on directing the activities towards achieving the focused learning outcomes of English language programs. Teachers need to plan the use of technology wisely so that it is productive towards achieving those goals – you don’t want your students effort be diverted into activity that does not address the target learning outcomes. To put it bluntly, neither you nor your students want to waste time on something that isn't relevant.
Some pointers to keep in mind when planning technology-based English learning are:
Before the lesson starts, make sure that the devices you or your students will be using are loaded with all the necessary software (e.g. logins available, video conferencing tools installed, media players for tasks that require viewing video or listening to audio recordings, interactive whiteboards are calibrated, etc.)
Have a clear objective or task, and enlist students’ agreement to stick to the task. There is a great temptation, if the task is too hard or boring (and even if it’s not!), to simply tune into some favourite music or social media via their device.
Give clear instructions: What site are students to go to? What are they looking for? What do they need to do with the information they find?
If using technology in the classroom, pair more experienced or confident users with those who are less experienced.
Encourage students to talk or chat about what they are doing, as they are doing it. After the task is finished, discuss language issues.
Ask students to explain what they have just discovered.
Use the information discovered as a discussion starter.
The implementation of technology is also dependent on ESL/EFL teachers becoming reasonably proficient with the tools and applications available. YouTube and Google are valuable resources for learning how to use different tools and applications. Much can be done without specialist software or skills.
One of the most valuable things a language teacher can do is simply include word-processing, email, and the internet in their repertoire of technology-based activities. These are helpful skills and will certainly help prepare your students for the many real world situations in which these skills are necessary.
The scope of technology use in language learning is increasing at a phenomenal rate, with the advent of social media, chat rooms, blogging and podcasting, which all involve real-life communication.
Get creative with how you implement technology in your classroom and your students will thank you for it!
(Source: TESOL Textbook: TESOL Made Practical For All Situations written by Paula Withers)
Want to learn more about using technology to teach English? You can choose to do this as an elective in our Certificate IV in TESOL!