Teaching in the 21st Century


Have you seen or heard about Apple’s recent keynote on education during which they announced, among others,  publisher partnerships, $15 textbooks for iPads, and new iBooks 2 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DO93FpZ4oLE)? If you have and your current classrooms contain CD players, a whiteboard or even a blackboard, you might begin to wonder when and how this paradigm change is going to affect you.

Although we all know that not every classroom around the world will be equipped with interactive whiteboards, iPads and digital textbooks in the foreseeable future, it cannot harm to start preparing yourself for the latest development in teaching.

You might wish to start by learning more about using technology in the classroom, its advantages and restraints. A term that comes up repeatedly in this context is blended learning. What exactly is blended learning and how can you integrate it into your teaching context (if at all)? You might even be using it without realizing it, since, to use Pete Sharma and Barney Barrett’s definition, blended learning

“refers to a language course which combines a face-to-face (F2F) classroom component with an appropriate use of technology. The term technology covers a wide range of recent technologies, such as the Internet, CD-ROMs and interactive whiteboards. It also includes the use of computers as a means of communication, such as chat or email, and a number of environments which enable teachers to enrich their courses, such as VLEs (virtual learning environments) …, blogs … and wikis …” (Pete Sharma, Barney Barrett: Blended learning: Using technology in and beyond the language classroom, Oxford: Macmillan, 2007, p. 7).
So if your learners email you their essays, you mark them and send them back, this can already be considered a form of blended learning, albeit a simple one. There are differences in the degree of using technology in a learning context and the way of using it. A blended learning scenario can consist of up to 90% of online learning and 10% of F2F sessions or vice versa.

In a blended learning context, technology can be used in different ways:
•    as a means of distribution: teaching materials are distributed with the help of digital media, eg by using a platform such as Moodle or making a presentation available via Illuminate.
•    as a means of interaction: learners are able to interact with the system, eg by working on exercises online, checking their results and receiving feedback from the system.
•    as a means of collaboration: the technology used enables learners to interact with each other and to work together on a task, eg by using a wiki.

The setup largely depends on the kind of course and the content available: If you work with a VLE such as Macmillan English Campus that enables you to make use of a wealth of ready-made courses full of listening activities, vocabulary exercises and web projects, you will not feel the need to arrange a number of F2F meetings with your students. If you ask them to go online, research a topic and report back to the class, the need for F2F sessions will be much greater/more imminent.
Whatever you choose to try out with your learners influences the approach to take. Over the next couple of months we’ll be taking a look at ways of using environments such as VLEs, blogs and wikis in a language classroom and we’ll be discussing means of incorporating them into your teaching context. Using technology is not scary at all, on the contrary, it’s fun to try out, so come and join us!


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