Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

Dear Edtech “Nervous”: You don’t have to understand “how” it works…just be able to work with it.


Hand ReachingDear “Nervous To Try Something New (Edtech-wise)”:

You know when you spoke with me the other day and told me that that introducing more tech into my class was fine for me because I was ‘into it’ and ‘understood’ it? That you were not going to try a new way of doing things (edtech-wise) because your students would see that you weren’t an expert. Well I need to let you in on a secret. Neither am I. It would probably shock you that me, a proponent of choice/more edtech started exactly where you are now in terms of knowledge and confidence. It took, it takes, some courage, and a big leap of faith to step out and try something new in class – in front of 30 teenagers?  How do I do it? I remember 3 key things:

I am Not the First to Do This – “Search Engine” It – Take the simple voice recorded phone conversation. As I’ve said before – we in Canada have no access to Google Voice – so my default is the ‘voice memo’ utility on student’s phones. I use this quite a bit and when I naively did it the first time I received files that my computer couldn’t work with. Disaster or challenge? When you get a file your computer can’t open – “search engine it”. Seriously – when the .amr and .mp3 file extensions come in from your student’s mobile-phone recorded conversations don’t panic. Just type in your problem into your favourite search engine and hit ‘enter’. Amazingly you will probably find out what you need.

I Have Help Available in Every Program/App – Prior to teaching I worked for a developer in the area of school administrative software. My job, in the early 1990’s, was to provide demonstrations of the possibilities of the program to rooms full of educators who had limited exposure to computerized administration tools. One of the biggest selling points for me was the “help” menu item. I knew the people who wrote the documentation for us and the detail that they went into to assist people to understand how something worked. I know to look at the menu items for a software program and locate the ‘help’ one. And if I can’t find my answer there – see tip 1.

My Peers in My School Are a Great Resource – In a school of  over 120 staff members the chances are that someone out there has faced a similar challenge/implemented a similar tech tool. And if they haven’t they probably know someone who has. So prior to trying the new tool/trick – send out an email and ask. Before my first on-line discussion I sent a blanket email to all the teachers on my staff with the subject “Have you done any ‘on-line’ discussions?”. Amazingly a teacher in the Social Studies department had. He was invaluable in giving me tips on how to structure and conduct the discussion. All I had to do was put it out there. If you aren’t a fan of the blanket email then ask your school librarian. They see so many classes, and work with so many teachers, that they probably have an idea of who does. And if that doesn’t work – see tip 1.

So go ahead and try something new. It could be as simple as using a wordcloud instead of a worksheet. Or perhaps allowing students to send in files that you will mark/comment on in Google Drive. In any case be sure that someone out there has an answer when you confront a challenge. And if you happen to find success – let your department, your staff, and even perhaps your online PLN know what you have done. After all the way we really know we’ve learned is to help out someone else.





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  1. I think the benefits of integrating technology in a language classroom far outweighs not trying. It is also unrealistic to expect everything to turn out perfectly and successfully when many things are out of the teacher’s control. The key thing is to be flexible and take the good and not-so-good as learning experiences for both the teacher and students. I usually have a goal in mind of what I want the class to achieve, then ask the more tech-savvy students to show me and the class how to work with the computer programs.

  2. I so agree about the benefits – and about being very realistic that if it can go wrong – it might. I also think it means that we cannot ‘foresee’ all the possible problems and have to be pretty ‘okay’ with something going sideways. Surprisingly I have found that I often know more programs/apps than my students do! (And because I use my own Macbook for class – many are not as familiar with the operating system). Thanks so much for the comment Sachiko – it reaffirms to me that ‘trying’ beats ‘not’ any time!

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