Embracing Technology in Your ClassroomBy Andrew J. WykretowiczTechnology is all around us, and many times, we use it without being aware of it. The same is true in classrooms. In the past, we would bring in a TV set to show students a VHS cassette program, and now we use an overhead projector connected via wireless app to our phone so we can show YouTube videos and other applications to our students. Why is it that so many teachers stay away from technology or think it is an unnecessary hindrance to their instruction? As pointed out in the research study done by Fuchs & Akbar (2013): “Almost half of the respondents (47.5%) responded negatively to the question of whether they had had prior technology experience in teaching, while 52.5% said they had some experience.” I am sure that the respondents use technology in their daily routine with much success, so why wouldn’t they use it in the classroom especially since the same study found 60% of respondents said that technology is important in language instruction? The answer to this question and some of the participant reasons were included in Fuchs & Akbar study, but I think the more important reason may be connected to the teaching statement and personal beliefs on what kind of teacher one wants to be.
I believe that excellent teachers are those who answer their calling, not necessarily those with the most degrees. After all, teaching is not only lecture or pedagogy but rather an ongoing process to guide, inspire, and lead in the quest to expand knowledge and have some fun along the way. With this outlook on teaching, I want to use all tools available to me to make my classes engaging, interesting, interactive, and informative. Including technology can save me time, let me add a variety of opposing opinions and viewpoints into my lessons, and incorporate interesting tools. For example, in one of my recent classes, I divided the class into four groups, showed a short YouTube video on global pollution, and asked each group to answer three questions from the video. Each group presented their answers, and I wrote the questions on the board. The whole activity took about twenty minutes. Without this technology, I would have had to spend hours at the library to find articles, and students would have had to read them in class. For homework, I shared the discussion questions with students using Google Docs. Each student was to pick one question and present their own opinion in class the next day. It was efficient, easy, and no handouts necessary. After the class, I used some of the questions from the video and created a game on Kahoot. Since all my students had cell phones, the next day I used the Kahoot game as an ice-breaker activity and also as an introduction to the class discussion. The amazing thing is that the classroom only had an overhead projector. I could connect to the projector wirelessly using VIA Kramer app on my phone or laptop and then project any content from my devices. Therefore, I strongly believe that in most cases, not much equipment is needed to use technology in our classroom. We just have to be open minded and show interest in ways to enrich our lessons. For that reason, I concur with Kessler & Hubbard that CALL (Computer-Assisted Language Learning) should be included in teacher education. “The challenges noted above require significant attention and action on the part of teacher education programs. The need for dramatic attention sits uncomfortably alongside the idea that technology is becoming so normal in education that it will soon be invisible” (Kessler & Hubbard, 2017 p. 287). Effective teachers have to adapt to what is happening in an outside world around them and use the technology that is used by their students.
I use additional materials in my class (such as handouts) along with the textbook to give additional perspective and practice. I also use various technologies such as videos, audio tapes, short films, skits, practice dialogues, role plays, realia, etc., to make the learning fun, engaging, and as close to a real-life experience as possible. My goal is to teach the material and beyond and have students be interested or curious enough to continue with the class to the next level. For that reason, using technology became an integral part of my lesson planning. More and more, our students come from various backgrounds and experiences and, therefore, my approach that used to be more traditional is now more eclectic and responds to various needs and learning styles. Technology helps me to meet the students’ needs and expectations. It also allows me to bring in more diverse materials to create an inclusive community of learners. By doing so, students feel accepted and are more engaged. In addition, some technology, such as Kahoot or Quizlet, require all students to participate. However, this type of participation is not intrusive, and shy students who normally would not participate often become keen participants. Also, younger students who use their mobile devices excessively throughout the day for personal purposes can redirect the usage towards academic purposes. Some applications such as Duolingo or online dictionaries let students practice English while using public transportation or during their breaks at work. Moreover, the use of various technology tools adds variety, which boosts students’ motivation.
I do not have any formal IT training, and all I know is pretty much self-taught by becoming a user myself. I often watch YouTube videos or online tutorials to become familiar with new technology and its features, but I embrace technology in instances where I see its usefulness and practical application, not just to be trendy.
The recent pandemic has forced most of us from a traditional classroom to online virtual class. We had no choice, very little time to prepare, and usually no outside help or IT consultant. Some schools might have been lucky to have some form of training, but most of us were left to learn on our own. Those who saw technology as an integral part of our future and jumped in months or years ago were thriving, while some others who ignored technology as long as they could struggled. The recent events really helped me to uncover a multitude of tools and ways to incorporate them into my lesson plans, making my classes more interesting, meaningful, and appealing to today’s students. I could do this because I adopted technology some time ago. There is no going back, and we all have to make the best out of the situation. Don’t be afraid of technology. It can actually help you manage your class more effectively.
Andrew J. Wykretowicz (MA TESOL) is an experienced EFL/ESL instructor. He currently teaches at Oakton Community College in Skokie, IL, as well as other non-profit organizations in Chicago. He previously taught ESL in Manhattan College, NY, a private school in CT, Refugee Resettlement Office in VA, and abroad in Canada and Poland. He is also an active member of ITBE and TESOL.
Fuchs, C. & Akbar, F.S. (2013). Use of Technology in an Adult Intensive English Program: Benefits and Challenges. TESOL Quarterly. Volume 47, Issue 1, March 2013.
Kessler, G. and Hubbard, P. (2017). Language Teacher and Technology. The Handbook of Technology and Second Language Teaching and Learning, First Edition. Edited by Carol A. Chapelle and Shannon Sauro. Published 2017 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.