There is no doubt that technology in education has come to stay. Remote teaching and learning are redesigning our lessons and a world of apps is out there waiting for us to discover and use them. But what does it mean to include technology in the classroom? Should we use an app just because we like it, because it looks attractive to our students? We need to give technology a pedagogical integration that fosters interaction between content, tools and people.
We should not be misled to think that technology is the important aspect. It can be attractive, disruptive, dynamic, but our focus needs to be on what we can do with technology, keeping in mind that in the world of consumers and creators of digital content, technology is our greatest friend to practice language and at the same time develop a great variety of abilities.
To deliver a successful lesson, we need to make sure we know the apps we are going to use, as well as our virtual classroom, and understand how to use them. Besides, we need to be able to train our students to use these tools in an appropriate way and should also consider how these tools will support our curriculum. Do not think of this as a waste of time because you are not teaching your subject, digital literacy can be part of your curriculum and it will create an innovative learning experience.
In online teaching it is necessary to create an environment in which we forget about the distance. Using apps such as quizzes, games or polls provides opportunities to engage students and make them active in the learning process. Besides, using these apps will later give us the opportunity to foster reflection and discussions or debates that will encourage further interaction with the content as students interact with one another sharing their knowledge. The role of teachers as facilitators needs to be highlighted here, so that students give relevance to group interaction, more than talking to the teacher or to get a mark.
Apart from using quizzes, games or polls to solve questions that we, teachers, have asked, students can take part creating their own material for the rest of the class, which will give us great material for informal and formative assessment.
Another important point to put interaction in the centre of our lessons is collaboration. And it is amazing how much we can do thanks to technology. With tools such as breakout rooms, WhatsApp groups, Google apps, Padlet or Flipgrid our students can keep in contact either to communicate, work together or share their work to receive and answer comments. So, they are never alone, distance is also reduced in this way and interaction with the content and the group becomes present and effective if we provide the right help and feedback.
When we decide to work with all the previously mentioned tools, we are also giving students the chance to use their creativity through different types of content creation, while we help them develop digital literacy. Sometimes we can even give students the choice on how to put into practice the content studied: through a story, a comic, a presentation, a game, infographics, an activity for their classmates, etc. There are several tools to do this, the best thing is to suggest those ones which do not require signing up and are intuitive. Always check that the tool allows creations to be saved to the student’s accounts, as it is the case of Google apps, or that the work can be downloaded, at least with a screenshot.
Taking advantage of the technology we have available will also give us the extra benefit of giving every student a voice and allow learning to take place at students’ own pace in a kind of personalized learning environment. The special thing about technology in giving every student a voice is that they can all participate when we use interactive apps and that we can also share their work with the community, using free websites, blogs or the school social media sites. And what about connecting with students from different parts of the world? In this way, their learning results go beyond the classroom wall, they can think of a real audience and the experiences are more meaningful.
Of course, not everything needs to be done using technology. Think of the videoconference tool as the means to meet your students and interact but remember to create instances of traditional activities: show students physical cards on screen, use multisensory activities, create activities for them to move their body, use physical brain breaks. It is important to bear in mind that our students spend many ours in front of screens and we have to teach them to be responsible technology users and take care of their body.
My advice for teachers is to explore apps little by little, do not get crazy surfing the internet and going for all the options you find. Explore them one at a time, thinking of your students’ needs, the lesson aims, and consider the time you need to prepare an activity in the chosen app and the time you have available.
Since you started reading this text, interaction has been present. The first thing I did was to ask you questions so that you reflected on your previous knowledge and experience, while at the same time created certain expectation about what would come next in the reading. Then you started interacting with the content of the text and might also have related this to your previous thoughts from the questions. Now I want to invite you to finish this interaction following this link, in which you will find an interactive presentation where I suggest apps to carry out the types of activities I have mentioned and to help your students develop different skills. But this is not all: the final slide includes a short activity so that we finish this interaction reflecting on what you have learnt from this article and sharing those reflections with me. Can you see it? Interaction between content, tools and people, even without having seen each other’s faces.
Technology might sometimes be a hard nut to crack, but if we remain positive about how many advantages it offers, we will definitely fall in love with it and the new doors it opens for teaching.