My thoughts on using tech in the classroom

From the moment I started teaching in a ‘real’ classroom I was using technology in my lessons. My first teaching experience outside of school was on my CELTA course and we had to teach the old fashioned way – pen and paper, cutting and gluing and a CD player (It was quite nice, actually).

Over the last 3 and a half years I have taught in a variety of classrooms and situations ranging from a blackboard and paper, whiteboard and textbooks, 100% online / technology based classrooms where students can bring their own notebooks but mainly use ipads or laptops, a mixture of whiteboards and online coursebooks and, of course, online teaching.

I still haven’t quite decided which one I prefer but I think I’m on opposite ends of the scale. In my very first job I was excited to have an interactive whiteboard and internet access to supplement my teaching. I’m a huge fan of PowerPoint (but now Google slides) and in my early teaching days having them plus a lesson plan really helped to keep me on track. Nowadays, I might not need either as much but I certainly enjoy being able to create them if I want to. I really liked having an online / tech-based course book and it was so easy to be able to take notes directly on the page, then use the whiteboard for extra ideas, synonyms and so on.

However, things changed when I went out to Taiwan. The classrooms were so old school. They were really small, with little room to move around and certainly no space to play games. I was armed with a whiteboard, a few markers and the textbooks that they’d been given. There wasn’t a printer at school and I certainly wasn’t buying one for the flat. At first, I was terrified at the thought of not having a classroom with technology. I had no idea what I’d do or how I’d keep the class interesting, but I very quickly realised that I absolutely loved it. No technology issues. You knew that whatever you went into the classroom with was all you’d have for the lesson. It was so simple and I learnt loads of new games and activities! Technology isn’t everything, especially if it isn’t available in the first place.

I also found this when I went to Poland. When I applied for the job, the school promoted themselves as a state-of-the-art testing centre with fully interactive whiteboards, the latest technology and a library of resources. I felt as though they may have exaggerated slightly, but that was a huge understatement. They were still using CD players! The boards were not interactive and the televisions they had never worked so I was back to using a board and markers. The only difference there was that I was expected to use the ‘brand-new’ equipment. It was a nightmare.

When I moved over to Manchester I was teaching in about 5 different schools and each one had different equipment and expectations. Some had a whiteboard and a computer, others just had a whiteboard and some had a mixture of smartboards, whiteboards and textbooks. Planning for each school was tricky at first, and having just moved I didn’t feel as though I had all of my resources around me, but I had no choice but to get on with it. It felt weird that so many schools in the same city had such different set ups and resources available, and to be honest I was shocked that many still had CD players. It was good practice though and it really taught me to appreciate the ease of teaching without technology, as I had done in Taiwan and Poland.

I think the set up I liked the most was in the last school I was in before lockdown happened in March. They created their own materials but the books needed supplementing. Many teachers were far more experienced than I am and had bundles of books and USBs full of resources and they were often happy to share or suggest something. I really liked this. It made me think beyond the book, prepare my own grammar resources (or at the very least read through someone else’s so I knew what I was doing) and helped me become more confident in my teaching.

Then, lockdown happened. Without technology, these online lessons could not have happened for me or anyone else around the world. With the rapid rise of online teaching platforms like italki and heylangu, and many, many more, it is obvious that teaching with technology is going to be a big part of our future, even if people haven’t quite come to terms with it yet!

For me, I think it’s important to find a set up that you are comfortable with. I know some teachers don’t like to use powerpoint because they are ‘giving out’ their own slides or worksheets, but I’m not too fussed about it. Yes, it is my hard work, but it’s also my job. I don’t really like taking notes for the students, and I don’t think it helps them, but I do write on the virtual whiteboard a lot more than I would in a school classroom.

Also, this has been widely discussed since the start of online learning. Cameras and microphones. I think it’s better that students have their cameras and microphones on during the lessons because, well, I’m not a lecturer. I’m teaching in a setting that requires interaction and it’s necessary for me to be able to see if my students are engaged or understanding what I’m teaching / discussing with them. I can accept that in a class of 10 or 30 you may have the odd student without a webcam and that’s perhaps not the end of the world because you just adapt to it by engaging with them via the chat box instead.

One thing I love about the new demand for technology in the classroom is how eager so many people are to jump on board, look for new applications or websites, create and share activities and PowerPoints. It’s amazing and it makes the job just a little bit easier. I have read through so many websites about using technology in the classroom and there are plenty of tutorials that come with certain apps or games. It’s super!

So, before I dash off for the weekend – here are a few apps / websites I do enjoy using to make my online teaching a little more fun / interesting or useful for my students.

  • Edu-games
    I love this website. A teacher trainer shared it with us in a session and I have used it so many times this year. It’s absolutely brilliant and being able to create word games so quickly and easily really is great.
  • Jamboard
    I’m coming to terms with this one a little more and I’d definitely recommend having a play around with it. Katy ELT has used it a lot and has some examples and tutorials on her blog.
  • Ted Ed
    I’m a huge fan of using TED talks for students to learn about different topics, practice their listening skills and, at a higher level, their translation skills. There are so many educational, motivational and thought-provoking talks for most ages.
  • BBC 6 Minute
    I have always used 6 minute English in my lessons, and in many different ways. At first, it was a good way to get students into the computer room but I’ve since started using it for group presentations, debates, translations and homework pieces. I highly recommend it.
  • Google slides
    Another application, but by far my favourite. It is just so easy to create, add and edit slides here and just as easy to share it with certain people (or everyone, if you’re feeling generous!). You can insert audio files, YouTube videos, pictures and more, just like we always could with PowerPoint, but so much easier now.
  • Pixabay
    A super website for free images that you can use in your lessons both on and offline.
    A very useful website that you may use in conjunction with Pixabay. If you want to remove the background of a photo, you’ll need this site.
  • Bitmoji
    If you do know me, you’ll know I’m still obsessed with Bitmojis. You can do so much with them and they can just add a little personal touch to your distance learning. Although last year I did see loads of awesome ways of using them in the classroom too.

Do you use or like any other websites or apps? Feel free to share them in the comments!

3 thoughts on “My thoughts on using tech in the classroom

Add yours

  1. Well written post. And thanks for sharing the websites. Using technology has become inevitable during these covid times, otherwise in here, we were still using blackboards and whiteboards only.

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