“Strategy for technology’s three-dimensional integration into English language teaching for adults”
Project number: 2017-1-BG01-KA-104-035764
01.06.2017 – 31.05.2018
Within the framework programme Erasmus+ and through the Key Action 1 (KA1) of people’s mobility for learning purposes and, more specifically, of staff mobility for adult education, English Plus Language Centre (Bulgaria) has embarked on a one-year journey of integrating the readily available technological tools into adult language learning. As a final tangible result of the Project, a workshop in language skills for the workplace will take place in April. It will be based on a blended approach and will consist of 4 face-to-face sessions and online asyncronous tasks where learners will have the possibility to enrich the content based on their own area of expertise.
First, the process of mastering a foreign language is often a simulation of “reality“ – aimed to prepare learners for future situations and to equip them with the necessary skills to make the most out of each opportunity (for interaction, self-expression, mixing and mingling of ideas and cultures, etc.). In this context, we imagined a course that allows students to encounter vivid lifelike situations and learning materials. “Three-dimensional”, in this regard, stands for skills and abilities that are deep, solid and full-blooded rather than flat (on paper).
Second, anything related to technology is often seen as carrying a risk of “virtualising” life. So, we chose the wording as a reminder that all learning materials need to be created with a hands-on approach where technology is a means to an end and not an end in itself.
And of course, not to miss the three-dimensions of blended-learning that come into play – in part online learning, in part face-to-face and the correlation between these two. A course that has all three dimensions aims at transforming the experience rather than than simply translating traditional methods into a “technology-rich” environment based on the same principles.
The mindset where students are recipients and teachers are knowledge-givers is replaced by a more flexible approach. Traditional teaching methods based on a robust structure are not discarded but balanced out by encouraging learner-driven content, critical thinking, initiative, observation, questioning, experience, reflection and reasoning as a guide to belief or action.
Why everyday technology?
We all have it available in our pockets. According to a survey that we carried out among adult learners, more than half of the participants spend well over 2 hours daily using mobile devices. And as language teachers we cannot help but ask “How much of the learning capabilities of mobile devices and average computers do adult learners and teachers put into practice?”. There is an impressive variety of applications online that do miracles while remaining completely or partially free of charge. Moreover, these apps/online software are often interconnected and greatly improve the way we keep track of information.
Many of the apps are not exclusively designed for education so students are often already familiar with them. Apps in 2018 are simple, intuitive, have a smaller resource footprint and thus do not come bearing additional challenges that could distract students from their focus (language learning in this case). All of this helps engage more people in language learning activities as part of the learning happens naturally at any convenient moment without interrupting a busy schedule.
How to evaluate the learning potential of an app?
We took part in a “Technology Enhanced Learning” course in York, UK (organised by York Associates, mobility part of the Project) to find out more about the practicalities of teaching with technology. It turned out that when integrated into the learning process professionally, contrary to preconceived ideas, technology in class facilitates a higher-quality human interaction. It also makes it easier to supply learners with “homework” and tasks they are passionate about.
Gamification, bite-sized learning, sharing, creation, information literacy, remix literacy, inforgraphics, mind maps, word clouds, QR code galleries, corpuses… This is just a chunk of the key words. The overarching aim of the project however is to develop a mechanism of evaluating each tool as well as organising information in a way that teachers have it available at their fingertips.
What are the questions that will guide a language teacher towards a principled and informed use of technology with students? The starting point is the question “Why?”. Why are we reaching out to apply a technology? Is it transforming the way we teach and learn or is simply translating traditional methods into the digital realm?