It’s time we talked: an invitation to you and your students

I think it’s time we made a habit of asking what students think of EdTech.  Over the next while, I’m going to stimulate and curate that conversation – both online and off.  If you’d like to join in the conversation – as a teacher with a question or by encouraging your students to share their thoughts – then fire off a tweet to #ELTyak.  I’ll respond as they come in.

Won’t somebody please think of the children?

Like most of us in the ELT blogosphere, I watched and read (and occasionally commented on) IATEFL and its aftermath. Time well spent.

However, it struck me that none of the EdTech sessions I watched, to paraphrase Helen Lovejoy, thought of the students.  Or rather, none of them talked to the students.

In fact, I wager that Busuu and Duolingo have spent far longer speaking* to users about their EdTech experience than any school I’ve ever worked at has to students.  In ELT I think we approach EdTech the same way we do curriculum: the response of the students is important, but we don’t want too much of their input when we’re making decisions.

* (or at least watching them, according to Jo Sayers)

Here are some questions that might arm us better in relation to Sugata Mitra’s seemingly controversial plenary at IATEFL:

  • Do you like working without a teacher?
  • Would you enjoy working in a small group with a computer (ie a SOLE)? (Teachers: you can set one of these up if you have a computer lab)
  • Would you like English help from my Mum (ie a grandma)?
  • When do you think your English improves most: in class or outside?

However, looking beyond IATEFL, I’ve come up with a list below:

  1. Apart from textbooks, what do you use outside of class time to help you learn English?
  2. What technology do you use to learn English when you’re not in school? (what technology, social media, websites, apps, etc?)
  3. Why do you use them?
  4. How do you know if they are helping you learn?
  5. Do you use them in class?  What technology do you use in class?
  6. What language is your phone and things like Facebook set to?
  7. What do you think about using technology in class?
  8. What English skills do you think technology can help you with?
  9. Would you like to do homework, or communicate with your class, on the train home?
  10. Do you study English outside of class with other students?  If so, do you use any technology to do this?
  11. Is there anything you want to do with technology and learning English, but can’t?

If you’d like to point us all in the direction of someone who has done this, then let us know below.  If you’d like to add or alter a question, do so below or via Twitter at #ELTyak.  Finally, if you’d like to join in the discussion with your class, then they can fire off a tweet to #ELTyak.

Featured Photo Credit: peddhapati via Compfight cc. Text added by ELTjam.

15 thoughts on “It’s time we talked: an invitation to you and your students”

  1. Lindsay,

    Thanks for this. Both my colleague Nicky Hockly and I have regularly carried out this kind of research (not the Mitra-related stuff, but the rest of it) – in small class groups of teachers and learners, and in large-scale projects in various countries – and I suspect many other have too. I’m not sure it’s that unusual…

    I’d just note that watching people engaging with online content such as that produced by Duolingo may be interesting, but I’m not sure it sheds much light on learner preferences for tech/non-tech approaches, or produces much useful data for the more common classroom practice….


      • Lindsay,

        Unfortunately the work is either:

        a) commissioned work which is now owned by the person or group commissioning it. The work in this area has been done for organisations such as the British Council, MoEs in various countries, etc., and has usually been used to inform either expenditure on infrastructure, curriculum development or software / app design or as a way of guiding projects in the area

        b) anecdotal work done with specific groups of either teachers or learners to guide and develop curriculum for short or long-term courses. As such, it’s largely lost in the mists of time because they were all discussions for a specific purpose.

        My point is, though, that just because *you* don’t hear of this kind of thing happening doesn’t mean it isn’t happening in classes all round the world – who are you talking to?

        The fact that you feel Busuu and Duolingo are having a greater conversation with their clients (if watching people is a ‘conversation’) than any that ever happened with learners at schools where you’ve worked is more a tragic reflection on the places you’ve worked at, than it is a validation of the good that can come out of watching people interact with a grammar translation website.


  2. Excellent. I’d like to hear the results.

    An anecdote I read about was how xxx software company (can’t remember the name, sorry) thought features that encouraged greater student interaction were what users wanted. It turned out that they wanted more self-study features.

  3. If you had a choice between a personal tutor who only commented when you were communicating well (clearly and accurately) and one who only commented when you were making mistakes which kind of tutor would you prefer?

  4. I think it’s very important to think about the wording of questions or the answers you get might be misleading or not so useful. A student might say they like working without a teacher but does that mean they’d want to do a whole course without one? That they like working both with and without one? That they don’t like working with one but realise it’s essential? Or if a student says their English improves most outside classroom, does that mean that they don’t value the classroom element? Or that they think the input they get there is essential but that they notice that what they learn in class becomes more automatic outside the classroom? Words like ‘improve’, ‘like’ or ‘help’ seem simple but the processes and behaviours they actually relate to are incredibly complex.
    Obviously you can explore these issues anyway when talking with students, but there’s always the danger that the questions you choose and the way you ask them affect the conclusions you make.

    • Agreed Graham. I’d just add a couple of things:
      – These questions are not meant to produce data for a peer-reviewed study. My point is more that this needs to be an ongoing discussion between educators and their students.
      – Your point about the language, though, raises another issue. How do we balance the need to make these kind of questions answerable but not ‘lead the witness’?

      • Hi Linsday,

        Yes it’s certainly not easy. I get what you’re coming from when you say you’re not talking about collecting date for a peer-reviewed study but I think it still might help to think along those lines if you want to start making conclusions. One way to do it would be to have students fill out a questionnaire first (I think students always seem to like filling out questionnaires anyway), with Likert items, e.g.

        How much do you agree with these statements from 1–5 (1 = strongly agree, 5 = strongly disagree)?
        1 I want to use technology to help me learn English.
        2 I learn more outside the classroom than inside the classroom.
        3 It’s possible to learn English well without face-to-face contact with a teacher.

        Then once you’ve seen the questionnaires you can actually explore some of the issues results with the students with some kind of discussion session (including, for example, what they mean if/when they say they ‘learn’ English outside the classroom). That way you can lead them where you want really, because you’ve already got some quantitative data that speaks for itself from the questionnaires.

        I’m sure there are lots of other equally good or better ways of doing it but I think an important thing is not to rely too much on just a bit of discussion on its own, as students might just tell the teacher what they think the teacher wants them to say, and/or the teacher might end up hearing what s/he wants to hear and draw (not particularly valid) conclusions from that.

  5. “Like most of us in the ELT blogosphere, I watched and read …” Time well spent indeed – like Nicola, this will be the basis of my conversation class tomorrow afternoon! Keep it coming bloggers, once a week mid-week is fine. Tak!


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