Diary submitted by Aoife B., Valencia, 2020
Section 4: Why should we teach with technology? Why shouldn’t we? Discuss pros and cons. / Which technologies are you familiar with and which have you used or intend on using in the classroom? (i.e. platforms, software, video, display devices such as smart boards, audio…)
What are the benefits and limitations of technology in the classroom?
I have taught all my classes online during my internship due to the Covid-19 pandemic, mainly using Zoom. As technology has been at the centre of my teaching experience, I have chosen to reflect on the benefits and limitations I have encountered.
In many ways, Zoom can mimic classroom teaching. My students can see and hear me and each other; I can share my screen with them so they can see a worksheet/activity; both myself and my students can annotate the screen, much like we would write on a whiteboard, and I can share video/audio for listening exercises.
One advantage of using an online platform such as Zoom is that as students speak (for example, reading out something they have written or simply responding to questions), I can type corrections into the “chat” feature. This can help learners to correct their errors as they can see their mistakes, rather than me just pointing out and fixing them orally.
However, Zoom and online platforms in general have their limitations. Firstly, I haven’t found a way for students to be able to work in pairs/small groups. All speaking activities are carried out in a larger group with the teacher present. The disadvantages of this are that only one person can be speaking at a time, rather than having different groups of conversation happening at once, and (from my own experience of learning a second language) students can be afraid to speak in front of a whole class, where they may feel more comfortable speaking to a small group of two or three of their friends/peers.
Another limitation I have encountered is specific to teaching younger learners. If our lesson was in a classroom, we would be able to play games where students can move around the room. This helps to keep them engaged and makes the lesson more fun. However, using Zoom, even when we play games, they are less interactive and students must be sitting down watching the screen. From my experience, this can lead to them becoming distracted by things in the room and fidgeting, which can be harder for the teacher to manage in a virtual classroom.
The Academy has also trialled another platform called Jitsi. Personally, I prefer Zoom as I think it has better features. The main disadvantage of Jitsi is that there is no annotate feature. I am not able to type additional vocabulary or highlight anything on the screen and the students cannot type their answers onto a worksheet which makes the activity less interactive and limits their contribution to oral, giving them less opportunity to practice spelling.
Technology also offers a wealth of online ESL resources. I have mostly used the British Council’s website because they offer a variety of different resources for all different levels, including grammar explanations and practice activities, videos, comprehension texts and many vocabulary games and activities. They have different sections dedicated to children/teenagers/adults and all activities are clearly labelled with the CEFR level. I have found their resources very easy to use over Zoom as they are interactive.
I have also used TeachThis and ISLCollective to find resources. On TeachThis, many of the activities are designed to be done in groups/teams around a table which does not work very well on Zoom. ISLCollective has a large bank of worksheets, but sometimes I find it hard to know what level the worksheet is aimed at, and occasionally the resources have errors (I think anyone can share worksheets).
I have come to the conclusion that technology has many advantages, but that it should be used to support learning, not replace physical classrooms. Teaching exclusively using technology has several limitations and so I believe that face-to-face learning should be favoured where possible, using technology to complement face-to-face interaction.