Putting up Power Point Slides is not enough

Using digital materials in the language learning classroom

Why and how I do it 

Learners in today’s world observe and absorb the world via a range of digital devices, such as mobile phones, tablets, notebooks, and computers in general, no matter if at home, in public, on holiday, or on their way to school, and they will also continue to do so later on at work. It is at school itself, however, where they do so the least. This is true for the majority of the Austrian, German, and Swiss students in most subjects they study at school. Schools have to prepare students for digital learning environments at university and workplaces, though. To my mind, provision of digital materials is a requirement of current learning environments no matter if at school, university, or in the workplace. This has become an essential part of today’s transfer of knowledge. For modern twenty-first century teachers it should no longer be a question of whether you think that using modern technologies in class is advantageous for students or not (a whole range of advantages can be found, for instance, in Baumann (2013), it is a teacher’s duty to use them not only as it is required to some degree by any modern national curriculum but also because, in my opinion, it would be irresponsible not to prepare learners for their lives in this respect.

Putting up Power Point Slides is not enough

It is insufficient just to put up Power Point slides, send students worksheets for class via email to be printed out at home, display pictures found at Google Images, play YouTube videos instead of DVDs or CDs, and have a Facebook or WhatsApp group with one’s students without changing anything about one’s teaching. Don’t get me wrong, all this is okay to do but it does not change very much about students’ learning.

We can only change the way students learn if we change the way we teach. Replacing pen and paper with a tablet and a stylus will not change much in the long run. I primarily integrate technology in class because it helps me firstly, to teach twenty-first century skills, and secondly, to teach in a more student-centred way, whilst thirdly, to cover detected needs more easily, and at the same time fulfil the requirements of the national curriculum. Hence, wherever possible I try to create tasks in a way that fulfilling them prepares students to some extent for the challenges of work and life outside school and particularly after school, i.e. offer learners 21st century learning opportunities in learning activities in which they can practice twenty-first century skills like communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, decision making, innovation, problem solving, research fluency, use of ICT for learning, self-regulation, and knowledge building. Great programs/tools/apps like Microsoft OneNote Class Notebook, Coggle, Padlet, and many more help me to do so.

Technology, yes, but how? – An example

Last year in my English lesson, for instance, I set the over-all task (i.e. the real-world problem to be solved) to my year-10 German speaking students to apply for a summer job in an English speaking country. Therefore, they needed to learn how to write a CV and a cover letter in English. They also had to present themselves to a potential employer in a video. I placed all instructions and materials like YouTube videos, Quizlet classes, matching activities on vocabulary etc. in our OneNote Class Notebook.

Materials (instructions, videos, links, files produced by students…) in OneNote Class Notebook

Students either produced their materials directly in OneNote, uploaded it into OneNote or placed links to, for example, their Coggle mind maps, their own videos on OneDrive or Google Drive in the Collaboration Space in OneNote. This is not meant to be an advert for OneNote. You can use Moodle or any other LMS for this as well. I just love using OneNote (in combination with other tools) in the language learning classroom as most of the time it suits my needs and my learners’ needs best.

Mind map for revision prepared collaboratively with Coggle
Mind map for revision prepared collaboratively with Coggle
Students presenting themselves in various creative ways to potential employers
Students presenting themselves in various creative ways to potential employers

I must admit that integrating technology in the language learning classroom to teach twenty-first century skills is not always easy (mainly due to technical constraints) and it can be time-consuming as hell (particularly at the beginning), however, it is worth the effort as it allows me to teach in a more student-centred way, cover detected needs more easily, and at the same time fulfil the requirements of the national curriculum. When I integrate technology into my pedagogical model, I find it a lot easier to make learning more project-based, problem-solving oriented, collaborative, and individualized.

Baumann, R. (2013). E-learning im Unterricht. Weinheim and Basel: Beltz.

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