15 March 2014

Make THEM Do it!

Here is a copy of my presentation for Macmillan. Make THEM do it - Fostering learner autonomy

Click on the link to download questionnaires and other examples from Google Drive.

Make THEM do it

08 February 2014

FECEI 2014 - Exam Writing (and using Technology)

Here is a copy of my presentation at FECEI 2014 - Exam Writing with Technology and below there are links to all the online lesson plans, instructions and other materials presented.

My Google Drive folder containing instructions, sample lesson plans and other materials:
Exam Writing with Technology

12 February 2013

BETT 2013

This is a bit late coming but here's what I picked up from BETT 2013. It was my first visit and apart from knowing that there is a vast amount of technology I wasn't sure what to expect.

Not especially important but something that stood out for me - everybody had tablets and mobile phones and took pics of everything and anything that interested them….and nearly all the presenters used Prezi!  Not like conferences in Spain at all.

In keeping with the emphasis on images and video for our information saturated students (I couldn’t quite bring myself to prepare a video!), the picture of the Wordle sums up my overall impression of BETT 2013:

Technology V Pedagogy 

I got the overall impression that there is a technology camp and an educational camp. The technology companies are churning out amazing apps and platforms for multiple-choice, gapfill and other question/response testing and assessment. The challenge for the educators is using it all in a meaningfull way to encourage critical thinking in particular, and learner autonomy in general.

There are some great things happening at Google and Microsoft, with lots of tools and ideas for use on their educational platforms.

A clear message was that the challenge for teachers is how to incorporate our information based society into a 19th century knowledge based educational system. Primary schools are having more success than secondary schools – largely because there is less focus on testing.

Here are some of the more interesting things I saw:


MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) was one of the buzzwords of the conference with a lot of speculation about how they have impacted/might impact on further education. Although it is generally agreed they can’t survive in their current form, nearly everyone agrees that as they evolve further/higher educational institutions will need to rethink their strategies. At the moment the discussion is about business models, not whether they’re going to survive or not, although survival largely depends on satisfactory business models.

I’m keeping a close eye on these as I believe there will be a specific impact on private education. As far as language learning is concerned, it will just take one or two of the big name universities to offer almost free language courses along the lines of the Open University (which are excellent!) and we’ll see language MOOCs where participants are peer teaching across different languages as part of a prestigious qualification. Final assessment would be based on course work and/or a pay for final tutor assessment. This could happen sooner than expected.

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)

The other buzzword was BYOD. This is something I’ve experimented with so it was interesting to see how other teachers are using and implementing BYOD. Benefits include:

  • reduced hardware purchase and maintenance costs (although you need a robust network infrastructure for this to be effective) 
  • students are familiar with their own devices 
  • motivating, authentic, etc. 
  • students learn how to use “fun” devices to help them learn 
  • lots of apps to use – both for testing and creativity. 
Mobile Apps

There was a plethora of mobile apps. One which I was especially struck by was the Samsung Smart Classroom. This app allows the teacher to manage students’ mobile devices. Some of the functions include:

  • class register 
  • classroom organisation 
  • monitoring student progress 
  • assigning activities and tasks 

You may wonder why a teacher would want that ability in the classroom, but for larger classrooms I imagine it is very useful. At the moment, it can only be used in a classroom environment but my interest lies in that it is highly likely to evolve into an online application and teachers will be able to manage student devices in an online environment = large virtual classrooms.

Online/Blended Learning

This is being incorporated into mainstream education combined with flipping the classroom. Students are asked to investigate topics before working on them in class. There were lots of ideas (mainly around projects) of how to monitor and guide students who are working independently.

Language academies were under-represented, but all the major publishing companies were there and the British Council. I spoke to Pearson and Macmillan about their online platforms and


Project Based Learning

There was a strong emphasis on project-based learning being experimented with largely by the new “academy” schools in the UK who have extra funding and more freedom as regards the National Curriculum.

  • active learning 
  • social integration 
  • soft skills 
  • autonomy 
  • critical thinking 
  • authentic 
  • prepare for future workplace 


  • Working within the current educational system 
  • Student expectations 
  • Teacher Roles 

One school is experimenting with using large spaces with up to 120 students organised in small groups and teams of teachers with a technician. Each group works in a particular stage of a project. Originally they used a carousel model with students moving from one area to another, but the teachers found that this detracted from the learning as some students hadn’t finished that stage of the project. They’re now experimenting with flipped learning so different students do different parts of the project online to allow more flexibility.

Some projects included creating a London Tour Guide for Kids, designing a room using the IKEA website, Vodcasting by both teachers and students with weekly news.

Game-Based Learning

Tim Rylands was one of the main speakers. There were other speakers showing how games can be used to promote learning, as well as getting students to create their own.

Classroom 2020

Finally, but not least, I got very excited by  a live simulation of a vision of a classroom in 2020. Characteristics include:

  • Small groups of students work on desks with large inlaid touch screens, they have their mobile devices and they have two touch screen IWBs to work with. We have moved from one device between two or three, to two or three devices for one student. 
  • The class shown was a biology lesson. The teacher has provided them with a 3D image of the human body, and asked them to find out as much as they can about certain organs of the body and prepare a presentation of what they know. There was no further input for the teacher who guided and monitored. 
An interesting and worthwhile conference, although not specifically aimed at language academies which included a lot of food  for thought!

30 January 2013

MOOC - Fundamentals of Online Education

After rushing home from work on Monday evening I sat down to get started on the two MOOCs I've signed up for.  Where to start.....as this MOOC involves the most work I thought I'd get signed up, join a discussion thread or two and maybe watch a video/read something.  Two hours later, I hadn't passed the first hurdle - adding my name to a Google spreadsheet along with hundreds of thousands of other people.  Needless to say, there were a few technical difficulties.

I switched between to the two MOOCs for a couple of hours (using up my precious study time) and noticed that there were a few other people who'd signed up for the same two courses as me.  Participants contributing to both forums (one on Facebook) were getting pretty annoyed and some had even unenrolled from the course.

I decided to hang in there - and suggested to others that they should persevere.  My experience from the previous MOOC I did last year is that the first week can be daunting and chaotic but by the end of the first week everything settled down.  My view is that these courses are free and experimental so they're not going to be perfectly organised with state of the art technology and backup systems if something goes wrong.  And let's not forget the participants, who range from very experienced, semi-experienced and totally unexperienced MOOCers.  Also, some participants have very limited computer skills - which is why they're taking these types of courses in the first place - and are prone to accidentally deleting and/or renaming sections of a spreadsheet!

Something I like about this course is is that there is a course outline that sets out what you are going to do, guides you towards discussion forums and gives you an idea of how much time is involved for each activity.  For people like me who have busy and changing work schedules, it's really helpful to be able to plan a slot to do some studying.  

So, before even looking at the materials, I've learned two useful things about online education :

  1. NOT to allow thousands students to organise themselves into groups using a Google spreadsheet.
  2. Course contents giving estimated study time.
OK - so maybe I already had an idea about these, but it's nice to have your ideas confirmed.

Another MOOC x2!

So, I joined two MOOCs (12 hours study total per week) and planned my time to make sure I would be able to do it.

It's really interesting to note that the two MOOCs are operating in very different ways.  The University of Edinburgh's E-learning and Digital Cultures is a kind of free for all, join any discussion, pursue any interest and create any online "artefact" kind of affair.  The Georgia Tech's Fundamental of Online Education:  Planning and Application, is slightly more organised with guides as to how much time each activity will take, guiding you to discussion forums and with deadlines to complete the work.

More about each course as I get more involved - hope I don't miss the first deadline for the Fundamentals of Online Education as I'm off to the BETT conference in London and will have limited Internet access!

18 November 2012

ACEIA 2012

Nick Saltmarsh, Flickr
Another year and another successful ACEIA event in Seville. ACEIA is the organisation for language academies in Andalucia, Spain and holds the second biggest teacher training conference in Seville every year.  There is a huge range of presenters and talks to choose from so there is always something for everyone.

First of all, one of the reasons the conference is always such a great success is because of the hard work of the people involved in the organisation, all volunteers, who give up their weekend and a significant amount of time before and after the conference, to make the day such an enjoyable and successful event.  Thank you to everybody involved - it really does make a difference to have friendly, helpful and efficient people to help out for any problem, large or small.  Thank you all!

This year, I did a version of my Blogs presentation for teachers interested in starting a blog with lots of practical tips and ideas to get started.  I had a great audience who participated enthusiastically by asking lots of questions.  It's always difficult to know what to focus on in this type of session because there is a range of language teaching experience as well as technical experience.  I try to gauge what I need to focus on more by asking if anybody has any questions, with an eye on the clock, and responding to what the audience needs.

After doing my own presentation, I had the opportunity to see some other talks.  John Hughes has some interesting ideas for using video in class and, as well as learning something, I've got three activities that I can use in class on Monday - that's always a good thing when you give half your weekend up to go to a training conference.

After some great video ideas, I went off to see my colleague, Jacqui Toon, who gave her first presentation at an organised event, Craft in the Classroom.  As I'm not a particularly crafty person I was hoping to pick up some simple ideas.  I wasn't disappointed.  You can see her blog here with lots of ideas and templates to download - as well as video tutorials for those non-crafty people (like me) who feel like giving it a go.

Finally, I was ready for a bit more technology so went to see Nicky Hockly.  As ever, Nicky is very forward thinking about using ICT in the classroom and, in this talk, highlighted the life and social skills, as well as English skills,  we can help students develop by using ICT.   Her blog,  eModeration Station, is packed with information and ideas for online teaching, mLearning and any kind of technology use in the classroom.

So, another year over and looking forward to the next one:-)

04 November 2012

Addicted to Grammar Practice

It's been a while since I wrote about mLearning but last week it suddenly became a hot topic at work.  It turns out that one of my colleagues found out that his teenage students are using their mobile phones to do online exercises for homework. So, I did some investigation (especially at Nicky Hockley's e-Moderation Station blog) to find out what's happening in the world.

When I last wrote about this, only about six months ago, my students were horrified by the idea of using their precious mobile phones to learn English.  The reasons at the time were they didn't have/had a limited Internet access, didn't have Smartphones or hadn't thought about using them for anything other than SMS messages or What's App with friends. I limited mLearning to using the camera, voice and video functions for in class and homework activities.

This week I downloaded a few Spanish learning apps to try out language learning apps first hand.  I'm an advanced level Spanish learner so the first thing I noticed were that most apps are aimed at the beginner to intermediate level, with lots offering grammar and vocabulary exercises. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of apps available but three that I really like are:

  • Busuu (free version)
  • Babbel (free version)
  • Spanish Class (paid version)
These all have English language versions too.  It's difficult to say which is the best as they would all suit different needs, ages and types of learners.  I've been using Spanish Class (I like it so much I paid for it!) to review Spanish verb forms and learn a bit of vocabulary.  Spanish Class suits me because of its flexibility.  You can pick and choose what you want to practice in any grammar or vocabulary exercise so you can easily grade it to your own level.  Busuu and Babbel organise the exercises into levels for you.  All three have listening and speaking practice - although not the best features - and Babbel also has a PC version where you can buy online courses.  I would recommend all three to my learners, depending on age, level and needs and, of course, I'd recommend downloading the free version before deciding to pay as well as spending some time looking at other apps available.

After one week, I can't say I'm an mLearning guru but there's one thing I do know - there's something addictive about doing repetitive grammar and vocabulary exercises on a mobile phone.  It passes the time while you're waiting for someone, having a coffee, watching something boring on the TV or any spare few minutes you have.  I had wondered about how much learning actually takes place in such short and sometimes distracting circumstances.  Well, I've already learned/remembered a few things I'd forgotten from basic Spanish and I like the short sharp bursts of learning that make it easier for me to remember grammar points and vocabulary.

For me , I've discovered an easy, convenient and pleasantly enjoyable practise and revision tool.  Boredom isn't really an issue because you only need to spend a few minutes here and there doing exercises.  It's the perfect tool for young people (who, we are told and in many cases have noted, have shorter attention spans) and busy adults trying to improve their language skills.  Combined with guidance from a teacher, mobile apps for language learners give learners exposure to the language between classes when and where they can or want.  Frequent short periods of learning is better than no learning at all.  In my opinion, this can only be a good thing.

03 November 2012

Wiggio - a social network with a difference

It's been almost three months since my last post but since the beginning of the academic year I've had so many different projects going on that I haven't had anything to talk about! 

One of the things I've been doing is using www.wiggio.com with a small group of Intermediate level adult students as part of a pilot blended learning course.  Wiggio is a free group working platform that is clean and simple to look at, and intuitive to use.  Although there are dedicated social networks for educators, such as Edmodo, what I like about Wiggio is that it has a range of inbuilt tools that are ideal for language learners.  Remember, this is a free platform and here are just some of the features it includes:

  • folders
  • create documents
  • to-do lists
  • calendar
  • video and voice notes
  • chatroom
  • meeting room
  • email and SMS functions
I'm using it as the forum/virtual classroom on the course (the course involves 70% online study and 30% face-to-face study).  The students love it and regularly start up mini conversations as if they were chatting on Facebook.  The only difference is they're using English to communicate.

As a teacher using it instead of an LMS, it does have it's drawbacks.  It's not an LMS/CMS and when I need to supplement the course with my own materials, it's not as easy to organise them in a student friendly way.  I've been creating folders relating to each unit then uploading supplementary materials or links to the folders.  This seems to be working well for now, but I keep a copy of everything on my PC so that they are available for the next course.  I haven't found a way to move uploaded materials from one "group" to another yet!

If you're looking for a way to get your students to work together between classes, on projects or homework assignments or to contact you, this really is the answer.  All you need is an email address to join up.  You can create as many groups as you want and assign permissions so you can control what your students can do (if you want to do that) or let them have free rein of their group and see where they go with it.  The best thing of all is you don't need to spend time showing your students how to use a range of voice, video and other tools to help them with their learning.  It's all built in to Wiggio.