#ELTchat summary: Does technology motivate or distract in the classroom?

I am very proud and excited to post my very first #ELTchat summary here. I have been unable to follow previous chats live as I was always working, but this time with the slow-burn idea I was able not only to read, but also to participate in the chat as it was unfolding.

This week’s #ELTchat was inspired by a blog debate posted on the IATEFL LTSIG website: is technology helping students to develop skills, or is it distracting them from learning? The chat started on Wednesday 08/06/2016 at 19:00 BST and instead of finishing after one hour as usual, at 20:00 BST it went on ’slow-burn’ for 24 hours. In this way people with different commitments and time zones were able to join the conversation and add their comments at different times during a whole day.

Here’s what emerged from the 24-hour chat.

Technology can be very motivating

  • Technology can be new and motivating for students, especially teenagers or tech-savvy adults. On the other hand, motivation coming from technology and innovation could burn out quite quickly (once the technology is no longer news, it is no longer interesting).
  • Hada_ELT gives the example of her students who wouldn’t watch a documentary in English, but are happy to watch a TED talk and discuss about it on WhatsApp. thebestteacher reports having met a YL who taught himself English entirely through watching craft videos on Youtube. In both these cases it is probably the content, not the medium that is motivating, but it is also true that if learners come across or choose their own material they are more likely to be motivated. And technology gives this freedom.
  • Students, especially teenagers, use technology in their everyday life, we could say it is an integral part of their perception of reality. Thus it seems just natural to include it in their learning too.
  • I also reported some adult students that prefer online exercises to paper ones, probably for a reluctance to write or because written exercises remind them too much of school homework they used to hate.

Is technology only motivating or does it have value for learning?

  • Learners could be motivated to understand online games or apps instructions, this having a very strong educational and linguistic value.
  • It can be used to create student-centred activities, for example using the photos or contacts students have on their phones as prompt for conversation.
  • In general, technology (and the Internet in particular) allows an incredible amount of exposure to L2 that would be impossible without it.
  • Videos and other teaching aids (based on technology) are key to approaches such as flipped classroom.
  • Technology makes collaborative learning very easy and accessible to many.

Problems that technology can create in the classroom

  • It can be very distracting if not managed properly.

SUGGESTED SOLUTIONS: We can use various methods to manage technology in order to minimise distraction. For example a phone box where students put their phones when they are not needed for language work (but this doesn’t always work), or asking student to turn their phone face down when not necessary. Alternatively, we could use the distraction in our favour (see reading list at the end of this summary).

  • Some adult or young students can be tech-illiterate or be reluctant to use technology for different reasons. However, using technology to learn English could motivate students to learn the technology itself, which is a very important life skill nowadays – but this is not always the case.
  • Students sometimes use technology for instant translation, which is very disruptive of learning. This again can be turned to our advantage or can be allowed during certain tasks and avoided during others (setting rules clearly before the start of the lesson).
  • Technology can promise to help the teacher, but then be an obstacle when it doesn’t work as expected or crashes. This is why not planning the lesson around technology can be a good tip to keep in mind when using it.
  • Sometimes even teachers can get distracted or lose sight of how effective their lesson really is because of technology frenzy. On this point most participants seem to agree: we always need to evaluate the technology we are using to see if it fits in with our teaching objectives and our learners, that is to say if it is conducive of learning. There is no point in using technology for technology’s sake.

What or how should we use technology for learning?

  • First of all, it is advisable to start with technology students use and understand, as this can give the best results in terms of learning.
  • One suggestion is having students record themselves as a way to help them improve their pronunciation. Other ways to use technology could be creating quizzes, treasure hunts and games or other creative activities.

Other questions raised

  • Can technology be discriminating if not all students have access to it?
  • Can there be any privacy issues with certain technology? For example, using social networking sites for learning can raise privacy and data mining issues.
  • Young learners (5-10) need to develop other skills too, so is technology really useful / necessary at this age?
  • It is easy to blame technology for students being distracted. But could it be that our lesson is not so engaging enough?
  • Could paper-based exams be obsolete? After all, handwriting is no longer to be considered a life skill – but typing is.

Technology teachers find useful for learning

  • Quizlet: to review, learn vocabulary or let students create their own quizzes
  • Moodle: as e-learning platform, collaborative learning and for online exercises.
  • Aurasma to create augmented reality.
  • Interactive whiteboards: used in the classroom instead of more traditional whiteboards, they give the opportunity to use multimedia content and more. They can be intimidating at the beginning, but many teachers agree they are a great and flexible tool in the classroom.
  • QR codes to engage learners with reading and conversation skills.
  • Edmodo another platform to manage online learning

Useful links and further readings


P.S. Participants will have to excuse me for not including great anecdotes about their pre-tech past, full of OHPs, amazing copying machines and desks full of paper. 😊 We could maybe create a history book with all that.

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