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Modern Learning Environments


Modern Learning Environments - or not?
I once worked in a school where teachers would bet on what the most used word would be in the beginning of year staff meeting! This year I would imagine that the list included BYOD and Modern Learning Environment and perhaps digital technologies or tools.
So my question is what is so modern about a modern learning environment? If all we do is the same but on a computer / laptop / tablet / phone are we doing anything modern?


Research indicates that training in the use of computers to support learning is critical in ensuring that technology has an impact on achievement. However in many cases teachers are left to their own devices. Often it is individual teachers who takes the initiative and implements technology into their classrooms.  Many teachers use readily available, free online tools and find out how to use them through their own social networks and online communities of practice.

What is more research in learning technology is not keeping up what is being done by these innovative secondary school teachers who are relying on their intuition as teachers rather than on research on learning.  Another worrying development is typified by the conversation that starts ‘I have 10 iPads / Chrome Books. Do you have any apps  I can use on them?’ This makes the starting point he technology and not the needs of the learners.

At this point I’d like to make it clear that I am actually a big fan of the use of online tools but I strongly believe that they have to build on key pedagogy otherwise we fall into the ‘worksheet trap’ that the arrival of the photocopier created in many schools.

There are ample, sound ESOL pedagogical principles that digital technologies enable us to implement in new, engaging ways. For example Swain’s (1985) ‘the output hypothesis’ suggests that collaborative tasks may be the best way to get students to produce comprehensible output, because when working together students need to negotiate meaning, and as a result are supported in producing comprehensible output beyond their own individual level of competence. Technology can facilitate this by making it easier for learners to work together. Research in vocabulary learning as well as other areas has shown that spaced repetition and time on task are key factors in language acquisition and many digital tools can enhance both of these factors.

So what should we consider when deciding when and how to use digital technologies in our classrooms? The starting point has to be our students learning needs. Only after these have been identified can we consider the best ways to meet these needs.

The SAMR is a useful model as it allows us to evaluate how we are using technology in our classroom.

  • Substitution - Teachers or students use new technology tools to replace old ones e.g. they now write in a Google Docs rather than an exercise book. The task is the same but the tool is different.
  • Augmentation - A new tool provides some additional functions not previously available or easily available. For example Google Docs provides extra services such as sharing of a PPT of the lesson uploaded to the school Moodle that allows students to review a lesson.
  • Modification - A  tool is used not to just do the same task but to design new parts of the task and transform students learning for example by using the commenting service in Google Docs, for instance, to provide teacher to student and peer-to-peer feedback.
  • Redefinition - At this level tools are used to create entirely new tasks. See the video below for an example of students using the voice comments to discuss the differences they noticed and then embed this in a class website.


So for me the essential question remains 
        How does this technology allow me to better meet my learners needs?


With that in mind, here is an example of how I have used digital technologies and face-to-face teaching to meet the needs of a group of learners in schools working with me. Click on the link below if you cannot access the Youtube video

Integrating digital technology in the ELL classroom