IATEFL – On Tech

I’ve just got back from the IATEFL conference, a huge sprawling monster of a conference. The best way that I can think of to reflect on what I’ve seen is to blog about it. The good thing is that loads of the conference is available online – where this is the case I’ll link to it. As it is so sprawling, I’ve had to spread my reflections across a few posts. I’ve tried to organised the post thematically, but the line between them is slightly arbitrary, bear with me on this.

I’ve posted on the IATEFL sessions that related to Methodology and those with practical ideas for the classroom,  this post is a summary of those sessions which focussed on ideas for using technology in education. As there is a lot of content it seemed to make more sense to split these between those that were more theoretical and those which concentrated on sites and tools that you can use in class As before I’m a little bit concerned around the ethics of blogging conferences – see post from Jeremy Harmer here. Should you wish me to change/remove parts – just let me know.

1)The Theory:

Sue Palmer – Toxic Childhood (Plenary)

This session wasn’t really about technology, but it did set the tone for a lot of what followed, I’d really recommend watching the video as whether you agree with it or not, Palmer is an engaging and thought-provoking speaker. There were a number of strains to her talk, but one of the biggest was that children are subjected to far too much screen-based interaction at a young age, which impedes the development of human interaction skills. This could be computer-based or TV-based. This was seen as a particular problem in the UK as where other countries limited young children’s screen interactions in childcare settings, the UK EYFS actually set IT targets from 22 months. The other point raised was that advertising is channelled through these media and that this creates a huge pressure on parents. In terms of technology in education, it is not necessarily negative about its use, but the too key messages are that it should not start before children have a chance to develop their human interaction skills  and that it should not contain advertising. It was a very thought-provoking talk and had some impact on the debate around the sessions which followed.

Gavin Dudeney – Location, location, location

Gavin’s Blog: That’s SLife

On Sunday, Gavin Dudeney from the Consultants-e gave a talk on mobile learning. The first part of the talk acknowledged that there are issues around the levels of technology that people have access to and also that what is possible in some parts of world is not always practical in others, though an interesting stat that Gavin mentioned was that 50% of all tweets sent in November came from either Brazil or Indonesia.

One of Gavin’s main points was that in many places mobile learning has struggled to evolve from a ‘word of the day’ text/SMS based approach, while at the same time mobile/handheld technology has come on in leaps and bounds. One theme was also that tablets would be the future of mobile learning; while at the moment iPads are what people think of when tablets are mentioned, Gavin mentioned that 78 tablets were launched last year and prices are starting to fall. The fact that tablets have much bigger screens that smartphones means that there is a lot of potential for more creative  and collaborative uses of the technology, we were shown a number of clips from the consultants-e YouTube channel showing how handheld learning tools are used.

This was contrasted with the ELT sector’s purpose made apps, which could be described as solid but dull. The big message here was to embrace the potential of different apps for creativity rather than just rely on what has been provided. Gavin cited a comment by Nik Peachey about how while the technology sector has a ferocious Market which ensures that only the best and most useful devices survive, this doesn’t seem to work when it comes to education, which can be seen with these apps.

Gavin also highlighted a number of low resource projects such as Janala, Project ABC, SoloIngles and M4Lit that were being carried out around the world. I’d heard of Janala, but the others were new to me – there is a lot of potential for the use of mobile technology in the developing world as it has such penetration. I have read about mobile banking projects as well as crowdsourcing translation projects which allow people to earn small amounts of money using their mobile phone. This is definitely an area to keep an eye on – perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised about the 50% of Tweets stat from above – combined Brazil and Indonesia have got a population of around 400m people, and a lot of them could access Twitter via SMS.

M-learning is an area I’ve been intrigued by for a while, I haven’t quite been able to take the plunge into it, as there are still issues that concern me (Incompatibility of systems: iOS vs Blackberry etc; Do learners have the ‘right’ device). I can see how this may start to change. In the classroom, like Gavin, I suspect that the tablet revolution is likely to happen – these are much nicer and more flexible devices to work with than smartphones. As they become cheaper, it may be almost as economical to have a class set of these, rather than traditional it lab. Mobile phones can then be used to take things out of the classroom (Russell Stannard spoke on the idea of the ‘connected classroom’), as it becomes more established cross-platform solutions may start to appear.

It was interesting to see the number of people brandishing iPads, (trying to get on the shaky wifi connection) – they are a more portable alternative to laptops, and probably easier to use than netbooks. The only gripe that I would have is that I still much prefer typing with a real keyboard. I think this is something that we will see more and more of.

Liz Fleet – Teacher Perception of IWBs with Adult Learners

Monday morning saw Liz Fleet present research on the use of interactive whiteboards at the British Council in Jordan; this was for an MA dissertation at the University of Manchester. The findings were generally positive in terms of engaging and motivating learners. Most people surveyed were in favour of their use. There were concerns around having time for training and the feeling was that training programmed supplied by the manufacturers were not good enough. Consequently some of those surveyed felt that they were unable to exploit the full potential of the equipment.

However, there was a feeling that they impeded learner-centred teaching, there was seen to be a danger that IWBs can lead to the teacher doing everything. Consequently they were seen to be negative for kinaesthetic learners, although they were positive for learners with a preference for visual and auditory learning styles. The other concern was that using IWBs may be good for superficial learning, but it was harder to use them for deeper learning. Teachers also found that the monitoring of learners had not improved as they were spending more time using the computer in the lesson.

This session highlighted a number of the questions around IWBs and made me question my own practice. I have been a champion of IWBs where I work and have posted a number of resources and guides here, now I need to reflect on whether I have been including the whole class. I have used activities where the whole class is at the board trying to work through something as a group, this is probably something I need to do more. Liz touched on what could happen if IWBs could be combined with handheld devices – I feel that this could be a powerful combination, we just need to wait for tablets to get a bit cheaper. In the meantime, the key is probably high quality training – looking from a pedagogical viewpoint – has anyone developed an IWB pedagogy yet?

Carla Arena – Online collaboration


On the final morning of the conference Carla Arena from Brasilia told us all about a collaborative project that she had set up for teachers in her institution (Casa Thomas Jefferson), scattered around Brasilia, to share resources and ideas. The concept behind it was the idea of ‘swarming’ where if many people focus on one goal, the combined force is much stronger than the sum of the individuals.

The project used a wiki where content could be shared and easily added by different teachers. A key factor that helped the resource develop was that a clear framework was set up for each course, so it was easy to see where the different resources would fit. File naming conventions were established to make the process smoother. Carla also considered how best to motivate people into contributing: it was not made obligatory, but every opportunity was taken to celebrate the contributions every month. It created a ‘digital café’ where people could discuss activities and the best ways to approach particular lessons. The Edtech team set goals for how much content could be shared and provided training on areas such as design to make sure that the materials contributed looked their best.

This was a great presentation on another area that I’ve tried to work with. I think the key is that it is easy to use; I tried to set up a moodle database for sharing resources – but it was so big and needed so much input, that even I couldn’t get more than about a unit’s worth of content into it – needless to say, no one else followed suit. I was a bit more successful when I set up a framework, using a hierarchy of folders on a shared drive – this was relatively easy to contribute to and so was more successful; this sessions got me thinking how I could develop this. I liked Carla’s take on the psychological aspect – you really need to get people to support a project like this in order for it to work. You can read more about the project here: http://brazilbridges.pbworks.com/w/page/11613093/FrontPage

Sue Lyons-Jones – Teaching with Technology Plan B


The first part of Sue’s session was a discussion around why teachers have a fear of using technology in their classes, the main reasons were issues around the hardware, a fear of breaking something and perhaps more crucially, a lack of training. There was the comment that many teacher training courses don’t really deal with technology in any meaningful way. However, Sue pointed out that no-one chooses not to use a photocopier for these reasons.

We then moved on to the solutions, the first one being make sure you check the equipment 30 minutes before your class – it’s also a good idea to get to know your tech support people as they can come in handy, thought you may also find that your learners are a good resource for helping you out (IT Dogme – see what language emerges from that). For times where you have no internet, Sue recommended having a 3G dongle as backup or using phone tethering. Also you should have some backup activities to fill the time where technology is delaying you – ‘faff fillers’ was Sue’s term for this.

A good solution for when the browser that you want to use doesn’t have the right plug-ins is to use ‘Portable Apps‘, which runs Firefox from a memory stick, Video Download Helper allows you to download videos before the lesson, which you can play using FLV player. A site called Jog the Web can be used to access sites that are otherwise blocked which may get past institutional filters.

Sue then presented a few offline tools that could be used – Thingamablog and Tiddlywiki for offline blogging and erm, wiki-ing (?).

The key messages from this session were: Assume nothing and make sure that you can stay cool when things do go wrong.

2) The Tools:

As there were a number of sessions that presented different tech tools, I thought that I would merge them into one section. These are the ones that I am thinking about most at the moment. All the links can be found on Brighton Online under the following sessions:

Exploiting images:

There seemed to be loads of tools presented which leveraged images from Flickr – Nik and Russell both highlighted tools from PimPamPum: Phrasr, which flashes up images to represent the words in a phrase or sentence is a nice vocabulary tool; Flickrpoet is really addictive – you just type in a story a poem, or a collection of words and it throws up images to match – once I started trying, I couldn’t stop. Bubblr and Bookr use Flickr to source images which can be used to create photo stories or photo books; I can see these tools being really useful for developing writing as they allow learners to use visual stimuli. Russell also presented Storybird which is a site containing pictures from professional artists that can be used to make picture books with stories.

For Writing

Both Nik and Amanda & Susan’s sessions presented collaborative writing tools, which appear to have risen from the ashes of Etherpad. Amanda and Susan showed Type with Me, which they use in their IELTS preparation classes, while Nik showed Sync.in. They both look very similar, the basic idea is that they provide a space for a number of people to type into, in order to create a document collaboratively. I was really surprised when Etherpad disappeared as it seemed to be one of these simple tools with loads of different applications both inside and outside class.

Another tool that cropped up a lot, was Jing – for screencasting. Amanda and Susan mentioned it in their talk, but pointed out that Russell Stannard was the ‘King of Jing‘. Russell didn’t show anything new with Jing, but had used it to pre-record all the links in his own presentation so as not to have internet issues. The use highlighted by Amanda and Susan is that you can use Jing to give audio and visual feedback to learners on their written work. There is often a lot more that you can say about the piece of writing and learners often value this considerably more than comments on a piece of paper.

Russell showed a great tool called Word Magnets which you can download and install on your desktop. It basically breaks a text up into words which can be dragged around, coloured and manipulated in a number of different ways. This again is a simple looking tool that has loads of different applications for work on writing, grammar or vocabulary. More wordplay fun could be had by using transla8it, which transliterates English text into SMS abbreviations and vice-versa. There is potential for working on spelling and pronunciation here.

Amanda and Susan showed the Google Wonder Wheel which returns search results that are conceptually linked, as a mind map. They then showed a tool called LinoIt where students could share their ideas as sticky labels on an imaginary noticeboard (Wallwisher is a similar tool).

Nik showed a couple of tools that helped with searching – one of them being Twurdy, which classifies search results according to their readability – this could be great for learners. PhraseUp searches for collocations in phrases – this could be great for translators as well as teachers.

Sound and Video

I think all three presentations managed to mention Vocaroo, Russell pointed out that the beauty was its simplicity. The site has just got one button to start recording, then provides you with a link that you can email people so that they can hear your recording. There are a number of ways that you could use this, but I really liked Amanda and Susan’s approach of providing detailed feedback on pronunciation for the learners to work on. Russell an Nik both suggested Audioboo as an alternative, which was a bit more complex, but offered the option of publishing recordings to iTunes as podcasts.

For video, intervue and vYou were both given as examples where learners could record videos to practice spoken language. These are websites where you can record video messages and post answers – they look like a great tool – I just wonder what the safeguarding people at college would have to say about them… hmm.. In the same vein, both Russell and Nik recommended Mail.Vu which allows you to send video messages.

These sessions were great as they have given me loads of things to look up and try out, for more information I would really recommend checking out Russell’s website http://www.teachertrainingvideos.com/ where he has video tutorials to a whole range of Web2.0 tools. Nik has a great blog which also introduces loads of these tech tools and gives advice. Now I just need to start trying them all out!


13 thoughts on “IATEFL – On Tech

    1. Thanks for that Gavin, it was a session I enjoyed – my heads buzzing with ideas for using mobile technology in class. I’d be interested to know your thoughts on Sue Palmer’s plenary – I read it as being particularly opposed to technology being used with primary-age kids – and I can see her reasons. On the other hand I could see how engaged the kids in Carol’s videos in your session were with the games they were using. There’s a debate to be had there…

  1. I enjoyed much of Sue Palmer’s plenary, and agreed with much of what she said. The thing about technology and young kids (and adults, as it happens) is that it needs to be framed within the concept of balance.

    I’m round at a colleague’s for lunch today (though sadly working while they’re out having a walk) and this morning I watched the young son of one of them.

    He got up, breakfasted and then watched a video on the laptop for a while. He then helped his father clean the bikes , and i played a bit of football with him. Now he’s out waling before lunch.

    I don’t think the screen time will have damaged him unduly – and it’s balanced with some manual labour (!), some sport and a healthy walk.

    I’ve always had an issue with parents who complain about their kids being on the computer all the time. If they were decent parents they would never have let that situation arise. I wouldn’t tear any kid away from a keyboard or a computer, as long as they were balancing that out with some healthy play, a social life and all the rest.

    The kids in the videos I showed were using iPod touches, and I think they were learning – socially, in a problem-solving way, and collaborating with teach other. There was a buzz in the class, and it was a buzz of communication and shared learning. I wouldn’t take that away from any kid – as long as they went outside at break time and scuffed their knees occasionally.

    What I could never agree with is someone saying “I wouldn’t let my kid on the computer until he’s xx years old”…

    Interesting discussion – thanks.


  2. I guess I’d agree with that, I haven’t read Sue’s book, but it sounds like it’s the absence of human interaction, rather than the presence of screen-based interaction that is the real problem – as with most things, balance is the key.

    I’m more concerned with the social context in the UK that keeps kids shut up inside rather than out playing.

  3. Yes, I’d be concerned with any society that keeps kids shut up inside rather than playing – though obviously this is less to do with technology than it is to other parameters such as poor parenting, lack of time for busy working parents to interact with their kids, giving in to kids when they ask for things, etc., etc.

    As a child I spent much of my time indoors reading books and not talking to anyone. As a child these days I might spend much of my time indoors reading a screen and ‘talking’ to people all around the world. I wonder which is preferable…


  4. Hi Phil, and thanks for this great round-up – there are sessions you’ve mentioned here that I would have gone to if I’d had time or not been at other ones, and having a summary like this really helps get a flavour of what I missed along with links to some great tools.

    I’m with you and Gavin here re. Sue Palmer’s session. So much of what she said made sense, and although it was a little too melodramatic for my taste, I did think it was a very powerful plenary. I also think that the ‘No screen time until a child is 7 years old’ is not the solution – in fact, I’d go so far as to say that I’d think it could be detrimental to ban a kid from using a computer until they are 7 these days. Balance, as Gavin has mentioned, is the key (isn’t it the same with everything?) and people should stop blaming technology for bad parenting.

    re. the IWB study – I managed to catch the last half of this and was struck by the similarities that we had in Barcelona when we first installed IWBs. I do think it is really all about giving teachers enough training, and by this I don’t mean the kind of training that is ‘turn this on…switch that off’, but training which looks at the best way to use the board to support the kind of learning you want to happen in the classroom. It’s for this reason that we joined the EU project iTILT (http://www.itilt.eu) , which aims to develop and promote the kind of IWB pedagogy you mention above

    1. Thanks for you comments – I will follow up that iTILT link, I hadn’t come across it until you had linked to it on the IATEFL boards – I really think that kind of training is lacking, loads of schools and colleges have filled themselves up with the hardware, without even thinking of simple things like installing the software on staff room computers (this is definitely allowed under SMART’s license – I can’t speak for other brands). I did that myself just before having a microteach for an interview and just started experimenting from there – if I hadn’t done that I don’t think I would have developed my skills in using them very far.

      I was a little bit disappointed that what I saw from ELT publishers just seemed to be a blown-up version of the coursebook – I’ve been lucky (!?) enough to work with materials that allow reproduction for non-commercial use, so I could access the PDFs and tear them apart (under Smartboard Resources on this blog) – that doesn’t seem to be what publishers are doing…

      …which leads into the findings of the research project – I’d like to think that when I use the IWB, I am finding learner-centred ways of doing so, but maybe I need to re-assess my practice and see how I could bring in some IWB Dogme (need to ask Luke about that one… shame I missed the LTSIG PCE).

  5. Hi Phil,

    Thanks for a really fantastic write up of many of the sessions during IATEFL. I think I would agree that there was something slightly dogmatic about Sue which disturbed me a bit, although I am one of those who do advocate young kids playing rather than looking at a flat screen. This weekend saw my 3 year old niece playing on an i-pad. The game consisted of pretending to bake a cake – just by running her finger over the ingredients. What was the point of this? Not sure and I just wanted to say to her: let´s go into the kitchen and bake a cake? But couldn´t draw her away from i-pad! Again, Gavin is right, a balance is what is needed in these cases and it´s got everything to do with parents!
    So, I agree, think the element we want in schools, at home etc. is interaction, which is in a way the same problem vis-a-vis the IWB. If not well used, with sound pedagogical reflection, it does become a teacher-centred tool/resource. I agree with the idea that training has to be on the pedagogical gains.
    Thanks again for the excellent posts in all the sections. There was just too much taking place at the conference and your write up helped me get a glimpse of some of the sessions I missed.


  6. Thanks for posting these great summaries Phil, and for the excellent write-up of my session 🙂 Like Graham, I would have also liked to have attended some of these and I’ve enjoyed reading your post-talk reflections.

    Have to say that I agree with Gavin, Graham and Valeria’s comments re: Sue’s plenary and would echo what they have said about it all being a question of balance. As Graham very rightly points out, we shouldn’t be blaming technology for bad parenting.

    Pity the timetable clashes didn’t allow you to make it to the LTSIG day, Phil… I came away with a lot of new ideas from it and Luke’s IWB Dogme segment was a real treat!

    From what you’ve said here, sounds like you are pitching the student centred aspect of using IWB’s about right to me 🙂


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