Category Archives: Workshops & Talks

Is EdTech trying to reinvent the wheel?

I attended the Digital Learning Colloquium at Cambridge last week, and it was a fascinating insight into the future landscape of EdTech painted by a broad spectrum of attendees from different backgrounds: product development, research, academia, consultants, product design, and the odd ELT teacher and trainer.

While there were clear threads of discussion regarding the normalisation of the tech we are using today in ten years time, AR and VR to name a couple, there is one clear question that springs to my mind: Is EdTech trying to reinvent the wheel?

My opinion regarding the use of EdTech for teaching and learning is the same as it is for any activity a teacher or learner engages in: sound pedagogical reasoning. For me, it is not so much what is being done to learn something, but the rationale for how it reaches the learning objective. If an activity which incorporates an AR app really does improve the learning outcomes, or facilitate reaching the pedagogical goal of the lesson, then I’m all for it. I do, however, strongly believe that a lot of products and tools are trying to tap into the multi-billion dollar industry that EdTech has become.

Penny Ur (1996) claimed that there is a difference between a teacher with twenty years’ experience and one years’ experience repeated twenty times. I wholeheartedly agree with this, because I believe that teaching professionals need to learn, adapt and grow along with their experience, teaching context, and learner needs. So, yes, EdTech could well be a part of this growing and development as a teacher, but just because a tool looks good, doesn’t mean to say it actually is. The tool needs to achieve the learning goal that has been set, this can be by motivating learners, or improving interaction, but I reiterate, the main motivation for using any tool, digital or not, should be pedagogical grounds, and the tool must be exploited effectively.

The talk I gave looked at 3 simple tools I use in the classroom to promote interaction and provide learning solutions to some of the problems I encounter with learners in specific contexts. The tools were: Padlet; IM apps (Whatsapp & WeChat); and Dictaphone apps on smartphones. Gone are the days of recording ourselves on a TDKC90 cassette to see how we sound when we speak a foreign language, but this practice is so effective. The modern day version is a Dictaphone app which I regularly incorporate into my lessons, and encourage learners to record themselves out of class to playback and identify action points to work on with their pronunciation and speaking skills. I use IM apps for a range of collaborative tasks (more information to come in future posts!), and Padlet I use as a visual live collaborative tool both inside and beyond the classroom.

So, that said, the literature has been telling us for years what good pedagogical practice is, we just need to stick with that, and map it onto current language learning contexts.  

Ur, P. (1996). A course in Language Teaching: Practice and Theory. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Reflections of giving a plenary at Innovate ELT

As a teacher I don’t give standing in front of a class a second thought, it’s what I do. The students “want” to learn English or study skills so I do what I can to help them. Giving a talk at a conference is slightly different, while the people that attend your talk want to listen to what you have to say, they have based their decision on a very short description of what you will say which is often only 60 words long. The attendees are a mixture of professionals in the filed; teachers, materials writers, ELT consultants, editors, academic directors and the list goes on. You deliver your talk, hope your message has reached some of the people in the room and they will take something away, you check the conference programme for the next talk you’d like to attend, and off you go!

On Friday 6th May I was given the opportunity to give my first plenary at the Innovate ELT conference in Barcelona. Needless to say, the difference between talking to a smaller group of people that have chosen to listen to your talk, and the entire crowd of conference attendees is quite different.

The chance to put my neck on the line in front of the entire conference was made possible due to its format which allowed speakers the opportunity to apply to give a plenary, quite unusual for a conference but a prospect I jumped at, so I applied, and I got accepted.

Despite being very nervous prior to standing on the edge of a 2-metre wall in front of a sea of people, I chose to put myself in this position because I believe it’s good to put ourselves out of our comfort zone every now and again, and challenge ourselves. I attended some great talks at Innovate ELT that gave me plenty of new ideas to consider, but along with making new friends and catching up with others, giving a plenary was probably the highlight for me on a personal level because it was exciting and pushed me to do something I had never done before. My only regret is not having a recording so I can look back, reflect and learn from my experience. Next time!





IATEFL 2016 Birmingham – Instant messaging with learners – Talk summary

Here is a summary of the talk I gave at IATEFL 2016 in Birmingham; Instant messaging with learners: chilled out chatroom or creepy treehouse?

The talk was based on research I carried out while teaching a 10-week pre-sessional course to a group of 16 of multilingual post-graduate students. I set out 4 learning objectives that I wanted to achieve during the course, but I needed to find a strategy to meet them.

The 4 learning objectives were:

  1. Boost student motivation for academic writing.
  2. Increase student collaboration.
  3. Establish a sense of community in the classroom.
  4. Improve academic writing skills.

I chose to harness the affordances of student smartphones as a learning tool and using a cross-platform mobile instant messaging app, I set up a class group on WeChat. I specifically chose this app, because students could sign up using their Facebook accounts and therefore there was no exchange of telephone numbers or infringement on privacy.

I wanted to make a correlation between the constant Tweeting, social media updates and instant messages my students were writing all day long, and academic writing, while also trying to bring a motivational and fun element to the learning.

The students were guided through a range of activities both inside and outside the classroom and were required to share their ideas and collaborate with peers as they interacted using WeChat.

Synonym race

Using a selection of high frequency words in academic English, I sent words one by one to the group. Each time I sent a word, the first group of students to reply with a synonym got a point. This motivated students to think quickly, and added a fun element to the activity. It also helped widen their lexical range and they were able to refer back to the messages during the course to find and use lexis they needed.

Lecture summary

This was a collaborative writing task where students shared their notes from the weekly lecture and wrote a summary together in no more than 100 words. The four groups wrote their summaries on WeChat and sent them to the group. Each group read the summaries of the other groups and made a note of any inaccuracies, points they wanted to question, and things they liked. Each group read their summary aloud open class and as they did this any student could shout stop at something they wanted to question, and it was discussed openly. Because the writing had been carried out collaboratively, no student felt pinpointed or undermined.

TED talk summary of main ideas

For homework I gave the students a TED talk to watch in their own time over the weekend. I asked them to post a summary of the main points of interest for them personally supporting them with evidence and reasons why (one of the tenets of academic writing). They sent their summaries to the WeChat group and I moderated them. This was not time consuming for me, and gave the students a sense of ownership over their learning because they were free to do it at any time during the weekend that was convenient for them. This worked well, so I continued to do this throughout the course to help the students develop their listening, summarising and having to explain why.


I asked the students to carry out an anonymous questionnaire, to gain an insight into the usefulness of the class instant messaging group from the learners’ perspective.

Here is a summary of the most common responses the students gave:

  • The activities were fun and interesting and transformed a task we dreaded into something we enjoyed.
  • I communicate more with my classmates and learnt from them.
  • I compared my work with our classmates and adopted a competitive approach to impress them (This was reflected in the quality of the writing the students produced).
  • I feel the gap between the teacher and me has narrowed, because she is a part of the chat group.
  • I feel more confident to write now, so I am more motivated also.

 The benefits of having a class chat are:

  1. It is student-centred, interactive and communicative.
  2. It creates dialogue amongst students and nurtures a social atmosphere
  3. It increases motivation and shifts the motivation from extrinsic to intrinsic.
  4. It encourages sharing and extends learning.
  5. It creates a personalised learning platform that students can refer to both inside and outside the classroom.

If you decide to try out any of the activities mentioned, please let me know how it went!




IATEFL Birmingham 2016 – Instant messaging with learners: chilled out chatroom or creepy treehouse?

The post conference buzz is still racing around in my head after seeing so many talks, new ideas, old ideas, different takes on current ideas, and trying frantically to catch fleeting moments to talk with friends and make new ones in between a very packed IATEFL programme in Birmingham.

All in all a great conference, and for those of you who didn’t manage to see my talk; “Instant messaging with learners: chilled out chatroom or creepy treehouse?”, the British Council have kindly sent me a recording which you can watch here.

I look forward to the next IATEFL as I’m sure we all do!

“Many educators have embraced the use of mobile technologies and instant messaging with learners. But inviting learners to connect with their teacher on social media can provoke horror; what some have called the creepy treehouse syndrome. In this talk, I present contexts where I used IM and the outcome. Cautious of creating a creepy treehouse syndrome, I trod extremely carefully.”





Reflective Practice

Exams Catalunya: Using the principles of Reflective Practice to improve oral skills.

The notion of reflective practice where teachers and students spend time reflecting on their performance in order to develop clear goals for improving is a very powerful one. Too often learners repeat activities in class without any focused ideas about what they want to change or improve.

This seminar looks at using technology to give learners instant feedback on their performance in speaking activities and explore how they can be guided towards formulating learning objectives to extend their learning and oral skills. This practice helps motivate students in an engaging way and will encourage them to take ownership of their learning and develop their confidence and learner autonomy.

The slides from the seminar can be viewed here:

Exams Catalunya

IATELF BESIG Conference: Using video to help develop oral presentation skills using mobile devices

Here is the video of my talk at the IATELF BESIG Conference: Using video to help develop oral presentation skills using mobile devices, held in Sitges this weekend; 13-15 November 2015.

My talk centred around the use of video to encourage learners to become reflective practitioners and engage in their own reflective practice.

Here’s how:

  1. Learners brainstorm or ‘thought shower’ the features of a good presentation.
  2. The features are boarded open-class so all students have the same ‘checklist’.
  3. Students mark features from the checklist that they do/don’t do.
  4. They give the presentation and are recorded by a classmate/colleague so they own the content which enables unlimited replay.
  5. Each student assesses their performance against the checklist to compare what they think they do and what they really do, and sets some personal objectives to improve from the features.
  6. They then partake in reflective practice to think about what they do, and consider how they can make improvements.
  7. They use a reflective cycle to guide them on their journey of thinking and doing to improve their presentation/speaking skills for the objective set out.

The main principles of my reflective cycle are:

  • Plan
  • Record
  • View
  • Analyse
  • Reflect
  • Correct

I shared some research I have done an EAP context, but have also used this with students preparing for Cambridge exams, and business English classes in 1:1 and group contexts.

I have already received some very positive feedback from some of the attendees at my talk, so let me know if you try this and how it works.

Using video to develop oral presentation skills using mobile devices

Today I gave a workshop at Oxford Telf Barcelona about using video to develop oral presentation skills using mobile devices. It was a lot of fun and I learnt a lot from the teachers who attended. The great thing about workshops for me, is sharing ideas and brainstorming ideas for new things to try in class.

My Innovate ELT Video #iELT15

I was excited and overwhelmed to be presenting at Innovate ELT in Barcelona. It was a great opportunity to learn from a lot of the big names in ELT , but there was an element of panic too.

My talk was scheduled at the same time as Scott Thornbury, Sinéad Laffan and Nick Robinson from ELTjam, so I was nervous that there would be low attendance. However, the talk directly before mine was from Kieran Donaghy for which the room was full to the brim, and that’s how it stayed, Kieran included!

My talk centred around using video in the classroom and the creation of video on mobile devices to develop oral skills. The main points were:

  • The affordances of m-learning
  • The importance of action research for students
  • How to guide students to become reflective practitioners
  • The reflective cycle

Here is My Innovate ELT Video #iELT15

#iELT15 Innovate ELT Conference Barcelona – Reflections

My post Innovate ELT Conference in Barcelona, #iELT15, comedown has left me feeling like a deflated balloon. I have no doubt that once I start to go through the notes I made, and start looking deeper into the ideas that were shared throughout, that I will billow out and fly high again…

Here is a snippet of what I learnt from the 30-minute talks, demo lessons and speed dating. I didn’t attend any of the panel discussions but I hear they were really good too.

The first session I attended was a demo lesson given by Ceri Jones; ‘In and beyond the classroom: using technology to support learning’. I didn’t stay for the entire 50-minute session because there was a 30-minute talk starting that I wanted to attend. It was interesting to observe the student interaction and of course see a seasoned teacher in action! I am currently supporting two teachers on The Developing Teacher course at Oxford Tefl, which is allowing me to share and learn teaching practice ideas. I really enjoy observing other teachers because it enables me to become aware of my own teaching practice, and consider different ways of doing things. For me, teaching is all about learning.

Clare Hart shared her personal experience about adapting textbook materials into digital format for supplementary extension courses. It was an inspiring talk that highlighted the differences between task types in print and digital format, and it was a great insight into the thought process of digital materials writing.

WP_20150509_015I then learnt the necessary survival skills to be able to make it through a Zombie Apocalypse, courtesy of Lindsay Clandfield and Robert Campbell. The creativity was incredible and the lesson was a LOT of fun. It made me question the authenticity of a lot of textbook materials that ask students to imagine themselves in situations that they will probably never encounter. Why then not put them in an extremely random situation, and get them to explore language more creatively. Surely teaching is all about creativity.


Later in the evening Lindsay and I geeked out over sci-fi movies, and discussed the order a Star Wars virgin should watch the hexalogy. We decided it should be 4 – 5 – 2 – 3 – 6, for any of you that are geeks too!

My next 30-minute session was about video-making for beginners, with Christina Rebuffet-Broadus who has her own You Tube Channel, Speak Better Feel Great. It was motivating to know that for relatively little money and a bit of clever thinking it is possible to create good quality low-cost videos.

WP_20150509_019I only managed to catch the last 30 minutes of Daniel Barber’s lesson demo; ‘Coaching in practice’, however in one of the 15 minute speed dating sessions later in the day, I had the chance to speak with Duncan Foord about coaching. The basic idea is that we should humanise our teaching and ask ourselves if our lessons are really achieving their goals. In the lesson demo, Daniel asked the students what they do outside the classroom to practise English. This made the learners aware of what they already do outside the classroom to engage with English, and think about what they could be doing more of. The students also had the chance to talk with the teachers observing the lesson.

Kieran Donaghy gave an overview of different digital film-making projects he has done with his students, which were all very inspiring. I think sometimes we underestimate out students’ capabilities inside and outside the classroom.

The speed dating dates my group had were with Lindsay Clandfield, Maureen McGarvey, Christina Rebuffet-Broadus, Nicky Hockly, Robert Campbell and Duncan Foord. The 15 minutes slots were a free-question session where it was possible to get up close and personal with some of the speakers in a small discussion group.

There were many other talks I didn’t manage to attend, that I would have liked to. Some of which are Brendan Wightman’s ‘A short history of disruption’, Sinéad Laffan’s ‘The hole in the classroom wall’, and Maureen McGarvey’s ‘Dogme, Demand High and ELT management.


A truly innovative conference, thank you ELTjam and Oxford Tefl.