by Luciana Garimaldi Garcia
When I look back I see myself teaching in a class full of adult learners that had only books, pen, paper and a teacher writing on a chalk board using a cassette player as its only aid. At that time I would have never thought that I could be able to use new technologies to improve my students’ learning process and provide them with tools to become independent and able to pace their own progress; let alone that I would be able to continue teaching one of my students who was temporarily transferred from Spain to South America.
How did all this transformation start? Last year, my business partner Kelly Hayes was recommended a course in International business English teaching applying new technologies. I have to confess that even though I had surfed the net and visited websites to keep my classes updated and interesting, this course opened a whole new world of possibilities. To my surprise, most tools, programmes, activities we were taught and used as learners were motivating and creative. They were a fantastic way of collaborating and interacting with both students and other teachers in various ways.
I have to say that when I first started using new technologies in class and for homework in Murcia, Spain some students didn’t feel at all comfortable with them. Nevertheless, those who got used to them showed great improvement and progressed faster than the rest. For example, the student I’ve mentioned above was getting promoted and his final destination was Bristol. Last year, when he was going to live in Brazil for a couple of months, the company decided to continue his English classes on-line. We used skype and vyew, for oral practice and wikis or e-mails for homework and additional exercises, activities, feedback, etc. I couldn’t believe it, having classes with someone that was located so far from Spain. I could talk to him, share content in-real time, and check his written progress as well. It was a revelling experience for both of us. He could keep up with his English improvement and the only real problem was the difference in time.
In February I attended a webminar on ‘3 simple teaching tools to increase student motivation and performance’ given by Russell Stannard. One of the tools was quite interesting and I’ve been using it since then. Vocaroo is a site where learners can record their voice for a short time and then send it to any person via e-mail. This is a fantastic way to give students the opportunity to have some extra oral practice and a complete different way of giving tasks for homework. So far, I could say that adult learners like this and could be very creative in some cases.
What has worked really well with intermediate students and higher levels are classes combined with an online course of controlled learning. At the moment, one of the companies we collaborate with is using this b-learning system. It is very demotivating for beginners to pre-intermediate levels though. If I compare student’s reaction to structured platform/on-line system and wikis, I have to say that the former works better than the latter in Murcia, Spain. In my opinion, people are more used to follow a structure and do some drilling rather than collaborating with others in a more creative way. I often wonder why all the motivating, user friendly and in most cases, free tools aren’t used by learners? Does this also happen to you? Maybe it depends on people´s personality or culture; I like trying new things if I think they can work but not all of them seem to catch people’s attention. In Spain, when I ask why students don’t use them, in 90% of the cases the answer is lack of time. They are really busy at work and when they get home, they want to be with their families.