How Technology Changed the Way I Teach My Students

A few years ago when I was a language student, I came across dozens of my notebooks full of new words and translations. Sadly, I realized all my efforts had been in vain, as the majority of the words seemed unknown to me. Obviously, I should have tried harder by flipping through the pages once in a while. But then I wondered if there was a better way to learn new words.

Indeed, this century has much more to offer education than a simple pen and paper. Thus, to expand my foreign language vocabulary, I found a special mobile app that remembers all the translated words and allows me to practice them. Unlike notebooks, this app systematically reminds me to review words, which is a great plus for a forgetful person like me.

Sometime later I became a language teacher myself. My students use the same mobile app I once discovered, but not only that. This little story is a summary of our experience with new technologies in and outside the classroom.

And so the journey began

Like my fellow teachers, I started incorporating technology by creating PowerPoint presentations. I was truly inspired by the possibility to develop interactive materials targeted to the classroom needs rather than following rigid textbook lesson plans or burying students in handouts. Just around that time, my school acquired a projector, so I used it to demonstrate slides at the lessons.

Soon enough though I noticed that presentations distracted students, who spent too much time copying the information displayed. To avoid this, I transformed presentations into online courses, uploaded them to a cloud storage and shared them with students. Certainly, I could have emailed materials, but I simply wasn’t comfortable with sending source files. Alternatively, many sharing platforms allow users to protect files from being copied, downloaded, or edited.

As a result of these manipulations, students became more involved in classroom communication, which is vital for language learning. They still bring notebooks and pens, but have plenty of freedom from those. Plus, I enhanced my presentations with quizzes using the same freeware. I used for PowerPoint conversion. This meant that students now had materials at their fingertips and could both learn and test their knowledge on the go.

Keeping it social

At the next step of technification, I brought in social networks, after being greatly encouraged by success stories from other teachers worldwide. I meet different groups of students only three times per week, so extending communication beyond the classroom walls seemed like a great idea. Indeed, it turned to be a real game changer.

While social learning is important for many subjects, it’s particularly indispensable for language acquisition. After all, communication here is both the ends and means of studying. Without enough social interaction, it may even be impossible to overcome the language barrier.

If you think about social networks, what’s the first one that comes to mind? I bet it’s Facebook for many of you. However, its extreme popularity doesn’t imply it’s the best solution for learning needs, as it can distract students, expose them to cyberbullying, catfishing, and provoke other problems. That’s why for my classroom, I chose a safe social platform specifically designed for educational purposes.

Today my students and I have two classrooms: one real and one virtual. We use the latter to exchange and discuss educational content, ideas and home assignments, and students can take tests and get their results automatically calculated, which saves me a lot of time. The best part about this communication is that it’s all done in the target language (this is our rule). I also invited a few native speakers to join our group, which made the students more engaged and motivated than ever before.

Before moving some of your classroom activities to the virtual world, it’s essential to explain the ground rules to students. Even if your class consists of digital natives, they may still need to learn how to stay safe and respectful online. I find these nine rules particularly helpful and wish I’d come across them before.

And the journey continues

Since my first insight into technology in education, the transformation of my classroom hasn’t stopped. Neither has the technology evolution, and I’m trying to keep pace with it in order to provide my students with new opportunities. At the moment, I’m exploring solutions for making learning activities more personalized.

What I’ve learned along the way is that technification isn’t simply about presenting materials in a different way. Instead, it completely transformed the interaction between me, my students, and information. Today I find myself a facilitator of learning rather than the only source of it. Apparently, that’s what other teachers experience too. I like how T.J. Hendrickson puts it in his story about using 3D printing in the classroom: “I’ve learned I don’t need to be in control all the time — I just need to get out of the way and go along for the ride.”

Technologies have definitely made students more independent, allowing them to search for information and even produce educational materials themselves. That’s why it’s worth saying that technologies haven’t only changed the way I teach my students, but the way they study. Instead of waiting to apply knowledge one day, they already apply it through our “sandbox” community, where everyone can communicate and collaborate at any time.

Dasha is an e-Learning content developer who has transformed the teaching experience from a traditional to a virtual classroom. Before becoming an e-Learning specialist, Dasha worked as an English language teacher for children and adults. She now creates online courses for different types of audiences, including corporate and university students.