Experiences

Using technology in the language classroom: So what if I’m not tech-savvy?

Cindy James

This article shares the experiences and personal reflections of six self-professed ‘digital immigrant’ teachers in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. They all experimented in using technology to teach English language in classrooms filled with tech-savvy, ‘digital native’ students.

As the English language supervisor for Kota Kinabalu district in Sabah, Malaysia, I’m in charge of assisting English language teachers in my district with their professional development needs. One of the areas that many English teachers in Kota Kinabalu seems to struggle with is technology integration in the language classroom. Teachers generally find the idea fascinating, yet many lack the confidence to do it.

I really wanted to assist the teachers in my district, so I got in touch with a local expert in the field, Dr Lee Kean Wah from Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS). Together, we organised a series of teacher sharing sessions. The sessions provided the opportunities for the teachers to learn some technology tools and share best practices with one another.

PowToon

One of the participants was Tok Fen Fen, a self-professed ‘digital immigrant’, who teaches in St Francis Convent Secondary School. According to Tok, the sharing sessions gave her the confidence to “just go for it”. For a start, Tok decided to use PowToon to make her English lessons more engaging for her students. “I’m no expert in PowToon,” Tok told me. “But I told my students that we can explore this together.” Her students used PowToon to create animated presentations on a variety of topics in English. Through the experience, Tok learned that it’s not necessary for her to be a technology expert in order to be using technology in the classroom. “I thought I was supposed to be the one teaching my students,” Tok said. “But I ended up letting them teach me instead.”

Instagram

Tok’s conclusion was echoed by Connie Maskilone, who teaches in Tebobon Secondary School. Connie’s students love social media and Instagram is their favourite. “I had a hard time getting them to learn English idioms,” Connie said. “Then I saw how much they love Instagram. That gave me an idea.  Connie started to post images of idioms on Instagram and asked her students to explain the meanings. She expected the students to simply type their answers in the comment section, yet the Instagram-loving teenagers went a step further. They made short video clips to explain the idioms, posted the clips on their Instagram account and tagged their teacher and friends. Connie found that impressive. “They had fun with it,” said Connie. “And they learned the idioms!”

PowerPoint

Felicity F. Malanggin teaches in Kota Marudu 2 Primary School. As most of her students can’t afford to buy computers, they only have access to them when they visit the school’s computer lab. “The students learned how to use PowerPoint,” Felicity said. “They are crazy about it now.”  She taught them the basics, gave them some simple assignments to work on and let the students decide what they wanted to do with it. The results were mind-blowing. With the freedom given to them to explore as they wish, the children were able to turn PowerPoints into a tool for digital story-telling. “Now we’re working on converting the children’s digital stories into short movie clips,” Felicity said.

YouTube

Claire Leslie Sylvester, who teaches at Kota Kinabalu High School wanted her students to learn and love English literature. It was quite a daunting task. Noticing her students’ obsession with YouTube, Claire decided to assign a video project where the students would have to produce a short video clip based on a short play of their choice.  The result was amazing. The students were able to rewrite the scripts and produce video-clips of themselves acting out the plays. “As teachers, we have to equip ourselves with technology so we won’t be left behind,” Claire said. “Otherwise we’ll be irrelevant in the classroom.”

Kahoot

Perry Ronald Lim from Shan Tao Secondary School claims that he likes using technology in his English language lessons. Perry uses presentation slides and word processing a lot, and his reason is simple. “I just want to be able to reuse the materials,” he said. Perry sees his use of technology as “nothing really special.” “Most of the time, it’s just a substitute for the marker pens and whiteboard.”

Perry was excited to learn about the various ways of using technology in the language classroom through the sharing sessions. Finding out about the latest Web 2.0 tools helps him to “keep up with the students’ energy level.” According to Perry, technology creates a “fun and competitive atmosphere” which enhances his students learning. His favourite is Kahoot, the fun online quiz maker. He discovers that Kahoot can be used as a creative way to assess his students’ mastery of a topic.

VLE Frog, Padlet, Voki…

“I thought, I’m too old to learn new skills,” Iris Leong Siew Lee from All Saints Secondary School, confided in me. “I’m turning 50 years old this year.” After the teacher sharing sessions, this ‘digital immigrant’ teacher ended up using VLE Frog, Kahoot, Padlet, Google Docs, AnswerGarden and Voki in her language lessons. Iris told me that one thing led to another. “Ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water,” she said. “Whenever I experimented with one thing, it opened the door for another thing. It just went on and on.”  Iris teaches pre-university level, and her job is to prepare her students for the Malaysian University English Test (MUET). “Technology has made learning for MUET a lot more interesting for my students,” said Iris. “Using technology has great positive impacts on my students’ learning.”

Talking to these teachers has inspired me in many ways. They all agree that using technology is a way to open up doors of opportunities for their students. “I’m not trying to teach my students everything – I don’t know everything,” said Iris. “As a teacher, my main duty is to provide my students with the opportunities to learn. I think technology has helped me to do exactly that.”

What I found most impressive is how these teachers used their students’ interests to create fun and meaningful learning experiences through technology. “I know that my students use Instagram a lot, so I don’t have to teach them how to use it,” said Connie. “I just need to find a way for them to use it to learn English.”

Some of the teachers think that they still don’t have all the necessary ICT skills, yet they decided to use technology anyway. They believe that their ‘digital native’ students are more than capable of figuring things out through exploration and discovery. A common theme that seems to appear more than once is this: the teachers ended up learning from their students. According to the teachers, their experiences made them realise that they don’t have to be experts in technology in order to start using technology in the classroom. “So what if I’m not tech-savvy?” said Tok. “My students are. I can always rely on them.”

To find out more about the teacher sharing sessions that I conducted with the teachers and to see some samples of the teachers’ projects with their students, visit Going Digital Kota Kinabalu.

Tools and social media mentioned in this article:

PowToon

Instagram

VLE Frog

Kahoot

Padlet

AnswerGarden

Voki

YouTube


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