It used to be the fact that robots were only good for cleaning the carpet or testing compatibility on 80s date shows. But now they are heading to an English language course near you! Currently, in South Korea, students are being taught English via robots remotely controlled by teachers in the Philippines. Now this initiative hasn’t hit English language schools in Brisbane yet, but who knows what the future holds?
Though at this stage it seems unlikely that we will be replaced by robots any time soon, this story does touch on the fears of many teachers in regards to the use of technology in the classroom. Often teachers believe that technology replaces sound teaching practices. However this is not the case. At the centre of a good lesson are still interesting stimuli, up to date methodology and teacher-student rapport. Rather than replacing these factors, technology enhances them and looks at new ways and possibilities in which we can engage our students.
Engagement through technology can be used to enhance any course from Intensive General English to IELTS preparation courses. At its most basic level the camera and recording functions, readily available in most smart phones, offer an exciting range of learning opportunities to be exploited in the classroom. For example, in a discussion about family, students could show pictures on their smart phones while they talk about them. Another activity could involve giving students a list of vocabulary for them to find outside of the class and take photos of them with their phones. These photos could then be used to make personalised vocabulary cards to help remember the new words.
Being able to record students readily allows a lot of options as well. Students can record an interview on their mobile phones which can then be swapped and the pairs listen and transcribe what was said in the interview giving tips on how to improve on their performance. This is especially useful for exam-based courses such as IELTS Preparation Training or Cambridge FCE and CAE courses in Australia. Furthermore, new cloud based technologies such as VoiceThread allow you to create a databank for student speaking samples. VoiceThread is effectively an online discussion board where students and teachers can post audio and video comments responding to a variety of stimuli, listen to each other’s responses and edit the content. It enables teachers to take a more methodical approach in the diagnosis and treatment of speaking problems, much like what we do in writing.
So, remember: don’t fear technology, embrace it! The robots will always lose out to a knowledgeable teacher equipped with a clear understanding of technology and how it can enhance the classroom experience.