Spelling out the maths

December 2, 2014

Hey, I am now over 300 posts on this blog. And things have changed since I started! What was originally a support for talks I gave has become a space for reflection on language teaching in a much more general way. That’s what technology does maybe: change how we function in subtle and unpredicable ways.

I have considered closing this blog: at best it needs a spring cleaning given that most of the blog list on the right are now closed with the exception of the wonderful David Crystal.

Meanwhile, while over Christmas pudding and various Ryanair flights I will ponder what to do next, here is a summary of where technology and language teaching may stand at the moment. Gavin Dudeney and his company have always been at the forefront of training when it comes to using technology in EFL. They have also been very realistic which for me is the key.

Have a look at this video.

Will or going to?

October 22, 2014

Predicting the future is essentially pointless but probably essential. We can never make the future happen the way we want to but if we ignore our ability to shape it, we may well lose opportunities that will never be repeated.

Enough of philosophy.

paperThe Economist has a recent  article on how predictions of the impact of IT and the internet never worked out: the paperless office doesn’t exist; the internet is now ruled by big companies rather than putting them in their place; privacy on the internet doesn’t exist. At the same time it has and is transforming the world we live in. And that of course applies to education also.

I have long been an advocate of the use of Internet in EFL but I have to say my overall experience is disappointing. In class, it is seldom more than a diversion on the IWB. Out of class, students rarely have the time and often the knowledge necessary to use it in interesting and effective ways and as teachers, we don’t always have the skills or time to devote to changing this situation.

Personally I have returned to a more Dogme approach in my teaching, less material, more input; less IT, more direct interaction with my students and their needs.

The Economist article finished with another philosophical quote: “There is a world of difference between disruption and destruction.” In terms of education that is the decision the teacher has to make. Not an easy one. That is the secret: technology, despite all its promises, hype and sales promotion, never offers simple solutions, only complicated opportunities that can only be fully explored and effectively developed in the hands of professional teachers.

Good luck 🙂


September 23, 2014

warpeaceI have read War and Peace: flying to and back from Hawaii. In The End of Absence Michael Harris reflects on how hard it is nowadays to find time to concentrate on something that scale. Constant interruptions, the need to check emails and messages just to prove you are loved and wanted and maybe even important keep us from devoting time to larger projects, from being absent in a digital world. It is a thoughtful insight into the demands on our attention the modern world holds.


And I think it has lessons for the classroom also. Do we over fuel our students? Spice them up and push themselves and us until there is no respite? Would they learn from our absence? What I mean is letting them get on with it rather than teachers (and often nowadays technology) being the focus of attention. Teachers obviously are responsible for organizing their classes but I do wonder if we take this too far: if our need to fill every minute with an “interesting” and “motivating” activity actually blocks out real participation and hampers our ability to stand back and observe what is happening in our classes and how students are reacting to our lesson plans.


Many years ago in the Sudan friends arrived at their house to find written on the wall outside by the door: “we came and met your absence”. My students pay too much money to find my absence, physically; but they might learn a lot more if I step back and allow them to take a more dominant role. It really is War and Peace all over again.

Thanks for all the phishing

September 19, 2013

Hi all and welcome back to a new teaching year after the summer. For those of you who may be slightly paranoid about internet security the Economist has an in-dept survey on the issue and an interesting debate about whether or not security agencies should be allowed pervert the flow of information as it were. If you don’t want to read the complete article scroll down to the fun section on Panoramic paranoia where the newspaper gives some tips on being really safe electronically (ie keep your mobile safe from interference by switching it off, taking out the battery and storing it in the fridge when not in use).

This blog is, of course, about technology and teaching but maybe the security issues remain the same. At what point should we shut technology out and store it in the fridge just in case it corrupts our classrooms? My daughter has just started secondary school and has been told that all mobile devices have to be turned off and locked away during school hours. A recent talk by a work-mate encouraged me to get my teenagers to take our their mobile phones and use them creatively in class last night. There is always a back door when it comes to technology. The trick may not be finding it but using it productively, creatively and in a way that stimulates the teaching and learning process. Technology is not an automatic virus. It can be, but in education that probably depends on the teacher.

That has always been the intention of this blog: learning about and using technology in the best pedagogical way possible. I have just re-read the aims of this blog stated in the WHY section and I hope to some extent they have been fulfilled.

Time moves on and technologically things change ever quicker than time does. After nearly 300 posts I think this blog may have reached an end. Three years is a long time in the history of internet. Things have moved on. I may return here or on a new blog when I have found a new angle: at the moment I feel that it is time for an upgrade, and they always take time to de-bug.

Meanwhile thanks for all the phising! Let me leave you with one final clip which does what we try to do every class: put a humanistic layer on intelligence, artificial or not.

In the can

May 23, 2013

Well it is the season of the Cannes film Festival but closer to home also good news on the cinema front. Congratulations to KIERAN DONAGHY, TESOL-SPAIN Area Coordinator for Barcelona on winning an ELTon Award for Teacher Innovation with his site http://film-english.com/ .

If you have ever wanted to use an interesting film clip in class this is where to start from!

More on the ELTons here http://englishagenda.britishcouncil.org/eltons

Being resourceful

May 13, 2013

Here is a site I, surprisingly, have just come upon. Lots of practical information and ideas here. The blog posts cover a range of issues in EFL from teaching pron to using coursebooks. What I particularly like are the downloadable lesson plans as they are clearly tagged to CEF levels and they are based around some really entertaining videos. Have a look, some good fun and thoughtful input here.


Caged in or locked out?

April 15, 2013

Bill Clinton famously claimed that trying to control the internet in China would be like nailing jell-o to a wall. Thirteen years on the truth of that claim, like so many others about the internet and technology in general, has proved as hard to pin down as the jell-o itself. A special report on China and the Internet (“A Giant Cage“) in the Economist shows how well the Chinese authorities have managed to keep the internet caged and censored. It is a constant battle but so far the government seems to be winning. Maybe if you employ enough nails the jello-o can be kept largely on the wall.

Empty-CageOn a similar theme, but referring to education, Jeremy Harmer recently asked on his blog if technology was killing education. In many ways I think he is wondering if we are allowing technology to cage us in and pin us to the wall as we are pressurised by publishers etc to use technology even though it may not be the most suitable means of teaching or conveying our teaching. He also ponders the opposite end of the scale when it can be claimed that kids no longer need schools: technology will teach them / they will learn themselves through technology. The most famous example of this is Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall project in a Delhi slum: left alone with a computer the kids seemed to learn how to use it all by themselves and thus gained instant access to the outside world and the knowledge that it provides. His post is a fine reflection on the debate and how that arguments involve us teachers.

I have observed several classes recently, listened to colleagues’ experiences and have seen many examples of technology been seemlessly and effectively incorporated into teaching. The question of course, of whether technology is better than, or only as good as, the teacher using IT has been around for years. Bill Clinton got it wrong in China so I don’t want to be rash and call a shot on this one! Having said that, Clinton may still be right: all too often with technology it is the timescale that sucks accuracy from predictions. If Orwell was correct … it didn’t happen in 1984 … but we may be closer than ever before …