Last week (11th August) we led a webinar for English UK on the topic of Socially Distant Classrooms. It was based to some degree on a previous blog post we wrote (which can be found here).
In the webinar, we examined some of the key features of our teaching toolbox that we stand to lose in a socially distant classroom and how we can replace them. We suggested using technology to replace some of these activities and techniques that we will be losing for a number of reasons:
- We need our students to be ready to go back online at short notice if there is another lockdown / outbreak.
- We’ve learnt a lot about teaching effectively online and with technology in the past few months; it seems a shame to throw it all away.
- It mirrors the real world in which people use technology to communicate all the time.
- It helps us to reduce the amount of paper we are bringing into the classroom.
There are many different options when it comes to using technology and countless blog posts have been written about the various platforms and which is the best. Below, we have included a list of the platforms we mentioned in our webinar and some of the pros / cons of these platforms but before looking at the list, please remember:
It isn’t just about the platform. It is about knowing why. In a socially distant classroom, we stand to lose a lot of what makes us communicative language teachers.
Know what you are losing, know what you want to replace and then choose how best to do that.
Train your teachers and your students in its use and make it consistent in your schools…otherwise it is another piece of technology that won’t be used and we’ll all end up lecturing from the top of our classes.
Different platform options:
- Microsoft Teams
Teams does it all. Your students’ data is protected and you don’t need their phone numbers. It’s one of the most effective tools for in / out-of class communication and has high levels of transparency for teachers and management. But it costs and individual profiles need to be set up for each student.
In my experience, if schools don’t provide an option, many teachers will revert to using WhatsApp for communication and sharing materials. It’s handy, most people have it and it’s easy to use…and it’s free. But obviously you have data issues so for many of us it’s not an option. Remember though, if teachers aren’t provided with an alternative, they may resort to WhatsApp out of necessity.
We’re all a lot more familiar with Zoom than we were a few months ago and it’s been great but it’s primarily for conference calling and not for sharing material or messaging in class. You can get around this by setting up calls and just messaging, but it’s a bit more awkward than Teams.
Actually a really effective tool that is designed entirely for the classroom. We haven’t tried it out on a school-scale before but if you are planning to do so, remember that both teachers and students need training on it for it to be effective.
- BackChannel Chat
This is very low maintenance as you don’t need any info from students. You just set up a chatroom as a teacher and give the code to your students and they can access from their phones. Downsides are that it’s a bit difficult to manage if you have multiple rooms at once and I’ve had issues with students being unable to log in or it crashing on them. But it’s free…
Other websites we mentioned:
- Mentimeter: Free and easy to use. Great website for gathering anonymous info from your students. Very useful for Needs Analysis and also for encouraging shy students to participate. Can be used for things like single sentence answers too.
- Kahoot: Fun and engaging way of injecting energy into the room. This is great for ‘gamifying’ tasks. Your students need a shot of life. Cahoot awards more points for fast response, so where in a class you could do a running dictation, in kahoot you can set quizzes.
- WordWall: as above. You have to pay for it but you can get some of the site for free.