We love acronyms, don’t we? First there was the Call or, some may consider it the lure, of Computer assisted language learning (CALL) and this then morphed into technology assisted language learning (TALL) definitely a tall order for some who looked around at everything on offer and deided to stay well hidden in the sanctuary behind their good, old coursebook… the one I like the best though, I have to admit, is WALL or web assisted language learning, even if many of the sites I use are, strictly speaking not on the web. What I like about this is the image because the wall can be such a positive thing but also a negative thing too. Walls are .A good example of this is places where people can stick notices, they can be decorated or messages can be left on them. We are all familiar with the digital versions of walls, Facebook has them and my favourite one at the moment is Wallwisher where you can make digital walls to stick things onto. If you climb to the top of a wall the view can be incredible, particularly if it’s the Great Wall of China… or not, depending, of course, on where it is and walls are the foundations for buildings, so as an extension they are a framework for life.
Walls, however, are also obstacles that block us and that stop us from going any further limiting us or even stopping us from doing what we would like to. It is for all these reasons that I think WALL is the best acronym for the way technology is being used or not in teaching.
For some people, in fact, it is an obstacle or something alien that they don’t want to have to deal with, wither because they are afraid of the machines breaking down, or because they do not feel confident using it, or think it will all take too much to prepare. The reasons are endless and unfortunately, this is all too common among teachers, who tend to be adults and who are continuing to teach in the wame way as always, but in this case, perhaps they really need to ask whether they are preparing their learners to interact in the world we are living in.
The Internet, in my opinion, is a wonderful place and I discover new tools every day that I can use to help my learners express themselves in English in creative, meaningful ways, but even I can see that in some ways there is too much opportunity. It is easy for learners, particularly if they are younger, to be disctracted by all the links that abound, taking them from one place to another in a riot of multitasking. This is not necessarily good for the brain or the attention span. Learners need to be provided with small clearly defined tasks and they need to be shown how to use the particular tool in some detail. Then, once they have been shown how to use the tool, and only then can the tool itself become invisible so that learning can take place.
This evening, for instance, I wanted to use Voicethread with some adult learners of mine. I love Voicethread and had made a thread with a series of photos from Berlin (follow the link above o see them). I showed these images with out sound to my learners and asked them to select four images that impressed them. Then, in small groups they worked on computers adding their comments to the photos they had chosen. The group then came back as one whole class to watch the final Voicethread , and compared my commmentary to their comments.
They needed to be shown how to use the technology and then off they went and it became invisible. What was important was the choice of image and what they had to say about it. How old do you think these students were? Well, the average age of earners in that group is, I’d say, well over fifty. So, in fact WALL is useful for eveyone, not just the younge generation.
Creating motivating lessons is nothing new, of course, and there are all ways of doing it but WALL is definitely one of them so let’s make it a colourful interactive wall, not a boring, limiting row of bricks and mortar.
After all making walls communicate is nothing new!