Sunday, 25 February 2007

Reports on the effectiveness of ICT

We don't see too many reports on the effectiveness of ICT in teaching and learning modern foreign languages. These two reports have recently appeared:

1. BECTA: Impact of ICT in schools: a landscape review:
This report is about the use of ICT across the curriculum, but there is a substantial section on modern foreign languages.

2. QCA: The use of ICT for teaching and learning languages:

The BETT 2007 show in January this year included a seminar programme in which four sessions for teachers of modern foreign languages took place. Read the report here at the Languages ICT website:

More news reports on recent activities are available at the Languages ICT website:

Saturday, 24 February 2007

Death by PowerPoint?

"Death by PowerPoint" refers to the over-use of PowerPoint as a presentation medium both in business and in educational contexts. Do a search in Google and you will find numerous occurrences of this phrase.

When PowerPoint first began to be used as a presentation medium it looked impressive: the "wow!" factor. But after you've seen 100 presentations it gets as boring as any other medium. What you have to bear in mind when using any presentation medium is that you still have to work hard to get your message across, particularly in the foreign languages classroom, where you have to combine presentation with lots of practice with your students.

See the TES article (1 September 2006), Death by... PowerPoint, by Michael Shaw, who writes:

"The problem - dubbed 'Death by PowerPoint' - arises where the popular Microsoft program is used to teach dull, didactic lessons. Where once trainees were told to avoid "chalk and talk", the new hazard is 'click and talk'."

He continues, citing Roger Higton, Lord Williams School, Thame:
"The teacher may feel very pleased and think they are up-to-date and modern – but the student will glaze over within the first 30 seconds. Students find this passive absorption of knowledge no more educationally creative than copying out of a textbook."

The message is: Don't rely just on the presentation. Presenting new vocab or points of grammar with PowerPoint does not guarantee that they will be retained by your students. They need to practise using the new vocab and grammar.

Have a look at this amusing video on how NOT to use PowerPoint:
Life after death by PowerPoint
by Don McMillan

See also ICT4LT, Section 4, Module 1.4, headed Whole-class teaching and interactive whiteboards.

Interactive whiteboards – how effective are they?

Interactive whiteboards (IWBs) appear to be springing up like mushrooms in schools in the UK. Some schools have had them installed in every classroom and one headteacher has been heard to say that he expects his teaching staff to keep them switched on all the time and use them in every lesson.

We mention interactive whiteboards in the following locations at the ICT4LT site:

  • Section 7 of Module 1.3, Using text tools in the Modern Foreign Languages classroom
  • Section 4 of Module 1.4, Introduction to Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL)
But how effective are interactive whiteboards? This BBC website article (30 January 2007) entitled "Doubts over hi-tech white boards" raises several important issues.
It states, for example, that IWBs "fail to boost pupil achievement", that they can "slow the pace of whole-class learning", and that they can lead to "relatively mundane activities being over-valued".

OK, just what we thought - memories of the language lab being hailed as the panacea back in the 1960s and then failing miserably to deliver what it promised. Of course, we now know in retrospect that the 1960s technology was not at fault. It was the failure to train teachers how to use the technology effectively, combined with a singular lack of imagination.

My perception of IWBs is that they can be highly effective in the hands of a skilled practitioner - just as the language lab was (and still is) - but most teachers simply use IWBs for presentations that would work just as well on a humble OHP. Who was it who said that an IWB is "just an OHP on steroids"?

Since the advent of interactive whiteboards we've moved away from the more traditional use of the computer as a learning tool in a computer lab, where it offers many more one-to-one practice opportunities – and which many teachers believe are more effective: v. the case studies in Module 3.1 at the ICT4LT website:

In the above module Helen Myers (The Ashcombe School) writes:
Whiteboards: We prefer to spend the money on increasing the pupil-computer ratio - which makes the technology more genuinely interactive for pupils – rather than on facilities for whole-class/teacher interaction.

In the same module Richard Hamilton (Cox Green School) claims a 15% rise in A*–C GCSE results over a period of three years as a result of his pupils doing regular computer lab work in foreign languages.

Friday, 23 February 2007

Podcasting - what's the hype?

In the EUROCALL 2006 wiki a question was raised about the main benefits of podcasting, which attracted a few interesting comments, both positive and negative:
We mention podcasting in the following section of the ICT4LT website:
Section 3.5.2 of Module 2.3,
Exploiting World Wide Web resources online and offlineThere is also an entry in the ICT4LT Glossary:
My personal view about podcasting in the context of language learning and teaching is broadly in line with the view expressed by one of the contributors to the above wiki, namely that it’s a very efficient way of making digital sound recordings and distributing them to learners and teachers, but that we also need to take another look at audio learning.
As I pointed out in the above wiki, in the end a podcast is just a recording. It's the delivery medium that makes it different. Recordings live or die according to (1) the quality of their content, (2) what you do with them.
Simply making podcasts available to language students is not effective per se. Thinking back to my days as a language centre director, we had a similar experience when satellite TV first became available. "Wow! What a great resource!" we thought. But students, left to their own devices, did not get a lot out of watching TV. So we introduced generic worksheets into the satellite TV viewing room. We had one for recordings of news broadcasts. It was just one sheet of A4, which the students filled in and handed in to language centre staff. On the sheet were a few simple tasks, such as:
  • Write down the headlines of the main news items that you viewed in the broadcast.
  • Write down 10 new words or phrases that you learned. (Students usually borrowed a dictionary from the language centre at the same time as they borrowed the video recording, so they could look up new words and phrases.)
  • Write down a summary of the news item that interested you most and why.
The worksheets were not marked by language teaching staff. They were mainly intended to be a means of focusing students’ attention, but teaching staff would pick completed worksheets at random and offer feedback to students. This resulted in a marked improvement in the way students used satellite TV recordings. Perhaps we need something similar to enable students to get the most out of the increasing number of podcasts that are available on the Web. Reactions?

Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs)

We mention Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) in the following locations at the ICT4LT site:
  • Module 1.4: Introduction to CALL (Section 7: Distance learning)
  • Module 1.5: Introduction to the Internet (Section 8: Distance learning and the Web: VLEs, MLEs etc)
  • Module 2.3: Exploiting WWW resources online and offline (Section 3.1: Web-based CALL)
There are also several relevant entries in the ICT4LT Glossary. Start with VLE:

Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) were hailed as the greatest thing since sliced bread when they first appeared, but now they appear to be falling out of favour with many educational institutions - for various reasons: costs, lack of flexibility and problems handling audio and video.

Personally, I don't like VLEs. So far they appear to have resulted mainly in the development of rather boring materials and masses of multiple-choice exercises. I miss the interaction, the humour and the unpredictability of pre-Web, pre-VLE software, e.g. simulations such as A la rencontre de Philippe:
We mention other simulations in Module 2.2, Introduction to multimedia CALL, at the ICT4LT site.
You can achieve much more with a tailor-made website, which is less expensive than most people imagine, but unfortunately the "one size fits all" mentality pervades among educational administrators, which is what attracts them to VLEs. And, of course, there are many things which (so far) can only be done efficiently and effectively offline, i.e. via a local server, CD-ROM or DVD, e.g. listen / record / playback (virtual language lab) activities.

Moodle, however, is one VLE that is finding favour with the language teaching community, especially in Japan. EUROCALL conferences have attracted Moodle presenters, and there was a Moodle workshop at a recent EUROCALL conference. The main pluspoint of Moodle is that it is open source and can be downloaded free of charge:
The Moodle for Language Teaching forum is a useful source of information about Moodle:

At last year's EUROCALL conference in Granada (which I unfortunately couldn't attend due to illness) one of the keynote speakers, Diana Laurillard, mentioned a VLE called LAMs. There's a link to a streamed video of Diana Laurillard's keynote via the EUROCALL 2006 blog:


Thursday, 22 February 2007

Welcome to the ICT4LT blog

Welcome to the ICT for Language Teachers blog. This blog was started on 22 February 2007 to encourage feedback from visitors to the ICT4LT website at

If you haven't already visited the site, please do so.

Discussion topics and comments on any of the ICT4LT website modules are welcomed, as well as any other aspect of ICT in language teaching and learning.