Since the FELTAG report was published in 2014, the use of technology and the idea of the 10 per cent of provision being delivered online has been high profile in FE and adult education (bit.ly/tesfeltag). However, despite the increased coverage and emphasis within providers, one of the aspects of the current focus on technology and digital learning that concerns me is the fact that it seems to be overwhelmingly focused on its use with those learners from level 1 and above.
Should we just not bother with technology for lower-level learners and stick with pens, paper and Post-It notes? Of course we shouldn’t (although I’m as much a fan of the sticky note as most teachers). We just have to think about what is appropriate and effective. This is equally important for all technology use, but I wonder if it can sometimes be easier to “get away” with less principled planning of tech use at higher levels.
Here are a few tips and ideas to bear in mind when using technology in the classroom with lower-level learners.
Build in ‘play time’
If you are introducing new technology in any form, it’s crucial that you include time in your planning for the learners to play with the tech itself and get to grips with it.
You may have planned the most amazing activities, but if the students don’t actually know how to use the app or tool that you have chosen, you will already be excluding a large number of learners and may be left wondering why things went pear-shaped. It may seem incredibly obvious, but it’s also important that you know how your tech tools work too. Otherwise, you will look a little ridiculous when trying to explain tasks – even to the most enthusiastic learners.
Choose wisely and bed tech in
Think about what tools will be most effective for your learners and then use them regularly over a period of time.
This allows you and them to get used to the tools and get the most out of them. At my college, we have been using Edmodo a lot with our entry level Esol (English for speakers of other languages) learners, some of whom had never used a computer until coming to college. After a couple of weeks, they all know how to do the basics and expect to find tasks to complete on there. It’s a wonderful thing to see a complete beginner posting a comment and then being able to see their classmates’ replies and contributions.
Get learners thinking early on about digital literacy and online safety. It is crucial that there is a safe place to learn about being online. This can be really important for those learners who are new to aspects of technology or who may find it hard to understand the boundaries of what constitutes safe online behaviour. Learning about digital literacy and online safety straight away can make a real difference for learners later on in terms of the digital footprint that they leave behind.
Encourage learner autonomy
If you build support into your online tasks, you will gradually help to develop learners’ sense of autonomy.
We use the idea of scaffolding in teaching all the time, and this applies just as much to technology and to learning to work independently. At entry level, much of your online activity may take place with teacher support, but that allows learners to increase their confidence and learn good habits that will stand them in good stead for the future. I often set quite informal online tasks for learners to do outside the class. It might just be looking at a quick video clip or news item, but it’s still engaging with the subject in some way and practising relevant skills. Over time, more learners will start to engage with these tasks if they see that such exercises prove both enjoyable and worth doing.
Nurture a support network
There is a pretty good chance that in a class at any level, there will be some learners who love using technology and have skills that they can share with other students (and the teachers, too). This is something that you can really use to everyone’s advantage. You need to think about how to ensure that the more confident tech users don’t end up doing other people’s work for them, but this is something that you can focus on over a period of time. Challenge these learners to develop other skills while they support someone else – for example, giving clear instructions or checking for spelling errors.
Don’t let lower-level learners be passive recipients of technology. Give them multiple opportunities to be creative and express their ideas. Some may need support, but they are just as capable of planning and creating their own online quizzes and activities as anyone else and some will actually be more confident expressing themselves in this way.
Diana Tremayne is an advanced learning practitioner and Esol teacher at an FE college in West Yorkshire @dianatremayne