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Interviews on education and language teaching

Award Winning Russell Stannard talks to ELT NEWS about Technology in Education


Russell Stannard is a multi award-winning Educational Technologist and founder of www.teachertrainingvideos.com. He is especially known for his pioneering work in using technology to enhance feedback and his experiments with the Flipped Classroom.  He was previously a Principal Teaching Fellow at the University of Warwick and the University of Westminster. He currently works as an Educational Consultant helping organisations to build online learning/blended learning courses as well as training staff in the use of technology all over the world. He specialises in the use of Camtasia, SnagIT, Google Products and virtual learning environments To date Russell has worked in 31 countries and has the British Council, Oxford University, the INTO group, Macmillan, Express Publishing and the BBC among his many clients.

In 2015 Russell was listed as one of the top 23 most influential Educational Technologists in Twitter and also listed on the MIMIO blog as one of the top 20 Educational Technologists.

ELT NEWS has asked two colleagues to interview Russell. Dimitris Primalis and Dimitris Maroulis responded enthusiastically to our invitation and came with the following interview questions:

Dimitris Maroulis: Is there still the distinction between “digital natives” and “digital immigrants”?

I really struggle with this one. Most young learners are good with using technology and overall they do tend to be better than older users. However I think they often have less ‘sense’ about what a certain technology can do and what advantages and affordances it offers. Younger learners tend to just use a technology and reflect far less on what its affordances are and how it can be used in other circumstances. 
For example I remember when I first showed SKYPE to my students. It was right in the early days and I had seen a presentation of the technology in London. My students thought it was great as they would save on telephone calls but none of them at the time said to me ‘Wow, we could use this to connect to other foreign people learning English’ They don’t tend to look beyond the obvious use. They don’t tend to look outside the box.
Older learners, especially teachers are much better and being presented with a new technology and seeing many more uses of it. I do a lot of work around screen capture and when I present it, I can see the teachers beginning to think of lots of different ways the technology can be used. So younger learners pick up how to use technologies very quickly but do not always see other uses of the same technology while older users tend to do the opposite.


Dimitris Primalis: What criteria should teachers take into consideration when they choose apps for their lessons?


Is the app really going to have an impact on their teaching and learning? Apps are just tools. When we have a class, we have objectives about what we are hoping to achieve in that lesson. We have lots of tools/materials/methods at our disposal and all of these can help us to achieve our objectives. So it is really a matter of asking yourself if the app is really going to help you. Unfortunately it is not always easy to know that because sometimes you don’t realize the potential of a technology until you use it. Overall though, I think that at the moment there is too much emphasis on using technology in the class. I think we are forgetting about what can be achieved through good games and activities, through pairwork and groupwork. I think we must be very careful and really ask ourselves what the app is bringing to the lesson. Often I watch new teachers working or listen to their lesson plans. They throw lots of technology into their lessons and when I ask them why they decided to use the technology, they are often really unclear about its impact and why they are using it.


Dimitris Primalis: How popular is flipped classroom and what benefits can learners reap from it?


I run courses on the flipped classroom and they are proving very popular. I think it is a useful approach which teachers can use for certain lessons and in certain contexts. Teachers have to understand it to use it well. You don’t need to flip everything. There might be certain subjects, topics or themes that just fit well with the flipped classroom.


Dimitris Primalis: Can blended learning facilitate the lesson in the EFL classroom? If so, in what ways?


When we talk about blended learning (the flipped classroom is a form of blended learning too), the most interesting thing for me is out of the classroom. Students might be in a classroom for 3 hours a week and in reality it is not enough time to learn a language well. If we can get them motivated and interested in English and get them to make use of all the great learning opportunities outside of the class then that is how we can really help them. That might be sharing interesting websites for studying English, websites about things they are interested in (like football, art, etc), websites where they can meet other English speaking people etc. This for me is the biggest change.

So we can blend our learning and get students to do things with technology outside of the class that might help to boost their interest in the learning, help them to develop their autonomy and therefore have an impact on their learning.


Dimitris Maroulis: What is the impact of IWBs on the language teaching and learning? Are our classrooms really technologically advanced with their use?


I really don’t like IWBs myself. I was involved in a number of projects back in 2000 and beyond and I thought that most of them were really disappointing. They are not that easy to learn, they tend to make lessons very teacher centred and in most cases you are very limited by the number of students that can interact with the board at any point. I think the affordances of a big white board and lots of pens have been forgotten. I think I would prefer to spend my money on something different like a good Wi-Fi connection in the classes, more readers for the students or a few flip charts that we can place around the class for the students to use.


Dimitris Primalis: What advice would you give to teachers who would like to incorporate technology but are afraid to do so?


Ignore the hype. There are hundreds of teachers advocating the use of literally 1000s of apps. You will get overwhelmed if you listen to all of them. Think about what you want to do with your students (your objectives), think about your students’ future and what you think will be best for them and then choose technologies that you think will help them. Remember it is all about objectives. There really are some useful technologies that can help you to achieve certain objectives. For example, I think blogging is still a fabulous tool. It helps with writing, reading, digital literacy etc. It is also so useful for students in the future.


Dimitris Primalis: Many teachers fear that if their students use their mobiles or tablets, they will face problems in terms of classroom management. What is your opinion based on your experience?


It can be a problem. I have never been a huge advocate of using mobiles in the class. In many schools you can’t use mobiles in the classroom anyway. It has to be a very good reason to get students to take their mobiles out and use them. I have used them to play activities on Socrative etc and sometimes used them for recording video with an app called capture but generally I make more use of technology out of the class.


Dimitris Primalis: What is the next step for learning technology (edtech) in the foreseeable future?


I am not really interested so much in the future. I want to help teachers to absorb all the learning opportunities that are around and particularly those learning opportunities that can impact on our students. The technologies will keep driving forward and more apps will appear but what we as teachers need to do is understand the changing landscape and think how we can help our students to exist within it. So for example helping our students to become more autonomous, helping them to understand that problem solving skills and the right attitude to problems is vital, helping them to see opportunities etc. The world is changing, many more people in the future will have their own small businesses (just like mine) and they will need very different skills and perhaps more varied skills. We need to get our heads around what this all means for teaching and learning and maybe spend less time thinking about the next app.


Dimitris Primalis: What are the main opportunities and challenges for teachers when using mobile apps?


There are opportunities but as I have it is outside the class where I like to really encourage the use of technology and open a new world to students. For example, I am a huge fan of podcasts. I have a daily podcast of the news in French which I listen to each day; I also like Quizlet for studying vocabulary while I am sitting on the train etc. As I said, the time in class is limited and the teacher probably has a million things they want to do anyway. Where we can really impact on our students is in helping them to make greater use of their time outside the class, especially their ‘dead time’ like waiting at the bus stop, sitting in the car or while on a train. I use all this time to study and it is great as it is time that in the past that I often wasted.


Dimitris Maroulis: Are we digitally literate enough to be tuned in to the constant advances of digital tools?


No, none of us are and it doesn’t really matter. The pace of change in the world of technology ( a world I know a bit about as I did my Master Degree in Multimedia Computing) is driven by a totally different sent of objectives and goals than the world of education. Teachers jobs are already far to hard. You can’t expect teachers to be keeping pace with all the changes. Every profession has the same problem. Mechanics struggle to keep up with all the new devices in a car, people working in the music industry struggle to keep up with all the new affordances in the world of music and recording. Personally I think at huge amount of innovation is misguided. I was reading an article the other day about an app that can turn on your shower and set the water to the right temperature. Is that something I ever needed an app for? I have worked in companies where they release a new ‘version’ of the software as it increases sales. Most of the time we only use about 10% of the current version of the software, so why update? No, I keep my focus on my teaching and learning. I keep an eye on what is happening in the world of technology but I don’t let it rule me. I am well aware they have another agenda.