High or Low-tech? A collaboration with Stephan Hughes on how to teach it and (or not) tech it

Striking a balance between extensive and minimal use of technology in the language learning classroom is paramount to learner progress and sense of achievement.

Jaqui Murraw”s thirteen reasons for using technology in the classroom aside (http://www.teachhub.com/13-reasons-using-technology-classroom), I advocate for a moment of less tech and more human in our day to day teaching practice. Here are my five reasons:

  • Concepts like Blended learning and the flipped classroom favor a combination of high technological tools and low or almost no use of technology in classroom
  • Students can explore the tech they are already familiar with outside the classroom, replacing the traditional homework assignments
  • Striking a balance between a tech immersed and tech sparse physical learning environment allows us to work on what Joe Ruhl refers to as the other two C”s: Choice and Caring. The latter is key to what we know as Rapport.
  • Integrating technology in the classroom via Puentedura’s SAMR model does not mean using the latest apps or software but rather focusing on giving students a chance to redefine how they learn.
  • We are social beings, so we have always found a way to do things with or without tech (life before the internet). It’s the what not the how or where.

In short, blending high and low tech means avoiding putting the responsibility of teaching in the hands of the tools. We often fall into the trap of thinking that if we use the latest apps and softwares, students will learn. What we need to bear in mind always that we still have to teach and check that learning is taking place.

If you can’t teach it, don’t tech it

Stephan Hughes

To complement what Stephan has laid out I’d like to offer a couple of examples of how to create high- and low-tech activities with the same Intended Learning Outcome. We invite you to reflect on which would have the most impact on your students’ learning.

Activity 1 – Teaching Directions Race
High-tech Low-tech
Option 1 Option 1
1. Students access Google Maps on their phones or tablets; 1. Rearrange the desks in the classroom to form streets;
2. Ask them to open the map of a city they don’t know; 2. Make sure you add some right and left turns;
3. Tell them to use Google Street View; 3. Place an item in the back of the classroom and tell students they need to get there;
4. Select a final destination and tell them; 4. Blindfold them and have their peers give them directions;
5. Give directions and monitor; 5. The first to arrive at their destination and grab the item wins;
6. The first to arrive wins the race;
Option 2 Option 2
1. Use Google Cardboard (augmented reality); 1. Take students outside the classroom;
2. Preselect a final destination with a visible sign to help students identify it; 2. Use the hallways and spaces of the school as the streets and places in a cityPreselect a final destination;
3. Give them directions and monitor; 3. Preselect a final destination;
4. The first to arrive wins the race; 4. Blindfold them and have their peers give them directions;
5. The first to arrive at their destination wins;
Activity 2 – Writing Concise and Short Opinions
High-tech Low-tech
Option 1 Option 1
1. Have a Twitter account and make sure your students follow you; 1. Write a sentence or question on the board or a sheet of paper that you can tape to the wall;
2. Alternatively, you could have a WhatsApp group; 2. Have your students write their opinions on post-its and place it under the phrase;
3. Discuss a topic in class and have your students make short written comments to express 3. Have the other students read each other’s opinion and respond using the post-its;
Option 2 Option 2
1. Create a Padlet account and include your students as moderators; 1. Cut paper cards and give 5 to each student;
2. Add a sentence or question that requires discussion on your dashboard; 2. Write a sentence or question on the board to generate some discussion;
3. Have students include their comments and even pictures to support their opinion; 3. Give them time to write their opinion in the card;
4. As a moderator, make sure everyone is participating and keep it civilized; 4. Ask them to make a paper ball with the card they’ve written;
5. Ask them to stand up and play some music;
6. Have them do a paper ball war, throwing the paper balls at each other till the music. stops. When it stops, they must pick up the ball next to them and read the comments
Activity 3 – Interview 
High-tech Low-tech
Option 1 Option 1
1. Use WhatsApp, Skype or Google Hangouts; 1. Arrange for a friend who speaks English, preferably a foreigner, to visit your class;
2. Call someone, preferably in a different country. You can use your own cell phone for example; 2. Ask your friend to bring some objects related to his/her life;
3. Have your students ask spontaneous questions about this person; 3. Have your students interview your friend and take notes. Remind them to try to figure out what the objects represent;
4. Tell them to take notes and write a composition about this person’s life; 4. Tell them to write a composition about your friend’s life;
Option 2 Option 2
1. Pair up your students and have them sit as far away as possible from their pairs; 1. Divide your students in trios or groups of 4;
2. Using WhatsApp, tell your students to exchange audio messages with their pairs; 2. Give each group a clipboard and a sheet of paper;
3. Tell them they need to take notes in order to write a composition; 3. Ask them to go around the school and interview one person in the staff;
4. If this person cannot speak English, tell one student in the group to be the translator;
5. Remind them to take notes so that they can write a composition about the person;
Activity 4 – Game Design for a Review Class
High-tech Low-tech
Option 1 Option 1
1. Have students access Tynker.com on their phones or tablets and explore some projects; 1. Bring different types of materials to class (colored paper, cardstock, post-its, rulers, cardboard, scissors, tapes, glue, etc);
2. Let them watch a tutorial on the website or on YouTube; 2. Ask your students to create puzzles, board games, crosswords, memory games, etc. Remind them to use their book as a reference; Here’s a video I prepared to help you.
3. Divide them into groups of 4 and have them start creating games to revise each the content for their test; 3. Let them play each other’s games at the end;
4. Have them play each other’s games at the end;
Option 2 Option 2
1. Have your students create a Kahoot account on their cell phones or tablets; 1. Bring different games to the classroom (checkerboards, plastic bowling, pick-up sticks, dominoes, Jenga, card games, etc);
2. Ask them to create a quiz to revise the content of their test; 2. Tell your students they need to come up with a way to play these games using the content they have to revise for the test;
3. Have them play answer each other’s quiz at the end; 3. Allow them to form groups and work with different games;
4. Let them explain how they used it to the whole group;

These examples are just a few considering how much we can do with little to no tech resources at all. If we focus on the task, and not the tech, we will be able to provide our students with a meaningful experience that will most certainly be relevant, memorable and make learning more effective. Two examples worth reading about are the Montessori, and Waldorf schools.

My final tips:

  • Using technology for the sake of simply using technology may not be too effective. Instead of having an Interactive Whiteboard in the classroom, which is often used exactly as a regular whiteboard, why not create spaces with double desks, bean bags, and counters to promote collaborative work?
  • Sometimes the only tech you need is an app you can download on your cell phone. One example is Plickers. Ana Carolina Cardoso changed our lives (mine and Stephan’s) a couple of weeks ago with this incredible app.
  • The human factor is the best tech. I believe that connecting my students with real people around the world beats any game or virtual reality activity they might run across.
  • Be ready to teach unplugged and offline. Preparing an amazing lesson that totally relies on having electricity and an internet connection will limit your practice.
  • A stone, a coin, a shoebox, and a stuffed elephant (check out Mr. Trunk’s story) can transform your lesson if you use your creativity ad your student’s imagination.

Want to share an activity you did with your groups using high, low, or no tech at all? Please do!

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