Technology Column - Stepping Outside the ELT Bubble

by Shaun Wilden

Every so often it’s good to go outside the profession to see what others are doing. In my case I like to look at what is happening with technology in education as a whole as I think, we, in ELT can learn a lot from how tablets and mobiles are being utilised in the state system.  One opportunity to do this comes round every January when the British Educational Training and Technology Show (BETT) takes place in London. If you are not familiar with the show it is a huge three-day event that shows everything in the edtech world and includes a vast array of CPD seminars and workshops.

This year there were more sessions than ever before on how teachers are using mobiles and tablets so here are a few ideas that I think cross over to or are relevant in ELT.

One of the more obvious ideas that I’d not thought of before was using the concept of a text message for story writing. A text message in English is 160 characters long. Therefore, using a phone as a replacement for pen and paper, students can be set the challenge of creating a rounded story in 160 characters.  Digital story telling, which I wrote about in the last issue, seemed quite popular and in addition to the apps I mentioned last time I saw a lot of use of puppet pals and imovie along with storyrobe, which allows you to talk about photos.

As more ELT course books start to become available for e-readers and tablets, looking at the use of textbooks in state education may give us some guidance on how to use them successfully. Having previously seen that the amount of reading done electronically is on the increase, it was the recent research done on EAL (English as an Additional Language) students that, though seemingly obvious, we should perhaps take note of. EAL students preferred digital books because of the inbuilt dictionary and the ability to highlight and take notes.  From a SEN aspect, digital readers also help as the single page format is better for those with poor eye tracking skills and being able to change text size helps students with dyslexia.

One idea worth considering for schools that have gone down the tablet route, is the digital reading circle.  Rather than (or perhaps in addition to) the school library of readers, offer the books in digital formats to further encourage students to read in English.

A number of sessions mentioned ideas of using devices to write on photos. This can be a simple but effective way to practice either vocabulary or some structure. How it works is that students take a photo on their device and then use an app to add texts which something I have spoken about before by using the ‘skitch’ app. However at the show, I saw other apps being demonstrated which had a similar function such as mematic and quipio. One teacher showed us how she set homework using thinglink,which allows the user to embed images, videos and urls into a picture.  The students then began each lesson by showing and talking through their choices. This particular teacher taught Classics but in the language classroom this could be used as a basis for project work related to course material. For example making them on a typical course book topic e.g. music, food. Or in a study aboard school, it would make an excellent follow up to a school trip. Likewise the touchcast app, which allows you to mix video and other media, has become a popular app for students to make videos on a topic. Again this is a project worth considering for the amount of language practice it would generate.

One of the keynote talks of the show was given by Bergmann and Samms, the architects of the flipped classroom approach ( ) Although this idea still seems to be finding its way in ELT, one of the central themes of their talk ‘what is the best use of class time’ is very relevant. They dismissed the critics of the flipped approach by arguing that a teacher who replaces themselves with a YouTube video deserves to be replaced. They talked about the flipped classroom, or rather flipped learning, as a transitional tool that helps a teacher get away from their traditional roles while at the same time engaging students.  By finding a balance of content and curiosity, we encourage students to explore. While they weren’t talking about language learning in particular, I think the idea holds true. If we can engage students and make them curious and have a class space dedicated to the students producing language rather than heavy language presentations then that is a step forward.

Here are some ideas from the other practical sessions I saw:

  1. the use of the socrative app to encourage peer teaching (students create the quizzes for the lesson or homework).
  2. Evernote as a writing tool – students can submit work through evernote and this allows the teacher to include written and audio feedback while keeping all the work together
  3. an ingenious use of the vine videoing app to encourage students to produce a 6-second video of what they had learned from a particular lesson.

However, by far my favourite session was given by a biology teacher who showed how he uses the Aurasma augmented reality app for everything from homework to animated noticeboards. Augmented reality is likely to get more and more attention over the next couple of years so in the next edition we look at some of the uses for it in the ELT classroom.

Author’s Bio: Shaun has been involved in English language teaching for over twenty years. He is currently the International House World Organisation Teacher Training Coordinator. He also maintains several online teaching sites including and is interested in the application of technology to teaching. He is a moderator of the twitter #eltchat group which meets every Wednesday to discuss issues and ideas in ELT and membership secretary of the IATEFL Learning Technologies SIG. Feel free to follow him @shaunwilden or read his blog ( When not sitting at a computer, Shaun enjoys growing food in his garden and then cooking it