Category Archives: Technology

Citavi Tutorial #3: Adding knowledge items and formatting a paper.

This is a series of screencasts showing how to use the referencing program Citavi for organising and planning research papers and projects. You can find part 1 of this series here, and part 2 here.

This takes you through the final stages of working with references: adding them to a paper, and formatting both the textual references and the bibliography.

This screencast was made using Screencast-o-matic and Videopad. I hope you find it useful.




Citavi Tutorial #2: Adding quotations and comments to your project.

This is a series of screencasts showing how to use the referencing program Citavi for organising and planning research papers and projects. You can find part 1 of this series here.

This part of the screencast shows you how to import quotations and comments into your project, as well as exploring the reference and knowledge tabs a little further.

As with the last one, this was made using Screencast-o-matic and Videopad. I hope it’s useful.



Integrating Technology into the Writing Process

Technology on a North Korean spy submarine (click photo for more details).

This blog has been rather quiet of late, due  to a perfect storm of a full work schedule (now happily coming to an end for the year), MA studies and some personal and professional upheaval. This is the first time I’ve really had to write for several weeks (and I even had to get up 15 minutes early to do this) but I thought it might be useful and interesting to share my first foray into teacher training and presenting.

A couple of months back I attended the annual team teaching seminar for our provinces native speaking teachers and our co-teachers. While I was there I met a teacher from the local city, who invited me to speak at the workshops that they have each semester. I was free to choose the topic, so I opted for something that was causing some heated debate at the training weekend. Korea is, not before time, changing the way that it examines English at school level. Finally there will be a writing and speaking component to English examinations here which should be fully rolled out by 2015. This is a matter of some concern to Korean teachers, who naturally enough are wondering how they are going to cope with the extra marking, and how to find time in class to practise. I believe that there is considerable scope for using technology to help them on both counts.

The theme of the workshop then, was a vision of the writing process with web 2.0 integrated at every stage to allow for ease of sharing, peer review, working in teams and working outside the classroom. I’ve posted a link to the Prezi, plus the handout that I made to go with it below. It’s probably worth tackling the two together, as the Prezi is fairly sparse, and the handout says more or less what I did in the workshop. (I’d have loved to embed the Prezi here, but I can’t seem to get it to word. I try the Gigya method but just get a message that the Prezi does not exist. I know the sharing settings are ‘public’ as I can access the Prezi when not signed in. If anyone has any ideas on what I’m doing wrong, please leave me a comment.)

Prezi here.

The above was my first attempt at a Prezi, and was probably the most interesting thing about the workshop for the attendees. There were audible gasps from some of the audience, who had never seen it used before, so much so that I had to give an impromptu ten minute Prezi workshop at the end to those interested. Not easy for someone whose skills are at best “in development” in that area.

The workshop was mostly a success, but did suffer one fairly major disaster when Twitter refused to work. Only one of the attendees was able to sign up, and the rest were denied either sign up or sign in, due to what seemed to be a problem at Twitter’s end. I’ve had this happen before too with students trying to sign up. I guess the message is be aware that things could go wrong, and have a  backup plan, especially for mass Twitter sign ups.

The backup plan was to use online noticeboards (Wallwisher in this case) which turned out to be a great success, and in fact far more efficient and effective than using Twitter (though there are still good reasons to use Twitter too). It really is a great way to get a lot of student ideas on to the board in a very short space of time, and then for everyone to be able to play around with them as they want. The best thing is the lack of chalky/inky hands, and tennis elbow for the teacher. You can have a look at the results here.

The other thing I want to point out in this post is the jigsaw writing activity. This was another real success, and given that I have never seen it done anywhere else I want to claim it for my own here. I really think that this is useful both for building cohesion skills, but also to get students to understand the structure of a successful paragraph, and what it takes to achieve it.

The only real disappointment of the workshop was not having enough time to tackle everything. In the end I only got half of what I wanted to do done. At first when I was asked to give a three hour workshop I wondered how I was going to fill all that time. It turns out I needn’t have worried, and much like teaching, presenting takes twice as long as you think it will.

I hope that you enjoy the Prezi and the handout, and find them useful. If there’s anything that you want more detail on, leave me a comment or get in touch and I’ll be happy to help you out.


The Tech Diaries #2: The Dawn Chorus

First Tweets – Dawn Chorus by karenwithak on Flickr

This is the second in a series of posts detailing my attempts to introduce some technology into my high school classroom. You can read the first post here, where I told the story of how my classroom came to be, and outlined three principles for following a more technological path in helping my learners. Having just read the #eltchat summary from last week, it seems I’m not the only one thinking and doing things like this.

My first principle for introducing technology read as follows:

1. Introduce technology in the classroom that will allow and encourage students to communicate and learn with me outside it.

The reason for this was simple. I get to see each of my high school learners for 50 minutes each week. This is barely enough time to review what we did the week before, let alone get anything done. What I have been wanting to do for a while is extend my reach into the students lives a little more, and give those who want to practice the chance to do a little more in a way that fits into their busy lives (and mine). Twitter gives me exactly this chance.

As a start,  I have used Twitter in lessons to get answers to questions from the entire group. One question asked how we could use Twitter to practice English, the other asked for opinions on a music video. Groups of two or three students worked to construct a tweet and send it to the feed on the IWB. I’d already written a blog post on the potential effects of Twitter on classroom discourseand a lot of the positive things I predicted did indeed come about, such as more student responses, self-nomination (admittedly prompted by the offer of a reward) and answers which showed some development.

I’ve been working hard recently on making the atmosphere in my classroom one in which students want to contribute to a discussion. At my school, shyness, low-levels and a degree of apathy all lead to students not always being keen to put across their point of view. Using Twitter definitely changed that and students were voluntarily contributing things. Furthermore, when asked follow-up questions to their Tweets, students seemed more willing to answer, and explain further the ideas they had tweeted. This echoes a point made by Geoff Thompson about getting students to accept a part in an interaction. He suggests asking a yes/no question followed by a follow-up wh- question (Thompson 1996). Anecdotal evidence here would suggest that an initial idea tweeted plays a similar part in accepting an interaction which can then be developed through further questioning. An additional nice point here is that it gives the teacher a little more time to come up with good follow up questions, which lead the students on through their thinking, and are appropriate for their language level.

I also noticed that students took a lot more care over crafting their tweets than they would with a solely oral answer. Oral activities with my students tend to involve them saying just enough to merit sitting down and shutting up for the rest of the lesson (often just a single word, and rarely anything grammatical). However, with time to think about their answers, they became more complex and much better structured. According to Swain’s output theory (1985) it is more through the use, not reception of language that we are forced to concentrate on the structure. Thus, perhaps, the more students focus on constructing output the better it will be for their development. Another big advantage is that grammatical problems arise before the question is answered, meaning that I can deal with them with a small group of students who need that advice, rather than with the whole class, many of whom will be at too high or low a level for it. This helps me a lot with developing a learner-centred classroom.

There would also seem to be practical advantages to using Twitter in the classroom. One is that it completely obviates the need to take notes. If answers are given in tweet form, the transcript can provide all of the data easily. In addition, tweets can be looked at, picked apart and re-sent if the meaning isn’t clear. Finally, they can be collected and analysed later in a kind of pedagogic corpus, which helps inform what needs to be taught in future lessons. Also, it saves a lot of chalk stains and sore wrists. In class, it makes it a lot easier to refer to what other people say – at no point in my class is everyone listening, so having everthing readable makes sense (this isn’t always a positive for listening skills of course).

At this point I will admit that the activity could equally have been done orally with groups, and answers prepared on paper and then delivered through speech. I don’t know (and it would be interesting to find out) whether it was the preparation time or the medium that really made the difference. Nevertheless, one of the things that I accepted in undertaking this project was that sometimes it would be necessary to use technology in the classroom where it was not strictly needed, in order to show how it worked, and try to encourage students to continue using it outside the classroom. In this respect I’ve had a little bit of success – I now have six or so students who tweet me almost daily, with a few more who enter my weekly extension competitions (link). It’s going to be a long game getting more of them involved, but for now at least, I’m going to keep trying.

I’m already up towards 1,000 words of fairly positive comment here. There have been negatives as well, which I’d like to deal with in a separate post. For now, if you have comments, or any advice, especially if you’re doing something similar, I’d be delighted if you’d leave them below.



Swain, M. (1985). ‘Communicative Competence: Some Roles of Comprehensible Input and Comprehensible Output in its Development’ in Gass, S. & Madden, C. (eds.)  Input and Second Language Acquisition. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Thompson, G. (1997). ‘Training Teachers to ask Questions’. ELT Journal, 51:2, 99-105.

The Tech Diaries #1: Ask and you shall receive

Any excuse to post this

“Techno techno techno techno,” said 2unlimited back in 1993. I’m not sure that they intended it as a comment on ELT in 2011, but it’s pretty accurate. Every other blog post (whether pro or anti) is about technology, as well as an ever-increasing number of conference presentations. All of this can leave the techless teacher feeling rather left out. Throughout my time in Korea I’ve been fairly low-tech, I go to different classrooms around the school armed with a laptop (which is usually a different one every week as I’m not allowed to use my own) and pray that the beam-projector and the speakers work. One computer to 25 kids is not really a favourable ratio for tech work in the classroom, and few students (though the number is increasing) have a smart phone.  Thus I have been rather restricted in what I can do – my lessons usually feature video, music and powerpoints, but don’t go much further than that. However, all that is about to change.

Over the summer holidays I volunteered to help teach a debate and essay writing class at the school. When my co-teacher revealed that we’d be teaching in the newly constructed dormitory, I was a little confused, having been under the impression that it was just for sleeping. Suddenly, I found myself in a beautiful, shiny new classroom complete with ten computers and an interactive whiteboard. “Who uses this?” I asked. “The students use the computers in the evening, but no-one uses it during the day,” she replied. Sadly, this seems to be a theme in Korea – it seems to be enough to have the stuff, even if it’s not being used. I saw my opportunity and one polite request to the principal later, I had my classroom.

It’s still not ideal, but now I have a room where students can use computers (even though in some cases it’s three to a computer) and so we can integrate a lot more technology into our learning. I’m planning on working on three main principles:

1. Introduce technology in the classroom that will allow and encourage students to communicate and learn with me outside it.

2. To bring the “real” world into the classroom and allow the students to interact with it.

3. To use technology to save, share, evaluate and display student created content.

I’m hoping that this will help to motivate my students by showing them that there is a real reason to study English (out here in the mountains of Korea the English speaking world can seem very far away). I’m going to use this mini-series to recount what happens as I go about making my classroom a more technological place. I’ll try to detail what I did, how it worked, the successes and problems I encountered, and hopefully what the students thought.

I hope you’ll stay with us.


Classroom Twitscourse

Tweet up

Tweet up by Toni Barros on Flickr

I spent a good half an hour today when I should have been working reading an article on CNN about a US middle school teacher using Twitter in the classroom which Jeff Thomas linked to on his Tech the Plunge blog (or there’s a direct link to CNN here). In attempting to answer Jeff’s question of whether I would be comfortable using Twitter in the classroom, I had a look at the article in terms of classroom discourse.

The video clip in the article showed the teacher asking a question and the students tweeting their answers to an interactive whiteboard, and then showing a video which the students could tweet their responses to. The great thing about this is that, as mentioned on the video, it genuinely does give students more of a voice. Firstly, students can self-nominate themselves to answer the question, which means that they are answering because they want to, not because they have to. Leo van Lier suggests that in order to learn, a person must be active. Tweeting allows the student to be involved in the lesson, and this engagement should lead to greater learning . Compare this to a teacher-nominated student, who answers because he or she has to. I would imagine that this student, while answering the question, is not nearly as ‘active’ as the tweeters, and is in fact trying to provide the minimum amount of information possible to satisfy the teacher and finish his turn.

Another aspect of this method of teaching is the bulk of answers that the teacher appears to be receiving for his questions. In a traditional classroom, once a teacher’s question has been answered, there is little scope for students to answer it again, or repeat a point that another student made. The question is closed as soon as one person has spoken. This is what Coulthard and Sinclair defined as an IRF (initiation, response, feedback) sequence. In a Twitter based classroom, everyone has the chance to answer the question, and their answers have equal value – more of an IRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRF (to be pronounced like the sound I make when I stretch in the mornings) sequence. This should be motivating for students who need a little time to think before they answer, as their answers can be added to the discourse as long as the enquiry remains open. It may also be beneficial for those who express themselves well, and who take their time to craft their tweets. Indeed the teacher in the video points out how much he likes one of the student’s phrasings.

So far, so positive. Twitter would seem to give students motivation to contribute to classroom discourse, engage them more and make the classroom more of an equal place to air their thoughts. However, what kind of discourse are they contributing to? While many students can answer, the video doesn’t show what happens to the tweets. My concern is that the “IRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRF” sequence, while allowing more responses, is still a three turn act in an exchange between teacher and student, and doesn’t exactly encourage a more dialogic approach which would suit a nuanced subject like history. For one, the time taken to construct such a dialogue, even for fast typists is far longer than doing the equivalent in speech. However, this is not to say that the tweets couldn’t be used as a springboard for further class discussion.

My other concern is the 140 character limit. While I concede that it often leads to increasing creativity in language use as people try to squeeze their thoughts into a tweetable chunk, there really is only so much that can be said in a single tweet. I find that through my own Twitter use, I have a tendency to get overly “soundbitey”, and be forced into removing a lot of the subtleties of what I want to say. Once again, I wonder whether this kind of approach is really suitable for a subject like history.

So with this in mind, would I be comfortable using Twitter in the classroom? As an EFL teacher, I welcome anything which gets my students contributing, especially those who need a little help to overcome shyness and find their voices. However, I’d want to limit its use to very specific instances, as one of my students’ best sources of speaking practice is answering questions in class. Unlike a regular school classroom, a language classroom is one where the language is both the content and the vehicle for teaching, and audio input is extremely important. In no way would I want it to replace spoken communication in the classroom. That said, for things like reactions to video or musical input, brainstorming ideas or gathering responses to questions Twitter seems to be a great tool to start discussions which could then be continued in oral work.

So, I guess my answer to Jeff’s question is a cautious “yes”, but with the reservations noted above. I’ll turn this over to you now. Do you use Twitter in the classroom? What do you use it for? If you don’t, would you be willing to give it a try? I’m interested to hear your thoughts.



– Sinclair, J. and Coulthard, R.M. (1975) Towards an Analysis of Discourse. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

– van Lier, L. (1996) Interaction in the Language Curriculum: Awareness, Autonomy and Authenticity. London: Longman.