Graham Stanley, from The British Council, Barcelona was the plenary speaker at this years conference. The theme of the conference was testing, CLIL and educational technology. Graham gave a great talk on why we should be using new technologies with our students. It’s funny, but as a teacher-trainer I sometimes forget that our teaching colleagues may well need reminding of just why we’re doing all this training on technology. I’m convinced and I understand exactly the pressing needs for our teaching to complement the digital literacy of our students. Perhaps it’s worth bringing these facts up more often in training seminars though. Sure, ICT is fun for students, but they also need to know how to use these tech tools in a foreign language too. ICT is an essential life skill nowadays. After all, these online tools are likely to be one of the major ways our students will be communicating in L2.

Another thought-provoking part of Graham’s talk was that of the digital divide. He talked of a fascinating educational ICT project called Hole In The Wall that started out in India. The idea behind the project was to leave a working computer, in a protected box in the centre of different Indian villages to enable the local people to get some benefit from advances in technology. Hidden cameras were also sometimes used and the computers were installed un-announced and un-explained to see how people interacted with and reacted to the computer. The amazing thing was, even in villages in India where, in theory, they had never seen a computer before, the kids were the first to start using the computers. Later the kids passed on their skills to the adults of the villages. They also learned English in the process of learning about the computers. All this is to say that seemingly kids have an innate curiosity and ingenuity that computers can often compliment well. We teachers in the “rich West” should realise just how privileged we are to have access to these tools and just how much our students can benefit, at the very least on an interest level, from us adopting the use of ICT in our classes.

As a teacher in a high school in Italy, I think I can safely say that we are very lucky with the ICT resources that we have. We have 5 computer labs in the high school where I work, we have at least 6 IWBs, we have portable computers, beamers, wireless access everywhere and yet, you know what? Half the time these resources are left gathering dust! I know several of the other private language schools I have worked in the same is true, too. Notwithstanding the huge investments these schools have made, teachers are still reluctant to get out of their comfort zones and try out something new. When 1 computer in a village in India can benefit so many, so much, surely we should be making better use of what we have available here? I’m sure I’m not the only teacher who has noticed computers gathering dust?

I was also really impressed by the excellent presentation The British Council’s Steven Roberts gave on the use of three great tech tools for language teachers. They’re all free to download and use too! He told us about Eclipse Crossword maker I think it’s obvious what that does, but it’s great anyhow,) Hot Potatoes interactive exercise maker (crosswords, re-order jumbled sentences, drag and drop matching exercise and much more) and Courselab which was actually a new tool to me. Courselab looks great too! You can create all sots of flash, video and audio interactive exercises and courses using Courselab. Again, it’s free, too. I must give it a look! Steven told us how he’d used it for a CLIL project with a group of Vietnamese students who, prior to his course, had been ICT “illiterate” but after the end of the course they’d all made a series of interactive exercises for each other, learning loads of ICT skills and English along the way.

Finally, Cosimo Cannata from Sicily gave a great talk, about some of the tech-tools, and motivations for using them with his learners at the professional school where he works. His blog (in Italian) also has lots of useful ideas and links for language teachers.

I was really pleased to see some of the “commercially sponsored” presenters too. Brendan Wightman, from Cambridge University Press gave an excellent, thought provoking talk about when we should and when we shouldn’t be using technology with our students (the summary would be: use it when it’s needed and adds to the lesson and not just for the sake of it.)

Brendan mentioned a couple of great looking new products that are coming out (all of the publishers seemed to be bringing out something for the IWB now!) Cambridge’s new commercial release (which I hope to get a trial copy of – go on Brendan) is iDictionary. Cambridge’s blurb on iDictionary says:

It has animated stories, songs, printable worksheets and flashcards. Ideal for general English classes as well as exam preparation. Children can sing along with karaoke versions of animated songs and teachers can use the Primary i-Dictionary in the classroom through a computer and projector or interactive whiteboard, and then follow up with traditional pen and paper classwork.

There is also a great new free resource the Cambridge Clock to help young EFL students learn how to tell the time. Again, it’s just perfect for IWBs. It’s designed for young learners, but I see absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t be used with adults, too. Here in Trento we have lots of A1 -A2 level students who need practice telling the time and this could be just perfect.

Strangely enough, the IATEFL / British Council Milan conference this year was the first ICT specific conference I have been to. Although I missed the wonderful Valentina Dodge whom I’d really hoped to see (will we ever meet face to face?) I met so many other interesting people and found out about so many different ideas, tools and theories that I’ll definitely be looking to go to more conferences like this in the future.

In my next and final post about the conference I’ll be sharing the videos the teachers in my workshop made to present their project ideas. I’ll also be posting the lists of History, Science and Geography internet / CLIL resources I gave out. I hope the links will be useful to you all.