33 comments on “Hot metal, apps, dogme in the world of Avatar

  1. Hi Jeremy,

    I like the challenge put forward by this post! As a relatively new teacher (this is my 3rd year, without counting a year a language assistant during my languages degree) I’ve sort of been surrounded by technology as I started teaching. This makes deciding what I’d keep and what I’d want everyone to have an interesting thing to think about.

    I think the board will always have its uses – perhaps it was really the first interactive element to a classroom? (not including the human interaction between teacher and learner). I also really liked using OHPs when I was training (a PGCE) as I could get my students to write a short text or notes for a presentation that the whole group could then see projected on the board or screen. I’m sure there’s probably an elegant tech-based way of doing the same thing (Twitter feed while presenting??) but managing that in an ESOL classroom isn’t necessarily something I would do at the drop of a hat. If I find I need time to get used to tech tools, I wouldn’t unleash them on my learners until I knew what I was doing.

    What would I like everyone to have? An mp3/mp4 player (though I’m convinced they already do – have to ask them to take their headphones out often enough!). For me, a brilliant way of storing authentic audio and video (news, podcasts, ELT videos…) that if encouraged to do so, ESL/EFL learners can become autonomous in their language studies (the dream!)

    That’s my lot!


    • Hi Mike,

      thanks for your comments!

      I agree about the board – and I think modern tech solutions are around (see Mila’s comments below).

      And it’s fun, isn’t it, to see how popular the OHP was/is. I agree with its great advantages – though e-boards may replicate all those?

      So the new piece of technology? An intelligent ‘memory’ device that would store/find listening and reading material to suit a student’s level and interests….?


  2. You knew the link to SL would entice some of us to explore further! This is just a comment to urge poeple to follow that link and listen especially to the last section on ‘the best way to teach English’. Such a sensible answer, cutting through time-consuming arguments!

    In answer to your questions:
    (a) the slate / mini-whiteboard, felt tip and J cloth [=the true, original interactive white board)
    (b) Massive hard disc drive to store all the resources you have ever made …

    • Hello Karelia,

      yes, well I knew you and your friend Helen would appreciate the link to SL – an environment that I should and could make more of (that’s a personal development goal).

      The board, the board! As interactive as teachers and students make it – and always was. The new IT version is just as good – and with added features!!


      • mmmm ..depends on your purpose ..the ‘the new one’ allows one person at a time to interact with it ……the mini whiteboards allow everyone to interact simultaneously …

  3. Hi Jeremy,

    I think the last time I saw a really good presentation with an OHP was 3 years ago. I have trouble remembering a really bad one…6 or 7 years? And the last time I saw a really good presentation with Powerpoint? Well yours at the IHWO DOS Conference in London was pretty decent. I’ve seen too many bad ones to mention. You just don’t see presentations with an OHP much these days but they are still pretty common in the classroom.

    Your question is a good one and relevant. In the end, it isn’t the technology, it’s how it is used. The real beauty of our modern, wired world is that we have more access to the really good stuff, even in the remote corners of the world. The access has become more democratic.

    I think everyone having access to the Internet in the classroom magnifies the learning environment and removes the traditional walls from it. Whether this access is through a laptop, net book, smart phone or whatever new technologies are coming our way, doesn’t really matter. The possibilities it opens up are virtually limitless.

    • Hi Jeff,

      thanks for reminding us that OHPs are still widely used in classrooms around the world. I think that’s true, and they DO have some very ‘teacher-ly’ qualities.

      But I couldn’t possibly agree more that the real issue is HOW not WHAT – something I have gone on and on about on Twitter and in other places. The world of IT is wondrous – and more wondrous every day. Everything depends on how you use it, I think.


  4. Hello,

    I certainly don’t miss tapes – they had the tendency to get stuck or torn in the stereo, the plastic box would always fall and break – not to mention the hours spent on finding the right place on the tape!

    OHPs seemed to create a sense of excitement in the room, as the light had to be turned off and students were aware that something ‘worth noting down’ was about to be shown. On the minus side, carrying that equipment from class to class was no pleasure at all. And let’s not forget the “fun” of tripping over the cables and making a fool of yourself in front of the students.

    I am lucky enough to have the e-board in my clasroom and it’s a piece of technology every teacher should have. It really brings the classroom walls down and makes both lesson planning and teaching easier. It allows me to have pre-baked flipchart pages which can ‘grow’ as the lesson moves along. I can make records of ‘incidental lexis’ as it comes up during the lesson, email it to myself and then use it for follow-up work (making puzzles/quizes etc).

    The most positive aspect has been the opportunity for students to use the e-board to create flipchart pages and show the information to other groups of students in the school. They feel a much bigger sense of achievement than from, let’s say, creating a simple poster. Also, having the chance to access online newspapers, encyclopedias etc makes learning truly authentic.

    Well, that’s enough of singing praises to the e-board,


    • Hello Mila,

      thanks for your comments. You made me remember the orange cable that I have tripped over in classroom and auitoria all over the world (why is the cable always orange?)

      But your passionate espousal of the e-board is completely convincing to me. I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want one!!


  5. Still find it hard to imagine a more useful and indispensible piece of classroom equipment than a board. On the few occasions I’ve had to teach without one (often in-company) that’s the thing I’ve always missed. A place to record things as they come up, a place to share observations, to present new language, to support those learnes who need to see things written down. Doesn’t waste paper, always renewable.

    As for Q2, I don’t think there’s one answer. I’d like everyone to have the one piece of technology that suits them/fits their learning style/helps them. It might be something as simple as a pen or as complex as a laptop.

    • Hi Andy,

      yes, I agree with you about the board – or at least some place where everything that happens can be recorded, and where teachers (and student) can demonstrate language, pictures and objects (through drawing, taping up etc.

      It looks as if Mila (see above) would want that board to be an e-board. You?



      • My experience with e-boards is extremely limited, and I can see that they have some great uses. However, they are of course, hideously expensive (especially if you’re thinking of kitting out a whole school), and need lots of ongoing support (technical and training). And I still have some slight doubts about whether they might tend to lock you into a lesson plan in the way that a normal board doesn’t.

        Given the choice of which room to teach in if all other variables were equal? I’d probably go for the one with an eboard – since it’s a board with some bells and whistles. But I can think of better ways to spend a school budget 🙂 (I’m painting myself into the management corner again, aren’t I?)

  6. jeremyharmer :
    So the new piece of technology? An intelligent ‘memory’ device that would store/find listening and reading material to suit a student’s level and interests….?

    I think iTunes can do this, but obviously needs to be set up (i.e. you have to subscribe to podcasts). If it was automatic and did it the moment you thought about it, that would be fantastic!

    I also agree with your and other comments about e-/interactive whiteboards – I just find them a bit fiddly to deal with sometimes.


    • On my apparently failing/failed quest to remind people that there are alternatives to things made by Apple, I’d like to point out that there are alternatives to i-Tunes. I use Zencast for example 🙂

      • How does Zencast work, Andy? Is it something that needs to be downloaded? I just tried clicking on the Zencast link from the BBC podcasts page and had no joy.

        iTunes isn’t really a solution for me to store audio/video, since it would never get put on our computer systems (rightly, I think, as it might be abused)

  7. As for teaching, I’m very dependent on technology, but mostly from the preparation side of things. I still prefer the whiteboard and a few markers. But I guess I’m lucky because the adult EFL program I teach is primarily focused on speaking in class.

    • Hi Neil,

      that’s interesting! Speaking doesn’t need technology, perhaps?

      I certainly agree that there is often a difference between what we use for ourselves and what we use in the classroom.


  8. It works in the same way as iTunes (as far as I know). ie that you need to have the software installed on your computer, and then you can subscribe to podcasts using it. However, it would probably have the same problems that you have with iTunes.

    There must be some kind of web-based RSS podcast subscription service that doesn’t involve downloading and installing software. Anyone know?

  9. Hello Jeremy!

    I think everyone should own a smart phone that works properly of course! However, I’m afraid the next technology would be invented by then so perhaps I should start with everyone having equal access to broadband and the Internet. I think the world is far due for everyone to have equal access to information through the Internet. Therefore, that would be the technology. As for technology that I miss that is no longer in existence. I still enjoy listening to records (albums). I like the way vinyl sounds and spins and I like bulky but classy record players. I love mine. It relaxes me and I think everyone should choose such a technology that transports them into another world. I also miss the cool watches that used to be invented. My friend and I would have fun playing PacMan on my watch or driving the teacher crazy when my friend controlled the VCR in the classroom with his watch. LOL! It was just once I promise.

    I think everyone has a different technology they wish never became extinct. It is frustrating when you learn something – and then you have to get another technology. Not everyone has to get a cellphone but in the past people probably did have to get new inventions. I think how much more difficult it was for people during the Industrial Revolution. History books have you believe that people were so thankful for technologies that completely revolutionized lifestyles. How about the television, fire, the wheel, light, and so forth? I bet some people just struggled, especially when they could not afford these technologies. I remember when books were not available for everyone and reading was only taught to the elite. In former times, social divides were even larger and many people didn’t have access to new inventions. I believe this will always be the case and there will always be people who feel the world has left them behind and they miss familiar things or wish they could afford to try the newest invention that is supposed to make their lives easier.

    • Hi Shelly,

      thank you for your thoughtful comments. You brought us down to earth in exactly the right way! I mean by reminding me/us that technology only wins when it is available to all equally. That’s why I really got excited recently with the ‘one-laptop-per-child’ policy in Uruguay and the way that broadband is available (ostensibly) to everyone in that country.

      Vinyl! Oh yes. Those amazing turntables, the stylus, the counterweight on the arms, the way the turntable went round and the play of light on the record surface. I remember that with affection – and the record sleeve too.

      But I think there may be something wrong with me! I’m not a huge ‘petrol head’ anyway. Cars don’t interest me that much, and I don’t seem to have the fascination for old cars, old things from my youth that some other people and collectors have. I remember (I’m horrified to say) what TV used to be like, what the first clumsy personal computers were like. I feel no affection for those things. What I have now is so so much better!

      I LOVE the story of the watch and the VCR. Clearly a troublesome pupil, you were!!


  10. Hi ya Jeremy,

    What too many people, for some bizarre reason, fail to remember is that it’s all been new technology: whether moving from the quill to the biro to the typewriter to the computer… whether moving from the rock to the scroll to the printed press and bound pages on to the typewriter and then to the WORD document and off to the i-touch and now i-pad; whether smoke clouds, patiently scribed letters to the emails or from the phone to the mobile phone, from text messages to twitter…

    We do not stay stagnant in our desire to communicate with the other humans around us and each step we take along the roads of life, we consistently become more complex, deeper and richer in the experience because we carry which we had in our pasts on into our futures.

    Today, we shall think of encouraging students to become more creative collaborators not merely passive absorbers, we shall challenge our students to reach consensus on projects, to critically analyze their progress, to evaluate each others work and above all we shall encourage communication: spoken or written for the world will continue to flow on as it always has done – whatever the tool at hand.


  11. Hi Karenne,

    yes, you are ‘speaking’ my thoughts exactly. In a long life of teaching I have been constantly exposed to ‘new’ technology, some of which now seems very old! It’s an attitude thing, I think…’go with the flow’ etc. If you have that attitude you’ll be fine. If not you set up all these barriers and then it hurts!

    For me the bigger question in a way, is what to keep – what to mourn the passing of etc….


  12. Karelia :

    mmmm ..depends on your purpose ..the ‘the new one’ allows one person at a time to interact with it ……the mini whiteboards allow everyone to interact simultaneously …

    Yeah, that’s true I suppose. But defenders of e-boards (see Mila above) are passionate about their advantages. I’m a fan, but not much of a user so I can’t really lay claim to any deep-felt opinions!


  13. Karenne is right, of course.

    I love the fact I can access so much authentic audio, video and text media.. almost too much. I remember the days when an English newspaper or magazine would be absolutely devoured as soon as it entered the teachers room, ripped to shreds for every scrap of usable cultural and linguistic content. Audio? The cassettes that came with the textbook… cued up painstakingly before class. Video? Wheel the TV into the classroom and try to get the VHS to work.

    I’d keep my paper notebook, and the students should keep theirs. When I taught a lot of one-to-one I used to use a notebook with a slip of carbon paper as a mini-board, with a copy for each of us at the end of class. Tablet computers will probably supercede this, but for a fraction of the weight and an even tinier fraction of the cost, I think a biro and a bit of paper are still relevant classroom tools.

  14. Hi Darren,

    thanks for this. Yes, I remember newspapers, cassette racks, pictures from magazines etc etc.

    It’s a lot ‘easier’ being a teacher now (if you have proper broadband access). Or is it? Too much choice?

    But yes, pens and notebooks are still vital. I think. Though I spend more and more of my time ‘writing’ on computers, iPhone etc


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  16. Jeremy,

    I well remember your ‘obsolete candle’ talk. The simple answer, surely, is that everything that has come before and everything we now have needs to be evaluated in the light of what it can bring to our teaching. Just as teachers evaluate ‘methods’ and ‘approaches’, so should they evauate ‘tools’. We should all be able to do this – we’re trained, experienced, intelligent people, right?

    The one approach that I still don’t understand is the ‘principled rejection´of technologies, or the ‘baby with the bathwater’ approach of something like dogme (though I note it being tempered over time so as to appeal to a more mass audience).

    I strikes me as downright obvious that teachers who have exposure to – and an understanding of – methods, approaches, tools, technologies, etc., are, coupled with their experience, in a good position to take what will best benefit their learners and apply it in the classroom. Blanket rejection does both the learner and the teacher a disservice.

    So, I reckon I wouldn’t be without any of it. Through experience of everything I’ve known and tried in the classroom I’ve worked myself into a position where I can truly choose – and use – the best tools and approaches for the job.


  17. Hi Gavin,

    you and i think very much alike on this (I think!).

    Blanket rejection is pointless; immediate adoption is dangerous too. The questions is HOW to use what’s on offer.

    But I still feel nostalgic for things sometimes and wonder how sensible this is!


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