'Q & A from Nicola Meldrum’s webinar on technology and teacher-led development' by Nicola Meldrum

30th December 2017

On 19th August 2017, Nicola Meldrum presented the following IATEFL webinar:

How can technology support and facilitate teacher development?

In this webinar we will focus on collaborative development supported by technology. We will look at different tech tools that teachers can use to collaborate and develop. For example, using instant messaging tools to  create communities of development, share videos of our teaching, images of our boards, pose questions, ask for support and more.

We will also look at the importance of collaboration for teacher development and how it can increase our motivation and commitment to development. 

If you would like to watch the recording, you need to be a member of IATEFL (find out how to join), but even if you’re not a member, you can read Nicola’s answers to some of the questions below, as well as extra suggestions from the webinar participants. For ease of reference, you can also jump directly to the questions:

  1. What can teachers in underdeveloped and developing countries do?
  2. What about technology tools in educational research?
  3. Should we avoid or incorporate instant messenger slang and idiom?
  4. Where can I find mentors in a similar context if there is nobody at my school?
  5. How can we create communities of practice for early years teachers?
  6. Was the WhatsApp group you used to discuss boardwork more effective than an in-person discussion?
  7. How can I decide which methods to use with new teachers?
  8. How can you keep a WhatsApp group on topic?
  9. How can we encourage group members to share, not just the admin or creator?
  10. What control do you have of things you share on these groups, like videos of yourself teaching?
  11. What reading would you recommend on teacher-led professional development?
  12. How can action research be shared in groups?
  13. What tools can we use to promote peer observation between remote teachers?
  14. How can you help older teachers or those not so tech-savvy to get involved?
  15. Are there any tools you recommend we DON’T use?

I would like to start by saying thank you to everyone who attended this event and all the great ideas you shared, as well as the excellent questions below! I hope you find my answers useful.

Q1 from Dharmendra Bhattarai: What is  your suggestion for the teachers of  underdeveloped  and  developing countries where even smart phones are not allowed  to be used inside the school?

This is an excellent question. Many of the examples I used were classroom based; taking images of your board, recording your teaching etc. I can see why you asked me this, Dharmendra.

I think teachers could collaborate on many many things without having these classroom examples. They can still have useful conversations about their lessons and teaching in other ways. They could still form communities of practice using tools and websites where teachers can interact and support each other.

As I said in the webinar, it is important to collaborate where there is real buy-in from the participants and where time is spent considering the group’s goals and best ways of working. You could reach out to teachers in your context who want to collaborate using existing online groups or communities. Once you have got other people interested you need to decide how the group will communicate and what they will focus on AND how it will all work.

You could start by asking the group some questions to decide on a tool or site that would facilitate conversations about development and even collaborative tasks around areas of need and interest.

For example, imagine teachers want to develop how they teach writing skills. They could set up a group using social media, such as Facebook or Slack. Within that group they would then establish the rules for interaction (how long posts should be, being polite and positive in posts etc) and what they will collaborate on during the first week. They might decide to have discussions about existing problems they have teaching this area and offer support to each other with their own ideas, share articles/links to resources etc. They might even decide to take photos of their student’s work and share it on the group, asking how others might correct it to balance feedback on content and feedback on language/structure etc.

Then, the group creator/s should lead by example and start posting and sharing! The group should also decide on a timeframe for each discussion/ task to increase motivation to participate. To help you with this, search online for existing groups (for example, on Facebook) and see how they are working. You can see which groups get a lot of participation and which don’t and then reflect on why.

Q2 from Sandip Patel: Could you also talk of use of technology tools in educational research?

I tried to answer this in the webinar but think I can do a better job here with more time to think about it! Essentially, it depends on the nature of the group and the areas you are researching. If it is informal research with a group of teachers with a shared, specific goal and it is short term, then instant messaging is great! You can ask each other questions about what you are doing, share links, share images and videos – whatever will support the research goal and help each other.

If the research group is more formal, the goals are wider and the time frame longer then inevitably there will be more to talk about so you will a tool where different conversations can happen and you can share research documents and resources as well as maybe share parts of your research. Forum discussion tools such as Slack are good for this. They are much easier to manage than email as you can easily create mini groups and start conversations about specific things. You can organise your discussions easily and you can integrate other tools such as Google Drive.

Q3 from Michael Betz (Thailand G Suite Trainer): What about IM [Instant Messenger] slang and idiom? Should we avoid or incorporate it?

Thanks – an interesting question I had not considered before doing this webinar. I think it depends on the nature of the group and what they are collaborating on. Do participants know each other? Are they conducting more formal research or are they involved in informal teacher development discussions and collaborative activities?

The other things to consider are levels and varieties of English. Use of slang and idioms could hinder communication if these are not consistent between the participants or are above their level of English. As I said in the webinar, it is important to spend time considering how the group will work and what they will focus on. This would be an excellent question to add to that discussion. As well as establishing what areas of teaching and learning the group will look at, you could establish some guidelines for language use. Thanks for bringing this up – it made me think in more detail about this aspect of group formation and setting up communities of practice.

It could also be a goal of the group – to develop their English and knowledge of different varieties – sharing idioms etc.

Q4 from Shailini Seetharama: I often want to try out new things or research some new methodology / new ways of teaching discourse etc. But I have no one to talk to or check my logical sequencing of these lessons. How do I get mentored by a senior teacher in another country who has a similar context so they’ll understand my context better? Where can I find such people?

Another great question which technology can help with. You need to reach out in groups on social media. You can use FacebookLinkedin or Twitter to find people who have similar backgrounds. Specifically, use the IATEFL Facebook page. There are also groups on Linkedin where you could post a message with some information about what you want to explore. Maybe you could suggest an exchange of some kind. Finding a mentor might be tricky, but maybe you can find other people who teach in a similar context to you by joining a teacher association; many countries and cities have active teacher’s groups which communicate online and have face to face meet ups. [The IATEFL Associates list is a good place to start.] You could suggest sharing lesson plans, materials and resources and getting feedback on specific aspects of your teaching and planning.

Q5 from Shay Coyne (YLTSIG) Barcelona: How can we do this for early years teachers?

Thanks for the question Shay- by ‘do this‘, I think you were referring to create communities of practice and development. As with other answers, I think it is done by reaching out to people in your current PLN [professional learning network], then maybe finding other like-minded people on social media. This needs a clear statement in your first post/message. You need to think about what you want to develop specifically, how you might do this and what timeframe you are thinking of for the collaboration. Once you have some clear ideas, send a message or post on social media groups like the IATEFL Facebook page. You may also want to limit the size of the group, so mention this in your post. Remember, you only need one other person to collaborate! You do not need a huge group – it is more important that the people involved are motivated and have shared goals.

Q6 from Clare Maas (MaWSIG) (Germany): Was the WhatsApp group for boardwork sharing more effective in your view than an in-person discussion?

Good question Clare. I think it was effective because we were posting live and as thoughts came to us. Often we think of things mid lesson (either teaching or observing) and it is hard to recall it after the event. Through the WhatsApp sharing we were able to capture the moment and the thought that went with it.

This could either lead to face-to-face follow-up discussions or further dialogue using the app. It also served as a record to refer back to, as people replied with comments or other images. In effect, we created a narrative about the point we were discussing, something that is hard to do after the class has finished sometimes. Maybe we can call it “hot” reflection.

Q7 from Ayat Tawel: How can I decide which of your wonderful suggested methods I should try with our group of teachers? What factors should I consider especially if I am a new member of a team but leading ICT there?

Another lovely question! Maybe you could use a survey to ask teachers what areas they would like to develop in their teaching. As leading ICT there you could focus it according to your own perception of their needs and interests, but also involve them in the decision by offering a choice of topics to explore and ways of exploring them. If they have a say they will feel more ownership and motivation to participate. You should also ask them what they feel is within their comfort zone in terms of using technology and sharing with other teachers, especially if this is the first time they are doing something like this. Think of the work involved and ask them how much time they want to dedicate to this, on a daily basis/weekly basis and for how long: one week, one month, six months?

Q8 from Jani Reddy Pandiri: we have WhatsApp group but it is very difficult to control the people. Most of the time they are posting irrelevant things in spite of repeated requests…  

Yes, this is a problem with such tools! I think at the start of any collaboration we need to create the rules for interaction as a group. I have often been told by the group moderator how to post, what not to share etc. I think, as with anything, if I am part of the decision making process, I am more likely to follow the rules!

Q9 from Asep Budiman: How can we engage the members of group to freely share things, because the members are usually silent and only the admin or creator is active?

As I said in the webinar, this is really important and a good question to ask. People are often reluctant and shy to post and share – teaching is a hugely personal thing! I think we need to consider a few things – having a private group and limiting the number of participants – this can help to create a feeling of safety. We then need to do some group formation activities to help people bond and get used to sharing online. For example, we could ask them to post their favourite quote about teaching, or share an image they think represents teaching for them, something simple which does not require too much sharing of personal information. We need to act as a role model and share in appropriate and positive ways. We need to demonstrate empathy as the group leader and as a participant of the group. This will encourage others to post. Finally, we should respond to individuals and create mini dialogues within the group. Praise people for posting and sharing and use their names! I used Claire Venable’s Facebook groups as a model in the webinar. She has done this really well and the participation is fantastic!

Q10 from Michelle Braddick-Southgate: When sharing something, like a video of oneself, would you have control of what happens to it once it is shared?

This is an important area to consider. I think it is essential to get permission from anyone who will feature in images or videos you create. They should agree to it being shared in public spaces such as Youtube.

I think it is almost impossible to control what happens to anything we share, so the best thing to do it get signed permission in writing where the participants are clear what the content is being used for.

Of course, we can ask the groups we are sharing on to NOT share beyond the confines of the group. This would be part of establishing the mission of the group.

Q11 from Tara Alhadithy in Abu Dhabi / United Arab Emirates: Hi Nicola, what reference do you recommend for reading on teacher-led professional development with regard to technology?

Unfortunately, there is very little out there, that I know of. Maybe others can help who read this article?

Q12 from Dr Srinath Addagatla in India: How can action research be shared on groups or collaborative teaching and learning?

I think collaboration in action research can be facilitated by creating online communities of practice. Teachers can either search for groups on facebook which focus on the areas they are researching and find out what other teachers around the world or in their context are doing. Or they can start their own online groups by reaching out via IATEFL, teaching associations in their countries or in social media posts (Facebook and Twitter etc) where they call on teachers to join a community with a particular focus. We can then all learn from comparative analysis of how things are being done in different contexts. We can learn from sharing results of our own research, asking teachers to help us with research and by simply sharing what we are doing and asking for comments and ideas.

For example, a teacher I was working with recently wanted to find out how teachers who have done their initial teacher training qualification and have some experience integrate pronunciation into their lessons, and how confident they feel about teaching pronunciation in general. He created an online survey and shared it on his social media networks, including a Facebook group of Diploma-qualified teachers I run. He got lots of responses and was able to answer this question and identify gaps in CPD in different contexts. He could then make some suggestions about how CPD in teaching pronunciation could be supported with more online development courses and informal collaboration between teachers.

Q13 from Alicia Artusi: I’d like to promote peer observation among remote teachers. Are there any tools you can recommend so they learn from each other?

This is a great question and it is relevant to teachers and schools everywhere. I think many teachers, even those working in the same school, resist peer observation schemes because they see it as more work – it can be time consuming. As an alternative, I think we can ask teachers to record short 5-minute sections of their lessons they want feedback on. For example, it could be related to the question: “I want to improve how I drill pronunciation”. I record myself and my learners doing some drilling and post this on my online teacher’s group (using instant messaging groups or social media groups, for example) and ask for feedback and suggestions. This way teachers can learn from each other’s feedback, like “Your drilling was good when you.. I will steal that technique. Maybe you can do it differently by… Maybe your learners could try ….”

I think in your case, it might be useful to identify areas the teachers want to explore and set up mini focus groups using instant messaging as this usually works best even with slower internet. You can then help teachers learn how to share videos and make suggestions about how they can ask questions and respond to each other. Again, start with conversations about what areas of teaching will be explored, what teachers will do (share images/videos/voice messages/ text messages), when (how often) and the timeframe for completing the peer observation scheme, should all be discussed carefully before beginning.

Q14 from Kimpeck Wee: This is more a comment than a question. What about older teachers above 50’s or 60’s who are not so tech-savvy?

I think the key is to not take on too much too soon. Learn how to use technology you are comfortable with. For example, if you already use a smartphone and text your friends and family, could you use your smart phone to record sections of your lessons and share it with other teachers? Could you text other teachers in a community with questions about teaching and learning? A good idea is to find a mentor who can act as a consultant to help you learn how to use technology. Another idea is to observe teachers in your school who use technology a lot.

Q15 from Veronika Rot Gabrovec: It seems that almost any tool /social network can be appropriated to support teacher development. Is there one you DON’T advise us to use?

Not that I can think of. It is more about how you use it and making sure that everyone who joins an online development community is clear on what they are doing before they begin. People want to be part of a supportive, focussed group so building rapport and clarifying the rules of interaction is very important.

I hope you found this useful and that you are now encouraged to start your own online collaborative teacher development groups.

Nicola Meldrum has been involved in ELT since 1999 and is based in Barcelona in Spain. She is a teacher trainer, teacher and writer and is currently course director on a Trinity Dip TESOL course at OxfordTEFL and involved in writing student and teacher materials. As well as regularly speaking at conferences, she also writes a blog about teaching pronunciation and articles on teacher development and teacher training. 

Thank you to Nicola for agreeing to write for the IATEFL blog. 

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