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Blended Learning: Using technology in and beyond the language classroom

Writer(s): 
Michael Thomas, Nagoya University of Commerce and Business
Publisher: 
Macmillan, 2007

 

[Pete Sharma and Barney Barrett, Oxford: Macmillan, 2007. pp. 160. ¥3,200. ISBN: 978-0-230-02083-2.]

Blended Learningis another book in the Macmillan Books for Teachers series that now includes 12 titles on language teaching theory and practice. The book is positioned alongside a number of other books on technology enhanced language learning (Dudeney, 2000; Dudeney & Hockly, 2007), the main difference being the focus on blended approaches to learning and the central place given to Web 2.0 technologies (wikis, podcasts, blogs, social networking, etc.). Blended Learning is aimed primarily at new teachers to the field of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL), although it also promises to offer some new ideas to experienced learning technologists as well. The format of nine chapters framed by an introduction and an afterword on the future of blended learning, is intended to encourage a selective approach; readers are urged to jump to the chapter that interests them most or may fill a gap in their knowledge, rather than follow a conventional linear route. One of the obvious strengths of the book is the self-contained chapters, and the fact that each of them sets out to establish a context for the technologies discussed in a nonthreatening way that assumes little prior knowledge. With today’s students, so-called digital natives, more likely to be using blogs and social networking sites than the majority of their teachers, this book aims to bring teachers quickly and effectively up to speed with a range of computer mediated communication tools.

The book’s nine chapters include introductions to some of the most popular learning technologies currently being used in language learning, including authentic web-based materials, electronic dictionaries, interactive whiteboards, and portable wireless devices. Such a range of topics in an easily accessible format should be of value to teacher training courses from diploma to masters level. Given the current status of Web 2.0 technologies, space is also given to examples and case studies introducing wikis, blogs, and podcasting. Two helpful appendices are also provided, with the first including a wealth of photocopiable materials in a Teacher’s Resource Bank, while the second provides useful tips for getting started with technology, with brief guides to using browsers, tackling computer viruses, and installing and deinstalling software.

The opening chapter offers a compact but meaningful discussion of blended learning, which refers to a language course combining “face-to-face (F2F) classroom component with an appropriate use of technology” (p. 7). Technology in this case includes a wide range of options, from CD-ROMs to web-based materials. The rationale offered to new teachers is that learning technologies can enhance student motivation, interactivity in the classroom, and mechanisms for improved student-teacher feedback. The focus on blended learning rather than CALL is a rather good strategy in that teachers new to learning technologies are more likely to adopt a mixed approach as they begin to experiment with the organizational risks integral to the process. In addition, one of the most helpful aspects of the brief but relevant opening are the four principles identified to help balance the use of technology with traditional classroom pedagogy: separate the roles of teacher and learning technology; adopt the technology to support the pedagogy; use technology to complement and enhance face-to-face teaching; and emphasize that the role of technology should be used in multi-faceted ways to support learning, both inside and outside the classroom.

Two of the most useful features of the book are the practical activities and case studies that conclude each chapter. The activities are clearly introduced with a rationale, language level, and detailed step-by-step procedure for their use with students. The list of activities helps to ground the discussion in each chapter and should prove relevant to teachers seeking specific examples of work they can immediately develop with students. The activities are further contextualized by two case studies and describe the use of the technologies in specific learning environments as part of a narrative of discovery, by teacher and learners alike.

The clear written style and nontechnical use of jargon make this a book of value to the vast majority of teachers who do not yet consider learning technologies a worthwhile component of their teaching strategies and lesson planning. Packing a considerable coverage into 160 pages is also an achievement in this respect, and the book can be easily digested in one or two sittings or skimmed for ideas prior to a class. So much has happened recently with the rise of so-called Web 2.0 technologies in education that a book such as this is a highly recommended addition for teachers not wishing to be left behind by their students.

References

Dudeney, G. (2000). The Internet and the language classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dudeney, G., & Hockly, N. (2007). How to teach English with technology. London: Longman.

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