Russell Stannard: Platforms are the way to go

Zoom is only half the story: let’s start talking digital platforms

It has been a while since I wrote a blog post and I am sure you can guess why. As an educational technologist, I have been inundated with requests for doing training and doing online workshops. Along with Express Publishing we recently ran a webinar with over a 1000 attendees. Literally the whole world is going Zoom crazy and one of my videos on YouTube, showing teachers how to use Zoom has been played nearly 200,000 times! Funny enough, Zoom is not my favourite webinar tool but it seems to be the technology that most people in ELT are using. It has one or two features that make it a good choice for what we have to do. It is easy to share your screen and play video, make use of the IWB software, etc and also you can use breakout rooms and these work very well. The one problem is that when it comes to teaching online Zoom is only half the story. 

Zoom covers the live lesson. It means there is a teacher presence and the students can see and hear their teacher and that is important. Personally, I would always rather have my students in a classroom but that is not possible, so  Zoom ( or any other webinar tool) is the second-best option. However, the question is what do you do after the lesson? Where do the students go to do their homework? How do they communicate with their classmates? How can you maintain a class identity? The answer is you need to have your students organised on a virtual learning environment or some sort of platform where the students can be organised, given homework and activities to do and where the teacher can track and see what the students are doing.

Digital Platforms

So my feeling is that this is finally the moment when all that wonderful digital content that publishers have been producing but most teachers have been ignoring is going to play a big role. What could be more useful than to be able to get your students to go to the digital platform after their lesson and find activities, videos, listening material etc all related to the coursebook they are using? What’s more, if all the students’ activity was tracked by the platform, that would make the teachers’ job so much easier. A teacher could check scores, check what problems the students are having and track student activity all at the click of a button.

Zoom is less than half the story in reality. What students do when the teacher is NOT there is actually what learning a language is all about.  I have learnt several languages but I did not learn them in the classroom. Yes, the teacher helped me, motivated me and directed me but it was the work I did outside of the classroom that really allowed me to learn a language. It is the hours  I put in doing exercises, reading readers, watching videos and exposing myself to the language that really helped me to learn. This is where the learning really takes place and the platforms are ideal for this.

Express Digibooks

Express Digibooks mean that the students have access to a digital version of the book with interactive exercises. Teachers can organise their classes but setting up classes in Digibooks that the students can then access. Each student has a redeem code in their book and this is how they link to their teacher’s class.

Once the teacher is connected with the students it makes organising the learning outside of the lesson so much easier. Teachers can choose the exercises the students want to do by going into the Digibooks and setting the students’  assignments. The students can then log into their Digibooks and complete the exercises. All of the student’s activity is tracked, so a teacher can easily see who has done the homework and what marks they received.

The Digibooks can be used in much more imaginative ways. For example, a student could watch a video, read an article or listen to some audio in preparation for the lesson online. When the teacher meets the students in the live online session, he/she can move the students into the breakout rooms and get them to discuss the content. For example, the teacher might provide a series of questions for the students to discuss or the students might be asked to summarise what they watched, listened to or read. The point is that the use of the Digibooks can make the live part of the lesson more engaging and more focused.

You can also bring the Digibooks into the live lesson. Remember when you use tools like Zoom or Adobe Connect, it is possible to screen share and share audio too. So you can use either your IWB software or the Digibooks to play videos or audio in the lesson.  You don’t have to be ‘teaching’ all the time when you are working online. You can be in a ‘live’ session and get the students to do something in Digibooks and then come back to the live session. I often do this when I am in my language teaching lessons. This is the key to effectively delivering an online class. You need to make use of both the tool you use for the live sessions ( like Zoom) and the platform you use to organise the students learning content.

Digibooks allow teachers to set extra work, to recognise good work with badges and even to set tests. It is a one-stop-shop and can save the teacher hours of preparation time. There are other platforms that we can use to organise our students, like Edmodo or Schoology but they don’t have pre-built content in them that is matched to the coursebook the students are using. My feeling is that this is the moment when many teachers will finally discover the value of the Digibooks.


For more information visit: www.expressdigibooks.com

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