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Harnessing technology to boost your profits: My response to the TESOL Greece blog challenge

As a business English teacher working in companies, the interplay between learning, resources, and technology is one that I´m confronted with on an almost daily basis. Let´s start with the resources: I teach in companies that are paying a language school or training company to provide courses that should help their employees become more effective English communicators. The companies are doing this because it is compatible with their long-term business strategy. The company expects, however, to get their ROI (return on investment) in the form of employees who are measurably and noticeably better at English than they were at the start of the course. The more money they invest, the greater the improvement the learners are expected to make.  As a result, if we as in-company English teachers can find a way to increase the amount of progress that the learners make and ensure that the training we provide is really having an impact and helping our learners to get better, then not only do we have greater job satisfaction and more satisfied learners, but the chances of the contracts for the courses we teach being renewed is much greater. This is, of course, the ideal situation but one which isn´t always easy to achieve.

 

Now let´s turn our attention to technology and what it means in my teaching context. The people I teach vary from IT specialists who are more clued-up than I am when it comes to techie stuff to employees whose distrust of technology is so great that they don´t even own a mobile phone. Somewhere in the middle between these two extremes we have the average in-company business English learner who may or may not have a company smartphone, but who definitely spends a lot of his time working on the computer and is probably involved in some form of online social networking. Your average in-company learner in Germany knows the ins and outs of the software application SAP, but confront him or her with a Google doc  and the reaction is likely to be:” I don´t really like Google, I have a gmx.com email address.” Integrating technology into the classroom is happening more and more in in-company business English courses, but teachers are often faced with obstacles, such as not being allowed to use the company wireless network or only being allowed to use company computers where websites and web applications which could be useful are blocked. Not to be under-estimated is also the lack of familiarity with technology and ways of integrating it among teachers themselves who may not have the time, the money or the option to take part in professional development courses.

So where´s the link? Well, what I haven´t mentioned yet is that despite the resistance to technology which may arise,  if you get the learners on board, technology can help you deliver more stimulating lessons and this can boost learner engagement, ensuring that they stay in training long enough to get better. Instead of or as well as just telling learners about how people from different cultures tend to introduce themselves in a meeting or giving them a text to read about it, for example, you can show them how this works by bringing a video into the classroom. Instead of or as well as asking learners to write emails on paper, which, of course, no one would do in the real workplace, you can ask them to use their mobile devices to send an email from their actual email account. There are web applications learners can use to record their speaking and these recordings can be used as the basis for language feedback, identifying areas for improvement that learners can then work on together with their teacher. There are limitations to the scope of technology´s application, as I mentioned earlier, but if in-company learners are more engaged, are being exposed to a range of media, are getting more authentic communication practice and being given effective feedback on their language use, then they´re more likely to go on learning English and they´re more likely to get better. The better they get and the longer they stay in training, the greater the ROI will be for the company—in other words, harnessing the power of technology within in-company English training pays dividends and makes good business sense.

You can find the TESOL Greece Blog Challenge and the other responses to it here.

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Mobile Learning for Business English

Today I will be presenting a workshop at the IATEFL Business English Special Interest Group Summer Symposium in Preston, UK on integrating mobile learning into Business English teaching and learning. Mobile learning is particularly useful for teachers and learners in the Business English sphere because it enables learning to happen anywhere and at any time: this means when our learners are “on the go”, for example while they’re commuting to work or off on a business trip, but also when they’re sitting at home on the couch. Mobile learning transcends the walls of a classrooom in an age where our classroom can often be wherever we want it to be. Mobile devices are also increasingly prevalent in the business world itself and mobile device literacy is often taken as a given. Smartphones and tablets are frequently used as substitutes for PCs and laptops when they’re not available or sometimes even when they are as they can feel easier to access and can sit in the palm of your hand.

As with all forms of technology, M-learning has its weaknesses as well as its strengths and there are threats to its implementation as well as opportunities. Here you will find an interesting SWOT analysis of mobile learning.

In short, mobile devices should not be ignored by the Business English teaching community. Even if only half of your learners have their own smartphone or tablet now, this proportion is sure to rise exponentially in the years to come. My experience has been that my learners have themselves been very motivated and active in bringing mobile learning both into the classroom and outside of it and they have been prinicipally responsible for my current efforts to consider how I could create pedagogically sound and business-relevant activities which involve the use of mobile devices.

I have put together four mini lesson plans and learning ideas

1. Giving a presentation using a smartphone.

The presentation should be on one of the following subjects:

– one of the company´s products (or a component or aspect thereof)

– one of the company´s services (or a component or aspect thereof)

– how their department or team works (structure, hierarchy, roles, responsibilities, cooperation, dynamic)

– a project or initiative that they are involved in at work.

Why you should try it:

– activates work-related vocabulary

– exposes learners to communication in English through a range of media

– pushes learners to present information in a succinct and compact format

making presentations using smartphones is likely to become increasingly common in the business world as time goes on

Guidelines:

– The presentation should be 2-3 minutes long

– It should include at least two of the following four elements: text, audio, video and images

– No visual aids other than the mobile device are allowed.

Some practical tips and suggestions:

– The presentation could either be made directly on the mobile device or by connecting the device to a computer attached to a projector.

There are presentation packages out there which have been designed for giving presentations on mobile devices. These are usually not free, but may prove a worthwhile investment for the learners should they potentially be called upon to make presentations in their working lives. This article contains some further tips and practical information for giving presentations on smartphones.

– Try using Dropbox– it’s an application you can download onto a mobile devices which enables you to seamlessly link files onan IPhone or IPad with those on your computer and the web. In this case, it could be used to allow the learners to collect the information they need for their presentation in one place.

 

2. Exchanging emails

Learners exchange emails with each other which they write on their mobile devices. In one-to-one courses the emails could be exchanged between the teacher and the participant.

Why you should try it:

If you participated in John Hughes’ webinar for IATEFL BESIG in May 2011, you will have heard him talking about how the future of teaching writing in Business English lies in the simulation of authentic situations in which the writing takes place, i.e. in the real world learners have to write emails quickly and the people they are writing mails to and receiving them from are often fellow non-native speakers. This activity takes this idea and implements it in an M-learning context. Usually there aren’t five or six computers free which can be used for one English lesson for exchanging emails, but between the participants there may well be five or six web-enabled smartphones or tablets. Internet access is, of course, a prerequisite.  

Guidelines:

– The emails should be short and only a limited time should be allowed for the writing of each mail, e.g. two minutes.

– Possible topics for the email exchanges could be: arranging a meeting, asking for information, following up on an unpaid invoice, booking a flight or hotel, making an order, checking on the status of a delivery.

 

3. Learners record themselves reporting on their recent activities

The challenge of creating a short audio recording can stimulate learners to draw together vocabulary and grammatical language in a fluent and coherent whole. 

Why you should do it:

– learners’ motivation could be higher while doing this activity than it could be if they are just talking about the activity.

– it creates records of activities which can later be referred back to demonstrate progress, for review or for listening comprehension.

– listening to your own voice speaking in a foreign language can be a powerful aid to the assimilation of the language included in the recording.

– learners can listen back to the recording any time and anywhere they want and even send it to other learners for them to listen to.

Guidelines:

– Advise learners to keep the recording to two or three minutes

– Examples of activities that they could report on are: business trips, meetings, training courses/ workshops, trade fairs, conferences.

Some practical tips and suggestions:

On an IPhone there is an  application you can use to record your voice and most smartphones will also allow you to do this.

– You could use Audioboo to make and upload the recording. Russell Stannard has posted a great video on his website which talks you through how to use it.  

 

4. Using apps for vocabulary learning and consolidation

Apps are often the aspect of mobile learning that course participants know the most about and the one they most actively interested in. They can provide an effectively stimulus to learning outside the classroom. The majority of them focus on vocabulary learning and, in order to maximise the effectiveness of using them for this purpose, the teacher can support the learners by showing them techniques for vocabulary acquisition and recycling while they’re in the classroom.

Below is a list that I have compiled of apps that should prove useful for Business English learners:

a. Image to Text

b. Business English Power Verbs (Language Success Press)

c. Business English video apps (Cornelsen)

d. English-at-work (Red River Press)

e. British Council listening apps

f. Dictionary.com

g. Word Lens (for Spanish-speaking learners)

h. LEO (for German-speaking learners)

Words on-line is also a useful webtool which could be accessed via mobile devices

And finally…

Nicky Hockly’s blog contains some excellent m-learning resources and is essential reading for anyone interested in this area.

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