Write ups

IATEFL, Liverpool 2013

Chosen for the IATEFL Voices January 2014

Just hit pause – Getting the best out of using video in the ELT classroom
Suzanne Mordue and Sirin Soyoz
British Council, Istanbul, Turkey

Whenever you are online, trying to catch up with the news; looking for information on a certain topic; or simply looking to be entertained, it is impossible to avoid the moving image. Video shorts have become ubiquitous in our virtual lives.

Educators not only have to be aware of trends but they also must be prepared to scrutinize and assess resources in terms of pedagogical value. Videos per se are not a learning tool, although their potential to be used to increase learner interest while providing authentic language or contexts is high.

Video is a very powerful and exciting tool as it provides multiple entry points to the learners. Using videos can provide a strong context for the English language classroom. For instance, we can take students on field trips; travel around the globe; see different cultures; demonstrate abstract ideas and bring literature, music and scenes from history into the classroom.

We will not explore the reasons for using video in the classroom but how to best exploit the material with particular reference to the popular video-sharing sites that have extensive libraries within multiple channels. As video cameras can now be found on everyday devices such as mobile phones we will also share some simple ideas for filming learners.

Our session was for practitioners so we concentrated on presenting a wide range of resources and activities. In the following section, we will summarize them and emphasize their pedagogical value.

Writing subtitles
There are specialist websites, such as Bombay TV, which provides learners with amusing video clips that they have to write the dialogue to. However, this activity can be done by simply muting the sound while a piece of video is playing or showing a video clip in a language that your learners are unfamiliar with. This gives learners a task to accomplish using the language they have available and can also present them with a real need to discover new language for the given context.

Writing definitions and sample sentences for new vocabulary in itself may not be an interesting task, but being filmed while articulating your definition could be. The definitions could be added to a school blog or wiki throughout an academic year. This activity could also become a small class or school link project, where learners compare definitions. This approach would lead to the production of an extensive (and memorable) video word bank.

Clips from comedy programmes or advertisements with unexpected endings can be used for practice of the language of prediction or discussion. We recommended Trigger Happy TV, where members of the public are surprised by strange events such as babies floating out of their prams. For prediction work the clip can be silent or even in the learners’ L1 as it is providing a context for the pre-discussion.

Researching a topic
The increasing volume of video footage online suggests that the curious and web-dependent are turning more towards this medium when seeking information. It is therefore only natural that teachers should in turn provide input in this way by using authentic videos to prepare for a presentation, class debate or discussion. The TED talks have become a phenomenon and their website includes a vast collection of assorted topics. Likewise, the National Geographic site contains a wide array of factual videos. For learners with lower levels of language trailers for documentaries can also be an aid to activate schemata

The most commonly used context for this kind of activity is the bank heist or car accident. You show your learners a clip of an incident, either authentic or dramatized, and ask them to describe what they saw. News clips can often be found on the main video sharing sites, such as Youtube, although caution should be taken when choosing clips to ensure that the language is appropriate and that no violence is displayed.

Challenging perceptions
Information about different cultures or unusual events can be useful for this kind of activity. You could put your students in groups to discuss what they imagine typical events would be at a popular festival in Spain and then show them a clip of the tomato throwing festival for example. Or ask them to imagine what life is like in Turkey before showing them a clip of someone talking about living in Istanbul. In the past these kinds of awareness-raising activities were only really viable through cultural exchanges but technology has brought not only the means but ready-made resources that can be manipulated.

Bombay TV http://www.grapheine.com/bombaytv/
Youtube http://www.youtube.com/
TED http://www.ted.com/talks?lang=tr

Chosen for the IATEFL conference selections

IATEFL, Glasgow 2012

Using e-portfolios for alternative assessment

Suzanne Mordue & Sirin Soyoz

British Council, Istanbul, Turkey

Working in the field of teacher training involves keeping up-to-date with the shifting focuses of educationalists and the teachers themselves.  The current move is towards life-long learning which is certainly not a revolutionary idea but it is a widely-recognized fact that emerging technologies and practices associated with learning and teaching have had a big impact on education which highlights the need for teachers to be able to adapt their classroom practice. Electronic portfolios, also known as e-portfolios, are one way to record personal learning.

What is an e-portfolio?

When the topic of e-portfolios first came up for discussion within our organisation we realised that everyone had a slightly different view of what an e-portfolio was and how it could used. Therefore, agreeing on a definition was an essential starting point. Sutherland and Powell put it rather succinctly:

“An e-portfolio is a purposeful aggregation of digital items – ideas, evidence, reflections, feedback etc., which ‘presents’ a selected audience with evidence of a person’s learning and/or ability.” (2007)

Why use it?

Some teachers work in schools with mentoring programmes and regular in-service training. Unfortunately this does apply to all and outside of major cities it may be difficult for teachers to get the support they need. E-portfolios can be used as a showcase of teachers’ work, skills, competencies and creativity. Providing teachers with an online space can help them plan their own development and use ICT tools effectively which in turn could have a positive impact on their learners.

When we recently surveyed some teachers who were using portfolios on our Certificate in Secondary English Language Teaching (CiPELT) course we discovered that 90% of the teachers had never created an assessed portfolio before. After their experience on the course 86% of responders intended to continue building their portfolio and 79% expressed an interest in using them with learners. The feedback was mainly positive and one teacher commented that ‘it makes the student think over the material given, reflect on the main points of the information and achievements’ (sic).

How to get started

During our presentation we asked participants to brainstorm a list of questions they needed to ask themselves before starting. These questions developed into an e-portfolio planning document.

It is widely acknowledged that e-portfolios are better formed if they are fully integrated into the curriculum. Therefore the first question one must ask is how to make the e-portfolio an integral part of the assessment process. A method explored by one of the participants at our presentation involved giving her learners a list of the tasks that should appear in the e-portfolio by the end of the term which they self-selected. For example, one poem, two essays, etc.

A time frame needs to be decided; will the portfolio be available for a term or a year? To encourage learners to continue adding to their portfolio you also need to ensure that you use a tool which allows long-term access or use a format that is transferable.

Before putting finger to keyboard a portfolio tool must be selected. A range of factors will influence this decision, how tech-savvy your learners are; the platform choices available at your institution or even the availability of funds. There are specialist e-portfolio tools available however e-portfolios can very simple in form. They can be developed using word processing software and uploaded onto blogs, wikis or even a SharePoint space.

When choosing the tool you need to assess how easy it is to use; do you need to teach your learners a few basic IT skills for them to use the space efficiently? Furthermore, any learning space needs to have rules for use so you will have to produce some basic guidelines to ensure the quality of the work. The logistics of how to share the tool and the viewing rights that will be given to learners need to be considered.

Will the portfolio be private or shared within the group? If work is shared, will learners be able to comment on each others work? Do they have the skills to give succinct, productive feedback? Pairing learners up in the online environment and asking them to give very specific feedback are both scaffolding strategies that can be used. For example, ‘Tell your partner how their poem made you feel’.

If you are now feeling motivated to discover the world of e-portfolios we recommend the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) website as a good starting place to get more information on e-portfolios.


Sutherland, S. and Powell, A., 9 July 2007, CETIS Portfolio SIG mailing list discussions

JISC http://www.jisc.ac.uk/eportfolio


IATEFL, Harrogate 2010

The starting point

When languages were introduced into the primary curriculum in Turkey it highlighted the importance of English and the lack of qualified professionals to teach the subject for this age group. As a result the government was forced to continue accepting short-term teaching certificates as a qualification for English teachers, although they had been phased out in other subject areas in 1998.

In-service training was unable to bridge the gap as the training offered was the drop in the teaching ocean, meaning that each teacher could only be guaranteed a week’s training every 30 years. When they were offered training teachers were often disappointed to find a lecture style used; concentrating on teaching theory that they saw as irrelevant to their day-to-day teaching needs.

As we already had a strong working relationship with the Ministry of Education, we decided to develop a project to support this need for appropriate training which could reach the 30,000 primary teachers working across 80 cities. It was clear that such a large amount of people could only be reached online and initially decided to develop a blended-learning course. The growth in Internet usage meant that this was a realistic aim in Turkey and we chose Moodle as our virtual learning environment.


To add an observation element to the online learning experience a teacher was filmed using some of the teaching techniques discussed on the course in a local primary school. I would recommend this for anyone setting up online teacher training as it has become the most popular element of the course. Anecdotal evidence suggests that in many schools peer observation is not practical due to the long-working hours of teachers.

The initial pilot highlighted how ambitious we were setting up the online element with 60 participants! With hindsight we realise that a maximum cohort of 25 participants is more workable for the tutor. An independent evaluation showed us the importance of socialization to the success of online courses. We added Plenary and Social forums where off-course topics could be discussed to create a wider sense of community. We could also clearly see that we needed to expand the reach of our training in the next stage.

With support from the Ministry of Education 14 teachers from 9 cities in Turkey were trained to be F-2-F and online trainers for this course. In 2009 these facilitators trained over 400 teachers across Turkey. Again, there were many lessons learnt from this next step.  We set up a section of our Moodle platform as a trainer’s resource kit with detailed supporting documents and a coffee shop where the facilitators could share ideas and chat generally about their courses. Creating this interaction between the moderators has been one of the most successful approaches we have taken to support our trainers in online learning as this replaces the ‘staffroom chat’. We also produced checklists of the tasks for all modules, so that the tutors could record the information quickly and see at a glance which participants were keeping up with their workload. As many online tutors will have discovered moderating a course can be very time-consuming without support mechanisms in place.

 Getting to know our neighbours

Mixing online groups so that teachers were meeting participants who were not on their F2F course led to more productive discussion and when we expanded the English teacher Training Online (ETTO) project into other countries this approach became even more beneficial. We started to work with project managers in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine. Due to historical reasons the political relationship between some of these countries is strained and therefore this project was important from a cultural relations point of view. Many teachers made friends with their ‘neighbours’ for the first time and the similarities of their teaching situations quickly began to emerge and create bonds. We found that teachers who had struggled to get training in the past, in smaller cities such as Batumi in Georgia with a population of around 122.000, were the most appreciative.

With the only prerequisite Internet connectivity, online education can break down barriers and also bring much-needed resources. As online educators this is where we should be reaching out. One of the participants, Elif Arpacı, says it best in her own words:

I just thank you for giving me the chance to improve my career. In my hometown I don’t have anything to do apart from participating in some seminars. With the help of this online course I could participate and learn lots of things


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