Interview with a Tech-Savvy ESOL Teacher- Matt Kolbusz
Many of you listened to the webinar that Matt Kolbusz gave a few weeks ago for NYS TESOL. It was a great webinar and received a lot of excellent feedback, not least because Matt was so adept at demonstrating the use of Padlet and various other apps for the classroom. His demonstration made us all feel a little less nervous about trialing new educational technology in our classes. Matt teaches adult ESOL learners at the Queens Public library and has been using educational technology in his classes for a long time. This interest originates in his 'other' career in advertising technology. In Matt's own words: ed tech and ad tech are related. Ad tech typically blazes a trail that then informs and influences ed. tech.
Like every other teacher, Matt had to move his classes entirely online at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. It was not very difficult for him; he had already seen what opportunities educational technology could provide for teaching and learning. Therefore, my first question to him was: Why did you get into ed. tech?
When I started teaching, I realized that I was spending a lot of time doing mundane tasks: cutting paper strips, prepping materials - things that were not related to what the students wanted most, and that was feedback. Students want a personalized experience with their teachers and to obtain feedback quickly. This directly correlates with my ad tech experience. Typically, consumers want a customized experience. Advertisers need to know what the consumers' motivations are and, ultimately, what drives their world. Teachers also need to know their students' motivations and needs. Technology, such as electronic assessment tools, allows this to happen. I use technology as a tool to accelerate mundane tasks that we have to do and to provide the students with an environment that facilitates individuality and creativity.
How do you get students into tech? Do they understand why you use it in your classes?
I begin by explaining what I will use in lessons and why it is essential not for me but for them i.e., how it benefits them. I illustrate, for example, that we are going to take online quizzes because the students can get the results of the quizzes immediately. They do not have to wait for me to grade them. If they answer a question incorrectly, the quiz will ask the question again in a different way and explain why their answer was incorrect. In other words, I explain that the tools I use can do what I would do for them much more quickly.
I also provide YouTube tutorials after classes to explain or demo step by step how to use the tech. I am very visual in these demos and cut down on my talk as much as possible so that low levels, as well as higher levels, can understand.
I recommend all teachers introduce tech incrementally- one app maybe per week, possibly one per month, etc. I ensure that all technology can be used on mobile devices as well as desktops.
How do you encourage other teachers to use ed. tech in their classes?
Teachers need to be brave when using tech. I am a great believer in trial and error. I also strongly recommend teachers find a tech buddy- someone who has experience using tech and is only a phone call or an email away. Educational technology is designed to be efficient and user friendly. I also believe that if teachers can see how it saves time and does specific tasks such as providing feedback immediately, which learners appreciate, teachers will be more likely to experiment with it.
Post-COVID 19, do you think teachers will still use ed. tech in their classes?
I hope teachers feel that there are tech solutions that help not only them but also their learners.
What is the future in ed. tech?
I think we will keep exploring tech solutions that save time. For example, we know students have different reading levels in our classes. Typically, this means that we have to differentiate the tasks for the learners. Readworks and Newsella can do this. They grade texts automatically based on initial reading assessments of each learner, and learners work on different tasks based on their level.
Also, think about Alexa (AI). AI can read and can interpret information – this is already happening in ad. tech. AI will be able to read our students' work and will provide feedback to students (think about Grammarly).
The caveat is that we also need to make sure that everyone is connected in the future i.e., that we all have 5G etc.
Finally, Matt- what are your top five apps at the moment:
Quizalize (www.quizalize.com) – a great assessment platform. It has a strong AI – it can read fill-in-the-blank and short answer content and grade accordingly.
Google Classroom- a very organized, clean user experience. We can use it as a learning management system.
Flipgrid (www.flipgrid.com)for speaking because it allows teachers to assess speaking. Students also like the Snapchat features and it helps to build communities.
Padlet (www.padlet.com)for discussions, students can write posts and reply to each other's posts.
Mentimeter (www.mentimeter.com) for polling and word cloud. Students can show what they know and what needs to be taught.
Two thoughts: Teachers need to focus on the fact that technology will never take over from the social interaction that is necessary for learning English - teachers will always have a job! What technology can do is be used by the teacher based on what the student's behavior is. Gen. X and Gen Y use Instagram; they want instant feedback; they like to click through materials etc. We need to address what their expectations are of a classroom and meet their needs.
Thanks Matt Kolbusz!