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The tech package language teachers need

Computers and other new technology have been tremendous for languages. Ever since the reel-to-reel tape recorder and slide projector language teachers have led the way in schools in the use of the latest technology to enhance the quality of lessons. Language laboratories, cassettes, television, VCRs, CDs, interactive boards, mobile devices and networked computers have all provided us with new tools to make lessons more accessible and interesting. Some have even created new approaches to language learning in their own right.

And yet... we still await the total package which would fulfill all our needs.

For presentation, enhanced powerpoints (e.g. Boardworks) are good. For advanced grammar explanation we have Le Fran├žais Interactif. For grammar practice, interactive web sites such as languagesonline do the job. For interactive listening we have the likes of the Ashcombe School video quizzes, the BBC, Audio Lingua and a wide range of online and published resources. For comprehension we can dip into online sources such as MYLO, PolarFLE. For vocabulary learning there's Vocab Express. For games there's Taskmagic. For language in context and cultural content we have the BBC. For assessment we have Exampro. At the more gimmicky end of things we have the likes of Voki and Goanimate.

What we do not yet have is a teaching package which can combine everything we would like in a stimulating and challenging way for students.

Such a package would allow teachers to present and practise material and for students to work independently with instant feedback and without distracting each other. These could be some of the elements:

  • Presentational material e.g. flashcard/powerpoint
  • Interactive textual material
  • Interactive listening material (mainly video)
  • Interactive grammar practice
  • Teacher and self-assessment resources
  • Interactive games
  • Voice recording and feedback capability
  • Intercultural content
Now, there have been attempts to do something along these lines, for example the AQA Nelson-Thornes Kerboodle packages (the clue is in the title), but they have been, to my mind at least, unimaginative (dull interface, short of creative tasks, boring texts), short on investment (e.g. lack of video, lack of games, patchy exercises) and not cheap for language departments strapped for cash.

The problem may be partly one of imagination, but the real issue is money. The market for a total package of this type is relatively small, since the product would need to cater for specific syllabuses and would probably not cross continents. The investment would need to be large, so the cost would be prohibitive. It would take the likes of the BBC to be able to produce something with the scale and quality required. Their Learning Zone Class Clips gives an idea of what can be achieved with an existing archive of material. But look out for Pearson who, drawing on their American experience, will look for lucrative opportunities to make the most of the English market for ready-made teaching and testing resources.

PS - Anneli Mclachlan has pointed out Pearson's ActiveTeach to me. Is it good?


  1. Nice blog entry, and great to have the links too.

    I can also recommend ActiveTeach. It is a digital copy of the textbooks (both higher and foundation). You can expand each section of a page (great for annotating) and access all the resources to go with the double spread so no more hunting around for CDS or finding the transcript in the teacher's guide.

    For each chapter, there is also a video embedded into one of the pages, again with a transcript and worksheet tasks.

    I really like it as a tool, and it does bring the book alive :-)


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