About Elisabetta Lando

e-Learning adviser. jisc RSC London

ESOL in the community with little or no technology

The accessbilityirony of this last technology webinar on ESOL in the community was one where the downside of using technology manifested itself fully as unfortunately we had a bit of an issue with the audio. Nonetheless, it was still a useful session as we had Julie Day from the British Council talking about English my way; some great resources for lower level learners including some very high quality videos – but seeing that the theme was what to do in community venues with little or no technology, Julie did go on to say that these resources can be downloaded for when there is no internet connection and can be accessed via mobile devices. Furthermore, you can order free resources, there is also online teacher support and you can become an English my way centre; to find out more follow this link

A lot of the ideas that we were trying to explore in this session came from the shared Google doc where people had written about the challenges as well as the strategies they used when teaching in community venues. This included what to do when learners were reluctant to engage with technology; so getting them to use their mobile phones for learning seems a popular one (though not everyone has a smartphone). With this in mind we were hoping to have ELATT tell us about their work but the technology malfunction occurred. However,Nafisha from ELATT managed to tell us in the chat pane that they carried out a needs analysis with their learners and one of the things they realised they had to do was to work with them to explore the full functionality of mobile phones (as not doing so was a disservice to the learners). So ELATT developed some learning strategies using Google translate, calendars and other simple apps. They also got class kits of smartphones so everyone could have access to one. A strategy aimed at not only teaching English but helping learners to develop critical digital skills.

Another presentation we missed out on because of technology breakdown was Fatima from Westminster Adult Education Service-but again through the chat pane Fatima did tell us how big community learning is for them as they have 60 community learning venues! Here at RSC London we do know that WAES does some fantastic work teaching in the community. This presentation from the e-Factor 2014  explains how they focus on simple steps; using a set of ipod touch for the classes that teachers can easily carry around with them. Crucially they also  offer training and support in the learning resource centres for both teachers and learners. Other simple steps mentioned were using a flipped approach by getting learners to explore materials before they come to the lesson, getting them to take photographs with their mobile phones of the class whiteboard and using a padlet to upload work. The advantage of using Padlet is that it does not need a login which can make it easier to access for some learners and easy for teachers to set up.

Finally, the question came up of what to do when there is no internet connection and a participant really recommended MiFi, a portable hotspot solution, as she said it could take up to 11 users and was extremely reliable- so a possible cost effective solution there.

Overall, what came through is the importance of support when teaching and learning in a community venue. It is probably not so much an issue of sparkling technologies but more about communication with IT support and management, accessibility to some basic resources as well as time to explore to see what can work in different teaching situations with different learners.


accessbilityA packed webinar on VLEs and ESOL. One of the reasons I personally was keen on this theme was the hours spent trying to get learners to remember their college passwords and then trying to do an ‘interesting’ activity. By the time I had managed to get around to everyone and got them to re-enter their password for the third time it was already the end of a rubbish lesson. But I still think of the ‘ideal’ VLE as a place were learners (and staff) have the chance to interact and learn creatively. What I have picked up from talking to curriculum and e-learning staff is that a consistent institutional and curriculum team approach, as well as meticulous planning, is needed. Technologically facilitated delivery can offers great benefits, such as accessibility and flexibility, but there does need to be a lot of attention to detail.

That brings me to Sally Betts’ presentation about ‘ VLEs for all’, an ETF funded project to develop the accessibility of Moodle for all learners. Here there was that attention to detail and some strategies that would have been really useful for me as I struggled with my classes. Keeping in mind some of the points that people mentioned in the pre-activity; Sally talked about ideas such as communicating with IT support to override the automatic password creation and then developing a class plan for setting up passwords that are individual yet have some common prompts that the teacher can use to remind all learners. Sally also mentioned creating groups by using the group function in Moodle for differentiated learning. Also mentioned was Poodll, an audio and video-recording tool specifically created for language learning, though you will need to get your technical support on board with this as it is a Moodle plug-in.Infact, one of the initial questions we asked on the webinar was how supported people felt with their technology, if they had someone to turn to in a moment of technological need and it was very nice to see that the majority did feel supported; certainly communication and co-operation with technology support is vital. Lastly, we ourselves can also bring external tools in and embed them into Moodle such as Padlets but also, Xerte learning objects (all mentioned before in a previous ESOL webinar click here). Another major concern that  people expressed in the pre-activity was how clunky and unattractive the design of their Moodle was, so to help with this we heard about Xtlearn; a great visual way of putting resources onto Moodle and another good tip is using Moodle’s picture grid format for easier navigation. To find out more here is a Xtlearn collection from Sally with a summary of the useful tips she suggested: VLES for all.

Next, for those of us who do not have access to Moodle or want to try something else, Diana Tremayne told us about her use of Edmodo. There has been a lot of clamouring for a presentation on Edmodo as people have heard how easy it is to use. Indeed, the overall impression is that Edmodo’s friendly interface is great for both tutors and learners, particularly at lower levels. A bit like Facebook, it is a free web based tool and one of its winning point is that you do not need an email to sign up, which is often a barrier for some ESOL learners. Furthermore, it is easy to post onto and it has lots of assessment tools such as polls for instant feedback and quiz functions, which seem easier to set up compared to Moodle. There is also the option to use Open Badges (Click here for our December session where we talked about Open Badges) and also a great place for teachers themselves to share resources and ideas. Edmodo is available as a mobile app as well! Though someone did point out that even if it is such a great tool some institutions are not too keen about using external learning platforms; the line between ‘institutional’ and the outside world is blurred and concerns are raised about who is in control of what. However, maybe using something like Edmodo could be a strategic way to get lower level learners comfortable with the concept of on-line learning before slowly transitioning them onto Moodle and its higher functionality. Again highlighting the importance of communication as it is a question of balancing the risks that would need to be discussed across the organisation. Russell Stannard’s Teacher Training Videos has some good tips about setting up Edmodo.

It is good to know what else is out there and to prove that Moodle is not the only major VLE in town we got some input from Richard Calderdale about the state of the art latest generation VLE called Canvas, which does look impressive. I had heard about Canvas in a presentation from a South African school with SEN learners and how effective it was, particularly in terms of accessibility. Richard used screen share for a quick tour and it certainly looks very smooth with a clear layout; again familiar functionalities are there like setting up groups, quizzes and so forth. In addition there are other features such as an integrated video function that has great potential to be used as a ‘language lab’, it also has a conferencing tool with whiteboard. It would certainly be great to be able to experience Canvas within an ESOL context.

Finally, the last presentation was from Colin who told us about a start-up project at Strathclyde University called Micro-phonics; an ESOL pronunciation tool that can be integrated into Moodle. Pronunciation seems to be one of those things that newer teachers often do not feel very confident teaching. Yet even if someone does use the right grammar and a lot of vocabulary but does not use any sentence stress, for instance, it can really affect communication and comprehension. This web based tool has been created to help teachers and learners with this and to increase the effectiveness of ESOL teaching overall as it uses video, animation and images to blend individual elements of speech together to teach letter-sounds as well as handwriting. There are various functionalities including one for learners to record themselves and it also has loads of lesson plans and quizzes, all with a word database dictionary. You can find out more or if you want to get involved with the University of Glasgow research then do contact Colin@micro-phonics.com.

This was a quick overview that in no way covers it all so if you do want to hear more then click here for recording and presentations of this webinar (and past webinars)  available until December.

Next webinar will be on the 14th November ESOL in the community

Supporting all ESOL learners with accessible technology


This is the very last webinar of the year and to celebrate the huge amount of stuff that we  have looked at in these past six months Franca Marchese,from Barnet and Southgate college,told us how she has been inspired through the webinars to use various tools which included the popular Vocaroo,QR Codes and mobile technologies,Poll everywhere as well as the British council Nexus material.We were also wondering what type of tools would we like to talk about in future webinars so we did a quick poll and the most popular answer seemed to be creative tools, as well as the learning platform Edmodo.There seems to be a bit of teacher experimenting going on amongst our webinar participants with Edmodo so hopefully we will hear more about that in a future webinar.

However,the focus in this month’s webinar was using accessibility tools with ESOL learners and we had the incredibly knowledgeable Alistair Mcnaught from Techdis. Alistair started with text to speech tools such as the built in one in Word for windows called ‘Speak’.Which was a bit of a surprise to me! Text to speech can be such a powerful tool for ESOL learners as the types of problems they may have with accessing English text are actually quite similar for a dyslexic person; such as fluency in reading or being able to grasp meaning rapidly from a text. Other great text to speech tools are Balabolka, that saves texts as Mp3 files as well as Orato that can work from a memory stick.Orato has some really nice functions; it can highlight the text that you have chosen in your preferred font, style and colour.Furthermore,it will highlight each word as it is being read helping to reinforce spelling as well as pronunciation.Best of all these tools are free yet they can only really work well if the quality of the voices are good so Techdis have developed some high quality voices which are free to download for all post-16 providers. If you want to listen to these Techdisc voices,called Jess and Jack,click here and you will also be able to compare them to the standard robotic voices we tend to get.
We then looked at another free tool called Dicom portable which is a word prediction tool that creates a drop down list of words once you start typing. A lesson idea could be taking the words generated by DiCom and then learners can categorize them according to whether they are adjectives, nouns or verbs.Next,some referencing tools; Simple English wikipedia does not only work as a more accessible wiki reference resource but learners are able to create their own entry page, so this could be the basis of a task based project that is both collaborative and creative. The output would be seen by a real audience which could be a real incentive for learners to create something of value.

Another interesting tool is the search engine Deeper web powered by Google – I think this has so much potential for ESOL learners.If you want to search a term,for instance I put in ‘traditional English food’, it creates a word cloud with keywords so learners can use these to really build up their lexis and then there is also the option of clicking on phrases which in turn creates some common adjective and noun collocations; great for preparing a writing task.

We were back to Alistair again who showed us that learning preferences for learners with accessible needs is for any other media but text and though text obviously has its place in the classroom it is probably a good idea to try and incorporate other media much more for all learners in general.So the Discover Jisc project was set up to help practitioners source multimedia and other resources. For example the MediaHub, has some great videos that can be used for educational purposes and are so much better than using random internet videos, as you can see all relevant source and copyright information.There are also a lot of links to repositories,content source collections and more.However, part of the Discover Jisc project was not only to tell people about all this content but also to explore ways in which these technologies can be used.Therefore, in the teaching techniques section lesson examples on presenting, researching, group work and more are given.The main point of these examples, Alistair was saying, is to inspire teachers from all curriculum areas by looking at how technology can offer such fantastic pedagogical opportunities.One of the examples that I thought was really great and that I have already blogged about before, is the one on a local history group. This lesson explores the local area’s past by using an augmented reality app called bombsite,that shows where bombs had landed during the Blitz,as well as Google maps and Google earth. At this point one of the participants commented how she liked the idea of using Google earth with learners.Google earth is definitely one of those fantastic resource that could be used for all sorts of things;practising directions,describing your local area,talking about your town and comparing it to where you live now.Hopefully we will hear more about using Google earth as well as some other Jisc resources in the future.

So that was certainly a chock-ful webinar as we packed it all in in 50 minutes but to really get the full lowdown and find out more here are the recording and resources to this and all other webinars.

Shared resources document. Click here to see and share any ideas about using technology for inclusive learning


Inclusion forum at Treloar’s

Great day for March’s Inclusion forum at Treloar’s. Set in their amazing technology hub where we had great fun playing with all their technology.

AR parot

Augmented reality parrot at Treloar’s

Once we settled down Treloar’s Helen Cronshaw showed us how tablets have become very central to a lot of what they do as students themselves are coming with their own ipads for both leisure and study. With the advent of tablet technology there is a real sense of things moving forwards. Ideas that seemed so far out are now achievable such as the development of an experimental ‘independent space’ with environmental controls all via ipad. We also heard how technology is used for topics such as ancient Roman history where simulated chariot races are re-created using a big screen and fans to blow the wind in students’ hair as they soar in their (cardboard) chariot.

This and other activities means that learners are getting out of the class in order to experience and interact with different types of learning. But there is also the Mobilibus (which I gather is not actually a bus but a trolley) that goes around the school setting up different types of experiential events for learners with complex needs who do not have easy access to the hub itself.

 The use of tablets also means that a lot of simple but bespoke solutions for learners can be devised and the technical team showed us how they are coming up with ingenious ways of adapting switch devices and conductive mouse tips, according to need. They were very clear that it is not only about the technology but also about the importance of good communication with therapists, learners and their family. We were also shown how access technology works on wheelchairs; for example using the joystick on the wheelchair itself to choose a specific function on the ipad.

Ipads however,are not the only solution as some of the A-levels students use Windows 8 PCs with Grid 2 software and Dragon for their coursework.Smartphones are also being used by learners to create work and then send it to a P.C using bluetooth.

We then heard from Alison Gardener from Mid Kent College who is also the chair of the AOSEC (Association of South East Colleges) Learners with learning difficulties network which focuses on LLDD in the Further education sector. F.E colleges are interested in developing their support and places like Treloar’s are obviously an inspiration. One of the key ideas that was coming through was that the approach to technology,as seen at Treloar’s, is exciting for all learners even those without special needs (or who unaware of them).So these networks are very interested in having an input from Inclusion specialist colleges,like Treloar’s,for some cross fertilization of ideas. Then we also talked about exam concessions and supportive technology and how this is such an important issue. Alistair McNaught  from Techdis pointed out that Techdis has been working very hard on this by looking at how exam boards can provide exams in digital forms and it has also produced a detailed guidance on creating accessible PDFs specifically for exam boards.

Alistair McNaught was next to tell us about some of the accessible technology that is inbuilt in everyday tools such as the Speak function in Microsoft word, other free text to speech tools and more, that can be found in the Techdis tool kit. We also mentioned the Techdis voices, high quality voices which are free to all providers. All these accessible text to voice tools are really only effective if the quality of the sound is high and the standard robotic ones that we tend to come across are not always the best.

Then we split up into  groups to look at some of the resources that are on the Discover jisc website and my group particularly got into the presentation example of a local History group studying the impact of bombing during the Blitz in their local area; A.R apps, Google maps and digital copies of old maps were some of the suggested Jisc resources.One teacher felt that these kind of resources would be great for her learners who can not get out and about so easily and that this learning would bring some of the world to them.

Lastly, we were very excited to hear from Orchard Hill, that recently got an outstanding in their inspection and we certainly saw why. With their dynamic e-Learning lead,Simon Gale, in place a Facebook type of environment called Sharespace was created, a sort of stepping stone to the real world of social media.

Here music videos as well as virtual induction tours for anxious new learners,blogs and discussion groups can be accessed. It enables learners from different locations across the college to interact with each other in a safe place and their walls have all sorts of interactive features for embedding videos and more.Furthermore,Skype is also used in Sharespace where learners talk to teachers. The visual aspects of Sharespace are very similar to Facebook with a cover and profile picture yet with bigger icons for sight impaired learners.Simon also showed us how they use iBook author to create some beautiful high quality learning objects with interactive elements.

 So, overall a really interesting day with lots of inspirational ideas. In fact we are really looking forward to Treloar’s  talking about their fantastic work this coming Friday (28th March)at RSC London annual e-Learning showcase for boroughs and WBL sectors-which will definitely be of interest to everyone interested in accessible learning.




ESOL and participatory video. ESOL webinar 7th March


This month’s session was a creative one where we looked at using participatory video techniques in the ESOL classroom. Before the webinar we all watched a great video created by Genevieve White’s ESOL learners in Shetland and we asked everyone to write any ideas or comments down, here is the link and please do add your ideas.

In the actual session we started off with a quick poll asking participants if they had ever used video as a teaching and learning tool and the answer was a mix of sometimes and never. So Genevieve told us how she got into using video with her learners and how, through various projects,she developed strategies to improve the final output. One of the main challenges was the quality of the audio,something that I am sure we are all familiar with if we have ever filmed a role play or a job interview with our learners. Her easy, but effective, solution was to get learners to record monologues separately and once these were word perfect they were overlaid on the film,not only solving the audio problem but most importantly activating some really deep language learning.

The film ‘My special day (in the link above) started off, unintentionally,with a wedding photograph in a course book lesson on reported speech. This picture appeared to capture the learners’ imagination as they started wondering about the different characters and what they were thinking. As this seemed too good an opportunity to miss Genevieve got the learners to create monologues for their chosen character and record them; this gave them the space to really work on their pronunciation,linking speech as well as learning new lexis and colloquial expressions like’ yokel’ or ‘airing one’s dirty laundry’. Once that was done they then filmed the actual wedding scenes getting friends in to make up the scenes. From a language learning perspective Genevieve felt that this was a really valuable experience as the new language really embedded itself in the learners’ memory through the whole recording and filmmaking process. Genevieve also mentioned that she was pretty keen to get learners involved with the editing side of things so she got some help from a fellow teacher to help them use Microsoft Windows Movie maker. Microsoft  Windows Moviemaker is probably one of the easiest editing software to use though there are plenty of other ones such as iMovie or Camtasia. The output,I am sure you agree, is a very high standard of spoken English from these intermediate learners and understandably they are all extremely proud of the result.

At this point we felt it was time for another poll and the question we asked was what would be the challenge of using video with ESOL learners? The answer was not fear of the technology, which I suppose is not that surprising as mobile phone video technology is now so good and so nearly everyone has access to some sort of camera. What most people felt was the main challenge was lack of time….Genevieve did tell us that a simple project might not actually take up as much time as we would think.For instance, ‘My special day’ only took one hour or so to film,more time was actually taken up with the recording of the monologues yet this was so fundamental in developing the learners’ language skills. Genevieve did add that she would probably not do more than one filming project a year. Sara Asadullah from InsightShare, an organisation that facilitates participatory video techniques in different fields, also told us that one of their practices is to get participants to rotate the different roles in the filming process, as this is a great way of getting them to learn new skills in new ways. Furthermore, this would also help to develop all those collaborative and communication skills which are so vital for today’s job market. Another question for Genevieve was what would be good to start off with? A simple idea could be to use a picture and get learners to record inner monologues for it, something that could also be created using an application such as voicethread or a whiteboard app on a tablet maybe? Functional situations could also be explored using this approach. For example a  bad job interview, in this way tackling a serious issue in a bit of a subversive and comic way to spark off ideas and raise awareness.

If you do have any great videos or video ideas that you would like to share then the ESOL film Festival would be a good place to start with but it would also be great to hear from you in a future webinar.

Next, In this session we also, rather briefly, looked at the use of Skype. There does not appear to be much practice on using Skype as a learning and teaching tool in the classroom, though a lot of distant online teaching is going on out there. However, I managed to talk to a London based practitioner who teaches ‘how to use Skype’ classes with many,though not solely, ESOL learners.The general feedback was that these learners were pretty keen on using this technology as it is free and great for keeping in touch with friends and family abroad.Though there are always downsides such as not all learners have an email account in order to set up Skype. However, ideas for using Skype for teaching and learning could be getting learners to practise job interviews or phone calls while the teacher uses the chat pane to put prompts in or feedback. Another idea is getting other groups of learners or a guest speaker to speak to the class. This reminded me of something that I heard about in a presentation by Professor of Education Technology Sugata Mitra, who talked about the ‘Granny cloud’ project which involves getting volunteers to communicate with children in remote villages in India and other places through Skype.What he said proved to be most effective was the size of the screen as the children seemed to respond better if the person talking to them was on a human scale. So using a projector to show the Skype call rather than a P.C or tablet might be something worth keeping in mind If you are going to invite a guest speaker into your class.

There are lots of other conferencing tools, such as Google hangouts or FaceTime and as usual each of them have different pros and cons. With Google hangouts, for instance, you can watch YouTube videos at the same time whereas Facetime,which is the Apple’s version, is just so easy to use! I heard about one learner who got her tutor to use FaceTime with her so that she could remotely attend the lesson while she was in bed with a broken leg! A resource that may be useful to anyone thinking of using Skype, or other platforms, in their teaching and learning is this one produced by a South East independent specialist colleges group Supporting transition through communication technology. Though this resource was developed with a specific learner group in mind I think it is still useful in all learning contexts.  What is particularly nice about it is  that it is an infokit that has information for different groups in an organisation and what they need to know. So there is specific information for learners, teachers and even IT support have their own fact sheet all set out according to need.

Finally, if you have or  know anyone who has any experience of using video,Skype or similar technology in the ESOL classroom then we would really love to hear from you. E.lando@rsc-london.ac.uk

Link to webinar recording


Book now for next month’s webinar on April 4th on What can we do to support all ESOL learners, including those with additional needs?

Social Media and ESOL learners. February ESOL webinar

Wordle_ELAre you happy to use social media with ESOL learners? That was the question that we started off with in this month’s webinar. Interestingly,over 50% of the responses was not sure.The reality is that there are indeed many challenges that ESOL teachers face if they want to dabble in a bit of social media and a look at the Google doc that we put together collaboratively show what the positives,as well as the negatives,of using social media with ESOL learners are.Click here to see (please add to it as well!)

So once we put out there what worried us a bit about it all Tanu Varma from WAES told us how she uses Facebook in her teaching and learning.This included how she creates closed class groups,as well as the success she has had with learners who are not familiar with social media.She showed us how Facebook helps her learners achieve their learning outcomes.I particularly liked the way learners were encouraged to take photos of the lesson’s learning objectives from the class’s whiteboard and then upload them for classmates who were not there. Though some of us were wondering if absenteeism actually increased because of this but Tanu felt that it worked more as a tantaliser by making everyone realise just how much they really do miss if they don’t come in.

Tanu also told us about the privacy setting she uses with her groups, as that is one of the major concerns.The group is secret so only members see what is going on,membership and all group posts must be approved by admin ( the teacher in this case). She also mentioned how important it is to lay down ground rules about how to behave online but then I think we also lay down ground rules about how to behave in class.Tanu’s enthusiasm for her use of Facebook was certainly infectious and quite a few of the participants took away the action point of wanting to try it with their learners so hopefully we will hear more about that in the future.

Next, we had a  look at Twitter.Jo Gakonga pointed out what an excellent tool it is for teacher development, particularly #ELTchat, which is is a PLN (personal learning network) for English Language Teaching professionals.They hold a twitter forum every Wednesday and they choose their topic based on poll responses and votes so really worth checking that out. However,it does not seem to be very popular as a teaching tool in itself and I thought it would be interesting to look at Twitter as a concept rather than as a tool to begin with. Twitter related stories are so prevalent in the media and learners should be aware of what it is all about even if they are not actively using it. Lessons could be around introducing lexical items such as twitterati, tweetosphere, trolling, twittercide or maybe looking at funny and interesting tweets by famous people.Here learners can expand on the tweets by developing the story (a bit like  expanding newspaper headlines where learners create a full text from a headline by putting the grammar back in) and then possibly comparing their expanded texts with each other to see if they understood the same thing. I also liked this idea from the Guardian newspaper on Saturday where they got famous people to write a story in just 140 characters.Getting learners to do this means that they would have to think carefully about each word and how they convey their meaning. Lastly, another idea could be sorting tweets into the right order to create a linear story.

All of these things could be done without going near Twitter but if learners are happy to go onto it, then it is quite easy to create a class account and get them to create individual accounts and follow each other. For those learners who are a bit shy about going onto Twitter you can send the link via email or post it on the V.L.E. so that they don’t miss out.

Throughout this session one of the main barriers cited about using social media with learners is the fact that many colleges and institutions block it. Building up an informed argument that might be strong enough to persuade IT departments or senior management that these things may be of a benefit to everyone,particularly the learners,could prove important. With this in mind Evan Dickerson ( RSC London) talked about how to ensure that learners are safe online.There are loads of resources out there to help individuals and organisations do a good job such as the Jisc infokit resources as well as  a series of safeguarding learning objects on Jorum, created by Worchester college of technology and Birmingham Adult Education Centre. Furthermore, Jisc Legal has also just launched a new social media for staff policy template to help organisations develop a strong social media policy.

Finally, we finished off by looking at this really fun app ( though that didn’t quite work on our webinar screen) Google story builder. It allows users to create short video stories that look like they have been created inside a Google Document while collaborating with others. To me the most obvious thing for this is to get learners to create a dialogue or maybe to set up a writing homework by scaffolding the process of adding adjectives and linking words into a basic text for instance. However,I have not really managed to think beyond that but I am sure lots of fun writing activities can be created here so do let us know if you have done something with Google story builder.

Join us for the next webinar on the 7th March  Using Video and collaborative communication tools with ESOL learners.

For recording and resources click here

If you have any ideas that you would like to talk about email me:e.lando@Rsc-London.ac.uk