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


ESOL webinar October 4th. Supporting learning outside the classroom

Wordle: esol webinar

Next webinar on Creative learners and the question of ‘time’ 8th November 1-2pm.
Click here to book

Back for another ESOL online webinar, again full of ideas and lots of things to say. The theme was supporting learners outside the class and, as one of the participants pointed out, this support is very important for many ESOL learners as they often only speak English in the classroom as once they go home to their families or in their communities they will mostly speak in their first language.

WIth this in mind we explored different ways of supporting learners and we also looked at one of the ‘buzz’ concepts of the year ‘ flipped learning’. Is flipped learning a new thing or is it effectively something that ESOL teachers have been doing all along? The idea is to get learners to learn content, such as learning lists of words or grammar rules, outside the class before the lesson and then once in class the deeper or ‘higher’ order skills are developed through communicative or task based activities. The answer was that yes most ESOL classes do concentrate on active learning a great deal as they are based very much on group work and communication which is a very strong feature of ESOL, but with reduced timetabled hours and resources we probably need to get learners themselves to do more outside class in preparation for this ‘active learning’. With this in mind the tools that we looked at were Xerte; a brilliant toolkit for creating learning resources with lots of accessibility features, but it was pointed out that it needs quite a lot of support and time. However, learning objects once created can be easily adapted and shared so we will hopefully look at more of this in the future. For more on Xerte, and how it works, click here for  information about Techdis Xerte Fridays.

We also looked at audio and podcasting. Learners probably feel more supported and encouraged if they hear their teacher’s friendly and familiar voice than looking at written feedback or instructions.  So Vocaroo is an easy web based tool; you do not need to register, you just create a file and then you can embed or email it. You can also create a QR code at the top of a work sheet that learners can scan with their phones and then listen to as they work through some exercises (that seemed to be a popular idea!). We also mentioned what a brilliant training resource Russell Stannard’s Teacher training videos were, here you can find some screen-casts for vocaroo ( and lots more).

We continued with the tablet theme by looking at Explain everything; a highly recommended app for teachers to create and design an interactive whiteboard presentation where videos and audio can be embedded.You can record a presentation but then you can go back to edit it.This can be embedded in a VLE (such as Moodle) or, if no VLE, emailed. A great tool for creating resources that learners can go back to again and again (present perfect anybody?) There are lots of equivalent free IWB apps out there, such as educreations, that are simpler but also pretty effective.

Finally, we asked a few questions about what are the challenges that ESOL practitioners face in implementing some of these more ‘flipped’ practices. The majority felt it was time and this is something that we will look at in the next webinar in November… but obviously the issue of learners’ digital skills came up as well. The onus is on the learner to take on more responsibility for their own learning; so support in tutorial sessions on how to learn and support on how to access these types of materials is important; but equally important is developing a culture where learners feel that these transferable skills are a vital aspect of their learning. One of the main challenges is that many teachers find that some learners are reluctant and fearful of using computers, but I would argue that this does not necessarily mean that all these learners do not have other digital skills; the most obvious one being the use of mobile phones. This is also something that was mentioned in this report on the Digital literacy in ESOL project at Leeds City College, where Xerte and other tools were used to create resources.One of the lessons they learnt was that digital literacy is not synonymous with skills in using a PC, it is so much wider. Funnily enough, I came across this article in the Guardian “It tells me much more than a phone call’ The doctor will Skype you now” ( Saturday 4th October) where a GP talks about using Skype for consultations. Surprisingly, patients characterised as ‘hard to reach’, such as recent immigrants, were really happy to use this technology as they used it a lot to speak to their loved ones abroad whereas it was the more affluent, older patients in the area that were proving to be the harder to reach”The patients who could benefit much more from this are the typically English ones’.

Next webinar on Creative learners and the question of ‘time’ on the 8th November 1-2pm. Click here to book

Any ideas for future webinars are very welcome!

Click here to see recordings and resources from all the ESOL webinars.