Using WEB 2.0 Tools in teaching reading
I work in a university in Turkey. For my action research project, I explored a tool called “Actively Learn” which is a web-based tool that enables teachers to enhance reading by adding comments, questions and other items into online texts. Teachers can customise instruction, provide real-time feedback, allow peers to collaborate, and get analytics on student performance. Reading is transformed from a passive activity to an active, collaborative one. I integrated this piece of technology within my classes that focused mainly on the teaching of reading skills.
I use many web-based tools such as “kahoot”, which is useful for practising and revising vocabulary and grammar. I also use tools for speaking, listening and writing; e.g. “quill”. Actively Learn, on the other hand, is the first web-based tool I used for reading. It is a thrill – at least for me – that students are doing something different to what they conventionally do on printed material. I used the tool with B2 level university students who are competent in using technology and willing to experiment with it in class. 16 students attended the classes.
I teach academic English to Foundations Year Programme (FDY) students ranging from CEFR A2 to C1. The students study a locally-produced book and read an average of 20 paragraph long academic texts about various subjects such as psychology, sociology, education, science and history. These texts can be demanding for students and can be challenging for the instructors themselves, too.
The students have the opportunity to use technology during their study at university. Students and instructors are given a free laptop. Newly admitted students are given training in using the technology available on the campus. In each classroom there is always a projector, a sound system (speakers), Ethernet cables and connections. Wireless Internet coverage is everywhere within the campus.
Most of my students are externally-motivated when it comes to reading long academic texts in class and they often express how boring and tiring this can be. My challenge in the project was to implement some sort of technology that would not only motivate but also engage my students in reading classes. Therefore, I started thinking about reading-related technological tools.
In using Actively Learn I had to first upload a text (see Figure 1).
Figure 1 Workspace
In one of the classes the text was about “The Silk Road” (Figure 2) so I found some informative short videos on YouTube that would reinforce the text. In Actively Learn you can embed YouTube videos and/or add multiple choice, true/false, or open-ended questions in any part of the text. These can be put between paragraphs and students cannot proceed with the rest of the text before they complete these tasks. In this instance I used comprehension questions. (See Figures 3 and 4).
Figure 2 The text
I realised that students perceived the task more like one that involves watching some videos and answering questions rather than a reading task. In this case, I had to find a way to balance the amount and type of tasks. Therefore, for a reading text I put one or two short YouTube videos and the rest of the tasks were comprehension questions.
Figure 3 True / False questions
Figure 4 Comprehension questions
I used Actively Learn with my students four times. Only four students experienced all four texts and the others fewer times, either because they were absent or forgot to bring their laptops and had to share with one of their peers.
At the end of the semester, I collected data anonymously via SurveyMonkey. I used five open-ended questions to find out about their experiences with Actively Learn.
I was aware that students are given so many questionnaires all the time and that I had to make sure that they would participate. Therefore, I waited until the end of semester and asked them to complete the survey in class. Unfortunately, this put extra stress on the project limiting the available time.
I wanted to hold interviews with some of the students but I realised I did not leave enough time because students had already left after they completed the survey at the end of the semester. I know that next time, I would complete everything in advance.
Secondly, in terms of findings, the project taught me not to have any expectations at all about the findings after research. As I have a highly positive feeling for technology use in class, I expected the students’ reactions to be all positive. What surprised me is that although many students reacted in a positive way saying that they found the tool very beneficial, three students showed very negative reaction. To me, this means that assuming all young people will like using technology in class is a false expectation. One participant stated that “it blunts your writing and scanning skills”. I presume what they meant is when doing tasks there is no actual writing with pen/pencil on paper. However, the same participant found copying and pasting answers as a useful feature. Another participant disliked the idea of reading on the screen but liked the feature that enables all students to see each other’s responses to tasks. Finally, another participant showed extremely negative reaction to the tool rejecting it completely without providing any justification.
In terms of positive responses, apart from the usual answers such as “yes, it’s very beneficial”, a prominent finding is that technology can contribute to student autonomy since using this tool they feel less dependence on the teacher as the response of one participant indicates: “dont run around the teacher for answers are correct or not”. Vocabulary learning, too, was mentioned in several responses. Students can highlight and right click on a word to see its dictionary definition. In addition, students can, as was mentioned in a participant’s response, study the text in chunks divided by tasks. The participant found this to be a very effective and memorable way to study reading and used the following words to describe Actively Learn: “useful, clear, fun”.
During the project I learnt that the whole process of doing action research was in many ways very beneficial for me as I was given the opportunity to collaborate with other researchers in this project via Skype, Facebook, and other means. I was able to explore a tool, do research and get findings.
I learnt that teachers need to be careful when choosing technological tools for their learners. What I had in my mind and what the tool could offer were not the same. I was originally looking for a tool that would enable me to send questions to specific students at any time. I thought the tool called “geddit” would suit my need. Not only it did not but as of 2016, the tool also ceased to exist.
When I changed the technological tool I had selected to use in the project, I had to change my research question, too. It is in the nature of AR that one might have to change one’s research focus. Knowing that I could change it made me feel relaxed but I also became aware that a change of focus might put constraints on the timing of one’s project.
Students’ mixed reactions to the use of technology in reading classes helped me understand that not every student might appreciate it. Moreover, some students can be so much exam-oriented that they might find any method other than the traditional ones as a waste of time. However, I believe that there should be a fine line in terms of balancing the use of technology in class. For instance, if I use Actively Learn from time to time I believe I can spice up the reading classes. It is a powerful tool as it helps students interact with the text and read it in chunks – letting them have some break between long paragraphs. Therefore, I will keep using it.
Finally, I have learnt that doing research or at least collecting feedback after introducing students to a technological tool provides insights into how effective your teaching can be for students.