At last! Teacher-designed EFL apps

Have you ever been frustrated using an app or a piece of software and thought something along the lines of “if only it was made with teachers in mind” or “if only they could have invited input from teachers during the design process”?

I thought it would be fitting to introduce a website where the software designer is actually in the trenches teaching university-level EFL classes by day and burning the midnight oil programming at night.

Meet Paul Raine and his website Apps 4 EFL.

In this post I interview Paul about his website, and in later posts I’ll explore some of the fantastic EFL study apps he has created.

Paul Raine Interview: HP screenshot

Q: Could you provide an brief introduction to Apps 4 EFL? And, could I ask you to summarize Apps 4 EFL in one sentence?

Apps 4 EFL is a website for teachers and learners of English as a Foreign Language, designed to work both on mobile devices and desktop PCs. It features a variety of games and activities for English language learners in the form of “web-apps” – apps that run in the browser. Continue reading

Baby Steps

baby-218193_640Who is the best person to support new users of a tool or technique? An expert? Or a person who just learned themselves?

Our department needed to interview a candidate in the US. I was asked to set up Skype for the interview. After that, another department needed the same thing. I explained how it was done, going so far as to show the person from the other department how to set up a Skype connection.

I consider using Skype as something that is pretty self evident. But the people asking did not. I had to readjust my thinking and zoom in on each step to make them comfortable. And that lead me to consider a few things, primary among them the question above. Was I the best person to be advising?

Granted, baby steps are the best way to ramp up difficulties in skill development, but isn’t creating a need and providing the Fine Manual for the learner to Read a better option?

Not only the expert issue, I started wondering about a cultural differences in tech support. The expectation I often find among my students is that if not every step is exhaustingly described, demonstrated, and checked at every level, they feel something is amiss.

There is no effort to look behind the process, no felt need to learn how things work, and how to take processes apart and put them back together again. Teaching very similar processes 3 or 4 times, I tend to start using shorthand I hope had developed during previous iterations of the activity. Oftentimes this leads to confusion, especially among students with low motivation and/or critical thinking skills, but does not correlate at all with intelligence or linguistic skills in the target language.

Something to explore.


JALT2014: Blogging the tech parts

JALT2014_5 (1)JALT is about to have its annual conference, this weekend in Tsukuba, east of Tokyo. The plan is to blog about the tech aspects of the conference through the weekend. Expect a flurry of shorter posts. We hope this will entice others to comment or even ask to post one or two. For a full list of tech-related presentations, go to the schedule and Select Language and Technology under View by Context. There are 45 available.

Wouldn’t it be nice if language students could manage their own discussions?


Students managing themselves in a “Round Table” discussion is one example of a Collaborative Learning activity. Not only do they provide benefit to the students in developing learner autonomy, but as a teacher they can provide a new way to lead students in critical discussion.

Continue reading

PenPal Schools: Share a course with native English speakers










For those who want to try something new in their classes there is an opportunity for interaction with English native speaking students in many different countries.

I have known Joe Troyer for years through PenPal News. He started by putting students together on the web, much like Pen Pals. As it grew, he began to put together entire classes. I have not been able to participate because it has been limited to high school age.
This year, PenPal News is expanding and has over 30,000 people involved. Because it now serves university students as well as international students, the opportunity is open to us all. And fortunately, the schedule is right for those of us in Japan. If you sign up by October 15, you can start on October 27 for the six-week session, with 6 topics like Immigration, and Poverty.
It is designed to be self-contained so you could do most of the work outside of class. But I am going to integrate these topics into discussion to facilitate their outside work.
Take a look at the details. I will be doing it with about 50 students; 2 sections, plus a few who are just plain interested.
You might be too.