An Interview with Robert O' Dowd from darren elliott on Vimeo.

I met with Robert O’ Dowd at the EUROCALL2015 Conference in Padova, Italy in August and had a really interesting conversation about telecollaboration. If you know anything at all about the topic you will have heard of Dr. O’ Dowd, as he is amongst the leading figures in the field. If you don’t know anything about it, then watch this short video and learn!

Dr. O’ Dowd has been involved in the INTENT project and the development of UNI-Collaboration amongst many other projects. Although I had heard of telecollaboration (and it’s variants) I was surprised at the number of projects in progress in Europe and beyond. For example, I learnt about TILA and SOLIYA as other examples of teachers and students striving to build linguistic and intercultural understanding.

If you like this interview, please visit the interview index to find many more. I’ll be posting more in the coming weeks. You can also subscribe to the audio podcast version via iTunes. The updates are sporadic, but the archive is building!

Presented at EUROCALL 2015, University of Padua, August 27th, 2015

The Background

When the university I was working at bought a set of small video cameras, I was intrigued. I started playing around with them in class, first I had the learners record and transcribe conversations, then I guided them to make skits and instructional videos. You can see some of the projects I have worked on previously here.

Over the last few years since I first began using student video, there have been two major developments. The first is the ubiquity of smartphone technology. We have now reached the point (in my context, at least) at which almost every student has a video recording and editing suite in his or her pocket. The next development, obviously connected to the first, is the rise of online video. YouTube, Vine, Facebook, Instagram, LINE; this is what our students are watching. Instead of television? Perhaps.

I had these ideas in mind when I was presented with the opportunity to teach an advanced and an intermediate communication class at a local university. I had carte blanche, and I decided to make this a video project class. I set up a website to deliver the content, and chose a number of different video genres (some traditional, some more modern) to analyse and replicate with the learners.

I decided from the start to allow the students a lot of freedom in how they produced the videos. I suggested different methods, but gave very little technical instruction unless asked. My goal was to allow them to use the tools with which they were most comfortable, to take responsibility for their own learning, and to support each other. I wanted very much to avoid ‘technological determinism’ – the tools were secondary to the learners and their products.

To begin, it was necessary to find out what they had, what they could already do, and what they thought.
Fortunately, every single student had a smartphone.

Eurocall Extract.001

Recording is always easy. The main challenges in student produced video are editing and sharing the completed file. Unfortunately, my favoured tools were unfamiliar.

Eurocall Extract 2.001

The students were mixed in their willingness to share online. Some were quite keen.

Eurocall Extract.001

Others were more conservative, and actually quite naive.

Eurocall Extract.002

Eurocall Extract.003

There were also some differences in their familiarity with editing software.

Eurocall Extract.004

But for pretty much everyone, the smartphone would be the tool of choice.

Eurocall Extract 2.001

The learners’ first task was to create a self-introduction video and deliver it to me. This example took me a few minutes, using the apps Splice and Vimo on an iPhone 6.

An Introduction to Darren Elliott from darren elliott on Vimeo.

The students fared quite well, and were able to teach each other the techniques they had used to broaden the knowledge base of the whole class.

At this point, we started the project work. Please visit the individual pages at the website to see how each project developed.

News Report

YouTube Movie Review

Directors Commentary



TED Talk

Soap Opera

For each of the projects, we analysed quintessential examples and tried to replicate them. For example, the YouTube movie review is delivered straight to camera with jump cuts and onscreen text and pictures. Soap operas tend to cut between the actors and dwell on reaction shots in close up. TED Talks begin with a personal story and lead in to the message.

What I found was that, although learners had technical trouble with hardware and software, they were generally very adept at replicating style accurately. For example, the background music may have been too loud, but the actual song fit perfectly with the style of video the learner was making.

To conclude the semester, the students interviewed one another (on video, of course) using this list of suggested questions.


I’d like to highlight a few common responses.

Firstly, the students almost all referred to technical skills when asked what they had learnt. Editing skills, adding audio commentary and subtitling, these were the things they took home from the course. Some of them had used their new skills in other classes, others in their personal lives.

The most popular project across both classes was the subtitling project. This was quite challenging technically, but it allowed the students to express their creativity and also to talk about issues which affected them directly. This also came out in the TED talks and the news reports – students tended to choose local issues and topics important to them as university students.

Finally, there was a shift in attitudes towards their smartphones. Most of the learners had initially seen their phones as communication tools. Actually, I believe that if they had assessed their use more carefully they may have found they were using their devices to consume, create and share media too. However, the general perception of the smartphone was that its main function was text messaging. By the end of the course, many of the students reported a broader view of their phones and of their own relationship with their devices.

If you attended my presentation in Padova, thank you! If you didn’t, thank you for reading. Either way, I’d be happy to hear your questions or comments below.

Goodwyn, A. (2003). English teaching and the moving image. Routledge.

Marshall, J., & Werndly, A. (2002). The language of television. Routledge.

Potter, J. (2012). Digital media and learner identity: The new curatorship. Palgrave Macmillan.

An Interview with Thomas Farrell from darren elliott on Vimeo.

Reflective practice is a way for professionals (in education, social work, medicine and many other fields) to assess their work and manage their own development. Even if you don’t know it by name you may well have engaged in a form of reflective practice in formal or informal training programmes. In this interview we discussed reflective practice, what it is, what it isn’t, and where it’s going.

I’ve done quite a lot of these interviews now, and everyone I have spoken to has been gracious and thoughtful. Some of the interviewees I knew little about before I spoke to them but in preparing for, and then conducting, the interview I have become interested in their work. On the other hand, Thomas Farrell is someone whose work I have been interested in for a long time. What would he be like in real life, I wondered? I enjoyed a long conversation with the charming Dr. Farrell at the JALT conference in Tsukuba, Japan last autumn. Both his plenary and his workshop demonstrated that academics do not have to be dry to be rigorous.

Dr. Farrell hosts an excellent website, where you can read more of his work. If you are looking for a book to start with, I think ‘Reflective Language Teaching: From Research to Practice’ published by Continuum is a very accessible introduction. His latest book is on my list when the next budget allocation arrives in April….

If you enjoy this interview please share it with your colleagues. You can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.

I spoke to Dr. Folse at the 2013 JALT conference shortly after a very engaging plenary. We discussed writing and vocabulary, teacher development, and his extensive experience of both teaching and learning languages around the world. You can read more about Dr. Folse and his work at his own website. This interview is audio only.


There are more interviews to follow, and if you like this please visit the archive for more. You can subscribe via iTunes, and I would appreciate reviews there if you have time. You can also find us on Facebook and twitter.

An Interview with Glenn Stockwell from darren elliott on Vimeo.

I talked to Dr. Glenn Stockwell from Waseda University, Tokyo, at the 2014 JALT CALL conference, held in Nagoya, Japan. In fact, this interview takes place in my own personal office!

Dr. Stockwell had just given an excellent plenary talk, and we discuss his ideas about teaching and technology here.

There are more interviews to follow, and if you like this please visit the archive for more. You can subscribe via iTunes, and I would appreciate reviews there if you have time. You can also find us on Facebook and twitter.

New technologies provide wonderful opportunities for language learning, yet teachers and learners alike should be aware of the potential pitfalls. When implementing educational technology, the fundamental question is whether the tool is an efficient way of achieving the pedagogical aims. In this workshop the presenter will outline some considerations for good practice, illustrated with examples from his own classroom. Amongst other things we will discuss mobile learning, the relationship between autonomy and technology, inclusivity, ethics and security.

What do we mean by ‘technology’?

“A process by which humans modify nature to meet their needs and wants” (Selwyn, 2011, p.6)

Technology is not tools alone, but the knowledge and skills necessary to utilise them. Technology is also associated with ‘improvement’ – doing things cheaper, better and faster. It’s important to remember that devices themselves have no intrinsic values. Technology is situated in culture and society.

Do you and your students perceive technology in the same ways?

Digital Natives (see Prensky, 2001), in contrast with digital immigrants, have grown up in a multimedia, web-enabled world. Prensky’s original metaphor was compelling enough to take hold and has had an impact on educational policy. More recent research (see Bennett et al., 2008,  Hargittai, 2010, Jones, 2011) has uncovered a far more nuanced picture. Nonetheless, there may be some generational differences in how digital technology is viewed by students and teachers.


traditional modern
professional(spreadsheets, word processing) leisure(YouTube, Social Networking)
archival and searchable(email) transitory and ephemeral(snapchat, line)
situated(desktop, CD’s) mobile(smartphone, streaming)

Why use technology?

There are a number of things which digital technologies may help you do better, faster or more efficiently (although probably not cheaper)

Out of class collaboration, learner autonomy, learning management, portfolio building, reflection, learner ownership, engagement with authentic materials, ‘real world’ language use, curation and collation of learning resources, testing and assessment etc.

Case Study One – Digital video for reflection and creativity.

More details available at my previous post ‘Creating and Using Digital Video with Learners’

Case Study Two – Google Forms and QR codes for classroom management. 

I use Kaywa to create QR codes, and QRafter to read them. Google forms are a very simple and paperless way for teachers to assess and track students.

Case Study Three – Prezi, Diigo and Google Drive for out-of-class collaboration 

Prezi is an online presentation tool. Instead of a series of slides, the presentation is one big slide which the user navigates. The final product is not to everyone’s taste, but it has a couple of pedagogical strengths. Firstly, I like that it encourages non-linear thinking in a brainstorming style. (unlike PowerPoint, which is a very linear process). Secondly, it is easy for several students to work on one slide at the same time, even if they are in different places.

Google Drive is a suite of tools in the cloud, including word and excel – like software, which can be edited, shared and accessed amongst users. Collaboration can be between students, or students and teachers.

Diigo is a social bookmarking tool, in which online research can be easily tagged and shared amongst a group.

Further Reading

Hargittai, E. (2010). Digital na (t) ives? Variation in internet skills and uses among members of the “net generation”*. Sociological Inquiry, 80(1), 92-113.

Jones, C. (2011). Students, the net generation, and digital natives. In Thomas, M. (Ed.). (2011). Deconstructing Digital Natives: Young people, technology, and the new literacies. Oxford: Taylor & Francis.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants part 1. On the horizon, 9 (5), 1-6.

Selwyn, N. (2011). Education and technology: Key issues and debates. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

JALT CALL has an excellent and regularly updated blog at DMLL with practical advice and ideas.

This post is a development of ideas first presented in this post five years ago. No doubt there is plenty more to do!

Some Questions – A Technology Checklist

Accessibility Do you need a password to access the site? Do you need to log in every time you access the site? What kind of internet access does your institution allow?What are the opening hours of your institutional computer rooms? Are students able to access institutional servers off “campus”? Is the equipment powerful enough to do what you want to do?
Mobility Is the material accessible from a mobile telephone? How much of it? Can students add or edit material by mobile phone?
Hardware BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) or teacher supplied? Who will maintain and store the hardware? How long will it last?
Security Are the students going to upload or create their own work? Is the site searchable on search engines, or can it be hidden? Can anonymity be protected? How much information does a student need to give in order to register with or use the site? Are students comfortable with their work being published? Are the students aware of net security issues? Do the students have good security software at home? Is there a danger that your project could be damaged by viruses?
Navigation Is it easy to get from one place to another? Do hyperlinks pop up in new windows? Is the colour scheme readable? Is it well designed, for both aesthetics and utility? Does the interface change depending on the user (e.g. does it automatically set language based on the userʼs ISP?)
Usability Will the students require a demonstration? Is it simple to use, even for those who generally lack confidence or experience with computers? Is it easy to back up and save work, and are previous versions retained?
Management Will you be managing alone, or with others? How will you delegate management tasks? Who will have access to which parts of the tool? Will students be able to edit? Where will your site be hosted (if necessary)?
Cost Can you find a free version? Can you get an educators discount?If you pay a subscription, is your school willing to commit long-term? Will there be any other expenses? (equipment etc)
Stability Is the site still at a beta testing stage? Does it crash or freeze often?Does it work in the same way on different browsers, computers or networks? Does the look of the site change frequently? Are features and functions often added or removed?
Support Does your school have technical support staff? Are they aware of your project, and willing to help? Does the site have support? How does it operate?Is there a lot of other unofficial support available from the web, colleagues, etc?

An Interview with Michael Swan from darren elliott on Vimeo.

I was very happy to speak to Michael Swan at the JALT conference in Nagoya in November 2010, and now you can listen to what he had to say too! We discussed grammar and how it should be approached by teachers, ELF and errors, and changes in methodology over the years he has been involved in teaching.

I recommend Michael’s excellent website, which is well stocked with articles on these topics and many more. A particular favourite of mine is ‘The use of sensory deprivation in foreign language teaching’ from ELTJ in 1982… read it with an open mind.

An Interview with Penny Ur from darren elliott on Vimeo.

I had great opportunity to meet one of my ELT heroes, Penny Ur, when she visited Japan for the JALT National Conference in Kobe in the Autumn of 2013. Her plenary went over very well, and I spoke to her after she had given another talk to a packed room. You can see the slides from those talks here, but first please check out the interview.

An Interview with Judith Hanks from darren elliott on Vimeo.

Many thanks to Judith Hanks for coming to give a plenary speech at the JALT PanSIG conference at Nanzan University in May. I was very honoured to be involved in the organisation of the conference, and having read ‘The Developing Language Learner’, the book that Judith co-wrote with Dick Allwright, I was very keen to invite her over. Judith’s work is connected mainly to Exploratory Practice – a research methodology in which teachers and learners collaborate to understand the puzzles they encounter during the learning process. Dr. Hanks explains it far more eloquently than I can, so please watch and enjoy…..

For anyone who is still watching, I’m back from my blogging break just in time for classes to start tomorrow. The bigger picture is that teacher development passes through different stages, and in a pragmatic assessment of my blogging and tweeting I realised that neither was the most efficient way for me (personally) to become the best teacher I can – at least, not at the moment. So I took a trip back to England to take care of some family business, I spent some time thinking about photography, and enjoyed time with my boys before the youngest starts kindergarten next week.

The Lives of Teachers blog is not dead, but I will be posting more sporadically and focusing mainly on the interviews I intended to focus on originally. I have a backlog of podcasts to post, and a few future interviews in the pipeline, so please don’t unsubscribe! And apologies to any commenters in the meantime who have gone unanswered.

I am also working on a couple more sites which should be live fairly soon. The first is a website for teaching resources, mainly to direct my own students towards but also (hopefully) of interest to other teachers looking for class materials. The second is a blog about things I read – the other thing I have been doing a lot of in my blogging break. In order to concentrate on my own original research I am finding it useful to turn off the computer and measure my reading in pages rather than characters. Details of both these projects will follow.

To anyone starting the new academic year this week, students and teachers alike, best of luck and enjoy yourselves. Spending most of your days in a classroom is a privilege, and not an opportunity to be wasted.