LOST TEACHER IN JAPAN's Tips for Using Technology Tools in the Classroom

The Challenge

In this blog post, I would like to talk about an issue that many foreign teachers experience in Japanese public middle and high schools: technology, or the lack of technology. I was an English as a Foreign Language teacher, or ALT, on the Japan Exchange and Teaching, or JET, Program for two years. If you've never taught in Japan, it might come as a surprise to you that Japan, known for its technology and engineering brands such as Sony or Toyota, could be lacking in that category.

Imagine arriving at your base school in Japan in the summer of 2011, and seeing that the computer you're assigned to is operating on Windows '98 (that was the case with a teacher I knew). It is not a surprise if you see classrooms filled with 40 students, and no projector or digital screens anywhere to support instruction. Is there even an electrical outlet in the classroom? You're not sure. You have some ideas for lessons, but you really want to use technology tools to support it.

The reality is that most public high schools that I knew of looked like American classrooms... from the 50's. I actually took the picture above from a homeroom in a high school that specialized in technology. If you're a new teacher on the JET Program and just visited your school, don't despair. Although technology tools can't be found in the classroom, there are computer labs and special areas. You can either revise your ideas into printables, or you might want to consider some of these tips on how to get a hold of technology equipment or use online technology tools to support learning in the classroom.

Tip #1. Check out technology equipment

You can ask someone, usually the tech guy or gal on the campus, or the assistant principal. I've been able to borrow portable projectors and screens in the past.

Tip #2. Find the technology room

In high schools, there are large meeting rooms that teachers could check out. These rooms usually have white screens that you could pull down and use a projector with. Some of these rooms even have interactive projectors such as ELMOs or Lunas that project your writing onto a screen. In the past, I've organized digital content into DVDs, and used multimedia to support the lessons in these rooms. I've visited a these rooms at every school I've been at, and they usually have air conditioning, which the students will love you for booking during the summers!

Tip #3. Flip the classroom

If students have Internet connection at home or on mobile phones, you can assign them something to read, watch, or explore before the next lesson. You can spend the rest of your time in class building on what they were supposed to explore. For example, you can use a snippet of a video or audio conversation with vocabulary or grammar points, and extend on it in the classroom. Many teachers use audio exercises in the classroom, and you can provide this ahead of time by recording and uploading your files to a server such as SoundCloud.com.

Learn more:
Infographic: Is a Flipped Classroom Right for You? by We Are the Teachers
"Flipping" a class by the University of Texas at Austin Center for Teaching & Learning

Tip #4. Use online (collaborative) tools

If you're able to check out a computer lab or students have Internet access at home, you can give the option of online work through applications such as Google Docs or Microsoft OneDrive which store all documents, presentations, spreadsheets, etc. in a cloud. Once student's work settings are public, you can go in an add comments or suggestions to improve their work. I think Google Docs is excellent for English writing practice. By working online, students will have more resources such as online dictionaries and search engines to support and expand the content of their work. Although spelling is important in learning English, the spellcheck correct errors, so that you can focus on the content and quality of student's writing. Once you go digital and develop a grading system, you'll find giving feedback can be more efficient.

Learn more:
Google for Education

Tip #5. Make things available online

Learning a foreign language is hard. Reduce barriers by making more resources available online. Students would no longer have to ask you for extra copies of missing printables if it's been uploaded to the public. You don't need to build a web site or wiki, unless you want to, but you can upload your files into a cloud drive and post the links to an online site, social media, or message board where students could follow. You also have an audio and video recorder in your pocket-- your mobile phone that you could use to record and upload the content online. Be careful when recording students' faces, because it can violate privacy.

Cloud storage:
Google Drive - https://drive.google.com
OneDrive - https://onedrive.live.com/
Dropbox - https://www.dropbox.com
Box - https://www.dropbox.com/

Tip #6. Use social media

Social media is very popular in Japan. These tools can be harnessed to get students interested in using English to express themselves in an online comfort zone. You can post simple questions, graphics, or videos in English to generate conversation. Students who have Internet connection at home or on mobile phones can interact with you through social media apps such as Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, and so on.

Learn More:
22 Simple Examples of Social Media in the Classroom by te@chthought
How to Use Social Media as a Learning Tool by Edudemic

Tip #7. Use mobile technology

This tip is related to tips 4 and 6. It is rare for public classrooms to provide tablets, but if you and your cooperating teacher are comfortable with students using mobile phones in the classroom, then the world is your oyster! One tool that you can try is Socrative, an online quiz and questionnaire tool that you can monitor in real-time. This can be used as a quick way to get a grade or review at the end of an English lesson. See my review here: http://lostteachertools.blogspot.com/2014/07/web-20-tool-review-socrative.html

Instead of using social media for online discussion, you can also use a digital wall that would do the same thing, but doesn't have the stigma of social media. Try Padlet:

Learn more:
Mobile in the Classroom Trends, Resources and How To's by Edmentum

Japan is a country where pedagogical ideas are still fairly traditional, so it might be a challenge to use online tools right away in a cooperating teacher's classroom. You just have to take baby steps, especially if you're also new at using online technology tools in the classroom. Sometimes, these tools may not be necessary, but they're worth thinking about if they could improve instruction.

I'd be interested to hear how you use technology to support English teaching and learning in a foreign classroom. Please send me a message or leave a comment to share what you did.

If none of these suggestions are an option for your situation, try visiting my other webpages on Lessons & Ideas at lostteacherinjapan.weebly.com for more ideas: