21 days, 5 cities, 1000 teachers, and 20 computers

In February, I talked with approximately 1000 teachers in Fukuoka, Okayama, Osaka, Nagoya and Tokyo as part of the OUP Teaching Workshop Series. Workshop titles were assigned to fit an acronym. I was the “I” in K.I.D.S.—Interactive Ideas for Keeping your English Classes Relevant for the 21st century. The challenge for me was how to make technology tools relevant for teachers who don’t have computers in their classrooms.

If you hang out with teachers online, it’s easy to forget that the majority of teachers in the world—especially those working with young learners—do not have computers, much less internet, in their classrooms. If you are interested to see how the presentation turned out, you’re welcome to look at the slides and examples on my wiki.

This picture is an example from my workshop of a Voicethread book about favorites. I like Voicethread because it allows teachers to work on a project in class, without internet. It also allows teachers to save projects in a format that’s friendly for cell phones.

Here are the teachers from the Tokyo workshop using imaginary microphones to record comments to add to the Favorites Voicethread book.

Tokyo OUP Teaching Workshop from Barbara Sakamoto on Vimeo.

In each workshop, I asked teachers about what sorts of technology they had available to them at home, and in their classrooms. A show of hands is far from a scientific survey, but the results jive with my own observations as well.

Approximately 60% of the teachers have cell phones. About 50% of them believe that their students also have cell phones (children don’t generally get cell phones until upper elementary grades). The majority of students who access the internet access it from a cell phone, not from a computer. About 50% of the teachers have computers at home, and most them also have an internet connection of some kind. Just 2% have computers in their classrooms. The number of these teachers who have both computers and internet in their classrooms is less than 1%–one or two hands raised per workshop.  The teachers who have access to both computers and internet at school teach at international schools, or private elementary schools.

While this was a reality check for the state of technology access in Japanese schools, it was also a welcome reminder of the dedication teachers show for their own professional development (spending Sundays at workshops they aren’t required to attend) and their enthusiasm for new ideas. Since the workshops, teachers have been slowly making their way into online communities. They’re also moving beyond the workshop basics and coming up with ingenious ways to use technology to enhance their teaching, even if they don’t have computers in class.

P.S. I thought you might enjoy a glimpse into the “glamorous” life of authors on teacher training tours. This is me with my Let’s Go co-author, Ritsuko Nakata. We’re catching the train in Osaka.

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9 Responses

  1. Sputnik says:

    Hi Barbara – this is the first time I’ve heard of Wordthread, but looking at your wonderful alphabet idea I’m sure I will be using it with my students. I sometimes feel a little disenfranchised by the new technologies as my school only has one laptop and patchy net access so this is a clever way round it, and so motivating for the kids I’m sure. Many thanks for the idea!

    • Barbara says:

      Thanks, Sputnik. Voicethread is one of my favorites for classes that don’t have internet in class. Wordle.net is another–there’s so much you can do with a word graphic!

      Finding ways to help teachers use technology without the blessings of computer labs and broadband access has definitely become a focus for me. You are not alone–a lot of teachers I’ve met feel disenfranchised by new technologies!

      If you come up with new ways to use some tech tools, I’d love to hear about it…..maybe a guest post?

      • Sputnik says:

        Hi Barbara – yes, I agree with you about Wordle – it’s a wonderfully inspiring site. It’s actually how I visualise all these fantastic teachers’ blogs – as a kind of dynamic wordle, with different issues coming to the fore each week. Anyway, if I come up with any ideas for tech tools, I’ll be happy to do a post.

        • Barbara says:

          I love this way of looking at blogs–dynamic Wordles about different issues. What a great image!

  2. umut says:

    :) beautiful scene. :)

  3. Hi Barbara. Looks like fun! I would question the 60% figure for cell phones though and the 50% for computers at home. When I did a survey of junior high kids in Japan about 4 years ago I was getting figures for home computers in the 90% area and they all had mobiles. Would be surprised if the figures for teachers differed much from that. Are there really adults in Japan who don’t own a mobile? Interested to know how you got that figure. I would also be interested to know how this untechy audience responded to your talk. Did you get the feeling that they would be going for it any time soon or were there a lot of ‘That’s cool but not for me’ looks? Did people percieve what you were showing them as doable? Difficult? Impossible?

    • Barbara says:

      It was simply a show of hands, Patrick, so lots of room for error :)

      A couple of reasons that might account for the lower numbers–

      –Most of the teachers at my workshop teach elementary school age or younger children, and young children still don’t have cell phones. While there are exceptions, kids seem to get them between 4th and 6th grade–when they start doing lots of after school lessons on their own. And, I’ve had students tell me they didn’t have computers at home and then found out from parents that in fact, they did have a computer. The kids just weren’t allowed to use it.

      –This time, I ran into some foreign teachers who didn’t have either cell phone or computer/internet at home. The reason? Their Japanese was too low to order the service, or they didn’t have adequate credit on their own to get service (and their schools wouldn’t act as guarantors or they weren’t working full time at any school). This one really surprised me–I’d never thought of language/credit as barriers.

      The reaction seemed positive. While there were some very techy people in the audience, the majority started out with varying degrees of tech-apprehension, I think.

      My goal was for everyone to walk out of the workshop with something they felt like they could do with their students. The teachers who came up after the workshops to talk all seemed to have come away with at least one tool they were ready to try.

      I’ve heard from some who have made their way online, and they seem to be having fun.

  4. Hi Barbara, I know it’s not strictly your context, but there are quite a few interesting studies going on these days into just what Japanese university students can access / do technology wise. Nicholas Gromik had a good article in the last JALT CALL journal on this topic. Do a google scholar search and you might well turn up more. The whole digital native “we should be using technology” thing is far less clear cut than some would have us believe… I get frustrated by the gaps between what I want to do, what I am told I ought to be doing, and what can realistically be done.

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