Thursday, 29 November 2007


Blended Learning : Using technology in and beyond the language classroom
Pete Sharma an
d Barney Barrett
Publisher: Macmillan
Components: Teacher's Guide

Summary: A good book for novices and experienced teachers who want to add technology to their classes.

BY Howard Brown

The title of a book sometimes does not tell much about the contents, but in this case Sharma and Barrett lay out their philosophy on the cover. Technology is not a panacea that can replace language teachers and face-to-face classrooms, it is something that can be used to enhance language learning.

Their book starts with four principles for successfully using technology in language classes: being clear on the appropriate roles of the technology and the teacher, not being drawn in by the "wow" effect of new technologies, connecting what the students can do with the technology to what happens in class, and thinking carefully about the best way to exploit new technologies. These principles add up to technology being a valuable tool in the teacher's kit rather than replacing the teacher.

The bulk of Blended Learning is dedicated to a look at aspects of technology that teachers can use: materials on the web (both authentic and targeted at language learners), electronic dictionaries, office software, interactive whiteboards, the new generation of portable electronics & wireless devices and computer-mediated communication. The book concludes with a chapter on creating original resources and a look to the future.

Each section starts with a brief description of the technology itself. This description is very accessible to novices and can help even experienced users see new aspects of the technology and new possibilities. This is followed by a section detailing the opportunities and issues of using the technology. The authors detail how the technology can be applied in language courses but also talk about some of its pitfalls and consequences as well.

The great strength of Blended Learning comes at the end of each chapter. There are practical activities laid out with simple, easy-to-follow instructions and often accompanied by photocopiable worksheets. These allow even novice teachers or people with limited tech-savvy to dive right in and start using the technology with their students immediately. While these activities are a great springboard and help users see the potential of the technology, each chapter offers only a few and I found myself wishing for more.

Another interesting aspect of this book is the case studies. The authors tell personal stories about teachers who have worked with technology in their classes. They profile the goals, hurdles, processes and results of real world technology projects. These are interesting in and of themselves and they bring home the issues of the chapter in a way that theoretical descriptions and lesson plans cannot.

As a final note, the authors know that books about teaching technology are sometimes out-of-date on the technology end of things before they are printed and so they post regular updates on-line. One recent update adds information on the new on-line sensation of Second Life to the chapter on computer-mediated communication. One note, however; the updates do not appear to be where the authors say they are. They can be found on the Macmillan catalog site but not at the address given in the text itself.

All in all, Blended Learning is a well-rounded look at technology in language classrooms. It is suitable for novices but also has appeal for experienced users as well.