Teacher Spotlight: Enhancing Student Engagement in English as a Second Language (ESL)
Words by: Henno Kotzé, Senior Teacher at UQ Institute of Continuing & TESOL Education, St Lucia, Queensland
As the Senior Teacher in charge of Technology and Independent Learning at my university’s language institute (UQ-ICTE), I’m always on the lookout for new and exciting tech tools to augment (excuse the pun) learning and teaching. I first stumbled across Metaverse back in 2016 when it was still mostly (well, at least in my estimation) an AR scavenger hunt app, and I thought: “Hmmm, well this looks promising.”
I didn’t make my first Metaverse experience, however, until the next year when saw all of the added features and I created an in-class activity as part of an independent learning orientation lesson. The rest, as they say, is augmented reality history.
As we’re in the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) business at my institute, we know that an engaged student is a student who is learning and enjoying their studies. Thus, maximising student engagement by giving them the opportunity to interact and get feedback in a variety of ways should, in my view, one of an ESL teacher’s key teaching objectives. A recent Gallup Student Poll found that only about a third of 11–12 Grade students are engaged with their studies. Most of our ESL students are not much older than this and so, for me, the core value of Metaverse is its ability to engage our learners in new and exciting ways, leveraging the power of technology to enhance learning and teaching.
As an educator, however, I always ensure that any technology I introduce has solid theoretical underpinnings, and it is no different with Metaverse and AR. If you evaluate Metaverse according to Pontedura’s well-known SAMR model, you can clearly see that the tool lies somewhere on the “transformation” spectrum, allowing for significant task design and, with functions such as the 360° photos, 360° videos and portals, Metaverse makes tasks that were inconceivable before, possible.
As we teach an array of ESL classes and levels at UQ-ICTE, the number of classroom experiences I’ve created are extremely varied. They range from academic English reading and listening lessons and General English integrated skills experiences which augment textbook activities to pronunciation experiences, pairwork activities with the 360° photos feature, and “flipped” video lessons, to name just a few (to view all my experiences, click here).
My favourite group of experiences was the ones I made for a concurrent English support course for undergraduate and postgraduate Architecture students at the University of Queensland. These activities were based around cityscapes and had students explore the cities via Metaverse clues and guess the city that each skyline belonged to. I would start every lesson off with a different cityscape experience which really got the students moving around and in the mood for the lesson.
Like any good ed-tech tragic, I’ve also been extolling the virtues of AR and Metaverse to any and all who happen to be in earshot, including those at professional development events and conferences. Most recently, I presented to ESL teachers and academic managers at the Queensland PD Fest hosted by English Australia, the national peak body for the English language sector of international education in Australia. As it was also St Patrick’s Day, I ended with this St Paddy’s breakout activity which went down a treat with the participants. Comments included: “Mind blowing” and “Definitely the future of classrooms”.
This fits right into what I believe is the right way to get students and teachers excited about emergent technologies like AR in that if you let them experience it themselves, the technology will speak for itself and will ignite the spark. Training can come later, but first experience and exposure. Also, getting teacher and management buy-in involves showing them where existing material and curriculum design can be augmented and enhanced. As David Saunders, TED-Ed Innovative Educator, says on the EdTech Chat Podcast says, “The key is in finding the authentic integration opportunity in the curriculum. It’s not just an extra thing, or tech-gadget, but is a tool to further engage our students.”
Another important points lies in convincing teachers that this type of technology is not just a “hypestorm” that will blow over soon (although Pokémon Go did not help in this regard). Rather, as Nathan Stevens puts it on the EdTech Chat podcast: “It’s not so much hype and a gamble for teachers, but more preparation for the future.”
Metaverse certainly makes this task of persuading teachers to become informed digital risk-takers and engaging language learners an easy one.