Guest Writer: Technology in an Adult Ed ESL Program

Realizing that readers of the TESOL Blog teach in a wide variety of contexts, I invited a colleague, Darrin Hetrick, whose students are very different from my own, to share his experiences with technology in the classroom. For those of you teaching in adult education with limited available technology, his story may seem familiar, but his solution can give you a starting point for introducing your students to technology, too. Thank you for sharing, Darrin!

“Who here is on Facebook?” I asked my five upper-beginner ESL students one day. I received back five blank stares. Incredulous, I repeated, “Facebook? Do you have it?” Finally, one of the five pulled out a smartphone, held it up, and said, “Facebook? Yes, teacher. I…Facebook.” In that class, only 20% of the students in that class had even heard of Facebook!

I should not have been as surprised as I was. As I asked several of my other classes, I realized that this attitude was not uncommon, with around 50% knowing little about Facebook or other Internet resources. I teach ESL at a local factory for the employees wishing to improve their ability to use English. The program is not mandatory, but those who sign up are paid to attend classes 3 hours every week during working hours. The majority of the students I work with are refugees from Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and East Africa, plus a handful of immigrants from Latin America. Their level of education ranges greatly from those who have completed high school to others who have attended 2–3 years of formal schooling. On average, most of my students have been in the United States around 4 years.

Having an understanding of technology is essential to integrating into our 21st-century culture. The vernacular of technology is shaping our language at an incredible rate. To speak and understand English today, students have to know not only what Google is, but how it is used as a verb. Without a connection to technology, though, how can students learn the vocabulary necessary to communicate in today’s world?

Following my “Facebook” conversation, I knew it was time to begin teaching my students about the world of technology that is out there. The problem I had: Where do I start? My classroom is in a conference room at a factory, so our technological resources are very limited. We have a projector, document camera, and two older computers that can connect to the Internet. Most students do not have a computer or Internet access at home.

My answer: Start small by showing students the very simple, yet powerful things technology can do that we take for granted. For example, one day I pulled up Google Earth and showed students pictures from the cities they are from, even from the middle of their refugee camps. It was fun to see students laugh and reminisce, and to have students say, “Teacher, this is very good!”

Additionally, when we study various grammatical concepts, I include various online activities so students can see the ways they can practice on their own outside of class, if they have a computer. Other times, I am intentional about showing students the methods I use to find information. Some students are astonished that there is so much that can be found and learned online.

Are you in a similar context where you want to teach technology but have very limited resources to do so? What do you do?

Darrin Hetrick completed his master’s degree in intercultural studies and TESOL at the Wheaton College Graduate School in 2005.  He currently teaches as part of the ESL program at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota.  He has taught TESOL in Croatia and Bosnia as well as in high schools, adult education/refugee settlement programs, and community colleges in the Chicago suburbs.  His primary interests are curriculum design and development and adult education.

About Tara Arntsen

Tara Arntsen
Tara Arntsen recently completed her Master's degree in Teaching-TESOL at the University of Southern California. She currently teaches in the Intensive English Program at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. She has taught ESOL in China, Japan, and Cambodia as well as online. Her primary interests are communicative teaching methods and the use of technology in education.
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2 Responses to Guest Writer: Technology in an Adult Ed ESL Program

  1. Jen Artan says:

    Yes, I have been there! Sometimes you have to make do with what resources you have, however limited those may be. Not offering your adult learners some access to technology, especially in a work place ESL program, is doing them a disservice. Kudos to you for bringing some tech into your classroom.

    I blogged about it for TESL Ontario last month…

    • Darrin Hetrick says:

      Thanks for your thoughts on your blog post! Good stuff. I got more great ideas at TESOL last week as well.

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