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Review of  Teaching Languages with Technology

Reviewer: Nana Xu
Book Title: Teaching Languages with Technology
Book Author: Euline Cutrim Schmid Shona Whyte
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Computational Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 26.3748

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


“Teaching Languages with Technology: Communicative Approaches to Interactive Whiteboard Use”, edited by Euline Cutrim Schmid and Shona Whyte, is the third volume in the “Advances in Digital Language and Teaching” series published by Bloomsbury. This book brings together the most recent articles about research on the application of interactive whiteboards (IWBs) in communicative and task-based learning environments and is a collective endeavor of exploring how IWBs can be effectively used to enhance language learning and teaching in diverse contexts. Divided into three parts, this volume is preceded by a foreword and a brief editor’s introduction that bring IWBs from the technological spectrum to the foreground and provide the rationale of exploiting IWBs to support foreign language teaching by briefly reviewing theories of interactive technologies and second language acquisition/teaching. Part one compiles seven case studies that explore the potential of IWBs in a wide range of educational settings and involve participants at various levels of language proficiency, ranging from primary school students to pre-service teachers, therefore expanding its target readership. In wrapping up the book, part two offers suggestions for language teachers and trainers in applying IWBs to material design, classroom interaction and teacher training. This volume concludes with a glossary—Part Three—that presents detailed explanations of technical terms seen in this book.

Part One: Case studies
The first chapter, “The IWB in language education for learners with special educational needs: learning Welsh at primary school”, by Emily Hiller and Gary Beauchamp, attempts to investigate how IWB can be used to support pupils with special educational needs (SEN) to learn Welsh as a second language at a mainstream state primary school. The participant teacher, with 6-7 years’ experience of using IWB, designed a task-based “speaking and listening” lesson for 30 year-2 pupils (4 are with SEN) to learn vocabulary and short phrases associated with pets. Generally, whole-class activities are emphasized to take students with SEN into consideration; Moreover, to engage students with changeable activities, pair work and personal interaction with IWB are also included. Reflected in the video-stimulated recall (VSR) interview, the teacher pointed out 4 main affordances of IWB — multimodality, the versatility of IWB tools, greater interactivity and the ability to model activities, which stimulate students’ learning by providing multiple presenting modes and various IWB tools, allowing more freedom to interact with IWB and making modeling things easier. Besides, details such as font size and background color can be easily adjusted through IWBs for SEN students without being noticed by other students. IWB-based activities can be further developed by adding webcam to allow communication with other classes in this school or elsewhere.

In Chapter 2, “A task-based approach to video communication with the IWB: a French-German primary EFL class exchange”, Shona Whyte and Euline Cutrim Schmid examine the effectiveness of combining task-based language teaching (TBLT) methods and IWB-supported video communication (VC) in international class-to-class exchange. Two classes of grade-2 pupils from Germany and France (25 in each class) are required to take turns to finish an ID-card task by interacting with their remote partners. Research reveals that the IWB and live VC interaction combined can easily make pupils focus on learning tasks and strongly motivate them to activate what they have learned to communicate. Additionally, task-based activities are effective in promoting learner-learner exchanges because in authentic language contexts English becomes the only medium for learners to communicate to finish their tasks. However, unfamiliarity with interactive technological tools affects learners’ communication, which indicates the necessity of technical support and teacher training in this aspect. It is expected that direct learner-learner communication would become the focus of the class with students’ and teachers’ increasing familiarity with this way of learning/teaching.

“Digital storytelling in the primary EFL classroom” by Anika Kegenhof aims to explore how digital storytelling can be facilitated by the IWB in a German primary English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classroom. Twenty-two grade-3 pupils with three years’ English learning experience attend 4 45-minute lessons, with the first two classes introducing the IWB and familiarizing students with the use of it and the third moving one step further by allowing students to explore the potential of the IWB and master relevant vocabulary through IWB-supported pre-storytelling activities. The 4th class consists of while-and post-storytelling activities, which are designed to involve students in storytelling of “Tendai’ dream” using the IWB. More specifically, while-storytelling activities such as crossing out wrong items and gap-filling are to help students grasp the storyline, and post-storytelling tasks try to consolidate students’ newly learned language points by requiring them to reconstruct the storyline and complete a review worksheet. Based on field notes and class video-recordings, the teacher is amazed at students’ handling the IWB well and fast and demonstrating a high level of autonomy in the learning process. The research suggests that IWBs facilitate students’ learning by offering a wide range of multimedia resources and interactivities, and enhance teachers’ teaching by providing various resources catering for individual needs. Students’ positive attitudes reflected in collected questionnaires also encourage the author to expect more effective IWB-supported learning with an increased level of familiarity with IWB use, mastery of well-developed learning strategies and development of more ambitious learning goals.

Helene Siler’s article, “The IWB in the CLIL classroom: using visuals to foster active learning with young beginners”, provides rich insight into a small-scale project conducted at a German secondary school with an aim to investigate how the IWB can facilitate content and language integrated learning (CLIL), i.e. fostering pupils’ active learning of geography in English. Three lessons in the pilot study on climate prepare the 24 10-11-year-olds for later study by familiarizing them with the use of IWB tools and visualization techniques. When it comes to the main study on Egypt, the potential of the IWB is exploited to provide visual support in different forms to help students understand the input and trigger discussion among them. Data collected from field notes, class video-recordings, interviews and questionnaires reveal the effectiveness of the IWB in presenting and structuring learning contents as well as promoting students’ communication. Except for some technical problems, students’ attitude towards the use of IWB is positive. Nonetheless, the teachers report a high degree of teacher-centeredness, as they spend too much time talking; but they believe better teaching and learning effects of applying the IWB to CLIL can be anticipated by allowing more freedom to students to study in pairs or groups.

The next contribution, “Using the IWB to support gamification in order to enhance writing fluency in the secondary language classroom” by Graham Stanley, attempts to investigate whether gamification could facilitate secondary students with English language writing and how the IWB supports gamification in an EFL classroom. A need analysis conducted among 13 12-13-year-old junior-5 students whose mother tongue is Catalan and/or Spanish shows students’ dislike for English writing, which inspires the adoption of a gamified writing system in EFL classroom. These EFL students are assigned 5-minute speed writing tasks containing IWB-supported gamification elements – points, levels, badges and leaderboards – to motivate them to write. Achievement badges, besides level badges, are also used to maintain the writing enthusiasm of students of various language levels, however, some students still feel demotivated in the end. Overall, the gamified writing system, to some degree, improves students’ writing fluency and writing interest but only with a short-term influence. The IWB turns out to be helpful in supporting gamified activities by providing badges and leaderboards and displaying any information to be shown in class. Future research can be done to integrate IWB-supported gamification with teaching of different language skills and, ideally, creating a grade-recording system to fulfill needs of individual learners.

Chapter 6, “Exploring IWB use for language instruction in Turkish higher education settings”, by Serkan Celik, is an exploratory study that collectively reflects language instructors’ perceptions on the application of IWBs to language instruction at the tertiary level. Six participating teachers with at least 5 years of teaching experience are provided with basic IWB training for 6 weeks to come up with a teaching plan and teaching methods before they spend 4 weeks implementing pre-designed IWB-supported activities among students of intermediate language proficiency level. Afterwards, the 6 participants reflect in semi-structured interviews that IWBs, if exploited appropriately, can benefit tertiary-level language learning and instruction by efficiently and effectively presenting input and providing varied activities to stimulate students’ interactivity. Besides, with a proper lesson plan in hand, instructors’ teaching any specific language skills can be facilitated by the IWB. However, the participating teachers point out that technology training is not enough for fully exploiting a new teaching tool; they need further training, “ongoing pedagogical support” (203) from educators and even an information-exchanging community for them to share IWB experience.

In the concluding chapter of this part, “Academic teacher training and the IWB: coaching pre-service teachers in Belgium”, Margret Oberhofer, Mathea Simons and Tom F. H. Smith’s report on a training program of pre-service teachers at the university of Antwerp in Belgium, which aims to test the IWB-training effect and find out opportunities and pitfalls of designing IWB materials. After having received technical and pedagogical coaching on the IWB, 13 pre-service language teachers with a Master’s degree are asked to design language skill-specific modules supported with logs and peer reviews. The collected IWB modules show a wide range of exercise types but some of them are with vague and abstract learning objectives. Technical issues together with didactic and pedagogical aspects of the IWB are among the most frequently mentioned aspects in pre-service teachers’ logs, which reflects their concern about adopting IWBs in future teaching. Although most remarks in peer reviews are positive, there are still comments questioning the added value of the IWB compared with other media, which is also mentioned in their logs. Even though in IWB modules pre-service teachers boldly cover a large range of target learners, the proficiency level of the target audience in more than one case is not correctly estimated. Considering that IWBs can benefit teaching but with potential pitfalls, recommendations for both language teachers and language teacher trainers are provided.

Part Two: Final recommendations
In part two, “Ongoing professional development in IWB-mediated language teaching: evening up the odds”, Euline Cutrim Schmid and Shona Whyte, the editors of this book, abstract three most prevalent issues after briefly reviewing the 7 preceding chapters – materials design, classroom interaction, and teacher training – and then provide detailed recommendations for language teachers and teacher educators in these three aspects. More specifically, IWB-supported materials design, a reflection of teachers’ theoretical, pedagogical and technical competences, involve five key areas (methodological principles, pedagogical activities, learner engagement, tools and features, and practical consideration) are explicitly listed; four levels of interactivity in terms of language used, contextualization and task orientation range from drill, display, simulation and communication are demonstrated; and finally four principles and guidelines for IWB-supported language teaching practice are offered, which include pedagogical framework based on theoretical foundation, reflective practice, professional collaboration and ongoing support for professional development.


“Teaching Languages with Technology: Communicative Approaches to Interactive Whiteboard Use” fuels the development of digital language teaching and learning by providing seven case studies that investigate the integration of the IWB in various educational settings, including primary- (Chapter 1-3), secondary- (Chapter 4-5) and tertiary-level (Chapter 6) instruction and pre-service teaching training (Chapter 7). More specifically, both students’ (Chapter 1-5) and teachers’ (Chapter 6-7) angles are respectively adopted to examine the effectiveness of the IWB in different backgrounds (UK, Germany, France, Span, Turkey, and Belgium). Communicative approaches, noticeably, are valued in these research settings where teaching contents range from teaching English/Welsh/Turkish as a Foreign/Second Language to CLIL. Seen from these case studies, IWBs can not only be used to facilitate material design that caters for special learners’ needs so as to blend students with SEN into common educational settings (Chapter 1) but also be exploited to provide videos, pictures and various tools, thus arousing students’ enthusiasm to learn (Chapter 2, 3). Moreover, an online foreign language interaction and exchange environment can be created by combining IWBs with VC (Chapter 2), and more fun can be added to learning through IWB-supported gaming activities (cChapter 5), which perhaps would expand readers’ imagination of creatively combining IWBs with other tools.

In sum, Euline Cutrim Schmid and Shona Whyte’s collection of case studies compiled in this volume is a timely addition to the growing body of work on digital language learning and teaching. I would strongly recommend this book as it can serve as a reference book for teachers to find ways to integrate IWBs in different teaching contexts, for trainers to notice aspects to pay special attention to when training pre-service teachers, and for researchers to acquire inspiration to locate an interesting research topic. One limitation of this book is its limited number of case studies undertaken in advanced educational contexts, with the fact that the participants in tertiary-level research settings are actually teachers not students. Despite this limitation, this volume, undeniably, will be of great use to those that are interested in this topic and will turn out a powerful driving force in the further development of IWB-facilitated teaching and researching in the future.


Cornillie, F., Thorne, S. L., and Desmer, P. (2012). Editorial: Digital games for language learning: From hype to insight? ReCALL, 24(3), 243-256.

Panichi, L., and Deutschmann, M. (2012). Language learning in virtual worlds: Research issues and methods. In M. Dooly and R. O’Dowd (Eds.), Researching online foreign language interaction and exchange: Theories, methods and challenges (pp. 205-232). Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang.

Schmid, E. C. (2011). Video-stimulated reflection as a professional development tool in interactive whiteboard research. ReCall 23(3), 252-270.

Yanguas, I. (2010). Oral computer-mediated interaction between L2 learners: It’s about time. Language Learning and Technology, 14(3), 72-93.
Nana Xu is a teaching assistant in the Public English Department at Tianjin Medical University. Her research interests include task-based language teaching, writing in CALL environments and self-regulated language learning.

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