Digital Feedback – the next big thing? – A review of the PCE

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How often do you take part in an event that totally delivers what has been promised? Maybe you answered, ‘every so often’, but not for one of the most expected events of the IATEFL conference, which was definitely the Pre-Conference Event (PCE) on Digital Feedback from the LTSIG held in Liverpool at the Racquet Club Hotel on 1 April – at least it was for me and those who have a passionate interest in growing more and more into what technology can be taken advantage of, writes CPD Travel Grant winner, Rafael Webster.

Laura Grimes talking to our CPD travel grant winner, Rafael.

Although the main point of the PCE was to provide teachers with tools to be of use in giving relevant feedback to students, Angi Malderez, who opened the event, surprisingly started reflecting upon the literature of feedback. However, she quickly brought the problem of the collocation give feedback into sharp focus, which never crossed my mind it has to be questioned. Taking that pair of words for granted, it took me a while to understand what she was getting at. However, my mind was opened to see it from a different angle – that teachers should support learning experiences but not giving anything necessarily. Feedback needs to be brought out in a way that learners notice how to develop ‘learnacy’. A full interview with Angi, conducted by roving reporter, Serri Muniz, is below.

After having an introduction of what feedback is and how it should be done, we had other presenters such Helen Allen and Tom Booth, bringing some practical activities to be done with tools that might not be so new such as Padlet and write & improve. In my opinion, the most important part of their talk was when they showed us the Enquiry CorpusBOT to help teachers better plan their lessons, and students to notice language gap via a corpus – which I simply loved as Corpus Linguistics is my field of study.

Helen and Tom’s session

However, the biggest insight, at least for me, was brought by Joshua Underwood with his talk on artificial intelligence (AI), which made a powerful contribution into how humans with their best-ever right brain for creativity, judgement, and wisdom can walk alongside with logic and rationality of machines to make learning experience more meaningful an as we feel therefore we learn.

Some examples of this journey would include how AI can come in handy to help students develop autonomy when (1) putting into practice vocabulary learned; (2) asking questions such as “How do you say… in English?”, “How do you spell…”; (3) formulating questions to check spelling, facts, and many others while the teacher goes focusing on other issues in the classroom. Although this idea is still it its baby-first steps, it amazing to think of other possibilities it might bring it the future, especially for the EFL world.   A full recording of his talk has been made available to members via the post-conference newsletter.

Having had those great talks, it was still missing Russell Stannard on his topic of how to use technology for assessment and feedback. An approach to do it so is recording videos to make feedback more engaging and personal provided that teachers do not focus on error correction only. Our attention, on the contrary, according to him, should be on the effectiveness of being a teacher, which requires a front position role when providing feedback. That includes, for example, commenting on students’ content, guiding learners to discover what needs to be worked, and leading feedback to an objective. Russell’s full presentation is available to members and non-members.

Apart from having a massive discussion on the topics mentioned above and many other ones, what I definitely took away with me on that day was the fact that technology is a great asset to be direct, but it does not yet automatically lend itself to providing students with meaningful feedback, since technology is not emotional. Consequently, all systems are assistants, not replacements for the teachers as our empathy and values are our value as teachers. Finally, it is not the technology that transforms the learning, but the pedagogy behind it and the teacher’s presence as key elements.

Thank you LTSIG Team for this amazing CPD opportunity! It not only helped me understand more of what technology can do for feedback if teachers are present, but it also brought me closer to other people who love technology too ☺. Here are a couple more photos from that great day!

Rafael Webster is an English teacher at Cultura Inglesa, Sao Paulo, Brazil.  He is a Translation and Interpretation graduate, holds a Cambridge CELTA certificate, is pursuing his master’s degree at PUC-SP.  His academic interests are corpus linguistics, technology for Pedagogical Purposes and teacher development.​  He presented on this topic at the IATEFL conference in Brighton, 2018 and wrote about improving vocabulary through the use of mobile technology earlier this year.

More about our CPD travel grant. Look out for future announcements as we will be inviting members to apply for next year’s conference as well as other events.

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