Technology in education: Is it just a waste of time?

Photo attributed to Jim Wilson, New York Times. Students using an interactive whiteboard, part of an ambitious technology plan in the Kyrene School District in Arizona.

The last  8 months I have been blogging about the use of technology in education and especially as a way to assist English Language Learning. I have not only been blogging but using it actively with my students. I mainly teach one to one lessons and my students are young. I had also the honor to present various workshops about the use of technology with students in my university (University of Athens), Paris (Tesol France) and online.

During this time period, I have heard my many objections about  the use of the internet in and outside the classroom for educational use that made me think again and again. Are we wasting precious lesson time using a Web 2.0 application in classroom? Is it just a waste of time asking students to keep a class blog, watch a youtube video, create a slideshow?

Here are some of the objections I have heard:

  • I have used once technology. I showed to my students ”Mrs Doubtfire”. It was such a waste of time. While we were watching the film I was thinking that the students were not learning anything. I preferred to use this time to practice grammar with my students.
  • Technology is very difficult for me to handle.In a school were I was teaching the classrooms were equipped with interactive white boards and projectors. I was loosing precious lesson time.

Today, I have heard a view that really made me think a lot and resulted in my blogging about this:

I have announced to one of my friends and colleague that I will be presenting at Tesol Greece Conference a workshop named ‘Web 2.0 World in the English Language Classroom”. He said to me without the intention to insult me that he is not attending my workshop because he finds the use of tech useless for the Greek reality. He pointed out that in Greek public schools the most classrooms do not  have heat and many of them even a blackboard. He could not imagine to put in action all these thinks I was talking about.

While he was expressing his opinions which are totally understandable, I was thinking how economic factors can discourage teachers from getting inspired and try to do the best for their students. My colleague and many other educators are not at all open to new ideas because their school lacks of proper facilities. But is this the answer to the problem?  Should we give up? A teacher should be the one who inspires the students and help them learn and get motivated to learn.

What is my point of view? We live in a society where the internet is a major part of it. Facebook, for example, has more than 800 million active users and more that 350 million user carry facebook wherever they go through their mobile devices. All my students, colleagues and friends have added me as a friend to facebook. I do not think that I know anyone without an account at any social network. What does this mean? Our students spend a lot of time online. They go home and they do not stop typing (and producing language online). Why not as teachers keep up with the times and adjust some technology in our teaching? If our classroom is not equipped with computers or internet access, our houses are. We can ask  our students to do something meaningful at the internet at home and send it to us via mail. We can practice writing through blogs, wikis, digital storytelling applications –  reading through reading breaking news online, interesting articles – listening through online videos, talks. You can motivate learning and keep students engaged to the lesson. I have seen so many students get motivated just because their teacher asked them to find some extra info online for a project.

I am not suggesting that  technology is the panacea in education. It should be used with intention and considering the students’ e-safety. However, we can not overlook its invaluable benefits.  Teachers should get informed about its advantages and how can be used in education. What is your opinion? Is it just a waste of lesson time or do you think that helps our students? I am really interested in listening  your views.


My top 11 blog posts from ’11

Magic in Education! is a blog that was created for the needs of a presentation on technology in the classsroom. Me and my collegue Makis Aggatheris were assigned to create a 3 hour workshop on New Technologies in Teaching. While we were preparing the workshop I came with an idea of having a blog where the participants can visit and see the links that I suggest them to visit. When the workshop was over, I decided to maintain the blog and keep publishing my ideas on technology in classroom. It is now 8 months amd it has been already visited from visitors from all over the world.

Here you can see my top 11 blog posts (according to the blog’s statistics) from ’11:

11. Make your own comics, Witty Comics

10. Penzu, your own personal journal and online diary

9Using Blogs in Education

8Wallwisher, Words that Stick!

7. Social Networks in Education

6How we created an interactive whiteboard with low cost!!

5. Web 2.0 apps

4. – Creating ashtonishing presentations

3.  How to create your own superhero comic

 2. 30+1  Ways You Should Be Using Facebook in Your Classroom


1. Poster your self! (Text, Images, Music and Video)

New Technologies in Teaching Presentation Files

In the following link you may find the whole presentation (ppt file) of the workshop conducted  on Monday 30th May 2011: New Technologies in Teaching Presentation

You may also find the handout here: Handout

and the information leaflet on how we made our interactive whiteboard here: Interactive Whiteboard Leaflet

Using Facebook in the Classroom

Whether it is Facebook, MSN Messenger, Bebo, iChat, Skype, YouTube or any other form of social networking – we know our young people are, and will be, using it.

As with all new media, research projects have shown time and again that if young people see a vacant space, they will fill it (and perhaps not always in the most positive way). As the blurring between social and work continues, organisations from universities to work places are using social networks increasingly effectively for work. They often seek for evidence that potential employees or students can be effectively collegiate and understand mutuality – that they can use these new social tools for work and for the workplace.

We need to teach young people the way to use them appropriately, to build their sense of entitlement into a sense of responsibility and to work with them on effective and safe strategies for protection whilst using social media. If we were seeking to develop water safety we wouldn’t keep children away from water until they are 16 and then throw them off the pier – similarly with social media, blindly banning them is inappropriate and equally dangerous.

Conversely, if students see social media used in a positive way to enhance learning, it changes the way they perceive these social spaces, which by osmosis become more educational – who wouldn’t want that?

So, before we can fully embrace social media in the classroom, we need a few simple Dos and Don’ts and some common sense:

Using Facebook safely within the secondary classroom

Facebook has wonderful privacy controls that enable you to manage what anyone can see or cannot see. We are all social actors, but if as a teacher you meet childen in a non educational space – for example shopping – you don’t become a different person (Estelle the Disco Queen) even though that may be how your out-of-school college pals characterise you at the weekend. Nor would you invite children back home for a party. In the supermarket, meeting children, you remain simply as Ms Smith, their teacher.

On-line too, you do not want our young people to see your personal life – to protect both yourself and them! If you follow some simple rules, this different identities can be managed as easily as they are in the supermarket:


  • Build a separate teacher page for your “teacher” presence. Facebook does not let you have Mr or Miss Heppell, they will not allow the page to be accepted. In Juliette’s school, staff use the subject as the firstname (example: History Smith) or missy/mister (example: Missy Heppell)

juliette's home page in FB

  • Keep your teacher and personal page very separate
  • Let students ‘friend’ you as your teacher self. When they ask to be your friend, send a standard reply first to ensure they understand exactly what this means:
    Example: “Thanks for asking to be my friend. Just wanted to remind you this is my teacher page and so the usual rules apply. I’ll make sure you don’t come up in my news feed (as I’m sure you don’t want me to see your conversations with your mates ;-)) so I’ll only see things that I am tagged in. I can’t facebook chat, but post on my wall and we can chat there 🙂 Let me know if this is ok with you, and as long as it is, I’d love to be your FB friend!”)
  • Post pictures of school/lessons/trips – even diagrams you put on the board (snap them with your phone and post them) – it reminds students that you are there, generates a pride in the school and reminds them that this is not a vaccuous space!
  • Build groups for your classes – encourage them to ask about homework and help one another through the discussions and group wall. Identity and belonging are important parts of learning.

homework help request

  • Make sure your class groups are closed groups, so people have to request to join and see the group. It often helps manage the groups if you choose a couple of pupils to give admin responsibility to in the group (but make sure they are pupils who use facebook regularly!)
  • Join groups about the school – it’s a great way to see what students are posting, or to manage the posts. Be aware that prospective teachers may well refer to these before applying for positions at the school!
  • Post positive status updates, praise rich, regularly so that students feel rewarded.
    Example: Missy Heppell is really impressed with 9J, K, L & M today – their work during the enterprise day was totally brilliant! 9P, Q, R & S will have a lot to live up to!


  • Use the status to keep pupils informed of last minute changes in school
    Example: School is closed today because of the snow!
  • Play a couple of simple to run games. It can engage some students who might not engage in school – you’ll be amazed at the pupils positive response – just as schools trips like field courses change relationships positively, so do virtual out-of-school activities.
  • Wish students happy birthday when Facebook reminds you (this is the one time when you can post on their wall!) – it helps them to see that you care!

brithday greetings


  • Don’t FB chat – you can’t save it and therefore you are not protected against any accusations or inaccurate recollections.
  • Don’t ever ‘friend’ students yourself – not even as your “teacher” presence
  • Don’t message pupils (other than your initial friends message – or birthday wishes). If they message you, post something back on their wall. It’s just not sensible private messaging pupils – keep everything public. (although you can message a whole group – for example your form class to say they are wonderful, or to say thankyou – that can be very effective)
  • Don’t look at pupils’ Facebook pictures (apart obviously from their profile picture) – and make it clear that you can’t / won’t ever do that. If you saw something inappropriate you would have to report it and the whole chemistry of the relationship would change – this is not a place for that kind of monitoring.
  • Social networks in school are not places for criticisms, or wingeing. Remember that you are there as your “teacher” presence, with all that implies for leadership and morale.
  • Don’t accept complete ignorance of Facebook as an excuse for dangerous school policies like blanket bans – instead offer to be an action researcher, and try it out for a year
  • Don’t ever think you can refine and evolve these simple notes without talking to your students – they will know of problems and dangers you are unaware of, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t model safe behavior for them.

The whole article was adapted from the following url:

Examples of Class facebook profiles/groups

This is another category of using social media in education. Teachers create groups or profiles in order to communicate with their students and parents,upload relevant material or assign homework. A teacher may use it in his/her own way.  It is a very useful tool as the vast majority of students use it and are familiar with it.

Here are some examples of facebook profiles which belong to classes/schools:

Tewks’ English Class

Ms. Adkins’ English Class 

Mrs. Jenkins’ English Class

Mr. Koellhoffer English class

In fact I had a problem finding many facebook pages that belong in this category because most of these profiles are private for clear cut reasons. (I will add a post for the reasons why you should keep some points private)

Examples of Facebook Educators’ Profiles

Educators create facebook accounts or groups in order to syndicate their blogs, present their work and communicate teachers. Examples of such facebook accounts are:

Marisa Constantinides

Larry Ferlazzo

Clubefl English

Magic in Education

If you find any other facebook educational profiles that belong to this category you can write me a comment and I will add them.

Using MySpace or Facebook Strengthens Communication

The generation of students that we currently teach has never known what it is like to be without a cell phone or computer. They are comfortable with technology and use it readily. Through integrating technology into your classroom, you are better able to relate to your students and captivate their attention. Using the popular social forums like MySpace or Facebook, teachers can strengthen the lines of communication with their students.

One must remember though, that if you wish to interact with students on MySpace or Facebook, you must exercise professionalism and maintain the same personal boundaries that you implement in your classroom. Your classroom MySpace or Facebook page should only relate to your classroom and nothing should be on that page that you would not proudly display to your principal or superintendent. With that in mind, the page created should be a digital representation of your class and curriculum, not a page that is strictly teacher-oriented.

For example, when you log on to MySpace or Facebook to create a classroom page, use the title “Mrs. Hart’s 6th Grade English Class”, not your first and last name. Use the school mascot or a favorite image as your profile picture to further professionalize your page and to make it more about your classroom and curriculum. Students can use your page to access homework information, or to create conversation topics about a book you are reading in class, or to discuss assignments that are interesting or difficult to them. Again, you should never use your page to discuss personal topics that do not relate to your curriculum.

There are several ways you can use your MySpace or Facebook classroom page. Both forums have features that allow you to post “bulletins” or “updates” that students will see immediately when they log onto their page. You can post information pertaining to homework, such as “Don’t forget that your thematic essay is due on Friday,” or clarify project directions, like “your book report should include three symbolic images, along with explanations”. Students can also message you to ask questions about homework and due dates through the email functions on both pages. The websites are great ways for students to ask questions outside of the classroom; students who would otherwise be too shy or uncomfortable to ask questions in the classroom setting.

Be sure that you include your MySpace and Facebook address in your syllabus or first-or-year letter home to parents, and explain what you will use these forums for, clearly and explicitly to parents. Parents need to be aware of your reasons for having both pages, since many adults are unaware or have biased opinions about social forums. If teachers maintain professionalism, and establish boundaries with their students, using both of these popular social forums can benefit both students and teachers.

30+1 Ways You Should Be Using Facebook in Your Classroom

Facebook isn’t just a great way for you to find old friends or learn about what’s happening this weekend, it is also an incredible learning tool. Teachers can utilize Facebook for class projects, for enhancing communication, and for engaging students in a manner that might not be entirely possible in traditional classroom settings. Read on to learn how you can be using Facebook in your classroom, no matter if you are a professor, student, working online, or showing up in person for class.

Class Projects

The following ideas are just a starting point for class projects that can be used with Facebook in the classroom.
1.Follow news feeds. Have students follow news feeds relevant to the course material in order to keep current information flowing through the class.
2.Share book reviews. Students can post their book reviews for the instructor to grade and other students to read. If it’s a peer-reviewed project, then students can more easily access each other’s papers online.
3.Knighthood. Playing this game promotes strong reading skills. This teacher explains how he used it with his ESL class.
4.Poll your class. Use polls as an interactive teaching tool in class or just to help facilitate getting to know one another with the Poll app for Facebook.
5.Practice a foreign language. Students learning a foreign language can connect with native speakers through groups or fan opportunities such as this one.
6.Create your own news source. A great way for journalism students to practice their craft, use the Facebook status update feed as a breaking news source for sports results, academic competition results, and other campus news.
7.Follow news stories. Keep up with news through Facebook on groups like World News Webcast that provides video clips of world news.
8.Keep up with politicians. Political science students can become fans of politicians in order to learn about their platforms and hear what they have to say first hand.
9.Create apps for Facebook. A class at Stanford started doing this in 2007 and still has a Facebook group profiling their work. A class at Berkeley also did the same.
10.Participate in a challenge. Look for challenges like the one held by Microsoft and Direct Marketing Educational Foundation that challenges undergrads and grad students to create usable products for Microsoft in return for experience and, in some cases, certification.
11.Bring literature to life. Create a Facebook representation of a work of literature like this class did.

Facilitate Communication

An excellent way to ensure students are more engaged in the learning experience is by strengthening the communication between students and student-to-teacher. These are just a few ideas to do just that.
12.Create groups. You can create groups for entire classes or for study groups with smaller subsets of students that allow for easy sharing of information and communication, without students even having to friend each other.
13.Schedule events. From beginning of semester mixers to after-finals celebrations, easily schedule events for the entire class using Facebook.
14.Send messages. From unexpected absences to rescheduling exams, it’s easy to send messages through Facebook.
15.Share multimedia. With the ability to post videos, photos, and more, you can share multimedia content easily with the entire class.
16.Post class notes. Post notes after each class period for students to have access for review or in case they were absent.
17.Provide direct communication with instructors. Instructors and students can contact each other through Facebook, providing an opportunity for better sharing of information and promoting better working relationships.
18.Allows shy students a way to communicate. Shy students who may not want to approach their teacher after class or during office hours can use Facebook to communicate.
19.Facilitate classmate connections. When students get to know each other more intimately, they become more involved in the learning experience. This is helpful in both large classes that wouldn’t normally promote such intimacy and in smaller settings that regularly depend on that connection.
20.Make announcements. Instructors can send out reminders about upcoming tests, upcoming due dates, or any classroom news.
21.Brainstorm. Students can have the ability to add their thoughts to the class any time they occur allows for more opportunities for brainstorming off each other.
Share interesting websites. Students and instructors alike can post interesting websites that add relevancy to the class.
22.Post homework. Posting homework through Facebook not only provides easy access for students, it also puts in writing specifically what is expected and when it is due.
23.Grassroots movements. Students at University of British Columbia learned that the weight room at their aquatic center was slated for closure, and through Facebook, won to keep it open.


Why use Facebook with your class? Here are some of the benefits you may see when you decide to use Facebook as a learning tool.
24.Inviting atmosphere. Since Facebook isn’t exclusively the instructor’s any more than it is the students’, this offers students an opportunity for active participation on a level playing field.
25.Students are comfortable with Facebook. Most students are already users of Facebook, so implementing it into class provides a comfortable way for students to participate in class.
26.Informal. The informality inherent in Facebook’s connections lend to yet another reason students may be more willing to participate in class activities here.
27.Promotes collaboration. Facebook’s design promotes social interchange between participants, thereby increasing collaboration between students working on activities.
28.Keeps schools current. Mark Federman asserts that universities must move from a skills-centered approach to learning to one of connectivity to stay relevant to students.
29.Students engaged outside of class. When students are accessing the class content more often, that means they will be thinking about and engaging in the lessons more frequently.
30.Ambient awareness. Facebook provides an excellent opportunity for students and instructors to participate in ambient awareness, a way of getting to know those you follow on social networks in more meaningful ways.
31.Teach personal responsibility. Instructors can take this opportunity to teach students how to responsibly use Facebook and other social networking sites so it helps their future–not the opposite.