My journey in English language teaching began in 2006 when I volunteered for a charity based in the UK, but working in Tanzania. I taught at an orphanage in Buswelu, near Mwanza, for 3 months, during which time I contracted malaria and assisted in getting all the children at the orphanage tested for the HIV virus. There was no technology involved, apart from a DVD which I made on my return to the UK, from all the Pentax digital camera footage I took, which required painstakingly burning the footage onto blank discs in a local camera shop and deleting the files to free up space. I created a two-disc film, ‘Phil’s Tanzanian Adventure’ of my time spent there, including a separate hour-long film about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro over five days, which I called ‘Phili Does Kili’. There are some clips of my time with the kids on YouTube. I used Windows Movie Maker to do the editing, which at the time came with Windows XP and later, Vista. I got my twitter handle, ‘teacherphili’, from my time spent in Tanzania.
In 2007-8, I worked at a hagwon (after-school club) in South Korea, a country that boosts itself as one of the most wifi enabled countries on the planet, with the fastest speeds. Except there was little in the way of technology at the school I worked. I used old-style TVs and DVDs from the school-owned and created coursebooks and had to deal with continual viruses on the school’s computers. Nonetheless, I made use of my filmmaking interest again, creating several short films, including capturing the end of level presentation on Little Red Riding Hood, that all the students unfortunately had to go through. I bought my first camcorder in Seoul and first started using it to capture footage. I documented my very first day in the job and, later on, made a promotional, recruitment video for an agency based in the capital city, which features me singing ‘Englishman in New York’ in a Seoul 노래방 (norebang). Once more, I edited my films using Windows Movie Maker. Then that tool changed with Windows 7 and I did not like the newer version, so had to use an older version for a while.
I continued to make films with learners on a young learners activity summer course with Bell Educational Trust, at the Leys school, Cambridge (2009-11). In my first two week my students wanted to make a complete, short film. The Bell handbook advised against taking this on in a relatively short space of time, but with my teaching partner, Marc, we managed it and the kids produced a learner-generated zombie-style film, ‘Epidemic’, complete with A2 level Russians dressed up as the ‘walking dead’. The following year, the learners made a Romeo and Juliet parody called ‘Bad Romance’.
Between 2009-10, I worked in Beijing at an Arts Academy, for Bell International. I later worked in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with preparatory students at one of the largest educational projects in the world. In both these places, I continued to make use of film and video in the classroom. For wannabe Arts students, creativity is right up there, and I made a film with their help on something called ‘Project X’. In Riyadh, making an induction film for newly arrived teachers with my students was possible, once it had been sanctioned by the institutional director. Unfortunately it was never used, because of the students was not was not wearing the proper Saudi national dress.
I have always been interested in capturing the moving image and the editing process. So when I heard about Russell Stannard’s love of screencapture technology and that he taught at the University of Warwick on their MA in ELT at the Centre of Applied Linguistics, I applied and Russell ended up being my personal tutor and dissertation supervisor. My specialism was in ICT and multimedia, focusing on language teachers’ autonomy in using tools for my dissertation. Part of my MA involved looking at blogging and ICT tools, which drew on my experience on using Blogger to document my teaching and travels from 2006-2012, to create an ICT in ELT blog – the final entry was about a webinar I presented for the LTSIG on my original research. I later joined the small team behind Teacher Training Videos and create videos and have done promotional work for the company.
In June 2013, I attended the first image conference in Barcelona, organised by Kieran Donaghy – who later became my IATEFL talk mentor. 2013 was a difficult year for me and I had a series of short-lived work experiences, but I now draw on these and other personal experiences when I present at conference, albeit not on technology, but on mental health awareness. But I did present a webinar for the Learning Technologies Special Interest Group (LTSIG) that year.
In 2014, I graduated from Blogger to using WordPress and have moved away somewhat from writing about technology. I wrote the summary for a 2011 #ELTchat on virtual learning environments, another chat summary about Using corpora in the classroom, for which I made a screencast for TTV and, more recently, Virtual Reality in Use and Digital Tools for Young Learners.
I have always had a love for computers and technology, I suppose. In early 2017, I was approached by LTSIG coordinator, Sophia Mavridi and the webmaster, Sylvia Guinan, to join as a sub-committee member and I attended IATEFL Glasgow in that capacity. I attended ELT Malta with the SIG in October 2017 and became newsletter editor later that year. I also returned to Barcelona in February 2018 and attended the International House conference, again as part of the SIG, overseeing the work of our roving reporters. At our face-to-face meeting at IATEFL Brighton, 2018, I offered to take over from Sylvia as webmaster, freeing up the position of newsletter editor to former coordinator of the SIG, Graham Stanley. This role has drawn on my writing and editing skills, but also involves leading the content team, posting and sharing blog posts and promoting SIG events with our current social media manager, Raquel Ribeiro. I have made videoscribes and screencapture videos for the SIG, again as part of this role. I was instrumental in getting the Members’ Area sorted out, after a lot of teething problems. With the new IATEFL website launched in December 2019, this will now link directly to the LTSIG one, although as webmaster, I have a role in migrating content over if necessary.
I have always been fairly tech-savvy and have made use of any technology that I have found in the classroom or by bringing in my own devices. More recently, my two summers teaching on a presessional course at INTO UEA have made good use of this. Not just, for example, in creating an end-of-course review quiz in Kahoot! shared with the other teachers, but having a room for my writing class which had four different screen displays and using those effectively, as well as extensive use of Tekhnologic’s spinning wheel to nominate a student. I have also extensively used Padlet when teaching and giving feedback on students’ timed writing. I am now teaching my third English for Driving Theory course, too, which utilises some fairly old macro-enabled, interactive PowerPoints. At first, I used some unreliable Nexus Tablets, but migrated to using some borrowed laptops, which were incidentally donated by the UEA.
I continue to make films, often just for pleasure, such as GoGoLily, about an art trail I did with my niece in July 2018. These days I use Camtasia, which is superior screencapture and video editing software, which I first found out about via Russell.
At the time of writing this, I was putting together a proposal for the Image conference in Brussels. It was about my personal history of filmmaking in and out of the classroom, which I wrote about in my previous post. Unfortunately, the Learn English through filmmaking course didn’t take off. It was always a gamble and attracting new students at a difficult time politically and financially, given ‘Brexit’, was always going to be hard. I’ve got over my huge disappointment about this and have returned to advertising my services as a private tutor until the summer.
Note: This updated article was originally written for the April 2019 LT newsletter.