Taking over the computer lab - lessons learned...

Finally, after several weeks of hints, suggestions, plans, requests, delays and technical hitches, I finally got a class of my students into the computer lab today to do a text reconstruction activity. :) While all went well, this was the first time for me and my students and so there are a few lessons to be learned ahead of future trips across the corridor:

1. Plan in advance... well in advance
I've been talking about taking one of my classes to the computer lab for ages but it wasn't until two weeks ago that I asked with a specific plan in mind. Two weeks was not enough! My head of department had to draft a letter requesting permission to the school principal, which itself took over a week... Then, the principal was out of the office for two days... Then, she didn't give the go ahead until late yesterday... And then, the computer department said they didn't have enough time to transfer my files over to all of the computers in the lab!! As a result, my morning class was cancelled but I stood my ground (despite the suggestions that "it's maybe best not to bother") and got my afternoon class in.

2. Be prepared for resistance
A big part of the delays seemed to stem from other people's reluctance for the whole thing to go ahead. "Can't you just use the class computer?" (Text reconstruction on 1 computer? With 30 students?), "But it won't be fair on the other classes if only yours can go to the lab" (I'd be happy to share my materials and plan with you!), and my personal favourite "I'm not sure about using our students for testing out these new-fangled ideas" (New fangled? TR is as old as CALL itself!)

The best way to bypass the resistance? Go straight to the top. A personal chat with the principal certainly speeded things up a bit. ;)

3. Teachers know best
Anyone reading this blog is likely to be a teacher as well and therefore you already know this to be true. :P However, it's worth reminding others once in a while:

As I mentioned earlier, my morning session was cancelled as the computer technician at the school said any files to be loaded onto the students' computers would have to be transferred to one machine at a time from the school's central computer hub. No chance to access the school intranet from the teacher's computer and no USB drives for my memory stick. That was the computer technician. I later spoke to the computer studies teacher who immediately showed me how to 'search for computers on this network' from the teacher's computer and then it was just a matter of dragging and dropping. She had an even simpler suggestion for next time: put the files on CD and transfer them from there!

4. Size does matter
28 kids in a lab with just enough space for 14 computer terminals is a bit of a squeeze and a recipe for a headache, especially on a hot Friday afternoon!

5. Boys are more competitive...
I had 9 groups: 3 all girls, 3 all boys and 3 mixed. The TR activities (created on Hot Potatoes) each gave a score and I caught 2 of the all boy groups quitting the first exercise repeatedly and starting again in an attempt to beat the score of the team next to them! One group got caught out on the full reconstruction exercise though - they thought they had found an ingenious way to finish everything: by mashing the 'help' button until all the text was revealed. You should have seen their faces when I informed them that the symbol in front of the score was not a dash but a minus!

6. ...but girls are more selfish
Interestingly, it was 2 of the all girl groups that had the most trouble getting along with each other with complaints about time on the keyboard and not listening to suggestions. Only one of the mixed groups had problems and that was caused by the girl in the group refusing to let anyone else type. At least the boys who were restarting the activities in search of that 100% score were getting along with each other.

7. Kids don't always see the obvious
I deliberately did not give any tips on how to do a TR activity until they were underway as I was interested in seeing how they initially tackled the task. A couple of groups tried to go word by word from the start, others didn't think of trying common words like articles, pronouns or prepositions until I suggested it and several never thought of looking at the images I had added to the file or the ones that were being projected on PowerPoint for clues again until I told them. Sometimes the ingenuity shown by this age group amazes me, sometimes the lack of common sense drives me to despair!

One good sign to come out of it though - most of the groups immediately noticed and corrected themselves if they typed, for example, 'go' instead of 'goes' and that's one of the main things I was hoping for from this lesson.

8. Sometimes, cheats can prosper
A big complaint between groups was "they are looking at our screen!" One boy in particular caught my attention in this respect - he slyly glanced at the next group's computer, saw they had typed 'breakfast' and told his group to type it. He then immediately recalled other words. "Toast and jam!" he shouted "toast and jam" and instructed the typist to enter 'toast' and 'jam'. Good stuff. And yet that group remained stumped by the 3-letter gap in between those two words.... it was for 'and'!!

9. The computer is a great motivator
A quick hands-up poll before the lesson revealed that more than half of the kids in the class either didn't like the reading passages in our coursebook or described them as 'so-so' (a favourite saying amongst this age group for some reason - I've certainly never used it in class). Groans and grumbles were heard when I announced we would be looking at a text in the computer lab. However, once the lesson was over, every kid in the class said they had enjoyed it and wanted to do it again.

And that's enough to make it worth it.

10. There is no spoon
Or rather no 10, but it seemed silly to leave the list at nine. :p


  1. Thanks for sharing your experience!
    Sounds like a success and definitely worth going through all "the trouble".

    Btw, "so so" is popular among adult Turkish students, too…


  2. Great to read that David. I've been trying out TR with a couple of adult classes so it is nice to compare.

    I had a similarly wide range of attitudes and reactions ranging from the lacklustre, giving up half way through type to the over ambitious who refused to refer to notes until they absolutely had to. One thing for sure, it doesn't seem to leave people indifferent. Though mentally exhausted at the end yes. Maybe my text was too long...

    Jonathan P

  3. Thanks for the comments Nergiz & Johnathan.

    Johnathan - as you say, it doesn't leave people indifferent. Most of my students were fully focused on the activity in a way I've never seen before. I even had one student who (as usual) paid no attention whatsoever to the pre-task stuff and then, for the first time all year, showed regret as he was completely lost in the lab. Since then, he's asked many times when we will do it again, promising to work harder next time!

    I also had a couple of students who were not interested in notes much. As one girl pointed out, her notes only revealed a few specific words and were of little use in nearing the goal - knowingly or not, she acknowledged the focus on form inherhent to the exercise!


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