Nik Peachey is a veteran of more than 20 years in ELT, working all over the world as a language teacher, and a freelance teacher trainer, technology trainer and consultant. One of his areas of expertise is designing online training courses. In 2012 he was awarded a British Council ELTon for Excellence in Course Innovation for the Blended Learning in ELT course he designed for Bell Educational Services.
The holder of a Masters in Educational Technology and ELT, he delivers the Media & Technology module on the University of Westminster MA TESOL. A frequent presenter at major conferences worldwide, he is also well known to teachers through his various online personae. These include the 'QuickShout' and 'Learning Technology' blogs.
Mark McBennett, ELT News Editor, January 2014
“Rather than being a geek, I’m a teacher who has taken the time and effort to develop the digital literacies and skills which are necessary for the 21st Century.”
Thanks for taking the time to do this, Nik. First of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself, The Story So Far.
Thanks you for inviting me.
Well I first got involved in teaching while I was at college. I was studying music and I was offered a job teaching the guitar in the local prison. I really enjoyed the teaching and when I finished my degree I took a CELTA course, or Cert TEFLA as it used to be called and started teaching for International House in Cairo.
I moved around quite a lot and after Cairo I taught in Kiev, Singapore, Tunisia, Barcelona, Madrid, Rabat and then moved to Naples, by which time I was working for the British Council as the manager of their teaching websites. Along the way I had also had a daughter and she got me interested in technology.
I moved back to the UK and became a freelance trainer, writer and consultant. When I first left the British Council I had nothing to show potential employers, so I started publishing edtech training materials on a blog. This was and still is Nik’s Learning Technology blog and nearly everything else that’s happened to me has been as a result of that. Most of the writing training and consultancy work I get these days can usually be traced back to that blog.
I think we're getting to a point where words like geek and nerd are no longer applicable, as technology plays a more central and constant role in everyone's life, at least in the developed world. But I get the impression that you would be considered, for want of a better word, an edtech geek.
Yes I have been referred to as a geek and perhaps more flatteringly as an edtech guru, but I’m not really happy with the term and in many ways don’t deserve it. I’m not a computer programmer or coder or a hacker or anything like that. I have a basic understanding of those things I guess, and I do have a masters in educational technology, but my main interest is and has always been about how we learn and the relationship of that process to technology.
I like to feel that rather than being a geek, I’m a teacher who has taken the time and effort to develop the digital literacies and skills which are necessary for the 21st Century. They aren’t particularly hard skills to acquire and to be honest I think it’s the pedagogical side which is much more challenging.
Different online platforms offer different ways to communicate with students or with other teachers. Try as I might, Twitter has yet to "click" with me. Do you have a favorite platform?
I had the same response to Twitter when I first started using it. At its worst Twitter is like being in a room with millions of people all shouting “Look at me!”, and for about the first six months after creating an account, I didn’t use it. Then people started finding me and adding me and it started to get more useful. The real breakthrough for me was discovering TweetDeck and hashtags. TweetDeck is a replacement for the web-based Twitter interface and it allows you to stream the information from Twitter into columns based around specific themes. You separate the themes by selecting a hashtag to follow. Hashtags are the key words like #edtech or #elt so then I have a column with a stream of information that’s specific to my interests. It makes it much easier then to find the good stuff and ignore the noise.
One of my favourite platforms though is Wiggio. It’s the one that I use with most of my training work. I use it to set up private groups and then I can feed in course materials and links and enable the trainees in my groups to interact. It’s very simple to use and feature rich, so I can get trainees sending video or audio messages or working collaboratively on documents.
For personal use though I guess I prefer Facebook. Mainly because I like sharing photographs with friends and family.
“The best thing to invest in if you want to improve the use of technology in a school is connectivity and teacher training.”
You've written elsewhere about how technology in the classroom can be a double-edged sword. What excites you most about how technology is impacting ELT? And what are the kinds of developments that worry you?
I think what excites me most is that technology is opening up education and opportunities to learn to so many more people. Once you have an internet connection and a web browser you can learn almost anything from almost anywhere.
I guess what annoys me the most is that so much money is badly invested in hardware, often because it looks good as a marketing tool. The best thing to invest in if you want to improve the use of technology in a school is connectivity and teacher training. So many schools invest in things like interactive whiteboards and try to save money on the connectivity. They pretty soon find that things don’t work well without the connectivity and they are pretty much setting up teachers to fail. Really if they just invest in good training for teachers and give them the connectivity they need so that they can go into the classroom knowing that the internet connection isn’t going to collapse halfway through the lesson, then we could really start to make some progress.
One area of ELT that is being dramatically impacted by digital technology is publishing. We're seeing major players like Pearson making a clear and unequivocal shift from print to digital. Any thoughts on all that?
Well in some ways I think it’s great. I think ELT publishers really need to make a push to get some good digital books available and to take advantage of the multimedia and interactive potential that e-books offer. Sadly though I haven’t seen much sign of this happening yet.
At the moment I see lots of ELT publishers converting their back catalogue into e-books, with little or no adaptation or interaction and in many cases they are trying to charge the same or even a higher price for them. I find this a bit shocking, as the cost reduction means that creating an e-book is so much cheaper than printing and distributing a paper one.
Which brings us to something that I know you want to talk about, The Digital Classroom. First of all, what is it?
Yes, this relates to what I said about e-books. At the moment I’m trying to raise the backing to create the first of a series of e-books for teacher development. The first one will be about exploiting online video. The books will combine pedagogical tips and advice with helping to develop teachers technical know-how.
These will be e-books and they will have things like video tutorials built into the book and will take advantage of all those interactive features that most of the publishers are ignoring. The books will also be mush cheaper. For the first one I’m aiming at a cover price of below £5, so that's about 20 - 25% of the cost of most paper-based books.
So then there's the question of how do you bring this project about. I believe you've decided to take a route that only recently has been proven to be viable for an ELT project - crowd-funding. I'm thinking of Marcos Benevides and his "Atama-ii Books" project, which we featured here last year.
Yes, that’s right. There are a number of sites around these days which can help people to raise money for projects. In return for the backing though, the person who creates the project has to offer some kind of reward. In the case of my project I’m offering copies of the book, advertising space and even the opportunity to be involved in the creation of the book. Surprisingly that last one has been the most popular so far.
Marcos used KickStarter, which is a site that helps creative and artistic projects, but I’m using Indigogo because they allow education specific projects. In a way though KickStarter is a better platform as it can take payment through PayPal or Amazon, whereas Indigogo only takes payment through PayPal.
So far I’m just over 60% of the way to getting my project funded.
It's great that you've got such a good response already. I'm sure there'll be many among our readers who will not just cheer you on but also add their bit of financial support to the project.
Well that would be great as I really want to be able to get started on these e-books and I think they can really shake up the ELT publishing industry and bring the prices of teacher development books down.
It’s been great that I’ve got so much support so far and so much of it has come from Facebook friends, but I really still need to raise more money, so if anyone is interested in buying a book that hasn’t been written yet, then go to the Indiegogo project page and you can find out more about the project and help me to bring about a much needed change in the way ELT teacher development books are created.
Thank you again Nik for taking the time to join us.
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