Nathan Hall: English Language Teacher

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Nathan Hall and I am an English language teacher for a private language school in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I typically teach eitherhigher level students or business English. You can find more information about me and what I do on my website, or on my latest obsession, Twitter.

What hardware are you using?

I am a bit old school, mostly due to financial reasons. I tend to hang on to my equipment a lot longer than the average user. My main computer is my trusty old 12″ aluminum G4 PowerBook which has been with me for about 6.5 years now. I plan on retiring it this summer with either a MacBook Pro or Air. I am leaning towards the 11″ Air since I take my laptop everywhere I go. I would consider an iPad, but I still have things I do on the laptop that wouldn’t work as well on the iPad.

I also have an old 80GB iPod Classic that is my constant companion during my commute to work. I just finished my MA TESOL as a distance program and the iPod was my note reader, slide viewer, lecture playing class on the go. It also is my video and audio player in class as well as holder of all sorts of documents for work. If it dies, I may shed a tear or two.

At school, I hold my class in the business classroom which has 15 older Windows XP Dell desktops that are showing their age. Still, they have internet access and that is pretty much all I need in my class.

I also have access to a SmartBoard which has to be shared amongst all the teachers. Still, it is nice to have in such a small school.

And what software?

I am true believer in using online, cloud-based tools in the classroom. Since I have full access in my classroom all the time, I want my students to be using tools that they could use on their own machines without any installation. I use a wide variety of tools (as listed on my Diigo account), but I have a few primary sites that get constant use.

Our class website uses Posterous since it is free, can be used by the students, can embed anything without any plugins, and can have a variety of administrators and contributors. I also like the fact the students can submit posts by just emailing them in.

Another widely used tool is TitanPad (a form of Etherpad) in which I administer the class group and assign pages to each students, groups of students, or as a class page. For those who aren’t familiar with TitanPad, it is a real-time collaborative document editor that is totally free to use and can be password protected without having the students register or give out personal details. That is really important to me since all of my students are in my class for a short time and are not always wiling to give their information away online. Google Docs would work well if we were a Google school, but it would be a nightmare to administer with all the student changes that occur on a weekly basis.

I use a number of collaboration tools as well as various audio and visual tools such as Vocaroo and Screencast-O-Matic. Every tool I use in my class is free and doesn’t require the student to register to use.

Personally, I love Twitter. I primarily use it for professional development and for connecting with educators from around the world. I can’t believe it took me this long to get on board.

What would your dream set up be?

I would love to have a laptop or tablet cart that could be used in various classes. This would allow other teachers to make use of this technology instead of having to wait to use it once or twice a month. We could share these tools on any given day and in their normal classroom. I would also love to see us open up the restrictions on using cell phones in the classroom. I am working on that one. This would allow the students to use these tools on their own devices and would make it easier for them to continue their work outside the walls of the classroom. Oh, and I want a faster internet connection. This restriction of a maximum of 3 students using streaming video at one time is killing me. Because of that, I have to download the videos and then put them on the network drive for students to use. It is a bit of pain for me, but makes it an insurmountable problem for less tech saavy teachers.

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