Course review: Evaluating Digital Materials (iTDi)

I recently took the iTDi course on Evaluating Digital Materials, delivered by Pete Sharma.

If you can’t be bothered with the whole review – here’s a summary in, er… wait… 17 words:

Excellent input, great delivery, very active forum, useful take-home resources, real value for money, well worth it!

Overview

The course lasts four weeks. Each week there is a weekend webinar with Pete, and then various follow-up activities such as reading and exploratory tasks related to digital tools. Most tasks involve sharing reflections in the course forum which, I have to say, was really active and thoughts were interesting to read.

In Week 1, Pete orientated us to the topic of Computer Assisted Language Learning with an informative webinar and follow-up resources. The main task after input was for us to choose the tool we were interested in evaluating. With so many participants on the course it meant that the tools selected were extremely varied, and some very topical for my context (such as Kahoot). I chose to evaluate Genially after coming across this on Owain Llewelyn’s blog (ELT Sustainable).

Week 2 introduced us to SLA theory underpinning these digital tools. This was a particularly useful session which explored behaviourism and socio-constructivist approaches among others. The main task was to do an initial evaluation of our tool to consider the underlying principles behind it. A key resource was a very useful post on Scott Thornbury’s blog about SLA – well worth a read or reread if you’ve already come across it.

Week 3 was my favourite week. It covered evaluation planning – how to actually go about things. The resources shared during this week were right up my street! There were loads of different checklists for evaluating tech tools all taken from existing research (theorists included Hubbard, Chapelle, Leakey – I won’t spoil by sharing too much here). We were encouraged to select, reject and adapt these checklists as we saw fit. We also discussed objective/judgemental approaches to evaluations. Weeks 2 and 3 were really meaty with loads of good input and rich discussion in the forums.

Week 4 brought the course to a close with Pete’s top tips for evaluating digital tools. There was also a reading of an excellent summary article from McMurry et al (2016) on An Evaluation Framework for CALL. This resource actually became part of the course having been sourced by a participant. It was great to feel that the course was more of a community with even tutors learning from us and integrating ideas. I love that!

My overall thoughts on the course…

I paid something in the region of 60 dollars to do this course. My MA module in Tech-assisted Language Learning through NILE was good, but it cost around 850 quid. With that in mind, this course was an absolute bargain. The input was, dare I say it, better than that on aspects of the MA module, and the greater frequency of face-to-face interaction (with the MA there were only 2 webinars in 10 weeks) made me feel far more engaged and on board with this course and the community. It is not a fair comparison overall as this course had a more specific focus, but I think this course content would be a VERY welcome addition to the NILE MA module. I would encourage anyone interested in digital tools and tech-assisted learning to stump up the relatively small fee for Pete’s iTDi course. This was some of the best CPD I’ve done since my DipTESOL in 2014. It has completely sold me on the value of courses with iTDi and I have already recommended them to friends and colleagues.

I know how that sounds – seriously, I have no affiliation with iTDi other than just being a member! Just… I was honestly very impressed by everything – the format, the delivery, the community engagement, the organisation…

Improvements…(?)

I always look for ways things can improve. I’m struggling with this one, especially given the value for money. You can choose to pay more and follow a ‘Certificate of Accomplishment’ route, with more feedback from the tutor – I can’t vouch for whether that still represents value for money myself.

If I had to pick some things, I guess…

  • Pete used a variety of tech tools during his talks – perhaps referencing these might help… it’s always good to hear which tools the experts like.
  • Perhaps discussion on principles could be expanded further. A ‘before and after’ could help – like a pre-webinar task about reflecting on your own principles when using tech, then reflecting again after the input. Maybe… I mean, we mainly did post-input and reading reflections, I guess there could be some pre-input orientation tasks. I don’t know whether they’d be manageable for participants time-wise though.
  • Maybe a bit more discussion on the future of digital tools? I’m not sure if there is scope for that given the time frame but it might be nice…

You know, I must be struggling, because actually my main areas for development relate to the online forum, which at times was a little slow. Ha, I’m evaluating the digital tool through which we were discussing digital tools!

The added bonus…

The final course task is to share your evaluation on the class forum. This presents participants with so much information on the tools out there and helps to form opinions on what might be useful for certain contexts. I’ve enjoyed reading other evaluations – in particular the reviews of Oxford English Vocab Trainer and Kahoot – the latter included a student evaluation which is really important!

Anyway, if you’re interested in digital tools, definitely do this course. It won’t disappoint.

Rating: 5/5

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