My latest guest blogger is the wonderful Russell Stannard, winner of a British Council Innovations Award (ELTon) in 2010 for his excellent http://www.teachertrainingvideos.com website.
I’ve known Russell for several years now, since the time when we both worked on New Standard English, the Macmillan English course for China, produced in collaboration with Beijing publisher FLTRP.
Since then, Russ has gone from strength to strength and been recognised for his terrific work. In addition to his well-deserved ELTon, he was given an Outstanding Initiative in ICT award by the Times Higher Education Supplement in 2008, and was winner of the Teflnet website of the year award in 2009.
Those of us who have only won the monthly Teflnet award can only look on in envy. 🙂
Ten Thoughts on Technology
We all seem to like lists and I know that Ken’s recent talk was about ten things he knows about teaching. So I thought I would put together ten thoughts on technology. I would love to write more but I think ten things are enough for one read.
1. The key to training in technology starts with the pedagogy. If you are a teacher that believes in a more constructivist, task-based approach to learning, then you are likely to see that technology can offer good opportunities to encourage this way of learning. Web 2.0 offer affordances that are collaboratively based. Teachers who still follow a transmission or behaviourist form of learning are quite likely to reject technology or want to use it in a rather narrow way.
My feeling is that in language learning there is actually room for both types of approaches to learning. I do not see them as mutually exclusive but I do think that technology is most productive when we use it to facilitate a more constructivist approach to learning.
2. Technology is still far from being accepted. We still talk about Computer Assisted Language Learning or E-Learning. We still see technology as something new or different. You rarely hear people talking about “Blackboard Assisted Language Learning” or “Book Assisted language learning” as we simply accept these as part of the learning environment. We expect to use books in class and to see a whiteboard/blackboard in the classroom, in fact we would probably be surprised if we didn’t see one. Perhaps one day we will treat technology in the same way, too.
3. Computers work best in the class when you have 2,3 or 4 students around one computer. In most cases a one computer to one student scenario is not desirable. In my experience computers are actually quite good at aiding discussion, group work and collaboration. As soon as your students have their own computers, there always seems to be a lot of silence.
4. Technology is undermining the power of many of the large organisations that have controlled a lot of what we consider to be culture. Not long ago, it was almost impossible to produce publicly viewable videos as you can now on youTube or record songs and release them on mySpace or take pictures and put them on Flickr where anyone can access them.
However, in many ways we are actually returning to what was normal. Culture used to be in the hands of the people. People would sing songs, tell stories, invent dances, write and recite poetry and perform plays and only a very small amount of it was ever owned by media companies. Of course, there were exceptions as in the case of books, but in the main culture was created by the people and owned by them, too.
5. Few of us really think about how much of a technology trail we are creating. In theory, every text, email, Facebook comment, search or chat we have ever made is logged somewhere. I am waiting for the day that on the news, we are told that all our Facebook chat records or emails from the last 10 years have been hacked!!
6. I don’t like the terms ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’. When I hear these terms, I think I must be in the digital immigrants group. It makes me feel de-motivated as if young people have access to some sort of knowledge or understanding that I can never access. On the whole, young people are better at operating the technology but it doesn’t mean they automatically know how to use it beneficially for their learning. In fact, they often have quite blinkered views of the way that a certain technology can be exploited.
7. I really have my doubts about Interactive Whiteboards. I am not dismissing them totally but I feel that in most cases the money could be spent on other things like training teachers, getting a good broadband connection or buying three or four extra laptops for a class (IWBs cost around £2,000 and laptops around £500).
Most of what can be done on an IWB can be done with a computer and a projector. The time needed to be proficient in using an IWB is also a lot longer than some would have you believe. The research I have read suggests it takes two years for a teacher to really make use of many of the affordances they offer. I also know that once you are good with one, you would never want to be without it. But it’s quite a journey to get there.
8. The hype that surrounds technology has a lot to answer for. I started to really take an interest in computers in about 1995. I was seduced by talk of video content and video conferencing on the web. It is now 2011 and finally we have loads of video content on the web (but connection speeds which are too slow to enjoy it) and we have Skype and fairly good virtual class tools like Adobe Connect, Webex and Wimba.
But it is now sixteen years later and in truth they still don’t work the way I had imagined!! I really wish we could all keep our feet on the ground a little more. I know we have to think to the future but I just wish that most of the focus about technology was on what we can actually do now.
9. Talking about the future, I am still not convinced by Smart Phones. I know that they have a lot of capabilities, but I just think the screen sizes are too limiting. I agree that in some countries they can be beneficial in education as telephones may have a greater level of market penetration than the internet. On the whole, however, I can never see them catching on.
Tablets on the other hand DO look interesting!
10. Despite everything I love technology. It frustrates me, it confuses me, I battle to understand the direction it is taking, I hate all the hype that surrounds it and get fed up when the internet connection goes down. But I honestly believe that technology is going to play a big future in the lives of many young people. So is English. So if I use technology in my English classes I am in effect double preparing them for the future – and that can’t be a bad thing.