Guest blog 11-11 – Ten things Russell Stannard thinks about technology

My latest guest blogger is the wonderful Russell Stannard, winner of a British Council Innovations Award (ELTon) in 2010 for his excellent 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. 🙂

Ladies and gentlemen, I appeal to you! Russell at TESOL France, 2010

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.

Russell and me entertaining the troops at a conference, Daxing China 2005

71 thoughts on “Guest blog 11-11 – Ten things Russell Stannard thinks about technology

  1. The voice of reason and common sense! I love the way Russell nails his (pedagogical) colours to the mast, straight up. Great post – and well done Ken for dipping your (blog) toes in the (often murky) waters of ed-tech.

  2. Bravo Russell – A real cracker of a post!

    Almost echoes what I would have said on these things note for note, and I found myself nodding in agreement right the way through – couldn’t have put it better myself!

    I’d like to add my thanks to Ken too, for being brave enough to bite the edtech bullet and invite you to share your thoughts over here 🙂


  3. I just want to reiterate Scott’s point. For some reason the pro / anti technology debate seems to be highly polarised, so just as Scott offered a measured approach from the tech sceptical side recently on his blog, here Russell offers an equally even-handed approach to using technology in the classroom. I hope this discussion will continue on these lines, rather than what we’ve had in the past.

  4. Reading Scott and Sue’s comments (or should that be ‘Scott’s and Sue’s’?), I’m wondering if I come across as anti-tech in some way. I’m not anti-tech at all, I love it. In fact my book Smart Choice is WELL teched-up these days. 🙂

    Also fascinated by the imagery – ‘dipping your (blog) toes in the (often murky) waters of ed-tech’ & ‘being brave enough to bite the edtech bullet’.

    Doesn’t take much to be brave these days, does it? 🙂

    On a more serious note – completely agree with James that there’s been a lot more heat than light in the often defensive arguments pro and anti using educational technology. Time for it all to calm down.

  5. Great post Russell, agree with most of the things you say, you frame the obvious advantages of technology but at the same haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid that insists all technologies are useful for language learning. I agree with you about IWBs, despite using and (generally enjoying) having one in my classroom, it does seem to be a tool that is difficult to learn for teachers and naturally discourages student interaction.

    I would probably disagree with you about mobile phones (given that I blog about that subject :-)). I think we need a less narrow definition of how smartphones can be used for language learning, it’s not really about students taking courses or learning directly on the phone, rather the phone is a great swiss-army knife tool that can encourage students to enhance their learning outside of class but also create content for inside the classroom.

    As an example, my students use their phones to take pictures of all the stuff they do while in England and then upload it to our Posterous page for discussion/analysis in class. Students can also use them as dictaphones for recording themselves and others both inside and outside the classroom or as reference tools to quickly look up information about things we are studying in class. On that level, I think smartphones are tremendously useful.

    1. I echo the “thanks” comments above. This was a great read… I think the “to tech, or not to tech” question must be “trending” these days on twitter !

      I also would like to underline David’s disagreement w/ the mobile point for 3 reasons:

      1) As he said the “swiss-army” knife nature of a mobile phone is limitless, and will only continue to grow. Furthermore, I see these devices as more “collectors” for education than the medium by which we consume it. I’ve written about it in my blog.

      2) Mobile industry studies from the biggies like Gartner of Forrester, predict that in just a few years the majority of our ‘computing’ and ‘internet interaction’ will take place on smartphones. Morgan Stanley released such a study last month saying by 2015

      Furthermore, smartphones are devices that will arrive in class for free… of course, I’m considering the digital divide issue as I say this.

      We, as educators, can find new ways to implement these new tools in a myriad of ways, just as David showed one example, and I’ll self-promote and share my own android application, SnaPanda which is what we so humbly call, the 21st Century dictionary (which David was nice enough to share with his audience).

      3) Lastly, I always have the same point of view when this topic comes up:

      “It’s not the tool, it’s the way you use it”

      which is why I LOVED the fact that you mentioned 3 or 4 students sharing a computer. POINT ON. Once they become collaborative tools they activate students in ways that I think are more beneficial for language expression especially.

      I’m glad we’re all exploring this, and as Ken said, I’m glad to see articles like this and Fiona’s on @hoprea’s blog that are so balanced, without any fire and are asking the important questions, hoping that we as educators seek the answers.

      Cheers, brad

  6. Ah Russell,

    It’s like so many of the chats we’ve had over the years – we’re very much in agreement over about 95% of our views and uses of technology, from mobile phones to IWBs and this is a strong post. And with Scott not dissenting on any of it, looks like it’s rapprochement time…


  7. Hi Russell + Ken

    It’s really nice to read this really balanced posting. So much better because it’s a statement of where you stand that steps away from the kinds of stereotyped pigeonholing that so much for and against tech writing falls into.

    Hopefully, one day we’ll be able to get away from this discussion of for and against technology and just start talking again about how we can best help our students to learn and communicate in the world they inhabit.


    Nik Peachey

  8. #4 seems like a good thing, but what happens when we reach saturation point? If everyone who has an opinion on a subject is given the chance to air their views, you could end up with millions of different viewpoints to wade through.

    This isn’t a return to the norm at all. What is now valued is popularity whereas in the past it was quality or interest. The dispersal of culture is now based on the number of hits something receives, not the message it delivers.

    Look at YouTube, where the ‘top’ content is that which is the most popular. Consider our #ELTchat on twitter: the idea that it is a success is evidenced by the number of tweets it has produced rather than the actual content*. If this trend continues, as I’m sure it will, the large organisations will find a way to regain control. It’s a lot easier to make something popular than it is to make it good. In fact, this has been happening for several years, with corporations faking ‘average joe’ video clips to draw attention to products.

    We have been given an opportunity to take the power back, but we’re in great danger of surrendering it once again.

    *which is of course wonderful

    1. Adam,

      I’m very much with you on the point that everything seems to have become a matter of quantity rather than quality – you only have to look at the ‘I’ve got 300 comments on my latest blog posts’ type tweets to see how people really evaluate things these days.

      It does seem to be all about numbers: followers on Twitter, comments on blog posts, ‘friends’ on Facebook, etc. Somewhere we really did lose sight of the fact that it’s not about numbers, and never has been.

      The tools and platforms in existence these days do allow for the ‘common person’ to produce content and share it: videos, pictures, blog posts and all the rest. some of that is of amazing quality, and much of it isn’t. But then again, couldn’t we say the same thing about books and other ‘older’ media?

      What seems to be happening, as far as I can see, is that those who are ‘loudest’ on social media are perceived by a large part of the social media audience as being ‘experts’ in whatever they’re being loud about. and this, of course, is not always the case.

      We’ve had vanity publishing for some years, now we have immediate soap-boxing. None of this is necessarily good or bad – we have to learn how to discern what is and isn’t, and our criteria shouldn’t be focussed on numbers.

      This ability to ‘prosume’, as it has been termed, has led to more democracy in content publishing and – as you so rightly point out – has been seized on by major corporates and subverted. Now, more than at any other time, we need to ensure that young people have an idea of the bigger picture, and the training to discern what is ‘good’, ‘reliable’, ‘trustworthy’ and ‘useful’.

      As teachers of any subject, we should be in a position to help them through this learning process as part of their general education. There’s a ‘digital literacy’ that everyone needs, yet one that is largely ignored, still.

      Nicky and I are working on some supplementary electronic materials for a major coursebook at the moment. The materials are designed to address various ‘digital literacies’ or skills. The activity covering finding and using CC materials (images, etc.) in learner publications was not deemed necessary.

      Go figure, as they say…


      1. OK, everyone, ignore my comment and immediately move on to Gavin’s, which is a much more eloquently put summary of what I was actually trying to say.

        I’d highly recommend Lee Siegel’s critique of Web culture, ‘Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob’ if you want a bit of perspective on the popularity v. quality issue.

      2. Aloha Gavin & Adam (and to all readers and posters),

        I think that you have hit on one of the real issues here when considering working Internet-based materials into the classroom: textual authority.

        Due to a lack of time to rewrite all of this, I am re-posting a bit of a comment I made on Ken’s Blog concerning ebooks/ Internet-based projects/teaching some time ago.

        I know that this may seem to be an odd comment from a guy who is a huge proponent of extensive reading for language learners, but I have always thought of a ‘text’ book as something that is, in many ways, designed to slow down our thought processes a bit so that we can internalize new concepts or information.

        I think that, for example, when learning a new formula in algebra (a kind of language), most learners benefit by going slowly, step-by-step, through the formula on the printed page, perhaps making notes on the page. This is usually followed by some examples of problems and solutions, and finally there are some practice problems to solve.

        I know that this is a very ‘traditional’ and perhaps very boring example; however; one can only imagine where the learner might wander if she were able to click through five or six hypertext connections, possibly unconsciously trying to escape the unsolved algebraic formulas on the page!

        I worry that with too much wonderful ‘noise’ always waiting for us,–just a click away–we may never get back to the formula that we are trying to learn. And while we may ‘learn’ some fantastic new things on our journey through cyberspace, the goal of learning to solve the algebra problem may be lost forever.

        I think that a good ‘text’ book also allows the learner’s mind to focus on a ‘target’ concept, in perhaps varied and interesting ways, but without so much external noise that we lose track of what it is we are attempting to learn. Again, with too many ‘connections’ available in an e-text, we may produce material that is interesting in a very ‘wide’ manner, but will this be at the expense of learners ever pursuing anything in depth?

        One final issue here comes from my experience teaching an English for Academic Purposes research writing course in Palau a number of years ago.

        I had about eight students in my EAP course in Palau, and the goal of the course was for students to produce a research paper akin to what they would have to write at a US university (these were students hoping to go to school on Guam or in Hawaii).

        We spent a good deal of time in the library working on how to find sources and how to create both a working and a final bibliography. And the plan was then to spend the final two-thirds of the course actually writing and revising the final papers.

        However, this plan never came to fruition because ff my eight students, six did most of their ‘research’ for the final paper online, and two did most of their research in the library, or they used journals stored on the library computer databases.

        Though we talked about finding competent/authoritative sources until I was blue in the face, the students who did most of their work online had extraordinary trouble dealing with separating the wheat from the chaff.

        Most of the material they used from online sources was poorly written, poorly researched, secondary material that was written for a website and really had no place in a university research paper. Most of these students would have failed their course had they turned in their ‘research’ papers at a US university.

        However, we did make lemonade from lemons, since most of these students ended up enduring a semester-long course on textual authority.

        But, and this is a big BUT, these students did NOT get to practice actually writing and revising a quality research paper, the stated goal of the course, instead they spent an entire term learning that surfing hundreds of sites and taking notes from unreliable sources would do nothing other than get them laughed out of a university seminar room.

        Again, I think that this experience speaks to the fact that sometimes students need to slow down in order to pursue a topic or concept in depth, and reading printed words on the page (or perhaps e-text without a myriad of hypertextual connections to extraneous information or multi-media delights), provides the opportunity for this ‘slow’ learning to take place.

        I know that this isn’t exactly on topic but thought that it still relevant to the discussion here.

        My two cents.

        Mark Furr
        Hanalei, Hawaii

        PS: I would not trade my 1st edition, 1st impression of The Pickwick Papers (bought many years ago in England) for three new ipads 🙂

  9. Thanks Ken and Russell for this. A real helpful reminder of many things and a reflective pause for some others.

    I especially like the point (2) made that technology is far from being accepted, used well, supported with adequate training. This has quite important ramifications – too many to mentioned.

    I do think we have to add something about the potential of technology to take learning out of the 4 walls of the classroom. That learning has seen as “bound” to a room, is the major problem technology is solving and will prove a game changer.

    I still think both teachers and students suffer a huge amount of culture shock when it comes to technology. It sits too much in the foreground (like when we go to a new country and we notice all the differences). I’m hoping that the “new” technologies will sooner rather than later become background and be as mundane as the chalkboard or the book.


  10. To Ken & Russell!

    Congratulations to two heroes advocating a combination of ancient wisdom and progressive thinking! Let’s hope you lead us out of the battle to victory!

  11. I’ll never forget standing beside you in the Karaoke pub in Brighton as Vladka tried to help you figure out bluetooth on your phone. You were cursing technology and we couldn’t help laughing. The fact that you woke up early before your IATEFL session to make screencasts of all the Web tools (in case the Internet failed) proves to me that you are still the king. 🙂 Great post!

  12. Thank you Russell, for this very balanced and personal take. Saw you speaking at the TTEDsig in Brighton and you certainly lived up to your reputation!

    I’d like to comment on your first point. I absolutely agree with your first point: pedagogy precedes technology (or should) in a teacher’s mind. So with that in mind, can I make a request for your teacher training videos (and for others who get the word out about new tech tools for teachers)?

    Maybe I haven’t watched enough of them, but often these tips/videos (like your excellent introductions, for example) start off by saying “X is a brilliant tool that lets you do technical job Y…” and then go on to demo how it works, in technical terms, leaving a discussion of pedagogic uses or likely contexts of use until the end, or taking it as read that the viewer can/will fill this in for themselves.

    Sometimes this leaves me wondering: “who is this tool or site really good for? What learning task or problem does it aid with? What teaching contexts is it suited to? What technical limitations does it help get round?”

    So as a request, could those who do this excellent work of popularising tech in ELT consider setting the scene at the start of their introductions/videos occasionally by, for example, presenting a context like “OK, imagine: you’ve got a group of students preparing for the CAE exam. They need more work on the speaking test and you want them to all have a chance to get feedback on their performance but class time makes this unfeasible. they are all willing to spend 30 minutes a week at home and all have internet and a webcam. Have I got a tool for you!…”

    I think this might help some teachers (like me, for example 😉 ) to get a quicker handle on the teaching applications of new tools – show me a need and then sell me the solution, rather than the other way round. When I am pushed for time, I really appreciate this up-front statement of why I might need whatever is being sold to me, as it were. Gets me in the right mood…

    This is, I think, why some teachers feel poorly disposed towards tech tools when they are presented – what it does and how it does it are very clearly described, but why we might want it or what it might be good for is either not stated, or is left til the end, by which time (human nature being what it is) patience may have been lost.

    I think your videos and the support you are giving to teachers is exemplary, but I also think that setting up for the newbie a situation with an identified need helps them grasp more quickly the pedagogic value that a given tool can have.

    Best wishes,


    1. Anthony,

      I wonder why this is necessary for technologies, but not for other things? When people recommend things (be they electronic or not) to teachers, they’re recommending them to trained professionals whose job it is to be able to evaluate materials and tools for usefulness within their own context, surely?

      I don’t see anyone handing over, say, a set of flashcards and starting with “Imagine you’ve got an FCE group and they’re struggling…” If we are professionals, they surely we can see a tool working (as Russell’s excellent videos always show) and then decide if it is useful to us, and in what context.

      Why does ed. tech have to justify itself over and above any other tool, material or approach?


      1. I’m not sure tech does need to justify itself more, at least to me, Gavin: maybe I am “a bear of very little brain” at times, but I’d quite appreciate someone helping me see a need for/situation in which any new tool might be useful (appalling grammar there but I hope you get my point…)

        I can’t speak for anyone else, but maybe there are other teachers out there like me: willing to meet people with new ways of doing things halfway. For me, that courld mean “I promise to keep myself up to speed on what new technologies can basically do, and you meet me half-way by foregrounding the classroom applications”

        That way, we can concentrate on exchanging ideas about how these new tools can best be used, as that is where I think the intersting conversations lie.

        As professionals, I agree that most (?) of us can usually imagine applications for new ideas or tools, but is it really so onerous to ask the herald of something new to give us a bit of a head start in that direction?

        (and to be clear again: I think Russell, Nik, Graham and you all do great work and only wanted to suggest an alternative approach to presenting ideas as a way of communicating with those in our profession who would be more able to engage with these ideas if their creative imaginations were “kick-started” in this way)

        Flashcards aren’t new tools for most teachers (though I’ve come across some for whom they are, and do need situating/”justifying”, by the way), so of course we do not discuss their pedagogic considerations much these days (though perhaps we ought to, thinking about it?)

        But I suspect that when someone first came up with the ‘umble flashcard and showed them to someone else, the first thing some of their audience said was:

        “Ok, bits of card. You can put pictures or words on them and show them to people. But so what?”

        Some people are able to see the potential in everything without any orientation; others can, if given a sense of what angle to look at it from: it is for the benefit of those people that I made my suggestion.

        And further, I think that we can all be “that other person” who needs a bit more help in starting to see the applications in the App: on a bad day, after a knackering day at the office, after a difficult meeting with the boss etc. – you never know how much resistance to an idea (tech based or otherwise) can just be down to “day-form” and anything that can be done to reduce the chances of this standing in the way of seeing the good in something should, in my view, be done by those who would like their ideas to be given a fair hearing.

        But, again, I think this is not solely applicable to tech ideas, but to any new ideas. And I think it won’t always be necessary for everyone: it’s just a way of making sure as far as possible that everyone can see the good in the new thing as quickly as possible.

        Or is this:

        a) too much to ask of people?
        b) revealing me to be an incompetent lazy-thinker?

      2. Gavin,

        Yes, when people recommend things (be they electronic or not) to teachers, they’re recommending them to trained professionals whose job it is to be able to evaluate materials and tools for usefulness within their own context… However, maybe there are a couple of other things that need to be borne in mind as well.

        Firstly, teachers who are new to teaching with tech may only have very basic IT skills, and may worry that the skills they do have aren’t good enough to use in a professional context.

        Secondly, not all teachers are used to having to evaluate materials and tools; a lot of teachers are given a book to teach from, and they work from that.

        Encouraging such teachers to become less reliant on coursebooks is one thing; asking them to step way outside their comfort zone into unfamiliar territory, and evaluate online materials and tools for usefulness, is quite another, I think – particularly if their prior experience of using technology amounts to little more than using MS Word, IE6, and Outlook (if that!).

        Speaking personally, I’m not sure that spelling out what to do with tools at the start of start of training videos would be a good thing (sorry, Anthony!); I think that Russell’s videos are great just as they are, and they are pitched about right.

        I agree with you Gavin that we ought to be encouraging teachers to get the little grey cells firing – but it seems to me that teachers who aren’t already comfortable with technology are probably going to need an awful lot more encouragement and assistance to get on board with using technology than teachers who are “tech savvy”, so to speak.

        As I said the other day when I left a comment on your blog Gavin, the “how to’s, when and why’s” of using tech really ought to be covered at inital teacher training stage.


  13. Superb, Russell!

    I think everyone has said everything that has to be said by others so… I can refrain from taking a break from my blog break 😀 to chip in with my own thoughts.

    I think my biggest question, which I would have blogged about, was when in the sam-heck of time has anyone ever asked about the pedagogy of using a pen? a tape-recorder? taking in pictures cut-out from magazines?

    Roll eyes.

    We teachers aren’t doing anything differently really other than looking for more efficient ways of achieving the same goals… so it irks me no end that there is even the slightest whiff of “what about pedagogy?” an ultimately and ridiculous propaganda which may well soothe those without the ability to think through the pending and realistic life issues of the age we are living in now and the age that is coming whether it is wanted or not

    …while offending those who are rather very obviously concerned with what is happening in their classrooms and with their students, who push on to deliver the life and language skills, despite the odd bit of pffaff… and so while emotions may pitch and swing and amass hundreds of self-satisfied comments…

    it boils down to such an incredibly dumb argument. Tell me, what is the key pedagogical difference between a pair of scissors +stick of glue to the cut and paste function on word or post-it notes vs wallwisher.

    These tools are nothing really, but tools we have always used. And like the tools we used, they are used by some to meet a pedagogical objective and by others not to…

    oh, and don’t get me started on the focus of pedagogy to the rather very blatant omission of andragogy…

    Anyway, without resorting to blogging on poor Ken’s page via this comment… I would like to end by saying that I agree with you on keeping our feet firmly planted on the ground.


    1. One difference between a pen/scissors etc. (for example) is that one is “known and familiar” or “tried and tested” while the other is “new and unfamiliar” or “untried and untested”, so it is natural to ask of the new item: “what can this do for me that the old one can’t?”

      On the other hand, I doubt anyone would ask about the pedagogic value of scissors in ELT at all – they would ask about the pedagogic value of cutting up bits of paper for matching card activites or jigsaw reading etc. In other words, the activities which the tool enables are subject to enquiry, not the tool itself.

      This is why (in a comment here which is at this point still pending moderation) I ask for those who publicise new tools to foreground the uses to which they could be put: not because I think tech tools need to be subject to extra and unfair scrutiny by the Ped Police, but because application (as opposed to apps) is what I am more interested in!

      Hope you get what I mean (this is not an Anti-Tech or Technophobic comment!)


      1. Anthony,

        sorry if your comments appeared out of synch because I wasn’t here to approve them in the order you wrote them.

      2. Thank you for approving them at all, Ken! And thank you for maintaining such an interesting blog – certainly glad I came across it!

    2. Karenne, my whole professional existence is directed at challenging teachers to justify WHY they are doing X with a pen, or pair of scissors, or a coursebook, or an IWB or a mobile phone, or whatever damn thing, in class. Frankly, I don’t give a toss about the tool – I want to know that the activity that it is mediating is grounded in some basic understanding of how people learn second languages. I taught on a Diploma course for 12 years or more, and have been teaching on a Masters program for five, and every lesson I watch I ask the teacher the same questions: why did you do that? why did you use that? why is it any better than the alternatives? This constant nagging hones their own self-critical faculties, I like to think, so that when they come to class with a ton of photocopies, or with a box of cuisnenaire rods, or with some sexy IWB software, they are totally ready to justify it, and tell me why it does the job better than anything else available and as inexpensive. For the same reason, I am impatient with anyone – whether a publishers’ rep, or software salesperson, or teacher trainer, or blogger, or tweeter – who says: Hey, you must try this. It’s, erm, NEW!

      1. Alright, fair enough.

        It just doesn’t come across that way sometimes, see…

        okay, so don’t take this the wrong way, but sometimes it seems like some of the-those-who-would-question come across as assuming that the teachers themselves aren’t questioning themselves…

        Obviously some do and obviously some don’t.

        But babies and bath water… yes, there are some folks who just randomly tweet about whatever the next tool is without ever testing it/using it in a classroom or they get all their friends to tell them all about how it works and then become known as “experts.”

        Whatever. The lack of any real knowledge shines through the jazz and fluff and it gets ignored by the those who would try, pfaff and fail and eventually figure out what does work and what doesn’t.

        But sometimes these sort of posts about the lack of thought in the use of technology don’t come across as being constructively challenging but instead as being highly critical – of those who are really, actually doing the work on the ground level – e.g. the GoogleDocs 30+ ways series etc folks…

        and it’s, well, highly insulting to the sheer work it takes for these teachers to create such documents (often collaboratively) – no cut and paste, collate some bookmarks, sit-back in armchair folk and quaff there…

        It means these teachers who spend a lot of time working out the educational merits and values, trying to work out if indeed it will have an impact on the brain’s capacity to learn (or the heart’s capacity to become motivated to learn) and that work shouldn’t be dismissed so out-of-hand by those who haven’t even read this work.

        And why not (apart from time… ) just because it’s new, it’s experimental? I like the nagging – I do – it forces people to think and this is good but at the end of the nagging there should come, the ah… I see you did clean your room.*

        Some of the “new” tools will obviously prove to have been a waste of time. (Agree with Russell re IWBs – + still on the fence despite my job w/ SPs until there’s some revolution in the entire way ml-data is presented).**

        Some of them may open up exciting new doors into the very nature of learning… who knows, but there’s only one way to find out.

        Now… yes, some will now write complex (or simple) flow-charts about what to do to make sure you’re on the “right-path” and some may use their born-2-b-teachers-guts or their passion4learning which rubs off… some experience, some cross-checking the methodology books at every new turn, buying more and more and more of them….

        some will start new methodologies…

        Anyway, I’m really waffling on and on and it’s quite late… The point I’m trying to make here is that sometimes it seems a wee bit patronizing to hear people ask “what about the pedagogy” – when even after the approach/method/process is there it is not even acknowledged as being there… Now, I do understand what Anthony says above but for some of us, (still in the classroom who started out with chalk)… tried and tested, well thing is for some of us … these “new things” we play with online -they’ve actually become way more comfortable and more familiar than chalk now.

        (And Andrew I’m famous for being awfully rude about teachers cutting up wee tiny bits of paper for adults to move around a table in an inane exercise and I have never been forgiven.)


        As always, I like to supply my own stories –

        I downloaded the Evernote App to my SmartPhone because I use it on my computer anyway, while working on my own projects – it’s a handy organizational tool. I had the “brainwave” of using it in class to record student errors, which could then sync directly with my computer at home and then when I get home, I could then do some coding, highlight the common mistakes and evaluate the reasons (mobile screen 2small to do in-class-time) and then ‘d be able to upload their feedback to our Ning as a double feedback from in-class error correction as they’d get an email saying they should check their personal page.

        Presto! nifto! new! shiny!

        Repetition / personalization/ tap into memorybank via multimedia adding links to mp3 files for pronunciation and cc photos and Utube vidoes …stuff—stuff)…edtechorgasm as pedagogical andragogical tick box tick box tick box.

        Got to class.

        Unpacked the phone.

        Now… Funny thing is.. even though we use my students’ iPads during a lesson if something comes up to look at (dogme 2.0 etc)***… me, teacher, having the smartphone on and open was ooooh, not so very comfortable.

        Opened up Evernote.

        Named a note with ss-group name… heard an error, fedback, started taping a copy of that into the screen. Room suddenly silent… all eyes on me. Ss not communicating. Not comfortable. I explain.

        I get dubious look.
        Got nervous. Packed it up.

        Um, what was my point… even when we think through the point of using something, it doesn’t mean that the tool will serve its purpose or that we will feel comfortable – – no one would stare at me writing notes with pen and paper but tapping the screen did get them staring and therefore probably not worth it. Today. Talk to me in 6mnths to find out if I was brave enough to proceed and whether or not after 6 months I saw any impact on their language acquisition.


        Okay, …golly, sorry KEN! I have been excessively verbose, again.


        *disclaimer: not personal nor aimed at any one individual in particular including myself or any such persons in my PLN.

        **working on it.

        ***Qwiki is magic. Pure magic. 😀
        Nifty -5 & #9733
        Shiny -5 & #9733
        Short authentic audio + visuals -10 & #9733

      2. Absolutely, Scott. We shouldn’t confuse enquiry with rejection. That’s why I enjoyed your post on this topic so much recently: you do enquiry very well.

        Going a bit further, just as some may consider it patronising to be constantly asked “what about the pedagogy?”, I would consider it a dereliction of professional duty not to have this question, not only in mind, but in professional discourse.

        But Karenne, I also sympathise with you and Gavin when you get flamed for making the same enquiries about old school tools (such as flashcards). It must be hard to take when this happens and you feel that your professional judgement and interests are unequally treated.

        But all that this thread tells me is that everyone in this conversation (Sue, you, Gavin, Nik, Graham, Russell and Scott included) are batting for the same team. At least, I’ve thought this since I first ventured into Webland and became aware of you all.

      3. Hey Anthony,

        Just briefly, as I’ve got to run back into classes – I only want to clarify on this:

        It must be hard to take when this happens and you feel that your professional judgement and interests are unequally treated.

        Actually, my contribution to this discussion is about defending the enormous wealth of conscientious and practising teachers who are being questioned – personally, I don’t really feel challenged by the inane question based on a lack of real research as in actual fact, I personally have not only been experimenting but have been keeping logs of what occurs and doesn’t occur, what works and doesn’t and in one case-study, had my students externally tested pre and post-trial…

        My problem is with those who jump to either side of the fence without actually having the real knowledge or experience of the use of the tools to do so. Be it with scissors and glue or be it with a smartphone.

        Whatever tool is used or not used, unless it has been personally trialled, it is just hot air and hot air as a general rule makes me sweaty and bothered up.


  14. Anthony,

    That little thread seems to have run out of ‘reply’ options here on Ken’s blog – so I’ve go to answer down here. In answer to your two questions, though, I’d say:

    a) Yes, possibly
    b) No, not at all

    I think that many of us working in ed. tech are doing it professionally, and in our day jobs we train f2f and online, we write, we run courses, we do research and all the rest.

    In our ‘spare’ time we write blogs and tweet and all the rest – but, as with most other people, our time is limited. It’s sort of like being a doctor and being asked about a rash on somebody’s arm at a party, for me.

    I can dig out the tools, I can see applications for them and I can use some of them. I can also point people to them, but what they do with them will depend on their context, their teaching experience, their access to the tech and a whole lot more. I’m not sure I could cover all bases there…

    It’s a bit like your wanting to be met halfway, I reckon – I think most teachers are competent and know their methods, approaches and all the rest. I think they know a good task, activity, class or whatever – and I’m pretty sure most of them could look at an explanation of a tech tool and figure out if it’s any good to them.

    I don’t think ed. tech people can, or should, do all the work.


    1. I think that’s a very fair position (and one that I personally can certainly accept).

      That said, I think there are perhaps some people that you aren’t going to reach as a result. That’s fine, of course – you’re being a broadcaster, not being a missionary – but it does mean that of those whom you don’t reach, there will always be some who raise your hackles with unappreciative and partial (in all senses of those words) criticisms.

      But your doctor at a party analogy is a bit off, seems to me, as you’re volunteering, not being asked for, a suggestion: you’re not being pinned to the wall by some person who then expects you to do their thinking for them, you are pulling them aside and saying, “did you know there is a new wonder cream just out?” 😉

      But, seriously, I absolutely take your point and you’ll hear no (real) gripe from me about your position – weiter so!, as they say in Germany…

  15. Sue,

    I suspect there are just as many teachers around who would be stepping outside their comfort zone if they were asked to become less reliant on coursebooks, as there are those who would do the same when asked to work with a piece of technology…

    At least we agree on the lack of training – which is still woeful after all these years.


    1. Gavin,

      actually, I agree with you on both points…

      I’m just suggesting that throwing a double blinder at teachers (i.e. suggesting to them that they should explore working with technology as a means of becoming less reliant on coursebooks) might be a bit much for new or less confident teachers to get their heads around in one go, without a good deal of hand-holding along the way.


  16. To Gavin, re. The wonder cream:

    Lord almighty, do I have to spell it out for you?! Can’t you work that out for yourself at least?!

    Sorry. Childish, I know. Couldn’t let it lie…

  17. If an eminence grise may be allowed a moment…

    I think of myself as an experienced professional in the field of ELT, if not particularly highly qualified – no Masters etc – and I want to take issue with this idea that if a teacher is a ‘professional’, s/he should be able to take on board any new development in ELT without some practical help as to how to use it.

    Anthony’s jigsaw reading example (above) is a very good one from this point of view. New teachers need to have stuff explained to them, and with tech, a lot of us old teachers are suddenly ‘new’ again.

    I first went to one of Gavin’s talks at Cardiff IATEFL and was blown away by the exciting stuff that he demonstrated was out there for teachers. I could immediately see how teachers could access and use this cornucopia of useful stuff in their lesson planning and production of their own materials.

    At the end of the presentation, Gavin was asked to give some practical suggestions as to how to use it, which he did. What he suggested was a series of brilliant ideas – smart phone homework activities, class podcasts etc – all of which help students activate language they already know.

    I have been to about a dozen subsequent talks and workshops on tech stuff, and almost without exception the practical application of the new tools has been about production of known material. Or in Nik Peachey’s workshop for young learners, how you brighten up and make memorable the classroom experience with great web 2.0 tools.

    Can someone write a blog post showing how students can acquire/learn/absorb and subsequently remember and use NEW LANGUAGE using web 2.0 tools? How they can learn and use chunks, communicative strategies or even (and I shudder to write the word) grammatical forms? And how they can learn to PRONOUNCE the words that they find?

    In my recent trip to Taiwan, I demonstrated the use of a new iTool that goes with one of my books. I thought long and hard about how to show its practical application, and decided that the most useful thing I could talk about in front of 200 people was the heads-up aspect – close your books and look at the screen for the next few minutes while I CONTROL the information you receive. What you see may be just part of a page from your book. Then screen off, books open, and look at the text/task with another learning aim in mind.

    It probably sounds incredibly basic to you sophisticated tech users out there, but the teachers seemed to love this little practical indication of how the new tech could be used. I know – dozens of them have emailed me to tell me. 🙂

    So – more practical tech ideas for how to acquire and retain new language, please. The production possibilities are obvious.

    1. Ken,

      Sometimes, in some circumstances, the heads up thing you did will, of course, work. As for your challenge:

      “Can someone write a blog post showing how students can acquire/learn/absorb and subsequently remember and use NEW LANGUAGE using web 2.0 tools? How they can learn and use chunks, communicative strategies or even (and I shudder to write the word) grammatical forms? And how they can learn to PRONOUNCE the words that they find?”

      Sure – and it doesn’t take a blog post. In terms of picking up new language (and language that might actually be useful to them) all you need to do is put them in touch with someone their own age, in another country – preferably one they’re interested in.

      It can be a simple penpal exchange – that’s more than enough to “acquire/learn/absorb and subsequently remember and use NEW LANGUAGE (…) learn and use chunks, communicative strategies or even (and I shudder to write the word) grammatical forms?”

      You can extend this with text chat platforms…

      Add in a layer like Skype, or similar, and you have some pronunciation work built in just there. Many kids I know here in Barcelona do such things as a matter of course – gaming, pop music, hobbies, etc., bring them together with ‘fully competent speakers’ who are part of their ‘passion communities’ – and their language flourishes.



      1. So classroom teaching in the old-fashioned sense, a teacher, students in front of them etc – is now dead?

  18. Ken,

    Not at all – I still see it as the cornerstone of what we do, and is the experience for most people. If you’re lucky enough to go and live in the target language country for some time, well…. but the great majority will still be in classes, with teachers for a long, long time – and I rather like the idea of that, because I think we do a damn fine job, under the circumstances, and taking into account the finite time and restrictions that classrooms put on learning.

    There are two points, really – if we’re to remain with the classroom paradigm, I think it makes sense for teachers to have as wide a repertoire as possible – from dogme to web 2.0 and everything inbetween.

    I also think it makes sense for teachers to be able to help learners extend their learning opportunities both inside and outside the classroom – and I do believe that ed. tech can help with both (sometimes, given the right conditions, when appropriate, and all other caveats.

    The examples I gave you above merely suggest that giving learners the skills to negotiate further language learning and practice with like-minded peers might not be a bad thing.


  19. Hi
    Just thought I would make an appearance to at least show that I have been following all the comments and posts and have taken on board several of the points. I especially like the debate around the point I was making about ICT bringing “culture” being back in the hands of the “people” and I realise from the comments that was possibly a bit naive as I can see now the issue is a lot broader.
    Thanks for reading the post and really chuffed to see how much debate and discussion it has created. Ken once again thanks for inviting me to write it.

  20. This is for Karenne:

    Yes, I think that I read too much into your comment, too, but wordpress doesn’t allow for post-comment editing, so thank you for confirming that I was not quite on the right track; I certainly hope I didn’t contribute to you getting hot and bothered 😉

    1. Not at all, Anthony.

      Nor any of the other askers, commenters or seekers of truth. What gets me bothered is that it is the question which is wrong, not so much the questioners.

      When I say it’s an inane question it’s because, in my not very humble opinion, the question has zero value for it leads us not to knowledge.

      If a hole must be dug, a man may use

      his hands
      a spoon
      a cup
      a toy shovel
      a nice big spade
      a digger truck

      All of the tools he uses and even a lack of tools can not, does not answer the question of whether or not the hole will be dug.

      For he will dig this hole if

      he wants to
      he is forced to
      he is building something else
      his very life depends on it
      he will win something by accomplishing this task
      he is interested in knowing what is under the earth

      The time it takes him may vary, yes – some ways will be undoubtedly more efficient that other ways, some will create a neater hole, others a more sustainable one. But time and the world itself shows us great monuments can be created without machines.

      Experience shows us that great monuments can be created with them.

      For me, the question of “what about the pedagogy” is inane because it is a smokescreen to hide the most fundamental questions of all, the ones remaining unanswered, the ones our more experienced educational leaders should be spending more time asking and attempting to answer:

      Why do some people learn other languages while people don’t?

      – some learn with books
      – some don’t
      – some learn with a teacher
      – some don’t need one

      The answer is not intelligence, culture, gender, politic, financial-need, time, pleasure.

      Is it motivation? Why?

      What is motivation? Where on earth does it come from?

      Is motivation manipulable by external forces? If not, why do we try? If yes, which?

      What role does the teacher really play in L2 acquisition and why? Is there one definable quality that determines a teacher’s ability to pass on knowledge? Why not?

      To ask “what about the pedagogy? of this and that tool” – Seriously? Was this much energy put into asking about the pedagogy, as I said above, of pens, papers and gap-bloody-fills and matching exercises? Perhaps they should have been but I think perhaps our forefathers knew already that how much earth you move with each scoop doesn’t tell you the size of the hole you make once you’re done digging.

      It is not the process. It is not the time. It is not the tool.

      What is going on in the brain (home of mind, heart and soul) of a language learner?

      Seek that. Ask that.

      And that’s what teachers who are experimenting with 100 different ways to use Wordle or Wallwisher 🙂 are doing. They’re trying to find out if there’s any water at the bottom of the earth.

      Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t.

      1. I love this hole-digging analogy, Karenne. The one aspect of the whole process that you didn’t mention is that digging holes can be easy, or bloody difficult – or easy, then difficult, then easy again, depending on the kind of terrain you’re digging into.

        And that is JUST like learning a language.

  21. I’m glad that someone else has voiced some doubts about smartphones. Considering the projections that Brad mentioned (and I’ve heard and read elsewhere) that the Internet will be mostly mobile-based in another decade, I was beginning to think I was the only one who felt like that and therefore I was just not “getting it”.*

    That’s not to say I haven’t had some success with them. I have a student who for the most part is disengaged, unmotivated and at times disruptive in class. However, give him the opportunity to use his smartphone (to look up a fact or be the first to make a comment when I was showing everyone Edmodo) and suddenly I had his undivided attention.

    Nonetheless, personally, while the mobile nature of the smartphone is impossible to rival (even by a tablet) the screen size puts me off enormously. I’ve got a smartphone and I hardly ever use it so I’ll admit that until I’ve really put it through its paces I can’t really talk from experience. Maybe I’m just part of that generation that needs a nice big screen and full keyboard.

    What I am expecting is the assimilation of mobile projectors and laser projected keyboards into mobile devices. Problem solved. How far do you think we are from that, 5/10 years at the most?**

    Thanks for the great post!

    * There’s nothing to say that’s not still true. 🙂
    ** Now I’ll be waiting for the reply that says they already exist.

    1. Gordon,

      I’m not overly convinced by smartphones for text entry or text reading for any great periods of time – it seems to me that tablet computers are much better at those two things and much more appropriate in educational settings where reading and writing are important.

      Where they do win out, at the moment, is in their coverage (in terms of how many people have them) and in their utility in many other situations: audio recording, video recording, taking photos, geo-location apps and other things (I think, for example, that an app like Woices has a lot of potential for language learning on the move). We shouldn’t overlook a smartphone’s ability to do much more than simple text.

      In terms of pico projectors, there’s a new Toshiba laptop that features a pico projector that fits in the DVD tray, and I suspect this is just the start of portable devices able to project.

      Whilst this may solve the viewing size problem, it still doesn’t do much for data entry. Whatever happened to those infra-red projected keyboards that someone was making a few years back? They seem to have disappeared…


      1. Gavin,

        Interesting that you should mention voice recording as I commented on this in another blog just a couple of days ago. I’ve got two phones at the moment (one of them a smartphone, the other an Nokia N96) and I’m not happy with either of them as high-quality recorders of sound.

        I’ve just about managed record myself in a quite room with reasonable quality but in the context of a classroom, multiple voices and where distance can be an issue I wouldn’t even try it with either of my current devices.

        I feel they’ve still got some way to go before their quality rivals some of the high quality coomber tape player/recorders.* I don’t have much experience with any of the digital dictaphones available at the moment.

        As these smartphone devices get more and more popular as multifunction tools I hope that none of these functions are getting left behind and that the newer generations of smart phones are better at recording sounds because it’s a brilliant thing to use in class for raising student awareness (once they get over their initial embarrassment).

        * Does mentioning “old school” equipment like that constitute swearing on a technology discussion thread like this? 🙂

    2. RE: projectors, though maybe this is way late:

      The Samsung Galaxy S has a video out, which you can access using a Nokia CA-75U cable to a video projector.

      (best price, under $5 at )

      This means that videos the students take in class can be immediately shown on big screen, no faffing, processing, rewinding, uploading or anything.

      It is not really a mini IWB, (although the pieces are there to make one…) It is an amazing collection tool.

      I imagine the Iphone can do it too.

  22. A wonderfully balanced overview of the *real* virtual world. Thanks so much, Russell. I agreed with just about everything you say. And was/am *really* interested in the IWB comments, as our school is um-ing and ah-ing as to whether best to invest in one or spend the money on more immediately useful resources (ie. no training required).

  23. Well done Ken for inviting Russell to write this great blog post. Very interesting comments too.

    I too am in agreement with much of what is said here. Where I disagree, is with IWBs, but I also understand why they have earned a bad reputation.

    As a teacher who uses IWBs and trains people to use them too, I think it’s a shame. They are wonderful tools, with a lot of potential – I also think that removing the board bit (i.e. just having the projector) is more likely to lead to the transmission teaching that IWBs have been accused of promoting. In fact, when no training is provided for teachers on how to use the IWB, this is usually how a teacher uses one. The key to their being used effectively is a) training how to use them pedagogically (i.e. not the technical training that is usually the only kind offered) and b) developing a healthy support system in the organisation to share materials and ideas.

    Just wanted to say to Mike to be wary of choosing something else over IWBs and looking for ‘an immediately useful resource’. That, and your comment about looking for something with ‘no training required’ set off alarm bells. Surely, the objective with using learning technology in the classroom is not trying to look for ‘instant results’ (this smacks of the ‘learn English in 15 days’ courses, that we teachers know is a con).

    Although very interested in the subject, I have my doubts about the ‘magic bullet’ of mobile learning in the classroom. Although I know that tablets are easier to use than laptops/netbooks, I know from experience of a computer room and studies where class sets of laptops have been used that this leads to lots of “faffing around” as all of the devices need to be a) powered b) connected to the internet c) working well before a class can use them successfully.

    At the moment, I am skeptical. Talking to teachers in Spain about the ‘digital classroom’ project, where netbooks are being used, it’s also not the actual machines that seems to be giving the scheme a bad name (and which might actually lead to it being abandoned), but the fact that the Internet connection in schools isn’t usually good enough, and (suprise surprise) the lack of training / materials for teachers to use is often cited as an issue. I really don’t think investing in class sets of tablets rather than netbooks will solve this – it will make it better, but there will still be the issues of materials, bandwidth, and (lack of) training to deal with.

    1. Hi Graham,

      I agree with your point about IWB’s in principle, but in my experience, teachers are rarely given proper training in how to use them, which means that they tend to either sit there in the classroom gathering dust, or if they do get used, they tend to be used in a very superficial way more often than not… so, in situations where schools don’t already have them, I’m inclined to think that something else might be a better investment.

      I agree with you about poor bandwidth and unreliable Internet connections in schools as well, although as educators I think we need to be looking at ways of finding solutions to this, such as, for example, taking a means of getting online into the classroom with us if the Internet goes down, rather than letting it stop us in our tracks… which is one of the things I talked about at IATEFL Brighton. (brief shameless plug, but I’m posting a link to my slides because there are few tricks in there for coping with Internet fails that teachers might find useful 🙂 )

      Teaching With Technology – Plan B


  24. Thanks Ken and Russell,

    This isn’t going to win any prizes for being rocket science …. just my simple thoughts.

    Like everyone, I try to be an effective teacher for my students, in my particular context and naturally come across many problems, challenges and opportunities for them to solve, overcome and embrace. My context is IELTS and if I were to solely rely on coursebooks, it would be a dry old world and am very grateful that I have found approaches like using Edtech and Dogme to offer me effective, personalised, differentiated and rather fun ways to help my students learn.

    As far as Edtech is concerned, one of the many things I do is scan sites such as Russell’s Teacher Training Videos (, to find solutions for my particular issues, questioning best methods all the way. Sites like Russell’s are so VERY valuable because they help filter all that is out there yet give me the freedom to personalise for my context. For this I am very thankful,


  25. I wanted to write individual thank-yous to Graham, Amanda and Mark Furr (scroll up, he’s up there) but as Gavin pointed out, the reply option here seems a little limited.

    Graham is SO right that IWBs aren’t going to go away, so training to make them part of effective learner-centred classroom work is vital.

    AND Amanda is SOOOO right that coursebooks can’t give you everything, and edtech materials are vital to add variety and interest in lots of different learning situations.

    And, Mark, I think your point about the speed of online stuff is also SOOOOOO right. The great thing is, when you turn the machines off, you can invite the class to reflect. SOME of this reflection, hopefully, will involve dipping into a book – coursebook or other reading material.

  26. Hi,
    Firstly, I am very happy to see the dark realities of web technology use adressed by all of you. I did a quick scan of the comments. Maybe you might be interested in the insights from a teacher in Turkey who is working down on the ground. Just as I found tweeting and teacher blogging and infringement of my precious time towards my students blogging and wikiing, lesson planning, and training sessions and 24 hours teaching, everyone should understand that what is easy or looks easy, wonderful and professional is only so for the lucky few. Ken’s question is the nagging thought that all teachers who have to test have. It would take many posts to answer his question. There are two ways I see this working; universities teaching tech to undergrads and an English IT department run by a devotee in every school. Below are my reasons:
    Did you know that even if the technical problems of using web tools were solved…
    solid training almost never happens unless you teach or you pay for it yourself?
    young teachers in Turkey and America graduate without knowing what teaching with a web tool looks like ? Even teaching truly effectively isn’t all that clear to them, let alone with tech
    students in Turkey aren’t even taught ten finger typing? (I know this is hard to believe)
    students and teachers have trouble just manuvering around a webpage?
    the worksheet and the course book is considered the almighty?
    even the communicative activites in the course book materials are skipped because teachers don’t see the need ,want to, can manage, or there is no time in the packed yearly plan?
    ELT in ICT isn’t on the yearly plan, or curriculum or minds of the admin?
    most young and old teachers and administrators don’t see the need or even like technology?
    The hardest thing for a teacher to do is to keep the students speaking in English?
    enormous personal time spent isn’t reflected on the teacher’s schedule or paycheck?
    when a teacher does create a task for the tool it is poorly conceived and even faulty?
    only excellent teachers can be successful teaching effectivly with technology because it requires excellent task creation and assessment as well as time, lesson management and lesson planning? Collaborative classwork is avoided?
    the IWI is a little like the PAGER- too little too late-short life-span and a bit redundant after cell phones/projector &computer and lab where all students are actively working? Broad band first.

  27. Oh and how could I forget the biggie, no lab class hours are alloted for English.

    To answer a bit of Ken’s question, “… how language learners can use web 2.0 tools to acquire/learn/absorb and subsequently remember and use NEW LANGUAGE, chunks, communicative strategies,grammatical forms and learn to pronounce the words they find?

    To start with, because the tools are interesting and/ or communicative students don’t mind figuring out how they work by themselves; therefore they notice and become aware of more of the new language they come across.
    Because they read other students’ comments or work they are more connected socially and emotionally.
    Because the tools allow for differentiation they feel free and safe.
    Overall, language comes at them at a faster rate than in the classroom, and since their filters are open through interest and emotion, they absorb better. But it is the great strategies the teacher uses that allow this to happen, and make a huge difference on what and how well they absorb. Web tools look a bit like gaming and FB to the student, so the learning is practically painless. I had a private student a month ago,grabbing the mic back from me when she was practicing pronunciation on English Central. She was so obsessed trying to get 100 points on each section. I was begging her to stop already so we could move on.
    I tend to be more concerned with my students using the web tools to fix fossilized errors, practice and communicate authentically, think critically and learn digital skills.

  28. Hi Russell and Ken,

    Very insightful and timely reflections. I’m an advocate for interactive whiteboards (having written a methodology book on their integration in English teaching, what else can you expect…). But I also enjoy humour in the classroom, drama activities, movement, etc. IWBs are just a tool, nothing else (great tool though). I just wanted to voice my feelings regarding how expensive they are. Let me do the math. Russell, you mention they cost around 2,000 €, even though you can go cheaper than that with mimios or ebeams. Shouldn’t the be money be spent more wisely elsewhere? At 2,000 a piece (less actually and the price can only go down), put an IWB in a classroom with 5 classes being taught in it daily with an average of 20 students per class. That makes a total of 100 students per school year per class. Give it a 5 year time span (even though the board will definitely be used for a longer period of time). That makes 500 students. If my calculations are rightt, the investment per student per school year would be 4 euros (2,000 divided by 500). Undoubtedly more money per student will be spent on textbooks, handouts or school supplies. Is 4 euros after all too much a price to pay?

  29. Ten responses to ten thoughts on technology,
    from Mexico, a part of the world where the “haven’ts” use very little technology and those of us who do are considered ‘gurus’ (that makes me laugh!). Not everyone in the EFL world has access to technology and we hanker to have buying power, administration which understands the need, and an IP which can handle the workload (Mexico the c ountry is on a router system…. Note: I work in a public university, not a private one where the privileged have access to everything….much more so than the teachers do.
    1. “The key to training in technology starts with pedagogy.”
    a. Absolutely. Here in Mexico, chances are that unless you work in a private school where privilege buys technology, the only Internet access that your students will have might be in the Internet cafes. If you can organize collaborative technological tasks without sufficient IPs and using the student’s laps (outside the SAC centers) where individual tasks are promoted) then you can be technologically constructivist. Otherwise stick to good old-fashioned constructivist and behaviourist.
    2. “Technology is still far from being accepted:
    a. Most EFL teachers in my region (occidental Mexico)have very high verbal communicative skills and very low computing skills. There is still great resistance to technology from staff and limited understanding from administration.
    3. “Computers work best in class when you have 2,3,4…. Definitely. The objective is to use technology to create collaborative and communicative working contexts as well as tasks. Well put!
    4. “Technology is undermining…” ….Be careful, this is a very “have” type thinking. Technology is only undermining ‘culture’ where people can afford to buy it. In “have-not” contexts, where not everyone walks around with a smart phone, a computer, an Ipad and who know what other gadget, culture is still people-oriented.
    5. The technology trail… I sincerely hope that we can use the trail we leave to study where we have been and what works the best to teach language, so when we look back from the future we can see what best worked.
    6. “Digital and natives and immigrants” I would say only exist in contexts where everyone can afford technology. If we look closely at what the younger generation does online, as Russell says, it is clear that they need guidance to be able to exploit technology. I love his working : “blinkered”
    7. Without teacher training, IWBs are a waste of money. The SEP (Mexican educational secretariat) has spent tons of money installing IWBs in classrooms in many public schools, without providing sufficient teacher training in their use. You can imagine the disastrous result…
    8. “The hype that surrounds technology has a lot to answer for.”
    a. Hype (and sex) sells. Technology only works when you have access to it; you need a connection in the classroom and the tools to access that connection. This is basic. Not every classroom in every school is connected. Besides that, you should see the commercials on TV for technology, totally linked with sexuality…
    9. Although Smart phones and tablets look like great tools, I think that less than 10% of my students have a smart phone. And tablets? No one I know of has one in the public university.
    10. I agree with Russell, word for word. It is my responsibility as an educator to give my students tools to be competitive in the world. What more can I give them besides language and technology?
    A wonderful post.
    Sorry for my own long-winded comment.

    1. Hi, ‘I can do this’ 🙂

      I don’t know your name, and I couldn’t find it on your website either.

      A situation where IWBs are being installed with no training possibility does seem misguided, and poor internet connection also reduces their value as teaching tools.

      I would love to have you write something about the realities of teaching in Mexico, one of the most important markets for one of my books which has a lot of online content.

      Email me at if you’d like to write a guest piece for me.

  30. Hi,

    May I add my two cents worth to this great discussion sparked by Russell’s input with the results of a survey I have been conducting in ELT world since BESIG 2008 on the subject of which of the Web 2.0 tools are actually being used.

    Using Jane Hart’s Top 25 tools for learning which she publishes annually and a very basic “I don’t know”, “I have heard of it”, “I have used in the past”, “I use it regularly”, I have collected some quantative data at several conferences.

    Comparing these data with an Online Educa survey feedback caused me to write an article in the LT SIG CALL Review article of summer 2009 with the title of ‘A workman without tools’ because this is exactly how bleak it looked. Whilst everyone was talking about Web 2.0, hardly any of the conference participants (who were mostly educators) used any of the tools they talked about.

    Now three years down the road, I am quite excited because the results of the IATEFL survey look very promising and use of the tools has gone up by an large.

    Here are some examples:
    – Google docs from 24% to 56%
    – Slideshare from 13% to 32%
    – Jing from 4% to 23%
    – Wiki from 12% to 39%
    – Moodle from 26% to 53%
    – Twitter from 12% to 41%
    – Google Reader from 24% to 37%

    Also the overall trend is quite obvious from an 24% to 45%!

    To explain some of the percentages, I have done the following, using a tool “regularly” constitutes 100%, “I have used it in the past” is 50%, “I have heard off it” 25% and “I dont know” would be 0%.

    Whilst these data could suggest, that web 2.0 tools are normalising, they could however also mean that thanks to twitter, I now mingle a lot more with the edtech crowd. However, I distinctly remember Pete Sharma’s excellent tech tool presentation at BESIG 2008, where I handed this survey out for the very first time.

    Hence, I believe these data can be compared and that they show a clear trend, namely that learning tools are being taken up which confirms my overall impression in this field that I am getting and hearing and I am quite excited about.

    Long live web 2.0 tools …. because … well, if all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail, right?

    rgds Heike

    1. Heike,

      perhaps I need some training. I can easily see the value of web 2.0 tools to the teachers, and I’m aware of the ubiquity of phones/tablets among the students, I’m still looking for some classroom activities where it all comes together for the learning of new language and not just the production of learnt language.

      Keep the ideas flowing in! 😛

  31. Russel and Ken,

    Wonderful read here, mainly with the contributions of commentators, which have been voicing their own particular views of technology.

    I’d just like to say that living in a developing country, Brazil, I do see great potential in mobile devices, for they are the ones that classes C and D (the poor ) are really using massively. Just yesterday, I read a very interesting article about this phenomenon of how technology permeates Brazilian masses in many dimensions: Brazilians might not have much to eat, but we all have cell phones and are avid users of all tech available at the tip of our fingers. So, I really see mlearning as a big opportunity here. What we still lack is a whole new revolution in education and teacher training to make this transition from tech to powerful pedagogy that is truly transformative.

    1. They love tech in Turkey too, Carla.

      Even the car park attendant has the lastest cell phone and a Facebook account. The apps teach them new words too.

  32. Hi Mr. Ken Wilson,

    I have been looking through your blog and was wondering if you would be interested in having me write a free post for you. I mainly write on tech topics (broadband, 4G, satellite, VoIP) and have an interest in many other areas as well. If you like, I can suggest some topics for your blog that might interest your readers?


    Norris Lemuel

  33. Hi Russel & Ken
    I enjoyed reading your post but I think smart phones are not used to talk on the phone anymore (at least not as much) but are used as mini-tablets instead, as such they can be very useful in the classroom.

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