T is for Technology

1 05 2011

The ELT Journal Debate, IATEFL 2011

There was a good deal of whooping and hollering after the ELTJ debate at the IATEFL Conference in Brighton a couple of weeks ago. And, in the face of Alan Waters’ well-argued, but somewhat lacklustre critique, Nicky Hockly deservedly won a healthy round of applause for her feisty defence of educational technologies.  But many of the comments from the floor seemed to reflect a wilful misunderstanding of the nature of the debate (admittedly, the motion – Twitter is for the birds… – was not helpful). Instead of arguing about the merits of integrating technology into (language) education, it became a free-for-all about technology in general (“I wouldn’t have been here if it hadn’t been for Twitter”, “If you are unable to follow a Twitter-stream you are soft in the head…” etc). Comments like these seemed to be largely irrelevant to the matter in hand, i.e. the uses (or abuses) of technology in language education.

There are good reasons for integrating technology into language education, and there are bad reasons. But the debate never seriously addressed them. Instead, the general view seemed to be that, if technology is good for laundering clothes or photographing Mars, it must, ipso facto, be good for education. QED.

Nicky Hockly and me: poles apart?

Moreover, by framing  the issue as an either/or one (inevitable, unfortunately, for a debate), the event served only to perpetuate the division between so-called technophiles and so-called technophobes, obscuring  the wide range of possible stances in between. One of these stances is that of the technosceptic.  Technosceptics, like me, happily embrace technology in our daily lives, but are nevertheless a little suspicious of the claims made, by some enthusiasts, for its educational applications – claims that frequently border on the coercive: If you don’t use technology in your classes you are unprofessional/ irresponsible/ old-fashioned/ in denial, or even (as one blogger put it) “a tad rude”.  And, as Hal Crowther (2010) wrote recently: “Coercion is not just interpersonal but societal, and pervasive. The word ‘Luddite’ which we used to wear with defiant pride, has become an epithet like ‘Communist’ or ‘reactionary’” (p.109).

Uncritical acceptance of any innovation, whether it be interactive whiteboards or multiple intelligence theory, needs to be subjected to a dose of level-headed scrutiny. And, as far as I am concerned, until the following four problems have been satisfactorily addressed, an ounce or two of scepticism regarding ‘ed tech’ seems well advised.

The delivery model problem: Despite the enormous potential technology has both to facilitate communication and to foster creativity, a lot of educational software still seems to be predicated on a delivery model of education. I.e. the more information learners have –  and the quicker –  the better.  As a consequence, many publishers seem to be responding to the demand for language learning apps by simply re-issuing existing reference works in mobile-friendly formats, a well-known grammar self-study book being a case in point. But, to paraphrase (the sainted) Neil Postman, if learners are having problems learning to speak English, it is not through lack of information!

"Let's check out this Murphy app"

The theory vacuum problem: In a review of the film ‘The Social Network’, Zadie Smith (2010) commented to the effect that, “in France philosophy seems to come before technology; here in the Anglo-American world we race ahead with technology and hope the ideas will look after themselves”. As evidence, not a day goes by without someone tweeting to announce a blog or website that offers ’20 things to do with Wordle’, or ‘100 ways of using Twitter in the classroom’ and so on. Rarely if ever do you see ‘7 tools to help students with listening skills’ or ‘100 apps that facilitate vocabulary acquisition’. That is to say, rather than the learning purpose determining the technology, it’s the technological tail that seems to wag the pedagogical dog. What theories of learning underpin the claims being made for educational technology? We deserve to know!

The attention deficit problem: A good while back, Aldous Huxley warned against the dangers of ‘non-stop distraction’. More recently, commentators have noted that a state of ‘continuous partial attention’ characterises the kind of engagement that digitial technologies induce. As Nicholas Carr writes (2010), “When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning.  It is possible to think deeply while surfing the Net, just as it’s possible to think shallowly while reading a book, but that’s not the type of thinking the technology encourages and rewards” (pp. 115-16).

If you accept that a degree of higher order thinking and sustained concentration is a prerequisite for learning, then you have to be worried about these effects.  (Do those who deny that multi-tasking is  a problem also condone the use of cell phones while driving?)

The added value problem: At a recent presentation on the educational use of mobile technology, the presenters quoted a survey of teachers in which the majority said that they didn’t anticipate using mobile technology in their classrooms. The presenters glossed this as meaning “…because they don’t know how”. Was I the only member of the audience who was thinking that the more likely reason was “….because they don’t see the need”?

As long ago as 1966, Pit Corder warned that “the use of mechanical aids in the classroom is justified only if they can do something which the teacher unaided cannot do, or can do less effectively” (1966, p. 69). This would still seem to be a useful test of the value that technology adds to education, not least when one factors in the costs – not just in terms of the initial outlay, but in terms of training, maintenance, upgrades and eventual disposal. (Crowther, op. cit, notes that “Americans alone discard 100 million computers, cell phones and related devices every year, at a rate of 136,000 per day” and adds that “it takes roughly 1.8 tons of raw material… to manufacture one PC and its monitor” [p. 113]). Confronted by any new tool or application, the discerning teacher should be asking: Is it really worth it?

Coincidentally, while preparing this blog, I discovered that at least two other bloggers were addressing the same theme. Here’s how Luan Hanratty , for example, responds to the added-value problem, a good deal more eloquently than I can:

My own philosophy of teaching barely includes technology because if teachers understand the proper principles of language learning, informed by psychology and other fields, then technology is mostly superfluous. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that I don’t really need it. There is more immediate stuff out there in the collective consciousness and more beneficial techniques to employ than the more-is-more approach of jumping on the latest bandwagon.

Of course, I ought to say what I think technology is good for, but this post has already exceeded the word count, so I’ll reserve that discussion for the comments.

References:

Carr, N. 2010. The Shallows: how the Internet is changing the way we think, read and remember.  London: Atlantic Books.

Crowther, H. 2010. One hundred fears of solitude: The greatest generation gap. In Granta, 111.

Pit Corder, S. 1966. The Visual Element in Language Teaching. London: Longman.

Smith, Z. 2010. Generation Why? Review of The Social Network. New York Review of Books Nov 25 2010-12-09.

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158 responses

1 05 2011
Cyndi

Image search: good for clarifying vocabulary quickly & visually (obviously)
Videos with subtitles/lyrics: good for developing content knowledge, listening skills, sense of community with sing-alongs, etc.
Audio files: useful as an alternative form of feedback on writing tasks

1 05 2011
Diarmuid

IMAGE SEARCH To paraphrase Hamlet, “But in that search of Google, what skills are lost, when we have shuffled off our human trait?” The skills of negotiation of meaning; the skill of accepting a less that perfect understanding; the skill (?) of imagination. If ancient sailors had had access to google images, we never would have had mermaids or dragons.

VIDEOS WITH SUBTITLES There are other ways of developing a sense of community. Talking to each other, for example. Or having a sing-along without videos with subtitles. Sorry. This is coming out of my fingers in a very facetious tone, and that’s not what I meant. How do we know that access to IT is good for developing listening skills? If we put any faith at all in McLuhan’s argument that the medium is the message, I wonder if I.T. does promote good listening skills. After all, as many people have already argued, it is a technology for the easily distracted. I spent a whole day yesterday watching myself flit from one site to another – all in an effort to avoid reading a book that had to be read. Aren’t listening skills all about negotiation of meaning and seeking clarification? Devising and revising mental schemata as you go along. Didn’t somebody once say that the bulk of a message is to be found in non-linguistic communication?

AUDIOFILES WITH FEEDBACK: How do we know that they’re useful? More useful than sitting down with somebody and explaining it to them? Or are they merely convenient?

The point being that a lot of grand claims are made for I.T. in education, but where is the evidence? It often seems to be about common sense or hunches or intuition or such analogue ways of thinking. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that – all teachers do it- but I do object to the overwhelming pressure that says that teachers who shun technology are bad teachers. Why so? Because of your hunches?

I think the incorporation of technology into the classroom often has more to do with flattering teachers – it makes some feel connected, it is often a very creative means of expression, they feel superior to those colleagues who don’t know how to do what they do, and they can see their students smile and gaze glassy-eyed at the monitors.

Technopositivists often say that they too are in favour of a critical approach to I.T. They acknowledge that there are people who wedge it into a lesson with little thought for how it might fit educationally. These people remind me of the union officials who bemoan the decline of unions whilst exhorting people, “Who’s the union?! YOU are the union?” The whole problem stems from the fact that unions clearly demonstrate that the union is NOT its membership but its hierarchy and its representatives. Similarly, there’s no point of moaning about colleagues forcing I.T. into the classroom because the whole set up encourages people to do just that. It’s quick, on demand, everywhere. Why on earth should I sit around thinking about whether or not its appropriate? The whole idea is to save me time and thought! Nobody has told me how to think about using it – they just tell me that its bloody great. Look – I can make a cartoon seem as if it’s talking with my voice!

The facetiousness has returned. I’m sorry. I genuinely don’t mean to be rude. Nor do I really feel down on the whole technology front. I use lextutor (an example of how I.T. can foster critical thinking); I use blogs (an example of how I.T. cn help students develop their own writing voice); I have even used Glogster (an example of how I.T. can help students bridge the divide between their L1 identity and their L2 identity). I have used YouTube, EngishCentral, speak-and-write etc. I think that people like Nik Peachey, Jose Picardo, Ian James and Russell Stannard are among the most helpful and thoughtful and unselfish people that I have come across. I am impressed by the idea of using videos with lyrics for developing community thru sing-alongs. And I have just started using Jing to provide feedback to students on their writing. But I would love to see more of a critical approach to technology. A careful – and public- deliberation of whether or not it really is all it’s cracked up to be. I think we’re still a long way from that.

1 05 2011
thomasway

I agree with your criticism that much ICT is used to simply deliver content. Personally I think this is poor practice and an inefficient use of time. Any reflective teacher who has ‘interactive’ whiteboards in their school will attest that they are very rarely use interactively and that few of the apps are in fact interactive at all.

The power of technology in language ed. is surely in its ability to allow communication between real people. Blogs, forums, twitter and other web 2.0 sites give students a chance to use language authentically with people who have similar interests and actually want to respond.

1 05 2011
coco tsw

I am an 11 year old, and there are interactive whiteboards in every classroom at my school. In my experience, all my teachers have used them interactively. For example, I have finally learned my times tables using an interactive maths game where numbers fall from the top of the screen and my classmates and I have to tap the numbers that are multiples of a particular number.

In my French lessons, I really enjoy the fact that you can go up to the board and do activities with the rest of your classmates being involved, rather than everyone sitting at their desk, having to fill out a sheet of paper.

I think other children and I learn better using the smartboard, firstly, because we don’t get bored, and secondly, the visual and physical side of it.

When I say all of this, I don’t mean that an interactive board is better than a teacher (teachers know you and understand you, something a smartboard can never do), I am just saying that I think it is really good to have one in the classroom.

1 05 2011
tony gurr's

Ahhhh, to have more young people like Coco posting on sites like this :-)

Coco – do you have any other friends (your age), we old folks should be listening to :-)

T..

1 05 2011
Diarmuid

Wait till you get to secondary school!

1 05 2011
thomasway

Hi Coco

If you learnt to write that well by using your school’s interactive whiteboards then I’m convinced!

You’re lucky that you have teachers who make use of your iwb’s well. In my experience many could do just as well with a computer and a projector.

One question: would you prefer to learn with your friends using ipads, or on the iwb? I think I would prefer the ipads ;) Where I live I could get 10 for the price of my smartboard and that means everyone in class can be using them in pairs instead of just two or three at a time.

I definitely believe technology is fantastic for learning if it’s used well. I use it all the time in my classroom.

By the way, your response to my post is exactly the kind of communication that I believe leads to great learning. Thanks!

1 05 2011
coco tsw

Hi thomasway

I think I would prefer having ipads in the school. I have one at home and I think they are so much better than any other form of technology. They are so much easier to use, very well designed and are just the right size.

Ideally, I would love to have both in my classroom, because interactive boards create a good atmosphere in the classroom because everyone would be focusing on the exact same thing, and ipads are good for individual and pairwork.

But if I really had to choose between the two, I would definitely choose to have ipads.

1 05 2011
Sandy Millin

Dear Scott,
As one of the people who writes the occasional “20 things you can do with Wordle” type post, I definitely take your point about the technology leading and pedagogy being expected to follow.

I think that at the moment I (we?) are in the honeymoon period where we are trying to find a balance between technology and pedagogy, and are trying to make people aware that these tools exist and what they can be used for. It is perhaps two ends of a continuum (don’t use technology at all, complete focus on pedagogy use technology all of time, let it govern the pedagogy) and we are trying to find the place somewhere in the middle where it balances.

I tend to find that technology is most useful for my students as a tool outside class. Since I started to use tools like Edmodo and Quizlet with my classes, the amount of homework and self-guided study students do has greatly increased. I have also found that I seem to have a better rapport with the students as they don’t only have contact with me / English for 90 minutes a week.

I will definitely try to write more posts along the lines of your “7 tools to help students with listening acquisition” (not sure if “Podcasts for Extra Listening Practice” counts!)

Sandy

1 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for the comment, Sandy. I think you’re right – about the ‘honeymoon period’ – but it’s not as if some scholars haven’t been warning about the risks of uncritical early adoption for some time (witness Neil Postman). Of that others haven’t laid down clear guidelines for digital technology use. At the risk of repeating msyelf, let me quote Mark Warschauer who wrote, as long ago as 2000 (it’s been a long honeymoon!):

“For electronic learning activities to be most purposeful and effective, it would seem that they should (a) be learner-centred, with students having a fair amount of control over their planning and implementation, (b) be based on authentic communication in ways rhetorically appropriate for the medium, (c) be tied to making some real difference in the world or in the students’ place in it, and (d) provide students an opportunity to explore and express their evolving identity”.

(Warschauer, M. 2000. On-line learning in second language classrooms: An ethnographic study. in Warschauer and Kern, (eds) Network-based Language Teaching: Concepts and Practice, CUP, 2000, p. 57)

1 05 2011
Bjørn Helge Græsli

The good teacher wants the students to learn as much and as well as possible.
The good teacher therefore finds out as much as possible about the learning needs of the students.
The good teacher tries to facilitate student learning by using the best available tools for the job.
The good teacher knows lots of available tools and looks into new possibilities on a regular basis.
The good teacher assesses the learning outcomes with the students and makes necessary adjustments.

I.e.: The only thing that matters is what works for the learner. If it works, it’s good – whether it’s dogme, tech or book.

For me, tech allows me to do reach some students I’d otherwise not manage to engage. It helps me differentiate, give choices, and connect the student’s world with what happens in the class room. I also have tech-free sessions, focusing entirely on communication.

As you say, healthy scepticism is due whenever we assess potential learning tools and learning strategies. And the question to ask is always “what (actually) works best for my students”. Tools without pedagogy is never a good idea.

1 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Bjørn – I’m intrigued by this comment: “tech allows me to reach some students I’d otherwise not manage to engage”. How did we reach such students, ‘pre-tech’? Or were they simply written off?

3 05 2011
dan

I think I’m constantly wobbling between a technosceptic and e-vangelist position (largely depending on whether I’ve got a wireless connection at that moment in time) but in answer to Bjorn’s point (“tech allows me to reach some students I’d otherwise not manage to engage”), I think I’d say that:
1. VLEs like Moodle (or whatever) often allow you to engage with students in dialogue to whom you wouldn’t have time to talk in a real classroom of 25-30 (UK state secondary/FE) and I’ve certainly engaged with plenty of students this way who’ve told me themselves that it’s been a real bonus;
2. The kinds of interaction you can have online – links to useful sites, suggestions for further reading, helpful definitions – can often take place face to face but can sometimes be more effective at a distance.

it’s a very interesting debate, and one that I think is very important!

1 05 2011
English Raven

I enjoy your critiques of technology in relation to language education, Scott.

The ‘theory vacuum problem’ you describe is one that has interested me for a while now, as I’ve (increasingly) become a teacher who hasn’t felt a need for theory to (always) guide practice.

I think of two ‘flow-paths’ when it comes to technology, just as with other factors in our day-to-day field (coursebooks, test preparation, physical classroom layout and number of students, etc.), basically ‘into’ and ‘out of’. Sometimes I will let the theory dictate initial terms (which then flow ‘into’ the tech, materials, test prep and physical layout factors), and at other times I will start with the mediator to see what actions it facilitates and then, what theory it might either align with or generate on its own.

So, basically, I sometimes use the tech to apply a teaching/learning theory, and at other times I use the tech as a starting point to see what new surprises it might create. I like surprises.

But I do agree with two of the central arguments in this debate:

1. Our learners are growing up in a different world to ‘ours’ where tech is different and plays a different role, and it makes sense to try and see (and use) it from their perspective;

2. Putting down teachers (or patronizing them as simply ignorant or helpless) who don’t want to use a lot of edtech ‘in’ their classrooms is neither fair nor helpful in the long run.

On the surface, it looks like I am contradicting myself there. Am I?
:-)

– J

1 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Hey Jason – I like your ‘flow paths’ analogy. I kind of hope all teachers are as principled as you are in assessing the benefits of new tools. But I can’t help recalling the teachers, where I used to work, who used video as a cop-out. “Watch this Mr Bean episode and fill in the gaps on the worksheet while I just nip out for a bit”.

1 05 2011
jason west

Virtually all coursebooks, materials and lesson plans were designed to be used in finite space. The classroom.

1 05 2011
Luan

Good post, Scott. The assumption that technology improves teaching is a bit of a non sequitur. I think that good teaching implies less, and consequently better, use of technology.

1 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Agreed, Luan. Hope you didn’t mind me quoting you. (I recommend Luan’s blog: http://www.teflideas.com/2011/04/30/technology-ice-cream-2/ )

2 05 2011
Luan

Not at all Scott, thanks. Great minds think alike!

1 05 2011
tony gurr's

Scott – a great post and you are totally right about the either/or debate. It helps nobody.

The real issue is that technology is changing our “kids” – really changing them (including the way their brains are “wired”). These kids are not waiting for us to catch up with them – and the either/or debate is just holding us back from the type of adjustments we need to make (and the type of support we need to give teachers). Most of us (esp. those that may be less “fluent” in technology) need to see that kids today do not just speak DFL (digital as a first language) – they also speak LFL (learning as a first language).

No other “business” in the world could get away with ignoring its “clients” as much as ELT does (or “education” in general for that matter). We still speak TFL (teaching as a first language) and DSL (digital as a second language). It is the first of these that is the “real problem” (bit like Latin to most kids today – a dead language that noone really needs to learn) – not the technological tools we may choose to use.

T..

1 05 2011
tony gurr's

Sorry – meant to add this. A really good read:

Zur, O. & Zur, A. (2011): On Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives: How the Digital Divide Affects Families, Educational Institutions, and the Workplace. 

http://www.zurinstitute.com/digital_divide.html

T..

1 05 2011
Luan

Tony, a couple of points.

It’s a very selective argument to assume that technology is always positive thing. Just because children use technology more now, doesn’t mean they should be. Over-eating is a another phenomenon of modern life with similar consequences (cf. my blog post). Excessive comfort and play at home numbs people to much of the critical realities of life and the outside world.

LFL is a cute piece of jargon but it doesn’t really exist. The Ancients were just as good at learning as we are. They just had different tools. The distinction between teaching and learning is a bit of hair-splitting – in many languages they are the same word. Society will always need teachers no matter how autodidactic we become. This is especially true in foreign language learning. We are not living in Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’ nor are we remotely close to it.

2 05 2011
tony gurr's

Luan,

As is the case with the “either/debate” it is all to easy to “take sides” – if you notice, I didn’t – and I certainly didn’t make the argument that technology is always a positive thing.

What I did say was that technology is, and will continue to become, a very real fact of life. The issue is how we deal with it and help teachers deal with the many challenges that it has already brought into their lives. If our only solution to the challenge of technology is to look for ways to not use it or try to stop children using it so much, we have got something seriously wrong.

When students begin to ask “Why do I need a teacher when I’ve got Google” (the title of Ian Gilbert’s thought-provoking book) – we need to start asking questions of ourselves and perhaps help learners to make sure they are asking the right questions, too. “Fighting” over whether we should be eating more ice-cream or not is not as productive as looking for ways to create a common language that helps teachers speak to their learners and promotes learning.

We are the products of our history, culture and experience – and while teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin many teachers (perhaps not you and many others who take the time to read blogs like this) still do a lot of “teaching” that does not produce much “learning”. The views many of us we hold about learning and teaching (and technology) are based on our own personal beliefs, values and underlying assumptions – all created by our own personal “pasts” (not the future and not the realities of our learners).

In ELT and “teaching” in a more general sense has traditions firmly grounded in a “teaching paradigm” (presentation, practice, production; content delivery; remembering and regurgitating) – indeed, this is why so much “learning software” is pretty awful. You are right the Ancients were also good at learning but somewhere along the line teaching became more important than learning. Just as, for some, technology has become more important than both learning and teaching.

LFL is a reality (take look at Clementine [http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xdjjhf_when-a-baby-discovers-the-ipad_tech] – and it is the reason that more and more learners are expressing dissatisfaction with the way many of their teachers “do business”. Of course learners will always need teachers (another point I did not make) and “the human touch” in learning. However, burying our heads in the sand or harping back to the “good old days” will not take us forward as a profession.

We need to take a more informed, balanced view (take a look at Steven Johnson’s “Everything bad is good for you”). Young people are being changed by technology – and a new breed of learner will need a new breed of teacher. We cannot continue to live in the past – a past dominated by a “teaching paradigm”.

My concern is that so many many of us devote a great deal of time to “avoiding” or “debating the value of” technology (almost as much time as those who devote time to over-using technology without a focus on learning) – that we risk the same fate as the Ancients.

T..

2 05 2011
Luan

Tony,

You seem convinced that “kids are having their brains re-wired” and that “young people are being changed by technology.” Can you provide any scientific evidence of this? I’ve just spent five minutes watching the baby in the video randomly hit buttons an Ipad and I don’t find it in the least bit remarkable.

2 05 2011
tony gurr's

Luan,

Clementine is not “remarkable” (but she is very cute!) – she is one of thousands (millions even) of kids who will walk into our schools over the next few years.

What is interesting with her (and perhaps what we need to be thinking about) is not her “tender age” or the speed with which she learns how to use an iPad but rather how she is approaching the task of “learning” thru:

“Trial and error”
Learning-by-doing
“Intuitive” problem-solving
Direct experimentation & interaction
Multiple inputs & channels
Multi-tasking or task-switching
Multi-media “literacy”
“Just-in-time” perspective
Having “control” over exploration

As she “grows up” these approaches will form the basis of her “preferred” learning style and strategies (and not just in ELL – maths, science, and arts-based disciplines, too).

We talk about learner and learning-centred classrooms a great deal in education – but I wonder how many of today’s schools and classrooms are set up and organised around some of her approaches to learning (and how many of us are thinking about non-classroom learning environments and opportunities).

If we discover that we do not have the types of learning environments and create the types of relationships that really “embrace” who Clementine is as a human being, what can we do about it?

This is what I would like to see more educators thinking about – this kind of “teacher learning” has got to have more potential for improved student learning, hasn’t it?

As Paul (see below) notes – “the effects on anyone having grown up with these realities is fairly evident”. It is true that we know so little about how the brain works (but we are learning quickly) – in ELT we know even less. Perhaps that’s why we need to look outside the “world of ELT” for ideas and engage with non-ELTers (especially EdTech specialists who “really” understand learning) to create newer trans-disciplinary modes of thinking about learning and teaching.

Sadly, I often find that requests for “scientific evidence”, more often than not are used to derail the discussions of “thinking doers” who want to open their minds to future possibilities. Calls for “evidence” frequently form part of the “academic game” that is based on “win-lose” logic and “scoring points” by tearing down the ideas or opinions of others.

Clementine and her teachers-to-be are not interested in this…

Like many other educators, I prefer “win-win discussions” so I recommend you start the two books I mentioned (Johnston and Gilbert) then take a look at “Understanding the Digital Generation” (from Ian Jukes, et al). These comes together nicely with the work linguists, neuroscientists and geneticians are trying to do together (see an earlier post I did on my blog):

http://allthingslearning.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/linguists-neuroscientists-and-geneticians-three-heads-are-better-than-one/

Enjoy – take care.

T..

2 05 2011
Luan

Tony, this complete flannel. Guess what, Clementine is no different a human being to the thousands of human beings who have shared the planet before her. She is no better, no worse, she has just been fortunate enough to be born into a relatively affluent environment which provides plenty of opportunities. I’m not buying this idea that people are fundamentally different. There are no broken people. Everyone is basically the same and everyone can learn to do what others can, given the right opportunities.

If someone has a”preferred learning style” does that mean we should teach according to that? Can you see how this is logistically difficult in a class of people with different learning styles? Can you see why we should not be neglecting areas for improvement rather than playing on strengths all the time? Can you see how giving children too much control over exploration can lead to failure? Can you see how multi-tasking is a not very conducive for focusing on an issue and solving complex problems.

I don’t believe that the way in which Clementine learns things is different to the way you or I learn things and until you can provide empirical evidence to back yourself up, your beliefs remain pure conjecture.

2 05 2011
tony gurr's

Luan,

Beliefs, by their very nature, are “conjecture”. But, I’m glad to see that you took the time to obtain, objectively review and reflect on the references I shared – before inflicting your own evidenced-based beliefs on me :-)

Hey, come on – let’s get real here. Just because we “disagree” is no reason to not explore eachother’s views.

I think we probably both agree on many things. Knee-jerk reactions to any ideas in education are just “silly”. Dismissing the benefits of technology is just “silly”. Using technology without a principled approach to learning, teaching and technology is just “silly”.

A teachers job is to put student learning at the heart of his or her decision-making – and to do whatever it takes to create deeper engagement, learning and success.

I, for one, will not throw out anything with the bathwater – and I’ll certainly look for ways to make bath-time more individualised, more meaningful and more fun.

Hey, we can agree on that – yes?

Take care,

T..

1 05 2011
dingtonia

Hi Scott
There is always a big element of eminent SENSE in what you write (and say!). I’m inclined to get too consumed and evangelical about stuff. Thank you for this very objective, reasonable and clear expose on the value – or not – of tech in the language classroom. I cannot help but think of the people I teach though, and why they came to stay with me in the first place. I have included a rather useless link to a post I wrote on the subject some months back, as it has a poignancy I can’t seem to re-create today!

http://tinyurl.com/2bsypkc

Candy

1 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Hi Candy! I loved your blog post and your cri de coeur: “THEY WANT THE HUMAN THING!” It reminded me of a quote from the wonderful Chris Brumfit that I wasn’t able to squeeze into my original post:

“The Internet cannot be a substitute for the holistic understanding that comes from direct meetings with individuals; knowledge transfer cannot be a substitute for seeing, smelling, hearing and walking through unfamiliar settings” Brumfit, C. 2001. Individual Freedom in Language Teaching. OUP. p.125.

1 05 2011
David

I really think we all suffer from a very narrow view of what technology is and how it relates to learning a language (note my avoidance of “teaching”). We believe technology is something foreign to our “self”, in a word, alien. I think that is the big problem – the word isn’t defined properly and so the debate has no center. Paper, pencils, the lights in the class – these too are “aides”, “tools” and nobody gets up in arms over them. We’ve gotten used to them and will to with “technology”. Jeremy has a nice podcast that I think really hits so many good chords about educational technology. http://huffduffer.com/tags/harmer

Language unlike many subjects is highly skill based and well suited for the support of technology. I got into looking at technology through my own study of the mentally and physically disabled – discovering how so much learning technology arose from solutions to their problems. With language, we have much the same “disabled” brain and learning dysfunction. Something technology can address through repetition, tracking, testing, recycling, noticing, scaffolding, contextualization etc….

However at the end of the day, students want it, they use it. That’s enough for me. I’m surprised how so many teachers who espouse student centeredness etc… don’t ever bring up this “fact” of teaching in the 21st century. Teachers have a responsibility to get trained in the use of technology and also to use it effectively in their classroom. If not, like any other skill not there – they should be judged accordingly.

I also think it should be mentioned – the power and place of technology for self-directed learning. The flipped classroom is a presentation I’m working on and it is something just around the corner. The teacher’s role is dramatically changing and will too in TESOL. Students can do the textbook stuff at home, check it at home, practice speaking the textbook at home etc… (all enabled by technology which improves upon that other piece of technology, the book). Classroom time will be something very different than at present (which is a hangover from 100 years ago).

I also think there are daily, great posts/tweets focused on using technology to address a pedagogical goal. The “rarely if ever” is quite an exaggeration. I do agree though, we need more teachers well trained in TESOL, so to avoid this rush to “use the tool instead of teach the student.” I also think the “attention deficit” argument that technology can ruin ones health, is off base (and this fear comes from a paradigm that wrongly divorces technology from “the human” and which I see as what at base misinforms so much). Technology does not create attention deficit disorder or syndrome in any way. We are confusing cause and effect. I also have a bone to pick about technology not being imaginative – I think it is really showing huge misunderstanding when one takes the leap to believe that technology inhibits our imagination (I’m referring to the mermaid comment). This is just simple in the extreme. We just would have had different types of mermaids.

That’s my two cents worth. Look forward to what others have to say.
Glad someone mentioned they’re using EnglishCentral :)

David

1 05 2011
Jessica Mackay

Hi David,

I’m intrigued by this comment.

“However at the end of the day, students want it, they use it”

Shockingly, in a 21st century European University (we are last in the queue when it comes to room assignment) more than half my classes are given in rooms with just a chalkboard and a CD player. Painfully aware of this (fully convinced of what you say above), I encourage students to bring the technology with them, making use of their wi-fi enabled devices to search for information, check translations, etc. The thing is, though, they don’t seem to want to.

You will probably argue, quite rightly, that neither I nor the students are able to fully exploit the potential of these devices and I aim to correct that as soon as I can. Recently though, I’ve been doing research on some humanistic classroom techniques and I’ve spotted a theme running through the qualitative data I’ve collected so far. Here’s an extract from an interview transcription. The student has been asked for feedback on the activities (visualiation and imagery enhancement);

” I like because, is different. In English class I disconnect. I am not worry about my mails. I feel like a different person for an hour. Is relax, but I think I concentrate more.’

This learner, interestingly, is an 18-year-old student in the Computer Science department at the University.

I am teaching the mobile generation and while there is obviously a certain amount of surreptitious texting, they seem happy enough to switch off for a while and get on with the class. The end-of-course evaluations barely, if ever, mention the lack of technology. They are far more likely to comment on the lack of air conditioning or the lack of chairs than the lack of the computer

1 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

The end-of-course evaluations barely, if ever, mention the lack of technology. They are far more likely to comment on the lack of air conditioning or the lack of chairs than the lack of the computer

Well, I’d like to say ‘I rest my case’ but maybe it’s premature. But thanks for this great comment, Jessica!

1 05 2011
David

Jessica,

I think that every culture, country, school, class, even individual will be different. I trust that the teacher makes the correct decision vis a vis technology for their situation. could be that some classes do indeed want less technology “in class”. I don’t think that is true of all cases though, speaking from my own experiences. Last year I taught a curriculum development grad course. An IWB sat in the classroom each lesson and I never used it. I didn’t see the need. I wanted the class talking to each other, doing group work, discussing. Never planned for it. But just the mere sight of it there, caused them all to scream about this in the evaluations.

I also have come to distrust student evaluations and formal feedback. They will say they want more of this and then when they get it, they want less…. It is the “grass is greener” type of mentality in operation. Perfectly natural but I’d be cautious. Further, many students don’t have any idea about the way technology can be used by teachers. So they often don’t comment at all. They’ve been brought up that school = open up your book. So they are apt not to demand technology in the classroom even though they use it and are digital learners.

One thing I do think important though. I think it should be paramount that teachers provide all their class materials, lessons, as much as possible, online. A duplicate. So students can access, use, practice the content on their own.

1 05 2011
Brad Patterson

Merci for the great post. Lots of fruit for thought here.

I wasn’t at the IATEFL “twitter’s for the birds” debate, but it’s interesting to see how the debate was a bit lopsided from the get-go— becoming the broader “technology is good-bad” issue. It reminds me of one of the broadest and most important Postman quotes (for me):

“Physical reality seems to recede in proportion as man’s symbolic activity advances. Instead of dealing with the things themselves man is in a sense constantly conversing with himself. He has so enveloped himself in linguistic forms, in artisitic forms, in mythical symbols or religious rites that he cannot see or know anything except by the interposition of an an artificial medium.” (amusing 10)

In today’s classrooms, are we uncomfortable with “open” discussion,

with the “uncontrolled”,

or with what Diarmuid above describes as “developing a community through TALKING to each other”?

In the classrooms I’ve known, to a certain extent, yes. Is education becoming more and more “artificial” through adoption of technology? I would say so, and know I’m not alone in that perspective.

Lastly, and again from again a broader level, this direction and Postman’s quote above remind me of the all-powerful agricultural revolution, of the fertile crescent’s explosion outwards, exporting a culture of “control” and “artificial living”. (the real version of the fall from Eden?).

Etymologically interesting— fertile crescent = arabia felix, where felix in latin has the derivatives of felicity, all arising from fela— breast, milk giving, supplying… terra madre.

Thanks again for the post, and bon dimanche :) brad

1 05 2011
DaveDodgson

The use of technology in language teaching (and education in general) is plauged by a series of misrepresentations. Software developers will claim the package ‘does’ all sorts of things by itself and teachers will eargerly buy into anything that claims to be offering a quick fix while making their jobs ‘easier’.

I recently attended a conference at which one of the plenary speakers gave a session about ‘exploiting the brain power of our students’. The usual angles of how today’s learners are different, they are ‘digital natives’, they expect and demand games and interactivty etc were covered and we were then shown a series of activities designed by the speaker which apparently addressed all these new needs. As you may expect, they were just glorified gap-fills and controlled practice activities. However, in the coffee break afterwards several teachers I spoke to had been wowed by the whole talk and wanted to know where they could get the CD-ROM or download the material.

My view is that this example and other similar uses of technology are actually taking us backwards rather than forwards. A big part of the problem is that for a long time, CALL applications have been designed by computer specialists rather than language education specialists. Add to that a desire from publishers to say they have an updated version of the course book with a supplementary software package and you get ‘interactive resources’ like the one I described above.

Anyway, my intention when I started this reply was to highlight the benefits of using technology in and out of class so it’s time I started doing so. ;)

I think the plethora of resources available via web 2.0 is the way forward. In the past, CD-ROMs and other programmes designed specifically for the language classroom have been too restrictive and repetitive. However, there are now a lot of truly interactive tools out there which allow user-generated input and (quite often) peer-to-peer comments and feedback. The fact that most of these resources were not designed with language learning or education in mind is also a bonus as they are not restricted or controlled by considerations of language level, allowing for greater learner-autonomy and flexibility.

As I commented recently on another blog post, the question we should ask when considering whether or not to use a particular application of technology in class is not so much Postman’s “what is the problem that this is the solution for?” but rather “what are the opportunities that this can create?” If it allows for collaboration and learner input/personalisation, promotes autonomy and is straightforward to use, I will consider using it.

And as a final consideration, I would ask if it is worth the time required to set it up. I remember years ago when I was tasked with creating a series of PowerPoint slideshows for use in class and I spent ages trying to come up with something for There is/are before deciding that using items in the classroom was much more effective and quicker. :)

1 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Dave, for the comment. I’m going to leapfrog all the other (brilliant!) comments to deal with yours first, because you pick up nicely on the final point in my original post, i.e. regarding the benefits of educational technology, which – to say the least – I rather underrepresented. Your third-to-last paragrpah captures this very well, and I think it’s the out-of-class benefits that impress me the most. Or even, dare I say it? – instead-of-class. I have a friend who’s been learning Turkish using two simple tools: Skype and the Skype plug-in Pamela which allows recording of the conversations he has with his Turkish-speaking interlocutor. That’s all – unless you include the word processing program where he transcribes the conversations himself. All you need, really.

1 05 2011
DaveDodgson

Despite making my career out of language teaching, I still maintain that the best way to learn is outside the classroom in an immersion environment (after all, that’s the way I learnt Turkish). Obviously, this is not possible for everyone and the example you give illustrates a fantastic way technology can help overcome barriers of distance and location. Plus, it has the added benefit of the option to record and subsequently revisit the interactions.

I also value the out-of-class uses of technology (partly by force as my school’s web filter still blocks many of the sites I would like to use). Students can not only work on projects etc but they can also easily get in touch with the teacher and/or their peers to get feedback and suggestions without having to wait for the next class or face-to-face session. (There is, of course, the annoyance of people expecting instant replies but that’s another discussion entirely!)

Then, there is the opportunity to connect with other language learners, teachers and people around the globe, which can be a source of motivation both to produce more and produce better quality work. A great example of this is the class blog made by Greta Sandler’s students in Argentina. The students were clearly motivated to write in English and connect with others beyond the classroom.

1 05 2011
Graham Stanley

Thanks for this post, Scott. There are lots of issues here, and I’m happy to see the ‘edutech/no edutech’ debate has at least moved on, shifting away from the ‘should we use it?’ to the ‘We should be careful when and for what reasons we use it.’

I think you are also right that all of us who are interested in exploring the use of technology in language learning and teaching now need to take a step back before embracing the latest thing and asking ourselves ‘How can I use this in the classroom?’ . One of the first questions (when faced with a choice of using edutech) we should indeed ask is, as Dave discovered after playing with Powerpoint, ‘Is it worth using this in the classroom or are there better ways to do what I want to do?’

With the increase in choice that a teacher has, that technology has given us, it is becoming increasingly important for all teachers to develop the necessary skills, experience, and judgement to decide when to use edutech and when not to, and to think carefully what to use it for (i.e. only if it is going to do the job better than if you didn’t use it). Your voice here, as always, is a welcome reminder to us about this.

1 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for joining the discussion, Graham. As one of those well versed in the uses of educational technology, and very articulate in promoting its principled use, your comments are especially welcome. I really would like to see a more balanced approach to the uses of technology in – say – training contexts (e.g. CELTA, DELTA) , where it seems that either nothing is done about it at all, or the ‘tech session’ is a fashion parade of gadgets and special effects, with no real discussion as to what principles might motivate their best use.

1 05 2011
Chiew Pang

Scott, you’ve opened yet another can of worms while the wriggly things are still escaping from the other! Or should I say others?
In any case, this debate will carry on for a long time, I’m sure. My stance on this is clear as my blog will attest, but just as use of technology doesn’t guarantee good teaching, neither does the use of good coursebooks nor dogme, for that matter.

Yin and Yang; good education is all about balance. Harmony. Both teachers and students have to have the desire to teach & learn for a class to function well. If dogme helps to achieve this, then it works. If technology helps to achieve this, then it works, too.

In one aspect, dogme & tech go hand-in-hand. I’ve seen too many teachers who swear by their coursebooks and their paper handouts (which, incidentally, always end up in the bins). I’ve seen too many teachers who have got lazy, who don’t see the need for any preparation because they have taught from the same book year after year…

If technology “liberates” these teachers from their false comfort, it has won a significant battle.

If technology reduces the astronomical amount of paper being wasted, it has won another.

1 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Chiew, and it’s good to be reminded that there are degenerate versions of dogme teaching, just as there are degenerate versions of teaching with tech. Nevertheless, I would like to think that dogme has more ‘liberation’ potential than tech, but at the same time, I recognise that this is a personal bias. Moreover, by opposing dogme with tech, am I not simply perpetuating a polarity that ought really be dissolved?

1 05 2011
lizziepinard

I think technology can definitely enhance a lesson in some cases but not if the class becomes all about “look what cool things the interactive whiteboard can do” instead of language learning. There’s a load of great resources out there, most of which I am still discovering. I think the trick is to be open to it all, but critical as well: Don’t use technology for the sake of using technology, use it when it offers a clear advantage/benefit. Equally, don’t shun technology for the sake of shunning technology.

I’ve only discovered in the last week or so what a useful tool twitter can be. It’s linked me to all sorts of interesting people, blogs and websites and I’ve been exposed to and hopefully absorbed a lot of information. For example, I hadn’t heard of dogme until I saw it mentioned in the #ELTchat on Weds and clicked on links I found in the transcript when looking through it subsequently. I’m sure all my learning will benefit my teaching, so in that sense technology will indirectly have a positive influence on my classes.

I’d agree it has great benefits for outside-of-class learning. I expect it’s a bit like a pendulum, initially a mass of people will swing to the extreme of using it for EVERYTHING and then some critical thinking will be applied and eventually we will reach a happy medium of using it effectively.

(And if I sound stupid, in my defense I am a first-year EFL teacher, so have only scraped the tip of the iceberg of what there is to learn…)

Thank you for this blog, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, with reading it, and look forward to how much I will learn in the process! Always more and more and more to think about!!

1 05 2011
Gordon

I obviously agree with your comment “Don’t use technology for the sake of using technology, use it when it offers a clear advantage/benefit.”

However in the spirit of Dogme, should we not be giving more control of this over to the learners? Learners are imaginative, resourceful and creative people and it seems unusual to me to restrict the use of technology in the classroom simply because we can’t think of a good reason to use it. Just so I am not misunderstood, I return to one of the original tenants of Dogme; use only what is in the class and readily available. Personally, I feel the internet is one of those things.

If we let the students have control of the technology (the digital camera, the computer and projector, the IWB, etc.) just like we let them have control over the topics of conversation then who knows what might come up and where the students and technology together might take us for that hour.

In general, I’d like to say thank you Scott for the post. On this Sunday afternoon, as I plan my classes for the coming week, your four problems/questions about the use of technology will now be a factor in my planning. Does that contradict my first point? :-)

1 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Gordon – I like your way of applying dogme principles to the classroom use of technology, and that’s a direction that I see as being full of promise. As you say, if it’s there, use it, but use it in ways that support joint knowledge construction and authentic communication, always ensuring that the communal attention quotient (CAQ) is enhanced, not diminished. (You read it here first!)

1 05 2011
Jessica Mackay

Also at the conference, I went to a talk by Eric Baber, incoming president of IATEFL, entitled ‘The future of ELT’. I was most certainly a little naïve but I was surprised to find that the talk was exclusively about new technologies. Admittedly, I should have done my homework better. Eric is director of Innovations at Cambridge ELT and ‘Future’ and ‘Innovation’ seem to be synonymous with Ed Tech in our field.

He gave an impressively proficient (everything worked for him!) overview of new software, apps and peripherals relevant to ELT. At one point, we were shown a promotional video of kids using a ‘multi-mouse’ allowing multiple users to “interact” with the same computer. My use of inverted commas has probably already betrayed my attitude. What I (and other members of the audience) saw, were groups of very young learners staring at a screen. There was very little interaction happening. Apart from the fact that the interviewer asked the children if this was ‘funner’ than their normal classes (I’m showing my age, someone pass me a copy of the Daily Mail, quickly!) this product presentation sat very uncomfortably with the Plenary given two days earlier by Sue Palmer
(http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2011/sessions/2011-04-17/plenary-sue-palmer)
who argued very persuasively that young children should be allowed to develop at ‘biological speed’ and not at the ‘electric speed’ of new technology.

Or to quote Milan Kundera;

Speed is the form of ecstasy the technological revolution has bestowed on man. — Milan Kundera, Slowness

1 05 2011
Stephen

Dear Scott

As you rightly say, technology is a tool which, as any tool, can be used in many ways, not all of which add value to education. But why does this make you a ‘techno-sceptic’? I don’t think all course books are great, but I’m not sceptical of the book as an educational medium as a result.

Stephen

2 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Hi Stephen,

I guess I AM sceptical of the book as an educational medium – certainly in our own field – and my scepticism about the book extends to the way other tools might not be all that they’re cracked up to be. That is to say, when the tool itself (book, internet, video game, app…) drives curriculum decisions, then we may be in danger of losing sight of our goals.

1 05 2011
Alice

Hello,

Very interesting topic, I’ve been wondering about this myself for quite a while. My question is: what about inexperienced teachers? As a new(ish) teacher who is genuinely interested in TEFL, I try to keep up-to-date. Since I joined Twitter I’ve truly felt the pressure to learn how to use apps and create flash games. Now I’m confused: to develop as a teacher, should I be working on how to convey meaning effectively to my students, or should I get an IPhone so I can google search images in class?

It sounds like a silly question but I am not convinced. We are not trained to teach without a whiteboard anymore because it’s very likely that we will have one in our classroom. Now I have taught in many classrooms which literally had more than 2 PCs per student.

Will I be considered a “technophobe” if I set aside technology for a few more years and concentrate on my teaching skills? Is it even worth it, or will those skills become obsolete in, say, 10 years?

If (as I catch myself hoping) the answer is yes, it is worth it, technology shouldn’t replace your skills as a teacher, then there’s another thing that scares me. We talk about our students as “digital natives” who don’t think twice before using technology. What I hadn’t realised before now is that new teachers will be “digital natives” in just a few years. I am 22 and mine is probably the last generation that will even consider this an issue at all. WIll English teachers in the future be mostly IT savvy individuals with a sketchy idea about language learning? (or is this what the generation before ours thought of us when the photocopier was invented??)

I just re-read that and it sounds a bit extreme. I’m sure we’ll be fine, but still, that’s how I feel at the moment!

1 05 2011
Kirsten

Alice,

If you’re like me, I’m 25 and my generation had just started to get these SMART boards in class, but I only remember them being used a few times, mainly by the biology teacher so that he could save his slides. He was using it as an ordinary blackboard, as we were sort of caught between white and blackboards then. Sorry if I’m supposed to say chalkboard, but we always, always called it a blackboard.

I think that teaching skills are of primary importance for a new teacher. Ultimately, tech fails quite often, and then you’re left looking stupid. As teachers, we need to develop these quick-thinking skills to overcome tech failures, and other failures for that matter.

I haven’t investigated all the online resources. There are many great blogs who say “Look at these” and I don’t, because I’m overwhelmed by how much is out there. All these cartoon-making applications and voice thingies… I don’t really know what they are for and I am tired preparing for tomorrow. My tech time will come, and in the meantime, thinking of how I can encourage interaction between my students in other ways takes priority. It’s not that I don’t agree with technology. I just don’t like evangelism of any sort. When people hype something, I get put off.

Don’t forget that IT is still a luxury in certain places. In my place of work, we have one room with a fixed IWB out of 5 classrooms, and one laptop we can use between the others. In other contexts, there is nothing available. Being the best teacher you can be with nothing is important, and then the rest are things you can add on. That’s how I look at it. The real world with things you can touch is beautiful. Even IT is trying to make things as real as possible. Technology imitating reality.

Do I seem like a technophobe? I’m really not. I genuinely appreciate the fabulous things that can be done. But there is soooo much to take in. And training seems thin on the ground.

And for a point of interest regarding technology for edutainment, my kids’ two favourite games are Simon Says and Hangman. On the boring old whiteboard. These were games we used to play in class. I suppose, for as much as they say our brains are changing, they can’t be changing that much.

1 05 2011
Alice

Kirsten,

Thank you, your third paragraph (and your reply in general) expresses exactly how I feel. I am overwhelmed by the amount of great stuff out there, and at the same time I think I’d be better off reading about how to motivate my students or how to introduce functional language more effectively than learning how to make avatars speak with my voice. The problem is that this is one of the few blogs I know where I feel encouraged to learn about things other than technology. I just wish there were as many opportunities to learn about pedagogy and teaching skills as there are tech-related tweets. But maybe I’m just looking in the wrong places!

2 05 2011
Steve Bolton

> We talk about our students as “digital natives” who don’t think twice before using technology. What I hadn’t realised before now is that new teachers will be “digital natives” in just a few years.

Worrying indeed.

Actually it wouldn’t be so bad if they did only think once, instead of twice, provided it was good thinking. As noted many times in this discussion and elsewhere, good thinking might lead people to the conclusion that there are ways to achieve whatever it is you’re aiming to achieve without having to use a computer.

And if they did think more than once, they might ask themselves “If I’m a Digital Native then how come I have to ask my Dad (a Digital Immigrant) how to do stuff on the computer? How come my Dad knows easier ways to do things, or if he doesn’t, he can figure it out in seconds? How come he knows exactly the right words to enter into Google to get the information I need for my homework? How come his documents look great and mine look crap? And why is he so much better at all of this than my teachers at school?”

2 05 2011
tony gurr's

Hi Steve,

I agree this whole debate about digital natives and digital immigrants has become a bit of stick to beat people up with. Once again, an example of people picking up a “sexy phrase” without thinking about the realities behind the concept.

It is not about “young kids” and “old farts” as many simplistically note – it’s about how people engage with the digital world, what they believe and value about technology, and how they use it.

Zur & Zur (in the article I shared earlier) make the point that natives and immigrants have the “same” sub-cultures (in both “tribes” there are the “avoiders”, the “minimalists”, the “enthusiasts” and the “over-users” [or addicts]). The thing is that the immigrants have a higher proportion of minimalists (this is why we hear so many anti-technology voices in this group) – but, and this is the interesting thing, a lot of the “giants” of technology are actually much “older”.

There are a large number of digital immigrants who are “avoiders”. While they use Facebook 24/7 – they know little about “how it actually works”. As you say, there are many “mums” and “dads” out there who are just as tech-savvy as their kids (more so sometimes).

Maybe, all this talk about technology “haters” and “lovers” needs to stop – all this talk of “absolutes”, as Obi-wan reminds us, is for the “Sith” and we know what happened to them :-)

T..

2 05 2011
Paul Maglione

Great comment string; swimming against the tide however I’d like to post a defense against those who are describing the notion of “digital natives” as a mere figment of the collective imagination. The real game-changer in the past 10 years has been the widespread distribution and use of internet protocol technology, which allows, for the first time, a truly non-linear use of media; true multilateral, social interactivity; and user-generated content. The effects on anyone having grown up with these realities is fairly evident: this generation truly does not communicate (write letters? Forget that, they have abandoned e-mail) or attack problems (a user manual? what’s that?) in quite the same way as their parents and grandparents did. So we need to take that into account, we cannot simply ignore it.

Nor should we confuse notions of “living with and using technolgy” with “knowing how to create or truly understand technology.” I am very much at ease with the way my car works, and I gladly use all the whizzy climate control, GPS navigation and ABS braking systems it features. Do I know how these work, and would I be able to repair any of them if they started to malfunction? Not a chance. That doesn’t make me any less of a competent driver, or impact my ability to use the car under normal conditions. We shouldn’t make more of the “digital divide” than it deserves, but we should track the way new interactive platforms are subtly changing the way young people deal with each other and with the world around them, and ensure that we are not “losing” them because we are still thinking (and teaching) in a purely linear, instruction-based framework.

2 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Paul writes: “…we should track the way new interactive platforms are subtly changing the way young people deal with each other and with the world around them, and ensure that we are not “losing” them because we are still thinking (and teaching) in a purely linear, instruction-based framework”.

Fair point, but there have long been alternatives to the “purely linear, instruction-based” educational frameworks you mention, many of which pre-date the advent of Web 2.0. I’m thinking about the experiential and socially-oriented learning philosophies associated with the 20th century Dewey-inspired, progressive education movement, e.g. Steiner, Montessori, Paulus Geheeb, etc, as well as the whole-language movement and task-based learning, and, more recently, the recognition of the role of sociocultural factors in learning, coming from the Vygotsky school. The advent of Web 2.0 type technologies perhaps enhances the potential of such pedagogies, but I’m not sure it represents a new direction.

1 05 2011
Kirsten

I think I’d like a vocab-drilling application for my own learning. Something very simple which asks me a word in English that I have to translate into Spanish, or a sentence that I have to construct or something. So, for students outside the class, some app like this would be useful for practising what they have learned with me in class. Perhaps as teachers we have a responsibility to find out what apps are out there and then recommend such apps as optional extra practice outside the classroom. Nicky Hockly did point out something to this effect at TESOL Spain.

I think from time to time, some form of game or activity using an IWB can be fun and a break from heavily-focused reading or whatever. The students do like these things. Graham Stanley said at TESOL Spain that the IWB should incorporate the IWB into the class as it is and not let it take over the class – basically that it should supplement the lesson rather than become the lesson.
I hope I’ve got that right!

And technology is part of students lives, so we should have some fun in exploiting these things in class.

Having said all that, I essentially agree with you on your above points. What’s the point of being less teacher-centred if we’re going to swap it for IWB-centred? Time-wise, it’s quicker for a teacher to use other materials, or use a whiteboard. If it’s quicker to use a power-point rather than writing on the board, then great. The time can be used profitably for practice stages. If I’m going to waste hours of my free time preparing an activity that takes not even five minutes to complete in class, well, that’s just pointless.

From what I see, technology should be a treat to break monotony from time to time or change the dynamic, but not be the essence of the lesson. That would seriously water down the learning.

I don’t really accept that we should use computers instead of pens and paper, and I don’t believe we should stop using calculators or doing mental arithmetic in maths lessons, or teaching history because you can use Wikipedia or whatever to research things instead of learning facts. Computers, mobile phones, ipads and whatever, they are all great tools. We should use them as the great tools they are and not use them for the sake of using them. I don’t think it would be useful to bring a microwave or a hairdryer into a class just because it’s technology.

Great post! I like the fact that you’ve added useful labels to the fluffy, muddled thoughts in my head.

1 05 2011
Kirsten

Of course I mean that the IWB should be incorporated by the teacher into the lesson as a whole. I realise the IWB is unable to incorporate itself. :)

And it looks like Graham commented before me!

3 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

“Great post! I like the fact that you’ve added useful labels to the fluffy, muddled thoughts in my head.”

Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner, Kirsten, but comments have gotten buried in the avalanche!

The thoughts were fluffy and muddled in mine, so that’s why I blogged about it! I really find that blogging helps me discover what I think, and those labels kind of emerged as tried to articulate my scepticism. Glad it has helped.

1 05 2011
Paul Maglione

A well-argued post and a refreshing breath of common sense into the overblown “debate” over technology in ELT. I decided not to attend the Twitter sesssion for precisely the framing deficiencies that you describe.

I think it’s helpful to occasionally substitute ELT with “math” or “science” to ask ourselves if we are focusing too much on the whizz-bang means rather than the pedagogical strategy in this regard. For example, does technology help young learners achieve a better grasp of mathematics? Certainly, there are now dozens of times table online games that makes memorizing the table far more fun and bearable than staring at a grid of numbers, the way I learned them. And videotaped explanations, like those on khanacademy.org, can be a useful way to learn more complicated algebra or geometry concepts as compared with watching a teacher 30 feet away scratch them out on a blackboard. But if you never achieve basic “number sense” – a solid understanding of how the arithmetic functions reflect each other; the fundamentals of the decimal system; and the mechanics of equations – you will never achieve fluency in math. Learning a language is much the same: technology can make aspects of it more fun or stimulating; and can even afford opportunities to use a learned language in new and creative ways. But if the basic mechanics are not in place, the learner will find it hard to make much progress.

Technology for technology’s sake is great for those who sell technology. For the rest of us, it needs to be an appropriate means to an end, and can never be the comprehensive, fits-all-sizes answer to the pedagogical question.

1 05 2011
steph

Nothing wrong with a bit of technology here and there, but you don’t actually NEED it to teach and learn English.

I too was at the debate and it went off into all kinds of directions with people saying things like, “Hands up those who use SKYPE” – of course people use SKYPE and Facebook, there is a time and a place. And such comments seemed to miss the point of the debate.

I made the comment that I actually found it really difficult to really focus on what Nicky was saying as I was continually reading the stream of Tweets coming in.

Someone else said, “But I’m a mother I can multi-task”. I’m also a mother and have to multi-task – needs must and it can be done, but as Katherine Walter so astutely pointed out, we need to look to the research on attention and less to our own anecdotes.

In the research what does it say about multi-tasking and depth/level of attention? What does it say about using the internet/games/social networking and attention span? These are not rhetorical questions, I’d love to hear about what the psychologists have actually found here.

3 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Hi Steph – sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner. In answer to your question about research into multi-tasking, here’s an extract from the Nicholas Carr book I cited in my post:

“In another experiment, a pair of Cornell researchers divided a class of students into two groups. One group was allowed to surf the web while listening to a lecture. A log of their activity showed that they looked at sites related to the lecture’s content but also visited unrelated sites, checked their e-mail, went shopping, watched videos, and did all the other things that people do online. The second group heard the identical lecture but had to keep their laptops shut. Immediately afterwards, both groups took a test measuring how well they could recall the information from the lecture. The surfers, the researchers report, ‘performed significantly poorer on immediate measures of memory for the to-be-learned content.’ It didn’t matter, moreover, whether they surfed information related to the lecture or completely unrelated content – they all performed poorly. When the researchers repeated the experiment with another class, the results were the same” (p p.130-31)

3 05 2011
Klaus Beutelspacher

Incidentally, if you really want to avoid too much multitasking, you should really discourage people from taking notes in class, shouldn’t you?

3 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

No, Klaus. Notetaking is a form of private speech – or should be, if done properly – which actually supports understanding, as does gesture when we speak. It’s what’s known as ‘extended (or embodied) cognition’. Multi-tasking, on the other hand, is doing two quite unrelated tasks concurrently, like driving and talking on the cell phone.

Enviado desde mi iPhone

4 05 2011
steph

Thanks Scott. The results from the research say it all and confirm what I and many other teachers especially of teens instinctively feel. Too much tech results in more superficial levels of understanding and trouble paying attention to one thing for a longer period of time.

4 05 2011
Klaus Beutelspacher

“No, Klaus. Notetaking is a form of private speech – or should be, if done properly – which actually supports understanding, as does gesture when we speak. It’s what’s known as ‘extended (or embodied) cognition’. Multi-tasking, on the other hand, is doing two quite unrelated tasks concurrently, like driving and talking on the cell phone. “

Well, interesting point, but that really beats me. At school, ok, it was copy the blackboard, learn it, have it ready to reproduce it for the test. But later, at university, during all these years, through all these subjects, I could never quite wrap my head around the teacher and the pen at the same time. Honestly, I haven’t figured out how to take notes properly yet.

So from my own experience, I’m a bit skeptical about extended cognition here. Ok, that’s a different story, more like “N is for Notes”. Unless you regard paper and pencil as a technology, which isn’t really that far fetched either. They’ve only been around for a few hundred years, maybe the whole difference is that we’ve become more used to them.

1 05 2011
Matt Ledding

Ok, I love technology.

I agree that we can put the cart in front of the horse.

Using tech as a sole means for creating engagement is like using shock value in art: you have to be increasingly shocking to maintain engagement. MORE and BIGGER. Great business model, but using tech to merely “pimp content” (ie: Murphy Apps ; ) is somewhat iffy.

However, using tech as a means of publishing student work, of capturing emergent language, (whether with a pen, an iwb, or a video on a mobile phone) or to scaffold learners with a common visual framework to work together on… this is interesting.

Tech basically works as an amplifier. Good ideas and bad ideas can go further. The tendency of tech, as you have noticed, to be a solution in search of a problem is perhaps more natural among the more tech smitten among us… but hopefully the good ideas will survive and the bad ones die out.

I have noticed that using the (very open ended) game Crayon Physics (CPD) on a homemade iwb can get my middle schoolers talking and problem solving although to get everybody involved means you have to structure the game differently. Very few games are “open” like cpd, but some independent game designers are making some arty games that are much more interesting than a lot of commercial ed software… and you can tease a lot of language out of them, rather than kill aliens by shooting propositions.

On the other end, there are things that have taken the vow of “bandwidth chastity” like interactive fiction, and twitter, and students programming chatbots, or blogging… great for producing and bringing attention to language. Poor tech can allow students to finish the creation in their head, and leave room to communicate it afterwards. Dogme programming anyone

1 05 2011
DaveDodgson

I’m not familiar with how the Murphy app works exactly (or how it is marketed) but I doubt anyone would seriously claim it somehow enables deeper learning than doing the exercises in the book.

What it does enable, however, is for people to be able to brush up on their grammar during coffee breaks, lunch hours and bus rides without having to carry a book and pencil round all day. :)

1 05 2011
Luke Meddings

I wouldn’t worry about digital natives Alice. It’s a marketing term designed to make people feel bad. Since the generation gap disappeared they’ve been looking for a way to divide and rule and this was their best shot. Nor do I buy for a second this notion that our kids are growing up wired differently. They have different options,but they aren’t some new cyber-race. We have so much to learn from each other, from generations older and younger than ourselves, and we have ways to communicate interactively that include books and apps, face-to-face and online. I’ve never felt more perfectly relaxed about tech in my life: these were probably Oscar Wilde’s last words prior to arrest in the Cadogan Hotel (I’ve never felt so perfectly relaxed in my life), but it strikes me as simple. If you believe in bottom-up learning, see what bottom-up technology (Dave Dodgson’s point about 2.0 changing the game) is available, and see if it has something to offer. If you believe in top-down teaching, get your chequebook out, buy unnecessary materials and proceed as before. If you have people of the latter persuasion in charge of your school or school system, resist.

1 05 2011
Matt Ledding

Sorry, my phone batteries ran out, so I didn’t get more than a quick unedited spew of ideas out in the comment. What I wanted to say at the end was that “rich” digital media can sometimes be less effective than “poor”, as the examples in the last paragraph show: they leave a record of the language, are open ended, and encourage production rather than mere consumption. I think that a dogme (material light) approach to programming would allow low bandwidth areas (like many Spanish schools) to use tech more effectively.

Two thoughts in general about the debate:

It somehow didn’t seem “sporting” to storm the stage with a twitter stream. Although I am closer to Nicky’s position, I regret not sending a tweet to Alan Waters asking him to ask Gavin about his opinion on twitter ; ) Just to give a bit of balance… felt almost like we were bullying.

Having watched from a privileged position, Scott, and seeing your use of your phone during the debate, I know you multitask much better than I do, (i am terrible at it.) and you are definitely open to use tech that gets past your scepticism. I also enjoyed Luke Meddings iwb workshop, and think that it is important for techheads to hang out with techskepts to make tools more useful to students.

1 05 2011
philb81

Thanks for this post, I think it highlights some key issues to consider. I think there is real need for a genuine pedagogy for technology – I don’t think that it is the only area of teaching that is theory-light (I think the ’20 ways for using approach is sometimes used for non-tech techniques), but I think that it is rarely dealt with well in teacher training and so there is an element of ‘winging it’. My own experience is that I was faced with a roomfull of computers and had to try and work out the best way of building them into lessons. I try and interrogate my own use, but it is based on a fairly shaky foundation.

1 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Yes, Phil, the ’20 things you can do with a piece of bluetak’ approach predates the advent of ‘electronic/digital’ technology (the modifier respects the fact that blutak is technology too!), but it seems to have grown exponentially within the tech-friendly community. Maybe it’s also a side-effect of blogging, which seems to favour bundling ideas into lists.

1 05 2011
Roberta King

As others have said, it all depends upon how we use the technology. I don’t think we can ignore it, but I also think, it’s not the be-all and end-all. Technology can be used as an outside the classroom activity where we can encourage learners to become more autonomous, which is one of our goals as language teachers, isn’t it? Inside the classroom, we need to encourage interpersonal language skills, rather than interaction through electronic means. Learners need to unplug from the whirl of electronic activity which seems to eat up their time and attention, nearly to the point of addiction in some cases. Then, of course, there is the matter of “text-speak” when using many of these devices. Native learners are finding it more and more difficult to spell correctly due to the orthographic challenges of the language and seem to be bringing many of these abbreviations into their written assignments. For non-native learners, it may well prove deadly. Then again, I might just be an old fogey! There is a time and a place for everything. However when we are charged with something as important as education, we really need to think about the use of technology to ensure it is both necessary and efficacious to achieving the end results.

2 05 2011
Lindsay Warwick

I also came away from IATEFL this year feeling a bit fed up with the promotion of technology without any real discussion of how it can be used by our learners to help them develop their language skills. To be told that mobile technology should be transformational, only then to be shown apps/tools that are purely substitution and/or have no relation to language teaching is very frustrating. (But it’s good to get riled every now and then so I’m not complaining!).

I love technology and get very excited about it myself, there really are some cool tools out there but I’m selective about what I use with my students. The key question for me is always how that tool can be exploited for the benefit of skills or language development and whether it’s worth taking away valuable face-to-face communication time for. Much of the time it depends on the students at hand.

Technology in education is in many respects a marketing tool. Schools need IWBS to compete against each other or they seem outdated. The same is starting to happen with iPads. Are teachers trained effectively on how to use the technology? I don’t think it’s just CELTA or DELTA teachers, it’s post DELTA teachers too.

As I think has already been said by others, new technologies offer the opportunity for students to have more control over their learning, work on different areas of their skills and practise ‘on-the-go’. There’s a lot to be said for this but as yet not all that much has been. At least not critically. Are you prepared to rise to the challenge, Scott?!

Lindsay

2 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Hi Lindsay – yes, certainly, I’m prepared to rise to the challenge – and this blog post represents an attempt to assert some basic educational values that are both consistent with the dogme school of thought and which, I think, could/should underpin the use of technology for educational purposes.

The potential of technology to establish a ‘community of practice’ beyond the classroom walls is something I have had several years experience with now, having helped set up, and been an instructor on, a fairly successful online Masters program, as well as moderating the Dogme group for over ten years, not to mention, of course, this blog – which threatens to become a full-time job!

2 05 2011
Adam

I’d advise anyone who considers this an effective espousal of the use of technology in the classroom to think again:

http://www.twitvid.com/MPUDT

This is a good starting point:

http://the-pln-staff-lounge.blogspot.com/2011/05/teaching-with-technology-basic.html

2 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Adam – very nice! And I recommend everyone check out the checklist for principled ed tech use at Sue Lyon-Jones’ blog (the second link in Adam’s post above).

2 05 2011
tony gurr's

Totally agree – Sue’s suggestions are eminently sensible and practical. Here’s to the day when all EdTech is grounded on her “YES” choices. I wonder how many educational software companies use a list like this?

T..

2 05 2011
steph

Something else that I learned during the IATEFL was Cambridge and IH are now offering an on-line CELTA course……….

2 05 2011
Danuza Gontijo

I simply loved this post; It is totally in compliance with all I have always felt about EFL or ESL. I work in Petropolis, Brazil, teaching students of all ages. The main question is definitely What for? That goes for the use of technological tools and any other activities implemented by the teacher in a class. I believe in the use of technology , if and only if, it´s meant to maximize students´ opportunities to use the language for real communication purposes. We cannot just be carried away just because it is the latest trend. It can certainly be very distractive unless there is a clear aim. I have been using tools in my classroom so as to make it possible for the students to carry out real-life like conversation with more speakers of the English language other than just those in their class. Some have used Skype and others Twitter chat. It was really successful mainly for the sense of purpose and achievement. Students were able to perceive a realistic way to use the language they are learning. Their eyes really sparkled. Still these four questions will accompany me forever throughout my lesson planning to make me think even more about this issue.

3 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Danuza. I’m glad my post made sense. Your comment certainly does!

2 05 2011
Daniela A. Meyer

I love the checklist for principled ed tech use on Sue Lyon-Jones’ blog. Thanks Adam and Scott! I also like what Danuza said, that she’s using technology to have her Ss do something that can’t be done without it – that is, communicate in English with more people than the peers in the classroom. Since she says that they have already used Skype and Twitter for that, I’m guessing she followed, possibly without knowing, all of Sue’s steps, because she does not report any tech-related problem happening during the activities. What can be more frustating than that?!?

And, as Scott said quoting Corder, “the use of mechanical aids in the classroom is justified only if they can do something which the teacher unaided cannot do, or can do less effectively”… Remember when we used to invite native speakers to our classrooms so that Ss could interact with them?! We can now use technology to have the guests attend our classes virtually! Well, I’m going to end here because this path is probably going to take me/us started on to the issue of ‘promoting native speakers’ English’ vs NNS – another huge and controversial topic. Maybe it can be your next one, Scott?! N is for Native or Non-native speakers/teachers?!
In the meantime, thank you for all your thought-provoking posts!

2 05 2011
Sue Lyon-Jones

Thanks Scott, Adam & Tony for the kind words and positive feedback about my checklist, and for adding a link to it; I hope people find it useful.

Great post and comments, and it’s really good to see new life being breathed into this particular debate!

I’ve arrived a bit late to this because I’ve been busy over the bank holiday, but would like to pick up on a couple of points that I think may be worth considering further.

Firstly, I think we sometimes forget that educators have been using technology in their lessons in some shape or form for a very long time, i.e. photocopiers, OHPs, tape recorders and such. Although the technology has evolved and moved forward, the same yardstick still applies with regards to balanced use. If we are interested in developing further as teachers, then it seems to me that we should be proactive about exploring the possibilities and potential benefits that advances in technology might bring to the classroom.

Secondly, (sticking my neck out a bit, perhaps) I think we really need to drop this “digital natives, digital immigrants” business. Learning is a lifelong process and we need to broaden out the discussion to consider pedagogies for using technology that can be applied to students of all ages, rather than just focusing on using technology with young learners, which is what seems to be mainly happening at the moment.

As others have pointed out, people are individuals and it seems to me that we should be treating them as such, rather than making assumptions about how tech savvy they are (to borrow one of Gavin’s terms) on the basis of age and/or unproven stereotypes.

2 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Sue – it’s great that the likes of yourself and Graham Stanley feel comfortable making your (measured) voices heard on this particular platform. And thanks once again for your excellent checklist – I intend to use this with my methodology class in the summer (fully attributed, of course!).

I’m glad you feel that there is ‘new life’ being breathed into the debate – I feel that too, and if nothing else I hope this thread has helped reduce the gap that the other debate (the ELT J one) somewhat artificially exacerbated – I mean, the gap between the -philes and the -phobes. The unplugged folks need to pay more attention to the ways that the tech-savvy are incorporating ed-tech in order to provide dogme-like learning opportunities in – and beyond – their classes (one reason why Howard Vickers was on the Dogme Symposium panel at IATEFL). And the tech-smitten need to listen to how those who use little or no tech also manage to create learning opportunities, and, with minimal means, achieve learner satisfaction in their classes. It’s not a case of either/or. It’s simply a plea for a principled approach to the use of resources – whatever they are. Your checklist provides an excellent rubric for this purpose.

2 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Apropos of your last point, Sue, about avoiding stereotyping: my nephew in Japan who is in his mid-twenties can only just attach a photo to an email, but still doesn’t know how to reduce its size. My mother-in-law, in her eighties, maintains her own blog and regularly video-skypes to her widely distributed family.

2 05 2011
Anne

Hi Scott,
To me, the crucial point is to make the most out of the short time my adult academic and business students have for “just” English classes. They expect to get more and more out of less and less time – more skills, more content, more connections to sources of information and to networks that they can continue to milk outside class. They are clearly far more autonomous. I find that, with less time, their need for face quality has gone up, too. So I’m a helicopter teacher, jumping in to start off right where we left off last time. Or did we really leave off? We’ll have been in touch via after class email feedback including links to voice recordings they make of themselves, or writing they hand in or share; keeping up via Facebook, Moodle and Twitter; some of us meeting up at a jour fixe at a cafe, arranged through text messages or emails; connected through the feeds they read and discuss. It seems to me that learning and teaching is giving way to networking. Learners don’t ask for technology, that’s true, but they do need to be led in developing the most effective ways of simplifying all of this networking.
Maybe this is a skewed view of things, but I remember when my learners came in and enjoyed having the time off together. Am I alone in sensing that this has changed? At least in my world, I really deplore the loss of time.

3 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Good point Anne (and sorry your comment took so long to appear – for some reason it ended up in the spam queue).

I have been experiencing for myself – over the last few years – the amazing potential of digital technologies to establish and maintain ‘communities of practice’ beyond the classroom – and this is one of the benefits I alluded to in my original post. I’m proud to say that my face-to-face students in my MA class once called me the ‘most tech-savvy’ of their teachers. But only because I used the available tools (mostly Blackboard) to create between-class continuity, by, for example, making the session handouts available, using the announcements tool, etc – but not (I hope) using the tech in the classes themselves in ways that might be prejudicial to the face-to-face dymanic (one reason why I strongly discourage laptop use in my classes).

13 05 2011
Chris Bowie

Absolutely agree Scott! Keep laptops and gadgets out of the face-to-face classroom. It seems to me that teaching people how to communicate face-to-face might become a subject in its own right someday soon…

2 05 2011
Nicky Hockly

Having just come back from a tech and RSS free weekend in Seville, I seem to the last one to have read this blog post- excellent as always. Just to set the record straight: in the ELTJ debate Alan Waters and I were arguing for exactly the same thing- a principled use of technology in ELT. Funnily enough not many people picked up on that, which suggests to me that no-one was actually listening :-)

2 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Hi Nicky – glad you could drop by – I hope you don’t mind my posting that photo of us together at the EOI conference last year! As for the debate, it’s probably a case of people hearing what they wanted to hear (although those who were tweating were probably hearing even less) ;-)

2 05 2011
Klaus Beutelspacher

Wow what a post, and what surge of comments!

Now I don’t visit conferences, but I’ve been in this for some 25 years in different positions and from various perspectives. I’d like to throw in my two Euro-cents here too.

“Technology” as it’s widely understood and as it’s been sold over the years, well, it sucks. My classroom is completely tech-free. Yet in language learning, and consequently in teaching, it should change everything. How’s that?

We are talking about media, and media convey content and interaction. When books were too expensive to be widespread, you had to employ a language master or go abroad to learn another language. When language learning became more common and printing got cheaper, books were the medium or the technology of choice. But since their content was not suitable for learners, and the teaching personnel was not really qualified to turn them into interaction – most didn’t know the language they were teaching – specific media had to be created: Textbooks with adequate content and easy-to-use prescriptions for interactions, i.e. exercises. This was true until the 1970ies at least.

It is important to note that all the (specific) media and associated methods were conceived under a deprivation of (general) media and qualified people. I guess the same holds true for the development of the audiolingual method or any other situation where technology appeared to be the driving force for educational change.

But now, it’s the basic condition that has changed. It started about 10 years ago (not much earlier) with the spread of the DVD. Along came the internet, and the explosion of its storage, transmission and processing capacities. The lack is over, there is language galore everywhere. That’s what should change everything.

The issue is not: How do I use tech within the classroom. The issue is about learning without the classroom. I rephrase this. With this much content and interaction readily available, what is still left for the teacher to do with his students? That means: we are back to the luxury of asking original pedagogical questions, rather than just applying recipes. And the universal presence of language bestows this opportunity upon us. Isn’t that wonderful? Teachers should jubilate! All this is just a side effect of technology, no more.

Btw, some of the best schools in the world (predominantly in Scandinavia I guess) are already practicing this. They have abolished the traditional concept of “class” and they wouldn’t have rooms for them anyway.

Of course this has nothing to do with the “educational software” they are trying to sell us. A cloze exercise from the 50ies doesn’t get better just because it’s on a computer. A nice piece of spoken text can come from anywhere, it doesn’t need the textbook CD. A blackboard doesn’t become a brilliant idea just by making it white and fancy. And the virtual classroom, oh well…

All this is about spinning old ideas and structures in such a way that they can be perpetuated in new situations where they would actually be obsolete. With the abundance of general media, the need for specific media, computer based or not, is tending towards negligible.

2 05 2011
Dan Humm Soriano

Thanks Scott,

Yet again you have forced me to reconsider my current position on teaching. I agree that this dichotomy is incredibly pervasive in ELT at the moment and potentially very damaging: the technophiles continue to feel smug in their grasp of this brave new world and the technophobes simply ignore any advance made because “it isn’t for me”.

I feel your technosceptic is a very sensible position to take but it is a negative term to use as it suggests an air of mistrust; perhaps technotentative might be a better one. Also I’m not sure I agree with all of your ideas.

The delivery model problem is definitely a real problem and most of all for mobile learning. I have been at conferences where mobile learning is flagged as the future not only for EFL but also for computers in general but the apps out there for language learning are appalling (see http://www.constellata.com/comment/elt-needs-to-get-a-grip-on-smartphones/)

The added value problem I personally don’t see so much as a problem but as a position to take. For all the technotentatives out there, it seems a very good idea for them to not immediately leap onto the bandwagon without any idea of where it is headed and whether or not it is the most suitable form of transport for them. IT is not a panacea. As always, intelligent use of anything will be the most effective way to “cure” any classroom ailment.

The attention deficit problem seems to be a criticism of IT frequently made by the Web 0.2 generation and never the Web 2.0 one. People who have grown up using these tools for their education do not instantly feel that they are unable to concentrate and that these tools provide too much white noise. If anything, they have had their skills of analysis made much sharper because of the presence of so much information. That is not to say that more work could be done in this respect but by the look of Coco’s comments above, interactive technology hasn’t been too damaging.

The theory vacuum problem I have to say, I do not see as a problem at all. When you first wrote your call to arms “A Dogma for EFL” in 2000, the theories supporting Dogme as an approach were not there yet. I remember working with Luke at Lilian Bishop and feeding off his ideas of what Dogme should be and that a lot of what was exciting was the feeling that you and him (and others) had spotted a real issue and that the solution was there but in a very undefined form. Defining that solution is the most enjoyable part and what you and him have worked on so well since then (especially with your book). An important part of working on a definition also involves the application of theory. Therefore what is wrong with a bunch of people excitedly pushing the idea of technology in the classroom without a pre formed idea of what it will lead to? The teachers will benefit from the journey and so will their students.

Also I think that by highlighting 4 potential problems you have missed what most people love about educational technology now: the new found excitement. Teachers are discovering new websites and new tools all the time; students are finding new ways to learn and everyone has new ways to share their discoveries with each other. Dogme would not have grown in its popularity and use had it not been for that Yahoo groups site you set up with Luke in 2000 enabling people all over the world to share ideas.

I grant you that in this new gold rush a lot of mud and rocks will be mistaken for nuggets of gold (or even McNuggets!) but think how many exciting new approaches and new ways to teach will emerge; I only hope that people are not too tentative or even sceptical to try them out.

3 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Dan -nice to hear from you again, after all this time.

I accept your point about the ‘new found excitement’, and there is certainly a lot of buzz associated with ed-tech, which is often palpable on Twitter, as the links to this or that new tool or app are tweeted and re-tweeted around the PLNs, and the switchboard girls are hard put to keep up with the traffic. But this is often followed by a certain disillusionment when the lofty claims simply don’t measure up to the needs and expectations of both teachers and learners: look at the way Second Life was being touted just a few years ago, only to have retreated to a tiny niche in the overall scheme of things. And tricksy tools like Wordle are already looking oh so ‘noughties’.

Novelty wears off, but the need for novelty can be addictive – as Neil Postman pointed out in ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’. Yet the need seems to be one that afflicts teachers more than it does learners. As Jessica noted (above), her learners seem less fussed about the lack of educational technology than about the lack of airconditioning. This is borne out by a massive European study which found that school learners held firmly to “the belief that language learning is intrinsically related to face-to-face communication and immersion in the target culture, in ‘real’ (physical) rather than ‘virtual’ settings. This view, which is very common among the online respondents, led some to an overall negative stance towards technologies in language learning, while others recognized a potential in ICT and new media, but as a solution of necessity rather than choice” (‘Executive summary': Study on the Impact of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) And New Media on Language Learning. EACEA 2007/09. European Commission). That is to say, if you can’t have a people in a room, then ed-tech is the next best thing.

As for ‘newfound excitement’, you need look no further than some of the presentations on dogme at recent conferences.

3 05 2011
Dan Humm Soriano

Ok so teachers are more excited about potential uses of ed tech than their students. Is that really a surprise? I would be deeply concerned if teachers took less interest in classroom tools than their learners.

And yes, face to face use of technology is key which is why your friend learning Turkish via Skype depends so heavily on face to face educational technology. But the point remains: your friend’s education works that well entirely because of the technology the teacher uses.

I know that you are saying that it is possible to get so excited by technology that it is used simply for the sake of it and this is a real danger but another danger is to leave it to one side until theory tells us how and why we should be using it.

Postman’s fears were justified; in elements of our society, you can see the PC taking away from individuals socialising with one another. But my point was that with currently many people are socialising and discussing educational technology in ways that never happened before entirely because of technology.

With the existence of great resources like the Teachable Moment website that Postman’s long time colleague Shapiro helped to create, the possibility of new teaching methods emerging is much greater.

Why would we worry about a lack of added value and a theory vacuum if we can try out something new and discover its value and create new theories?

3 05 2011
darridge

For me, the best thing about IWBs was being able to save the notes on the board from every class – all the humorous asides, the silly things that people said, the hilarious drawings etc, and use them at the beginning of next class and for the last class as a look back. You could build a real class history from them, which was easy to access (you remember what…said a couple of classes ago – bang! There it is!).
Nothing particularly technologically whiz-kid about that.

3 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Darridge. Agreed – I became a convert to digital whiteboards after seeing a presentation by Tom Walton at IH Barcelona, where he used NO publisher software but simply sent up the WB as a kind of class ‘scratch pad’ or ‘work bench’ within a dogme-based pedagogical approach. A case of principled use of technology, if ever I saw one. You can read more about Tom’s uses of the DWB here:

http://blogs.ihes.com/tech-elt/?p=480

3 05 2011
Kevin Ryan

A new attitude towards learning with technology has some eerie parallels between Dogme and tech. I’m talking about Network-based learning, or Connectivism. These are manifested in huge (1,000+) classes distributed across the Internet, indeed working their way into almost every nook and cranny. These are called MOOCs (Massively Online Open Courses), and among the leading proponents are two Canadians, George Siemens and Stephen Downes. They often argue for learner autonomy in the form of building a Personal Learning Environment (PLE), which is more than a set of online and offline tools, it is an attitude that learning is to be found at its source. It eschews texts and other organized materials, some even argue against the traditional classroom. People work together to construct their own learning, helping each other with the structure along the way.

I can see this approach applied to language learning without too much effort. (I call it a PLLE.) We are finally coming into an age where we can ignore technology because it is such a common part of our lives. Not quite the “CALL is dead, long live CALL” scenario, but as we see a parallel approach to learning from outside the current institutions, it will have a disruptive effect on the less effective of those institutions.

3 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Kevin. One of the great things about blogging is all the stufff you learn from the comments. This (PLLE) is something I’d like to follow up on. As you say, it may be nicely congruent with dogme principles – certainly the notion of co-constructed learning opportunities sounds very dogme.

3 05 2011
Mark Kulek

For sure, we all teach in a differentent situation. As for me, I teach English conversation. My students meet for 75 minutes once a week. Obviously, not much space for technology. However, what technology has done for me is on the prep end of my teaching. Fifteen years ago when I started teaching English conversation, I was at the mercy of the textbook. I had few choices for supplementing the textbooks. Now with so many resources on the Web, I can make my own materials, which I do. Creating my own materials has reenergized me and staved off teacher burnout.

Thank you technology for allowing me to be a better teacher.
Mark in Gifu

3 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Hi Mark! Yes, the internet – probably more than any other innovation in the last 15 years – has radically changed the way that teachers work. The access to texts, images, recordings, video clips and reference material (dictionaries, corpora, grammars etc) has dispensed with the need for those groaning filing cabinets filled with tatty handouts and flashcards that were the staple of most staffrooms when I started teaching. (It has also dispensed with the need for coursebooks, of course, but that’s another story!)

Nevertheless, the same kind of rigour that I am arguing should inform the choice of tools, should also inform the choice of materials. Just as in the old days, grabbing any old lesson from the filing cabinet was not exactly the most principled approach to planning, likewise grabbing any old text or video clip off the internet seems equally irresponsible.

Not that I am suggesting that you do this!

3 05 2011
Mark Kulek

You are absolutely right about using fillers in pre-tech and tech-rich times. It comes down to the teacher’s responsibility to prepare properly for their students.

Mark in Gifu

3 05 2011
Ann

Just posted a link to this on the TeachingEnglish facebook page http://www.facebook.com/TeachingEnglish.BritishCouncil if you’d like to check for comments.

Please feel free to post there when you have anything you’d like to share.

Best,

Ann

3 05 2011
Jason West

I’ve been reading this debate with great interest. Can I be so presumptious as to have a stab at summing up what I have understood to be the main themes?

1. It seems that people agree that technology is often used for its own sake and that this annoys people because they think it detracts or distracts (both teacher and students) from the aim of the lesson.

2. However, when used merely as a new tool to facilitate communication and practice, technology is often felt to be of considerable benefit to the learning experience. This is because it enables personalised contextual practice of taught language outside of the classroom with English speakers who may or may not be native speakers or teachers.

3. I think I saw that quite a few people felt that pedagogy had not kept pace with technology. So what we have are methods and materials of instruction being used in ways that were not intended when they were originally created.

4. As a result of 3. and probably because of the way teachers are trained (and now tend to work with technology) they plan new lessons on a regular basis, i.e. create their own materials. Which for some people is great. However, this can be a lot of work and as Scott posted above, potentially “irresponsible”. I read that comment as meaning that he felt that they might not be effective or achieve the intended aim for the learners.

5. If you think about lesson planning and materials, you probably need to be pretty damn good and have unlimited reserves of energy (or good financial reason) to keep on creating effective new lessons for use with new technological tools (or even just for the non-tech classroom). So maybe there is a bit of teacher burnout being expressed in this thread and at large.

6. It is clear to me that teachers want to do the best job they can and use the best tools that will help them to achieve the aims they set for their learners. But, many don’t have the time or support to be able to create structured banks of new and proven materials that they have complete confidence in. Neither do they have the time or support to learn how to use the large number of tools and platforms that are being launched on a weekly basis.

7. Quite a few teachers have expressed a belief that technology can and often does improve on the classroom-only experience for learners, so a big thumbs up for what is often called ‘blended-learning’ (amonsgt other things).

8. Someone mentioned that the role of the teacher was to model language in class and support practice and learning and that with increased use of technology their roles will inevitably adapt and change. Would anyone disagree that this has already started happening?

9. I haven’t seen anyone mention that those NNSTs who find it difficult to model language in class (and there are probably quite a few of them) might find blended-learning and the use of technology to faciilatate practice of communication skills outside the classroom quite an attractive, if not liberating, proposition.

So, to sum up my self-indulgent summing up, it seems to me that most people are searching for ways to structure their learning around the use of new technological tools effectively. However, course and materials development is lagging a bit and thus dictates that people feel the need to keep on creating new lesson plans which is a) hard work (often unpaid) and b) comes with no guarantee of achieving the specific intended aim. Creating a lackof confidence brought on by a lack of proven stucture and continual re-invention.

That’s just what I read, but I probably missed a few things! :-)

3 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Nice summary, Jason – and yes, I think you capture many of the strands of the argument. I would just want to add (from my corner) that what I am fighting for is not JUST the principled use of technology, but the principled use of technology according to the principles that I (and my co-dogmetsists) espouse. Coursebooks, after all, are principled too, but not in ways that I generally agree with (e.g. the emphasis on grammar mcnuggets, the anodyne texts, and the aspirational topics). So, simply to use educational technology to perpetuate the same kinds of values as are enshrined in coursebooks seems to me to be a sad waste of its potential. If teachers are simply downloading youTube videos because they have good examples of ‘going to’, well…. that’s not what I’m interested in. The key principles, for me, that I would like to see promoted are: (as you said) communication, but also community, creativity, personalisation, individualization, and autonomy. For starters.

3 05 2011
Jason West

Thanks Scott, I am glad you think I got most strands into my summary. I do personally agree with the key principles that you have listed above (as you noted).

I approach the task of facilitating community, creativity, personalisation, individualization, and autonomy in a slightly different way to you and your co-dogmetists. It is a way that, on first glance, might seem to be ploughing a similar furrow as the coursebook because it provides structure and support on the printed page but it is fundamentally much more supportive of the above principles than most people have yet realised and, as Aristotle once wrote, “Through discipline comes freedom” :-)

The ultimate aim of the materials I use, as in dogme (if I am not mistaken?), is to help the students to forget that they are engaged in a lesson or learning experience and to make communicating in English become, as one Chinese student of mine called it, ‘a habit’.

This transformation of the learner’s (primarily spoken) use of the language can be achieved extraordinarily quickly (in my experience) using the most widely available and easy to use technologies to connect them with fluent English speakers for carefully prepared (this is where the teachers and materials come in) focused practice.

My best effort to date beginner to comfortable intermediate speaker in six lessons. That happened not because I am a great teacher (I would say that I am not, in the conventional sense of the word). It happened because the learner followed a process, supported by some materials, that made use of the language from the lesson achievable in a social, personal, individual and memorable context. That could also be recorded and listened to again.

The materials were originally designed and written to faciliatate learning outside the classroom involving prepared conversations with complete strangers. They therefore work anywhere where people communicate.

I am certain that we all have the technological tools to transform language teaching and learning (in fact we had them in 2005!). But the problem seems to be that the latest research into language acquisition, which clearly shows language to be acquired primarily socially (Kuhl & Gaxiola), has not been applied to the creation of coursebooks and materials by the major publishers.

It is my hunch that dogme was probably influenced by just such an understanding of the nature of natural language acquisition and a desire to re-create a suitable learning environment inside the classroom. Am I on the right track?

I am sure a good dogme teacher could prepare learners for successful online technological learning experiences such as those I have mentioned above. But could a NNST with a lack of confidence in their spoken English do it just as well or would they need an extra bit of help in the form of a coursebook or some kind?

4 05 2011
Luiz Otávio

Scott,
I don’t think I have much to add to this debate, so I’ve been quiet. One thing that hit me in the shower this morning, though, is that technology might create an interesting paradox.
Through the use of the Internet, students have grown used to choosing what they want to be exposed to, when, how and for how long. If we assume that this will somehow seep into the classroom, we’re now dealing with a generation of students who are much more concerned with their own agendas, their own needs and internal syllabuses.
This new “profile” (if we can call it that) requires a teacher who relies less heavily on materials, has an expectional ability to be sidetracked without losing focus and can juggle 10 parallel syllabuses in the same classroom.
In other words, a teacher who has to learn how to go unplugged (or at least less plugged) precisely because of technology in the first place.
Wonder if that makes any sense.

4 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Luiz. Modestly, Luiz doesn’t direct us to his blog, where he expands on these interesting ideas in more detail. You can find the relevant posting here: http://nblo.gs/hqqC5

3 05 2011
dingtonia

I always feel like the class pest who keeps shooting their hand up every five seconds when I come back to a blog to comment! But I would like to “Hear Hear” Kirsten and Alice and their feelings of being overhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff out there that bombards us every day.
I have tried to be “principled” and selective and decided that Nik Peachey’s “Teach Yourself to Teach with Tech” http://tinyurl.com/38fptpz would be a good place to find useful, user-friendly tools. And indeed it is a fantastic site to find out what is possible, and having been screened by Nik, the things work! BUT, I have very little time to try them out (55 hour weeks are pretty standard for me) and a fair whack of them are disallowed by the school’s filter system, making them useless (no chance of the school relaxing its policies, I’m afraid).
I have had zero training in IWBs (not that I’m that bothered), I have no clue how to exploit the potential of an iPad, or even a mobile phone! I have only just found out that mine can be voice-activated! Training in these things is poor and I don’t have time to do the trial and error thing. As Kirsten and Alice said, I would rather spend my time reading and learning about the language and how best to get my students to become successful effective communicatiors than IT wizards……

3 05 2011
Keith Barrs

Need, need, need. It is all about, as Scott points out, the need to use technology in education. I have boiled down my tech use in class to using it for activities that can’t be done as effectively without that particular tech. I give 3 of my favourite below in the hope that others may benefit from the ideas…
1. I get students to record their 10 minute reading circles based on the required textbook reading onto an mp3 recorder. In the next class the groups get one computer and i transfer their recorded reading circle onto it so they can listen together, analyse, discuss and fill out an ‘analysis rubric’. Don’t think that this would be so effective without this mp3 recorder tech.
2. I get the students to use edmodo.com (like facebook but made for education) to keep in contact in English during university holiday periods. They send messages, post links, send out invites etc…all in English. Could/would this out of classroom interaction happen, especially with students studying an L2 in an L1 environment, without this tech.
3. Again while out of class, i get students to photograph English words written in Japanese script that they find in the linguistic landscape and to comment on anything interesting they notice such as phonological or semantic differences. They simply email from their phone or a computer to an email address which automatically uploads the poctures to Flickr.com and then they can check out other people’s pictures. Superb for raising awareness of the english surrounding them but encoded in their own language.

Ed-tech in my opinion has to be simple and there has to be a need for it. Create the need and you create the motivation and engagement.

Keith

3 05 2011
Sharon Turner

Dear Scott,

You are right when you said that you had opened a can of worms. I too was disappointed by the ELTJ topic -you can read my reaction here: http://www.sharonzspace.com. However I must admit that I was disappointed by you not elaborating on the good as well as the bad. You hinted that there might be some good and unfortunately your voice and others are missing from the debate. Is this because you feel there is no good or that it is only relevent to your life? I woul love for you to dlscuss this slde of the issue more. Are there any benifits?

Sharon.)

3 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Sharon. Regarding the benefits, I’ve touched on these in some of the comments, but I can hardly expect you to trawl through 100+ comments to find them! Suffice it to say, for the purposes of community building and out-of-class learning and communication opportunities, social networking tools and virtual learning environments, including discussion boards,chats, twitter,blogs,glogster etc would seem to offer powerful possibilities. But this is where I would defer to the likes of Nik Peachey, Russell Stannard, or Graham Stanley, among others, for up-to-the minute advice.

4 05 2011
Sharon Turner

Thank you Scott for taking the time to repeat yourself. ) I appreciate it. I also agree that there is a theoretical vacuum and one that I am questioning as well when it comes to technology.

Nicky Hockly in her Blog post ‘a principled approach’ It has some of the studies and reading that she used for the debate as well as some extra comments on teaching with technology. http://www.emoderationskills.com/?p=531

4 05 2011
Sharon Turner

I am sorry that I am writing in pieces but I also wanted to share with you some of the last 5 years of reflection on using technology through various posts and video clips. I think it is imperative that we question the use of technology like any other tool and only use it with clear ideas. I thought it might be interesting to show the process of thought and reflection that I as a teacher am going through:

(1) A collection of videos on this topic from my blog: Video Gallery 2 : http://www.sharonzspace.com/?page_id=340
Clip A: Sir Ken Robinson RSA Animate Sharing Educational Paradigms
Clip B: Rethinking Education: Michael Wesch
Clip C: Howard Rheingold: Rethinking Community, Literacy and the Public Sphere

I have been reflecting on the education system itself and the role of technology in this as well as in the lives of learners:

(2) Reflective posts : (1) Reflections on RSA animate http://www.sharonzspace.com/?p=57

(2) We don’t need this type of education:-an intro to blogging http://www.sharonzspace.com/?p=480

(3) Blogging part 2: Shine on you crazy diamond-http://www.sharonzspace.com/?p=525 (slightly tongue in cheek as this is the way I have been made to feel sometimes about considering these issues.))

Currently thinking about..the role of social media in learners lives

(1)A Chat with the Learners: their #PLN, their use of #SM and Technology in Education:
(2)Using Twitter as a resource place to exchange ideas: http://www.eclipsingexpectations.com/eclpschat/82-2/- Done remotely using Twitter.)) Quite good for focus group type reserach.)

(3)After the chat with learners I then started reading: The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick(2010) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Facebook-Effect-Zuckerberg-Fastest-Connecting/dp/0753522756/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1304496315&sr=1-1
As any technology we introduce or use we have to look at the purposes and reasoning behind it.

(4)Twitter Diary for ideas you can access for Twitter :for teacher’s increasing their Personal Learning Network based on a workshop I conducted at my institution: http://www.sharonzspace.com/?p=378

(5)The Right Blend? Nicky Hockly-http://www.emoderationskills.com/?p=508
Digital Dissenters. Nicky Hockly – http://www.emoderationskills.com/?p=488

If there are any more you or people can recommend I would be really interested. I have now read all the comments and it is great that we are talking about approaches here for use with technology because as a teacher this is what I really need.)) Thank you for much food for thought.))

4 05 2011
Tony GURR

Sharon – wonderful :-)

Thank you – I was just posting my post as yours came thru. Good to see people walking their talk and helping others do more :-)

Take care,

T..

4 05 2011
Tony GURR

Scott,

Once again, thanks for opening “the can of worms” :-)

Despite the opening words of your post – and implied critique that many of our discussions about EdTech in ELL do tend to slip back into the old generic discussions of whether EdTech is “good” or “bad”, we still have a lot to say about the negatives. As Sharon suggests – we gotta look at more of the “positives”.

As you noted, the internet – probably more than any other innovation in the last 15 years – has radically changed the way that teachers work. And, it’s important to remember (as Mark – in Gifu – said) how much “the tech” can help us with our own “personal productivity” as teachers. We are all busy people, pulled in 99 different directions – and technology can help us get and stay better organised and better connected to our learners, as well as those learning communities that help us grow and develop as professionals.

Furthermore, if we use the type of principles/criteria suggested by Sue we can also support student learning (by avoiding the “crap”, choosing tools that are “fit-for-purpose” and even “create” our own tech-enabled learning environments).

The critical question is, of course, whether technology is helping ELLs (our students) to learn. Many teachers (those who use a lot of tech – funnily enough) say it does, many students (again those that are very “fluent” in the media and with the toys) say the same – but obviously we need to do more research to help convince those still “sitting on the fence” to come on down and “join the party”.

Sadly, there haven’t been many studies on this – but those that exist do suggest that many of the myths and scare tactics used by EdTech luddites (boy – is that “phrase” gonna get me in trouble) are just that – myths and scare tactics.

There are many studies that show that EdTech can help learners with vocabulary, reading – even writing. Newer forms of speech recognition software show great promise for speaking, too – this is all great news for ELLs (both in and out of “class time”), especially those that do not have easy-access to a teacher or a classroom.

We teachers can help our learners embrace these possibilities by modelling an improvement-orientated approach to life-long learning, by taking a few risks and by “learning-by-screwing-up” (as much as we learn-by-doing).

The future is already here – let’s use it…

4 05 2011
Jason West

Dear Tony, I might be able to help you with at least one case study that addresses your critical question,

“…whether technology is helping ELLs (our students) to learn”,

Last year I posted a short invitation in a forum on EnglishClub.com for the first two learners who wanted some free help to improve their speaking and listening skills to contact me if they agreed I could record every second and publish it.

I got an adult Chinese female and an adult Polish male. The Chinese learner, Jane, had studied English formally in China for 16 years but still spoke like a beginner. To this day I have not met her or even seen her (it was all done audio only using Skype and some PDFs and MP3s, so very simple tech).

The top audio clip is a ‘before and after’ comparison. If you scroll down you will find recordings of and contemporaneous notes from every single session I did with Jane and Waldek (the male Polish learner). They used PLNs of a few English speakers they befriended on Facebook for speaking practice using Skype. So they spoke to me and two or three other people in their English speaking PLNs. I deliberately wanted to record everything so that anyone who felt like it could analyse every second or every conversation from start to finish, and to stop anyone accusing me of clever editing with the comparison clips.

I hope it is okay to post this link here Scott? I know this is my case study and relates to my work but I do think it is relevant to this thread and what people like Tony and the others are keen to be able to prove in order to try and move things on from the accusations of ‘lack of evidence’.

If you look in the comments on the before and after clip of Jane (top clip) there’s a nice little surprise from someone we have all heard of in ELT :-)

http://languagesoutthere.podomatic.com/

4 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Jason – that’s a fascinating piece of research – I’m going to have to look at it more closely, but it does seem to confirm that, for some learners at least, computer-mediated-communication (CMC) offers interactional affordances that are just as powerful as those offered by face-to-face communication. Is this written up anywhere (apart from on your website)? Or is it still work in progress?

4 05 2011
Tony GURR

Cheers Jason,

Yes, more studies like this would be great – thx for sharing. I also know that Felix (2008) has been calling for more research on a time-series basis (but I really have trouble with the whole idea of “control groups” in education) :-)

T..

4 05 2011
Nina Hanakova

Dear Scott,

I had no idea there was a whole movement when I was ditching the coursebooks a while ago (as I was so tired of them and felt like they were not helping my learners to improve) so I´m very happy to find Dogme.

I help my students to learn by doing, so when we learn about clothes we go shopping, when we learn about cooking I invite a friend who cooks an Indian meal with them, when we learn via music, we go to a rock club and write a blues song with the help of my friend Chris who is a blues singer. Is that considered Dogme? I have captured a few on camera: http://www.youtube.com/user/EnglishBrno (that´s technology too, right:)

Thank you for starting this incredibly interesting discussion. I am a newbie in using technology and I can´t but agree with Kirsten, Alice and others who “complain” that the number of “magic” softwares, apps and websites on offer is simply overwhelming. But without inspecting one or two here and there I wouldn´t have found the ones that I truly believe benefit my students so I pay attention to what others suggest as good tools. One example is EnglishCentral which I encourage my students to use for out-of-class practice.

I also support communication via Facebook where I´ve built a fanpage to give my students extra opportunities to practise (via educational videos including my own, posts which stimulate discussions with others from around the world, interesting articles, movie/sitcom scenes,…): http://www.facebook.com/englishbrnocz

I am a non-native speaker and I consider the internet resources a bonus which I am very grateful for. So many more opportunities for the students to surround themselves with English! In this case I consider myself a guide, an instructor, a consultant rather than a language teacher.

I would also like to support Jason West´s case here as I have started using his materials and approach to learning with my students, and those who are open to communicating with the world, i.e. building their PLNs via the internet (Facebook and subsequently Skype), have been improving immensely (but not everyone feels comfortable contacting strangers). As you mentioned earlier (about your friend who´s learning Turkish), it can be very simple – all you need is Skype and people who are happy to ELP (English language philanthropists) the learners. I recorded my students when they started using Jason´s materials three months ago and I will record them again in a month. I´ll be happy to share those case studies with you, if you are interested.

Nina

4 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Nina, for coming on board. As you say, the potential of technology to provide “so many more opportunities for the students to surround themselves with English” is truly amazing, and for learners who are prepared to take advantage of these opportunities, the ‘real’ classroom may become a kind of pit-stop where they enjoy a bit of face-to-face, report on what they have discovered, and are given further guidance as to how to continue accessing and exploiting language affordances on-line.

On the other hand, as you also point out, “the number of “magic” softwares, apps and websites on offer is simply overwhelming” – and, as one researcher puts it “we need to guard against ‘the caravan effect,’ a metaphor in which the travellers (technology enthusiasts) stop for a while to drink from the waterhole (the latest technology) until they have had their fill; then they move on to the next waterhole to drink again…” The researcher suggests that “we need to continue to reflect on pedagogy in technology-mediated language learning environments and assess the extended use and value of older technologies, as well as those that are state-of-the-art, which can remain highly relevant for language learning” (Levy, M. 2009. Technologies in use for second language learning. In The Modern Language Journal, Focus Issue: Technology in the Service of Language Learning…, p. 779).

4 05 2011
Jason West

Dear Scott and Tony,

Scott: No prob, I’m really glad you had a listen and found it fascinating, thanks a lot! I put all the data up so that someone better qualified than I am in terms of linguistic research experience could do what they liked with it. I think there might be a PhD student somewhere doing a paper on it, a few have shown interest. One student who is completing a psycholinguistics thesis (on something else, it was a bit late) at Nottingham Uni got very excited. If anyone wants they are welcome, my contribution to the debate :-) Your other question can probably be answered in my reply to Tony (below).

Tony: I’m hoping to do some more case studies with learners who have found it nigh on impossible to improve their speaking skills, like Jane, so Chinese or Asian learners who have done masses of formal conventional study. Personally I think the psychological process is key to the dramatic improvement. I had a long debate with Stephen Krashen via email and it needs editing but he said I could publish it if I wanted to. I’m not a trained linguistics or psycholinguistics expert but over the last 10 years I have tried to explore that side of the equation in relation to our process. It began in 2001 in London when we had just started doing this face to face. We had Japanese students who went from beginner/elementary to int/up int in about 4 weeks (60 hours of tuition). That got me thinking and I read ‘A Cognitive Approach to Language Learning’ by Peter Skehan (OUP) and found it fascinating and informative. I emailed Prof Skehan and he said he could see why it was working but that no one had done anything like it on a larger/commercial scale. To be totally honest, I was very surprised when I did the before and after clip comparisons with Jane and Waldek. I thought they’d improve a fair bit but not as much as they did. The online version, using Skype and an MP3 recorder, actually seems to be a more efficient process than our normal face to face teaching. To get some kind of comparison here are some video before and after clips of students in London who did short face to face courses that followed the same process in the summer of 2006. I think the best one is Florent but there are others:

Before a 30 hour course:

After:

There are more here:

http://www.youtube.com/user/languagesoutthere

Thanks to both of you for being so receptive to my post and my work.

4 05 2011
Tony GURR

Jason,

This is “great” – excellent, excellent work. Krashen is here in Istanbul next week :-) I think people are selling tickets to just queue up to meet him – so I’ll wait for your “edit” of the conversation :-)

Thx again.

T..

4 05 2011
Jason West

No prob Tony, give him my regards if you meet him! Tell him he still hasn’t replied to my last reference to some research by Travis and Proulx (2010), ‘exposure to meaning threats improves implicit learning of an artificial grammar’ :-)

We pretty much agree on everything but agreed to disagree on one main thing. He, unsurprisingly, was quite dismissive of the fact that in our materials and the process we follow there is some focus on form. He is convinced it doesn’t work and can also be damaging to the acquisition process.

I’m with him on that normally, but not with regards to the way we use it, especially when it comes to learners who have been taught in a very rules-based way, e.g. Jane, the Chinese learner in my case study. Prof Krashen would say it can make learners become ‘over-monitors’ and inhibit communication, especially natural speech.

My answer to his suggestion that the focus on form be removed from the materials was that for many, maybe even most learners who have studied English formally, a focus on form is what they are used to seeing in materials and in our materials it provides revision and support (linguistic scaffolding) to get them to the point at which they feel they can engage in i+1 conversations using the language from the lesson. Prof Krashen has even published that he thinks output or conversation has the potential to provide useful ‘indirect, but often considerable, contribution to language acquisition’ Krashen (2003) http://sdkrashen.com/Principles_and_Practice/Principles_and_Practice.pdf (page 61)

It is interesting that way in back in 2001 Prof Skehan, when we were starting out, suggested that we might like to include some focus on form in our lessons, which we had already.

Krashen and others who have heard the audio case studies have sometimes struggled with the dramatic transformation, asking questions about how much input Jane had had before and during the study period. So, quite reasonably, as scientists, looking for other possible explanations for what happened.

My answer is normally is firstly that she had had 16 years of input beforehand and still spoke like a beginner, followed by a question…that if Jane had not met me and not done what I asked her to do, which was the only change in her normal pattern of behaviour, did they think she would have suddenly improved in the way she did?

I won’t go on here because Scott might prefer me us to stay strictly on tech related stuff but I hope I have given you some insight into what I have been working on. Thanks a lot for your comments and appreciation, it means a lot to me and everyone who has been working with me for the last 10 years.

4 05 2011
tony gurr's

Well, he would say that :-) But, drink lots of “coffee” with him and you might get somewhere :-)

T..

5 05 2011
Sharon Turner

Dear Scott and Tony,

Ironically I bought a book about a month ago and this morning I picked it up. It is called ‘The Nature of Technology What it is and how it evolves. It is written by Dr W. Brain Arthur in 2009 but I read something that might explain our unease with technology. He argues that we do not have a deep understanding of technology and this causes ‘profound unease’. But this is the part that will occupy my thoughts for a while:

“as humans, we are attuned not to the things we hope in-not to technology-but to something different. We are attuned in the deepest parts of our being to nature, to our original condition as human-kind. We have familiarity with nature, a reliance on it that comes from three million years of at-homeness with it. We trust nature. When we happen upon technology such as stemcell regenerative therapy, we experience hope. But we also immediately ask how natural this technology is. And so we are caught between two deep unconcious forces: Our deepest hope as humans lies in technology; but our deepest trust lies in nature. These forces are like tectonic plates grinding inexorably into each other in one long slow collision”. (Arthur: 2009 pg11)

Have a good day mulling over this one.) I know I will.)

Sharon:))

5 05 2011
Thomas Ewens

In his original blog post Scott mentions ‘technophiles’ and ‘technosceptics’.

Perhaps one way of looking at it is that ‘technosceptics’ look at technology in the classroom and ask ‘why?’. ‘Why should I use this in the classroom and what benefits will it bring to my learners?’ A ‘technophile’ on the other hand asks ‘why not?’ How can I make use of this technology to benefit my learners.

5 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Thomas, for that neat characterization.

It also reminds me of the distinction between what has been called ‘the doubting game’ and ‘the believing game’. Diane Larsen-Freeman refers to this in Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching (2nd edition, Oxford University Press, 2000), where she writes that the former is far more common to the academic world than the latter, and she adds “many of us are very good at playing the doubting game… but we do so at a cost. We may find fault with a new idea before giving it a proper chance” (p. 6). The believing game, on the other hand, “requires a willingness to explore what is new”. Larsen-Freeman advises, therefore “do not be quick to dismiss a principle or technique simply because, at first glance, it appears to be at odds with your own beliefs or impossible to apply in your own situation” (ibid.)

Having said that, I believe that there are more “believers” in technology than “doubters”, maybe because we are now so immersed in technology in our daily lives, that we believe it offers a solution to every problem — including educational ones. Hence, the role I’ve taken on as doubting Thomas (no disrespect!), or the boy who piped up: “The Emperor is bollock naked!”

5 05 2011
Sharon Turner

I am sorry Thomas but I don’t agree with the characterization.) I fit into neither of these definitions. There are parts of both in my thinking. There are some times I am a technophile and sometimes technosceptic. Just because I love technology doesn’t mean I automatically ask ‘why not?’. I do still ask why? What is the purpose?. This is where I think labels don’t help. They just put people into boxes and don’t allow for people to organically make up their own mind or have the chance to communicate their real ideas as these create prejudices that then have to be discussed first. I think they also try to make a topic or area controllable and create more misunderstanding which then creates an obstacle to real and meaningful discussion about what technology really is and what it’s role is in education. Why are labels so necessary? Don’t we use a multitude of theories in our teaching already? I cannot say I am a dogmeist or a TLBist because one theory fits all is also unproductive.

6 05 2011
Barbara Bianchi

I don’t have much experience of teaching with technology. It just hasn’t happened so far.

But recently I was teaching a small group at home using as much teaching unplugged as I could manage ;) and I realised how helpful it was for me (no note to self to go & look for stuff for the next lesson) and the students (immediate contact with the ‘real thing’) if (sometimes, when relevant) when mentioning a particular ‘something’ in the flow of the conversation, I could just get up, open Google, and show them a bit of the film we were mentioning, or let me listen to the song we were talking about or find pictures of the place someone had visited, etc.

I think this made things more memorable for the students, more personal (they could go home and look up those things themselves), more real, and the approach to the ‘foreign’ language and culture more appetising.

Just my own personal experience :)

6 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Barbara, thanks for that – I think that what you describe is an excellent blend of unplugged and plugged, where the internet is yet another resource and allows access to the world outside the classroom. Years and years ago the great Peter Strevens wrote: “Language is not a sterile subject to be confined to the classroom. One of two things must be done: either life must be brought to the classroom or the class must be taken to life.” (Strevens, P. Spoken Language. 1956, p. 69). Using the internet like this is one way of bringing ‘life’ to the classroom.

7 05 2011
Anthony Gaughan

Better late than never; this has been a monumental read and combined with similar discussions going on elsewhere, there is a lot to take in and digest.

But a word of warning, Scott: before you follow through on your tweeted threat for your post tomorrow, don’t underestimate the strength of opinion concerning diphthongs ;-)

11 05 2011
rliberni

A late entry too – wow I agree with Jason West this post is about to explode! I love your post Scott I think it gives a very balanced view I love technology but many of my students come to me to get away from it so I don’t often use it in my ‘class’ lessons. I just want to make one point and that is that despite all the discussions about should we shouldn’t we, the pedagogical aruguments about the efficacy or not of technology and the endless ‘badminton’ debates with mobile phones as a shuttlecock, for me there is one undeniable plus about technology in ELT and in education generally and that is the opportunity it has given to people around the world who, were it not for the internet, would never have attended an English lesson, done an English language exercise or spoken to an English teacher. For a large number of people this is a potentially life-changing chance and good or bad, I would not want to deprive them of it for all the pedagogy in the world.

12 05 2011
Heike Philp

Thank you Scott for pointing out that a ‘simple’ Skype and Pamela works wonders when learning Turkish and Jason for his case study. (BTW, Scott’s mum sounds amazing!)

I am looking forward to the time when teachers actively work at arranging peer-to-peer contact and communication at a distance for their learners.
And I don’t mean the teacher-student one-to-one Skype lessons popular these days.

I mean tele-collaborative projects with groups of learners from different countries.
Be it via Skype, virtual classroom, virtual worlds, mobile learning…

What do you think of this kind of potential of using edtech? Will there still be doubt that this might be an ‘added value’ issue?

rgds Heike

12 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Heike, for the comment.

Yes, I imagine there is a future for tele-collaborative projects, as you suggest, just as teleconferencing is becoming the norm now (I am involved in at least one teleconference a week and have also participated in interactive conference plenary sessions and workshops, using Skype, so I can see it is definitely a viable alternative to wasteful air travel!). I am not sure it will ever come to replace face-to-face classes, so much as supplement them, or provide a second-best alternative for students who otherwise couldn’t attend classes – because of distance, expense, incapacity, or because their specialist language needs (e.g. science, medicine, law etc) can’t be met locally. This is not to say that second-best isn’t good – only that it’s not the majority of students’ first choice. But I may be wrong (I often am!).

(It’s my 83-year-old mother-in-law who blogs, by the way, not my mother).

12 05 2011
Jason West

Thanks Heike! I just want to explain that my case study involved me doing pretty much what you said above, which was,

“I am looking forward to the time when teachers actively work at arranging peer-to-peer contact and communication at a distance for their learners.
And I don’t mean the teacher-student one-to-one Skype lessons popular these days. ”

I met Jane randomly when she answered an open offer in a forum thread on EnglishClub.com. I offered help in exchange for permission to record all contact between us and publish the results.

I have never met Jane face to face (not even via online video) and I most certainly did not teach her in the conventional sense. My role was merely as a considerate and patient English speaker.

I also told her how to meet a few more English speakers on Facebook, how to approach them initially and how to develop a relationship with them for the purpose of sustained speaking practice.

So, I was more of a guide or facilitator, and not what most people reading this would consider to be a teacher. She had two or three other English speakers she practised the same language with.

I think this debate has moved on and is now in an even more interesting place. For Jane this option, self-study followed by multiple similarly focused one to one conversations with non-teacher English speakers, achieved in a few sessions what 16 years of formal conventional study had failed to achieve. I suppose this is a more blended approach to online study that doesn’t need to be solely self-study but can be more self-paced and can also benefit from conventional teacher/student interaction for those who want or need it at certain times.

What Jane required to achieve the dramatic improvement was some instruction in how to do it (the exact process to follow + some purpose built materials to support the process) plus some kind and supportive practice partners.

I think this is interesting because unlike conventional one to one or group teaching online (which often pedagogically mirrors the offline world and which for many people, Scott for one, is second best to face to face) this way of working will produce great results for teachers working with many learners asynchronously.

There is no loss of, in fact there is a marked increase in, focused and relevant speaking practice for the learners. There is also the ability for the teacher to monitor their progress (listen to their recordings of their practice sessions) and also do some synchronous online teaching when required or desired (which it always will be).

Online teaching becomes less about being in all places all of the time (and times of the night!) and more about timely intervention and asynchronous monitoring.

For Jane this option, as evidenced by my case study and her prior learning history, was clearly not ‘second-best’, as Scott suggested it was in his comment above.

12 05 2011
Frank

I definitely consider myself an eclectic dogme EFL teacher here in Mexico. And after reading these posts I was reflecting on something that a Cambridge rep said at an international TESOL conference that I presented at in 2008, “Technology won’t replace teachers, but teachers that use technology in the classroom will replace tose that don’t.” So we teachers better hurry up and puposefully calibrate ourselves yo do so. Learners live in mixed digital and non-digital environments. Our facilitated classrooms need to authentically mirror realities of the 21-century. If learners can’t relate to and grow from the outcomes of a task, it’s the wrong activity, whether technology is used or not.

12 05 2011
Klaus Beutelspacher

‘… a Cambridge rep said at an international TESOL conference that I presented at in 2008, “Technology won’t replace teachers, but teachers that use technology in the classroom will replace those that don’t.” ‘

Interesting. That’s precisely the phrase I used to use in train-the-trainer seminars for media usage, CBT etc. in the late 80ies. Some things just don’t change in technology.

Does anyone happen to know who originally coined this phrase, and when? It wasn’t me!

12 05 2011
darridge

Either way, apparently it’s not accurate ;)

12 05 2011
Frank

@klaus in the 80s we just began to see clunky desktop PCs and didn’t yet have public access to the Internet, and certainly not Web 2.0 read-and-write collaborative capabilities. Handheld devices came even much later. I dare say that today’s technology is far more advanced, connective, and in the hands of many than in the 80s. Technology is a pretty generic term best understood in the context given at the time. Paper and pencil are technologies, too. I suppose we could attribute the phrase mentioned previously to the person who invented the first papers. But, that wouldnsort of miss the current contextual emphasis just a bit.

12 05 2011
Frank

@darrudge of course it is. The replacing process is in motion.

13 05 2011
darridge

Since the 80’s? There are plenty of teachers at schools I have worked at who can’t/don’t want to/aren’t able to because of lack of training, school privacy or internet issues use technology.
Ability to use whatever passes for technology at a given moment does not a teacher make.
Anyway, I can’t afford an iPhone 4.

13 05 2011
Klaus Beutelspacher

@darridge @frank of course it’s inaccurate, it’s a threat to some and wishful thinking to others. Most school systems are not really competitive in any sensible way, and old teachers only ever get replaced when they retire or disappear for some reason. It’s marketing speak: Some people are trying to accelerate an otherwise extremely inert system. To whose benefit?

@frank What doesn’t change: Today’s Ipad thingies will appear just as clunky in 25 years time. Meanwhile, we might even have to replace them more often to meet the current standards. To whose benefit?

@darrige If you can’t afford an Iphone, get an Android. There are better products available at half the price. The Apple-mindedness is just another symptom for how skewed our perception of technology can get.

13 05 2011
Chris Bowie

Interesting blog and discussion. I was at the conference but missed the ELTJ debate. I did attend the symposium on dogme and benefited from it greatly…

I work in a corporate environment and as one of just two English trainers for 9,000 + Chinese learners, we have little choice but to embrace technology. This is for two reasons:

One is that our learners are located all over China and it is only by using the internet that we can reach our learners; in addition to being able to talk to each other, I can write things on virtual whiteboards and allow everybody in ‘the class’ to express their thoughts by writing on the whiteboard at the same time.

The other reason is that many corporations simply don’t want to see their money-generating staff spend time in the classroom with all the additional time spent getting from their desk to the class and back (many companies locate their training centre in a different building to their fancy head office because the floorspace is so costly). Corporate bosses (and L&D leaders) like the idea of short, focused units of learning which staff can access when they need it rather than when the teacher is ready to offer it.

There are huge issues with the second reason. Language training is being lumped together with more ‘technical’ training on things like “how to prepare a financial statement”. Also, it is wrongly assumed that when a learner needs to learn how to negotiate a contract in English, they can simply open a one-hour English elearning module for negotiating contracts on Monday and close the deal on Tuesday.

That all being said, my situation still remains that I have to use technology and I need to get up to speed on it, no matter what reservations I may have.

Chris

13 05 2011
Marjorie Vai

Better late than never!

Bravo!

16 05 2011
Jason West

Just saw this article on the Boston Globe website. It directly relates to the use of technology in education (not ELT specifically but is no-doubt relevant) and it should put the cat amongst…

http://www.boston.com/news/science/articles/2011/05/12/study_its_not_teacher_but_method_that_matters/

16 05 2011
Scott Thornbury

I’m not sure it does put the cat amongst the pigeons – if you assume that it wasn’t the technology per se, but the interaction, that made the difference. We’ve always known this, depsite the daft comment at the end:

“Lectures have been equally ineffective for centuries,” the Nobelist said. “Now we have figured out ways to do it better.”

Socrates actually figured that one out. (And he didn’t have a hand-held device!)

16 05 2011
Rob

Jason, have you read the Comments to the article? I found them interesting.

16 05 2011
Jason West

Scott, I think the core concept of a process that learners follow being more of an influence on the learners’ outcomes than the person who instructs them is quite interesting. Especially when a process/system (call it what you will) is to some extent the antithesis of modern ELT with many teachers being asked to plan new and often untried lessons a lot of the time (especially online).

Rob, yes, I have, there seem to be two camps, don’t you think?…The ‘utter tosh’ brigade and the ‘bring on the robots’ cohort. The thing I do find amusing is that (and this is pretty well researched but never fails to make me smile) human beings are often glued limpet-like to their belief systems even in the face of evidence to the contrary. The sentence I like most in the article is this one,

“The professor who lectured students had been sure his method would work better, and it took a while for him to get over the results..”

Doesn’t it stand to reason that the brain, anyone’s brain, will search for markers, meaning and instant feedback about the way it is storing and interacting with data that is being presented to it, in order to enable it to store and recall the data more efficiently at a later and appropriate time.

For me, this is the key passage,

“The interactive method had almost no lecturing. It involved short, small-group discussions, in-class “clicker” quizzes, demonstrations and question-answer sessions. The teachers got real-time graphic feedback on what the students were learning and what they weren’t getting. It’s really what’s going on in the students’ minds rather than who is instructing them,” said lead researcher Carl Wieman of the University of British Columbia, who shared a Nobel physics prize in 2001.”

The ability to support, and then enhance, the natural learning processes of the human brain, in every lesson, is probably what most educators would agree they are trying to achieve.

The brain needs fast feedback to lay down new memories in ways that are easy to recall (the quicker the feedback and the more personally and emotionally meaningful it is, the better).

I can see how the feedback these students were receiving was in some ways very similar to a structured and focused conversation. They put something out and got something back that then influenced how they progressed.

16 05 2011
Rob

Jason, yes, there are typically two diametrically opposed camps in the comments to an article like this one. As for a ‘brain-centered approach’ to language learning, while what you’ve said makes sense, I tend to favor less cognitivist approaches. I admit memory and critical thought are important to learning, but I’m still somewhat of a Romantic, I suppose. As for the professor who couldn’t get over the results, that is the writer of the article make an inference, isn’t it? Did you see the comment by that professor’s student, claiming his lectures really are that good? Or was it only a misfiring synapse on her part? :-)

Apologies (yet again) for cross-posting, but I’d like to share something I’ve posted on Nicky Hockly’s and Gavin Dudeney’s blogs:

I’m particularly interested in technology and society, which of course includes the role of technology in education. I live near three producers of technology you might know: Microsoft Corp., Intel, and Apple, Inc. – ever used their products? I think it would be naive to ignore the context that these three, and many other producers of modern technology, have created and thrive within; namely, what has been called the ‘new capitalism’ (cf. http://everydayliteracies.net/langnewcap.html ).

Among other things, schools teach us what information we should deem relevant and what to do with that information. Modern technology plays an important role in this regard, and technology giants like these three have a strong interest in shaping school policy. Examine Bill Gates’ close ties to The Department of Education http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=3781 as just one example.

My point is that people who advocate for more technology in classrooms, even if they’re simply blogging about it, often make it seem as if there is a great amount of resistance to technology in education although it is apparent that such advocates have a lot of money and influence in their favor.
Rob

14 06 2012
philb81

This report might be of interest to those of you reading this post – it makes similar points to those Scott makes above:

http://www.cfbt.com/evidenceforeducation/pdf/ICTinSchools-web.pdf

14 06 2012
paulmaglioneone

I continue to be amazed at the rich discussion threads that sprout from each of Scott’s posts, surely testimony to the fact that he is one of the only commentators out there who comes at these subjects with enough information and carefully considered opinion to create an intelligent, stimulating platform for constructive debate.

I can only agree with the frustration he expresses that the subject of technology in education is all too often reduced to a simplistically absolutist “either – or” argument, without the nuances that Scott introduces in his post.

To this I’d like to point out another flaw in the general argument: that of an excessive focus on what happens (or doesn’t happen) vis-a-vis technology within the classroom, as opposed to technology as relevant to the overall learner experience. Two IATEFL’s ago I gave a talk on the utility of technology — the right kind, of course – in facilitating out-of-classroom EFL learning, and harped on the notion of “homework” as an under-utilized component of teaching that actually benefitted from being very different, in both style and content, than what teachers did with their learners in class.

I wholeheartedly agree with Scott that the “25 Ways To Use Twitter” approach is often too scattergun and superficial to be of any real use or value to either teachers or learners. But equally, I have never heard a convincing argument against the notion that the more English language input learners receive, all other educational variables kept constant, the faster they will learn. Short of a weekend trip to an English-speaking country every Friday evening (or being fortunate enough to have an English-speaking boyfriend or girlfriend!), it does not seem too much of a stretch to posit that the easiest, most accessible, and most attractive – to learners – sources for this input will tend to be delivered via some form of technology, and therefore we need to see technology in education in this light as well. It is best to always look at the learning journey as a whole, in which the classroom experience – best if as interpersonal, guided and “dogme-like” as possible – is enhanced with sufficient authentic input and English-language social learning – all the better if enhanced or supported in some way for learners – so as to make for a wonderfully rich, varied and stimulating overall package which can only result, in my view, in a higher rate of learning effectiveness as well as greater learner satisfaction.

14 06 2012
Luan

Big issue with this, Paul. Input per se is hardly enough. I’m sure you’d acknowledge that to be effective, input has to be overtly coupled with explanation, deducation, interaction and output. If it was a simple case of the more input, the faster you learn, then you could simply watch television for hours upon end. What I’m getting at here is that there’s an overreliance on input for input’s sake. For beginners, that approach is largely wasted and for higher levels it’s not great deal of help without some sort of facilitation. My point is that input has to be specially constructed if it is to be efficient and sufficient. And this is where the knowledge and artistry lies. This is the principled approach which has been emphasized in this discussion and which is really the critical part of the whole debate. You can’t have any old media thrown at learners in it’s raw form. Authentic input yields the greatest benefits at knowledge-intensive advanced levels. Below that, where language skills are more the pressing issue, I feel authentic input is generally rather inappropriate and can easily become unmotivating and counterproductive.

14 06 2012
paulmaglioneone

Hi Luan, thanks for joining in, however I fear you have misunderstood my contribution. Two main clarifications:

(1) As I wrote in my comment, “the more English language input learners receive, all other educational variables kept constant, the faster they will learn.” That is to say, the input is not a substitute for carefully applied in-person teaching but – provided this in-person teaching is there, as a constant value, or “ceteris paribus” – the additional input does help learners acquire an ear for the lexical elements, structures and usages that start to help them negotiate meaning over time and reinforce what they are learning in the classroom.

(2) I am not at all talking about placing absolute beginners in front of political commentary on CNN, which is why I specifically qualify that input as being “all the better if enhanced or supported in some way for learners.” That said, having lived and worked in several countries over the course of my life, I can tell you that in my experience the “raw” watching of television is actually how many immigrants – most often without the time or the financial resources for language lessons – actually do acquire the basics of the language of their new country.

The whole point is balance, nuance, and complementarity of approaches, and we are lucky to live in a world and an age where we can have the best of both worlds: the essential human element plus technological facilitation.

14 06 2012
TEFL Ideas

I haven’t misunderstood your comment Paul. I was merely making a point about the errors of looking at input from a one-dimensional perspective. Input means many things and I think it’s a bit too simplistic / reductionist to assume that input is generally and without question a good thing. The word has a very Krashenian feel and I think using the word too frequently doesn’t do it justice.

14 06 2012
paulmaglioneone

I guess we disagree then; in my view input an absolutely key component in building towards proficiency and, often, the glaringly missing element in situations where learners have undergone years and years of classroom EFL instruction without achieving a good level of listening comprehension, let alone fluency in production. Personally, for example, I don’t think Dutch EFL teachers are demonstrably better at their jobs than EFL teachers in other countries, nor do they use, to my knowledge, any radically different methodologies than those known and used by the rest of us.. But what is clear is that the teaching of EFL in the Netherlands, combined with the kind of “ambient” exposure to English in that country such as that created by the subtitling of English-language television programmes rather than dubbing, creates a general level of English language proficiency in that country which I think we can all agree is rather satisfactory.

14 06 2012
Jason West (@EnglishOutThere)

On the subject of input I was prompted to think about and explain something recently…look at point 1. on ratios…In a conventional ESL classroom (which is how most of the world teaches) the ratio is 1 (teacher) to 30 (learners), at private schools it is between 1:6 and 1:15 and if you are very wealthy you can afford 1:1. These set ups provide average focused speaking practice per learner from between 3.33% (1:30) to 50+% (1:1) per lesson. If you study and practice the way we do at EOT the process produces a teacher/learner ratio that compares extremely favourably with that of the existing approaches, 5(+) (‘teachers’… N.B. but they can be anyone who is fluent speaking English) to 1 (learner). Per lesson it produces about 496.67% more of the right kind of data for the brain to improve its ability to speak the second language. More explanation can be found on my site (sorry not trying to self-promote I think this is a very important discussion because it gets to the root failure of conventional ESL) http://englishoutthere.com/the-problems-with-esl-if-you-want-to-actually-speak-english

21 11 2012
ICAL TEFL (@ICAL_TEFL)

What an excellent blog, thank you. I am getting increasingly disillusioned with the number of teachers out there who tell us we should be using such-and-such in the classroom because since it’s popular in mainstream life it must work in the classroom. Technology should be use to fulfill a need in the class, not the classroom shaped in order to use technology as it seems to happen now.

26 11 2012
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for the comment. On ‘edtech’ and some of the dodgy claims made in its name, I recommend Neil Selwyn’s ‘Education & Technology: Key issues and debates’ (Continuum 2012). A taster: ‘Anyone who is studying education and technology … needs to steer clear of assuming that any digital technology has the ability to change things for the better. History reminds us that technical fixes tend to produce uneven results – very rarely ending in the same outcomes for all of the population and often replacing one social problem with another… Some of the most misleading assumptions about education and technology are the deterministic claims that technologies possess inherent qualities and are therefore capable of having predictable “impacts” or “effects” on learners, teachers and educational institutions if used in a correct manner. …” It follows that, if these impacts are not observed, it is the fault of the user (specifically the teacher), not the technology. As edtech proponents tirelessly point out, technology is only a tool. What they fail to acknowledge is that there are good tools and bad tools.

19 12 2012
Osman ULU

Mr. Thornbury you are so right. There are many shareholders making technology useful or just another failed attempt to teach effectively. Though, we can not overlook the effort and investment made in technology, it will be a good idea to see the big picture before assuming technology is the ‘magic wand’. On one end of the big picture we have students’ background, how to logistically support technological devices (appropriate software, in-service training of teachers, adequate funding from governments to keep support, etc.), and on the other we have the end-result of already technology-addict generation: who are unable to communicate properly. So, teach the teachers how to use what they have at their hands as investment on humans is the most lucrative in the end. Technology is a tool, teachers are the ones to exploit it.

24 03 2014
Mike O Grady

My moan……truncated version….on “bad tools”

My classes for the past 2 years have been ruined by mobile phones and the partial attention they induce….( foundation year EAP / EFL students in UK)….teaching is becoming a serious pain in the ass for the first time in 22 years for me, including nasty conflict with some students over phone use. Students unwilling or unable to accept their duty to ‘create the class’ including relations with each other and with the teacher. A barrier has been built. Every class begins with a negative command ” please put your phones away” ..no students begin the class, always left to the teacher. Break times may involve 18 students texting in silence, and if speaking, its understood that every act of communication may be cut short by an incoming text..every 1 minute gap has to be filled by a quick swipe, a rapid glance at the screen, attention is never undivided….no long term solution except localized signal jammers…

Here’s an interesting comment on screen world……( applies well beyond the world of children used here)…

http://www.edge.org/response-detail/23795

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