The Guardian Weekly
May 15, 2012
Can Sometimes be Wasted on English Language Teaching
We are now 12 years into the new millennium and technology has
become a prime element of almost all English language teaching
(ELT) conferences and journals around the world. Yet, when we
look for real improvements in student performance and effective
use of technology by teachers, I think that the results are
have spent the past 10 years doing technology-focused training
work, materials writing and conference presentations and it
still saddens me to see how much resistance and cynicism exists
among teachers to the introduction of technology. But is it
their fault? I don't think so. Even as an enthusiastic and experienced
trainer, I can see that once technology gets into schools, things
start to go wrong.
in technology has often been equated with investment in hardware.
In many ways this is the easy fix: throw money at the challenges
that technology integration poses. For example, education ministries
around the world have been willing to invest in expensive interactive
whiteboard (IWB) technology without really considering the benefits
inside classrooms. Having made the investment, teachers are
often left to sort out how to use IWBs in a pedagogically effective
way, often with very little training or support. Meanwhile managers
can wash their hands of the problem and report back that they
have done their part in integrating technology.
willingness of many schools to invest heavily in this hardware
is rarely matched by a similar, and comparably smaller, financial
commitment to provide adequate broadband connectivity to classrooms.
Without sufficient connectivity the investment in hardware is
wasted because, as soon as teachers and students start accessing
content-rich websites in any numbers, the connection grinds
to a halt, leaving the teacher embarrassed and reverting to
traditional paper-based resources.
is also the problem of the IT gatekeeper. Very few IT support
staff have any pedagogical training and they tend to see themselves
as defenders of the IT infrastructure. So, rather than being
a friendly doorman who invites teachers in and helps them realise
their technological aspirations, they can be defensive and hostile.
Often this is exacerbated by a breakdown in communication because
both sides lack a common vocabulary for explaining problems.
schools have made the effort to try to put technology into the
hands of students by creating computer rooms, but in most of
the schools I have worked in these tend to be fixed, desktop
computers built into rows of tables. These computers rarely
have any of the peripheral devices such as microphones, headphones
or webcams that would transform them into tools for communication
and oral skills development.
design of the desktop computer and the upright screen often
mean that once students are on the computers and logged in it's
very difficult to get their attention away from the screen.
It is almost impossible to start moving students around the
class for more social interaction. Also, the fact that these
are separate classrooms that teachers need to book out and take
their students to for a specific time slot adds yet another
doubt the biggest problem is the training that teachers receive,
or the lack of it. The focus of much training is still on hardware
and "office" applications or ELT specific software.
Training for equipment such as IWBs often comes after the equipment
has been introduced into the classroom and although there is
some useful software for language learning, it is often simply
a digitised version of standard coursebook content dominated
by gap-fill and matching activities.
what do we need to do to start moving forward with technology?
of the biggest priorities should be to provide not just adequate
but really high-quality, open-access high-speed internet connectivity,
preferably through wireless, to every corner of the school.
Students and teachers should be able to walk in and instantly
access the internet with whatever device they happen to be carrying
with them. This extends the potential for learning beyond the
classroom and can effectively turn a school into a wall-to-wall
move towards open internet access will also encourage more students
to bring their own devices such as mobile phones, laptops and
tablets to class and should reduce the need to rely on computer
rooms for accessing digital tools.
teachers with tablet PCs such as iPads could actually save money
as most of these devices can run low-cost or free interactive
presentation applications that can take the place of expensive,
proprietary IWB systems. Tablets can also be used for preparing
and transporting materials and for producing and sharing video,
audio and rich media content with students.
important is the need for a different approach to teacher development
that focuses on helping teachers with their own digital literacies.
These are the skills to integrate technology into our daily
lives and practices. Technology use, just like the language
our students learn, needs to focus on things that are useful
and that enrich and enable lives.
we are using technology that has been designed solely for language
instruction it is unlikely to have any real and long-term impact
on students. If we can help them to use applications, not because
they help develop language, but because they are the tools that
we genuinely use to socialise, study and develop ourselves,
then we will be equipping both teachers and learners with the
skills that we need to be successful 21st-century citizens.