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Is The Teacher Going the Way of the Dodo?

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Dodo bird

Image courtesy of net_efekt on Flickr

In this article, Chris Franek considers the risk to teachers posed by new and ever-evolving technologies.

Is technology a giant meteor that is threatening teachers with mass extinction? Are teachers perhaps like the infamous Dodo bird that mysteriously went extinct from its remote island off of the eastern coast of Africa in the late 17th century?

Dodo – such a funny name. In the contemporary use of the word, the Oxford English Dictionary defines “dodo” as “an old-fashioned, stupid, inactive, or unenlightened person.” This more modern association with the word might have relevant application for the purposes of this post as well; as such a person can also find himself on a path to extinction – be it in the literal or metaphorical sense. I was curious about the dodo in writing this blog post so I did some quick research using our good friend, Wikipedia. One theory about the cause of their extinction centers on the idea that because they lived on a remote island without any predators higher up in the food chain, when they encountered humans, they were unafraid and easily approached. This inevitably made them easy targets for capture and, ultimately, a meal.

I wonder if our lack of fear or respect for technology as teachers (as people in general, really) is a correlation to the lack of fear dodos felt towards humans. Are we teachers being unwittingly preyed upon by our love affair with technology?

In the last decade, there has been an explosion of technological advancements, including wide access to broadband and mobile access to information on an unprecedented scale. Through the popularity of touch-screen smartphones and, most recently, the explosion of touch-based tablet devices coupled with an associated rise in the development of mobile applications or apps, information has never been more abundantly accessible.

Consider this scenario: just 10 years ago, if you had showed up at a restaurant and discovered that there was a one hour wait for a table, it wasn’t easy to search for other nearby dining options. Now, if the same thing were to happen, you could just take your smartphone, open up an app, and quickly find not only dozens of restaurants nearby but also reviews on all of them. Now, with the speed of the new 4G LTE technology, you can actually complete this task much more quickly on your smartphone than you could on your computer using your home broadband. This is where the technology zeitgeist has brought us. Not only is information highly accessible anywhere but it has increasingly been presented in more visually intuitive and engaging ways.

Now, education institutions are racing to catch up to the technology curve. They’re trying to figure out how they can get this technology into the classroom and the learning experience. Often, the results are mixed at best. Education administrators are frantically trying to figure out how to get an iPad into every student’s hands when the answer is getting students access to better teachers. I’m not here to say that technology shouldn’t or can’t play a role in the learning process. However, I am here to say that technology is not the learning process.

Technology in the classroom is pretty worthless without a great teacher. With all of the incredible technological advancements that have gone into race cars, the fact remains that they still need a great driver to win a race. What the student and the learning experience are more in need of is not more iPads but more imaginative teachers to drive the learning process. Imagination is not the exclusive domain of Apple. We can’t rely on applications and iPads to teach our classes; they’re only tools. But those tools can be misused, and often are. The accountability for a great learning experience ultimately falls squarely on the shoulders of the teacher.

I often observe that teachers look to technology as a source of creativity rather than using technology to support their own creativity and imagination. In removing ourselves from the creative process, technology has made us lazy. The underlying premise behind technology is to increase our productivity in order to make our lives more convenient through helping us to use our time more effectively. This is the endgame that is sold to us and we readily buy into it because it’s too tantalizingly easy. It’s far more difficult to teach a class with creativity and imagination than it is to hand out an iPad that has a bunch of cool apps that can chew up a nice chunk of class time, thus lessening our burden as teachers. Again, this is not to say that there aren’t some useful applications for the iPad in the classroom but when it becomes a major part of the classroom experience, I think we as teachers are losing touch with our craft and our connection with our students. I can promise you this: no iPad can compete with a gifted teacher in terms of creating an engaging and connected learning experience. It doesn’t even come close.

We need to be able to distinguish between the useful and the useless employment of technology. How can you know the difference? For me, the difference can be found in whether or not the use of technology still engages your brain. When technology is uselessly employed, it merely distracts, which is in reality the definition of entertainment, not education. It’s as if the mind is a car in neutral, engine turned off, being pulled by a tow truck. It reminds me of the wonderful 2008 animated Disney movie, “WALL-E” which depicts a future in which people go everywhere on personal hovercraft-like loungers because they’re unable to walk anymore.

Conversely, useful technology never disengages the mind. For example, I’m writing this entire blog post using the dictation function on the iPhone 5. It has worked beautifully. It has increased my productivity in that I can create large volumes of content without having to sit in front of a computer screen and use a keyboard. In this case, the productivity gains are the result of a reduction in physical effort, not mental and creative effort. Too often, technology is used to reduce both physical AND mental effort. Once the mental effort is removed from the equation, all of the benefits of the technology are lost.

As teachers, if we do not go the extra lengths to bring creativity, imagination, and wonder to our classes, there is a great risk that we will be the unwitting and tragic catalysts of our own mass extinction.  Technology, when it is properly leveraged, can be a useful resource to us but the key is to leverage technology to assist us in teaching, not to replace us.

In a future blog article, I’ll talk about what an engaging teaching approach looks like, as well as continuing this thread of technology in the classroom. Visit my website at http://www.premiere-english.com/Blog/ to see other blog entries that continue the topic of technology in classroom.

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Author: Chris Franek

I run a language learning organization called Premiere Language based in Houston, TX. I have been involved in language learning for almost 20 years now and it's been a wonderful journey that has taken me to quite a few countries and allowed me to cultivate fascinating relationships with people from all over the world. These experiences have deeply informed a growing conviction in me that language and culture are inseparable and in constant conversation with each other--that language is born out of culture and that culture is a natural outgrowth of community. The classroom, in its best incarnation, is a microcosm of a larger community and ultimately, language instruction is all about connecting students to new communities. Visit the Premiere Language website Follow Chris Franek on his blog

24 thoughts on “Is The Teacher Going the Way of the Dodo?

  1. Pingback: Is The Teacher Going the Way of the Dodo? | Who is the new learner? | Scoop.it

  2. Hi everyone!

    Amazing writing! I did love it! It is very useful for us and for all our coworkers who share with us the responsability of tutoring students who use the technological devices routinely.

    Good job!

    Warm regards,

    Gustavo (From Brazil)

  3. Pingback: Is The Teacher Going the Way of the Dodo? | Designing lessons for EFL classes | Scoop.it

  4. Reblogged this on magistra monson and commented:
    Oh, heavens. That’s a frightful thought. Here’s to adaptation!

    • Thanks for reblogging the article Magistra! I think you may have one of the most interesting names I’ve ever encountered. I think the etymology of your name might make for a great blog topic in it’s own right:) Thanks again I concur—Here’s to adaptation!

    • By the way, Magistra, I also wanted to mention that I visited your blog site and I really like it. I was caught by the article prior to mine which was about a topic that is very near and dear to my heart–Mythology. My studies in mythology have greatly informed my approach and views on the craft of teaching as myth is all about metaphor and metaphor is inherently tethered to imagination of which every great teacher is saturated in.

      • TOTALLY. I grew up reading myth stories, and that’s how I got into Latin. It really is a must for art history and literature, as well as a good study of the human condition. Besides that, the stories are just plain fun!

        • Agreed! They are definitely a lot of fun. Perhaps you are familiar with the work of Joseph Campbell? He’s my favorite authority on mythology.

          • I’m not really familiar with his work. But your comment made me look into him a bit, and now I desperately want to read Hero with a Thousand Faces. Comparative mythology is a lot of fun!

            • That’s certainly a great book to start with–the book that put him on the mythology map so to speak. George Lucas read it and it greatly influenced how he developed the storyline with Star Wars and eventually became a close friend of his. I would also recommend that you consider getting either the DVD series of Bill Moyers interview with him, The Power of Myth or its companion book by the same title (or if like me–both:). Finally, I would recommend “Myths to Live By”. To be honest, I like everything he writes and luckily, he was a very prolific writer. If you like James Joyce, he has some incredible work that expands on his profound knowledge of Joyce’s work. I have no doubt that you will find his body of work to be nothing short of mesmerizing.

  5. Great article, Chris; I think you’ve hit the nail square on the head.

    • Thanks for your support Stuart. It’s funny you should mention “nail” as that will metaphorically make an appearance in a forthcoming blog article. Thanks again!

  6. For the most part, Chris, I agree with you. Technology is NOT the learning process. But, as a tool available to teachers, it can support the learning process.

    I remember when video cassette players first appeared in classrooms. We had to use them because we wanted to show parents (and students) that we were using cutting edge technology in teaching (so they would continue to pay to attend or send their children to our schools. At first, teachers didn’t use videos in very innovative ways — they were basically tape cassette players with pictures. But, as teachers became more familiar with the technology, they became much better at figuring out pedagogically sound ways to use video to enhance their students’ learning.

    I think that’s happening now with web tools. Sure, there’s a kid-in-the-candy-store feeling with all kinds of cool tech gadgets available. And true, there are teachers who bring in new tools without much thought to how they will or won’t improve on what’s already happening in class. But, each day I see teachers sharing new and innovative ways of using technology to help their students engage with the content they’re learning, to find authentic reasons to communicate, and to increase their students’ contact time with English.

    What’s more, because teachers are sharing these ideas online — on Facebook, on Twitter, in blogs, on wikis — they help all of us become better teachers. In that sense, while technology doesn’t make a teacher great, it can help a teacher learn how to be better.

    Teachers have the ability to evaluate teaching resources, and that’s all technology is. It might feel a bit more intimidating than a pack of picture cards, but it serves the same purpose in lesson planning. Teachers are experts at adapting, and learning how to leverage available resources to meet teaching and learning needs, and I trust that they will become equally adept at integrating technology . Sometimes, they just need to be reminded to evaluate the value of tech tools in the same way they already evaluate the value of more familiar resources.

    Finally, (shameless plus here!) I’m going to be giving a webinar on Friday, January 25th that deals with exactly this topic. Rather than introducing new online tools, I’m going to be focusing on how teachers can use the technology tools they have available in ways that improve on what’s already happening in their young learner classrooms. I would love to have you join us! I think you would bring a wonderful perspective to the topic :)

    http://elt.oup.com/events/global/bringing_technology_into_your_young_learner_classroom

  7. Thanks so much for the incredibly thoughtful comments Barbara. I really enjoyed reading what I feel represented a balanced viewpoint from someone who is clearly informed by years of experience teaching. I totally agree with you that there are a lot of creative and adaptive teachers out there who are finding engaging ways to include technology in the learning experience.

    You raise an interesting issue that I touched upon in the article–the issue of feeling compelled to use or include technology in the learning experience due to the pressures of wanting to participate in the societal zeitgeist that the technology wave has become. I totally agree with you–there is a lot of pressure to include technology in the classroom. My concern for us as educators is in maintaining our composure and perspective while we are in this technology maelstrom that society has been overcome by. I believe that it is our job as educators to be, as the author Robert Greene so succinctly puts it, strategic rather than tactical. We are being tactical when we allow our decisions to be informed by the urgency of the moment–which is being reactive. Greene argues that is better to rise above the emotional fray of the moment and be strategic–what I would call responsive. I personally feel that we, as educators, need to always have a “bigger picture” mindset. I will be writing a future blog article about this topic. Again, I’m not suggesting that we, as teachers not include technology. I am actually a huge technophile and honestly always have been. Technology has enabled me to, despite being on the road in California, sit in front of the fireplace in my room at a Bed and Breakfast in Monterey, and write a reply to you using a MacBook Air on a wi-fi connection. My concern is that we as educators not get caught up in the speed of technology because when we start trying to match our pace to the dizzyingly rapid pace of technology, we’re just going to make hasty decisions. As educators, we are called to be leaders–not to be led.

    I also wanted to make a small clarification on my intended audience. It is my hope that I can work with OUP to expand the reach of our audience beyond the ELT community to engage the community at large in a wider conversation about learning in general. Obviously, an ELT blog is clearly intended to serve the ELT community first and foremost but I truly believe that there is a larger mainland community out there beyond the provincial island community of ELT that can be engaged in conversation.

    Thanks again for your excellent comments. They are greatly appreciated. I also thank you for the invitation to participate your webinar. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to join this time as I am on the road in California to participate in a workshop.

  8. I just realized that I slightly misspoke in the above reply when I said in the second paragraph; “You raise an interesting issue that I touched upon in the article–the issue of feeling compelled to use or include technology in the learning experience due to the pressures of wanting to participate in the societal zeitgeist that the technology wave has become.” It should have read “that I will touch upon in the follow-up article to this one”. Just wanted to clarify that.

  9. Hi Frank, great post. I particularly like the restaurant scenario. It has given me an idea for a classroom activity using smartphones. Scenarios like this are so common in our everyday life, I want to experiment with it in the classroom.

    I also liked your comments about distinguishing useful employment of technology against counterproductive use of technology. Reading Jeremy Harmer the other day, I came across the term ‘concentrated practice’ in reference to changing the term controlled practice to focusing learners on short burst of intensive practice which can help learners overcome areas of linguistic challenge for them. It’s been with me since. I’m now trying to find ways that I can combine learners interests (usually technology) and ‘constructive’ practice and I’m glad there is lots to pick and choose online he he. At the end of the day, I’m dreading the thought of becoming a ‘dodo’ he he.

    • Thank you so much for your comments Arizio. That’s a very interesting adaptation you have regarding the restaurant example I gave. It sounds like you are utilizing some very imaginative ways to harvest technology in a meaningful way that can serve the better interests of your learners. I think we all dread becoming a dodo but in the follow-up post to this one, I’ll have something paradoxical to say about that.

      Thanks for sharing!

  10. Pingback: Is The Teacher Going the Way of the Dodo? « Oxford University Press | ELT Teacher Research and Practice | Scoop.it

  11. Pingback: Is The Teacher Going the Way of the Dodo? « Oxford University Press | ELT Teacher Research | Scoop.it

  12. Pingback: Is The Teacher Going the Way of the Dodo? | Teacher Research and Technology | Scoop.it

  13. Reblogged this on Stop Complaining – Enjoy Teaching! and commented:
    How are we using technology in our teaching: as engaging education or just interesting entertainment? We should be careful of the difference.

  14. Pingback: Recap of Resources and Interesting Blog Posts – 25 February 2013 | Stop Complaining – Enjoy Teaching!

  15. Pingback: Summoning the Spirit of the Dodo | Oxford University Press

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