Have you ever tried Marmite? If so, did you like it?
I have been asking teachers this question recently. You’d be surprised at how many teachers around Europe have sampled this quintessentially British product (it’s a black yeast spread, if you haven’t heard of it, it’s lovely on toast). For a simple product, it divides the nation so much so that the advertising slogan for it is: “love it or hate it”.
One morning, while having it on toast and preparing for a ’10 tech things you should use in teaching’ session, it struck me that technology in the classroom is the educational equivalent of Marmite – teachers either love it or hate it, there is little to no middle ground.
As a teacher trainer, I often reflect on why things work or don’t work and applying this to the digital age and teaching, I began to wonder how we could reach those on the ‘hate side’. This is nothing new, the Twitterverse and blogosphere often discuss this question.
However, recently I have come to the conclusion that this constant ‘how do we reach out’ discussion might be part of the problem rather than a step to the solution. I began to wonder if we tech-users were pushing it on to people? “Go on you know you want to use it”, we cry as we get our daily fix of Twitter, blogs, and the latest thing to try out in class.
We even gave it its own name (for we in EFL, can’t live without our acronyms), at first we called it CALL and more recently TELL. We have become some sort of secretive cult. It’s no wonder that those that don’t like to use technology feel afraid. Why would they want to try? Instead of normalizing the so-called digital classroom, we marginalized it. Rather like the new teacher when first told they’re going to teach a BE (Business English) class – the acronyms build up the fear and no amount of ‘you’ll be all right’ is going to make a teacher feel better.
Teachers do use technology, they email, they google and they download materials to use in class. Computers are a part of teachers’ lives, what we need to do is show those who want to use it in the classroom, how to make some digital sense of all that’s going on around them. In other words, highlighting and reassuring them that technology is simply another tool at a teacher’s disposal, to use when they want and see fit, not something that they MUST use.
Teaching has always been full of tools, from the coursebook through to audio CDs; from the workbook to photocopiable materials; from the TV to the use of an OHP. Teachers don’t usually try and use all these things in one lesson and the same should be true of digital tools. It should not take over the class, like choosing to use the pronunciation book, the workbook, the video, etc it should be done because of sound pedagogical purpose. Even Bill Gates agrees:
“Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.”
So what purposes can we put it to? Well for starters we can do what we did before, but technology makes life easier and allows us to update our activities for the 21st century. We can use it to increase student autonomy and perhaps engage them both in and out of the class more. We can use ‘an interactive version’ of our coursebook and we can use the software that the publishing companies make to go with courses. What you do and how you use it is up to you, no one should insist “This what you should use and this is how you should use it”. You need to make a sensible digital choice – what do you feel confident using and does it augment your lesson?
The Marmite effect won’t last forever, as Mark Pegrum says in his book ‘From Blogs to Bombs’:
“History tells us that in time all technologies become normalized. That is, we stop seeing them as technologies and start seeing them as tools which suit some purposes not others.”
When we reach that point we will all sit down, reflect again, and wonder what all the fuss was about as we spread Marmite on our toast.
Shaun Wilden, Teacher Training Coordinator, International House World Organisation
Shaun will be speaking at IATEFL 2010 in Harrogate, UK.