Shaun Wilden, a freelance teacher trainer and materials writer for OUP, gives us an insight into the role of the teacher in the digital age, as well as a reminder that you don’t need to know everything!
Twenty-first century teaching is no longer about the four walls of the classroom. There was a time when a learner of English had to rely almost solely on what went on within those walls. A really motivated learner might have been able to listen to the BBC World Service, see a film in English and, if they could afford it, buy an English newspaper or book, but the teacher’s role in the students’ language learning was key – they were the fount of all knowledge, the model for the language, the ‘one true source’. The classroom provided the space for the once, perhaps twice weekly, forays into an English-speaking world.
But that was before the coming of the digital age. Now, thanks to the Internet and the advent of digital media, a shift is happening in language learning and it’s a time for teachers to be excited, to embrace their new roles, and to watch and help as learning English moves into a new era.
Any technophobes out there might be tempted to stop reading, but before you do, consider this. Teaching has always adapted to its circumstances methodologically and physically, moving from lecture to pair work and from translation to communication, for example. Likewise, we have always tried to make the best use of any materials that we could get our hands on – from slate to whiteboards, from hand-written postcards to authentic magazine articles, from radio recordings through to DVDs.
Why do we do this? Because we realize our students have needs and interests that run beyond the classroom. If we can spark that interest, we spark motivation. A motivated student is a better learner. And the digital age has given us the greatest opportunity yet to motivate our learners so they will engage with English in a way that most interests them and best suits the way they learn.
While we will always strive to give our students the best possible lessons, we have to accept that the amount of time they spend with us in the classroom is limited compared to the exposure to English they can now get in their daily lives. We cannot control the English they will meet, nor can we be there for every student at every moment to help them understand everything.
In the digital age of teaching, the dual role of both teacher and educator has never been more valid – teach students to be literate in a second language, educate them to be digitally literate so they can take control of their own learning. Teach them English, educate them in how to learn English for themselves and apply it to their lives.
In the classroom, we bring material to life and make it animated in a way that appeals to different learning styles. The digital age means we now have interactive tools for the classroom to go alongside our more usual set of ideas and activities, and for those students who really get into a particular lesson topic – modern artists, for example – you can suggest websites where they can go and pursue their interests while getting even more exposure to English.
Applying English to life has always been one of our goals; if students can see a use for English then they’ll be motivated. Since most of our students use the Internet for work, study, and life, the digital age of teaching finally helps bring this goal to fruition.
Once a student realizes they can find out and understand things on the Internet, a whole world of real English use opens up. They can join online groups and find new friends around the world to email, message and Skype. If being online is what they like then they can try their hand at joining the blogging community and sharing their thoughts in English with others, or use a myriad of other sites that will give them real language ‘practice’.
Do their teachers need to know where all of this digital content is and how it works? No. Learners will discover it themselves.