Aisha Walker, Associate Professor of Technology, Education and Learning at Leeds University, introduces her webinar, Technology Enhanced Language Learning, hosted by Oxford University Press on February 25th and 26th.
As I lead an MA programme in TESOL and ICT I frequently see draft student assignments that open with a sentence such as: “Technology is increasingly important in the world today.” The student may then go on to say that today’s learners are ‘digital natives’, that technology motivates and engages students and that all teachers should be using more of it. Luckily, because we offer students the opportunity to get feedback on drafts before submission, I can catch these broad statements and ask students to be more measured and more critical in their approaches to concepts such as the ‘digital native’ or ‘technology for learner motivation’.
So why should language teachers make use of digital technologies? I see two main reasons although there may be other pressures such as institutional policies (if a school has spent a lot of money on a new online learning environment, for example, they will want teachers to use it). The first reason is that digital media are part of the way that we use language in the real world. Much of our day-to-day communication is mediated by digital tools including email, SMS, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, What’s App and much more. These tools are normal sites of language use and it is as important to explore these with learners as it is to explore older media such as newspapers and radio (now often online, of course).
The second reason is that technology can provide solutions to some of the problems that we encounter as language teachers. For example, in the context of a single-language classroom there is little reason for students to communicate in the target language except that the teacher tells them to. Digital tools may enable them to communicate with an audience outside the classroom, for example by posting blogs or videos either to a general audience or in partnership with a class of learners elsewhere. Whilst I do not believe that technology is intrinsically motivating, novelty and variety do engage and motivate students. Technology offers plenty of novel possibilities from new ways of presenting material to new games for language practice.
In summary, digital tools and media are part of everyday language use and should, therefore, be part of language learning. In addition, the range of possibilities offered by digital tools mean that there are many ways in which technology can enhance language learning. But… ‘learners are digital natives’? It’s more complicated than that!
To explore how using everyday digital tools and media can be part of language learning, join us for Aisha’s upcoming webinar Technology Enhanced Language Learning.