Oliver has taught a wide variety of students at the kindergarten, primary, secondary and adult level and is now one of OUP’s Educational Services Managers. In his more than 20 years spent living and working in Asia, he has created and delivered Professional Development workshops and seminars for thousands of teachers in countries across the region.
Educators are often asking themselves, ‘why should we engage with technology in the classroom?’ One of the key reasons is that technology provides valuable learning opportunities for educators which can then be applied to ensure technology is adopted in a cost effective, pedagogically sound way that is more likely to lead to learning.
To help illustrate this, let me tell you a story.
“…and this is our language lab!” the English teacher said, as she opened the door.
I was ushered into a large room with TV monitors hanging from the ceiling, a stage, a giant screen, and a console with lots of buttons and switches. As a brand new teacher at a secondary school in Japan, this was my first exposure to a well-equipped language lab in my workplace.
It was also almost my last.
Over the next three years we used those facilities for classes only two to three times annually. Each class would be led into the room and shown part of an English language film for 20-40 minutes. I will never forget the initial excitement among the majority of the students when they first started watching the film, or the boredom or disappointment among some students that set in during the course of the lesson by the time they left. To my knowledge, the language department never used that room for any other purpose during my time there.
So, on reflection, what were the lessons from this?
- Valuable, limited class time for language learning can be wasted on technology and activities with little impact.
- Student enthusiasm can be wasted by misuse of technology.
- Valuable financial resources that could be used better for other purposes can be wasted on hardware and software.
Even though that was the mid-1990’s and technology in education in much of the world has marched on from the “language lab” (most of us carry powerful multimedia computers in our pockets!), I feel that these lessons still hold true. Yet, as more policy makers, schools and teachers look to implement technology there needs to be more focus before decisions are made on what technology should be used and how. Technology has great potential as a tool for language learning, but that without adequate pre-planning, teacher education and educator-led testing and research this potential can be wasted.
With this in mind, I’d like to offer some approaches that schools or even individual educators should consider taking before school-wide adoption of technology in classrooms.
Before using widely:
- Have a clearly defined plan for introducing technology at the school and class level, reviewing its effectiveness over time, and evaluating whether it has been successful (or not) against the original goals.
- Identify everyone who will be affected by the technology. Consult with them to get buy in about the potential benefits of the technology, and what it can and cannot do. (The latter is particularly important). This includes IT departments, parents, students and school leadership.
- Plan for sustained teacher education and training, both on general pedagogical principles around technology use in class AND the actual tools that teachers are expected to use. This should be regular and ideally involve sharing between teachers in your school so it is practical and relevant to your specific situation.
- Double check you have the right infrastructure in place to use the intended technology. If there are going to be tablets with wireless connections, is your network reliable?
When first using in class:
- Try the technology in a limited way. What works well? What doesn’t? Does it fulfil your goals?
- Take a long term view to using technology successfully. Just as you would when trying any new activity, be prepared for challenges and failure, but see these as learning opportunities.
- Don’t assume a technology is “easy to use” for students. This can vary depending on the age of the learner, their personal experience and their language level. (You will have heard a lot about younger students being digital natives, but contrary to popular opinion, that doesn’t mean young students are automatically interested in technology, or know how to use it effectively or responsibly).
- Take a critical approach to the use of technology. This should be on both a strategic and daily basis. Ensure that there are clear benefits to using the technology over more traditional forms of media.
There is no doubt that technology has an exciting and influential role to play in language education both in and outside of the classroom. Therefore teachers, publishers and policy makers have an essential role to play in working together. We should ensure we maximize the opportunities for students to learn effectively, however and whatever technology they use, with as little wasted time, effort and resources as is possible.
Tablets and Apps in Your School, Best Practice for Implementation (Diana Bannister and Shaun Wilden)
Focus on Learning Technologies. Nicky Hockly, Oxford Key Concepts for The Language Learning Classroom (Oxford University Press)
Technology Enhanced Language Learning. Goodith White and Aisha Walker (Oxford University Press)