From ‘hype’ to ‘huh… ?’

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by Dimitris Primalis

Ως ουδεν εστιν ουτε πυργος ουτε ναυς ερημος ανδρων μη ξυνοικουντων εσω

“For neither tower nor ship is (worth) anything when empty, and no people are in it together” Sophocles, ‘Oedipus the King’

At the 24th IATEFL Hungary conference, I had the opportunity to attend a thought provoking plenary by Lindsay Clandfield on learning technology. In this post, I would like to share some personal thoughts and views.

Like any trend or motto excessively promoted and debated in (social) media, technology in education seems to be reaching a critical point where enthusiasm is followed by disbelief and criticism. Even avid supporters of learning technology, at least in EFL, have started showing signs of fatigue and appear to be more cautious when talking about it. What seems to be have gone wrong?

The sky is the limit?

In the past five years or so, expectations have gone sky high and the marketing departments of the major players in the field – software and hardware – often cross the line when trying to promote their company’s product through visions of radical change in education. Ideally, with technology, learners will be fully qualified to meet the challenges arising in a global environment. Some even have rushed to proclaim the death of the teacher’s role. Yet, educators know that changes in educational processes need time and results can be visible sometimes only after many years.  It can become even more complicated if the current system cannot assess skills developed when using technology. When exam results did not meet the expectations – how could they have when different skills are assessed? –  educators’ moods plunged from cloud nine to the bottom of the pit, practically overnight.

Putting the cart before the horse or apps before pedagogy

With apps and software appealing to a wider clientele and under the dictum:  “learning anywhere, anytime, by anyone”, a large part of the educational digital material has relied heavily on impressive graphics without much emphasis on content and methodology. Developed often by people with little or no teaching experience at all, these apps may have been massively bought by autonomous learners but they often deal a blow to the credibility of learning technology in terms of pedagogy.

Too fast to keep track

As companies have been barraging the market with new products, new versions of operating systems and widely used programmes, many teachers have felt that their focus shifted from dealing with problems students face in class to keeping up-to-date with the tsunami of new tools. As most of them lack expertise in the field, they often feel left out or worn out by the constant pressure to pilot something new so they instinctively revert to good old time, tried and tested teaching. What is more, pedagogy needs more time to assimilate changes and exploit the potential of new resources to the benefit of the learners.

Who makes the decisions?

Major decisions are often made by the heads and the administration, who may have an overall picture of the school’s needs for change but, by definition, spend most of their time away from the classroom. What seems to be an ideal solution when presented by sales people, it can be a nightmare for frontline teachers who often have to deal with seemingly petty technicalities that turn out to waste valuable time and energy in class.

Is technology no good any more?

Going from one extreme to another has never helped. Technology, despite its flaws and high cost can provide exposure to L2, facilitate learning and allow the learners to communicate and practise orally and in writing. How can the negative trend be reversed?

Who is on top?

The crucial question seems to be “Who defines the content?” Even though large companies are trying to explore the potential needs of schools in the foreseeable future through questionnaires and interviews, educators should be given a more important role in setting goals and the process to achieve them. Instead of struggling to persuade the educational community that their products are ideal for education when clearly they have been designed for recreational purposes, companies should seriously invest in the educational market with tailor made products and services. It is front line educators and not sales and marketing directors who should be listened to carefully this time.

Avoiding mistakes of the past

“Parents have spent a fortune buying the books so you have to do them with your class from cover to cover….” This statement may sound painfully familiar to many teachers. Similarly using the tablet all the time in class and at home cannot and should not be sought after. Technology supports and may boost the lesson but cannot substitute the teacher, the lesson or even worse – using technology cannot be the learning aim of the lesson. Informing parents at the beginning of the academic year on how technology will be used in the classroom and setting clear educational aims served by technology, can prevent hyperbole that may expose irreversibly both the institution and the teachers.

Who trains whom?

ICT experts have every reason to be over enthusiastic about the technological achievements that new devices or software feature. But when it comes to training, the people who can convey experience and inspire teachers to pilot it in their class, are teachers and teacher trainers. They are the ones who will highlight the educational side of each tool/device and will explain it from a newbie’s perspective.

Closing thoughts

In the past year, I have seen some efforts by some software companies to approach educators and receive feedback on their products. To me, the key word in the whole process is “human”. No matter how much funding and energy have been spent in integrating Learning Technology  in education, when the “human factor” is overlooked and not catered for, then, paraphrasing Sophocles, “neither software nor hardware is worth anything … ” .

d_primalis

Dimitris Primalis is an EFL teacher, author and oral examiner. He has been teaching for more than 20 years and applies his knowledge and experience to introducing innovation and change into the daily teaching practice. He believes that motivation, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication can be the driving forces in TEFL.  His views and work are shared in his columns in the ELT News, the BELTA Bulletin and his blog, “A different side of EFL” . He has presented his work in many conferences in Greece and abroad. Dimitris was awarded the 2013 IATEFL Learning Technologies SIG scholarship and he has been selected twice as Expert Innovative Educator by Microsoft (2015 & 2016). He is working at Doukas, a private primary school in Athens, Greece and was recently elected as  content team member for the IATEFL Learning Technologies SIG website.


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