December 1, 2010 by Willy Cardoso
When I started studying English at age 9, the tech we had in the classroom consisted of a slide projector and a tape recorder. Lessons evolved around situations that were presented on 12 slides accompanied by the dialogue on tape. We were drilled to death and only two lessons later were we to have a written version of the dialogue followed by grammar ‘explanations’.
Many years later I worked with this same method teaching 9-year-old children and the situations were the same, that is, they were old. The language was getting older too, and sometimes I drilled them to death. But hey, I did all that crap on DVD! How super!
Fortunately, since I had already developed some anti-crappy-teaching awareness at that time, I sometimes let the children be children and we played lots of games too. And once or twice when the girls were absent I let the boys sing F-wordy South Park’s tunes in class.
Not long ago I attended an online seminar, a.k.a. webinar. The speakers’ planned to show teachers how to teach online. The first part was dedicated to give attendees some background on the available platforms which was a very good start. They also gave us some tips regarding the management of teacher-learners interactions and the most common problems online teachers face and how to deal with them. In the second part, the speakers showed some practical activities teachers and learners could do. Boy, were they lame!
I could exemplify, but no… just open that coursebook you don’t like much and get that senseless warm-up that you always skip and that’s the kind of activities suggested by award-winning ELTers who hosted this webinar. I didn’t quite get it to tell you the truth. The speakers are such good fellows, they’ve been in ELT for ages and they showed an impressive knowledge of virtual learning environments. However, in my opinion the end product was no better than what we could have through distance learning via mail, yes, mail, remember that? Ok, or even e-mail if you prefer. Oh, but they claimed that what made it so nice was that now it is more synchronous (in real time). In that case, I felt like in a university lecture room packed with 50 students listening to someone who doesn’t care much about who is in the room as much as about their precious subject-matter. Or worse, at times I felt like in a pub game… What I was shown was innovative tech in obsolete pedagogy.
Of course, I couldn’t diss edtech -which is exactly what I’m not doing in case you didn’t get it- based solely on these two accounts. And I’m not going to narrate all my encounters with it either.
Anyhow, I recently visited many lessons on WizIQ and other places when I was asked to suggest some platforms to my former employer. Those lesson I observed were mostly awful! Teacher-centered to the most, full of Word documents uploaded with stupid decontextualized gap-fills and matching exercises.
While we (oh, the elite of ELT) rightfully celebrate edtech and the power of engaging students with the Web and its frills, and the great things emerging from Tweeted PLNs which surely make education more bearable, we can’t forget that the majority of teachers out there are just doing THE same teaching they were doing before all that 2.0ish fuss. And it’s not a piece of tech that will make them any better.
A dull teacher is dull with a chalk or with an iPad. It doesn’t matter.
Btw, why the hell would I use an Interactive Whiteboard if what is on screen is a digital version of a grammar-driven coursebook??
Well, I know there’s a lot more to IWBs than that. But how many teachers out there, and out there I’d like to mean outside of US and EU, how many know how to use said tech to promote better learning?
Or really… why would I go to an online platform where a publisher ‘offers’ chapters of their coursebooks for aham ‘truly personalised lessons’??
(Marketing education is a technological matter)
Education is a cultural affair before it’s a technological one. A societal affair as well and a historical one if you will.
There are all these things to think about and improve before we want our teachers to use tech in the classroom.
What’s the use of tech when so many people can’t even think critically why they’re in a classroom?
As I said, I am not dissing edtech.
There are very good things out there, of course. I’ve actually seen great examples of edtech in two presentations last weekend, one by Karenne on using forums, blogs and Nings, and another by Shelly on using Skype. These were great examples I tell you. But hey, they were not selling a book, they were not using disposable apps and expensive gadgets, they were not locking students up in a monthly subscription nor giving ‘free’ additional useless rubbish, they were not putting a fill in the blanks with the present perfect on Google docs and thinking hey this is new. On the contrary, they were listening to their students’ needs, they were connecting them with real people, they were promoting cultural awareness and critical thinking. Yes, they perceived a gap in the market and are hopefully reaping their rewards if not now anytime soon, BUT, as far as I could see they are teachers working with learners using technology, not teachers working with technology using learners.
I think that before asking How will I use technology with learners?
I should ask Why will I use technology with these learners?
Teaching is already full of desirables, but what are really the essentials?