T is for…

letter T


two years which is more or less how long I’ve been involved in the online ELT world (not much I know), and if there’s been one recurring debate in that time, it’s been about the desirability of technology in the classroom. It’s the discussion that just won’t quit. Every now and again it flares up, with the technophobes and the technophiles battling it out.

Unfortunately there’s been too much tubthumping which has resulted in a somewhat polarised argument. Either you’re ignoring all tech and therefore you’re a Luddite who’s not facing up to the modern day reality of the world that we live in nowadays, or you’re an e-vangelist, over-espousing the virtues of a technology that is unnecessary and untested pedagogically. This was exemplified by this year’s debate at IATEFL unhelpfully named Tweeting is for the birds, not for language learning in which two speakers did a very good job of unilaterally agreeing from completely different angles, as Nickly Hockly herself acknowledged on her blog, and some of the speakers in the audience seemed to have come to the conclusion that because all technology is good, ergo it must be good for language learning.

All this debate has done for me is to leave me feeling a little two-faced, as on one hand I use Jing, Soundcloud, Google docs and even taught a digital storytelling course in a teacher training context, while on the other hand, I consider myself a fan of teaching unplugged, by adopting a materials light, student centred, conversation driven approach to my teaching.

Apparently, according to some this is tantamount to treason, and so maybe I’ll have to hand in my Dogme certificate. Except, I’ve never felt that they were in any way contradictory. To me, it’s always been simple. I ask myself if this particular website, app or gadget is going to add anything to my lesson. Is it going to embellish what would already be a sound pedagogical lesson without it, or is just there to make me look savvy? Is it going to improve this learning opportunity for the students or is it going to distract from the main purpose of the lesson? And this applies to any type of technology, even down to using the board or making a handout. The question is: Do we need it?

It shouldn’t be tricky, should it? After all, they are just tools. And despite the massive amount of respect I have for the people on both sides of this supposed battle, I have begun to find this discussion rather tiresome.

However now it seems the tide is turning, and some recent blog posts make me rather more hopeful. On Scott Thornbury’s blog, the posting that inspired this one offers a measured and rigorous set of standards that we should apply to any technology we use in the classroom. It seems only fair and proper that we set high standards for ourselves in everything we do, and I don’t see why using technology is any different.

Russell Standard is known for his wonderful work in sharing tech tools on his website, and yet his guest post on Ken Wilson’s blog could have been written by a technosceptic. It shows that he only uses the technologies when he can see a clear and worthwhile practical application, just as Scott Thornbury suggested, and goes a long way in explaining why his videos are so influential.

Finally, tech advocate Sue Lyon Jones has provided us with a basic checklist for deciding whether to use technology or not, which has been universally approved by both ‘sides’ of the argument. It all goes to prove that this idea of ‘sides’, when it comes down to it, is nonsensical.

So I hope that by this time next year (May Two Thousand and Twelve) the discussion will have finally moved on from why we should or shouldn’t use technology in the classroom to how we use or don’t use individual technologies instead, all while applying strict and extremely thorough standards which place the needs of the students at the centre our thinking.

Thanks for reading.

Useful links:

The IATEFL debate ”Tweeting is for the birds, not for language learning”
Are we the lost generation? A reflection on the great debate.
Mass Debates
English Out There Online Case Study – Jane, China – Comparison – Before and After 6 Lessons



7 thoughts on “T is for…

  1. There's a lot to this debate, and I think you have brought together lots of the strands in the arguments neatly. I think much of the “heat” in the issue comes down to ego, in a sense: no one likes to hear someone questioning fundamentally the wisdom of something that we have chosen to love.

    Now, someone may chime in and say “oh no, I have no problem with contrary positions and being asked to support my position”, but when push comes to shove, I think it's harder than most of us like to think.

    So I hope, like you, that some of the heat is taken out of this discussion when it next arises. The really interesting questions are those that lead to concrete avenues for enquiry. And for that, we need collaboration – partners from both sides (if sides there are) to engage and leverage each other's expertise and vision, for the good of all.

  2. Savvy post teacherjames! I think Sue- Lyon Jones's checklist should become required reading and once we all have that down pat, the tech debate can be archived.

  3. @Anthony – Thanks for your comment, especially since I know it was an effort for you to post it at all!

    What you said about ego is particularly true I think. It's strikes me as ironic, because if we as teachers have those kinds of entrenched attitudes it is very difficult for us to make any sort of progress in our professional development.

    You're right, it is hard to accept sometimes, but we need to be challenged in order to learn and progress. No excuses as far as I”m concerned…

    And when it comes to this discussion, I think there has been enough challenging and disagreeing (not to say that it wasn't justified originally), and now we seem to have reached a consensus, it's time to move on, and, as you suggest, learn from each other.

  4. @Candy – Thanks for your comment, and I couldn't agree with you more regarding Sue's checklist. I'm hoping it gets pinned up on staff room walls the world over, and then as you say, we can move on.

  5. Hi! I guess we all feel a bit two- minded about most tendencies and methods nowadays. There are so many of them all that you must know pretty well where it is that you stand.
    As for the use of technology in EFL I think it must be used only if there's a purpose and not for the same of it. A never ending debate, for sure.
    Thanx for the lovely reflection.
    Bete Thess

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