Can Technology Save The Day When Times Are Tough?

To inaugurate their blog, TESOL Greece invited bloggers to answer the following question:

”During an economic crisis, resources (books, budgets, infrastructure) are limited but high standards and qualifications are required so that learners can survive on the job market. Can the use of technology help learners and teachers overcome this problem? If so, how?”

The question suggests that when times are tough economically, it becomes harder for teachers to access the kinds of resources that are normally available, and this is undeniably true. However, it also suggest that this leaves a space where technology can come to the rescue.

It seems to me if you are struggling in one area, the chances are you will struggle in the other. I don’t think it’s possible for teachers to assume that tech will be able to step in and fill the void. To clarify, I’m not suggesting that technology doesn’t offer teachers and students great learning opportunities, it’s just that I don’t see how you can have one problem without the other. It may well be that you can utilise the technology that you already have, but then the same could be said for books and other resources.

One possibility, especially with adults, is the option to utilise the students own devices instead. While this will certainly be possible for some groups (adult learners in EFL tend, generally, to be people with disposable income, especially business students), I don’t think this is something that can be relied on consistently. Again, we go back to the same problem, it times of need everything is in short supply.

So for me the answer to this question is not to look specifically at technology, but rather look at the resources you have at hand. If that happens to include a classroom where two or three students have a smartphone with a reliable and affordable Internet connection which they don’t mind using, then by all means use them. But don’t see that as your only path to salvation.

In reality teachers have numerous and affordable resources available to them at all times, it’s just that we take them for granted. It could be a simple as re-evaluating the way you use your whiteboard or blackboard and looking at how it could be used in a more interesting way. We’re all impressed and tempted by incredible new websites and apps but if they are difficult to implement due to shortcomings in infrastructure, then perhaps the same aims could be met with paper and pen. Teachers shouldn’t be scared to boil things to down to their essence, decide what’s really important and present it simply.

And this is no way should affect the quality of the lessons. The use of technology has absolutely no effect on the standards that we reach as teaching professionals. It is not the reason why a lesson is ever great or terrible, the cause of that lies solely with how the teacher carried the lesson out and / or how the students chose to respond. A very simple materials free lesson could be the appropriate way to teach a particular point, or equally it could be a tech reliant way that is better. It’s not the resources that make a lesson, it’s the teaching.

Most importantly, don’t forget that the number one resource in your classroom is not the computer or the smartphones or the coursebooks. It’s not even you. It’s the students, with their lives, interests, experiences and opinions. That’s where you need to focus your attention. And the good news is that this is a resource that is available as long as there are students in the classroom.

It’s not just enough for you to know that your students are a resource, however. They need to know it too. They need to be aware that their success or failure is ultimately down to them. It is their hard work that will result in increased linguistic ability. An increase in standards is only possible with a combination of positive attitudes, effort and an openness to new ideas from both the learner and the teacher.

Technology can play its part in this. It can give unrivalled self study possibilities. It can enable you to do things in the classroom that years ago were unimaginable. What it can’t do elevate standards by itself. That’s your job.


5 thoughts on “Can Technology Save The Day When Times Are Tough?

  1. “the number one resource in your classroom is … the students”

    Yes, exactly. Technology might help but at the end of the day it is a tool only. Good teachers who understand their students are far more valuable than thousands of euros worth of whiteboards, iPads and so on.

    The trouble is many people don't understand this!

  2. Thanks for commenting ICAL TEFL. I'm not sure if I agree with your final sentence, especially regarding teachers. I think many of them agree that technology is an optional extra, although in some cases it may be born more out of a fear or intimidation of the tech then a real prejudice.

    What is important to me is not that teachers argue for or against using technology but rather are aware that it is, as you say, a tool that can be used for great things at the right times and at other times is not necessary at all.

  3. “times are tough economically… technology can come to the rescue” I wonder if there are a couple of dots here that could do with being joined? Everything you say is true and helpful, but isn't something important being concealed in your first paragraph? You point to the crisis. Then you point to the technology. And it seems as if the two are entirely unconnected. The crisis is bad. The technology is good. It can come to the rescue. But is the technology not a product of the same economic system that is in crisis?

    Of course, this is not an issue that bears immediately on the practicalities of pedagogy, but if we see the culpability of the technology, we might want to do different things with it in the classroom, and we might have a different opinion about what “rescue” might mean.

  4. Interesting point Digital Skeptic about the political implications of the connection between tech and the economy that spawned it. I would suggest though that the disconnect you see in the opening paragraph are implied by the question. In fact I do draw the connection between them that a problem in one is likely to lead to a shortfall in the other.

    My use of the term “come to the rescue” is a slightly tongue in cheek understanding of what I think the question is implying, rather than an expression of my own belief in what it can do. I had hoped that the piece would provide a more realistic analysis of what can reasonably expected of technology in the circumstances as put forward by the question.

  5. Balance and context, as ever, seem essential. Sometimes we need to return to the core question: what is education for? Why is the goal? What is purpose of our students in learning English? Technology does offer exceptional opportunities for self-study – and even for enlightened teaching – so students can become successfully autotelic and fine communicators in English.

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