Penny Ur is not a technophobe: she loves her Kindle and uses moodle a lot with her students. But…
There’s a tendancy to see technology as intrinsically good rather than as a means to an end. Does it improve language learning? Or motivation? Does it do this enough to justify it’s use?
There is a general assumption that investment in technology is desirable and to this end there is a massive investment in technology by governments and private companies. Modern is good. Change is good. Technology is good. Stakeholders have an interest in technology being in schools: for governments, shiny new computers win votes; commecial interests are important too. The use of digital tools then becomes an end in itself. People are presented with solutions, but not problems. Ur says that we should be starting from the problem and finding solutions, not vice versa.
A lot of studies have been published looking into technology in education. Most have been driven by policy decisions rather than educational questions. There is some evidence that the use of technology may contribute to increased motivation, but the studies have been short. Noone knows how it affects motivation in the long-term. If you know you’re being studied, you may want to fulfil the expectations of the researcher. The novelty effect can also make a difference. So is the incase in motivation really the technology or is it the novelty/research factor? Writing and pronunciation may be improved through technological means, but no research has shown technology affects other areas.
However, this does not mean that technology is useless. We therefore need to be cautious, selective and selective. So what DOES it contribute? Word processing, editing tools, internet, digital dictionaries, self-acces, written interaction, audiovisual material, distance learning, interactive whiteboards. These tools are generally easier and faster than non-technological tools. They can contribute positively to our teaching. For example, teacher-student communication is improved. Being able to look up words quickly means dictionaries are more likely to be used. Video and audio presentation is easier, and thefore more common.
What can technology NOT do? It cannot teach (as opposed to instruct). It cannot faciliate the creation of knowledge, because this generally depends on face-to-face interaction. Technology cannot plan lessons and tasks. It cannot provide supportive and appropriate corrective feedback. It cannot respond to open-ended tasks. It cannot select and evaluate information.
Technology also carries dangers. It may decrease the amount of direct teacher-student interaction. It may waste time in terms of preparation and student investment in activity other than learning (like formatting a document or searching). It can also create an overly teacher-centred classroom. It can also lead to a focus on lower-order thinking, like a ‘one-right-answer’ methodology. Attention might be diverted to irrelevant but more interesting activites, like other apps if using ipads.
– Find at least two meanings for the word ‘bright’ from your online dictionary, then share with your class.
– Show a YouTube clip with no sound and tell the story yourself.
We need to ask:
– Does it produce good learning?
– Is it motivating?
– Is the improvement in learning and/or motivation worth the investment of time and money?
If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, then we should use the technology. If not, then we shouldn’t.
Remember: Technology is a MEANS not an END. The question is not ‘How should I use technolog?’, it is ‘How can I help my learners learn best?’
Neil McMahon includes some comments on Penny’s talk in his post about day 1 of the conference.