There are so many myths, misunderstandings, false assumptions and other misconceptions concerning using technology in the foreign language classroom that a meaningful exchange of ideas is often impossible because people on the two sides simply have no common ground. Opponents of ICT surprisingly frequently make value judgements and condemn technology on a moral or psychological basis, which makes a healthy debate impossible. This stance takes the whole issue out of the realm of education and puts advocates of ICT in a position where they have to defend themselves right from the start – this is an unacceptable basis for a professional discussion.
Also, ICT is often dismissed as a passing fad. Again, this is an unsuitable starting point. It is all very well when somebody believes they are clairvoyants and can reliably predict the future, but we should be talking about the present here. It’s very convenient to want to discuss the future since nobody can have any concrete evidence about it, but it is only an easy way out of a discussion based on observation and proof. We should concentrate on the present, and it is safe to say that technology is very much here with us now, so let’s accept this fact instead of saying that it will go away so why bother.
With this in mind, let me try and clarify a few things that I believe hinder understanding concerning using technology in the classroom.
Another new method? No, thanks
A lot of teachers seem to be suspicious of ICT because they feel this is a fancy new method being sold to them. Well, no. ICT is just a tool, not a method. A relatively new tool, and perhaps more complex than a cassette recorder or the OHP, but still a tool. Of course it is true that using a new tool will inevitably change your teaching – but are you sure that you want to keep on teaching in the same style for 30-40 years? ICT is not a method – just like the communicative approach is not a method either: it is an approach.
What often gets overlooked that it is very much in line with the old tradition of using whatever we have available for teaching – the cassette recorder and the OHP were not invented for language teaching purposes; we just grabbed them and used them nevertheless. Similarly, if you give a good teacher a bag of potatoes, he or she will be able to use it for teaching English – so why not do the same with technology too once it’s available?
I teach communicatively, I have no need for computers
If you really believe in the communicative approach, then ICT is for you. There are a lot of similarities between the two notions. The communicative approach is based on the observation that language is used for communication (should be a no-brainer, really). The idea of using computers in language teaching is based on the observation that our students live in a digital world (again, this shouldn’t come as a surprise either). This digital world is all about communication – and real communication, not simulations that we sometimes have to resort to in the classroom. Your students can exchange views and ideas with others around the globe about the topics that genuinely interest them – would this be possible without the net? And this is just one example – the possibilities are truly limitless.
But if the realisation that we all live in a digital world is not reflected in your teaching, you will not be teaching your students, but their “school personas” instead. Schools today are often so disconnected from the realities of the students’ world that kids (mainly unconsciously) develop a new personality that they “send to school” – this is reflected in the frequently quoted sentence “I have to power down when I go to school”. Schools used to be one of the main information sources – they no longer are. This old video (created more than two years ago, that’s very old on the net!) was a huge hit, with close to 3.5 million direct downloads and probably tens of millions of viewers – and we still have to convince teachers that they cannot go on living in a world that no longer exists?
Technology distances people
Again, this is a classic example of the problem of answering a question without actually asking it. A long time ago someone came up with this completely unfounded statement and it has been parroted ever since, without actually thinking it over. I can only compare this mindless automatism to the well-known “truths” about our brain working at 10% capacity only (or 5%; figures vary; geniuses are believed to be able to use up to 20%), or dissolving a child’s tooth in a glass of Coke overnight (easily proven untrue, but nobody ever cares to perform this simple experiment, just passes on the urban legend without any criticism).
Why would technology distance people? Do you have a mobile phone? There are almost 11 million mobile phone numbers in use in Hungary, a country of 10 million, and the ratio is similar in all developed countries. Why? Because mobile phones are so convenient and make keeping in touch with others so easy. Before mobile phones, when you arranged to meet someone in the evening but found out later in the day, away from home, that it would be better to change either the place or the time of the meeting, you had to find a phone and hope to be able to reach the other person – often it was so hopeless that you didn’t even try. Now it’s not a problem. Or have you ever phoned your husband or children instead of trying to find them when you went your different ways in a shopping mall? Or think of correspondence before you had e-mail. How many “snail mail” messages (formerly known as “letters”) did you write a week? Or even in a month? And how many e-mails do you now write per day? Ten times as many? Probably twenty times as many? Where is that distancing effect then? Just the opposite is true. Technology brings all of us closer instead of alienating us. Frankly, claiming that anything new is dangerous is so lame that I feel embarrassed to have to disprove it. Facebook, Skype, YouTube… the list is endless. So much for distancing…
Technology always breaks down, I just can’t rely on it in my lessons
Not this one, please… So basically you’re claiming that there are things in life that don’t always work the way they’re supposed to? Now that’s new. You shouldn’t drive a car or even use a toaster – if these break down, you’re bound to be in greater trouble than in your lesson when you find that there’s no net access. Also, I don’t know if youhaveÂ noticed but anything non-technical can go wrong just as well. No matter how thoroughly you prepare, there will always be aspects that you can’t control. Or are you so lucky that you’ve never had a brilliantly designed lesson go to complete waste because the kids were just in a bad mood or felt too tired, because you suddenly had a splitting headache, because there was a fire drill… ? Even if you say that the chances of something technical going wrong are higher (would be hard to prove, you must admit), you can and should have a backup plan for lessons requiring computers so that when technology fails, you have something to fall back on. Honestly, I have always felt that this “technology never works” slogan is just a poor excuse. Being afraid of anything new is a personality trait some people have, I’m aware of this fact. But we as teachers cannot afford this luxury, sorry.
This video repeats some of the same messages as the one embedded earlier, but I believe it has a powerful message.
To be continued…