More than six ways of using technology in language teaching

This week, the discussion question over on the iTDi blog is How do you use technology in your classes? I’ll be honest … I sort of expected that all of the posts (except for my own) would gush about the wonders of technology in teaching. I know that’s a dreadful generalization, but almost all of this week’s authors are digital natives, and quite tech savvy. This generalization sounds worse and worse, doesn’t it, especially when I know that the whole digital native and immigrant distinction is rarely worth the space used to describe it. But sometimes, in online networks, saying anything cautionary about using technology in teaching seens about as popular as saying anything favorable about coursebooks 🙂

These posts were a treat, and a thorough demolishing of my silly generalizations. It’s not that any of the teachers were against technology — they all use it to some extent — but they were all so balanced. While all of the posts approached the question from different angles, they were clearly written by teachers trying to figure out the best way to use a new resource in teaching. Since most teachers are struggling with this same question, these posts are definitely worth reading.

I first met Tamas Lorincz as an avatar in the virtual world of Second Life, so I was surprised to read that he doesn’t use technology at all in his classes. He makes technology tools available so that students can choose among them when they feel the tool is relevant to what they’re trying to do with language. Tamas is all about choice, and thinking. He wants his students to explore technology tools as a way of finding new ways to express themselves, and focuses on the meaning of that expression, whether it’s presented as a pen and paper composition or a blog post.

Sometimes I talk about challenges of trying to use technology tools in classrooms without Internet access or computers. But, I’m a language teacher, and even if I don’t have tech tools I can teach just fine. Imagine being a computer teacher in a school with limited Internet access, in a small village where people don’t have computers or Internet at home and very weak computer skills to build on. That’s Nour Alkhalidy’s teaching environment. Nour is always sharing such amazing tech tools and resources that I imagined her working in a state-of-the-art computer lab. Instead, Nour’s mission is to use the limited technology tools available to her in the most effective way possible in order to increase the opportunities her students have to expand their horizons beyond their village, to college and beyond. Nour is my hero.

I love Anna Loseva‘s unflinchingly honest reflections on her journey of growth as a teacher. In my experience, teachers are often reluctant to share things that show them as less than perfect. She reminds us that even great teachers stumble as they try new things. I know that Anna’s story this week will resonate for a lot of teachers. It certainly did for me. Whatever the new tool is, we begin like swimmers afraid to dip our toes in the wading pool, then become overly excited and immediately jump off the high dive. Eventually, we find the balance and become confident swimmers. Anna is in that balanced place now, experimenting with the abundance of tools available, and feeling free to choose what works best for her approach to teaching and her students’ learning styles.

Christina Markoulaki, with her passion for reading, is a teacher after my own heart. Getting students to read (and be excited about reading) in a foreign language is always something of a struggle. Christina looks beyond the limits of a paper book to find ways that technology can get her students as excited about the joy of reading as she is. Christina’s is the only real “how to” post this week. If you find yourself struggling to pass on the traditional value of reading with your young (and not so young) learners, you’re going to want to read her post. Whether or not your students are working with traditional books or electronic readers, you’ll find something within the dozen or so activities Christina describes that you will want to do with in your own classes.

Chuck Sandy makes an interesting point in his post: great teachers have always worked to make students believe they can do anything, and then help them develop the skills needed to achieve their dreams. That mission goes beyond any specific tools from any specific era. We give voice to students who often feel invisible and powerless. He compares his classroom with his grandmother’s classroom, and finds striking similarities between two teachers working 100 years apart. The main difference is that Chuck’s students have a bit of magic available that his grandmother’s students never had — their smart phones and social media. Chuck shows how his students are able to use the technology that’s sitting in their pockets to connect to the world and give their voices a global audience.

And finally, there’s my post. For me, pedagogy always comes first, and tools work to support it. I’m in favor of evaluating technology tools the same way we evaluate any other potential teaching resource. My class time is limited, and so are my technology skills, so before I bring in a new tool of any kind I always ask whether it’s appropriate for my learners and our class situation, and whether it improves on what I’m already doing in class.

And that’s this week’s look at technology in the classroom. If one or more of these posts interest you, please head on over to the iTDi Blog and read the entire article. Then, be sure to leave comments letting the authors know how your own experience is similar to, or different from theirs. I love reading the comments on the posts as much as I enjoy the posts themselves and I always learn something from hearing about the experiences of other teachers around the world!




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6 Responses

  1. Excellent… as always, Barb. I love the bird’d eye view that you offer on the posts as a set. It always makes me go back and see something new in at least one post. Thanks Barb!

  2. Tamas says:

    Thanks for including my post in this excellent summary. I am fascinated by technology and love using it for my own learning and I very strongly believe in all the good it can do for you if it is your kind of thing. I am sure I will go on using technology in my own learning and I definitely think that it has a major role in making learning more interesting and relevant. However, I also believe that an individual’s learning comes in many different forms and a teacher’s role is providing for all those learning needs and not offering a tool or a platform which they expect the students to be impressed with and get on with. I do think that it is my job to keep up-to-date and to be able to offer solutions but not imposing the latest newfangled ideas. Because what killing creativity is not the lack of modern tools in the classroom but teachers believing that there is only one correct answer or one proper way of doing something because we raise generations of kids who are trying to double-guess our intentions and expectations instead of coming out with their own stuff. Thanks again for the mention, Barb.

  3. Barbara, it is always an honour to see my name mentioned in one of your posts! iTDi is surely an inspiration for every teacher to do their best! Thank you for the kind referral and the wholehearted support you so magnanimously offer to all ‘villagers’!

    Christina 🙂

    • Barbara says:

      It’s always good to see you here, Christina! It’s easy to support people working hard to improve our profession 🙂