Technology 3: The flipside
Right at the start of the session Paul Slater used the words ‘infiltrating’ and ‘penetrating’ to describe the changes to how technology is being used in ELT.
Both terms have an underlying negative connotation for me and suggest an invasiveness that doesn’t sit easy with me. This resonates with my earlier thoughts on resistance – the two words invade and resist being antonymous.
Paul Slater also asked if people were comfortable having their photo taken and I raised my hand to say that I didn’t want my picture to be online. Being in an environment in which the focus was on web-based technology made me feel a little reticent to speak up about this, so took some courage, but I felt a certain sense of pride for being true to my feelings in doing so. I frequently tell my learners they’re not to post my photo on Facebook.
There were several fantastic and inspiring resources that Paul shared in his session, but here I’d like to focus on my reservations about technology and thoughts that have occurred to me today. There seem to be two main issues emerging in my mind around Edtech. The first lies in the socio-political realm and is a massive topic, but I’ll just bullet point some areas that spring to mind so you get the idea:
- Disengagement with the real world
- Social media breaks down face to face communities as much as it builds online ones
- The ‘End of Absence’ and how having access to so much information at our fingertips negates the need for face to face dialogues and independent thought
- Data protection and surveillance
- Big Business taking over Edtech
In some conversations during the session today I felt when I started voicing concerns that others saw me as anti-technology. This is absolutely not the case. (The issues here are not to do with technology per se, but the ways in which we use it). I was heartened and encouraged that other conversations were more accepting of my views, and a couple of practitioners agreed that these are issues we need to be discussing.
While I recognize (and often utilize some of) the many benefits of digital technology, and gladly promote certain applications and sites, I feel we need we need to be cautious and encourage ongoing dialogues with our colleagues and learners about the flipside of Edtech and mobile technology. I discovered today that these conversations are in fact taking place but one of my concerns is that they don’t seem to be filtering down to ground level, and this fact in itself might be alienating teachers. I’m seeing more and more Edtech focused CPD workshops taking place in schools and ELTAs, but they strike me as being very one sided. The message coming through is “hey – look how great all this mobile technology is and look at all the fantastic things we can do” – with no attention to the flipside; the dangers; the pitfalls; the dark side. I’m speculating here, but I wonder whether many teachers (consciously or otherwise) have similar reservations to myself and find themselves intuitively feeling wary of Edtech as a result. If so, in the absence of a dialogue about such issues, perhaps their tendency is just to steer clear, or resist rather than engage.
But of course it’s not as simple as all that. Which brings me to my second point.
In actual fact a lot of the Edtech and mobile resources being presented in CPD sessions are complicated beasts for those who don’t feel very tech savvy. There’s a world of intimidating terminology to grapple with and some incredible looking but practically impenetrable projects being presented. ‘yes, that looks amazing’ we think, ‘but I’ve no idea how to do that’. As Paul Driver described his SpyWalk project today, I could recognize and admire the brilliance of it for learners, but felt myself becoming steadily more alienated – daunted by the set up required for such a project.
I plan to do some research into this at my school and find out more but I believe this is the reality for many teachers.
So then what we need is accessible tutorials on how to use these applications. But in CPD there are practical considerations – taking a group through a step by step guide doesn’t work because we’re dealing with teachers with such a range of existing knowledge and abilities. So some people are way ahead and bored, others are struggling to keep up. The end of Paul Slater’s first input session where he talked about setting up the blog, and our induction to student central at the start of the dip course are both examples of how differentiation in these contexts is a real challenge.
The answer? One idea seems obvious: use the students. They’re usually the ones with the skills and know-how, and it makes sense on so many levels to encourage learners to bring their skills to the table. The Rap, a project I did with a group of high level fluency students in 2012 is testaments to that. I knew nothing about the software the learners used to record and edit the audio for the project, but they knew plenty, and being given the opportunity to use and share that knowledge became a motivating and empowering factor them, leading to extensive authentic communication in English. I guess as teachers we’ve a tendency to feel that we need to know more than our learners. About teaching, learning and the language that’s probably very true. But about other things, we don’t. And it’s okay to admit that. And where it creates a space for learners to bring their own skills and knowledge to the table, I’d argue that it’s more that okay.
Another solution, which also seems obvious, is YouTube tutorials for us teachers to access in their own time, at their own pace, with the option of fast forwarding or replaying as suited to our individual needs. And speakers need to give us these links, because we work long and hard, so sometimes we want to be spoon-fed, and if we think it’s too difficult, well, to be honest, most of us probably won’t bother.
PS: Here’s a picture of some trees: