TESOL Greece Blog Challenge : Playing the Devil’s Advocate

TESOL Greece Blog Challenge

As a celebration of the launch of the TESOL Greece blog, a blog challenge was launched.

We were asked 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?’


This ‘technology versus anti-technology’ debate has taken place on multiple platforms repeatedly over the last few years, and will again be had at the TESOL France conference this November. Reading the excellent posts written by the bloggers that have responded to TESOL Greece’s blog challenge, I’ve come to realise that it is far easier to think of the advantages that technology can bring to the classroom and to the students’ learning process than to bask in negativitiy.

And I’m sure the very fact that we are bloggers, and therefore eager users of online tools, has nothing to do with it at all.

But seriously, what’s there not to like? One only needs to take a look at the multiple posts on Twitter and in the blogosphere about M-Learning, the Flipped Classroom, Digital Storytelling, and the use of social media, wikis, class blogs, computer games, online corpuses, Youtube videos, etc that could provide the practitioner with hundreds, if not thousands, of new lesson ideas.

To debate against the use of technology in education would be debating against learner autonomy and learner choice.

To debate against the use of technology in education would be debating against having a wide range of free, but well-thought-out and professionally-presented resources.

To debate against the use of technology in education would be debating against ways of helping our learners increase their exposure to the target language and getting involved in communities of practice outside the realm of the classroom.

In short, to argue against technology online would be courting death in the online TEFL arena.

But surely someone needs to play the Devil’s Advocate in this?

Here are some counter arguments against English teachers being expected to use technology in the classroom:

  1. Some teachers feel that they don’t want to have yet another new thing to learn.

    They have spent years learning about the language and dealing with the different designer approaches and fads in ELT. And now, they are being told that all the knowledge and experience they have accrued from teaching English is not enough if they are unable to get to grips with the latest device or online software.

    They feel that the ability to use technology has got nothing to do with learning English per se, and if such high standard and qualification are needed for learners to survive in the job market, then these learners should be taking classes in IT, and not be relying on their English teacher to provide them with such training.

  2. Teachers are not paid enough to spend all their free time learning to use new digital tools and implementing them.

    It takes hours to moderate a wiki or Moodle account, to respond to comments on a blog, to find appropriate games and video clips, to maintain the students’ interest in class chats on Twitter or Facebook, and to read other teachers’ blogs for more ideas and development.

    And most schools do not pay teachers to do this.

    I constantly get told, ‘You must not have a life outside TEFL. I treasure my private life and I am certainly not sacrificing it to do more work’.

    I don’t blame them for thinking that at all.

  3. Not all students want to participate in the use of online tools.

    There could be several reasons for this. Some of my teenage learners equate the use of social media and blogging with something that is done with their friends, and not something that is done with their teachers as part of the curriculum. Making them use the same tools for learning might just turn something fun into something repellent. Just like the use of text speak. It’s just no longer cool among teenagers.

    Some learners from less-privileged backgrounds might feel left out and inferior. They might not be as familiar with certain online platforms and styles of games because they do not have easy access to a computer or a game console at home. They might not have a smart phone and have to share a classmate’s.

    Some learners simply don’t have the time to participate outside of classroom hours. This is especially true when teaching Business English or doing cultural training. These clients not only have a busy work schedule, but might not see the teacher any more than once a week, or even once a month. Class participation is extremely hard to maintain under such circumstances.

    So we know that we can’t force students to use or participate in the use of these digital tools. But how then can we cater for those students who choose to opt out?

  4. Some schools cannot afford to invest in the latest technology.

    The bigger schools and the more profitable chains are keen to invest in this move towards an E-Learning and M-Learning environment by purchasing the latest computers, Interactive White Boards, newest programmes, subscriptions to the fancy online tools, and iPads for every student enrolled. They advertise this fact and this helps their marketing efforts.

    Meanwhile, the smaller schools that offer perfectly student-centred classes that cannot afford such luxuries are seen as not keeping up with the times.

    What are these times we live in? Times where the bigger co-operations drive out the smaller ones?

  5. Many educators who talk about the use of technology in a classroom often assume easy and available internet access.

    Those who are involved in ‘in-company’ training would identify with the fact that wifi access is often blocked and the use of firewalls is not uncommon so as to protect company secrets.

    Essentially, this means that you can’t bring up a picture on Google images to explain a word away easily. It means that you can’t connect to Youtube or any video streaming sites for your listening activities (unless you download them illegally…and you don’t want to do that). It means that you can’t use social media, chat rooms, or any backchannelling software.

    Of course, there are digital tools that do not require an access to the internet, but your hands are pretty much tied if you are providing training in such a context.

As many have mentioned (Christina and James, among others), it is not about being anti-technology. It is simply about being judicious in its use and not letting technology dictate what happens in the classroom. And perhaps an awareness of the issues that face teachers who are wary of the exponential increase of technological tools might help us be less evangelical in helping them utilise technology in the best way for their learners and their teaching context.

At the end of the day, perhaps the issue is not whether to use technology in the classroom or not.

That would be like adamantly saying, ‘I’m not going to learn to use the photocopying machine coz it’s just too much hassle.’

Neither is it about whether to help our students use technological tools as part of their learning process.

That would be like stubbornly saying, ‘I’m not going to teach my students how to write emails because I don’t use the internet.’

As modern technology and the internet becomes more and more part of our everyday lives, we ought to move pass the ‘technology versus no-technology’ debate.

For what really matters is the way we use it, the context that we use it in, and the learners who we use it for.

My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 8 – Diana Laurillard’s Plenary

Wednesday, 21st March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.

The IATEFL Day 2 Plenary Speech by Diana Laurillard

The day began with a plenary by Diana Laurillard, a professor of Learning with Digital Technologies, who started off her presentation ‘Supporting the teacher as innovative learning designer’  by highlighting how we can learn through technology. Combining digital tools with what we already know about the learning processes, Diana Laurillard shows us the available technological resources that spur us on to look to technology, allowing for a shift from classroom teaching to personalized learning, and making learning more productive. After all, as she says, teaching is not telling people stuff, but engaging them in activities.

Learning through…

discussion can be done through synchronous webinars with chat and playback, and asynchronous chat forums;

practice can be done through digital interactive tools with meaningful feedback on actions;

collaboration can be done through roleplay simulations with user-generated scripts in interactive games;

production can be done through user-generated digital multi-media combinations of film, animation, sound, images, captions, etc.

Reminding the audience not to let technology wag the dog, she asserts that when we use technology, we should always think of the educational requirements and what it takes to learn, and ask ‘What are we trying to do?’. Then we can challenge the technology to produce that for us. And if technology is doing its job, we hope this might mean less admin work for all of us.

As a professional learning community, we teachers can also make use of technology to:

  • Build on the work of others;
  • Articulate our pedagogy;
  • Adopt, Adapt, Test, and Improve Learning Designs
  • Sharing learning designs
  • Comparing conventional with digital teaching

(These are things that teachers are now using Twitter, Facebook, and even Second Life for these days)

Diana Laurillard then goes on to make some lucid points about the learning process, showing how technology could better suit the learner.

  • Learning isn’t a one-way process from teacher to learner. The learner must be required to think, to be asked to do something, and be given feedback on what they have done.
  • Meaningful feedback doesn’t always have to be from the teacher telling the learner. They can review themselves and their peers can too.
  • Teaching is neither a science nor an art.

Below are the learning cycles that take place.

And here are the tech tools we can use in those learning cycles, and a significant advantage of digital tools is its ability to help the learners do their own reflections, generate new concepts and modulate their own actions.

Diana Laurillard then goes on to show the audience a pedagogy patterns collector, that could possibly collect lesson frameworks to suit different contexts and students…something that for some reason reminded me of Roald Dahl’s The Great Automatic Grammatizator… or should it now be called the Great Automatic Lesson Plan Generator…?

Regardless of one’s biasness towards or against such a tool, one has to admit that digital technology is here to stay and can become a huge advantage to not just our learners but to us educators, and our own continual professional development.

%d bloggers like this: