Tech, as yet another teaching tool

Back for more awesome EdTech learning with Dr. Alec Couros in EC&I830, and this time our class is designed using a debate format. Fun!

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via Giphy

 

For our second class session, brave students volunteered to be our first debators, and the hot topic was:

Does technology in the classroom enhance learning?

We saw videos made by the two groups who agree and disagree with this question, and we were asked to look at materials supplied by each group and blog our response on this topic. As I did for my tech course last term, I’ll try to make my responses relate to my experience teaching young adults ESL whenever I can.  I realize this give me a slightly different perspective from most of my classmates who teach in the K-12 system, although I’m sure there is still lots of overlap.

So, do I think tech in the classroom enhances learning after hearding/reading the interesting materials my classmates shared on this issue?  I’d have to say that, like the majority of my class (according to pre- and post-debate polls), I believe that technology does enhance classroom learning.

From an adult ESL teacher’s position, I can’t imagine not availing myself of a few of the many contemporary tools that technology affords us in my daily lessons.  My number one use of tech on a daily basis?  I’m sad to say, it’s Google.  Over the 18 years I’ve been teaching, I’ve gotten to be quite good at acting and improvising (less so at drawing) when I’ve needed to help a student understand the meaning of a new word.  But some words, like butternut squash, balcony, and speed dating, can become terribly time consuming to describe.  Whereas before I would have had to devote five minutes of class time to explaining what “germination” is… (more, if I get sidetracked!)….  now, voila!

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                                                                                       Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Students themselves use Google images to share famous people, places, foods, and other elements of their cultures.  It allow them a quick and efficient way to share something of themselves, which is so important for language learners living in an immersion setting, far from home.

I also use my “smart classroom” computer to project a lot of work we have going on during an average class, such as when I type up student responses to questions so that we can analyze their vocabulary or grammar use, or when I create a mindmap with elicited information on a new topic I’m introducing to the class.  Honestly, I’m at the point where I can’t really imagine teaching without a computer, and that’s coming from someone who isn’t especially tech-savy and doesn’t use many of the “fancy” tools and apps that are out there.

I have to say that I agree with the authors of Teaching in a Digital Age: How Educators Use Technology to Improve Student Learning who write that technology can transform students from “passive to active learners, guided by their own quest for information” (204).  Language learning is such a personal journey, and allowing students to use digital tools, often their cell phones, to look up information, share images and videos, and occasionally (when appropriate) translate a word, phrase or idiom, really puts them in the drivers seat and give them a sense of independence and control over their learning.

Another advantage of technology that McKnight, O’Malley et. al describe is that via technology, teachers can incorporate materials that are more current than textbooks.  With the world, and technology itself, changing at such a rapid pace, our theme-based language textbook become outdated very quickly. I can supplement what is in my textbook with learner appropriate information that is “more current, ‘richer,’ and more engaging than their textbooks” (204).

For the above and so many other reasons (many of which the authors give), it really does seem that “tech enhances learning in ways not otherwise possible,” and I can see why around 70% of teachers surveyed on their “technology beliefs” (198) agree to this statement.

I agreed with a few of the other advantages to using tech in the classroom that are given in 6 Pros and 6 Cons of Technology in the Classroom.  For instance, I know there are digital tools out there that allow teachers to get and give instant feedback, and I plan to also experiment with using a few of the at least 65 Digital Tools and Apps to Support Formative Assessment Practices listed here.  I know that these tools would definitely enhance the feedback I am able to give my students on their written and spoken class work and assignments – and at the same time, it would likely be less tedious for me to use a digital tool to record myself talking about an essay (for example) than sitting with yet another red pen and marking up yet another piece of paper…  Besides, how many students actually look at those comments on their papers…?

 

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via Giphy

I also appreciate how technology can help more students participate in class, especially those who may not otherwise speak up.

And so, as you can see, I agree that online tools can make ESL lessons so much more time efficient, interactive, interesting, up to date, relevant, and fun.

Of course, as its title suggests, this webpage also give the “cons” of using tech in the classroom, such as the point that “technology in the classroom can be a distraction” and “technology can foster cheating in class and on assignments.”  I can see that the writer is clearly biased towards technology in the classroom, as she points out (and I agree) that for most if not all of these possible drawbacks, the “teacher is in control,” and so there are always ways to mitigate the challenges that devices can bring to a classroom.  In the end, I like the quotation she added from a history professor in Virginia, Sara Eskridge, who “believes that technology is a tool to be used in the classroom, rather than an end in itself.”  This is how I feel about the situation – “technology” is a term that actually encompasses just about every single object that we use.  According to the Encyclopedia Britannicatechnology is

the application of scientific knowledge to the practical aims of human life or, as it is sometimes phrased, to the change and manipulation of the human environment.

Given this definition, technology includes not only the laptop I’m typing this on right now, but the table that’s under it, the hardwood flooring under the table, and every other element of my created surroundings.  Therefore, to teach without technology would be to return to the days of a strictly oral storytelling tradition, which I don’t believe anyone would argue is the way to go, even those who send their children to the Waldorf School of the Penninsual.

Matthew Jenkins writes in this Guardian article that at this school, “[t]eachers encourage students to learn curriculum subjects by expressing themselves through artistic activities, such as painting and drawing rather, than consuming information downloaded onto a tablet” and that at this school “[l]essons are delivered by a human being that not only cares about the child’s education, but also about them as individuals.” I often have to wonder how the “all or nothing” attitude is so frequently fostered by such educated people.  Surely no one is insinuating that teachers at schools which incorporate technology don’t employ painting and drawing in their toolkit, and aren’t disinterested in their pupils “as individuals.”  While I definitely work hard to help my 8 year-old develop his creativity, individuality, curiosity and passion for learning, as well as his love of nature and respect for the environment, I don’t see how letting him have one hour of screen time a day is going to squash all of my efforts…

And so, as much as I see that there are potential hazards to relying too much on “new” technology or depending on it for every element of our lesson plans, I remain certain that technology, old and new, is an essential part of education, and pretty well has been since we left the cave.

I do advocate for classroom-created policies on the use of devices, such as one approach to creating a policy I outlined in a blog post I wrote for my previous EdTec class, Digital Citizenship and Media Literacy, Classroom cell phone use policy making: of the people, by the people.  I think that if the “rules” and expectations are designed by and accepted by students, there will be more buy-in to them, and a better balance of technology’s advantages vs. disadvantages can be more easily achived.

Let me know what you think, please!

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Back for more

It’s now the second semester of my six-month sabbatical, and I’m happy to be registered for another awesome class on Ed Tech with Dr. Alec Couros. Right now I’m simply testing out adding another category to my blog. Stay tuned for more posts to come. 🙂