Toward a Sustainable use of Technology in the Language Classroom 

Ooh, 21st Century Skills. Apparently critical thinking is one of these but it constantly exasperates me when I see uncritical praise of EdTech in (English) language teaching. Instead of jumping on the new thing, how about some consideration of the following points.

Web applications should involve minimal and preferably no sign-up or tracking.

It should be a personal choice how far one wishes to be tracked and data-mined by third parties. When teachers use services that require sign-up or login using social media we are effectively coercing students to surrender their privacy. If we require use of Facebook logins (and not everyone has one) we are requiring students to be tracked on their computers. If we require Facebook logins on a phone, we require tracking and have given the rights to Facebook to record students by audio or camera without notice (see Facebook terms and conditions, privacy policy if concerned/you don’t believe me).

Sign-ups that require login for monitoring student progress are fine, and students should not feel compelled to unconditionally share this information with others, including teachers. The same liberty as the choice to remain silent in lessons should be extended to use of internet-based services.

This also means that having students upload to YouTube, Instagram, etc. be limited. If uploads are required, an institutional login should be used, although this is imperfect and a private server would be better. This requires greater internet/computing abilities than many have, though it is possible to learn such skills in a weekend. Is it possible for students to gain such time to be critical of internet privacy issues.

Technology should be controlled by the user, not the vendor.

Students should know whether content created using software belongs to them or the vendor. They should know whether the vendor has access to their data, including read/write/sharing permissions. They should be free to refuse this.

Students should not be required to use their own data transfer budget unless agreed prior to the course.

This is a hidden cost. Institutions/organisations should provide secure Wi-Fi.

Technology should be a last resort, not a first.

It is tempting to load a lesson with flashing lights, bells and such, but unless real communication and actual learning occurs, the technology would appear to waste time.

#ELTchat Summary: ’21st Century Skills’

If you missed this #ELTchat on 21st Century Skills, you missed a corker! The discussion just couldn’t end and some of us are perhaps in a space where we need to agree to disagree or even conduct further research on the topic. The entire chat for the scheduled hour is here but it refused to be tamed so there were further discussions afterward.

Links people might want to look at are:

About digital writing in education. A post I basically disagree with.

The Overselling of Ed-Tech. A post I basically agree with.

Kicking off, I (@getgreatenglish) admitted that I don’t see ’21st Century Skills'(from now I’ll use 21CS) as anything worth teaching. Angelos Bollas (@angelos_bollas) agreed, saying that he’d once heard a great talk by Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto (@TeachingVillage) about this; Matt Ellman (@MattEllman) said there hast to be more to 21CS than edtech; Michael Griffin (@michaelegriffin) also agreed. His pinned tweet on his profile at that point was:

What every 21st Century teacher should do: Be a teacher in the 21st Century.

Rachel Appleby (@rapple18) works as a coursebook writer and has also worked on digital content for publishers, which she said was “a very different medium”. She also said that she believes that using an  interactive whiteboard (IWB) is “all about approach – not showing off tech”.

She also said that she loves it when teachers take into account how to use tech, including students’ phones in lessons, which Angelos backed up: “not using tech for the sake of it but knowing what, how, and when to use it in order to achieve learning objectives”. Rachel then added that one good way to start using tech is by integrating it into a standard lesson plan.

As for technology itself, I remarked that IWBs are often used just because they look more aesthetically pleasing than flipcharts.

David Boughton (@David__Boughton) claimed he “can’t do anything faster than write on a whiteboard or mark a paper with a pen”. I can type dead fast (I used to be a television subtitler) but I’d agree that waking up a computer and opening software or browser windows takes time that could often be better spent using stationery.

Matt raised the point that 21st Century grammar doesn’t make its way into coursebooks very often (for example, reporting speech using “[be] like”). He also mentioned that because his learners can get exposure to the language using the internet he doesn’t need to use authentic materials as much with his learners.

Angelos, Rachel and I stated that lesson planning is still important when using technology, (I’ll clarify that I don’t think you need to write your plan down but just make sure you know what you want to use, how to use it and what the point is).

I stated a dislike for the maxim that we are “teaching kids for jobs that haven’t been invented yet”. If this is the case, what are we supposed to teach them, where does language feature and where does ELT come into all this? Rachel replied that she would be happy if students saw a reason to study English and that motivation was important in order to get them to want to learn using the best possible means because we can’t predict future jobs. David said that he thought English teachers should worry about teaching English, not job (21st Century) skills.

Teacher training was given a going over: Matt stated that reading lists on certificate and diploma-level programmes haven’t been updated for ages. Rachel said that there are different online course providers available for CPD. Angelos said what about having an observed online lesson, which I said was unnecessary because a lot of people still don’t need/want to teach online and the method is easily learnt after the basics of actual teaching. Sue Annan (@SueAnnan) said that it wasn’t necessary in all contexts. TalkenEnglish (@TalkenEnglish ) said that CELTAs don’t take into account different teaching contexts, which took us onto differentiation.

twitter.comI said that differentiation is preached on diploma-level courses. Carrie Stubbs (@StubbsCarrie) said that differentiation is probably overwhelming on a 4-week initial training course. English My Way (@EnglishMyWayUK) said that training for learner-centred approaches would greatly help this.

Laura Soracco (@LauraSoracco) talked about digital literacy as a 21CS. I disagreed, saying they are just L1 literacy skills which can be transferred to L2/digital environment. Matt seemed to agree with me. Laura continued to state her case, and it can be summed up as:

  • Not all learners have the text-navigation skills in L1, so teaching it in L2 is useful.
  • Managing, storing and producing information digitally needs to be taxonomised correctly.
  • These can be integrated into language classes themed on Digital Literacy.

I’m not totally convinced but we agreed to have a bit more of a back and forth.

This is the #ELTChat that refused to die so it looks like next weeks’ chat will be a continuation on a very related theme.