Hello again! Grab a coffee for this post, as there is plenty to read but I’m sure it won’t leave you indifferent! Six Things is joined by Gavin Dudeney, whose name will already be very well-known to many of you out there in cyberspace. Gavin’s a teacher trainer, award-winning author and edu-technologist. When he’s not travelling the world giving workshops and sessions on integrating technology into teaching he can be found in Barcelona. He has also been quite active in quite a few heavy discussions online about all of this. How heavy? Well, see below to be up on the debate!
Gavin Dudeney’s Six Attitudes to Technology [ And Why They're Tosh ]
There’s a battle going on out there: on blogs, on Twitter, in Yahoo Groups, on sites like the British Council Teaching English site and elsewhere… a battle for our hearts and minds, a battle between the technophiles and the technophobes (or, sometimes techno-sceptics). It’s the battle for your time, your teaching approach, for your commitment to a cause… it’s the “is technology good or bad?’ battle.
People who know me will be no stranger to my views, but since I was so kindly invited by Lindsay to contribute to SixThings, here is my cogent, extremely intellectual and totally correct view on the other side…
1. It Breaks All The Time
A popular one, this – as if that were true, or indeed a reason for not using it.
One of ELT’s greatest writers refers to technology all the time with the use of the word ‘faff’. As far as he’s concerned, there’s just too much faffing – you spend more time trying to get it to work than it does actually working and enhancing your teaching. Take a look for the word ‘faff’ on Wikipedia.
“to dither, futz, diddle, ‘I spent the day faffing about in my room’.”
Does that suggest to you a problem with the tool or approach, or a problem with the person? My father used to say ‘a bad workman blames his tools’ and I think this is a clear case of that happening (though I should probably replace ‘workman’ with ‘workperson’) …
You can minimise the faff by learning a bit about computers and other peripherals and how they work. We do the same with plenty of other things – few of us would dream of going to class and helping a learner with, say, the present perfect, without knowing something about it. It’s called preparation.
Make sure your own computer is well-looked-after and protected against viruses, etc. Make sure you have the right adaptors and cables. Check with event or class organisers what kind of projector, sound system they have. Arrive early to try things out. If you do all that then things should be fine.
I have over six computers running at home – they work fine. I have a web server that has not been rebooted for months – it works fine. I’ve over twenty installations of Moodle running globally – they work fine.
In Greece last week and in Cork the week before I had no Net connection for talks I was giving. I had planned for that, and had an offline version of my talk which was just as creative and engaging, even for the audience – the feedback was grand (and people have been in touch since then to show me examples of work they have done with learners as a result of tools and approaches we examined in the sessions). Is it too much to ask people to be prepared, adaptable and professional? I don’t faff – why do you?
2. It’s Unproven Pedagogically
Detractors go to extraordinary lengths to dig up research that appears to give weight to their argument that there is no real bulk of evidence that supports any significant advantage to using technology. Of course, this is a mug’s game – for every report someone can dig out that says ‘X had no significant impact on Y’, one can dig out a report that says the opposite.
There’s plenty of evidence that technology works in certain situations when used well, etc., etc. but of course you can find the opposite too. There’s little evidence to suggest that many approaches or ‘states of mind’ in teaching significantly enhance the learning – but it beggars belief that we are seriously invited to take some ideas on faith but not apply the same leeway to technology. You can’t have it all your own way, people.
If you want evidence to counteract that old report from 1994 that concluded that doing T/F exercises on a BBC Micro had no great impact on teenage learners of Russian in Dalston (sample of four over ten days) and on which you base your theories that ‘it really isn’t much good, you know’ then why not search the archives of EuroCALL or similar organisations, ones that actually do the relevant research. Of course, you should expect the same rigourous appraisal of any approach, method, etc. that you espouse…
3. It’s Boring And Not Interactive
One of the greatest myths is that technologies in class are not very interactive, that really it’s like doing exercises on the screen. And of course it can be. People who have this opinion are usually people who haven’t been teaching for a decade or so, who last used a computer in class when they had sixteen colours, no sound and the only thing you could do on them was manipulate text, and who haven’t moved beyond that phase.
Just to get them up to speed, perhaps they should consider what computers actually can do these days; sound, animation, video, collaboration, production, conversation, communication… With blogs, wikis, live voice chat (with video) and a whole host of other tools you can actually provide opportunities for learners to speak to people they WANT to speak to, rather than people they’re FORCED to speak to by dint of being in the same room.
If you use technology in the ‘noun’ way described by Prensky then of course a lot of learners are going to find it boring and not very interactive at all. But if you get some training, use some imagination and explore the options, you might get round to using it in a ‘verb’ way and people might actually interact, create, talk, communicate and – yes – learn.
That old Hebrew proverb (don’t confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in different times) should be a pointer here. But I’d change it a little: don’t confine your learners (or trainees) to your memories of what computers used to be like the last time you were a practising teacher or used one in class. Times have changed, have you?
4. It’s All Porn & Paedophilia
Another one that had me laughing recently – another disingenuous attempt at picking away at the value of technologies. The author of this particular post claimed that when he was taking his learners to the ‘Internet Room’ (even the use of the phrase ‘Internet Room’ should date the class) they just spent their time surfing for porn.
And that does raise a lot of questions:
- Why was your class so boring that they felt a need to do that?
- Why did you have such little control that they could do it?
- Didn’t people use to look for rude words in dictionaries?
- Haven’t kids always looked for pictures of naked people?
The fact is, of course, that if you can’t use technology in a stimulating way – if you can’t engage your learners… if you can’t control their natural urges to ‘bunk off’ then you really shouldn’t be in a classroom, either with or without technology. As I pointed out in this discussion, when this teacher’s kids were looking at bums and things, mine were involved in email penpal exchanges with kids their age in the US, and regular real-time chats with kids their age in Poland.
Even the most irrationally technology-fearful teacher must surely recognise that the learners resorting to looking for naked body parts is more a reflection of the power of technology to stimulate (!) and the teacher’s inability to use the technology properly, than any actual weakness in the technology itself. We’re back to our bad ‘workperson’ again…
And of course the bad teacher’s experience with technology was also an ideal opportunity to discuss safe surfing, safe online practices and the role of naked body parts in education as well as the dangers of giving away too much personal information online. But I suspect that this didn’t happen either – you have to know the details in order to share them…
5. It’s Bad For People
Another popular meme – this usually means something along the lines of:
- I read an article in 1997 that said watching telly for seven hours a day is detrimental and that therefore equates perfectly to modern media such as Web 2.0 [ ummm.... ]
- I just read an informal report on kids’ attention spans and apparently they’re really short and rubbish and this is all down to Twitter. [ watch a kid play a computer game for twelve hours if you wish to see a decent attention span ]
- I read somewhere that staring at a screen for eight hours a day can have a negative impact on your eyesight [ well duh! ]
- I think it’s terrible that my child plays on the PSP for four hours a day [ so do I. Do you have a point to make other than something along the lines of how bad a parent you are? ]
- Kids who grow up using computers can’t hold pens properly because their hands develop differently and bones never grow properly [ I heard this one in Hungary last year.... no comment ]
Of course most things can be bad for people when they’re done to excess. Those of us who espouse technologies are also quite capable of teaching without them, with nothing, with other tools, etc. We are the balanced lot. Teachers who refuse to even consider and try out technologies (where they have them) are actually unbalanced, for all sorts of reasons. Writing technologies off because you know nothing about them, have not experienced them and have never taught with them does not make them bad tools.
6. It’s Not Fair
No, it’s really not – not fair on your learners, some of the time.
Look, it’s a question of respect- it’s not that people are attacking you for not engaging with technologies, it’s more that people are enquiring where this blind refusal to try them comes from (I suspect it mostly comes from the points and attitudes above)…
It also comes from things which are often out of the control of teachers: lack of equipment, lack of support, lack of training, an inability for curriculum setters, examining board, school owners, teacher trainers, DoSs, etc. to move beyond the 1980s and of course the chalk-face teacher is the greatest victim here.
But what confuses me is that teachers make their own opportunities for development when they’re not getting it instutionally: they read, they pay for their own courses, they travel to conferences (if they can) and they make every effort to keep up-to-date. Why not with technology? The answer’s right here – nobody takes it seriously in our ultra-conservative profession, and that’s why we’re destined to be a few steps behind business, and destined to short-change some of our learners.
And why is it ok for you to use technologies for your professional development and for your teacher training, but it’s no good for the ‘poor teachers’ or their charges. Where did this one rule for you and another for the learners come from? There’s no democracy in some ELTlandias.
If all the detractors who spend so much of their time moaning about how unreliable, porn-laden, boring, troublesome, unfair, blah, blah, blah technologies are spent the same amount of time on their teaching, writing, etc., our profession would be buzzing.
As it is, we’re old hat… moribund…. laughable…. so non-nerd we’re the new nerds that people like to snigger at. I can help – if you faff all the time or can’t think of anything creative to do with technologies or your learners are always looking at naked bodies, please get in touch. No fee…
Gavin Dudeney is the author of the award-winning book How to Teach with Technology (written with Nicky Hockly) and The Internet and the Language Classroom. He is co-founder of The Consultants-E, an online consultancy providing courses and training for teachers. You can read more from Gavin over at his blog, That S’Life.