Why don't teachers use technology more?

Still in its box: the inactive whiteboard (sic)

How much does the technology get used here, in this school? The question came up in the CELTA session we had Tuesday last week. I suggested that it (classroom computers, interactive whiteboards, a computer room with 15 PCs, video camera, digital camera…) is underused and someone asked "Why?"

For many reasons, I would suggest, most likely a combination of some or all of the following:

  • Doubt whether or not using technology will actually lead to language learning
  • Lack of ICT training
  • Technophobia
  • Unwillingness to try something new, to see if it works
  • Fear that it might not work if they took it into the classroom, that something might go wrong with the technology
  • Not actually having a computer in their own classroom (and therefore having to arrange to move to another)

The first I think valid and is a question I always ask myself: will my intended use of technology lead to more, better language learning? The last, to judge from feedback I took from staff at a recent workshop, would appear to be the biggest barrier at the school where I work, where only 25% of the 40 classrooms have a permanent, fixed PC and projector (the rest have to have the technology wheeled in, or else the class needs to go to the computer room).

The other reasons in the above list, which I fully understand and sympathise with are, I would suggest, things that as teachers we need somehow to overcome…

Technology and interaction

Learners first, technology last

In the technology session I do on the CELTA courses at IH Barcelona, I usually begin by asking people to rank the following in terms of their importance in the language classroom:

  • Learners
  • Materials
  • Teacher
  • Technology
  • Other(-s)

As you can see in the image above, in Tuesday's session you ranked the learners first (red number "1"s), with technology coming roughly last (4,5…).

It's a rhetorical question, obviously, but I agree with the answer — the technology itself is probably the least important thing.

Why use technology?
Why bother using technology in that case? I suggested that one of the "other" things that are of importance in the language classroom is interaction between the other elements (learners-learners, learners-materials, etc., the black arrows in the image above) and that technology can enhance that and provide further oppoortunities for interaction — for example via a class blog.

Another big reason for using technology is face validity [definition]. You may well find yourself teaching digital natives, people who have grown up with technology. You may be a great teacher, but try and teach your learners with a blackboard and chalk and some of them at least will be wondering what cave you live in and, unfairly, not "like" you as a teacher.

As to how to use technology in the language classroom, the posts here on this blog labelled "using technology" address that issue…

Graffiti creator: would I want to use it?

Editing the letters individually, with greater contrast between them, would have made the word ("create") more legible

Here's one I'm not so sure about: graffiticreator.net

It's fun, though I'd have liked an un-do button, but maybe that's just me: I've never actually had a go with an aerosol can and reckon true graffiti artists don't, ever, "un-do"… ,-)! But would I actually want to use this with students?

Criteria for using technology
When I'm lesson planning and look at a website or an activity of some sort involving the use of any technology, I ask myself the same questions I suggest in the technology session on our CELTA course:

  • Is it a suitable level of difficulty, language and maturity for my learners…?
  • Will my learners enjoy doing it…? Will it engage them…?
  • How can / must I adapt it…?
  • What are the aims…?
  • What are the stages…?
  • What language is being used, practised and learnt…?
  • What are we going to do with what we've found / created…?
  • What is the return-on-investment (time spent setting up, in class…)?

With graffiticreator.net, my doubt is really over the language that is going to be produced and used: is it merely going to engage my learners at the visual level and absorb them in understanding how the site works, or am I going to be able to create a task that will really produce a lot of meaningful (linguistic) interaction?

Decision time…
On balance, that looks to me like one that will go into my "For the kids" file in my favourites — for my own kids, that is, they'll like it, but I don't think I'll be using it in the classroom with learners.

Now, on the other hand, if we had a class blog, and I wanted to decorate it, and we had — say — a new "graffiti word a week", and the kids wanted to do it in their own time, at home, or when I'd got someone finished all their other work, then I might consider it — but my aim would not then be a linguistic one.

The classroom: not just a physical space

Learning together…

The photo, above, one of you (Adam?) took during the technology session on our current CELTA course this morning. (I promised I'd show you the picture, but neglected to ask permission before publishing it here: I hope none of you mind…)

We began the session attempting to rank teacher, learners, materials, technology or some other thing, in terms of their importance in the language classroom.

One of you (Rohan?) suggested "space" as the "some other thing" — and mentioned an attractive, quiet, physical space with a welcoming arrangement of chairs (etc), an idea which I liked very much.

In the photo, I'd suggest that we can make out another aspect of that space, a more metaphysical one, if you like. We've got people close together, working together, enjoying working together… a space it's actually pleasant to be in, that learners want to be in.

Change the default start page of your browser

One of the suggestions made in the sessions yesterday on our Celta course was that you could change the default start page on your browser to something more useful to you as a teacher. Among my own default start pages are various sources of texts: with a quick glance, and without having to waste time trawling the Web for them, articles which I might be able to use in class come to me.

Also suggested was that your students should change their home pages on their computers at home/work to something of interest — a page on which they would stop and read or listen to some English. I liked the idea of that being a class blog, if you have one, and here's another that site that you might recommend, Nik Peachey's Daily English Activities. Designed for students, every day it has "a new simple online activity to help you improve your English".

Personally, I always recommend my learners to set their home page to the BBC World Service; to stop when they get there; to pick the most interesting looking headline; then to spend 2-3 minutes reading (or listening); and — because a lot of exposure is necessary for learning a language — to do that every day.

It doesn't have to be the BBC: it could be any site on any topic that interests them. Someone in one of our workshops yesterday argued that if you didn't set them a task or an exercise to do with it, then they wouldn't bother to do it. My counter-argument would be that they don't need more tasks or exercises: what they need, as learners, is to get themselves into good habits.