Sunday, February 19, 2006

Random thoughts on teaching and technology


I have been reading Cool Cat teacher's blog and again I came across Blue Skunk Blog which is also about the use of technology in the classroom. What really caught my attention was the frank account of how things can go wrong despite our best efforts(see link) . Now I'm sure we'd agree that nobody believes that technology is a "magic bullet" about to cure all the ills of an educational system, but I think that it can have a tremendous impact on our student's learning experience. Yet when I read about the American schools they work in, which have facilities educators in Greece can only dream of, I see that we will have to deal with many of the same problems in terms of applying technology in the classroom.

That's what I found refreshing about Blue Skunk's entry was an honest appraisal of the problems of getting teachers to actually use computers as a matter of course in their lessons.

Ideally, the technology should be ubiquitous and "invisible", in the sense that nobody stops to think about it as they use it. Just as few give any thought to how a mobile phone works when they make a call. What matters is the service it provides, not how it provides it. But that means making everyone involved comfortable about using the system, which is a far more formidable task than say, setting up a wi-fi network or giving everyone a laptop.

The language school where I work intends to introduce computers, which is, of course, a great leap forward for us. However, I don't think people realise that the battle for access to technology is merely the first skirmish in a much longer and complex campaign. What I'm seeing in stuff that is being written by American educational bloggers, is that, to quote a well - worn phrase;

"you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink".

It's very hard for people who love and use computers on a daily basis to understand the indifference, mistrust or even outright fear they invoke in others. When I started trying to use the internet and computers for teaching EFL/ESL in the late 90's It was next to impossible since the vast majority of my students didn't have access to both or simply couldn't believe that computers were anything other than a souped up word processor/Play Station and hence were either boring or irrelevant.

Over the last few years I have tried again since that the number of private students I teach with computers has increased enormously. Yet the struggle to convince students and parents that using the computer/internet is a valid use of their time is still as intense as ever. I think that blogging, podcasting, digital cameras, mp3s etc. have an important place in my teaching practice and produce results. But it takes forever to persuade students that something that is fun can help them achieve their goals.

The next battle is to persuade teachers to use these tools. They have few incentives to change ("Will I be paid more for this ? Nope!") and are faced with the possibility of having to stumble up a very steep learning curve (under the critical gaze of their students) while still handling all the other stuff that fills up their normal routine.

In some sense you can hardly blame people for being resistant to the introduction of new ideas in this context. However, in the intensively competitive business environment in which language schools in Greece operate you either adapt or go out of business. It won't happen tomorrow or even next year but the writing is on the wall for all those who believe that you can teach for the next ten years in the same way they taught for the last ten.

If you have any thoughts on this or have been in the same situation, please get in contact.

1 comment:

Vicki A. Davis said...

Ultimately, I am convinced that there are good teachers around the world that will see this new technology as an opportunity to relate to their students and increase learning. If it works it works.

It is not technology for the sake of technology, rather it is technology for the sake of learning.

Some educators misunderstand the motives of those of us who enjoy computers and see it as an excuse to enjoy gadgets. Technology relates to students and IS fun by its very nature.

Just take a first grader struggling with math facts to funbrain
and have them play math baseball. That was all the proof my elementary teachers needed to see!

Thank you for your meaningful, well thought out posts.