ELT and the Crisis in Education – Part 2
Tuesday 16 November 2010
by Nik Peachey
First, I would like to say thank you to all the people who answered the questionnaire and left comments on my first posting about ELT and the Crisis in Education.
The questionnaire wasn’t intended as ‘research’ but merely to prompt thought and response to some of the issues that I wanted to raise over the course of this series of articles and see where existing opinions differed. You can see the results here and still do the questionnaire yourself and add questions if you wish: http://urtak.com/u/4587
The first of the issues I’d like to dig a bit deeper into is technology, as that’s where much of my own more recent experience lies. I’d like to start with this video of Henry Jenkins of USC talking about what he feels is the problem with schools in the US.
Watch the video here: The Tech Fix – From PBS Frontline
One of the things he focuses on is school attitudes to failure, but he also believes that more learning happens outside of school than it does inside and that the way much of the technology has been implemented within schools has rendered the technology powerless to meet the needs and interests of students.
He ends with what I believe is one of the most important points, this is that students will need digital skills and digital literacies to function fully in the 21st century. I think this is a vital point and I constantly try to promote the importance of digital literacies in my writing and training work, but many teachers within the field of ELT don’t seem to consider the development of these literacies to be part of their role and many believe that is the job of their first language ICT teachers.
I’m surprised by this attitude because within ELT we spend a lot of time developing a range of ‘traditional’ communication skills based on the assumption that many of these skills aren’t automatically transferred from students’ L1 (just look at the number of lessons and coursebooks you can find that help students to write a letter of complaint!) and yet teachers seem happy to assume that many of the skills that students need to mediate computer based communications, such as video conferencing or micro blogging, and the development of digital literacies will be!
One of the issues Henry Jenkins raises in the video is the question of whether schools are becoming irrelevant. As more students naturally start to exploit technology for their own autonomous learning, there is a possibility that they will turn off to schools. I was wondering whether this could also apply to ELT. There has been a huge growth in the number of web based providers offering cultural and language exchange websites where any learner of any language can register and find a partner and or multiple partners to peer teach. Some examples are:
This kind of learning takes languages outside the classroom and offers opportunities for ‘real’ communication with native speakers of the language you want to learn, but could these kinds of sites start to offer real competition to existing face to face language schools?
In my questionnaire, only 51% of people believed that schools could offer a personalised education for each students (See results), yet many of these sites can allow students to create their own path through language learning. 65% believed that the classroom was an outdated paradigm for education (See results) , so could this be a realistic alternative?
The last point I would like to deal with in this posting, is that teachers who do use technology in class are often criticized for the amount of time spent getting the technology to actually work. In some ways I feel that this is a fair criticism, but not of the teacher or of the technology. It seems that teachers who do want to use technology in class are between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand parents often want their children to learn how to use technology and see it as an important tool for their future, and schools want to be seen to be addressing the use of technology especially within their marketing information, but when it comes to setting the technology up in a way that gives both students and teachers quick, easy and open access, the firewalls come down and the bureaucracy steps in to make this almost impossible. So …
How about you?
- * How has technology been implemented within your institution?
- * Has technology been implemented in such a way that it supports your teaching?
- * What would you like to see changed to enable you to use technology more effectively in your school or classroom?
- * Do you feel that face to face language instruction could be under threat from online learning providers?
I look forward to reading your comments.
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