ELT and the Crisis in Education: Technology in the Classroom
Sunday 9 January 2011
by Nik Peachey
In my last posting ‘ELT and the Crisis in Education: Digital Reading Skills’ I took a look at how I feel the process of reading has been impacted by digital technologies and suggested that we need to address this and change or at least expand the way we deal with developing reading skills in ELT.
In this article I’d like to question how effectively we can attempt to do that in the language classroom as it appears in its present state.
One of the most common criticisms leveled at teachers who do attempt to integrate technology into their classroom environment, is that this often results in a lot of ‘faffing around’ or time wasted while struggling to get the technology to work properly. To some extent I feel that this criticism is fair, but I don’t think it’s a criticism that should be leveled at teachers, but would be better directed at the people who control the way technology is layered onto the classroom environment, so lets look at that.
These are two of the most common ways I see technology injected into schools. The first is the multimedia classroom / computer lab.
I’m sure, many teachers who have no computer access for their students will look at these images with envy, but is this really an effective way to implement technology into our teaching practice? You may ask what’s wrong with this kind of arrangement and this would be my answer.
* Having booked a time slot, teachers have to take the students out of their usual classroom environment and get them reorganised in a new classroom with a new seating pattern. Once in the media lab teachers feel pressured to fill all the time there with computer use, after all why take 5 – 15 mins getting students reorganised, getting computers turned on and students logged in, only to leave and go back to class again a few moments later?
* Many computer / multimedia labs aren’t in fact multimedia. There are computers there which are capable of delivering multimedia, but in many cases they don’t have headphones or speakers, there are no microphones and very few have webcams, so much of the multimedia capability and more importantly the part that supports oral / aural communication and audio visual creativity has been rendered ineffective.
* The arrangement of most computer rooms, with computers in long rows, makes it very difficult for teachers to manage the class, get students attention and create any kind of off screen communication between students as their attention is dominated by the computer.
* Most computer networks are jealously protected by IT managers who do their upmost to make sure the computers are kept free of viruses and not used for ‘unsuitable’ purposes. This often involves disabling any kind rights to upload, download or instal programs, software or applications and also often disables many of the browser based plugins that can be so useful to teachers and students. So in short the protection of the network takes priority over enabling teachers and students to use the computers effectively.
The second common scenario for technology integration into schools is the interactive whiteboard / single computer and data projector in the classroom.
Again many teachers would welcome the opportunity to have these kinds of tools, and they do solve the problem of having to take students out of class and into a new environment, but they do also create problems of a different kind when it comes to developing students digital literacies.
The interactive whiteboard puts complete control of the computer in the hands of the teacher. This may make the teacher feel good and make classroom management easier, but there is no way for the students to develop their digital literacies in this kind of environment where they don’t have hands on access to the technology.
So what’s the solution?
There is a third alternative and one that is becoming increasingly more common and that is the wireless classroom. As more schools are becoming wirelessly connected, this opens the opportunity for much greater flexibility in the way technology is used in class and which technology is used. Providing classrooms with wireless access can enable students to use their own devices in class and allows for a greater range and diversity of devices. It solves some of the problems of keeping school computers up to date with software and plugins and shifts responsibility for protection from viruses etc. It means that teachers and students don’t have to leave the classroom or even their seat to access the internet. Schools do however have to be prepared to provide adequate bandwidth to make it possible for reasonable numbers of students to start accessing media rich sources such as YouTube without bringing down the network.
Despite the fact that wireless networks are becoming much more common place in schools and at educational conferences I’m still surprised at how little utilisation these networks get.
Over the last year I’ve attended a good number of conferences and done workshops in a number of schools most of which have a wireless network, and yet still most teachers and students turn up to classes or sessions with pen and paper and only use the network for checking their email or Facebook between classes. The fact is very few tutors and trainers take advantage of the network during their sessions. This is something we desperately need to change. We must try to change the culture of our educational training at conferences and workshops and start to build the expectation that if students in classes or teachers at conferences bring along an internet capable device they will have the opportunity to use it in a way which will enhance their learning and participation in that event.
So what do you think about this?
* How is technology being integrated into learning in your institution?
* Are teachers’ efforts to use technology in your school being supported or obstructed by the institution?
* Is there a wireless network and do teachers and students use it in class?
* Do you have a computer lab? Does it get used?
* Do the computers in your school have microphones, headphones and webcams?
* Is technology something your students use in the classroom or just outside of it?
* Do you take your laptop or mobile device along to conferences and actually get to use it?
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