Ed Tech: The Mouse that Roared? by Scott Thornbury

EAJ 28.2_CT_10 questions_Scott Thornbury IMAGE#AusELT is privileged and delighted to be able to welcome Scott Thornbury as our first Twitter chat guest of the Year of the Horse. One of Scott’s current research interests is the “ed tech” phenomenon that has dominated ELT in recent years, and exploring what this means in practical terms. He will be joining us on Thurs 6th Feb at 8.30pm Sydney time [click here to check the time elsewhere in the world] to discuss some of the questions he raises below – we’ll see you there for what promises to be a very thought-provoking discussion.

As long ago as 1966, Pit Corder warned that ‘the use of mechanical aids in the classroom is justified only if they can do something which the teacher unaided cannot do, or can do less effectively’ (1966, p. 69). Nevertheless, the craze for newer, better gadgetry has continued unabated, creating what one writer called ‘the caravan effect’: ‘a metaphor in which the travellers (technology enthusiasts) stop for a while to drink from the waterhole (the latest technology) until they have had their fill; then they move on to the next waterhole to drink again’ (Levy 2009, p. 779). Moreover, each innovation arrives garlanded with claims that are seldom if ever realised, such that the history of educational technology in the 20th century has been characterised as a continuous cycle of ‘hype, hope, and disappointment’ (Selwyn 2011, p. 59). Why is this? One reason (adduced by Selwyn) is that the power of technology is often enlisted in order to solve problems that are non-technological in nature, language learning being a prime example. If we accept the ecological view that language is a complex dynamic system, subject to multiple and interconnected influences, social, psychological and environmental, the idea that change can be effected by a quick technological fix is ingenuous, to say the least. The history of the social sciences is littered with the unintended consequences of such interventions. Beware of geeks bearing gifts!

In order to guard against the hype, any recommendation for integrating a learning technology into our current practice should be countered with Neil Postman’s oft-cited riposte: What is the problem for which this technology is the solution? To which might be added a second question, based on Pit Corder’s aforementioned warning: Can the technology do it better/more effectively than the teacher unaided?

What, then, are the problems that technology might solve? To answer this question, it’s useful to draw on the current state of research to remind ourselves as to the necessary conditions for learning a second language, which, for the purposes of the argument, I’ll frame as problems:

1. The input problem, i.e. how does the learner obtain sufficient (comprehensible) input?

2. The output problem, i.e. how is the learner provided with opportunities for (pushed) output?

3. The interaction problem, i.e. how does the learner engage in (scaffolded) interaction?

4. The feedback problem, i.e. how does the learner get optimal feedback at the point of need?

5. The motivation problem, i.e. what motivates the learner to make best use of these input, output, interaction and feedback opportunities?

To which might be added (because it’s debatable as to whether it’s necessary)

6. The data problem, i.e. how does the learner readily access useable information about the target language?

It’s my contention that technology (meaning here ‘digital technology’, and especially that which is available online) has made significant advances in terms of helping solve at least some of these problems, such as the input problem and especially the data problem, where it easily outperforms the unaided teacher. But it has some way to go in terms of the output, interaction and feedback problems, while the evidence with regard to motivation is inconclusive.

I would go further, though, and add that one of the unintended consequences of an uncritical commitment to educational technology might be the effective disempowering of teachers in the interests of servicing the neoliberal ‘knowledge economy’. As Lin (2013) warns: ‘Language teaching is increasingly prepackaged and delivered as if it were a standardised, marketable product […] This commodifying ideology of language teaching and learning has gradually penetrated into school practices, turning teachers into ‘service providers.’ The invisible consequence is that language learning and teaching has become a transaction of teachers passing on a marketable set of standardised knowledge items and skills to students.’ This commodification process is, of course, massively expedited by digital technologies.

Cover of The Mouse That Roared by Ray Jones (Piccolo) - unknown illustrator

Cover of The Mouse That Roared by Ray Jones (Piccolo) – unknown illustrator

In the early 19th century a group of English textile artisans aggressively resisted the threat to their jobs and lifestyles posed by the development of new technologies. They were known as Luddites. Ever since, the term has been used to disparage anyone who questions the assumption that technological innovation is always beneficial. But were the Luddites so wrong?


Levy, M. 2009. Technologies in use for second language learning. The Modern Language Journal, Focus Issue: Technology in the Service of Language Learning.

Lin, A. 2013. Toward paradigmatic change in TESOL methodologies: Building plurilingual pedagogies from the ground up. TESOL Quarterly, 47, 3.

Pit Corder, S. 1966. The Visual Element in Language Teaching. London: Longman.

Selwyn, N. 2011, Education and Technology: Key Issues and Debates. London: Continuum.

23 thoughts on “Ed Tech: The Mouse that Roared? by Scott Thornbury

  1. cioccas

    Looking forward to this chat very much!
    Re the comment:
    “As Lin (2013) warns: ‘Language teaching is increasingly prepackaged and delivered as if it were a standardised, marketable product […] This commodifying ideology of language teaching and learning has gradually penetrated into school practices, turning teachers into ‘service providers.’”
    I agree this can be, and is, “massively expedited by digital technologies”, but think the causes, problems and solutions to this are quite separate from any discussion of the technology. It would be good to have this as a topic of a future chat!

    1. Scott Thornbury

      Thanks for the comment.

      I’m not sure that (in many teachers’ minds at least) the two issues ARE separate. Teachers (and even some students) who resist the pressure to ‘tech up’ may view computer-mediated communication and ‘technogically-enhanced’ materials as incompatible with their expectations of what comprises effective language learning. Selwyn (2011: 130) notes that ‘long before mainstream use of the internet, educational computing was being described by some critics as supporting a fragmented and atomized educational “assembly line”‘ […] In this sense, digital technologies have long been argued to contribute to the ongoing degradation of teaching as a profession – something that some teachers will understandably resist and even reject’.

      As a case in point, I found this on a blog site only yesterday: ‘EdTech can deliver the information in several ways that offline can’t, and vice-versa. So, both need to support and expand upon each other’.

      But who said education was about ‘delivering information’??? And where is the teacher in this assembly line process?

      On the same site, an educational app developer was asked: What behaviour/methods/approaches should ELT publishers maintain for 2014? His answer: Keep up the push into mobile ed and BYOD solutions.

      Where, again, is either the teacher or the learner (or even the object of study) in this scenario? Is it any wonder that some teachers are distrustful, when they are so conspicuously absent from the app designers’ strategic plan?

  2. Graham Stanley

    This proves to be interesting and I expect controversial. Ironically, given the nature of the chat, there is a problem with the above announcement for which a certain technology is the solution. i.e. we don’t all live in Sydney or know the time difference between this city and where we live. Fortunately, technology is at hand to help display multiple time zones for events such as these: http://timeanddate.com/s/2hvu Would the organisers please consider posting this for future events? I’m sure it would be very helpful for a lot of people and ensure a larger audience at the actual events.

  3. tomtesol

    Hi Scott & #Auselt,

    Looking forward to this chat, as it’s quite timely in my current condition/position. Looking at your 6 questions, I’m wondering a little about #3 (interaction problem), and perhaps a couple of others (motivation?) from the same stance. To wit — language use (especially 2nd/foreign) for my learners, not to mention for an increasing number of people all over the world, is as embedded in digital technologies as non-digital ones, if not more so. As such, it stands to reason that meaningful language practice as part of a class must include these technologies, facilitated by a teacher.

    In my view, this puts apps, dedicated language-learning software, and a lot of other computer code compiled with the foreign language learner in mind in the same “EdTech” bin in which traditional textbooks were once summarily deposited by a popular movement (before being reexamined in brighter light)… My point is that with regard to question three, unless I’m missing something, digital interaction using learners’ current ‘real-world’ technologies MUST be factored into a syllabus, and dedicated ‘educational products’ be limited to clearly selected appropriate purposes. I hope I’m not stating the obvious here, but I’ve been fortunate enough to use learners’ chosen technologies (FB, Twitter, Google+, Kakao Talk) on their devices here for the last several years, and the difference is clear to all of us. Unfortunately, this also means we haven’t been doing our bit for the EdTech industry…

    1. Scott Thornbury

      Yes, good point, Tom: in the interests of brevity I didn’t distinguish between the different functions, or pedagogical roles, of educational technology, which, for convenience (and following Kern 2006) we could label as – technology-as-tutor; technology-as-tool, and technology-as-medium. In the tutor role, technology can (arguably) substitute for, or augment, things that teachers traditionally do (teach and test, primarily). In the tool function, technology allows access to language in use (in the form of texts, youtube videos etc) and metalinguistic data (online dictionaries, corpora etc). As medium, technology facilitates communication through such means as texting, phoning, blogging, real-time chat etc etc. As you rightly point out, with regard to the ‘medium’ function, language use ‘is as embedded in digital technologies as non-digital ones’. So, it stands to reason that the development of (second language) literacy needs to engage these different modalities (and multimodalities) – which, for many learners, will mean transferring their L1 digital literacies into the L2.
      My reservations about technology-as-medium (and I have fewer reservations about technology-as-medium than I have about technology-as-tutor) stems from a concern that the fact that learners are interacting using digital means (texting, chatting, etc) doesn’t guarantee that they are engaging with the language to a degree which optimizes language development. Of course, the same could be said when learners are simply chatting (orally) to each other (a criticism frequently levelled at Dogme practice). But there seems to be evidence that the nature of the medium does (as McLuhan long ago proclaimed) affect the message, and that a medium that is designed principally for fast, interpersonal exchanges (as in texting or online chat) is not necessarily optimal for the kind of metalinguistic engagement that predicts language development. For example, Kern (2006: 199) cites a study that tracked the online exchanges between German students of English and English students of German aimed at raising intercultural awareness between them, where it was found that ‘time pressures and institutional constraints negatively affected students communication choices, leading to disengagement or missed opportunities for intercultural learning’. The researcher concluded, ‘an online discourse form that favours speed and brevity over sustained attention may impede their ability to engage in communication at a deep level of intercultural enquiry.’
      The same concerns seem relevant to the uncritical use of social networking platforms in (language) education. As Selwyn (2014: 115) points out, ‘ the majority of interactions with social media are not especially “participatory” in nature. While undoubtedly of personal significance for the individuals who are involved directly, much of the activity and content supported by social media remain “the ordinary stuff of life” rather than anything more powerful in terms of participatory forms of learning and knowledge creation’.
      Of course, a vigilant teacher can guard against ‘missed communication’ or impoverished learning opportunities, just as in a face-to-face classroom. What worries me more is when teachers use digital media as a means for learners to interact simply because ‘they are there’, without considering the (possible negative) effects the media will have on the quality of the interaction (apart from the logistical problems often involved). As in ‘Survey what the class thinks about X by sending each other text messages’.
      Kern, R. (2006) Perspectives on technology in learning and teaching languages, TESOL Quarterly, 40/1.
      Selwyn, N. (2014) Distrusting Educational Technology, London: Routledge.

      1. tomtesol


        I REALLY appreciated this comment a couple of days ago, and I enjoyed the reading you referenced with Saturday morning tea. The mentor/tool/medium distinction is very useful, and drives me back to my current conundrum: the best way for me in my context to arrive at the content for a particular group of (in my case) university students such that it’s a) what each of them needs/wants/is interested in b) contains appropriate input in noticeable ways c) stimulates output from which emergent language reveals itself. Today, contemplating your comments/readings as well as tasks in the TESOL ‘perfect eTextbook EVO’, I’ve about decided that a fully collaborative largely student-generated Wiki (in which they find content, create processing tasks, etc.) might be the way to go this term… Anyway — thanks again, and looking forward to this evening’s tweetchat.

  4. blogefl

    “And where is the teacher in this assembly line process?” Hmmm…I think this comment is a little one-sided, Scott. I appreciate the need to resist the pressure for teachers to “tech up” in the ELT classroom if it is true. You seem to have slipped back to painting the picture here, however, that teachers who use ed-tech are all trying to finding a way of “delivering” language to their students, which is grossly unfair and which also does a great disservice to those who use ed-tech in creative and collaborative ways and who try hard to use it in ways which engage their learners and further language learning aims. After having worked with you as my editor on a book about using ed-tech in ELT, I know you know about this, but it doesn’t come across here unfortunately.

    1. Scott Thornbury

      Hi Graham… I hear your aggrieved tone! Well, you know me – in the interests of gingering up a bit of debate I may have overstated my case. However, if you take a look at the 100 most popular language learning apps, I bet you’d find that the majority are designed simply to deliver – either to deliver facts about the language, in the form of word meanings or grammar explanations, for example, or to deliver exercises/quizzes based on these facts (often sexed up as games). Of course, there are also tools that facilitate creative language use and communication (although see above [to Tom] for some caveats) and there are teachers who use them, and why your book is so good, I might add, is that if concentrates on creativity and communication rather than simply delivery. And, moreover, it never suggests the use of digital media where a simple face-to-face approach wouldn’t have worked just as effectively.

      1. blogefl

        Thanks, Scott. It sounds like what you are actually questioning is not technology but the ability of ‘mobile learning’ What you say is true about the ‘language learning apps’ and also true about ‘language learning games’. I think that most of them are really only any use for helping to memorise vocabulary. The highest paid educational app related to language learning in the iTunes store where I am at the moment, for example, is a simple flashcard vocabulary tool that boasts being 2500+ words. I’m sure most people use them as extras – i.e. additional to other language learning they are doing, or they just want to pass the time with a little language learning (I did the same when I went to Japan and there wasn’t really an alternative – the app was a bit of fun for me to hear and be able to understand a little Japanese). Part of the problem is the boast that many of the app.developers make about their apps. Some of them are just vague boasts: “More than 2500 words to learn English” (in the description of the aforementioned book) is OK I suppose, but I wonder about this other boast: “An efficient study method validated by thousands of pupils”.

        In contrast, if you look at the description of the apps that CUP make, then you find a far more measured description that tries to point out what the apps will help you with and you can tell (at least for the ones I’ve looked at) the limitations of learning with them (i.e. one app (Cambridge Monstruo) states that it will help Spanish speakers with the mistakes they make when taking Cambridge exams and is based on the Cambridge English Corpus.

        Unfortunately, there a lots of entrepreneurs out there who are trying to make a quick buck out of mobile learning and I doubt that m(any) of them are even aware of research/studies going on into the effectiveness of mobile applications for language learning. In fact, one of these recent studies (Left to My Own Devices: Learners Autonomy and Mobile-Assisted Language Learning by Diaz-Vera, J.E, 2012, Bingley:Emeral Group Publishing), which focuses on the pedagogical application of mobile technologies to second language acquisition, identifies the “high emphasis” being placed on novelty and on the functionality of the mobile devices themselves, and there is very little time paid to the “Mickey Mouse” apps that occupy the Top Ten charts of the app stores.

        This is how it should be, because it goes without saying that nobody who knows anything about the reality of language learning and teaching thinks much of these apps. If you like good food and are a restaurant critic, you shouldn’t feel obliged to spend any time in McDonald’s just because it’s the most popular ‘restaurant’ in the world. What we need is another category for these cowboy apps so we can get on with talking about the efficacy of apps produced by the serious players. However, I agree with you that any mobile app is no substitute for a teacher – I think the ‘Tutor-Tool argument’ (Levy, Computer Assisted Language Learning: Context and Conceptualization, Oxford, 1997) has been decided, with language learning technology working best when it is used as a tool by learners and teachers and only used judiciously.

  5. Scott Thornbury

    Thanks for confirming what I suspected (re apps), Graham. I think we agree that, as you say, ‘language learning technology works best when it is used as a tool by learners and teachers and only used judiciously’. I might want to qualify this, though, and say ‘used as a tool for second language learning and/or second language use’, i.e. not as a tool for entertainment, or for L1 communication etc. It may sound obvious, but I am baffled by some suggestions for using technology that seem to use the tool for no other reason than it exists, as in my example above (conduct a class survey by sending text messages).

    Here is another example, which, because it is too long to post as a tweet, I’ll post here so I can reference it in the Twitter chat (the numbers in parentheses refer to my comments below)

    Aim: to practice parts of the body (1)
    Opportunity to use and develop multiple intelligences (2)
    Students have made plasticine models of the body in a previous lesson (3). Students get their previously made models; in pairs they practice pointing and saying parts of the body (4); using mobile phone, teacher videos the pupils describing their models (5); While waiting their turns pupils practice and/or complete a body coloring activity (6); teacher shows video to pupils using mobile phone (7)….

    (1) As it stands, the linguistic aim is fairly minimal, as no structure is identified which might contextualize these body parties, e.g. This is his head. Or, He’s got a head. This wouldn’t be hard to include, of course, but it doesn’t seem to have been a priority.
    (2) It’s interesting that flimsy lesson aims are often dressed up in this kind of new age talk. I’m wondering exactly which ‘multiple intelligences’ are engaged and how these impact on second language learning: plasticine moulding?
    (3) How language-productive was this, I wonder?
    (4) Again, is this purely lexical?
    (5) Why? What does the videoing add? Perhaps an element of task-challenge, because it raises the psychological ante. But what about the logistics? How much time-on-task per student is likely? Is this compensated for by the added challenge?
    (6) Again, this is minimally language-productive.
    (7) Given the size of the viewer, this is only going to be feasible in small groups. Again, what are the other students doing, while this is going on?

    All in all, if the aim is to practise body parts, a few rounds of Simon says, or Hands, fingers, knees and toes would likely be just as effective, and certainly easier to manage.

    This seems to be an example of a lesson where the video functionality of the mobile phone is being used because the mobile phone has video functionality.

    Admittedly, this is a lesson for young learners, so it might be justified on the grounds that is activity-rich, and that young learners don’t learn anything very much anyway, so they may just as well have fun. (But is Simon Says any less fun because it doesn’t involve a hand-held device?)

    For a more serious kind of lesson, and from the same source, here’s a lesson for an adult in a one-to-one situation preparing for an IELTS-type photo description speaking task.

    I won’t go into the details, but basically, the student describes photos, getting feedback from teacher on how to do it better. So far so good. But the designer of the lesson has shoe-horned into this basic format the following tools/sites: wordle, flickr, voicethread, glogster, quizlet, Lucy George’s Cloze Test generator, PBWorks!

    It seems to me it would have worked just as well if not better (and with far less likelihood of time-wasting while all the various tools are ) if the teacher had simply followed Earl Stevick’s classic reformulation model: you describe the picture, then I’ll describe it, then you do so again, incorporating my ideas. For purposes of comparison, a recording stage could be built in, I agree. But that’s all the technology that’s needed to solve the problem: How can speech be captured for purposes of language study? It was a problem that was solved in the 1950s.

    So, yes, Graham, I agree that the tools should be used for language purposes, and used judiciously. What are the criteria for ‘judicious’ use? Here I can’t do better than reiterate what Pit Corder said: ‘The use of mechanical aids in the classroom is justified only if they can do something which the teacher unaided cannot do, or can do less effectively’.

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  9. #AusELT Post author

    Hi Scott,

    Thanks for joining us here on #AusELT. It is great to see you weigh into a topic and kick off 2014 for us. I am sure it prove to be an interesting discussion. I would like to return to some of the points you made in your original post and pose some questions and comments for discussion. I won’t pretend that I have any answers to these but I am interested in taking part in a discussion on them as I believe many teachers would.

    First, it might be useful to look at use of the term Luddite. Historical fact and the contemporary usage of this term differ somewhat. Novelist Thomas Pynchon, a self-confessed Luddite (in the contemporary sense), explored this in a New York TImes article in 1984 titled ‘Is it ok to be a Luddite?’. He notes that “The knitting machines which provoked the first Luddite disturbances had been putting people out of work for well over two centuries. Everybody saw this happening – it became part of daily life” Thus the Industrial Revolution was “more like an accelerated passage in a long evolution”. A lot of this should sound similar to the anyone tracking the Computer Age. Do our anxieties increase as rates of technological change increase? Does an individual’s ability to change with technology, or lack thereof, become more pronounced in these periods of history? How can the teacher practice their profession in this period? We do indeed live in interesting times.

    Second, I agree that the ‘caravan effect’ , where technophiles continually flock to the newest technology with the belief is is implicitly better, is a concern. However, it might be good to separate the tech world as a whole and ELT at this juncture. Many in the tech world have noted that technology has followed a trend called Moore’s Law. Unfortunately, I lack any good references on this concept so I will have to defer to Wikipedia on this. They currently state that “Moore’s law is the observation that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years.” Although not considered a natural law, it does appear that technology has been improving at an exponential rate. Yet most in the ELT field would agree that our profession has not changed at a similar rate and we are now noticing a divide between what technology can do in the classroom and what is considered good tech-inclusive pedagogy. Conole and Culver (2009) encapsulated this well by stating that there is s “fundamental gap between the rhetoric of the potential of technologies and actual practice”. Where does this leave the teacher? What are we to do in this rapidly changing world? Should we change our pedagogy at the same rate? Should we approach our own pedagogical changes with the same critical eye that has always been used?

    Third, your Selwyn reference of the ‘hype, hope, and disappointment’ of technology was interesting. Again, it is mirrored by a notion used in the field of technology. The Gartner Hype Cycles are released each year by Gartner Inc. to analyse what technologies may become commercially viable in the future. Not everything that appears on their graphs is guaranteed to stay on there for a full cycle. While Selwyn may have pessimistically ended the description early, the Gartner hype cycles add a few more stages where some, but not all, technologies develop into maturity. Again, we return to the teacher. What, if any, technologies should a teacher adopt? And when? And what should motivate teachers to adopt or avoid them ?

    Fourth, I like the six problems you have posed in regards to the use of technology. Personally, I feel that any teacher who is considering technology through this type of framework should exhibit good pedagogical choices. I am particularly interested in the output, interaction and feedback problems where you believe technology falls short as I see lots of good use described online and used in classrooms.

    Lastly, I would like to suggest an alternative title for your post – Pandora’s Dropbox: Sound pedagogy in the digital age. I have found that many teachers in ELT are very wary about the potential misuse of technology in the their classrooms. This even holds true for the techno-enthusiast teachers out there.

    Looking forward to the Twitter chat session.

    Michael, @trylingual


    Conole, G. & Culver, J. 2009. ‘Cloudworks: Social networking for learning design’, Australasian Journal of Educational Technology. 25(5), pp. 763–782. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet25/conole.html

    Gartner Hype Cycles http://www.gartner.com/technology/research/methodologies/hype-cycle.jsp

    Pynchon, T 1984 Is it ok to be a Luddite? The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/05/18/reviews/pynchon-luddite.html

    1. Scott Thornbury

      Thanks, Michael, for your thoughtful and measured response. ‘Pandora’s Dropbox’ – now I wish I had thought of that!

      I won’t address all the points you raise, except to say that I think it’s important to rehabilitate the Luddite spirit – not the violence, of course, but the resistance, if only as a counter to what some writers have called ‘techno-fundamentalism’, i.e. an uncritical faith in the potential of technology to solve all our problems. (It’s also called ‘solutionism’ in a recent book whose title, appropriately, is To Save Everything, Click Here).

      You say that many teachers you deal with are wary of the breathless claims made by tecchies, but I have to say that I find that the same uncritical, happy-clappy enthusiasm for educational technology also permeates the discourses of language education. Here is a recent example from a website, in which some aficionados were asked to make predictions for the coming year:

      How will ELT be different 5 years from now?

      I smell an ELT renaissance in the air. Very soon, a new generation of creative teachers, innovative products and better EdTech will emerge.

      Or, this, from Facebook: ‘My New Year resolution: bring at least 10,000 new teachers out of the class and into the world of blended learning. I hope to accomplish this with your help. If 1,000 teachers bring in 10 teachers, we can train teacher [sic] who will train teachers to use technology and make a difference in education and learning worldwide’.

      And of course not a day goes by on Twitter without someone posting a link to a site that boasts ‘101 ways of using a mobile phone in class’; ‘Ten great ideas with Wordle’ etc – where the quantity of ideas seems more important than whatever educational goal they might be intended to achieve.

      ‘The framing of digital technology as a generally “good thing” has become an orthodoxy within education thinking’ writes Neil Selwyn (2014, Distrusting Educational Technology, p. 22. Along with this benign attitude to technology comes a somewhat malign attitude to traditional (i.e. non-technology-reliant) teaching, and, worse, a disdain for the value of schools and teacher expertise altogether. As a report on the BBC website this weekend reported. ‘A room full of students with a tablet each and a teacher with an enthusiasm for social media is all that is required to engage developing minds’. Forget the years of training and classroom experience: all that is needed is ‘an enthusiasm for social media’. Well, judging by the numbers of adherents to Facebook, there’s no shortage of that.

      Is it any wonder, then, that the Luddites are crawling out of their graves!

      Looking forward to Thursday’s chat.

      1. elkysmith

        I’m enjoying following the to-ing and fro-ing and looking forward to tomorrow’s chat. Thanks Scott for your original post – you’ve covered the key issues with your typical flair, insight and succinctness!

        You gave three examples of “uncritical, happy-clappy enthusiasm for educational technology”, all of which suggest individual teachers experimenting with edtech in their own classrooms out of their own personal desire to innovate and improve what they do. This reflects my experience of edtech in ELT: many teachers instinctively feel that our conventional, coursebook-based syllabuses are not quite hitting the mark in terms of student outcomes and that technology might be a way to break free and try something different and ‘innovative’. They might turn to social media or perhaps the offerings of well-known publishers for ideas and inspiration and find the kind of ‘101 ways to integrate technology into your classroom’ stuff. This was my own experience about two years ago!

        I’ve been wondering lately whether, at its logical conclusion, this process could lead to a situation where an ELT course becomes an incoherent, fragmented collection of apps and tech tools (as opposed to the incoherent, fragmented collection of grammar points, themes, texts, tasks and activities which often pass for syllabuses these days).

        I think what’s really needed is to:

        1. Carefully consider the learners’ needs and clearly articulate syllabus aims.
        2. Think about what sort of language input, output, interaction and feedback the learners will need to achieve those aims.
        3. THEN think about whether/how technology can support teachers and learners to achieve those aims and what specific tools will be most suitable.

        In some cases, technology might be an unnecessary distraction. In other cases, it will be an indispensable resource. I think academic managers and curriculum developers have a responsibility to help teachers navigate through the edtech landscape. I’m not sure this is happening to a great extent; it seems that, just as often, teachers are left to their own devices (excuse the pun.)

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