Category Archives: EdTech

‘Hype, hope, and what are we actually meant to do with it all???’ Attitudes to edtech.  Part 2 of the #AusELT chat summary ‘The mouse that roared? Issues with edtech in ELT’ (6 Feb, 2014)

Photo: Victoria Boobyer @eltpics

Photo: Victoria Boobyer @eltpics

This is the second in a series on 4 blog posts summarising the many issues that were raised in the recent #AusELT chat with Scott Thornbury on the subject of edtech in ELT. The title quote is a comment made by @eslkazzyb during the beginning of the discussion. References or links have been included as far as possible but let us know if we need to make corrections or additions.

 

@Eslkazzyb gave us a neat summary of the different attitudes towards the use of edtech in our #AusELT community. The ‘hype’ is the technoevangelism – the idea that you have to use tech in ELT because it is ‘better’ and that means, whether you like it or not, you should embrace it and incorporate its use in your lesson planning. This is definitely an idea that has frustrated and annoyed a lot of teachers.

Then there’s the ‘hope’. Edtech has its supporters too – some are approaching it cautiously, beginning to see benefits where before they saw none, gradually coming around to the idea that there might be some scope for the inclusion of tech in the language learning classroom.

Others (the technovores!) are the early-adopters. Not necessarily technoevangelists, they are the daily users, those who have fully integrated edtech into their daily teaching, manage to get the right blend for their blended learning and appreciate the advantages that it brings, while acknowledging that there can sometimes be a downside. These people already have an idea of ‘what we are actually meant to do with it all’.

 HYPE

There is a push to use edtech but it isn’t necessarily coming from educators. There were suggestions that blended learning is driven by publishers and corporate training/e-learning (@ElkySmith), by sales and marketing (@tamzenarmer, @Penultimate_K), and that there is a perception that this is something that the learners want – students are meant to be motivated by tech so we’ll sell them tech!

TamzenATweet

@thornburyscott stated that ‘we need to be suspicious of technology when it is being co-opted by multinationals to commodify education for profit, as in the US.’ This need for suspicion extends to directives that we ‘must use tech’ or ‘tech improves teaching/learning’ with @harrisonmike making the point that we should show the quote below to anyone who tells us this is so:

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@Penultimate_K mentioned that it seems that often the choices we are meant to be making when it involves tech have been curated for us and there are ‘so many lists of what we’re meant to do/need.’ You don’t need to look very far to find ‘The Top 10 Apps to Use in Class’ or ‘7 Effective Ways to Teach Language with iPads’ and, of course, this leads to a ‘race for money’ (@trylingual) by the developers of those apps and the makers of those iPads, and along the way the need for those tech tools to be pedagogically sound is lost.

@thornburyscott supported this idea as tech being the driver rather than the tool with this 2003 quote from Diane Laurillard:

“Technological innovation is driven by many factors, but not one of them concerns a pedagogical imperative.”

And the results of the hype? Confusion and frustration. The decision to use edtech or not, to believe in its advantages or not, can divide teachers (@Eslkazzyb). Both @ChristineMulla and @roboloughlin mentioned the sense of demoralisation that teachers experience when you don’t live up to the expectations to use tech. In some cases, teachers can even be penalised for not including tech with @harrisonmike commenting that Ofsted (the UK Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) will not grade a teacher as ‘outstanding’ if tech is not used. This also brings us back to the problem of where the expectations are coming from: from accrediting bodies such as Ofsted, from students, from managers, or from sales? If you don’t make the effort to use tech, then who exactly are you disappointing? @thornburyscott commented that ‘teachers are often blamed for not instituting tech, but maybe they don’t see the need?’ and too often this blame is coming from technoevangelists who ‘lose sight of the learners and the learning’ (@ElkySmith) and who may not even be teachers.

The pressure to use tech can often be seen in institutions with blended learning courses, where teachers feel an obligation to use, for example, the Interactive Whiteboard, just because it is there or just because content has been developed for it. This can result in reduced teaching quality when the focus becomes ‘having to use the IWB’ rather than the learning objectives. There can also be avoidance, ‘When we got IWBs, teachers wanted to use them just for effect. Many just avoided them and used the WB’ (@MerMac) and use that has no real pedagogical benefit, ‘often only use IWB to display IWB notebooks of Word documents – and to project the Internet.’

HOPE

‘It is easy to feel that the edtech tide is going out and you’re getting stranded’ (@ElkySmith) but there is hope for those who are feeling somewhat left behind. @trylingual asked ‘Can teachers change this? Are we responsible?’ and the answers seem to be ‘yes’ and ‘yes’.

If we take @ElkySmith’s view and consider technology ‘equal alongside all [the] other methodological technologies’ then it becomes a slightly less daunting prospect. It isn’t ‘a silver bullet’ (@Shaunwilden) but another tool to add to a teacher’s repertoire. The fact is that rarely do teachers use edtech wholesale.

While the plethora of edtech (the tools, the apps, the sites, the techniques) can be daunting, the majority of teachers are working to get past this and see the potential. It’s the difference between not writing off IWBs because you’ve been pushed into using them but also not writing off IWBs because you don’t know how to use them effectively (@SophiaKhan4 and @thesmylers).

And let’s not forget the students in all this. @thesmylers asked about what the students expect and @Eslkazzyb commented that she hadn’t seen the demand for the use of edtech that she had anticipated, which made her wonder about how much impact its use has on engagement and motivation. If this demand has been exaggerated, then the onus is off teachers to provide tech-centred lessons all day every day, and return to a pedagogically-focused class with tech as just one tool among many at the teacher’s disposal.

WHAT ARE WE ACTUALLY MEANT TO DO WITH IT ALL???

@mattellman pointed out that yes, there might be hype and hope, but there is no actual evidence of disappointment and that learners have a lot more access to English now via edtech. Technofundamentalism is not restricted to the sphere of ELT – it ‘pervades all sectors of society’ (@english_safari) and there are many who feel there are benefits to be gained from it while maintaining a balanced perspective.

The teachers who feel the most hope seem to be those who have been able to harness the tech as a tool rather than a driver and who perceive the use of tech in ELT as augmented learning rather than blended learning (@Innov8rEduc8r & @forstersensei)

Augmented learning can be implemented either by teachers or tech developers or a combination of the two. The teachers will look for pedagogically sound applications (@ElkySmith) and the developers will create ‘tech specifically designed for ed rather than tech which could be used for ed’ (@Penultimate_K) or as @forstersensei put it, ‘don’t sell tech, sell education and let tech be incorporated.’

@lukeealexander pointed out the liberating effect of using free tools (‘if you know where to look’) and also commented that he perceived tech ‘as a site of contestation rather than (a) monolithic force for neoliberalism.’ Tech can be time-saving or let you expedite the exposition stage, freeing teachers up to engage more with students. Tech can bring breadth to your lesson content.

@innov8torEduc8tor summed up the balanced approach best with this idea:

GregCtweet

 

References

Coffield, F. & Edward, S. (2009). Rolling out ‘good’, ‘best’, and ‘excellent’ practice. What next? Perfect practice? British Educational Research Journal, 35 (3), June, pp. 371-390. Retrieved from http://teambath.bath.ac.uk/education/documents/seminars/ORE_Reading_Group_01.07.13.pdf

Laurillard, D. (2002). Rethinking University Teaching: A Conversational Framework for the Effective Use of Learning Technologies (2nd ed). London: Routledge/Falmer.

McCann, U. (2008). Universal McCann Social Media Tracker Wave 3. Universal McCann, New York. Retrieved from http://www.universalmccann.com/Assets/2413%20-%20Wave%203%20complete%20document%20AW%203_20080418124523.pdf

Postman, N. (1993).Of Luddites, Learning, and Life. Technos Quarterly, 2(4). Retrieved from http://www.ait.net/technos/tq_02/4postman.php

 

This summary by @Penultimate_K

“What is the problem to which this technology is the solution?” Part 1 of the #AusELT chat summary: ‘The mouse that roared? Issues with edtech in ELT’ (6 Feb, 2014)

Question Mark Key on Computer KeyboardThis is the first in a series on 4 blog posts summarising the many issues that were raised in the recent #AusELT chat with Scott Thornbury on the subject of edtech in ELT. The title quote is drawn from Neil Postman. References or links have been included as far as possible but let us know if we need to make corrections or additions.

 

Scott (‪@thornburyscott) started by outlining his position based on his recent #AusELT blog post:

‘The framing of digital technology as a generally “good thing” has become an orthodoxy within education thinking’ (Selwyn, 2011). Yet history of edtech has been one of endless cycles of ‘hype, hope and disappointment’ (Selwyn, 2011, p. 59). Witness: radio, TV, films, microcomputers, language labs, IWBs. Now mobiles, tablets, one laptop per child.

Techno-fundamentalism: an uncritical faith in the inevitable benefits of technology. Does it pervade ELT? I argue that it does. Typically it takes the form ‘101 things you can do with Blogster/Wordle, etc.’ Is this the way to make pedagogically sound choices?

Better to ask ‘What is the problem for which this tool/aid/app is the solution?’ (after Neil Postman)

So what problems have you encountered for which some technology has provided a solution? Specifically:  1 input, 2 output 3 interaction 4 feedback 5 motivation and (possibly) 6 data. How does technology solve these?

This summary looks at what the chat participants had to say on those 6 areas (NB: some of the areas have been collapsed together, not because they don’t deserve individual attention, but because the issues are related and ran together in the chat).

INPUT & DATA

No one would disagree with ‪@lukeealexander that “tech provides sts in TEFL contexts far more authentic material/input than 10-15 years ago.”

Participants were also quick to point out that “tech allows more universal access to corpora, from Google all the way to Corpus of Contemporary American Eng for example” (@ElkySmith) and that “explaining vocab, particularly abstract ideas, is much easier via images online.” (@forstersensei)

‪@thornburyscott stirred the pot again, suggesting that while digital media may offer massive input, it is at a low level of engagement:

“The Web is a technology of forgetfulness” (Nicholas Carr)

@sophiakhan4 agreed and suggested that it also often offers a low level of language development: “Lots of beginner and elem stuff – tapers off noticeably above intermediate level.”

OUTPUT & INTERACTION

I thought people might have a bit more to say about the extent to which edtech really helped their learners produce meaningful language in meaningful contexts, but it was a fast moving chat and it seemed to fall by the wayside somewhat – although some of the issues return in the section on FEEDBACK (below).

Several participants were positive about the the role tech can play in promoting interaction:

  • “Found tech wonderful for real-world communication tasks – real-meaningful-purposeful tasks” (@Innov8rEduc8r)
  • “interaction . . . learning beyond the classroom is a big plus. Apps, social media (when used properly) & online tools” (@forstersensei)
  • “Have just set up a wall for an exam class to link and add to. Faster comm from me to them, them to each other (I hope) . . . I find it great to allow SS to come together and solve problems. Fosters autonomy and builds a team.” (‪@ChristineMulla)
  • “I love to use pages and walls for exam classes – they use them to share photos, ideas and chat using target language.” (@PeloKaren)

@MeredithMacAul1 agreed with this, having experimented with Moodle forums to get students adding comments on a topic, but she added that it was “difficult to get everyone to participate.”  @Eslkazzyb agreed and commented that students “really have to see value very explicitly to participate.”

@trylingual took a neutral position: “Tech has brought the real world into my classroom. But it does not solve everything and often creates more issues.”

FEEDBACK

Participants were quick to pick up the connection between output, interaction and feedback. Arguably, in terms of language learning, output and interaction always requires feedback of some kind, whether that comes from the teacher, the software, a friend, or some other source.

  • “Feedback is the big Q for me. St seem to like using authentic tools, e.g Facebook, but less interested in feedback loop . . .” (‪@Eslkazzyb)
  • “Computers aren’t ready to respond to real output. Still need people” (@SophiaKhan4)
  • “Feedback is an issue for tech with a closed design. i.e. Only one correct answer.” (‪@trylingual)

‪@thornburyscott, as ever, had a quote to hand:

“Conclusion: CALL products ‘are not yet able to offer an alternative to human support or interaction’ (Nielson 2011).”

However, chatters were keen not to throw the baby out with the bathwater:

  • “Agreed.. but they can assist. Socrative is a great example of a tool that can be programmed w/ feedback.” (@forstersensei)
  • “How [else] to collect audio samples from all Ss in one short lesson so you can give individual feedback, individually? (@cioccas)
  • “Tech can b used 2 facilitate feedback between sts eg mobile phones to record and send speaking task, other st gives fb” (@lukeealexander)

‪@thornburyscott agreed that recording students output seemed to be at least one positive use of mobile phones for example, though @GwendaAtkinson queried the wisdom of winding up with 100 recordings to grade at home. @cioccas, however, thought that “recordings used like taking home papers to check” was a good idea and noted that we can provide audio feedback instead of written.

‪@thornburyscott was also quick to jump on the fact that tech doesn’t correct writing, “nor give-at-the-point-of-need feedback on meaning.” @ElkySmith proposed that this was just a matter of time, though @cioccas was less optimistic: “I’ve seen tech that tries & if that’s the future I’m worried.” @forstersensei felt that edtech could still assist, nonetheless, and suggested trying Kaizena for providing oral feedback on writing (according to  @trylingual there is a plug-in for Google Docs that does the same).

@IH_Barcelona also suggested that if the problem is getting feedback from learners, then Google forms is a “brilliant, easy, useful” solution.

MOTIVATION

I’m not sure motivation and engagement are the same thing but for the purposes of this Twitter chat, they were certainly closely intertwined.

Tech is engaging – but where’s the evidence?

@Shaunwilden started off with: “I’m not sure if it is a problem per se but [tech] definitely helps engage sts.” @Innov8rEduc8r agreed: “Engagement was sky high with tech for my sts. And desire to improve pronunciation, grammar was also high.”

@thornburyscott wasn’t willing to take this as evidence: “If technology engages learners, where is the proof? Questionnaires (Do you like using mobiles in class?) are unreliable . . . Better to assess motivation by degree of attention, time-on-task. Evidence is not good . . . I’d just love to see some evidence that students are more engaged.”

There were many responses:

  • “My proof would be watching lessons before and after” (@Shaunwilden)

Where’s the evidence that ANY tool is engaging?

@TomTesol set the cat among the pigeons by drawing an analogy with textbooks: “Where’s the proof that textbooks engage learners?“

‪@thornburyscott was quick to respond: “Textbooks don’t engage learners either. Other learners do. And teachers.”

@Eslkazzyb thought the analogy was very valid: “The skill is in the T using the book and tech to suit their learners’ needs & interests.” ‪@SophiaKhan4 agreed that whether textbook or tech, “life has to come off the page/screen. They can help but not alone.”

As a final word on this topic,  @forstersensei implied that the combination of textbook and tech might be the best of both worlds: “digital textbooks can be much more engaging than photocopies . . . add interactive content” – however, the jury was definitely out on the whole area of this kind of blended learning tool (more on this in Part 2!)

Whether tech is engaging or not depends on . . .?

Returning to the problem of motivation/engagement, participants were clearly divided on whether they saw tech as essential or not.

Admitted technophile@Innov8rEduc8r was all in favour: “Engagement was never really an issue if I designed projects that catered to their interests and needs . . . My students were more engaged – more attuned to their English skills – and where they needed to improve – and had a sense of agency.”

On the other hand, admitted Luddite @Eslkazzyb wrote: “Interestingly I don’t see as much drive from Sts as expected. They seem to prefer solid lessons with or w/o tech . . . Tech did not necessarily add to levels of engagement for my classes . . . Seems some of the most simple ‘low tech’ ideas are often most effective.” ‪@Penultimate_K agreed, putting it in a nutshell: “I’ve never had a student come to me & complain that they don’t use enough edtech.”

@Innov8rEduc8r wrote: “Wonder if our approach is affected by our own engagements with tech. Me: I love tech” and @tamzenarmer thought there was definitely truth in this: “The teachers in my institution who love tech most can get Ss to engage.”  @PeloKaren summed it up: “It’s like any topic/idea: if the teacher is engaged in it the students will be more engaged – but it has to be balanced.”

Is there evidence that tech is NOT engaging?

‪@thornburyscott then widened the scope of the discussion by equating motivation to attention and arguing that the internet as a whole may be contributing to reduced attentiveness: “Motivation = attention. But Internet fosters ‘continuous partial attention’ and reading online is typically ‘shallow.’”

@trylingual didn’t take this as read, asking: “Can we install better habits? Have these phenomena been verified to be present in all st populations?”

‪@thornburyscott  referred to a study that tracked more than 100 very motivated students using online self-study software. The study found that only 5 of those students completed the course. This rang bells for several chat participants. @cioccas said: “I’m not surprised given most self-study courses I’ve seen. Still need humans for real support, FB, etc.” and @SophiaKhan4 felt that it was “easy to enroll [on an online course]/buy a package. But w/o real-life feedback [it] is meaningless in long term . . . much easier  to enroll & feel like that is an achievement than do the work & finish.”

However, the quality of the self-study package that the study evaluated was questioned, with @IH_Barcelona asking “Was the fault with the course design or the technology itself? . . . Was the online experience primarily a technological one? Or a social one? Social way more likely to ‘work.’” @forstersensei asked: “Was there a concrete outcome in the course? ie. a degree? If not, why do it?” and he also added “Tech can’t be the sole medium . . . better as a support.”

And there you have it. If you have some more ideas in response to Scott’s 6 questions, please let us know in the comments. Part 2 looks at attitudes to edtech in more detail, including ‘technofundamentalism’ and how teachers really feel about the implementation of blended learning programs.

References

Postman, N. 1993. Of Luddites, Learning, and Life. Technos Quarterly, 2(4). Retrieved from http://www.ait.net/technos/tq_02/4postman.php

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

This summary by @SophiaKhan4