Technology is being used more frequently in the classroom, mirroring its integration into our daily lives. It has huge benefits, with near-instant access to more information than we ever thought possible, but also has its disadvantages. Either way, we cannot ignore its impact on education. Many schools have interactive whiteboards, iPads that are used in various lessons, and online digital resources.The resources we create at Garnet are varied, but the digital side of what we produce is expanding and becoming more vital to our courses, with eBooks, interactive course books and video slideshows in our new general English course C21. However, as an ESL publisher, it is important to take into account the range of access to technology in classrooms around the world, which is why our default is still the printed book complemented by a range of digital components. One thing’s for sure, technology is only going to become more of a part of society and we as educators need to ensure that it can be used in a productive way that encourages learning.
The argument against
The argument against technology in the classroom generally has two parts.
- Firstly, it can become a crutch for students as they come to depend on it. Particularly for young learners, technology may be so integrated into students’ learning experience now that they may struggle in assessments when they must perform without it. Additionally, in class, technology can discourage student interaction as it can be isolating and thus limits opportunities for collaboration.
- Secondly, it can be distracting and therefore hinder learning. Some teachers have an all-out ban on technology because of this, especially mobile devices. Here is a good article that discusses the different reasons teachers have for banning it.
The argument for
- Studies have shown that the brain is more likely to retain information if it is memorable, so novelty will engage students and ensure they don’t forget what they are learning. Technology’s relative modernity and students’ interest in it can be harnessed to aid language learning.
- In 2017, there was an increase in the use of virtual reality learning, augmented reality and visual technology in general (e.g. videos), adding an extra dimension to learning. By creating digital components to complement our textbooks/courses, we can make learning a more immersive experience.
- Students’ differing cultural backgrounds can affect their familiarity with technology and is something to be considered as the world, and classrooms, become more diverse. With English teaching, things like Skype and messaging can be invaluable tools for communicating with people around the world and practise speaking as well as help teach culture by interacting with other cultures. Read more.
Therefore, technology can be very useful and beneficial as a classroom tool as long as it’s used as a jumping off point and not something to depend on.
How to utilise technology
So, how can we harness technology to enhance learning? As mentioned, this initially depends on where you are teaching. It all comes down to accessibility of technology and internet access: some classrooms have lots of electronic resources, and in some places they will be more difficult to get hold of.
When using technology in the classroom, we must create clear boundaries for its use. Don’t prohibit it completely- instead, show students how they can use it to their advantage in language learning. This may be more challenging with young learners, as their lessons especially can be more centred on technology; in my school the interactive whiteboard was indispensable. Young learners need a balance between technology and physical textbooks/ objects.
With adults, there is less pressure on making technology a staple of their lessons because generally they are more motivated to learn, easier to engage, and can be less familiar with technology, but it also depends on their age. Supplementary resources may be very valuable; smartphone applications or Language Learning Social Network Sites (LLSNS) such as Duolingo, HelloTalk, podcasts, and myriad websites broadcasting learning materials, such as Nik Peachey’s blog. Also, interactive games like Kahoot! can be customised for each lesson.
Teenage students are the most enthusiastic to utilise social media and sites like YouTube in their lessons as it is such a large part of their lives. You can allow the use of social media usually used outside the classroom in a productive way. A class Twitter, blog (WordPress is free), Goodreads, or YouTube channel could be created as a way to encourage collaboration with other students. Teachers could also screen YouTube videos, which are becoming more and more popular as teaching material, in class. Worldwide, teachers are writing blogs, and the ESL Twitter community is using hashtags which exposes students to different styles of English online. Through this, students can learn to use resources productively and educators can ensure that they interact with them in a useful way.
Do you think technology is a good way to engage learners and encourage independent work?
Classroom Management Dilemmas in the Age of Mobile Devices: http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolssis/issues/2017-11-20/1.html
See here on use of online app grammarly: http://www.eltresearchbites.com/201710-what-do-students-think-about-automated-grammar-tools/
Importance of resource allocation for ESL learners: https://www.eschoolnews.com/2018/01/12/teachers-english-learners-need-resources-support/
Why Schools Need to Teach Technology, Not Ban It: http://www.risk-within-reason.com/2012/03/26/guest-post-why-schools-need-to-teach-technology-not-ban-it/