How can technology work in class?
Every now and then, I can see articles popping up on the media with huge, eye-catching headlines like “School ditches tablets”. Flashy stories come as no surprise. But what comes as a surprise is educators endorsing them without a second thought, without using their critical thinking skills. Condemning in public technology seems to be quite trendy lately but is it justified? The very definitions of Learning Technologies encapsulate the role of educator and the instruction, placing them at the heart of integrating technology into the syllabus.
Text by: Dimitris Primalis
Before playing the blame game and starting heated discussions, let's take some time to reflect not on the superficial question "Is technology bad or good?" but on "How do we use technology in class?"
Do we really use it to serve a specific purpose/learning aim or do we use it as the dictionary entry below describes?
“leave someone to his or her own devices
(idiom ) Definition of leave someone to his or her own devices : to allow (someone) to do what he or she wants or is able to do without being controlled or helped by anyone else —often used as be left to one's own devices
Example: The students were left to their own devices when the teacher failed to appear on time.”
Source: Merriam – Webster online dictionary
If one replaces the word "students" with "devices" in the example given in the above entry, one might get an idea of how technology is often used by educators.
Apparently, having used - and often abused technology during emergency teaching in the pandemic- we tend to use devices or software as fillers or patches, without thinking much about how these can accommodate learner needs. Consequently, learning technology is often rejected outrightly by learners, educators, and parents alike as distracting, alienating learners or acting as an impediment to the teaching process.
Integrating technology into the syllabus to engage learners and boost motivation has nothing to do with witch-hunting or orthodoxy. It is a tool like any other - including the educator's voice and gestures- that can enhance learning if used in the right way. The key question here is not whether we should use technology or not but "how can we use it effectively to the learners' benefit?"
There is no recipe or step by step guide to do it but below you can find some questions that stimulate reflection on how we currently use technology and whether we do it effectively or not:
Do we use it as a mere substitute of books?
In other words, do we use the tablet in class to ask our students to read PDF files without any interaction? If this is the case, then we give technology a bad name. If on the other hand, we use multimedia texts (texts enriched with sound, video, animation, and links that can offer valuable insight to the reader), then students have the opportunity to learn making the most of LT's (Learning Technology's) potential. Combining such a multimedia text with a mini gamified quiz based on what learners have studied can pleasantly challenge learners and offer valuable feedback to the educator. For instance, a brief ®Kahoot, ®MS Forms or ®Quizizz quiz with instant feedback appearing on the learner screens can be very engaging.
Do the tasks we design, incorporating technology, support learner interaction?
No matter how exciting an app might be if there is no interaction between learners, then the lesson is doomed to be tagged as utterly boring. Even popular online games with spectacular graphics entitle players to engage in the game in pairs or groups.
Make the most of the class layout and ask learners to work in pairs or groups; to discuss potential solutions to a problem; create content and present or negotiate the outcome of their pair/groupwork with the rest of the class. This will serve both linguistic and class management goals with learners focusing on a task and producing the target language rather than browsing irrelevant websites or exchanging messages on the social media platforms.
Are students required to use their critical thinking skills?
Doing the same old mechanistic tasks in a different environment won't save the day. Filling in the gaps, transformations and multiple-choice exercises may be more fun with technology but this can be assigned as an asynchronous task and offer instant feedback combined with explanations to the learners.
Technology lends itself for searching, assessing, synthesizing, and interacting. How about showing learners a story and asking them to find out if this is real or fake news? What if you ask your learners to find data about an environmental problem and then present their solutions on how to deal with it effectively through a video and/or blogposts/ posters/ infographics? What if you arrange a joint project or debate with a school from another country?
Do the tasks stimulate creativity?
Do we ask our learners to copy-paste information and present it in front of an uninterested audience or do we challenge them to share their own views? LT gives learners unique opportunities to create content and share it with the local and international community in various forms and genres: blogposts, articles, podcasts, videos, games, interviews, posters, infographics and there are more arising as technology advances.
Are learners given feedback?
Very often students are asked to create a presentation, create a project or carry out another task using technology but are not given feedback which diminishes the value of their work. If the task is a revision quiz, technology can accommodate instant feedback accompanied with written feedback explaining for example why the distractors in a multiple-choice questions are wrong (see first question above).
If it is content creation, like a presentation, a project or a post, then you can make comments on the draft e.g. on a ®MS Word File, or provide feedback on a separate field provided by platforms like ®MS TEAMS (Assignments) that only learners can see. Alternatively, you can give oral feedback recording your voice and sending the audio file, or create a video or even try screencasting which allows you to give feedback using a virtual whiteboard, your voice and image and send it to your learners.
Why try that? Because it will save precious classroom time; it is a discreet way to deal with linguistic issues, away from noisy classroom environments; students appreciate the fact that you address them personally - from my experience, they tend to regard written comments on paper as impersonal and too formalistic.
Using technology in class is not panacea or Pandora's box. If we plan ahead and we know exactly what we want to achieve with our learners, then it can stimulate their interest and engage them in class. If I was asked a "golden rule" on how to use it, I would say that in a lesson "technology is the special effects but pedagogy is the protagonist".