Learning technology and autonomy

Should teachers advocate for themselves the right to say what is right or wrong in terms of internet use? Should teachers be the ones who decide on how learners should use technology, what is good or bad for them or deciding what kind of things they must or must not be exposed to?

Although teachers shoudl perhaps guide students in their use of the Internet, there are some issues that need to be addressed. First of all, giving teachers the right to decide on all internet use may border censorship  Secondly, it seems to go against the very nature of the kind of technology we are talking about. Computers and the Internet are all about democratic access to information and the right to communicate. I’m not saying that we should endorse access to porn sites or terrorist rings; I’m saying that our role as educators is to show our students how technology can be used to answer to their learning needs and getting access to information in a way that will help them to become more competent learners and more active citizens in this world. If we cannot show them more attractive ways to use technology than boring grammar and vocabulary drilling exercises, they will certainly opt for other sort of uses of the time they spend in front of the screen.

As for games, it seems to me there is a lot of prejudice involved in it, as scientists and psychologists are still debating the negative and positive effects on gamers’ learning skills and language performance. Certainly, it all depends on the games you play. As for other media, games are not intrinsically good or bad. It all depends on the books, magazines, newspapers you read. It all depends on the programmes, films you watch. It all depends on the kind of music you listen to. It all depends on the games you play. It all depends on the sites you access. Furthermore, it depends on what you do with all these materials, how you read these different influences and how you apply them in your life.

The times we are living now surely seem unique to us and they certainly are, even in historical terms, however, this is by no means the first time human kind has gone through an information revolution. It has already happened when parchment scrolls were replaced by paper books and printing was created. The creation of the book was a major revolution that also brought along a democratization of access to information and empowered people to create their own readings apart and diverging from the official readings of the Church and State. In this aspect the translation of the Bible into vernacular and its printing and distribution enable people to reshape their identities, gave them the possibility of self-fashioning and self-representation and gave them a voice, as if you could read, you could also write and you could print and circulate your own ideas. Very dangerous stuff! The power of Church and State – and of teachers consequently- to decide what people would read and write, what was right or wrong, what was good or bad for them was seriously undermined. Any bells ringing?

However, the book and the printed word was no accessible to everyone, there was a wide technological gap between the haves and have-nots. Any other bells?

What’s more, I am not mainly concerned with the ways students use technology. I’m concerned with the way teachers perceive technology. There is this still a bit of this Fear/Awe syndrome around and it seems to me that the first thing we should ask ourselves is what we are doing with computers and how we perceive their role in education.

Stephen Bax in this article ‘CALL – past, present and future’ distinguishes three different computer use models.

1. computer as a tutor – this is when teachers use computers for drilling and grammar and vocabulary practice. The computer remains the ‘knower-of-the-right-answer’ and is an extension of the teacher/textbook.

2. computer as stimulus – this is when the use of technology ceases to be a search for the right answer and the purpose is now to stimulate students’ discussion, writing and to develop critical skills.

3. computer as a tool – this is when programmes are not language providers anymore, but are used as tools to help students to create language and become aware of it, using word processors, spelling and grammar checkers, publishing programmes (blogs, wiki etc) and concordancers.

I personally believe that the ideal thing is to make use of computer designed activities as a stimulus, at the same time that we incorporate technology use as a tool in our everyday activities to the point that technology will not be neither feared nor looked up in awe – it will part of our teaching practices and students’ learning process in such an organic way as pens and books are nowadays.

Simply having a computer with access to the internet in each classroom does not mean we are helping learners to take the most of new technology if we use it in a way that is indeed promoting a teacher/computer centred approach. If that is the case, the board and flashcards can be used as effectively as … and are much cheaper!

Simply having a multimedia centre with state-of-art equipment doesn’t help either, as students will probably use their breaks and time waiting for their parents accessing Orkut or checking their emails as I have seen uncountable times.

Instead of blaming learners or parents, perhaps we should reflect what other options for computer/internet use we are giving our students. Just a few ideas: teach them who to use the Word tools, teach them to use concordancers to improve their writing skills. Ask them to create projects and ppt presentations, assign and correct homework online, motivate them to create their onw blogs, create project blogs where everyone can contribute to, create sharing writing documents such as wiki, ask them to share their pics and have classroom presentations of their hobbies and trips. Use material from websites that will promote discussion and lead to critical approaches to the topics in their textbook. Whatever… I’m sure we are all very creative teachers who can think of some thought-provoking, engaging ways to integrate technology into our teaching practice.

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One thought on “Learning technology and autonomy

  1. I have been involved with ELT for the last 8 years. I really enjoyed going through the articles.
    Within minutes the gap between Brazil and India became negligible, and I gained some knowledge of your language and culture.
    Keep up the good work

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