The place of technology

I may sound like a Luddite when I say that I believe we need to be careful about how we see and use technology in education.  Far from it: I’m a British Council certified online tutor, I’m a blogger, I moderate the IATEFL LMCS SIG discussion group at Yahoo Groups, I coordinate the ELT Online Reading Group, I co-ordinate the ERF website, and I’m also a member of the BC ELT Online Community. I spend most of my waking time online and if there is a way to integrate technology to ELT be sure I’m for it.

However, I maintain that we have to be careful about how we see technology in education.  I simply read in dismay when people write things such as ‘our students breath technology’. Technology could be taken as a given if you live in a developed country or belong to the middle-upper class in a developing one. What about the rest of language learners, which form the vast majority around the world? What about learners in Africa, Latin America, and some Asian countries where you have just one computer in the school? What about countries where people only have electricity during counted hours during a day? Where kids do not have access to textbooks, let alone laptops? Where teachers have never heard of a blog, let alone flickr, pikkids and other funny names?

Unfortunately,  I have to say that one of the negative points at IATEFL Cardiff was the opening plenary with Marc Prensky. Surely entertaining, but shallow, biopic and the stereotypical talk of an America salesperson. He used a variety of techniques to try to convince teachers that we are all dinosaurs who will be soon extinct with we don’t ally with the young generation that is born into technology. There certainly is some truth in that but the whole talk was highly misleading. Teachers know fairly well that technology came to stay and that that we have to be update. This is not the point. The point is how to make technology accessible to a wider number of learners, how to include technology in CPD and, mainly, a serious consideration of the pedagogic and educational principles underpinning the use of such technologies.

I still want to see a session where “webheads” stop preaching us the advantages of technology to start reflecting on how, why, and with what purposes we are using it.

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2 thoughts on “The place of technology

  1. I have to agree with your belief that we (as a people) need a better direction with our technology. But I am not sure what you are asking for beyond that. You bring up the generalized “our students breath(e) technology” comment, and refer to third world, under-developed countries, but what are the options available for bringing these countries more up to date? How can we facilitate increased technology education and use in places that have no or little electicity? Perhaps those that use the generalized statement above do so with the knowledge that there are others on this planet that are so far from the proverbial technology power curve that they are not relevant to the topic as of yet.

    Perhaps we as a global community should take action to assist these countries. We could try to facilitate funding and PRUDENT technology spending, while providing education, perhaps even in a ‘pro bono’ manner until funds are available for true paid teaching. You mention making technology more widely available, but that is a near impossiblity until social and geographical are dealt with first. We here in America and you in the developed areas of Europe and Asia, as technology trailblazers, must understand that certain areas of the planet are not easily compatible with simple technology insertion.

    War-torn regions cannot easily be home to free web design classes and internet cafes. It should also be noted that some of the areas that have grown (exponentially) in their computer savvy have decided to use it for online scamming as opposed to education (check out the western African countries and their fake check writing operations). Some in those countries have been so lucrative at this deception, aimed at the under-employed and lazy of the more developed nations, have even writen fun, regae-styled songs about tricking us and taking our money.

    I understand, as many of us do, that too many in the technology and education fields are tunnel visioned and not just a little egocentric. However, what are your ideas and/or solutions to fixing THAT problem, along with technology growth over the globe? We can worry about being ‘dinosaurs’ after the rest of the planet catches up to us. Or, perhaps these third-world areas offer employment and purpose for those of us int he technology and education fields after we become extinct here.

  2. Hi Tony
    Thanks a lot for your comments and for posing such challenging questions – to which I have no pretence of having final answers 🙂

    I completely agree with you when you say that there are social and geographical problemd that should be tackled first. I don’t think that giving a computer per child in a couple of villages in Africa will solve the problem because there are deep social, hisotrical and cultural factores involved and which will determine how and what for the computers are used. These factors are largely being ignored most of the times. I believe we should think of technology in a broarder educational context – while governments and institutions do not change the way education is seen and provided, technology will only reproduce the same attitudes that we have at the moment, as we can see in the examples you give. Access to technology should come with better social conditions, access to books and teacher education programmes.

    Besides that, I think many teachers use new technologies with the main objective of making students tech-savvy. Is to be able to use as many gadgets and new programmes what really matters?

    Why should ICT be a component of education? What’s the rationale behind it?

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