Apr 15, 2009


There's a lot of excitement about the potential for teaching that new technologies can bring to language classrooms. There's also the voice of reason that warns putting snazzy new bandwagons before the horse and jumping onto them.

I must admit I've never used an interactive whiteboard but I've seen them used and they are extremely impressive. If you need to keep a class's minds occupied they must be a godsend.
Of course, as the warners rightly point out, what matters is that the technology fits into a programme of content and principled teaching rather than becoming the content and the teaching. The teacher still looks after the teaching; the whiteboard is a further aid at the informed teachers' disposal.

Presented well, technology can be a great Trojan horse: it can attract reluctant or bored minds into at least 'doing things' in English and maybe discovering along the way that learning English can be personally beneficial.

Technology is a means rather than the end: it allows access to learning possibilities that otherwise wouldn't exist - an interactive whiteboard can summon up, in an instant, examples and applications of relevant language in relevant contexts, and can actively involve students in the moment-to-moment procedures of the lesson.
Google or on-line corpora allow learners to look at words and find out about them in a way that goes vastly beyond the limits of the dictionary.
Podcasts make thousands of listening exercises available to learners. The range of topics, difficulty and length mean that everyone can find something of real use to listen to whenever and wherever they want.
Whenever and wherever they want: this is a key point in my mind. A lot has been made of 'authenticity' and 'the real world' when it comes to language teaching and a large amount of many teachers' time and effort has been put into attempts to bring them into the classroom.

Whereas until recently this 'real world' was, for the great majority of students who learn a foreign language in their own countries, a rare commodity, now it is easily and readily accessible through the internet. The teacher is no longer the sole provider of 'the real language': language is there - far more of it and far more real - for learners to immerse themselves in and to discover. I see this as a liberation. Learners are free of their reliance on the classroom when it comes to having access to 'real language' and are free to supplement their lessons through the scores of 'learning english' web-sites that are present on the internet. And teachers are freer to get on with teaching. Instead of focussing on creating 'real worlds' in their classooms they can focus their attention on students 'learning realities'. They can focus on teaching what is 'teachable' and 'teachworthy' and is clearly geared towards helping students along the way towards increased autonomy and competence in dealing with the world that is 'out there' for them to easily so engage in.
The classroom has its own separate and legitimate reality; a reality that technology can legitimise further. As teachers, our responsibilty is to point out to learners how to best make use of what is 'out there' by themselves. We need to learn enough about the technology and become familiar enough with what is out there on the internet to be good guides through the jungle of red herrings and trash that otherwise might soak up all the interest and enthusiasm that many unaccompanied adventurers set off with.
Learners will end up learning best what they want to learn, and not all of that will happen in even the most organised and receptive of classrooms. As teachers, we can do the best we can in our lessons to prime our learners for the learning opportunities they will find by themselves and that will not necessarily mean making the tools that learners have at home or in their handbags the centre of the classroom.

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