Simple Technology is the Solution for English Classes

I wish to reassure all you teachers out there who feel embarrassed about not using high technology tools enough in the ESL classroom. The use of equipment and tools that are easy to master will add to the effectiveness of our teaching, but the more advanced these tools are the greater the chance of wasting time while trying to implement them in the classroom. Some very savvy teachers may manage to work with the latest Internet software without any hesitation, but that is not my case—although I do have experience with some of these tools as I have written a digital book QualityTime-ESL: The Digital Resource Book Version 5.0, and I am presently the Webmaster of my site. I have also produced and edited a film called “Scenes from an ESL Classroom”. Yet I would not feel comfortable relying on the Internet for my course, and I would dread having a student ask for technical instructions I could not supply. I think class time is very precious, and we must not get involved in problems that may well require the use of L1 in the classroom.

Not completely “English Unplugged” as Scott Thornbury advocates

I admire the stand taken by Scott Thornbury in his latest book “English Unplugged”, in which he promotes an approach to teaching based more on person to person interaction rather than on an obsessional use of high technology. I too feel we should carefully evaluate what this technology is doing to our brains in terms of lowered attention span, inferior memory capacity and anxiety due to increased information saturation. However, I do not agree entirely with his Dogme ELT, i.e. set of strict rules involving the ban of any artificial media in teaching. The idea of a "dogme" comes from a group of Danish film-makers, formed by Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, who always film on location with only a hand-held camera and never use any artificial manipulation of image or sound. ("Dogme" is the Danish word for "dogma".) In essence Scott Thornbury says we should use only pens and paper—and of course our imagination and skills at conveying knowledge effectively.

Simple technology tools are an asset

But all technology is not to be banned. That would be overdoing it! Photocopiers, video projectors, MP3 players are great tools in language teaching today. It would be a pity to have to do without them. I consider them “simple technology”, and I can even add simple language labs (audio) to the list. The Web gives us marvelous resources either free or at a minimal fee. But what I see with the use of the Internet during class is a lot of time wasted solving bugs. When TV came in, we started recording programs and showing them to our students. We did not ask for antennas to have live TV in our classes. We prepared exercises and worksheets on these programs ahead of time. Today the situation is similar. Cloze exercises and other quizzes may be fun on the Internet, but most sites do not allow for a concrete written trace that students can take home for further study. The Internet provides us with materials we can digest and manipulate to make up excellent classroom activities, but we don’t need Web access in real time. Not only are the costs high for this advanced technology, but the real benefits—in terms of student language proficiency—has yet to be proven.

The classroom is a “sacred” place today

There is a second aspect I wish to comment on. Today our young learners spend their time texting, multitasking, surfing the Internet and adding comments to social networks. I believe that this obsession with new technology will lead to tendinitis in the thumb and lower arm, greater attention deficiency and even more solitude in a world where friends are mainly virtual. The classroom is in fact a “sacred” place today, where you can bring people face to face, allow them to express their ideas verbally, and provoke real laughter among people without the stress of the outside world. Thanks to education people can communicate on all different levels and find true joy in life thanks to learning and sharing knowledge with people in their own community.

What students really need to learn

What young people need today is a far cry from what the new technology is giving them. They need to learn to communicate in their own language and other languages properly so that they can be understood everywhere. They need to learn to focus their attention on one single topic at a time and to accomplish tasks thoroughly. They need to learn to take notes and to listen to others. They need to create real friendships in the spheres where they live.

Differentiating between two contrasting situations

The Internet may be a great tool for communication outside of the classroom, but bringing it inside will not necessarily improve learning. It might even be detrimental to learning. Of course we must differentiate between two contrasting situations. In a society where students all have cell phones, computers and enough money to pay for subscriptions, using the Internet may be superfluous and stimulate mockery on the part of students who are more savvy than their teachers. In other places where students have no access to the Internet, this would be a great tool to bring them new resources.

Put your students in charge of the technology

So if you are a newbie at using the technology, take your time. There is no need to rush into it. And whenever possible put your students in charge of the technology. They can operate the video projector and the laptop. They can bring in videos or oral podcasts from the Web. They can project their favorite songs with the subtitles in English. They will be very proud of showing their skills. Let them shine with the new technology. This will let you stand back for a while and take a second role. And of course if they have a bug or technical problem, you will be there with an activity for the others to do while the equipment is being prepared. With this strategy your students will be teaching you about the new technology in English—and enjoying it! They will learn more English, and you will avoid great stress.

Marianne’s digital book is available

For more information about Marianne Raynaud’s ideas and course, you can read and work with QualityTime-ESL: The Digital Resource Book Version 5.0. It is a 3,000-page book in MS Word with audio and video documents, worksheets and recordings on a DVD (price €29 with shipping).

To order go directly to the store.

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