Monday, April 28, 2008

Carla Arena Interviews AdVancEducation for a class project. Like, wow!

I didn't expect a lot from this when Carla asked me if I would record something about Abu Dhabi, the city where I live, for the benefit of an online class that she teaches. I wrote back that I had no idea where to begin, and could she just Skype me and ask me some questions. So she did, and produced the most charming blog posting:

Of course you can hear the recording at Carla's blog. Amazingly, the posting has attracted well over a dozen comments.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Future of Learning in a Networked World: Gala Dinner in Bangkok

My son found the above video when he Googled 'Youtube' and 'Vance Stevens'. It's from the FLNW event I attended in Bangkok recently, a kind of spontaneous, ad-hoc, movable feast with an unconferency feel to it. I thought this would be a good place to put it, and next day I found a posting in the Learner Autonomy and iLearn group on Facebook with a question getting right to the crux of the future of learning in a networked world. While preserving the identify of the poster (or if he asks me to, I'll credit him here) I decided to post his question here with my comments:

The question

I've been wondering if technology does really enhance teaching/learning or if we just use it because it is out there and looks good in our resume! At a conference, I heard the question: “Do we use technology in ELT because it solves our teaching/learning problems? Or do we use it because it is out there for everyone to explore?

I believe that many(?) of us come from a generation that was not born with computers around and less in our foreign language learning processes. This background surely limits our views on the real advantages of modern technology.

I have mixed feelings when I see myself or others struggling with technology. Our heavy training was not on technological competencies and it seems we cannot leave those tasks to more technically competent co-workers from the computer science department. As foreign language teacher/advisors, we are expected to add all these new skills to our old bag of tricks. I bet it's time to make our discipline a multi-disciplinary profession.

At times I see how we bend technology for our own sake and we tend to believe that it is just a nicer, faster and more colorful way to achieve the same academic goals we have already 'achieved' with a pen, paper, chalk a board or a book in our hands.

Thanks for any comments this may raise.

My reply

Your comments get right to the point, and I'm happy to say the answer is YES, technology does indeed enhance exactly what you already know how to do with a pen, paper, chalk, etc. Pens, paper, chalk are in fact technology. Sometimes these are the most appropriate technologies to apply to a given pedagogical nut you wish to crack. I myself use a board marker and whiteboard (slightly tech advanced from chalk etc, but does the essentially same thing). In part 2 we'll ratchet up the technology scale ...

You might say that a WIKI is a tech advancement over that and in some cases, where you want to preserve your chalkboard, and let students write on it AFTER class, and say embed video or audio in it, or have students record with Audacity and embed their own audio, and bring that to class next time and start from there, might POSSIBLY be an improvement over the old method where the board is erased at the end of the day.

No matter what the metier, workpeople are constrained by available tools and knowledge of those available. Nowadays when so many new tools are coming online, it's good for teachers to know what's available. How do you do that? You join a community, for example Webheads at where you can LISTEN to conversations on what tech is available and how teachers are using it, the same way you would learn a foreign language, just go where it's spoken and listen, and when you feel comfortable, join in.

This would give you a better knowledge of what tools to use. After that it would be up to you to decide, with your improved knowledge of what tools you could alternatively use, which ones would be best suited to the pedagogical nuts you wish to crack.

I think that any reasonable argument would reach the conclusion that it's best to at least KNOW what is available and then consider from that perspective whether it's best to continue using the tools you have available now or to try out some new technologies if those appear better suited to the job at hand.

The most important point, as you have pointed out, is that the job at hand has not changed. Your methodology does not change. You can and should continue to teach using the techniques you find effective. The question which you asked and which we all should seek to answer from an INFORMED perspective, is when does technology HELP what you are already doing, and when might it get in the way.

So no, we don't use it just because it's there, but because it's there, we should seek to inform ourselves what is out there, and use that which will help our students achieve a better grasp of whatever it is we are trying to teach, or more correctly, what it is we are trying to help THEM to LEARN (which is another issue, relating more to the autonomy side of our discussion).

As with learning a foreign language, it's not enough to go to a country where the language is spoken, you must go with intent and desire to learn that language. With technology, teachers must WANT to learn it – that is accept that it might be a valid addition to a bag of existing tricks. At that point, where you are truly receptive (where you are AUTONOMOUS, another way of putting it), you find that it's all around you, and if you converse with others trying to learn it, easy to pick up.

Hope that helps, and sorry for the delay in replying,