Gavin Dudeney’s Six Attitudes to Technology

technology attitudes

Hello again! Grab a coffee for this post, as there is plenty to read but I’m sure it won’t leave you indifferent! Six Things is joined by Gavin Dudeney, whose name will already be very well-known to many of you out there in cyberspace. Gavin’s a teacher trainer, award-winning author and edu-technologist. When he’s not travelling the world giving workshops and sessions on integrating technology into teaching he can be found in Barcelona. He has also been quite active in quite a few heavy discussions online about all of this. How heavy? Well, see below to be up on the debate!

Gavin Dudeney’s Six Attitudes to Technology  [ And Why They’re Tosh ]

There’s a battle going on out there: on blogs, on Twitter, in Yahoo Groups, on sites like the British Council Teaching English site and elsewhere… a battle for our hearts and minds, a battle between the technophiles and the technophobes (or, sometimes techno-sceptics). It’s the battle for your time, your teaching approach, for your commitment to a cause… it’s the “is technology good or bad?’ battle.

People who know me will be no stranger to my views, but since I was so kindly invited by Lindsay to contribute to SixThings, here is my cogent, extremely intellectual and totally correct view on the other side…

1. It Breaks All The Time

A popular one, this – as if that were true, or indeed a reason for not using it.

One of ELT’s greatest writers refers to technology all the time with the use of the word ‘faff’. As far as he’s concerned, there’s just too much faffing – you spend more time trying to get it to work than it does actually working and enhancing your teaching. Take a look for the word ‘faff’ on Wikipedia.

“to dither, futz, diddle, ‘I spent the day faffing about in my room’.”

Does that suggest to you a problem with the tool or approach, or a problem with the person? My father used to say ‘a bad workman blames his tools’ and I think this is a clear case of that happening (though I should probably replace ‘workman’ with ‘workperson’)  …

You can minimise the faff by learning a bit about computers and other peripherals and how they work. We do the same with plenty of other things – few of us would dream of going to class and helping a learner with, say, the present perfect, without knowing something about it. It’s called preparation.

Make sure your own computer is well-looked-after and protected against viruses, etc. Make sure you have the right adaptors and cables. Check with event or class organisers what kind of projector, sound system they have. Arrive early to try things out. If you do all that then things should be fine.

I have over six computers running at home – they work fine. I have a web server that has not been rebooted for months – it works fine. I’ve over twenty installations of Moodle running globally – they work fine.

In Greece last week and in Cork the week before I had no Net connection for talks I was giving. I had planned for that, and had an offline version of my talk which was just as creative and engaging, even for the audience – the feedback was grand (and people have been in touch since then to show me examples of work they have done with learners as a result of tools and approaches we examined in the sessions). Is it too much to ask people to be prepared, adaptable and professional? I don’t faff – why do you?

2. It’s Unproven Pedagogically

Detractors go to extraordinary lengths to dig up research that appears to give weight to their argument that there is no real bulk of evidence that supports any significant advantage to using technology. Of course, this is a mug’s game – for every report someone can dig out that says ‘X had no significant impact on Y’, one can dig out a report that says the opposite.

There’s plenty of evidence that technology works in certain situations when used well, etc., etc. but of course you can find the opposite too. There’s little evidence to suggest that many approaches or ‘states of mind’ in teaching significantly enhance the learning – but it beggars belief that we are seriously invited to take some ideas on faith but not apply the same leeway to technology. You can’t have it all your own way, people.

If you want evidence to counteract that old report from 1994 that concluded that doing T/F exercises on a BBC Micro had no great impact on teenage learners of Russian in Dalston (sample of four over ten days) and on which you base your theories that ‘it really isn’t much good, you know’ then why not search the archives of EuroCALL or similar organisations, ones that actually do the relevant research. Of course, you should expect the same rigourous appraisal of any approach, method, etc. that you espouse…

3. It’s Boring And Not Interactive

One of the greatest myths is that technologies in class are not very interactive, that really it’s like doing exercises on the screen. And of course it can be. People who have this opinion are usually people who haven’t been teaching for a decade or so, who last used a computer in class when they had sixteen colours, no sound and the only thing you could do on them was manipulate text, and who haven’t moved beyond that phase.

Just to get them up to speed, perhaps they should consider what computers actually can do these days; sound, animation, video, collaboration, production, conversation, communication… With blogs, wikis, live voice chat (with video) and a whole host of other tools you can actually provide opportunities for learners to speak to people they WANT to speak to, rather than people they’re FORCED to speak to by dint of being in the same room.

If you use technology in the ‘noun’ way described by Prensky then of course a lot of learners are going to find it boring and not very interactive at all. But if you get some training, use some imagination and explore the options, you might get round to using it in a ‘verb’ way and people might actually interact, create, talk, communicate and – yes – learn.

That old Hebrew proverb (don’t confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in different times) should be a pointer here. But I’d change it a little: don’t confine your learners (or trainees) to your memories of what computers used to be like the last time you were a practising teacher or used one in class. Times have changed, have you?

4. It’s All Porn & Paedophilia

Another one that had me laughing recently – another disingenuous attempt at picking away at the value of technologies. The author of this particular post claimed that when he was taking his learners to the ‘Internet Room’ (even the use of the phrase ‘Internet Room’ should date the class) they just spent their time surfing for porn.

And that does raise a lot of questions:

  • Why was your class so boring that they felt a need to do that?
  • Why did you have such little control that they could do it?
  • Didn’t people use to look for rude words in dictionaries?
  • Haven’t kids always looked for pictures of naked people?

The fact is, of course, that if you can’t use technology in a stimulating way – if you can’t engage your learners… if you can’t control their natural urges to ‘bunk off’ then you really shouldn’t be in a classroom, either with or without technology. As I  pointed out in this discussion, when this teacher’s kids were looking at bums and things, mine were involved in email penpal exchanges with kids their age in the US, and regular real-time chats with kids their age in Poland.

Even the most irrationally technology-fearful teacher must surely recognise that the learners resorting to looking for naked body parts is more a reflection of the power of technology to stimulate (!) and the teacher’s inability to use the technology properly, than any actual weakness in the technology itself. We’re back to our bad ‘workperson’ again…

And of course the bad teacher’s experience with technology was also an ideal opportunity to discuss safe surfing, safe online practices and the role of naked body parts in education as well as the dangers of giving away too much personal information online. But I suspect that this didn’t happen either – you have to know the details in order to share them…

5. It’s Bad For People

Another popular meme – this usually means something along the lines of:

  • I read an article in 1997 that said watching telly for seven hours a day is detrimental and that therefore equates perfectly to modern media such as Web 2.0 [ ummm…. ]
  • I just read an informal report on kids’ attention spans and apparently they’re really short and rubbish and this is all down to Twitter. [ watch a kid play a computer game for twelve hours if you wish to see a decent attention span ]
  • I read somewhere that staring at a screen for eight hours a day can have a negative impact on your eyesight [ well duh! ]
  • I think it’s terrible that my child plays on the PSP for four hours a day [ so do I. Do you have a point to make other than something along the lines of how bad a parent you are? ]
  • Kids who grow up using computers can’t hold pens properly because their hands develop differently and bones never grow properly [ I heard this one in Hungary last year…. no comment ]

Of course most things can be bad for people when they’re done to excess. Those of us who espouse technologies are also quite capable of teaching without them, with nothing, with other tools, etc. We are the balanced lot. Teachers who refuse to even consider and try out technologies (where they have them) are actually unbalanced, for all sorts of reasons. Writing technologies off because you know nothing about them, have not experienced them and have never taught with them does not make them bad tools.

6. It’s Not Fair

No, it’s really not – not fair on your learners, some of the time.

Look, it’s a question of respect-  it’s not that people are attacking you for not engaging with technologies, it’s more that people are enquiring where this blind refusal to try them comes from (I suspect it mostly comes from the points and attitudes above)…

It also comes from things which are often out of the control of teachers: lack of equipment, lack of support, lack of training, an inability for curriculum setters, examining board, school owners, teacher trainers, DoSs, etc. to move beyond the 1980s and of course the chalk-face teacher is the greatest victim here.

But what confuses me is that teachers make their own opportunities for development when they’re not getting it instutionally: they read, they pay for their own courses, they travel to conferences (if they can) and they make every effort to keep up-to-date. Why not with technology? The answer’s right here – nobody takes it seriously in our ultra-conservative profession, and that’s why we’re destined to be a few steps behind business, and destined to short-change some of our learners.

And why is it ok for you to use technologies for your professional development and for your teacher training, but it’s no good for the ‘poor teachers’ or their charges. Where did this one rule for you and another for the learners come from? There’s no democracy in some ELTlandias.

If all the detractors who spend so much of their time moaning about how unreliable, porn-laden, boring, troublesome, unfair, blah, blah, blah technologies are spent the same amount of time on their teaching, writing, etc., our profession would be buzzing.

As it is, we’re old hat… moribund…. laughable…. so non-nerd we’re the new nerds that people like to snigger at. I can help – if you faff all the time or can’t think of anything creative to do with technologies or your learners are always looking at naked bodies, please get in touch. No fee…

Gavin Dudeney is the author of the award-winning book How to Teach with Technology (written with Nicky Hockly) and The Internet and the Language Classroom. He is co-founder of The Consultants-E, an online consultancy providing courses and training for teachers. You can read more from Gavin over at his blog, That S’Life.

Published in: on October 26, 2009 at 6:36 pm  Comments (84)  
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Adrian Tennant’s Six Acts of Sheep in ELT

 

Image from Morguefile.com

 

This week I got the following interesting list in my inbox, from Adrian Tennant. Adrian is a prolific materials writer and occasional provocateur. He is the author of a column in the IATEFL Voices journal in which he challenges assumptions about language teaching, and is known in some circles as Doctor Evil. No surprise then that he wanted to do a list like this. Here are “six acts of sheep” in ELT, according to Adrian!

As with many other professions, teachers tend to follow the latest trends and particularly if it’s associated with a famous name in the field. Now, in many cases there is nothing wrong with this, but occasionally a little more thinking would enable people to realise that the idea is not quite as good as it first appears. Here are 6 that I’d highlight.

1. Universal Grammar (and Chomsky)

Yes, I’m going to attack Chomsky. My ‘bone’ with his idea of Universal Grammar is that it simply doesn’t hold water when put to the test. There are languages, such as Piraha (an indigenous language from the Amazon) which simply don’t fit the theory. And, of course, it’s a theory rather than reality. Can language really be innate? I haven’t got a lot of space here so to keep it simple I’d say that we use language through necessity – a need to communicate. Our environment & culture dictate what we can talk about and, if anything is innate, it’s our cognitive ability and not an underlying grammar that enables us to use language.

2. The Four skills.

 I’m not sure who the genius was that came up with the idea of having discrete skills. I’m hard pressed to think of any other than reading that don’t entail at least one of the other skills at some point. And, unfortunately, it’s got to the absurdity where people teach ‘Speaking lessons’! Does nobody listen during these lessons?

The sooner we think of what people actually do and stop dividing things into false ‘blocks’ the better for everyone – both teacher and learner.

3. TTT / STT

This is one of the silliest of ideas that abounds. Simply put the less the teacher speaks the more the students will! It appears to be based on statistics or percentages rather than the reality of the classroom or possibly on the fear of silence. In fact, if the teacher doesn’t say anything the likelihood is that neither will the students. Surely the key should be the quality, not the quantity?

4. Testing

Of course we have to test students, but the question is what are we testing them for? Do we want to find out what they know, or are we more interested in finding out what they don’t know?! Unfortunately, the majority of tests are designed for the latter – if you don’t know the answer …. Of course, open tests, which are the ultimate way of finding out what students actually know are extremely hard to mark both in terms of the breadth of information they may contain and also in the subjectiveness inherent in their design.

5. Preteaching

 A personal bug bear if ever there was one. It’s not that I don’t like preteaching vocabulary – I quite enjoy it. Ten minutes focussing on 8 words that might cause my students some problems when they read a text or listen to the CD. My issue is that it just isn’t natural or authentic. I mean, when was the last time you were walking down the street and somebody came up to you and said, “We’re going to have a conversation, but before we start here are 6 words you might not know.”? Absurd! Much better to help our students work out vocabulary from context than give it to them on a plate.

6. Authentic materials

There is certainly nothing wrong with authentic materials, but why is it that we use them with inauthentic tasks? To be honest, I think we’d be better off using inauthentic materials with authentic tasks. What do I mean? Well. you have a nice meaty newspaper article full of ‘rich’ language and then a set of multiple choice (True / False) questions. Now, honestly, when was the last time you read something in the newspaper and then answered ten multiple choice questions? If we are going to go after ‘authentic’, I think we need to think of hat we really do in life and not pay lip service which is what we seem to be doing much of the time.

Nottingham, May 2009

Published in: on June 5, 2009 at 4:43 pm  Comments (27)  
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Six things to bear in mind when teaching teens

teenworldImagine not being able to remember, or never having experienced the following: black and white televisions, Live Aid, Space Invaders, the Soviet Union, studying without the internet, phones that you dialed instead of pressed, cameras which you couldn’t see the photo you had just taken and computers without a mouse. Welcome to the world of the modern teenager. Teens are often the hardest age group for teachers to cope with. I’ve always liked teaching teens, even though my first experience with a high school also gave me my first grey hairs. A colleague and friend of mine, Joanna Budden, has just written her first resource book especially on the topic. She’s someone who has a lot of experience with teens and no grey hairs at all! I asked her for six things to bear in mind… 

1. The Natural Information-Gap

One of the great things about teaching teenagers is that there’s little need for pre-fabricated ‘information gap’ activities as there’s normally a huge, natural information gap between the students and the teacher! They may well know all about the latest music, technology, fashion trends and gadgets and you may not! So, rather than ignoring this void between you, exploit it to your advantage  to find out as much as you can about what it’s like being a teenager these days.

2. They’re still young.

Some students who are now in their late teens can be very sophisticated, and it’s sometimes easy for forget that they are still young. So, to put things in perspective and to remind you that they haven’t in fact been on this earth for all that long, remember that they were only aged between five and ten when the Twin Towers were hit. Or imagine Britney Spears being around for as long as you can remember (scary thought). Our teen students of today were aged between two and seven when Britney released her first single!

3. Parents can be your allies!

It’s sometimes easy to forget that our teenage students haven’t just arrived from another planet. When they rock into your classroom with their i-pod blaring, their trousers hanging dangerously low down, designer pants on show and their fringe covering half their face, it’s tempting to wonder if their space ship is parked outside. But no, more often than not your teenage students have parents who care about them greatly and are often investing a lot of money for their child to learn English. Therefore, if problems do occur with certain students in your class, don’t hesitate to get in contact with their parents. They can often shed light on issues that are concerning you and it’s usually useful to have the parents’ support with any challenging students.

4. Your students have lives outside your classroom.

Obviously all students have ‘real lives’ that go on outside your classroom whatever their age. However for adults it’s somehow easier for them to ‘park’ their real lives outside the door for an hour or two when they come into class. Teenagers often bring with them all their baggage from a tricky day at school, and this may affect their behaviour in your class. If they’ve just got a text message from an admirer or if they’ve failed an exam that day and have yet to tell their parents, it may be difficult for them to give your class 100% attention, or even 10%. Finding out about how your students’ week is going before you start the class is one way to give your students a chance to let you know why they may not be the model student on that particular day. Here’s a link to an activity called the Happy Graph which gives you the chance for your students to do this. It can really give you an insight into the emotional roller-coaster that is teenage life.

5. Knowing what your students are into helps.  

This may sound very obvious, but I think it’s even more important with teens than with any other age group to know as much as you can about each and every student you teach. By knowing what they do in their free time, who’s into computer games, who loves Formula 1 and who is going on a foreign exchange you will be able to tap into your students’ passions and interests in your class. Also, the better you know your students, and they know each other, the better the dynamics of the classroom will be. The five minutes at the beginning when students are arriving is vital time to chat to your students and to let them chat to each other (in English if possible) to find out what’s going on in their lives. Make sure students feel comfortable asking you questions too, obviously it’s up to each teacher how much of their ‘real life’ they want to share with their students but generally a positive learning environment is created from an open classroom atmosphere where the teacher is genuinely interested in their students. 

6. There are lots of ‘techie teens’ out there.  

Technology is inevitably a big part of your teenage students’ lives. Your students probably spend a large part of their day plugged into their mp3 player, using Messenger, Facebook, sending text messages, playing games or downloading music. They have grown up surrounded with technology so let’s use this fact to our advantage. Creating a class blog or wiki, asking students to e-mail you their homework or asking them to help you out when the class computer or IWB goes wrong are all ways of using their technological knowledge to your benefit!

Joanna Budden is an author and teacher based just outside Barcelona. Joanna has written materials for coursebooks and has produced many lessons for the Essential UK site of the British Council (lesson plans on UK culture).  She is the author of Teen World by Cambridge University Press (pictured above, click on the image to find out more about the book).

Published in: on May 7, 2009 at 2:48 pm  Comments (5)  
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Six books to look out for in 2009

booksbyphotodaisyHere I’m talking about books connected to language teaching, NOT the new (non Harry Potter) J.K.Rowling book or anything like that. But here are six recently published or soon to-be  published books in the field of ELT that are worth keeping your eyes peeled for in 2009. You’ll be hearing more from these people, some of whom are quite established in the field of language teacher books and others who are new up-and-comers.

1. Images by Jamie Keddie and Working with Images by Ben Goldstein . Right, I know I said six but since these books are on the same topic I’m squeezing them in together. Both look very promising, as current technology enables us as teachers to find and use images unlike ever before. And both books come with images too  to use with the suggested activities (in the CUP book, a CDROM packed full of images), making them a very attractive package. Ben Goldstein is a well known author in several countries for his coursebook series Framework (Richmond Publishing). Jamie Keddie is a newcomer to the book scene but has already established a name for himself on the net – he is behind the award-nominated site www.teflclips.com. Look out for both these guys at a conference near you, their talks are bound to be interesting! These books will be out in the spring of 2009.

2. How to Teach Listening by JJ Wilson Pearson Longman. JJ Wilson is another relative newcomer to the ELT book scene, but has made a splash with this book which won a Highly Commended award from the English Speaking Union. It’s the latest addition to the popular How To… series and also comes with a CD with extra material. I have never seen Wilson at a conference but will jump at the chance to see him speak… he is apparently one of the best. This book came out in 2008 I think but still makes it onto this list because it’s new and notable.

3. Drama and Improvisation, by Ken Wilson. One could hardly say that Ken Wilson is a newcomer to the world of ELT writing; I dunno how many books he’s written but it’s a lot. However, this is (I believe) the first handbook for teachers by Ken. I personally love drama activities and improv stuff. Ken Wilson was one of the founders of the English Theatre Company and toured the world doing sketches and plays for students for years. His workshops always have an interesting drama-like activity in them and they are hugely fun and inspiring. Safe to say that Ken is an authority on this,  and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on this book which came out late 2008.

4. Teaching Unplugged by Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury Delta Publishing. Books by Scott Thornbury are a bit like seasons of your favourite television show (in my case, Lost or Dexter currently). There’s one every year and it’s always good. This book promises to make waves. It’s about Dogme ELT, the “movement” Thornbury and co-writer Luke Meddings founded almost nine years ago. Many people have interpreted Dogme ELT as an “anti-” movement: anti-material, anti-coursebook, anti-technology. In this book the authors put their money where their mouth is and set forth what “teaching unplugged” IS as opposed to what it isn’t. Agree or disagree, you can’t ignore it. This book is part of a new series from small publisher Delta, who have done good stuff in the past – ahem, like one of my books ;-). Out in Spring 2009.

5. The Developing Teacher by Duncan Foord. Another book in the new Delta series, this one is by another relative newcomer to ELT publishing. This looks interesting as it is the only book (to my knowledge) that treats professional development in a practical and accessible way, through more than 75 activities. Certainly a must for teacher trainers and directors of studies, I think this book will make a good purchase for any teacher who wants to better themselves and get ahead. It will also be out in Spring 2009.

6. Uncovering EAP by Sam McCarter and Phil Jakes. OK, I know very little about EAP (English for Academic Purposes), and I’ve not heard of McCarter or Jakes but the “uncovering” books in the Macmillan books for teachers series have always been very good. I expect this will be the same, and I’m going to get a hold of a copy to find out more about EAP anyway. This book should be out now, but will be on Macmillan stands everywhere in 2009. Keep an eye out for it.

And guess what? I haven’t written any of these books so you know this isn’t just a thinly disguised attempt at self-promotion! However, I was the series editor for two of the books on the list but I’m not saying which ones – you will have to find out for yourself.

Incidentally, if any of the authors of these books stumble across this post (err, perhaps when Google searching yourselves?) feel free to leave a comment and tell us more! And if you happen to read or own a copy, let me know what it’s like!

Published in: on December 29, 2008 at 3:23 pm  Comments (11)  
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