….then, what is my role as a teacher?
It’s a great honour for me to host Dimitris Primalis on WiziQ for this guest article about innovating education through technology. Dimitris has deep insights into the true nature of educational technology and an intuitive feel for the creative possibilities inherent therein.
Image created by Sylvia Guinan using Prezi technology.
After reading Dimitris’ article, I was reminded of a very wise poem posted on Facebook by our popular poet and educator, Rakesh Bhanot.
“Sometimes you have to
be extremely old-fashioned to
This poem reminded me that innovation represents a timeless truth. ‘Old-fashioned’ in this respect is not out of date, it is timeless.
Dimitris uncovers a great truth in this article. The truth is that timeless teaching values are the most important thing, with or without technology. Innovation without insight is not innovation. It is merely tinkering around with bells and whistles for no apparent reason.
“Old-fashioned innovation“, on the other hand, as in harnessing true values to unleash true potential, is THE elixir to creativity and lifelong learning.
Dimitris Primalis shows us how technology can be the elixir when our teaching values are in the right place.
Over to you, Dimitris:
No matter how hard some people have tried to fight against it, technology has infiltrated even the most personal areas of everyday life, including entertainment and communication. Nowadays its grip on the classroom can be seen in the smart phones students carry, the IWB and the tablets (personal computers) that more and more schools are gradually introducing into the learning experience. All of this has led to an existential dilemma that most teachers were hoping they would never have to face.
Debunking myths and horror stories
Contrary to popular belief – and wishful thinking for some – technology cannot replace the teacher. There is no magic button that will do all the teaching. Even Sugata Mitra in Harrogate (2014 IATEFL conference) admitted that he has recruited volunteer “grannies” who teach children through Skype. In our worst nightmares, we envision machines or electronic devices teaching children in the most spectacular and motivating ways and pushing teachers out of the equation. (I am not referring to self-study courses that are designed to function in a different way). Yet, despite this apparent technophobia or fear of becoming obsolete, the truth is that even the most advanced app. or programme cannot achieve much on its own. Even the most interactive tool made for the classroom requires the teacher’s mental and physically active presence.
Is there room for pedagogy?
With the economic downturn having swept through many countries all over the globe, more and more children are affected by problems at home. These problems range from unemployment to high divorce rates caused by absence of parents due to long working hours and/or domestic violence issues which stem partially or entirely from the socioeconomic crisis. Now more than ever before, the educator must offer a sense of stability and routine, and even act as a surrogate mother or father. Immersive learning through technology may sometimes be a way for teenagers to retreat to a virtual world which is much better than the real one.
It is the teacher who will instill values, set rules when communicating, model creativity, and show learners how to harness technology, without “wasting their time”. It is the teacher who will make the most of available resources to help students develop skills and competence. It is the teacher who will inspire them to open up their windows on the world and remain open to new concepts and cultures throughout their lives.
In my experience, successful lessons are fuelled by clear, suitable content and the right kinds of motivation. Technology can spark interest initially, but cannot maintain it if there is no content or clear purpose. To draw an analogy, one could say that the teacher plays the role of the general who chooses the battlefield carefully and deploys his/her available resources (software and hardware) in the best possible way to facilitate learning. He/she has also carefully chosen the type of interaction that will take place and has a plan B for when things go wrong – which is very often the case when using technology in the classroom.
Is my role changing?
It is changing rapidly and in some cases it has reached the point of no return. It is highly unlikely that any of us will ever again be the only authority in class. Then again, it is fortunate that learners will no longer challenge our knowledge by testing us with the most infrequent word they have spotted in an antiquated dictionary. We are no longer forced to be the fount of all knowledge.
Your role has been transformed from the dull teacher to that of a guide paving new pathways into the immense universe of data out there. You are the one to encourage in students the development of new skills, such as selecting, analyzing and synthesizing information. You are the one who will give them feedback on their projects and encourage them to incorporate new language into written and spoken language.
This will not occur in a sterile, “copy-pastish” way, but in a creative way where they feel a deeper sense of the language after having immersed themselves interactively in the target culture. Technology allows learners to expose themselves to L2 anytime, anywhere. You are there to make sure they will do it safely and remain focused on their targets without getting carried away. You are the one who is going to help them build the autonomous learning skills that they will be using long after they have finished their course with you.
Finally, you are there to accommodate different learning styles with the facilities offered by technology in terms of image, sound, text, animation, and gamification. The possibilities are endless, but you are the one who chooses the tools and means to teach your learners.
How am I supposed to select what is right and wrong for my students?
Choosing tools and materials at the huge ELT supermarket can be a daunting task. Everything seems flashy. You feel inclined to try everything in class with your learners. But the top priority is the one which serves the needs of your students’ best. Before being tempted to try any of them, it helps to have recorded your class learning goals. Based on that, you can research the potential of each tool and to what extent it serves the set goals.
If, for example, you want to help your students develop their speaking and writing skills, after watching a video interview of a celebrity on You Tube, you can ask them to produce a video using Microsoft movie maker (available in most personal computers) or use their mobiles to record a spoof video or even better interview a classmate on “down-to-earth” issues that raise concerns in the school or local community. That involves writing, speaking, IT, critical and creative thinking skills and sub-skills that are far more challenging than the usual multiple choice exercises. You also encourage learners to produce language they have learned in class (simple present- present continuous, vocabulary about habits and daily life) in a motivating way. Alternatively, you can ask them to leave a note for the celebrity on a virtual notice board (www.linoit.com ) with comments on the interview, advice and wishes for the celebrity’s future plans. If you just show the video without follow-up activities to develop speaking and writing skills, you may work on listening comprehension and merely impress your learners in a shallow way without really working on the learning goals of the specific group.
A few more thoughts:
Technology is here to facilitate learning and not to substitute teachers or act as an auto pilot in education. Your role in selecting the right tool and activity to facilitate learning can be instrumental in the success of the lesson and the motivation of the learners. Use technology selectively in order to boost your learners’ skills rather than for the sake of using technology.
Technology in the hands of educators who have clear pedagogical and learning aims can be a powerful ally in motivating learners and opening windows on the world of knowledge. Conversely, in the hands of teachers with a hazy idea of what their learners need to achieve, the use of technology can lead to a waste of time and effort in class. In my experience, despite what parents and learners believe, technology can be an ideal vehicle to help our learners develop their 21st Century skills, such as creative and critical thinking skills in the most enjoyable and productive way.
Special thanks to Dimitris Primalis for sharing his wealth of experience and insights with us.
To learn more from Dimitris, you can follow his educational blog called A different side of ELT where he writes about innovation, creativity and intelligent alternatives to standardised education.
Dimitris Primalis (2013 IATEFL Learning Technologies scholarship winner) has been teaching EFL for more than 20 years. He is particularly interested in introducing change and innovation in class and the integration of technology into the syllabus. He shares his experience and ideas in international conferences (IATEFL, TESOL France, ISTEK), articles and posts (IATEFL Voices, Microsoft Partners in Learning blog, ELT News), his regular column in the BELTA Bulletin (Belgium) and his blog: differentefl.blogspot.gr He has also written 5 test books for Macmillan and is currently working at Doukas primary school (a Microsoft Mentor school) in Athens, Greece.