‘EdTech’ has become a bit of a buzz word in recent years, with more and more emphasis being placed on the development of digital materials, online courses and blended learning. It seems that everyone is keen to get on the technology bandwagon: publishers, materials designers, educational institutes, teachers and students alike. But does this always facilitate learning? Or do we sometimes we end up using technology for technology’s sake? Just because it’s the latest craze, the thing to be seen doing, the thing that everybody is talking about.
I’ve read a few articles and blog posts on this topic lately and was particularly struck by ‘The Overselling of Ed Tech‘, which offers a thought-provoking critique of today’s ‘Tech is better’ attitude. The overall message portrayed is that while people are willing to pour huge sums of money into technology in order to embrace new innovations and keep up with the times, in reality we are often simply presented with traditional, outdated pedagogy dressed up in new clothes. In the author’s words: “shiny things that distract us from rethinking our approach to learning and reassure us that we’re already being innovative.”
I think this is the case with a lot of digital language learning materials; packed full of gap-fills, drills and decontextualised sentences which do not reflect current SLA theory. Of course, technology can undoubtedly offer huge benefits to language learners and teachers, but I agree with the writer’s view that it does not automatically equate better learning, it depends how it is used and the kind of learning it embodies.
In thinking about this topic I was reminded of a fantastic blog post by Scott Thornbury about how SLA theory can inform EdTech, which contains a handy checklist of points to consider when critically analysing digital resources in terms of how learning is facilitated. Personally I believe it’s a vital part of our role as teachers to pose these questions about any tools we, or our students are using, in order to ensure that use of technology is actually enhancing learning, and not becoming ‘technology for technology’s sake.’
This is especially important in contexts where use of EdTech is enforced by a higher power, it can become all too easy to simply tick the box otherwise. I once spent hours preparing a PowerPoint lesson for an observation during a British Council inspection, only to find that on the day I couldn’t open the file due to a technical hitch! So I had to resort to writing on the whiteboard instead… did this have a negative impact on my students’ learning? I don’t think so! Did I still achieve my lesson aim? Absolutely. I had completely missed the point here, all I was doing in fact was demonstrating my IT skills, and wasting a lot time in the process!