Technology in ELT Classroom: Inevitability of Teacher Education
In this write up, I would like to share my personal experiences regarding the use of technology in English language classroom and the inevitability of teacher education to grip on the technology-driven teaching and learning activities.
I have been teaching English for more than twenty years now. For many years, I have taught English where the use of modern technology is out of reach. I also did not know how to use technology in language class effectively. When I started using technology in my class, I was facing lots of technology related problems; still I have a lot of problems in bringing technology into my classroom. In the beginning, I had to suffer even for preparing slides for presentation. What was to be included and what was not in the slides was a big issue. Also, selecting appropriate articles and videos from the internet was another challenge for me; equally desperating was selecting and designing suitable materials for teaching speaking and listening. But I did not lose my heart. I got opportunities to observe my friends’ technology-driven classrooms which taught me the lesson that technology is a powerful tool which we can use to differentiate our classroom instruction and address individual learner’s needs. When I was used to browsing the internet, I was encouraged to learn more about technology. Now, I have understood the significance and inevitability of technology in language classroom and in the English teacher’s life, as it is the tool which can make a big difference in their classrooms and professional lives. Still, I find that my students are better in handling technology than me in some cases. My students are digital natives (someone grown up with digital technology like computers, the internet, mobile phones, MP3 players etc.), but I am a digital immigrant (grown up without digital technology and adopted it as an adult).Therefore, some question ever hit my mind about how other English teachers in our country are using technology in their classrooms; what their personal technology profile is; how technologically well equipped our schools and colleges are around the country, and so on. No doubt, technology is playing an ever-growing role in all aspects of our lives. In recent years, the use of technological aids, especially those related to computers, has increasingly become a common feature of the English language classroom. We can use various computer based technologies in the classroom, such as Computer, Power Point presentations, Interactive Whiteboards, Email, the World Wide Web, Blogs, Wikis, Social networks, Videos and many more. It is established that there is a strong correlation between students’ learning styles and technological options. For example, using the Video helps teachers incorporate a wide variety of visual elements in order to enhance students’ listening and speaking skills; it also helps them to learn intonation and different nonverbal signals used by the people on the screen. Similarly, the email helps teachers and students to share their ideas; they can learn from each other. The web offers a rich database of authentic materials; it provides teachers with a context for efficient collaborative materials resources. No less important are the Social networks, Blogs and Wikis, and they provide the teachers and the English language learners a great opportunity to get different ideas and strategies to develop reading and writing skills. Likewise, the Power Point presentation makes the classroom lively and interactive; it brings clarity in the subject matter. When students are assigned a topic for presentation, it helps them build up confidence and develop speaking skills. They can also get various types of authentic reading materials in the internet in order to develop extensive reading and comprehension skills.
It is certain that computer-based instruction will occupy a more central role in the English language classroom in the future. However, we should not forget that it is the teacher, not the technology, who determines the quality of the learning that takes place in the classroom. In this regard, Jones and Sato (1998), as cited in Richards & Renandya (2011) suggest that in adopting a new technology, be it a tape recorder, a VCR, a CD-ROM multimedia, or other network-based communication technology we need to consider the following questions:
- Does the new technology facilitate the attainment of course goals?
- Is it cost-effective? Do the benefits outweigh its cost?
- Are the teachers ready to work with the new technology? Is any training required?
- Does it serve the needs of the teachers and students?
- Does it help teachers make more efficient use of class time?
My concern here is the teachers’ role in making the English classroom effective and pedagogically appropriate by using the means of technology. Different skills and aspects of language can be taught effectively with the help of technological tools, but only if the teachers have technologically sound know- how. Therefore, English language teachers have to spend time learning how to make best use of modern technological tools rationally and constructively. They need to have the technical skills to use the gadgets before they can discover how to implement them. There may arise numerous challenges in the classroom if teachers do not have knowledge about use of technology, and if they do not feel comfortable with them. For example, a video-based lesson can be highly stimulating and motivating, and it can provide a rich resource for English language learning. However, we cannot underestimate the role of the teacher in the use of video. A bus cannot move without an efficient driver. In the same way, a video cannot do anything worthwhile without the teacher’s key role. In this regard Stempleski, as cited in Richards & Renandya (2011) says,
It is the teacher who chooses the video; designs tasks and activities that facilitate active learning; prepares students for the pre-viewing, viewing, and post-viewing activities; raises students’ awareness of certain language points; and integrates the video with other aspects of the curriculum. (2011, p.362)
This expression clearly shows the significance of the knowledge of technology on the part of the English language teachers. If teachers do not have the required knowledge in the application of technological tools, its use in language class will not meet the objectives of teaching, nor will it help integrate pedagogy with technology. In this regard, Warschauer and Whittaker (2011), as cited in Richards & Renandya (2011) examine the use of the internet for second language teaching and present a set of guidelines for teachers who plan to integrate computer technology in the classroom, and suggest to consider the goals, integration, technical support and learner-centered teaching (p.362) as the maxims for the adoption of technology assisted language teaching. Thus, teachers need to have the technical skills to use technology before they can discover how to implement it. Otherwise technologies can create havoc and disturbances in the classroom.
It might be a debatable issue what areas of technology should be included in teacher education courses; whether it is all about computer literacy or both technical and pedagogical aspects. In this regard, Reinders (2011), as cited in Richards & Burns (2011) says that knowledge at the technical level would involve understanding how computer systems operate, whereas practical skills would involve being able to use one’s knowledge in teaching practice (p.231). So, teachers need to have a systematic understanding of the computer system and a systematic understanding of the ways of effectively using the computer in language teaching. Similarly, they need to have the ability to use technical knowledge and experience to determine effective materials, contents, tasks, and to monitor and assess the results appropriately. Technical skills and knowledge to use them effectively in the classroom is an added benefit for professional development. It is my firm belief that no English teacher can develop professionalism without having some kind of technical knowledge. Now the question arises as to who will be responsible for providing technical knowledge to teachers. In my opinion, the Government, teacher educators, teacher trainers, school and college administrators and teachers themselves are responsible for it. After determining the existing teacher education needs in the field of technology, the question turns to the ways in which those needs can be met. In this context Reinders (ibid.) presents three- tire model of providing technology education to teachers:
Separated ↔ integrated
Formal ↔ informal
Generic ↔ specific
Reinders opines that these techniques in a continuum can be used to teach technology to English teachers. This model suggests that in the in-service context, a separate course may be designed to give technology education to teachers. Sufficient time should be allotted for teachers to learn necessary technological skills. From this model, teacher educators will get more benefit in that they will have more resources available to develop appropriate course materials. But it is better to provide integrated education later on, as technical content can be taught better in an integrated way. For this, the use of technology should be made mandatory for teachers in their teaching. Then, the success of new technologies in the classroom depends mainly on the teachers’ ability to apply them meaningfully where technology supports not only the delivery of content but also the building of skills. Yet, it does not require a different time table. Teachers can also do PowerPoint presentations; separate homepage can be created for homework and other activities so as to encourage for the immediate use of technology. When a teacher is not comfortable, it is advisable to learn the use of technology informally, especially from colleagues. If learning technology is made compulsory, we can expect better enthusiasm. Reinders (ibid, 233) further explains that technology education can be given either through generic module, which aims to provide teachers with the basic skills that will enable them to apply the knowledge of technology to a teaching situation, or through a specific one, in which the focus is only on certain programs. A generic knowledge course needs considerable follow-up and incentive to apply to new situations, whereas in a specific approach, additional training is required with new programs.
In a nutshell, different approaches can be applied to provide technical skills and knowledge to teachers according to the suitability and availability of means to meet the ends. English teachers must be empowered with the knowledge of technology for innovation in teaching. What Nepal government has done in this field is a subject for exploration; yet instead of getting entirely dependent on the government, we teachers, teacher educators, trainers and the only English language teachers’ association in Nepal, ‘Nepal English Language Teachers Association’ (NELTA), should start some creative and innovative programs to enable our English language teachers in the field of technology-driven English language classroom. Then only can our learners find the gateway to the marvelous world gifted by English.
Richards, C.& Burns, A.(Eds.) (2011).The Cambridge guide to second language teacher education.Cambridge: Cambridge Universty Press.
Richards, C.& Renandya, A. (Eds.) (2011). Methodology in language teaching: An anthology of current practice. Cambridge: Cambridge Universty Press.
(* Mr. Cholakanta Regmi teaches Technical Writing and Communication at different colleges in Kathmandu. He holds M.A., B. Ed. degrees in English from Tribhuvan University, and is currently pursuing M. Phil. in English Language Education in Kathmandu University. He has been involved in teaching English from primary to tertiary levels. He is interested in working collaboratively with English language teachers for their professional development.)