Monday, 16 May 2011

Questioning the Role of Technology in Education

Over the last six months I have been involved in a project with Delta Publishing on their development blog as a guest author to produce a series of postings which question the role of technology and how it is applied in ELT and education in general. This has been a bit of a new departure for me because I usually focus on very practical articles and tend to avoid getting into the sometimes lengthy debates that surround technology with ELT.

I'm now coming to the end of this series for a while and so I thought I would collect together these postings and some thoughts on what I've learned from the interaction with the various teachers who have responded to these posts.

Here you can see a short video I created to introduce the series.

Here you can find a brief summary and link to each article.

ELT and the Crisis in Education
In this first article I tried to put ELT into the greater context of general education and what is being described by some as the 'Crisis in education'. I often think that ELT is viewed and views itself in isolation from what is happening elsewhere in education. I used a social questionnaire to encourage readers to reflect on their beliefs and compare them with those of other readers.

ELT and the Crisis in Education – Part 2
In this article I tried to highlight and share some of the reading and viewing that had influenced my own thinking about the problems that education faces today and the kinds of changes we need to make.

ELT and the Crisis in Education: Technology in the Classroom
In this article I tried to examine what I believe are some of the mistakes that have been made in our attempts to overlay technology onto our existing classroom design.

ELT and the Crisis in Education: Digital Literacy
In this article I tried to examine the role of digital literacy within ELT and highlight the importance of improving our understanding of what digital literacy is and how and why we should integrate it into our course design.

ELT and the Crisis in Education: Digital Reading Skill
In this article I tried to examine the way receptive skills and the demands on 'readers' of web based content differed from the traditional reading skills we develop with our students.

It’s time to change the way we test our students
In this article I tried to examine the role of testing and its negative impact on the potential of ELT to move forward and become more innovative.

Breaking down the walls of the classroom
In this article I tried to examine the way that technology could be applied to course work to extend learning beyond the walls of the classroom and support a more blended and autonomous approach to the use of technology in ELT.

Some Pros and Cons of iPads for ELT
In this article I tried to examine the potential of iPads and tablet style devices within the classroom context and look at the way course books and published materials could be enhanced to make digital course books much more interactive and communicative.

The worst thing about educational technology is educational technology
In this article I tried to look at some of the worst aspects of our fixation with 'hardware' and the problems caused by misguided spending on complex gadgets without funding the support to make these work.

Is the 140 character ‘micro interaction’ enough?
In this article I tried to look at our tendency to be obsessed with 'the latest thing' and how this often limits view of what is potentially available to us. I tried to particularly focus on a contrast between microblogging and 3D game playing in virtual worlds.

Augmented Reality and Web 3.0
In one of my last posts I speculated about what could be the next step in terms of the way the Internet is developing and I had a brief look at how this could potentially impact on ELT.

Survey: Mobile Learning in ELT 2011
My final post will be a write up of some research I have been doing into mobile learning. This will be a follow up to some research that I published a year ago into the use of mobile learning devices in ELT.

I'd like to thank all the people who have left comments and questions on the articles and especially I would like to thanks everyone at Delta Publishing for sponsoring this series and leaving me absolutely free to say whatever I want.

I hope you enjoy reading them.


Nik Peachey


Tara Benwell said...

Fantastic! Thanks for sharing this with ESL-Library's FB friends. It's great to get all of these in a collection. Just bookmarked it and will share around. Cheers Nik!

Joel H Josephson said...

NiK Thank you for a grand series, well thought out work and ideas.

In my opinion, the biggest problem with the use of ICT in education is the lack of empirical evidence to support the theories and existing practices.

Without a solid literature of evidence we cannot argue the case properly.

For example, in the EU Web2.0 ERC project we completed a review of many 100s of academic papers on the use of Web2.0 tools in education. We only managed to find a few that included empirical results, these are included in the resource repository on the project website.

Nik Peachey said...

Hi Joel

I agree that the lack of empirical research to support the use of technology is a problem, but I'm not sure that it's our biggest one.

The question of research and practice always raises for me that kind of chicken and egg question. Which comes first?

In order to get some research that empirically proves that 'technology' can be used effectively, we first have to develop some effective methodological practices that exploit it, but to do that we have to better understand how to effectively apply it. The other big problem we have, which I point out in the articles, is that we have to get past the 'knee jerk' kind of 'throw money at the problem' reaction that comes from many institutions.

One of the other big problems is that the tech landscape is shifting so fast that all kinds of new things are becoming possible all the time.

The other problem of course is when we do the research, what do we evaluate? Is it the technology, or is it the methodology used to apply it?

Are we even sure that we have common understanding of the word 'technology'? Really I think we need to start making distinctions between technology in the sense of hard-ware ( iPads, IWBs, Laptops etc) and the resources that the hard-ware gives us access to (static websites, dynamic websites, interactive websites, communication tools, content creation tools, etc.) .

Oh well tomorrow is another day.



Ileana said...

I'm gladd I received a tweet with the link to your article.
I'm an ESL substitute teacher, and studying a diplomado about teaching english.
We are learning about using new technologies to teach the language.
All your articles look very interesting so I'll take my time to read all of them.
Ileana Ayala

Joel H Josephson said...


Thank you for the thoughtful response.

Happy to concede that empirical research is ONE of the big problems.

I would think that it is the role of research to provide continuing evaluation of ALL aspects of the use of technology in education, to test the differing methodological practices and evaluate their effectiveness fully.

This sort of research should provide us with a means to compare methodologies etc etc. I am involved in a new EU proposal (winners will be announced in July) that has, as one of its aims, to produce a standardised template for research with empirical results on Web2.0 tools that would allow easier comparison of research results in the field.

Meanwhile your observation of just throwing money at technology - every classroom with a laptop, without looking deeply at the content and training, is something I wrote about in 2004. What a surprise the situation has not changed, just more hardware and confusion.

Nik Peachey said...

Hi Joel

There's an excellent article here on the problems connected with measuring impact of technology on learning Technology's Impact on Learning Outcomes: Can It Be Measured?

As for yur comment "What a surprise the situation has not changed" Yes that's sad, but tomorrow is another day.