Monday, 28 December 2009

21 things that became obsolete this decade

The subject line of this thread comes from the the Business Insider website (11 December 2009), which lists 21 things that have supposedly become obsolete in the last ten years:

It’s an interesting list and it prompted me to think about all the things listed on the above Web page that I no longer use:

1. PDAs that used a stylus: I went back to my trusty Filofax in 2003 when I dropped my Psion Organiser at Gatwick Airport and lost four years of records and appointments. Yes, I did have a backup on my PC but it was not in a format that I could easily convert to other formats. I retrieved most of the important data, however.

2. Email accounts that you have to pay for: I still pay for mine, but it’s part of my deal with my ISP, which includes broadband, website space and email.

3. Dial-up modems: British Telecom finished digging up the pavement outside my house in 2002 to install a broadband line. I threw away my 56kbps modem and bought a broadband modem.

4. Getting film developed: I shot my last reel of 35mm film in 2004 while I was on holiday in Canada and Alaska. Most of the trip was documented on my digital camcorder and the videos are now stored on DVDs.

5. VHS cassette and DVD hire shops: Our local Blockbusters shop is about to close. I can’t remember the last time I visited the shop to hire a VHS cassette or DVD.

6. Maps: I bought a TomTom satnav device in 2006 and I use it to guide me all over Europe. Before that, I used Google Maps and an AA route planner on CD-ROM. I still have a map of Europe in my car; you never know…

7. Newspaper classified ads: They are still around. Our local paper carries hundreds of them every week, but I have hardly ever used classified ads to look for jobs, furniture, a new car, etc.

8. Landlines: I still have a landline at home, which I use for phone calls and for broadband, but I have also been using a mobile phone since 1995.

9. Long-distance telephone charges: I use Skype regularly, but many of our (mainly elderly) relations and friends in Canada and Australia still rely on landlines. Charges have dropped considerably, however. I use Second Life to talk to my wife when I am away from home.

10. Public pay phones: I have not seen anyone using our local public pay phone for years. The last time I remember using a public pay phone was in 1997, when British Airways gave me a free phone card to enable me to change a hotel booking in Vancouver because our flight was cancelled as a result of industrial action by cabin crew.

11. VCRs: I have a dual VCR/DVD player/recorder that enables me to record off-air onto both types of media or to transfer videos from one type of media to the other. I rarely record onto VHS cassettes these days but I have a big VHS library that I’ll never get round to converting to DVD format.

12. Fax machines: I disconnected my fax machine this year. It was hardly ever used over the last two years.

13. Phone books, dictionaries, encyclopedias: I still use all of these but not as frequently. Most of the up-to-date information I need is online.

14. Calling “411”: This is a telephone information service in North America. I can’t remember the equivalent number in the UK, but I never use it anyway.

15. Audio CDs: I can’t remember the last time that I bought an audio CD. I buy most of my music from iTunes. I sometimes create my own CD audio mix to play in my car, but now I play most of my music via an FM transmitter (similar to iTrip, but cheaper) that sends it from my computer to my hifi system. When I am on the move I use an iPod.

16. Backing up your data on floppies or CDs: I stopped doing this around three years ago when I bought a massive external hard drive with software that backs up all my data automatically. I also back up valuable data on the other two computers on my home wifi network and online at my website – belt and braces!

17. Getting bills in the mail: I receive notification of most of my regular household bills by email and I always pay them online.

18. Buttons that you press: This refers to the trend towards touch-screens on hand-held devices. My camcorder uses a touch-screen, which I quite like. I use buttons on my mobile phone, which – annoyingly – have become a bit too small for my clumsy fingers.

19. Losing touch: Social networks help to keep people in touch, but I use them mainly for professional purposes. I keep in touch with most of my relations and friends by email.

20. Boundaries: Reading contributions to Facebook and Twitter, it is clear that boundaries of rudeness and good taste are often overstepped. I try to be a nice person online.

21. Paper: It’s definitely still around in huge quantities. Tons of junk mail drop through our letter box every year. Computers are very good at generating printouts of stuff that you can’t be bothered to read from the screen – or would rather read from a printout.

22. Bonus No. 22 – Record shops: Two big shops in our town that used to sell audio CDs and DVDs closed around 2-3 years ago.

I also checked out the 15 new gadgets that changed everything this decade article at the Business Insider website (10 December 2009). I don't own so many of these, but I do have an iPod, I regularly use flash drives for moving data around, I have a TomTom satnav, and my desktop computer has a flat-screen monitor. I love my Sky+ Box, with its 40 hours of hard disk space for recording TV programmes off-air; it has totally changed my viewing habits.


Saturday, 5 December 2009

Technology v. pedagogy - lest we forget...

There is an interesting discussion going on right now (November-December 2009) in Marisa Constantinides' blog: Don't forget the pedagogy. She opens the discussion by stating:

"Technology is the means, not the end. Technology is wonderful when it is not the end but the means to education, language acquisition, whatever it is that we want to use it for... It should enhance our lessons, not take over because all the members of our PLN seem to be doing nothing else!"

Wise words! As we state on the ICT4LT homepage, our approach is pedagogy-driven, and the emphasis is on language teaching methodologies that can be implemented successfully with the aid of new technologies.

This is not a new debate. The question of technology v. pedagogy has been around for as long as I have been involved in using computers to teach foreign languages, i.e. since 1976, but it needs to be reawakened from time to time to ensure that we don’t lose sight of it. Judging by the number and variety of responses that Marisa has received in her blog, the debate is not going to subside for a long time – which is, of course, a good thing.

Above all, it is important that we never lose sight of established pedagogical and methodological approaches that appear to work, but we should also keep an eye on emerging technologies and consider ways in which they might be applied to language learning and teaching to do things that cannot easily be done with other media. There are many examples of the latter, dating back to Higgins and Johns in the early 1980s, who gave us total Cloze (see Section 8.3 of Module 1.4) and classroom concordancing (see Module 2.4), neither of which would have been possible without the use of computers.

The danger is that some (mainly younger) teachers are dazzled by the technology and do not seriously think about how it might be usefully applied. But most of them soon grow out of their fascination and make their choices more carefully. Perhaps it is time we stopped talking about ICT as if it were something special. It’s no more special to me now than the tape recorder was when I began my career as a language teacher in the mid-1960s. For me, ICT is “normal” (v. the reference to Stephen Bax in Section3.6 of Module 1.4). I use a computer every day for several hours per day, not so much for teaching now as I am theoretically retired, but I would find life without the computer very inconvenient. Last week I paid my telephone, gas and electricity bills online, bought new vehicle tax discs for both my cars, checked the snow reports in anticipation of my skiing holiday, sent photos to friends and relatives in Canada, the USA and Australia, etc. I also toured a few Spanish sims in Second Life in order to improve my knowledge of Spanish.

I am often taken to task for my tendency to look back at the past rather than forward to the future, but there is a good deal that we can learn from the past. I was honoured to be invited to take part in a Virtual Round Table Panel Discussion on 13 November 2009, shared with Ton Koenraad, Vance Stevens and Duane Sider (President, Rosetta Stone). Between us, we have over 100 years of experience of CALL! The theme of the discussion was:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana 1863–1952, The Life of Reason, Volume 1, 1905).

It was an interesting debate. Shortly after the discussion ended I had another look at an article that I was commissioned to write for a Council of Europe of Europe publication (1997): Lessons from the past, lessons for the future: 20 years of CALL. I added a host of comments indicating what is different now. A lot has changed, but many old attitudes remain.

What do you think?