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?



Mr. Tom Krawczewicz said...

Great timing and insight for this post. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I think that the younger teachers may just not have the experience to understand how these tools and technology can be used effectively. At the same time, the more experienced teachers may not have a grasp of the tools themselves. Having taught some of my lessons for many years, I can see how a tool can add something to the learning or give my students another avenue or approach. Therefore, I think it is up to us veteran teachers to share what we know and help the younger teachers make the necessary connections between the pedagogy and technology.

Marisa Constantinides said...

Dear Graham,

Thank you so much for mentioning my blog post and continuing the discussion here in your blog.

I am also quite concernced that there are no more comments here - if I have not much to add to your post, it's probably because we discussed the same issues over at my blog.

I do take to hear though your comment on not forgetting - surely, I have much less of interest to say on ICT than yourself!

Surely, you have much more to say on ICT than a lot of other people whose blogs are visited and regularly commented upon.

I fear that there is a tad of a fad in there somewhere and I really don't want to be a part of it or perpetuate it.

Graham Davies said...

Marisa, this has always been a quiet blog. I get a lot of comments that I have to reject, however, as they are just blatant advertising. I don't really understand why the blog is so quiet, as the ICT4LT site receives over 1000 visits per day and there are links to this blog throughout the site. I guess most people prefer to lurk.

Marisa Constantinides said...

Correction please:

In paragraph 3 of my previous post I meant to write "I take it to HEART" not "to hear"....

Sorry - my fingers don't know how to spell....

And I did look at your other page but I did not SEE your blog address and I was looking for it.


Graham Davies said...

Marisa, the ICT4LT blog is first mentioned on the ICT4LT homepage, here:

and there is a link to the blog in the Feedback section at the foot of every page of the ICT4LT website, as well as a link to the Feedback Form, which anyone can use to post a comment. There is a link to Feedback in the contents section at the top of every page - and at various other key points throughout the site.

Michael Shepherd said...

Hi Graham
Many thanks for your comments on my blog post regarding this subject. It was borne out of one of the points you made about young teachers and their unquestioning approach to using technology. I worry about their classroom practice but also I conscious of curbing their enthusiasm! However the use of technology has to be driven by educational need and too often recently I have seen young teachers simply running with new web 2.0 apps and losing the learning objective, which should be the starting point.

Graham Davies said...

Thanks, Michael! Just to put this in context, Michael's blog on which I commented is at:

Web 2.0 applications are wonderful. I use quite a few of them: blogs, wikis, flickr, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube - both as a reader and as a contributor. But there are now so many applications that it is difficult to keep track of all of them. The main think that bothers me is that many young teachers are bowled over by the application itself, without thinking deeply or critically about the ways in which it can be applied to teaching and learning or whether it can give rise to a new and worthwhile pedagogical approach that cannot be practised by other means.

Even at my age (67) I still get enthusiastic about the fun element or the gee-whiz element of a new application, but then I step back and ask myself what I really want or need to do with it. I confess to being a Second Life addict. It is the fun element of Second Life that continues to hold my attention - visiting virtual pubs and clubs, listening to live gigs and dressing up in crazy clothes - but I also manage to keep a cool head and thnk seriously about the ways in which SL can be used in education. This is the URL of the Virtual Worlds Ning than I manage:

I notice that some people are responding to this debate (not here but elsewhere) by saying that we no longer need to raise the issue of technology v. pedgagogy. I would beg to differ.

Coordinator of the Printernet Project said...

Thanks for the post and the links. Two things come to mind that I want to share.

1. It might help clarify the discourse if we could use tool instead of "technology." Tools are prosaic, so it's hard to justify being the keeper of the tools as opposed to the director of technology.

2. It might also help if we used learning instead of "education."

In that framework, we supply tools for learning, instead of technology for education.

Graham Davies said...

I'll go along with the idea of tools and learning.

Psycho65 said...

A very well written insight into the 'ped v tech' debate which I am sure will continue to rage on into this decade. I am sure there is no real solution, but as Tom added it is about 'making connections'. At 45 years old (or is it young?) I continue to marvel and embrace the plethora of technological advances that seem to arrive daily. At the same time I feel I possess the werewithal and the experience to balance these tools with a range of strategies and techniques that are more traditional. Whilst experience connecting with the youth is an important facet to the maximising of technological potential in a pedagogical setting, so I feel is the ability of the 'converted' amongst us, be they old or young to provide the support necessary for those educators who struggle to embrace 21st century advances to facilitate their development, thereby ensuring a working balance between technology and pedagogy is achieved.

Gladys Ipanaque said...

I am new to the ICT world. I am learning what and how to use Web 2.0 and how to deliver design, deliver and assess an online course. I find this "new environment" fascinating and promising. It is just a matter of thinking how these applications can provoke collaboration and meaning at producing knowledge in our students lives.