Do English teachers have to use technology in the classroom?


Teaching has changed in many ways over the past two decades, and our Blended Teacher blog series will take a closer look at this, focusing on topics such as the disruption of technology, the right levels of blend, game-based tech and the challenges for teachers. In this first blog of the series, we investigate the use of technology in the English Language Teaching classroom…

The use of technology in the English Language Teaching (ELT) classroom is not new. But it is certainly becoming more prevalent, and is increasingly an expected component of any ELT course and courseware. It is also becoming easier to use. When I started out as an ELT teacher in the early 1990s it was called Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) and I would take my class to the multimedia suite once or twice a week to use applications such as Text Builder, or Storyboard. It reminded me of David Eastment’s wonderful analogy of taking students to the ‘pen room’ to practice writing – there was little integration with the rest of the syllabus or thought-through pedagogy. With the advent of internet connectivity in the multimedia suite, possibilities expanded exponentially – yet this wasn’t welcomed by all the teachers.

Does technology get in the way of good, solid teaching?

In fact, many of my colleagues of yesteryear share similar views about ELT technology to today’s teachers. It can be seen by some as a disruption to good, solid teaching, yet for others it is a welcome disruptor to the more traditional print/whiteboard based approaches. As well as informing teaching and learning pathways, technology can provide a wealth of possibilities to be creative, engaging, personalised.

Both teachers and students alike require technology that doesn’t make onboarding of students into the application a barrier to entry – a notoriously complex challenge that Pearson and its competitors continuously struggle to overcome. Students can struggle with creating accounts, redeeming access codes, remembering their login details and joining groups – and the first person they will complain to is their teacher.

Technology can be seen by some as a burden rather than a benefit. Our response has been to provide a combination of approaches from Batch Registration tools so that the students do not have to register themselves – it can be done by an administrator if there is one – increased training, better support materials and teacher tools to reset passwords, for example. But it is still a hurdle for many of our users. The teacher cannot afford to be the local tech support – regardless of whether they have the skills to assist or not, their focus needs to be on facilitating learning.

Tech for tech’s sake?

There are some examples of great technology provided by tech companies for English language teachers, but many are not underpinned with sound pedagogy. Some hark back to the Grammar-translation and Audio-lingual methodologies of the early-mid 20th century, while others provide no guidance about how to integrate into existing teaching methodologies, leaving the untrained teacher unable to exploit the technology to its full potential, or worse, disrupting an otherwise sound approach.

ELT technology needs a clear purpose, clear benefits and to be underpinned by sound pedagogy – period. Especially so where a teacher relies on the technology to do their planning for them. The teacher needs to feel confident. It is entirely possible that the majority of the students have a better grasp of technology than the teacher, therefore reversing the role of who holds the knowledge. It will be interesting to observe how teachers respond to the increased use of mobile technology in the classroom. Some may embrace the opportunity, while others will no doubt see potential for distraction and loss of focus.

So what’s the point?

The benefits that ELT technology offers often shine through some of these barriers. Assume for one moment that the software is easy to use, the teachers are knowledgeable about how to integrate it into their teaching, and the applications have well-thought pedagogy explicit in the learning content and digital assets – what a disruptor it can be!

Learning opportunities are available 24/7, instantly accessible on different devices. There is no need for learning to be restricted to the bricks and mortar of the classroom – learning can take place wherever and whenever. Feedback is instant and personalised – MyEnglishLab digital products for example can offer answer-specific feedback and remediation to the individual learner. Adaptive algorithms within assessment products such as Progress and Placement provide the ultimate experience in an efficient, targeted personalised digital experience. Automated scoring technologies used in Pearson English assessments such as PTE Academic, Versant, and Progress provide fast and accurate scoring as good as teachers – and they don’t get tired, grumpy or hungover! Through our ELT digital products we have the ability to track what a student or teacher does, when they do it, and how often do they do it, which affords our analytics teams unprecedented insights into how teachers and learners interact with our learning applications. It also provides ELT Content Publishers an insight into what works well and what does not. ELT technology has the power to motivate and engage whether through audio, video or gaming, and it offers new paradigms for teachers and learners alike, including capabilities such as collaborative learning, where the learners are in different locations, and applications that allow scanning the page with a smartphone and linking to learning activities delivered by the phone.

Can we function without it?

ELT technology has become such a disruptor that MoEs, institutions and teachers now require technology as an integral part of any new ELT product, while schools plan investment in both hardware, software and infrastructure required to support ELT technologies. ELT technology can be seen as a key differentiator in the market, providing a competitive advantage. ELT Technology can now no longer be ignored, and to those who do – beware!

Share your innovation for a chance to win the Pearson ELT Teacher Award
We’ve just launched a new Pearson ELT Teacher Award! Aiming to recognise and celebrate teachers, the Award is open for any English teacher who has developed innovative ways of teaching in their classrooms. You may have used technology or digital tools in unique ways or re-invented traditional tasks. The Award encourages teachers to enter who can show that their ideas are not only unique but have improved learner engagement, motivation and success.

Prizes include all-expenses paid trips to IATEL or TESOL. Deadline for entries is 1st January, 2017 – enter or nominate a teacher today!

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