Technology V.pedagogy – Lest we Forget…

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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.

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