On Embracing Change: Observations From a Technophile
Daniel Martin is an English teacher, Pilgrims trainer and ELT writer and blogs at www.kisactivities.com, a website with zero or minimal preparation teaching ideas and activities. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Change can’t be helped
Change is inevitable. Whether we like it or not, it happens. It enters our lives anyway. We age and in the process about 60 trillion cells in our bodies –give or take a few- die and get replaced by new ones. Some cells have a really short life span: as short as two or three weeks in the case of skin cells. Likewise, snakes also shed their skin to allow for further growth and to remove parasites that may have attached to their old skin. Trees shed their leaves for various reasons: this helps them conserve energy and also pollinate in springtime, as pollen can travel longer distances without leaves getting in the way. Fire, as devastating as it is, also clears the weaker trees and returns health to the forest. Fire also provides warmth to humans and can bring water to boiling point, thus killing bacteria and viruses in it to make it safe to drink.
There are many benefits to be found in change. However, it seems our brains are hardwired to resist it. There are many underlying reasons that explain our resistance to change. For starters we do not fare well with uncertainty. Additionally, change is a catalyst for stress. Ultimately, and what I suspect is very much the case in the teaching field, change means extra work. For instance, take a second to think about the extra work (and tied with it, the added uncertainty and stress) that relocating to another country implies, even if or when it is done for a better salary or an altogether better and safer life. In the teaching profession change means relearning and investing time (extra work!) leading to uncertain outcomes.
How change and technology affect teaching
More precisely, when it comes to embracing change by means of learning new technologies and using them, we can determine these two factors:
- we use new technologies to do old things in new ways
- we use new technologies to do new things in new ways
A possible example of the former is listening extracts from digital versions of textbooks being played from interactive whiteboards with, perhaps, the accompanying transcript being displayed in teleprompter mode. Just tap on the listening icon on the screen and presto. Another example might be assignments done in digital platforms of different sorts as opposed to using pen and paper. This type of environment allows for quick access from anywhere and immediate feedback.
A more exciting prospect rises from exploring new territories with technology (literally!). Just last week my students went on a virtual field trip via Skype led by a park ranger. We were videotransported from northern Spain to Calaveras Big Trees State Park in California and learned about sequoia trees as we were being walked on a trail under the rain by ranger Jenny (we were comfortably sheltered from it on our seats though) and marvelled at the beauty of these majestic and imposing ancient trees. My students were also eager to interact by asking questions during the videoconference and by posting written work online in the class blog as an extension of the activity.
Virtual field trip to Calaveras Big Trees State Park
But with use comes misuse and abuse. Roy Amara coined the term “Amara’s law”, which posits that we tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run. In other words, once the initial fears have been overcome and we are acquainted and comfortable with a certain technology, we tend to fall madly in love with it, which presents the potential risk of using it indiscriminately and losing sight of what really matters: learning outcomes. That technology may eventually be abandoned in favour of the latest hype and the whole cycle begins again.
The fork dilemma
When was the last time you woke up and thought?: “For dinner today I’m going to cook something that can be eaten with a fork”. It does not make much sense, right? Our approach to cooking meals is looking at what we fancy eating and then using the right utensils to cook and once the meal has been cooked then use a fork, spoon, knife…or nothing. Burgers, chicken wings, pizza and sandwiches are best enjoyed as finger food. As an advocate for integration of new technologies I am all for embracing and celebrating change and get excited about trying new tools but we cannot lose sight of these very crucial questions: Does the tool really enhance learning? Is it time-consuming? Can a given activity be performed efficiently without it? Are we using a fork to have some soup?
Let me share an example of some mind-numbing use of technology. It’s a software-based game called Phoneme Pop. It can be played on mobile devices or an interactive whiteboard. As the “phonemes” (they aren’t phonemes; they are letters; not the same) fly up in the air, players have to pop them. The educational pay-offs of this game are beyond my grasp. Sure, the allure of playing an electronic game may be very tempting for teachers and students but we can all agree we can do much better than that (both with and without technology). Here’s a link for a short video of the game if you are curious about it (https://goo.gl/QdSMVr).
I don’t know what winds of change will be blowing in the years to come but I do know I will be critically curious about it.
Please check the Creative Methodology for Using ICT in the English Classroom course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Creative Methodology for the Classroom course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the 21st Century thinking Skills course at Pilgrims website.
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