Current issues in the application of technologies.
This page will provide a theoretical framework for incorporating technologies in a pedagogically sound way. Two other practical pages will introduce you to two freely available digital tools – Hot Potatoes and Quizlet – that can be easily integrated both in and outside class to provide students with much needed grammar and vocabulary practice and to enhance their learning experience.
This section is divided into three parts. First, we set the scene by looking at the broader issues surrounding the use of technologies in learning and teaching. Second, some models are introduced to help teachers conceptualise their engagement with technologies in their practice in an effective and efficient way. The third section provides points to consider when starting to introduce digital technologies in teaching practice. Each section is complemented by a video clip from a workshop for language teachers where the materials presented here were introduced.
There is a large amount of literature and general discourse promoting the use of digital technologies in learning and teaching (for more information see, for example, journals such as E-learning, Journal of computer assisted learning, British journal of educational technology or Journal of teaching and learning with technology in teaching), but there has also been scepticism towards the seemingly uncritical acceptance and adoption of technology. Concerns have been voiced not only about how e-learning and technology affects students but also about how they could change the way knowledge is created and disseminated. Some researchers in this area point out that there is a gap between the rhetoric in the literature and how technologies are being implemented. The issues range from those concerning Higher Education (HE) institutions themselves, such as their preparedness and readiness to realise the potential of technologies or cost consideration, to personal issues, for example the impact of the new technologies on students and the human capacity to adapt to new learning styles.
One of the debates in the field concerns the so called Digital Natives. This is meant to be the generation born after 1980 who find it easier to interact with digital technologies. The proponents of the concept have argued that the younger generation learn, create and even socialise differently, and therefore their cognitive abilities have adapted to the technological age. The Digital Natives are then contrasted with the Digital Immigrants, or the older generation, who, to use a language-learning metaphor, will never be so “fluent” in the use of technologies. However, these clear-cut assumptions have not been supported by empirical evidence which shows that the issue is more complex. There are many factors that influence how people relate to and use digital technology. Some social factors, for example, include access to and familiarity with computer technology, including, for example, the perceived usefulness and relevance to everyday life, socio-economic background or family culture. Recently, a new concept of Digital Residents vs. Digital Visitors has been formulated. Rather than on age, it focuses on how people use technology. The Resident is an individual who lives a percentage of their life online. They leave a footprint even when they are not there, for example on social media. The Visitor, on the other hand, is an individual who uses the web and technologies as a tool in an organised manner whenever the need arises. For teachers the latter concept is more useful as it can help them see their own engagement with technologies as well as that of their students, and consider the implications that this may have in their practice. You can read this article to find out more about the concepts.
When entering HE, students have expectations about the use and provision of digital technologies based on their previous educational experiences. These often do not match, however, with how they engage with and use digital technologies for learning. What has changed in recent years is the learning context: increased availability of ICT (internet, mobile devices, etc.) has led to the increase in the range of places where students can learn, which has in turn led to greater expectations with regards to the flexibility in educational provision. At the same time, research has shown that, at least for now, students prefer to use digital media for looking up content and communication rather than for creating (e.g. wikies, blogs), and they have not adopted different learning styles. Students also respect traditional methods of teaching and their attitude towards learning is influenced by the teaching style of their teacher.
Digital technologies enable both teachers and students access to tools that can greatly enhance the learning experience but at the same time can be misused. Some teachers see digital technologies as a threat to traditional ways of teaching, to learning through engaging with printed books and to undertaking well-designed classroom activities that have had a long tradition. There are also threats that may seem beyond our immediate control, such as copying a pasting of information from dubious online sources, excessive use of not always reliable sources such as Wikipedia etc. In language teaching, one of the issues we have seen is the inappropriate use of online translation tools (i.e. Google translate). But does this need to be a threat? The following case study is an example of using Google translate as an opportunity for learning.
Some of our students will become translators and will be required to work with technology. Translation has more parts to it – if used well, it can be an important learning tool, and we can use it to get students to understand the structure of the language and its idioms etc. This is particularly useful in teaching Slavonic languages to English speakers where the structure of a sentence works differently and will have an impact on meaning. However, if our focus is on helping students to be conscious of issues facing translators, we have to be aware that translation cannot remain only an intellectual activity. Our approach needs to allow for an introduction of how translation is done outside the classroom. So how can we combine the pedagogical needs and tackle potential issues that might arise with an “improper” use of technology? We could worry about plagiarism and check our students’ translations with different kinds of software. Or we could make sure their translation assessment is invigilated without access to the internet or other translation tools. Or we could turn things around and find a creative way of how to use the existing technology as it has been done by a teacher in his Russian to English translation module. He “pre-translates” the Russian texts by using Google translate, presents the students with the original text and the (usually partly confusing and erroneous) translation, and asks them to produce their own translation using those two. The translations and issues that come up during the translation are then discussed in class. This way the students not only learn the skill of translation but they become keenly aware that even though technology can help them to some extent, it can also bring about unexpected problems.
As with any other resource, digital technology has a potential to improve teaching and learning without having to compromise their quality. Especially if we teach in a blended fashion and see our students face-to-face, we can get feedback on how materials we have designed and provided students with work. We can reflect and learn from this, and redesign our materials accordingly, just like we would redesign our traditional teaching. For a number of Slavonic languages, especially the less-taught ones, there is a lack of suitable textbooks. The existing materials tend to be specific to the learners and the location of the largest potential market, which is often the country where the language is spoken, and creating our own resources can therefore become a necessity. Using technologies to do this is a logical choice because digital resources are more flexible and much easier to update than printed materials.
The SAMR Model shows that when considering the use of technology, we can think of it as enhancing existing practices or as transforming them. It is possible to implement technologies at all the levels shown in the model. The most important thing is that any enhancement or transformation is appropriate to the pedagogical goals we want to achieve. In other words, we should avoid introduce new things for their own sake, but at the same time, we should not be afraid to change our practice.
Despite much of the contemporary educational theory promoting learner-centred teaching, the fast development of technologies and their attractiveness have in some cases caused a shift in the paradigm, and teaching technology design has focused on the capabilities of the technology rather than the learner. This has led to many designers focusing on incorporating cutting-edge technology, such as social media or mobile learning, without considering how people actually learn, and thus becoming technology-centred in their approach.
Our pedagogical aims and the learners’ abilities should always be in the centre of any design, and the use of technology needs to be adapted accordingly. There should be little difference in considerations for designing a “traditional” session/programme and one with technology. The purpose of what should be achieved, i.e. learning aims and outcomes should be the focus, and technology should be seen as a of enhancing or implementing new opportunities (as per the SAMR model). It is useful but not always easy to imagine oneself as a student using the materials we are designing. There is a large amount of useful information on digital technology for education and research provided by JISC (www.jisc.ac.uk). And one of the useful models that can help us to get into the mindset where the learner and their experience is in the centre, is the Morville’s user experience honeycomb. It is one of the resources that in a structured way helps us think about the students and their needs as a user when designing teaching materials.
The diagram looks beyond just usability, which focuses on how product design enables the ease of use to achieve one’s goals quickly and without errors, by incorporating an emotional dimension, such as the joy from or the meaning of the product for the user. If a teaching material (or any other product) is successful it comprises the elements of usefulness – students have to perceive that what we offer them will help them fulfil some of their goals; usability – the tool or materials we present must have an interface that will be easy to use; findability – everything should be straightforward to find; credibility – we may be the guarantors of credibility in the eyes of our students but, for example, errors or typos, or non-functioning parts of our materials may loose us some of the credit; desirability – if successful learning is to take place students also need to enjoy working with our materials and they must “feel good”, and accessibility – it is the ethical thing to make sure that our materials are accessible to those with disabilities. Only then will students consider what we have to offer them as valuable.
Incorporating digital technologies in teaching can be as simple or as complex as we choose. Often the most effective materials are very simple. The points below can help you evaluate different tools and make decisions appropriate to your situation.
Reflect on how students’ experience and your teaching will be enhanced or changed. Some common functions of technology in teaching and learning are to:
Here is a list of some useful tools and the function they can serve:
Take into account who will be using your tool by:
Students really appreciate understanding of the context of a new tool when they are asked to use one
Consider how students will access your tool. Think about:
Also consider the ease of use:
Lastly, take cost into account:
You will find more detailed guidance in the book Teaching with Emerging Technologies by Michelle Pacansky-Brock. The website accompanying the book is a rich resource of information about a variety of digital tools. +
The practical part of this chapter introduces two simple digital tools, Hot Potatoes and Quizlet. Both tools are available freely (there is an inexpensive option of a premium account on Quizlet that is worth considering) and materials created with them are easy to set up and make available for students. The exercises created in Hot Potatoes come as HTML files which students can open and work with in any web browser and which can be shared for example through Virtual Learning Environments. Quizlet is an online service for creating vocabulary lists with a range of learning functions automatically built in. Each vocabulary list and corresponding exercises can be easily shared and accessed via a unique URL.
Creating and implementing materials or learning environments is a cyclical process. As digital materials generally allow for greater flexibility, we can make improvements on a regular basis and also experiment with new approaches. Ideally, we would have a perfect pedagogical plan before we start developing new materials and the technology would enable us to carry it out. However, sometimes we need to compromise because the limitations of the technology, limited time, financial resources or expertise will not allow us to do everything we want. The disadvantages in the application of technologies however are usually out-weight by the gains for both the students and the teachers. One thing to remember is that there are no perfect language books either. It is important in the pedagogical considerations to take into account what technologies students already use and also how they use them to be able to tap into their motivations. Not all students are confident or have competence to use new software. This should not prevent us from developing new materials if better learning outcomes can be achieved, but we need to make sure adequate training is incorporated in our approach. It is important to ask students for feedback to be able to improve our materials because sometimes we think we know how students will respond to our materials (online or not) but the actual response may be different. Additionally, each group will respond slightly differently but we can gauge how materials work quite easily after one or two uses. In actual fact, this is not dissimilar to what a good teacher should do with any of their teaching materials. So it is just changing or adding new tools that is new.