Gavin Dudeney was one of the plenary speakers at E-merging Forum 5 in Moscow. Watch his talk about Big Data and his interview here.


Gavin is Director of Technology for The Consultants-E, working primarily in online training in EdTech, and in consultancy work in the same field. Former Honorary Secretary and Chair of the Electronics Committee (ElCom) at IATEFL, he now serves on the board of the International House Trust. A regular contributor to journals, Gavin is author of The Internet & The Language Classroom (CUP 2000, 2007) and co-author — with Nicky Hockly — of the award-winning publications How To Teach English with Technology (Longman 2007, winner of the International House Ben Warren Prize) and Digital Literacies (Routledge 2013, winner of the Society of Authors British Council Award). His new book, Going Mobile, was published by DELTA Publishing in 2014.
Topic: Of big data & little data — how numbers have (almost) ruined everything
Big numbers are everywhere we look these days: from the huge sums of money invested in language learning apps, to the number of placement tests carried out by Publisher X, from the number of likes on a company’s Facebook page to the number of comments on a popular blog. It is — it would seem — all about the numbers. But when exactly did quantity begin to surpass quality as a measurement in educators’ minds? And, more importantly, why?
This talk suggests that we should be looking more closely at the two camps currently claiming ownership of the term ‘EdTech’ and their right to that ownership. On the one side, Big Data: represented by large corporations, colleges, publishers, TED award winners and multi-million dollar app and platform designers, and on the other, Small Data, represented by smaller publishing ventures, teachers, trainers and less famous educational establishments.
By examining both sides of the EdTech debate we may come to an understanding of what ’good’ Edtech is to each of us, not through the prism of big data and even bigger numbers, but through the lens of research, case studies and examples; to an understanding that big data has little to do with classrooms, people and learning, whilst small data has everything to do with them.
Video recording of the plenary session
You can watch the full recording of Gavin Dudeney’s talk on British Council Russia’s YouTube channel by clicking the link below:
In this interview, Gavin Dudeney from The Consultants-E talks about some of the changes that he has noticed between the first E-merging Forum conference and the current event. He expands on the theme of his talk and explains how his idea to talk about Big Data (almost) ruining everything came about, pointing to rise in the importance of quantity over quality in areas such as social media and educational research. He also talks about some of the challenges teachers are likely to face in the future as quantitative big data becomes increasingly prevalent.
Watch the interview with Gavin here:
As part of the interview, Gavin answered some of the questions that our online audience asked. Read the questions and his answers below:
What do you think of
I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with a lot of these platforms if there’s no other alternative. But I don’t think any of them are good replacements for what we know works – teachers, with learners, working together to build some learning. I happen to believe that this process can be significantly enhanced through good use of technologies. I do object to companies such as Duolingo using the world as unpaid translators, but that might just be me. I know a lot of people enjoy Duolingo, I just think they should be aware that they’re not learning a language, and they are acting as an unpaid employee of the company. In my ideal world, there are good teachers, engaged students and principled and creative use of technologies, and I hope it stays that way for a very long time.
What is your lucky number?
78,000,256,324.36 … Actually, it’s 3 – but as I explored, we are easily seduced by big numbers. I like the structure of 3, my birthday is on the 3rd…
Which tool would you recommend to a novice teacher starting using ICT in the ELT classroom?
So many things: get some training, talk to fellow teachers, join an online community, go to conferences, take part in webinars, read some books and articles. Don’t wait for it to come to you. Then, start with small steps – a little bit at a time. Make sure you expand your repertoire so you know a lot of different tools and approaches – don’t bore your learners with one tool. Find out what your learners like doing, and see if you can incorporate that. For me, at the moment, it’s all about mobile devices – get them out of learners’ bags and pockets, turn them on and explore what you can do with them (e.g. audio recording, video recording, taking photos, notes…). Be as creative with tech as you are with other aspects of teaching. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for advice and help.
I've been wondering if The Consultants-E tutors could share any observations on how teachers from different cultures do on the online courses. Are there any case studies investigating the perceptions of international students (teachers of English in this case) regarding the impact of cultural differences on their learning experiences?
It’s such a huge question…. We know that there are different levels of engagement and openness around the world, that some cultures share a lot, and some not so much, that in some cultures the teacher is never questioned and learner opinions are not so easily deduced, but even with this, it’s hard to generalize. We train teachers globally, online, and we’ve found that a supportive and creative group atmosphere in an online course can go a long way to breaking down these perceived barriers and encouraging real debate and sharing. When people are comfortable, feel supported and nurtured, barriers seem to drop away. You can’t completely eliminate the chance of cultural misunderstanding (and we’ve had a few on courses), but often they are not as important as they might be f2f. I can’t drag studies from my frazzled brain right now, but can provide some when I get home. I like this question very much, but it’s hard to answer succinctly. For me, I think, it’s about ensuring people feel respected – the rest is often immaterial.
What can English teachers do not to be defeated by big numbers?
We can resist an over-reliance on numbers, measuring, testing and assessment – or quietly subvert it, at least. Teach your learners to value their language production and their creativity, the conversations, the multiple cultures of English worldwide and to enjoy learning, rather than concentrate on the numbers. I think it’s inevitable that much of what we do in education will be more controlled, more measured and more described by numbers, so it’s more important than ever to concentrate on the joy of learning, on the doors it opens, the opportunities it brings. We need to ensure our learners advance, and pass the exams they need to pass – but at the same time we need to instill a love for learning in them. We are the frontline in the battle against automation, the people who can show how technology can enhance learning, but not control it. Let’s continue to make learning personalized and personal, but not ‘adaptive’, not measured, described and delivered by machines.
You can download the presentation “Of Big Data & Little Data – How Numbers Have (Almost) Ruined Everything” below

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