"While much is written about integrating technology into the classroom, large parts of the world still do not have reliable internet connections, or no internet connection at all in their schools and classrooms. In which low or no-tech contexts would technology add value or further learning/language aims? How might it be integrated into learning and the classroom?"
There’s a strong temptation that us teachers who are big fans of technology have to resist. While there is no doubt that computers, and increasingly now, smart phones and tablets, can offer us a wide range of opportunities to do things that we couldn’t even have imagined in the past, we have to be careful not to think that they will solve all of our problems and revolutionise education. This kind of digital evangelism is, in my view, an overstatement of the potential that technology has.
You may think this is a trite point and it’s certainly not original, but I think it’s true and worth repeating. Technology tools are just that, tools. They are not a syllabus, or materials, or dialogue, or teaching. They are the modern equivalent of paper, pens and blackboards. When we decide on an activity to do with our students we have to justify not only why we are doing it, but also how we are doing it. The same rules have to apply to tech tools too.
For me this justification process is most commonly associated with trying to avoid ways of printing reams of paper. Anytime I find myself spending more than 2 minutes standing at the photocopier, I have to ask myself “is there a better way of doing this?” The answer to this may be to use What’s App to send pictures or text to my students, or it may be to do a dictation or write something on the board instead. The job of the teacher is to evaluate these tools on an equal basis and decide which is best, and whether it’s a techy solution or not shouldn’t come into that thinking. There is nothing inherent in tech tools that makes them superior.
As the question in the title states, large parts of the world still do not have reliable access to the Internet or any technology available at all, which is a reason I have a problem with the over the top, overselling of tech tools. By elevating these devices to a position where they become the ultimate solution, there is the inherent suggestion that there is a problem that needs solving in classrooms without access to technology. There’s this idea of the “21st Century Teacher”, armed with apps and Pinterest boards and Google Docs and so on which is perpetuated on some blogs and in infographics, webinars and talks, as the modern educator, and if you don’t teach that way, you’re old fashioned, old hat and out of date. I think this is profoundly unfair to those teachers who don’t have access to those tools and who may be just as good at their jobs as those in the most developed parts of the world.
I think it’s worth pointing out here that I’m not wishing to denigrate the impact that technology can have on the classroom. I have tried several tech tools that have had a great impact on my teaching and been very helpful to my students. But the placing of certain tools on a pedestal just because they are technological is unhelpful, misleading and doesn’t help anyone, teachers and students alike.
To read of my thoughts on this subject, go to http://theteacherjames.com/2014/10/06/two-little-letters/