Twenty years ago ICT in the classroom was quite a new phenomenon; anything we used was enthusiastically welcomed. Most schools got fully equipped computer labs and internet classes; teachers learned how to use the new technology. Not every family could boast a computer at home; not every child had a cell phone; the very name Smart Phone was unknown. Instant communication, instant access to any information for anybody and everybody still was in the realm of imagination. Students would make lines in front of the school internet class or at a library waiting for their turn with ICT. They would form circles around any of their more fortunate classmates who acquired a cell phone. Boys and girls at school would proudly wear the newest accessories – small flash drives on a string or chain. The speed with which the new devices appeared and spread was unprecedented. While online or distance learning was still in the stage of discussion among educationalists ICT firmly established itself in every sphere of life. Now, as I and many of my colleagues around the world have said many times, any and every child seems to be virtually affixed to a gadget, no pun intended. I believe today we can distinguish several trends which may be subjects for discussion.
* ICT is part of our life outside the classroom. What do I do if I wake up at an ungodly hour? I scan the news, read a new book, check the latest publications in my area of expertise, choose some new materials for my lectures, read and answer messages, write notes for a new article, or maybe just listen to music. The greatest change, for me, is this: all of that can be done using just one device. Add to it the fact that with the help of ICT we can engage in productive or fun activities anywhere, at home, at work, at an airport or on a train. A little while ago I made an online call to an airline which kept sending me promotional offers. Why? I explained that they left me feeling frustrated because I broke my ankle and thus could not use the enticing rates listed. No problems, they assured me. My ticket was booked, with myself listed as “a passenger with reduced mobility”. The whole online process took about five minutes. Then I was whisked to and from airports, through passport and customs controls, transported to and from airplanes and safely delivered to my destinations. Like in an old saying from the 1990’s: if you are in the system, you exist. Technology helps us develop professionally; it can also help us in difficult situations.
• Young people today use ICT anywhere and everywhere. Turning on a device and clicking on various Apps is probably the first thing they do when they open their eyes, or even with their eyes still closed. We can see pre-school children using some mobile devices in the street, aboard any kind of transport, and at home. Babies learn to push buttons once they are able to crawl; they know that there will be music and their mobile toys will start circling over their cribs. Yes, I have observed it myself many times. This alone shows us how much our life has changed during just two decades. • One of the big questions that arise with the development of ICT is, do young people use it for educational purposes? Do they even realize how great the potential is? Yes and No. Teenagers for instance regard any device as a means of communication with their friends. In this respect nothing much has changed. Some years ago I used to come across the same statistics in various publications: 85% of school children name “Communication with their peers” as the primary reason and stimulus for attending school. That was before the spread of Smart Phones, iPhones, iPads et cetera. They may check the news about their favorite music band or sports team, listen to the new hits and even read a new book in a popular series. They do not often use their knowledge of a foreign language for those activities. Most often it simply does not occur to them that if “everything” can be found on the internet, this “everything” includes English pronunciation and grammar. That is where we EL teachers come in.
• Based on my own experiences, I would venture to formulate a relatively new trend. I first came across it about ten years ago when I happily brought a new eLesson into my classroom, prepared to use the eBoard and to allot some time for students’ online research. Rather to my surprise my class groaned, “Please, not computers, not internet search again!” As chance would have it absolutely every teacher had used ICT during the previous five lessons in various subjects, and refused to give their students any choice in the matter. Rather than pressing forward I asked what they wanted to do. The teenagers brightened up at once: “Can we have a normal simple lesson?” Yes, I always carry a folder with me to any lesson, any lecture for adults, any event. I turned off the technology, extracted my Plan B, distributed cards, charts, printouts and even toys at the end of the lesson. I believe that we may experience a sort of surfeit today, a recession or maybe even a remission. Now that we all know how to use ICT and indeed do use it on a daily basis, all we need to learn is how often, how long, why, where and when to use it in the classroom. By all means use it for your own purposes and for professional growth; the more new programs you master, the more proficient you become with every new device, the better your chances are for keeping in step and even overtaking your students. Before bringing all your knowledge into the classroom, a simple check of the students’ schedule may help you decide what you need today.
Nina MK, Ph.D.