Exercise caution!

Nina MK, Ph.D.
Here are some cautionary tales about technology at school.
• Let’s have a short prologue first. Once a mouse ran across the floor in our classroom when I was a primary school pupil. I’ll never forget our middle-aged corpulent teacher’s yelp, or the nimble leap she effortlessly performed from the floor onto the table. Any woman can understand that. Back to the present day. A friend of mine was finishing her lesson when something small and dark scurried across the floor right to her foot. She automatically kicked it away; yes, she also yelped and found herself on the table without conscious thinking. Unfortunately the object turned out to be not a mouse but a small smart phone which one of her students was surreptitiously using during a test and inadvertently dropped causing it to slide along the floor. The phone was fine but the parents came to school and blamed the teacher for the whole episode.
• Adults are not the only ones to use technology everywhere; in fact children of all ages may be more proficient with its usage. There are reports in the media about the relatively new ways of using technology at school. For instance some parents instruct their children to turn on recording once they are inside their school, and then produce those recordings together with various justified or unfounded demands and accusations. In return, some teachers began to do the same. If we add the ubiquitous video surveillance cameras and the general tendency to record anything and everything and to post it all online at once, we may get a rather gloomy picture of today’s school life.

I have received a lot of training more than twenty years ago. Once I learned how to use the (then) new devices, I began conducting teacher refresher/professional development courses for my colleagues. I have also been writing numerous articles, lesson plans, making reports at various conferences, taking part in numerous contests. While sharing with my colleagues and students I kept teaching myself many new skills. The school position has always been very simple: the administration would not offer me much support or monetary compensation, but they would not prevent me from using technology. They also helped organize seminars, open lessons, conferences, and encouraged me in involving more and more teachers and students into international internet projects. Plenty of teachers, not necessarily the older generation, would not use technology at their lessons; there has never been any pressure on them to do so. I used to think that the inability, the reluctance to use ICT in the classroom was due to somebody’s advanced age; gradually I realized that many young specialists would prefer to stick to a book and a traditional lesson plan. Partly I believe it comes from the extra work needed to integrate technology into a lesson. Teachers’ salaries are notoriously low; many EL teachers supplement their income with private tutoring after hours. The daily challenges we face; the exhausting nature of our job, the constant unpredictable hazards when dealing with multi-level multi-cultural classes, the PTA meetings, the weather changes, the bureaucracy… We are like celebrities who are constantly in the spotlight, but without their large fees.

My tips are really simple.
• Try using any new technology at home first, or at the school ICT lab. Be sure you feel confident with any new device.
• Try to formulate for yourself how/if it changes your life. For instance, when you visit , do you enjoy performing various daily exercises? Do you smile when you read their daily quotes; do you feel your life is richer because you learned something new from their Article of the Day? Did you feel your own younger days returning when you played Hangman?
• Visit any news site like Yahoo, and enter “Good news” into their Search line. Give yourself a positive charge!
• Browse through a magazine you like but probably never buy anymore because it’s expensive or because you do not have the time.
• If/when something, anything you saw on the web stopped your eye, copy it, and think how to use it at your lesson. Will it be as fascinating for your students as it was for you? How can you use that when tackling a new topic or a complicated grammar unit?
• Visualize! Imagine you introduce a new theme, and then click to show the students a new place, to let them hear some sounds and watch a short video.
• You may occasionally use technology to give yourself a short breathing space. Give them a task and relax for a few minutes, let them browse, find some answers or some illustrations.

Should we use ICT more, at every lesson, or should we use it less? Are we the ones who control the whole process or should we allow the students to click and perform some tasks with the help of technology? I believe that depends on several factors too.
• Check your national curriculum. In some countries it is quite rigorous, and there is no mention of any new technology. It means that if you wish to introduce ICT into your classroom you probably should consult the school administration first.
• Check the real lessons schedule for every day. If, for instance, your seniors come to your lesson after two hours of IT, they would groan and outright refuse to look at any device! Try to plan your ICT lessons for those days when there are no IT lessons before or after your own class.
• With younger children, be sure to check their technical skills before you show them anything on an e-board or use a computer. Contrary to popular opinion not every family owns the newest communication devices. You may have to teach the children how to use a computer first, and then spend some time on explaining the concept of internet safety. And no, you can never relax, you have to monitor the pupils’ activity non-stop. The younger and the more inexperienced they are, the more attentive you need to be.

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