I can’t remember a day in my life in which I didn’t have access to a computer. My dad has always been a computer enthusiast, and as such I grew up amidst TK 2000, Apple Master II and the very first PCs. I also learned how to write my own programmes using Basic, but this was soon abandoned due to the development of more graphically elaborated games such as the first Prince of Persia. Even though I had developed new interests as I grew older (naturally), I still had a very close relationship with computers and technology. I remember I was one of the first people in my class to join BBS’s, and, as a matter of fact, I even had my own – granted, a very short-lived endeavour, but still, another step further into the world of technology.
I was also one of the first people in my high school class to have an email account. I can still remember the comments of my classmates when I mentioned such a thing to them, “but why would anyone need email?”, “the Internet is just a fad,” and “there’s nothing useful online” where some of the commonest thought I would hear. Time has proven them wrong. However, they were not so far from our reality in Brazil. As a matter of fact, I consider myself lucky in this regard for having a father who was so interested in the world of computers. If this were not the case, I, too, would have been oblivious to the net revolution and the changes it brought about.
If you read up to this part, it’ll be pretty obvious to you the fact that I’ve always tried to bring technology into my teaching practices, especially when I first started teaching. Let’s face it, tech savvies would love to bring others into their own world. Fortunately, for me, something very important happened – I had the chance to work with people I looked up to and who were always there to help me in my teaching career. The once loved world of computers was finally put back where it belongs: yet another tool to better teach our learners.
But, hey, things have been changing extremely fast these days, and myriad tools have been developed to add to our teaching repertoire. When I think about it, I remember that 15 years ago email was a luxury. It’s now considered as dated by most teenagers. Twitter has been invented, social media has experienced a massive growth, and so teachers have had the chance to engage with their peers. Needless to say, the next big thing would be how to incorporate technology into our classes. Having thought quite a lot about it, I must say I’m a bit sceptical about it.
I’ve often heard (and witnessed in many lesson observations) that we tend to teach our learners based on our own tastes (i.e., a visual teacher tends to use lots of visual aids in his classes, aural teachers might neglect using even the blackboard, and so on). My concern is that, generally speaking, we, tech savvy teachers, have been discussing globally the use of technology in the classrooms as if this were the ultimate answer to teaching. Shouldn’t we try to understand our own concept of teaching prior to doing that? I guess Bax (click here to read the article) had it right when he advocated for a context approach to teaching.
In my own experience, I’ve been trying to use blogs, twitter, wikis, Ning, and even plain and simple email with my learners. It works for some, but it simply fails miserably with others. I took the chance of talking to my teens and pre-teens for a couple of classes about technology. These are students who come from the upper-middle class in Brazil. Their answers to my questions and points of view in the debates we held in the classroom were quite appalling to me. I though they were part of the Net generation. The vast majority of these learners have no idea of what a world without computers, Internet, digital cameras and mobile phones look like. Yet, they don’t make use of blogs, haven’t got a clue of what a Wiki is, very few had heard of twitter, and I won’t even bother to mention Ning. The best answer, in my view, was that of a 15 year-old boy, who said that they wouldn’t use anything that isn’t mainstream, and, most importantly, that their friends were not using. That’s the reason why they only make use of MSN and Orkut (which is bigger than Facebook in Brazil, fyi). Even after teaching them how to use the tools, and even after they’d seen the many different uses of twitter in action and agreed that it was a wonderful tool, they still don’t make use of it. And I clearly remember how shocked they were to learn that Twitter (a very recent class) could be used in some many ways. All of them left the classroom saying they’d go home and instantly create their twitter account. I even helped them out. I was always there to help them find people to follow based on their interest, sent messages related to the classes, replied to their tweets, showed them many different tools to better organise their account. And, after the initial excitement was gone, they said they had no time to deal with it. Why?
“Because we have to study hard for school” and “because my friends aren’t there” were common answers. They also said they got tired of following people they didn’t know and they couldn’t keep up with all their tweets when they got home after school. If you’re acquainted with the Brazilian system of education, you know how gruelling it it. Your grades in high school aren’t good enough to grant you a seat at a university. These kids have to study hard for their entrance exams, and this means most of them spend about 8 to 12 hours a day at school. And they haven’t got easy access to Internet or computers at school. They study using books. Culturally speaking, if you’re surfing the web, there’s no way you’re actually learning something. Sad, but true.
Some concerns about ELT? Well, I guess my main concern is that teachers are trying to apply concepts which work well in Europe in Brazil, for example. What about the context we’re inserted in? What about the particularities of your own teaching situation? Aren’t we trying to force down our learners throat some kind of medicine they don’t really want to (or aren’t prepared) swallow? Shouldn’t we care more about their learning than with our teaching?