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This is not really new, but does anyone have any thoughts on the following issues related to educational technology, posited by Scott Thornbury (a very well known and highly regarded ELT specialist) from his blog: http://scottthornbury.wordpress.com/2011/05/01/t-is-for-technology/:

"Uncritical acceptance of any innovation, whether it be interactive whiteboards or multiple intelligence theory, needs to be subjected to a dose of level-headed scrutiny. And, as far as I am concerned, until the following four problems have been satisfactorily addressed, an ounce or two of scepticism regarding ‘ed tech’ seems well advised.

The delivery model problem: Despite the enormous potential technology has both to facilitate communication and to foster creativity, a lot of educational software still seems to be predicated on a delivery model of education. I.e. the more information learners have -  and the quicker -  the better.  As a consequence, many publishers seem to be responding to the demand for language learning apps by simply re-issuing existing reference works in mobile-friendly formats, a well-known grammar self-study book being a case in point. But, to paraphrase (the sainted) Neil Postman, if learners are having problems learning to speak English, it is not through lack of information!


The theory vacuum problem: In a review of the film ‘The Social Network’, Zadie Smith (2010) commented to the effect that, “in France philosophy seems to come before technology; here in the Anglo-American world we race ahead with technology and hope the ideas will look after themselves”. As evidence, not a day goes by without someone tweeting to announce a blog or website that offers ’20 things to do with Wordle’, or ’100 ways of using Twitter in the classroom’ and so on. Rarely if ever do you see ’7 tools to help students with listening skills’ or ’100 apps that facilitate vocabulary acquisition’. That is to say, rather than the learning purpose determining the technology, it’s the technological tail that seems to wag the pedagogical dog. What theories of learning underpin the claims being made for educational technology? We deserve to know!

The attention deficit problem: A good while back, Aldous Huxley warned against the dangers of ‘non-stop distraction’. More recently, commentators have noted that a state of ‘continuous partial attention’ characterises the kind of engagement that digitial technologies induce. As Nicholas Carr writes (2010), “When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning.  It is possible to think deeply while surfing the Net, just as it’s possible to think shallowly while reading a book, but that’s not the type of thinking the technology encourages and rewards” (pp. 115-16).

If you accept that a degree of higher order thinking and sustained concentration is a prerequisite for learning, then you have to be worried about these effects.  (Do those who deny that multi-tasking is  a problem also condone the use of cell phones while driving?)

The added value problem: At a recent presentation on the educational use of mobile technology, the presenters quoted a survey of teachers in which the majority said that they didn’t anticipate using mobile technology in their classrooms. The presenters glossed this as meaning “…because they don’t know how”. Was I the only member of the audience who was thinking that the more likely reason was “….because they don’t see the need”?

As long ago as 1966, Pit Corder warned that “the use of mechanical aids in the classroom is justified only if they can do something which the teacher unaided cannot do, or can do less effectively” (1966, p. 69). This would still seem to be a useful test of the value that technology adds to education, not least when one factors in the costs – not just in terms of the initial outlay, but in terms of training, maintenance, upgrades and eventual disposal. (Crowther, op. cit, notes that “Americans alone discard 100 million computers, cell phones and related devices every year, at a rate of 136,000 per day” and adds that “it takes roughly 1.8 tons of raw material… to manufacture one PC and its monitor” [p. 113]). Confronted by any new tool or application, the discerning teacher should be asking: Is it really worth it?"

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