28 comments on “Steep learning curves (tempting the inner geek?)

  1. Jeremy,

    Best of luck! You ARE halfway there – want and necessity are two things that will really make a person learn.

    But about technology and teacher training. That’s what I do and I’m more and more convinced (and will put it into practice in a new TEFL certificate course that we should NOT teach technology. Rather, it should be given that the teacher trainer implement it in the course of learning. It should be embedded, it should be a means, it should be a backdrop. This is where is will retain its own want and necessity and where it will best be learned and practiced in the future classroom.

    I really scoff now at the idea of taking a course in “moodle” or a course in “audio recording software” etc…. It lacks internal force and it is not a subject in and of itself. Your own example shows you using a piece of technology not to learn a piece of technology but to create a song. We can’t artificially create that – that’s why we shouldn’t have “tech” classes but have it embedded in our other teacher training courses. We shouldn’t ignore it and ALL teacher trainers should be required to use it in their training classes.

    It is like I learned about reading years ago. You can “teach” reading explicitly but the most important thing for students is seeing the teacher at their desk, taking pleasure in reading.


    • Hi David,

      thank you so much for coming along and leaving a comment.

      And it gives me further food for thought! It sounds like a kind of ‘create the need (or encourage, provoke the need)” and then people will go and find means to accomplish (?) that need.

      Of course you could say that about all education, couldn’t you? (Your reading example is like that).

      So, to follow your logic), teacher training should all be like that? I (the trainer) will try and make you want to do something and then I’ll help you have to tools to do it…

      Yes, of course yes. But….


      • Jeremy,

        Yes, that is what I’m saying :)(I’m a big fan of Sudbury schools). A lot of education is spinning the wheels or as Malcolm McLaren said, “too much flywheel, not enough sparkplug”. If I had a dollar for every teacher that took one of my labeled “technology” courses and then didn’t ever use it in their classes – I’d be rich. It’s true.

        We’ll learn technology by seeing it in action. Nobody ever learned to write by studying how the pencil was made etc… Technology should be modeled continually by teacher trainers in their regular courses/sessions. There is no need for a course in technology. And if trainers don’t have tech skills to do so, they’ll have to get a job elsewhere, I’m afraid. It’s part of the job set now. Know what a copula verb is and know how to set up a voicethread.

  2. Hi Jeremy,
    I think the issue with teaching technology is making sure that it’s kept up-to-date. What might be appropriate to train teachers with in 2011 might not be appropriate in 2012, so time and energy spent on this could wasted.

    I’d say all teachers should have the option to have technology training but only if their place of work can offer them the facilities to practice newly learnt skills frequently, so that within a short time they are a ‘confident expert’ and can actually make use of it in class. (rather than a rusty skill they are hesitant to use)

    Good luck with your new instrument!

    • Hello Laura,

      lovely to see you here!

      You have raised an issue that is at the back of my mind – namely, how soon does technology date? Is time spent teaching people how to use program ‘A’ likely to be wasted – either because it will date or because the teachers won’t have access to it?

      I think my problem is to try and come up with some principles (for myself, mostly, but maybe for trainers too) about how to decide which technology to get involved with. What should I tell my trainees?


  3. Hi Jeremy,

    I fully accept your point about people being capable of teaching extremely well with little or no technology, but I’m still going to side with those who argue that IT training should be an integral part of initial teacher training, for a number of reasons.

    First of all, many ELT classrooms these days are equipped with internet technology, so I think we should be preparing new teachers for the possibility that they may find themselves in a situation where they are expected to use it, because for some people, the learning curve may simply be too steep for them to tackle on their own.

    Secondly, if teachers aren’t trained to use technology effectively then there is always the danger that they will make it up as they go along and use it really badly. I think trying to appeal to teacher’s inner geek is a great idea in theory but having taught IT I’m not entirely convinced that everybody necessarily does have an inner geek; though even if that were the case, what about the pedagogy?

    Thirdly, I think that in the current economic climate, the absence of web technology and mobile skills doesn’t bode very well for an individual’s employment prospects. Certainly in the longer term, I can see people who don’t have these kind of skills being squeezed out of the jobs market. Much better to pick them up at the ITT stage I would think, even if you think that you’re unlikely to use them.

    There’s probably more I could say on this, but that will do for now…

    Best of luck with your lesson tomorrow Jeremy! I hope it goes well, and good luck with your recording, too!


    • Hello Sue,

      thanks for your great comments.

      I think I agree with a lot of what you say, but like a lot of teacher training there is stuff we might want to cover for those who wouldn’t naturally ask for it (because they lack the inner geek).

      I certainly admire your mention of the need for teachers to know about stuff in a harsh economic climate – in the modern job market..

      But then here’s my question: what technology should we teach? What principles for technology use? How can we avoid the problem Laura raises (above) of obsolescence.

      Still thinking…


      • jeremyharmer :
        …here’s my question: what technology should we teach? What principles for technology use? How can we avoid the problem Laura raises (above) of obsolescence.

        My approach tends to be assume nothing & teach people really simple things at first, and the gradually add more challenges as you go along.

        I’m inclined to agree with Mark when he says that “Tech is just part of teaching, as it’s part of life for most people”… it seems to me that if you want to stretch yourself as an educator and further your professional development then it’s just one of many aspects of teaching practice that you ought to be exploring.

        As for the principles of technology use, I think the pedagogy needs to be taught alongside the tech skills; although as Nicky points out, the way things stand at the moment, tech savvy trainers are very much a minority.

        I don’t think you can avoid the problem of obsolescence really, as technology is bound to continue developing apace, although teachers who know how to use the tech tools we have now will still have a big advantage over people who don’t, a couple of years down the line.

        Still thinking, too…


  4. Think I agree with David… Technology in education is very context dependent… Sometimes it can be very useful, sometimes it can be essential, some times it can be counter-productive and sometimes it can be impossible…

    I guess the best thing would be to ensure that trainees are alll aware of at least some of the potential it has, and perhaps have practice using something simple that is appropriate for their context. I like the embedding idea – ensure that focus remains on the learning, not a “toys for the boys” approach.

    Perhaps what is needed is a greater focus in “Train the trainer” type courses so that trainers can be aware of the wide range of techniques and be able to select what is practical/useful/appropriate for their trainees.

    • Ho Phil,

      thanks for your comments, really.

      I am sure you are right about ‘train the trainer’, and I agree 100% that wasting time on inappropriate IT resources is, well, wasting time.

      But then, when I agree with you about selecting things that are appropriate/practical etc, I finds myself wondering how to select. And can I give trainees any real guidelines about how to approach tecjnology in general?


      • I guess the principles are similar to any activity – we have to consider how useful something is, whether it works on some theoretical basis, whether it is practical to use in the classroom/computer suite/online/wherever.

        Also I suppose we need to consider differences between different types of communication. Typed vs written vs spoken (spontaneity, “sharability”, transitory vs fixed, etc). I need to read up more on multimodality and Kress et al, I suspect they may have something useful to say…

  5. Hi Jeremy,

    Tempting the inner geek is a wonderful idea! That is, as long as there is an inner geek inside. But what if there isn´t? Well, I don´t think this is a problem.

    Over the last couple of years we’ve had loads of chances to observe teachers coming to grips with technology in our language institution. I’m now convinced: not everyone has an inner geek in them, although many do (and it has nothing to do with age, actually. This is why I reject the “immigrant & native” label).

    Some years ago we began looking into using technology as an enhanced learning resource in the classroom. We actually ran training sessions for teachers on blogging: what was a blog and how to blog (many hadn´t even ever seen a blog before) and we then showed them how to use Audacity to create podcasts and how to embed these onto blogs.

    What was the result? A few teachers bought the idea and began blogging with their students. The great majority didn´t. Looking back, it was an attempt to “train” teachers and bring them into the world of technology. But it was a bit of a tight jacket we slipped them into. It was a bit prescriptive. Sense was knocked into our heads as teachers “ambushed” our plans! (Thank God teachers are subversive).

    What became clear, and it´s something we´ve stood by hard and fast, is that technology really needs to appeal to the individual (I think you need to be passionate about it). There are so many resources/tools that someone may be an expert in one and a novice at another at the same time.

    So, as David mentioned in his response, we found that the best thing to do was to embed as many technological resources, tools and applications into our face-to-face and on-line initial training courses. In this way, all of our “new” teachers could see the potential of the use of technology. We also provided workshops (attended on a voluntary basis) on some tools (a teacher with some experience using a specific tool showed his/her colleagues how to use it) so that any teacher who so wished could have a go with something new.

    This produced a far more successful result. Those with a hidden inner geek had a wonderful time trying things out. But what about those without the inner geek? Well, they’ve had the chance to observe colleagues and reach their own conclusions. Some will want to have a go in their own time (these teachers may be the ones who will learn via a course, by watching videos online or reading a manual: it´s all about learning styles), initially trying things out by themselves before having a go with learners. Some will, in fact, never have a go – but they are such wonderfully brilliant teachers anyway that the learner won´t even remember to say: “But my previous teacher used technology, so why don´t you?”

    So, today I’m not sure I can actually provide much more “consistent” training in technology for our new teachers other than what we´ve been doing. Maybe I still need more time to work this out – but for the moment, I like this freeish experimentation (with a little guiding from other expert teachers).

    Well, best of luck with the lesson tomorrow! Oh, and btw, not sure if you´ve heard the Gorillaz The Fall (http://thefall.gorillaz.com/) album recorded on the ipad – anyone can for free. Yes, it sounds as if….it was recorded on an ipad!!!

    All the best,

    • Hello Valeria,

      what a fantastic account you have given of your experiences with teachers and technology. You can lead a horse to the water….!

      I guess you are absolutely right that some people don’t have the inner geek. But then some teachers are great at teaching intonation and other aren’t (for example). Yet we insist on trying to train out trainees to be good intonation teachers!Maybe we shouldn’t do tat? (I’m thinking aloud here).

      Or is technology different from e.g. pronunciation?

      But showing by example does seem to be one (very sensible) approach. You hope the trainees will want to learn more and attend those later sessions. I guess my question, still, is what we do for those students who don’t take up the offer – especially in a modern educational environment where familiarity with IT may help job prospects (Sue Lyons-Jones’ point above).


  6. Just wondering how technology can be counter-productive in education. Can you cite a specific example? If done right, it can be made always productive in a sense.

    • Hi James,

      I guess technology can be counter-productive when it is used inappropriately – or when, perhaps, you could do the same thing perfectly well without using any technology…

      Does that sound right?


      • That’s what I meant… An online grammar exercise is not always going to be better than a class with a teacher… But it all depends how it’s used….

  7. I agree with the previous comments – context is everything. One problem is that there is such a range of existing skill levels. In my own experience, a group might contain someone who struggles with the basics of email, and another who can code their own website.
    One approach which I have found successful is the “swap show” – where the participants share their knowledge in an informal way. It’s great for the beginners, obviously, as they can tailor the workshop to their needs, but also for the more experienced, as there are always questions to which no-one knows the answer (but someone knows how to find out).

    • Hello Mark,

      thanks for your comments….

      I really like the swap show idea. It allows people to show off and gives the others a chance to be entranced (or not) by what they are seeing – though I have been to some truly awful showing sessions like that where people just don’t know how to explain what they are passionate about.

      But I’ve got this niggling thought in my head and it goes something like that: you wouldn’t dream of running a TT course (would you?) without spending some time talking about board work. So what is the IT equivalent for those ‘how to use the board’ sessions?


      • Passion coupled with the ability to express that passion is a rare gift indeed. But I’d rather listen to a stumbling mumbler with some fire in their belly, if I had to choose.
        Technology is very different to board work. Few people outside teaching use a board, but almost everyone uses tech. And no-one showed me how to use a DVD player or tape-deck on the CELTA. Tech is just part of teaching, as it’s part of life for most people, so it needs to be integrated into training at all levels. For example, a board work session might include interactive white boards or even how a simple word document and projector can serve as a “board”.

  8. Hi Jeremy (and thanks for the plugette for our books :-))

    Although a seamless integration of technology into our teaching (and training) would no doubt be the best way to go, my own personal experience in training tells me that we are still quite a long way away from this. In theory, when Certificate style pre-service courses teach trainees about reading/writing, there should be some emphasis on blogs as a useful reading/writing tool. And so on. However, find me the certificate or diploma trainer who is comfortable and experienced in these tools. There may be some out there, but frankly the vast majority of trainers are still fairly technophobic. So until we have a generation of trainers who are a little more tech savvy, we will (unfortunately) keep thinking of technology as something separate to learn about. Roll on the day when courses such as our (lovely) Cert ICT are superfluous, but I think it’s going to take some time!

  9. Hello Nicky

    (see I finally got the spelling of your surname right in the post!!)

    I am SO pleased that you have come along. I hoped you would!

    I asked Mark (above) what the equivalent is – in IT terms – to those input sessions on ‘using the board’, and I still don’t quite know. Yes I think, of course, that mentioning blogs (for example) when you we are talk about reading is a/the way to go. But what abut mentioning vimeo, youtube, glogster – all that stuff? Because although David (in the first comments to this post) says he wouldn’t do input sessions on ‘moodle’ or ‘audacity’, Sue Lyons Jones probably would (comment above), too.

    Is it any longer possible for a teacher trainer not to have at least some acquaintance with their inner geek?

    Sorry, just thinking aloud.

    I am sure your ICT course will never become superfluous – or rather I guess it will evolve as it goes along…..`


  10. Dear Jeremy,

    First of all congratulations for such a interesting blog of yours. I’ve just recently came to know it, and I’m certainly very pleased that I did so. Secondly, I wholeheartedly believe that the best technology outthere is still our own brain. I mean, I’m very sceptical about some teacher who praise technology so much, but tend to forget that the students are still human beings who need supervision and attention in a level that no machine can ever give or will be able to in the long run. The point I’m trying to make here is that creativity and dedication are the best tools one has available for teaching. Whether you choose to use an Ipad or an state-of-the-art blanck sheet of paper, the focus must be scaffolding the students through the learning process.

  11. Good luck with the tuba!
    I think teachers – and anyone else leaving education – should be technologically literate. By this I mean nothing to do with any particular program – as you say, that dates and is probably a waste of time – but a few general skills so that you can pick up everything else yourself. I never learnt how to use moodle, or audacity, or powerpoint – you just try things out. But I don’t know exactly how you would get people to the stage where they can productively try stuff out.

  12. Pingback: Focal vs Tacit knowledge | EFL Classroom 2.0 - Teacher Talk

  13. Hello Jeremy,

    I quite agree with the fact that technology need to be integrated in new courses. Whether we as teachers like to use ICT in the classroom or not because of any reason but the fact is that if we really want our students to get good exposure within the four walls of the classroom then we must use it. When instruction is given through this medium then it automatically makes evident its uses and motivates learners to try their own hand. We need not always teach them the ABC but just like we learn our L1 , expose learners to it as well as the teachers to it during training sessions and they’d realize the immense potential ICT medium has and the infinite opportunities it can provide and how easy and interesting learning can be with it.

  14. I actually diagree!
    Of course you can teach English without the use of technology-isn’t the reason that most students learn English, is so they can have a meaningful conversation? And yes, I am au fait with many software programs, (music software, graphics software, word, pp to name a few).
    Showing a film, or listening to music can motivate students infinitely more than sitting at a computer screen. After all, anyone who has sat in front of a computer for hours can testify, it is extremely tiring, not to mention anti-social.
    Should a teacher know how to use a computer-yes, of course-but shouldn’t they be expected to learn this in their spare time in this technological age!
    Delivery of a lesson is much more important-not to mention classroom management and engagement (lovely word there). In my opinion much more time should go to these areas, which are infinitely more difficult skills to master. In a short sentence, it’s people that inspire and motivate, not computers.
    (School music teacher, and TEFL weekend course tutor.)

    • Hi llanarth,

      What you are describing here isn’t the way that teachers should be using technology in the classroom. A teacher who plonks their students in front of the computer for long periods of time is using it as an electronic babysitter; not a teaching aid.

      Technology is a tool which should be slipped into the mix as and when appropriate, to enhance learning. If used properly, it can provide learners with a rich, interactive experience that will grab their attention. If used badly, it can bore students senseless.

      Showing films and listening to music are great classroom activities and I agree that they can engage and motivate learners; having said that though, they are both passive activities. Showing learners how to use online tools to film themselves and write their own songs adds another dimension, and ups the ante to active learning.

      Just my personal opinion of course, but I’d switch the priorities that you have suggested around and argue that teachers should be give paid training and shown how to use computers effectively in the classroom, and do their CPD in their spare time.

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