34 comments on “Technology transforms (education) lives – doesn’t it?

  1. Sounds like it was a great trip that has brought you back with a number of interesting questions, Jeremy.

    To respond to the first, just as the lack of books/writing utensils used to be the separator of haves/have nots, the digital divide now shows those differences. I’m sure the divide will shrink in time, and yet, then we might have “chips” in our brain and of course there will be folks that can’t afford them… probably still a few years off ! 😉

    So, I don’t think there’ll ever be a destroyer of inequality, but I do think the internet has leveled the playing field in many ways. Lastly, I am a mix of technophile and technophobe. I think it’s the hippy in me that would love to see folks spend a little less time in front of screens these days. It reminds me of Farenheit 451 in an eery “where are we headed” way.

    While my work requires me to spend the entire day in front of the screen, I still wonder every now and again what impact all this “abstraction” has on us. That’s when I pick up the guitar, and let another voice take over😉 Cheers, brad

    • Ah, Brad,

      the guitar! Yes, I completely agree with that. Changes everything to walk away from the computer and the screens and then just play and try and make something of it!!

      There will always be inequality, yes, I am sure. The One-laptop-per-child thing won’t cure that, as you say. It just helps, perhaps!

      I am not sure that technology is changing us. There are just so many tools to make things happen and I love that. My life is immeasurably richer than it would have been without it. And unlike my father when he was the same age as I am now, I have the excitement of development and change the whole time, and that’s fantastic!

      But a new song I’ve written – now getting that to sound good on the guitar…that’s much more interesting (to me at least!!)

      Jeremy

  2. I think you made a valid point about there being tech for tech’s sake often. The tools that many millions use (Facebook, Skype, Google+) are what language educators and publishers should be thinking about pedogogically.

  3. I applaud your mention of free, accessible wi-fi. This, incredibly, is the “glue” that so many governments and educational authorities forget when waxing poetic about bringing education into the digital age. Omnipresent wi-fi needs to be seen as a fundamental conduit to information, education and self-improvement for everyone; not as a business-and-entertainment luxury for the connected few. Beyond the benefits for education, I am convinced that governments can create more jobs, companies and economic dynamism via the simple introduction of widespread and free wi-fi than all their incredibly job training schemes, subsidies and infrastructure projects put together.

  4. You’ve raised some very good questions here. I agree with Brad above that the internet has made it easier to bridge the gap and provide better opportunities for people but … is it enough? Maybe in Uruguay, but certainly not in Mexico.

    And then there’s the role of the teacher in this; you can throw all the technology you want at the children, but without the proper guidance and support those laptops can just as easily become overpriced toys. While many people believe that today’s children instinctively know how to use gadgets, the wealth of information now at their fingertips still needs to be read, summarized, questioned even (after all, *gasp* not everything you read on the internet is true!). These children are going to need teachers that are, if not technophiles, at least willing to take the risk and step out of their comfort zone. I could tell you the story of my school and our IWBs, but I think you can imagine it.

    About Plan Ceibal itself, I’d be interested in following up on the sustainability of the program. Can Uruguay keep up with the pace of technology?

    • Hi Gloria,

      thanks for coming along!

      Yes, the role of the teacher must be crucial, surely.

      And yet the whole thrust of Sugata Mitra’s argument is that with minimal guidance kids can do it all themselves. I have some problems with that concept because I’m not at all sure that all kids can! On the contrary, in the rush some children get left behind, I suspect.

      So it IS up to the teacher – but then as with ALL projects the teachers’ ‘buy-in’ really matters.

      And as for using IWBs etc….well no one’s gping to do it unless they can see that it makes their lives better (or their students’) in some way.

      Jeremy

  5. Hi Jeremy,

    Thanks for the thought-provoking questions.

    I think that technology presents challenges, limitations and opportunities- or excitements as you put it. One of the major challenges is to ensure that we use it in our service, and in the service of learning, rather than be seduced by its more meretricious side. I think as someone else noted recently, much of the discussion on technology that I read and hear seems to be about ‘what we can do with mobile phones’ rather than ‘how can we help learners to improve their speaking/reading’ or whatever. As ever, the focus should be on the language learning.

    As to your questions, I think certainly we have seen that the internet and mobile technology have brought massive changes in all kinds of ways. The internet has , as Friedman notes, in The World is Flat, the potential for great good and for great evil. It’s all about the way we use it. It certainly has the potential to level the playing field, I feel. One thing I would say is that, in keeping with our age of instant opinions and gratifications, many people are given to making sweeping statements about what these technologies can do. History teaches us to wait a while and look at the results.

    Lastly, I think I’d class myself as a ‘critical technophile’. I love what some aspects of technology can do for me as a person and as an educator. I really support the ‘one laptop’ per child initiative, because as we work in many very badly resourced contexts, we know that such ideas are badly needed. However, there are aspects of technology that we should be wary of- not least what Scott Thornbury has called the ‘theory vacuum problem.’ We are in the business of language learning, and as professionals, we do need to know what theories of learning support the claims made for educational technology. I’d personally like to see more discussion of that in our field.

    • Hi Sue,

      thanks so much for posting here. really appreciate that!

      ‘Critical technophile’ – I think that sounds like the perfect combination actually.

      I am not so worried about the ‘theory vacuum’ that Scott is preoccupied by. I think it’s more a ‘practical’ or (in ELT terms) a ‘methodology’ vacuum that interests me – make me think. Because just saying ‘hey look at this great new thing’ doesn’t have any value; but saying ‘here’s what my students did with a new thing’ allows us to evaluate the new thing – or at least wonder if we too would like to use it.

      What I like, in presentations, is when someone says to me ‘here are 5 reasons why I use this, here is what my students did – do the reasons match what happened etc. In that respect I have enjoyed Vicky Saumell’s presentations and you can have a look here: http://www.slideshare.net/vickys16/presentations

      Jeremy

      • Thanks, Jeremy, for the mention.
        There`s no doubt I am a technophile, but I totally agree with Sue`s views on being critical about it. Ben Goldstein, in his closing plenary at 9th Southern Cone TESOL, Curitiba, last week expressed similar views and made a convincing case.

        I also think that ubiquitous free broadband wifi and the introduction of technology into teacher training curricula are essential steps for the normalization and more effective use of technology in education.

    • :-))

      But actually ‘teach-nology’ might not be a bad name for the kind of attitude necessary for successful implementation of any kind of IT stuff?

      Jeremy

  6. Hey Jeremy!

    After having attended LABCI 2011 in Asunción I would definitely say that I’m becoming a technophile!!!
    I love the way they showed us how to use technology in the classroom. I hope all Paraguayan kids have access to technology one day, but that seems very unlealistic to me now, there are certain areas of my country where they can’t even afford books. I’ve heard that they’re trying to copy the “Plan Ceibal” in Paraguay but I’m not sure if there has been anything done yet…if that ever happens it will be amazing! “one laptop-per-child”. WOW!!! The kids would be so happy but then again the teachers need to be trained on how to handle such a project. I don’t think they should do whatever they want with their laptops.
    I got your book “The practice of English Language Teaching” signed by you and I have a picture of US from LABCI…aren’t I a lucky woman???..what an honour!🙂

    Best Regards from Paraguay xxx

  7. Hey Jeremy!

    After having attended LABCI 2011 in Asunción I would definitely say that I’m becoming a technophile!!!
    I love the way they showed us how to use technology in the classroom. I hope all Paraguayan kids have access to technology one day, but that seems very unrealistic to me now, there are certain areas of my country where they can’t even afford books. I’ve heard that they’re trying to copy the “Plan Ceibal” in Paraguay but I’m not sure if there has been anything done yet…if that ever happens it will be amazing! “one laptop-per-child”. WOW!!! The kids would be so happy but then again the teachers need to be trained on how to handle such a project. I don’t think they should do whatever they want with their laptops.

    I got your book “The practice of English Language Teaching” signed by you and I have a picture of US from LABCI…aren’t I a lucky woman???..what an honour!😉

    Best Regards from Paraguay xxx

    • Hi Adriana,

      how great of you to ‘come’ to the blog and leave comments.

      I think you are absolutely right. Teacher training is the answer to everything!! Or rather, making teachers aware of what students can achieve when you use certain technology. Without training like that, only a very few will become engaged.

      But if kids can’t even afford books, for example, is a laptop the answer? Perhaps it is THE answer – one leap over the book barrier!!

      We’ll see.

      You a lucky lady? I am lucky to have been in Paraguay. I loved it.

      Jeremy

  8. I think your final paragraph shows the value of technology… We all have access to looping devices for music, but individuals need skill to use it successfully, like you both have done in your Touchable Dreams. Access to technology is a very important first step.

    • Hi David,

      yes, that’s it, isn’t. You’ve got to have access. But then it’s HOW you use it that counts, and Steve really knows how to use technology (which he does in our Touchable Dreams show) and I never tire of listening to him!

      Jeremy

  9. Hi Jeremy,

    I went to the #9SC conference in Curitiba and I was shocked at some of the poor preentations on technology. As you seem to suggest, a lot of them seemed to be along the lines of ‘look at this website/app/iPad activity. Isn’t it great!’

    There were, however, some thought provoking sessions though, so at least some people are thining about the actual reasons for using tech in the classroom, not just using it as a gimmick.

    To answer some of your questions;

    1. Access to the internet is not a genuine destroyer of inequality, but not having access will further entrench inequality for generations to come.

    2. Whatever they feel like. There are so many possibilities that students might actually be able to do things they are interested in with the internet. This is the most exctiting potential of technology; Tailor-made learning

    3. Here is Brazil I doubt we will have a programme like this any time soon. There are so many other structural problems with public education that I fear the people in charge don’t feel this is a priority.

    4. See my answer to (2). Although teachers will be the ones to guide students to useful sites and teach them how to deal with the complexities on offer.

    • Hello Damian? Or Stephen?

      thanks for commenting here.

      I agree with you (and with Brad above) that laptops don’t remove inequality, but connecting people up at least stops the gap getting wider, perhaps.

      Yes, of course kids can discover what to do with their laptops all by themselves. But I am interested that everyone seems to talk about children as one big mass who ALL react in the same way to technology. And that doesn’t stack up for me. Some of them ‘get’ technology straight away, but some, I reckon don’t.

      Jeremy

  10. The ‘equality of access to information’ point is an excellent one. I guess if all kids have a computer with internet access then they (potentially) have this equality.

    But could the money spent on this have been better spent on actual teachers and teacher training? A really good (human) teacher is far more inspirational, and will help students far more than any gizmo.

    • Hello Thomas,

      yes, the ‘spend money on more/better teachers’ argument is a powerful one, and in the end there is no substitute for good well-trained teachers. You are right.

      Unless all these laptops could bypass all that and give the kids the ways of learning for themselves?

      I don’t really believe that, of course, but the Plan Ceibal gives us a chance to think about it, perhaps…

      Jeremy

  11. Hi Jeremy,
    We met briefly at LABCI. I think that the one laptop per child project is a great thing and I am so glad to see that there are several projects in place here in Paraguay (where I am based) to use them.
    As the world become increasingly globalized and English becomes more and more dominant as the global language the gap the between the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated widens. I am at the beginning of a process of creating a series of interactive video lessons that I hope people from all over the world will be able to use on devices such as smart phones and net books (including the one laptop per child devices). It is my hope that this work will go some way to contributing the greater equality in the future.
    Teachers often talk about how hard it is to get students to learn and it seems to me that most students who are good at a certain subject are this way because that subject is relevant to one of their interests. It may also be true that to an extent they already know what is being taught, that they learned it by doing it, by following their inspirations and not because they were good students in a classroom.
    I think that technology has brought us to a tipping point in teaching methodology. No longer should we view teachers/ourselves as the ones with the knowledge whose job it is to pass it on. Instead we should allow the students to learn at their own individual pace according to their own interests and inspirations. There are better ways to learn now and traditional teachers and classrooms seem to be holding the students back by making knowledge seem irrelevant and boring.
    Instead of saying ‘So you want to be a doctor. Well here is some maths to learn, it may seem irrelevant but you might benefit from knowing one day’, we should say ‘So you want to be a doctor. Well go away and learn about a doctor that has done something cool, them come back and tell me about him and together we can look at what he did.’
    The same applies to EFL, now I mainly teach self motivated adult students, but when I taught teens, I always felt sorry for the kids that were there because their parents forced them to be there. I feel that way because I was one of them when my parents forced me to learn Spanish. It backfired and I stopped as soon as I could. Only later as an adult did I return to it because it was something I wanted to do.
    Well I have ranted a little but in summary I think that these laptops and smart phones and other new technologies will change things by enabling people to learn what they want without teachers and schools getting in the way.

    • Hello ‘English language club’,

      thanks for the rant!

      That is a powerful metaphor – the one about being a doctor. Because, well just getting people to describe what the doctor did DOES seem to be a good thing to do, but what about the underlying knowledge that people need to be doctors?

      And as for teenagers, well there are so many reasons why they might, for example, give up Spanish….!!

      Jeremy

  12. Vicky Saumell :

    Thanks, Jeremy, for the mention.
    There`s no doubt I am a technophile, but I totally agree with Sue`s views on being critical about it. Ben Goldstein, in his closing plenary at 9th Southern Cone TESOL, Curitiba, last week expressed similar views and made a convincing case.

    I also think that ubiquitous free broadband wifi and the introduction of technology into teacher training curricula are essential steps for the normalization and more effective use of technology in education.

    You’re welcome Vicky! You will know of course that i think the way you present technology stands in sharp contrast to some of the ‘shiny toy’ presentations I hear. As I said to Gloria above, when teachers can see what technology can do for them they may climb on board (sic). But only then. That’s why showing examples of students’ work, er, works!
    Jeremy

  13. Well….. I am an Uruguayan teacher, I am a technophile, but I must say Plan Ceibal is a headache. “Maestras” in here must solve a lot of things besides teaching, they have to check all students have their vaccines and keep record of it, be a social worker, a psychologist, a loving female role model, get clothes to some of your students that come without socks on winter days, a perfect money administrator because you lack materials for artwork or similar so and you sell cakes during the break to get some “pesos”. Of course, you also teach “taking into account diversity” of your thirty three students and keep a beautiful planning with all your thematic units (that you created of course) and topics,and formA and B, and etc… in general Uruguayans maestras planning folders at the end of the year are as thick as a phone boook. After all this, that principals and supervisor smake sure that you DO with more than a visit a year (because they need to mark you with a grade from 0 to 100) , you also have to see what´s going on with “la ceibalita”, to keep them working… literally. Last year, maestras were given a pen drive to “flashear” or reset all the thirty something XO you have in your class When? GOOD QUESTION!!! , and then the classic “where´s your compu Pedrito?” “Broken” “Oh, your parents must send the XO to be repared” “They won´t because….” and you have to call the parents to explain where, how and why they must repare the machine. As you can see, the Xo are part of my nightmares,but when more than half of the class brings them and the “maquinitas” work is absolutely amazing
    By the way, I have a pic of children with the XO working in a classroom that had huge leaks. It was great because we had the children sitting in the dry area with the machine,s if there were not machine those days, maybe they would have been jumping on the pools.

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