The trouble with technology

You want to be innovative, you want to deliver fresh, engaging lessons, you don’t want to be accused of lazy teaching. You’ve read the latest, hottest blog post about 30 must-have apps/ tools/ platforms that are likely to make your teaching better. You got overwhelmed. You panicked. Now what?

The trouble with technology is that there is always going to be something new. It might be more of the same. Nevertheless, it’s going to be new and you might feel tempted (obliged?) to give it a go in your classroom, as any self-respecting 21st-century language teacher would.

The thing is, for many teachers (myself included) this constant pressure to keep up with the latest trends and developments is not only overwhelming but also ineffective. There are too many options. The heralded apps & co. have very vague classroom application and it’s hard to figure out what they actually do. Extensive research and frantic downloading from the App store lead nowhere, at least nowhere near deliberate teaching and offering opportunities for language practice.

I’ve been there: looking for new solutions to old problems. Thinking dressing up old exercises would work with my students and interest them more. Well, it did. This one time. Or my students really responded well, but the time it took to prepare the activity was just too much. Or the class went equally well whether I used a new online game or its old school version.

How to make sense of this ever growing amount of information about new edtech out there? Here are 3 questions I try to ask myself when I consider introducing some new and exciting technology X to my classes:

1. To what end do I want to use technology X?

Is it just to dazzle your students and inject some novelty / smuggle “old content using a new medium”? If that’s the case you are on the verge of falling into a death trap: being forced to provide your students with more and more “new cool stuff” just for the sake of shaking things up. Imagine the energy necessary to perform this task. Can you imagine channelling it into something else?

Gimmicks have a short life span. the flashiest new thing won’t make the class any better unless your students can see how it helps them use English ad how they can benefit from using it.

2. What problems is technology X likely to solve?

Is it going to help you save time lesson planning/copying/ cutting?

Is it going to help you with your classroom management?

Is it going to create a natural situation for your students to communicate in/about?

Is it going to expose your students to a learning experience unachievable otherwise?

If you haven’t answered YES to any of the questions above maybe it’s time to consider ditching X.

3. How do I personally feel about using technology X?

Even if it’s the coolest new thing available, you won’t be able to sell it and make it work for you unless you yourself feel comfortable using it. Hint: if it takes more time understanding how it works than it takes to use it during the lesson, just stop. Not being able to use every single new thing that emerges online does not mean you are backwards, behind the times, boring or borderline senile. It simply means that particular tool does not fit your teaching style, goals and personality.

In short, don’t believe the hype and analyse why technology X might work for you in your particular circumstances, with your own students. Make sure you know why you want to introduce something new into your classes, what problems is this technology likely to solve, how it is going to facilitate your students’ learning (being new might not do the trick, sorry) and what the pay-off for you personally is. Choose wisely and enjoy technology working for you, not working you.

How do you feel about trying out new edtech with your students?

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