Thursday, January 04, 2007

The non-believers: Is conversion possible?

I know it sounds like a blog entry about religion. It's far from that, though. It's about disbelief in technology and how this can hinder its implementation in the language classroom. For some reason, I believed I was overreacting when I thought that one of the main obstacles we had to overcome to be able to implement technology in the language classroom was teachers themselves more than the lack of computer labs or having a good broadband connection. When I read Tim Wilson's blog entry in the Savvy technologist I realized I was not that wrong. The entry called: Ties: the influence of teacher beliefs is based on a conference he attended last year in Minneapolis. Tim says, in a nut shell, that when a teacher doesn’t believe in the role technology could have in learning and he/she uses it anyhow, the results are not the ones expected. It’s like, say , asking a teacher to use a new methodology or approach in class. He/she may use it, but if he/she doesn’t think it will work, it will be effective; results will be less than satisfactory.

This apparent disbelief in technology is something I have noticed in some EFL professionals I have met lately. I have come across from the most ICT oriented teacher to the most
E-unengaged one. The latter, the “I-get-the-same-result-without-technology”, the “technology-changes-too fast-to-keep-up”, the “I-have-no-time-to-learn-something-new”, should be our concern, especially, when technology is gradually becoming the tool of choice at home, in business, entertainment, etc., not only in other countries but our country itself.

Why does it seem so hard for teachers to believe we need to integrate technology as a tool in the language classroom? Is it because they don’t believe technology improve learning whatsoever? Do they think it’s just a fad and will be on the wane soon? Is it because they are not motivated enough to take time to figure out how technology can enhance their teaching practice? Is it because they don’t have enough ICT resources, so why bother? Is it computer phobia? Or is it because believing implies working a bit more, taking a bit of their time to learn how to use ICT's?
Off the records, believing in technology doesn't mean saying: "I know technology is important" or just attending a course and/or workshop. It is understanding and finding power in ICT tools as something that can better our teaching practices and the learning process of our students.

Whichever the reason, disbelief in technology on the part of the teacher contributes to slow down the use of technology in the language classroom. Technology is here to stay and it is becoming part of our resources jus like the board, the eraser and the tape recorder. Tim Wilson suggests some approaches to bring the non-believer to the land of technology. It is described using my own labels and definitions:

The Radical approach.
It consists of bringing ICT tools into the classroom, exploring them, collecting data and reporting results to other colleagues (esp. the non-believers). This is for more ICT oriented teachers. It implies risking, exploring as many tools as you can and spread the word to others less ICT oriented people.

The Gradual approach.
This means learning/using one ICT tool at a time supported by an expert or a
more knowledgeable colleague. This is for the e-unengaged.

The “Let-others-know” approach.
It is about telling, reporting colleagues, principals, supervisors, etc. about your experiences with technology in the classroom. Your experience makes it more valid in the eyes of your colleagues than just saying a nice story on blogs used by someone in England , for example.

Conversion may not be easy, but I think it is worth trying. I know there are lots of teachers who would like to believe in the power of technology as as a learning/teaching tool. A lot of preaching might be needed. By the way, by conversion I don't mean imposing something on people who still twist their mouth in disbelief when they hear about technology as a powerful tool in ELT. It means changing by gradually adding ICT tools and ICT-related approaches/theories (learned-centered / task-based/constructivism) into the language classroom. By doing this, non-believers will not be left behind; mirror the way their students are learning outside the classroom; and keep up with the changes that are taking place around the world. The presence of technology in our lives is unstoppable. Can you believe that?
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