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Justifying the use of technology in bilingual classes

Por Edgar Lucero Babativa
Magisterio
26/08/2015 - 17:00
0
Foto de Biblioteca Juan San Martín. Tomada de Flickr

This paper intends to provide language teachers with reflective points of reference to think of how, what, and where to start when technology comes into play in the process of bilingual teaching. The discussion begins with the most common beliefs that authors in the field have stated when approaching technology for language teaching purposes. Subsequently, the discussion establishes the main objectives for the application of technology for language learning. Finally, the article presents the most pertinent justifications and points of reference for the use of technology in bilingual teaching and learning in accordance with learner, teacher, content, and context level. 

 

Resumen

Este trabajo busca ofrecer a los profesores de idiomas puntos de reflexión sobre cómo, qué y por dónde empezar en el uso de recursos tecnológicos en la enseñanza de los idiomas. La discusión comienza por las creencias más comunes en la aplicación de las tecnologías para la enseñanza de las lenguas. Luego, se establecen los objetivos para el uso de recursos tecnológicos con el fin de encontrar qué realmente justifica este uso en la enseñanza y aprendizaje bilingüe con respecto a los estudiantes, el profesor, el contenido y el contexto. 

 

+Lea: Bilingüismo, apertura al mundo y apreciación de pluralidad y diferencia

 

Introduction

When language teachers talk about how to use technology in activities or exercises for their learners, they express their feelings of using it in class. 

Among those feelings, they might express fright of using technology because they possibly lack knowledge of how to apply it in the language course. Equally, they may feel relatively lost because they do not know what type of technology, applications, or devices should be the most appropriate for the students they have, and how to start using them exactly. This situation can even be more difficult for language teachers if they need to decide on activities in which technology is incorporated with terms such as CALL, ICT, TELL, d-learning, m-learning, VLOs, MOOs, or LMS, for instance. 

 

Acquiring knowledge of these terms and how to operate the devices or applications seems to be the first step to start breaking those feelings. However, it does not seem to be sufficient when technology needs to be an important resource in language teaching. Teachers still might have a sensation of unawareness of the manner to incorporate technology and the reasons to use it in class. That is why this article intends to provide language teachers with reflective points of reference to think of how, what, and where to start when technology comes into play in the process of language teaching. The reflective points emerge from three angles, my 2-and-a-half-years of experience in teaching materials design and CALL, my observations of in-practice language teachers, and a literature account of authors in the field of teaching with technology. The discussion in this article therefore establishes the most common beliefs in incorporating technology and the main objectives for the application of it for language teaching and learning. The article also presents the most pertinent justifications and points of reference for the use of technology in language teaching and learning in accordance with learner, teacher, content, and context level.

 

+Lea: ¿Qué ventajas tiene el ser bilingüe?

 

Development

Before starting with the discussion, it is necessary to contextualize it by stating the definitions of CALL, ICT, and TELL. These three acronyms compile most of the technological applications and devices for language teaching. Firstly, CALL (Computer-assisted Language Learning) is understood as an approach in information and language technology to language teaching and learning. In this approach, the computer is used as a substantial interactive aid for reinforcement and assessment of applications for language teaching and learning (Levy, 1997). A substantial interactive aid is a term to describe a program whose input and output are interleaved, like a conversation, allowing the user's input to depend on earlier output of the same type. The interaction with the user is usually conducted through either a text-based interface or a graphical user interface. 

 

Secondly, ICTs (Information and Communications Technologies) cover the merging of telephone networks with computer networks related to an individual able to interact purposefully with its surrounding realities which are perceived and modified by various receptors and effectors (Semenov, 2005). The meaning of “an individual is able to interact purposefully” is that of a person using the sensitivity of their senses to perceive events and communicate with other humans and machines over long distances. This communication is done through efficient and accurate manipulation of symbolic and material objects that technology of information offers.

 

Thirdly, TELL (Technology Enhanced Language Learning) is all those software applications and programs offered by the Internet and communication technology with the purpose of reinforcement language learning and teaching (Levy, 1997). A permanent Internet connection and underlying small technology (Java, ActiveX, Flash, etc.) are necessary for the variety of applications that TELL offers.

 

Taking into account the previous definitions, it is important to distinguish what devices, applications, and resources commonly belong to each of the three concepts. Some examples of CALL, ICT, and TELL resources:

 

+Conoza el libro ¿Cómo aprenden los niños una lengua extranjera?

 

CALL: Computer Room, Companion software, Language Software, CD ROMs, Editors, Print Graphics.

ICT: VCR, CD / DVD,TV set, Video Beam, Video Room, Audio Room, Recorders, Camcorders, Audio Players, Internet Applications, (see TELL).

TELL: Websites,Key pal, Blogs / V-logs, Podcasts, Forums, Web quests, Course wares, Companion Websites,E-mail, Chats, Messengers, Wikis, Scavengers, Web search engines.

 

When language teachers are asked to use technological resources in class, they usually find that the application of these resources comes from different beliefs. According to literature on the topic, beliefs about using technology reside in three fields. The first deals with how technology is understood. Language teachers can see that technology is demanded because people consider it as an in-vogue technique (Crystal, 2001). Thus, educative managers and principals usually demand language teachers the implementation of technology in class to show that their educative institution goes accordingly with this view. Equally, these places invest in purchasing new devices such as updated computers, smart boards, flat television sets, modems, etc. As a result, language teachers face a new setting for their classes, a setting that they are not much familiar with in our whiteboard teaching culture if those devices now need to be used for teaching and learning.

 

When teachers face this situation, I have observed that they start creating their own perspectives to incorporate technology in the class. Reis (1995) affirms that one of language teachers’ most common perspective is to use technology as a solution for problems associated to language teaching. The problems might go from students’ lack of attention to learning activities. For example, a teacher’s explanation on the board seems to be boring for students since it does not call their attention at all. Current young students have been so much stimulated from other devices that teachers’ explanations do not captivate them much in comparison to technological devices. Therefore, teachers opt to use technology to captivate students, but unfortunately, in my observations, teachers end up putting the same explanation of the board through a technological device. The same structure of the explanation of the whiteboard is now projected o a video beam, for instance. 

 

Another example is seeing technology as a teacher’s chance for students to learn with diversion (McLuhan, 1997). This perspective clearly connects to solutions of language teaching and learning activities. Language teachers with this perspective seem to decide on using technology of entertainment (such as software-based games and puzzles, videos, etc.) as part of their teaching activities in class. However, my observations state that these class activities become simply activities of entertainment and do not offer students with many opportunities to learn since the activities are planned for diversion with not many learning objectives. For instance, teachers take students to the computer room to play with installed games from language teaching series, but there is not a clear learning purpose for taking the students to this room and making play those games.

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The second field of beliefs about using technology resides on what is expected to obtain from the use of technology in class. Some educative managers and principals believe that just because technology is used in language teaching students automatically become more competent in using the target language (Murphy, 1986). Varied research works in this issue have demonstrated that constant use of technological resources in class does not necessarily guarantee more learning. Agency, students’ involvement and relevance of the class activity to real-life contexts are the aspects that guarantee more learning. If teachers apply these technological resources with these aspects, students’ learning might be more feasible.

 

Another result that educative managers and principals expect from the use of technology in class is that students become more autonomous in learning the target language (Antonini, 2004). According to Benson (2001), autonomy is certainly a personal decision that is built from experiencing how to self-control, self-initiate, self-direct, self-regulate, and self-instruct own learning. To my understanding, autonomy is not simply working and possibly learning without the teacher, it is offering contextual alternatives and choices for and of learning without forgetting students’ phychological, behavioral, and cognitive factors. If we take this principle into consideration, only by using technology with the aim of experiencing these five selves and providing these choices, students may become more autonomous. Therefore, the constant use of technological resources in class without these aims does not necessarily make students more competent in using the target language or more autonomous in learning it.

 

The third field of beliefs about using technology rests on the knowledge and abilities in technology both teachers and students need to have in class. Some educative managers and principles think that any young student has the ability to use technology in class just because they were born in the “era of technology.” Even though it seems to be a well-known and wide spread belief, the use of technology claims handling new and deictic literacies (Murphy, 1986). Thus, it is not only to knowing how to operate technological devices or applications. It goes beyond. It is also to knowing how to use them purposefully with either teaching or learning objectives in mind. When this is the situation, definitely, both teachers and students need to assess what knowledge and abilities they really have so that they can use the required technological devise or application. Furthermore, they can encounter what knowledge and abilities they still need to acquire.

 

My teaching experience in the field, my observations, and the brief review of literature in the field make me conclude that, whichever the belief, teachers must always start with founded objectives to use technology in their teaching practices if results are expected. For me, four main teaching objectives need to be established before applying technological resources in class. The first purpose is to increase students’ awareness and understanding of their own learning process through a steadily and progressive implementation of technological resources in class. The more they are conscious of reasons of using technology in their learning process, the more they understand how they learn and how technology serves for this goal. The second teaching objective is to develop autonomous attitudes towards learning by experiencing technology for enhancing self-control, self-direction, self-regulation, and self-instruction of that learning. When students experience technology and it makes them realize what they do for learning and how they do it, they have more tendency to develop ways to work independently because they get progressive self-confidence and self-initiation in getting the best way to learn something. 

 

The third objective to use technology in teaching practices is to help students develop and incorporate learning strategies. Technology helps capacitate them in this matter. Thus, teachers need to instruct students in recognizing learning strategies and applying them when technology needs to be used in class. The last objective is to encourage students to think critically. The process of critical thinking is applied not only on topics for learning presented through technology, but also on the reason of using it in the learning process. Therefore, technology use needs to be studied so that reasons to use it for learning and teaching are in permanent discussion.

 

Several authors suggest additional teaching results from pre-established teaching objectives for technology use. For example, Shanaham (1990) states that using technology in class makes language students be more conscious of their surrounding situations and the global world. In the same line, Barbero (1987) affirms that technology offers other ways of feelings, experiences, time-space relation, and a new way for recognizing each other. Finally, Clavijo and Quintana (2004) claim that technology provokes new classroom dynamics which produce changes in pedagogical principles of curricula. 

 

As seen, educative managers and principals’ beliefs in using technology do not justify its application at all. The objectives presented above with their possible results provide a better account of a rationale of its use. However, a complete rationale of using technology cannot be inferred if what really justifies the use of technology in class is not explicit. In my opinion, there are four levels that justify the use of technology in class. These are the learners’ level, the teacher’s level, the context level, and the content level. 

 

At the learner’s level, technology allows learners to work individually, at their own pace, with their own needs. It also allows learners to experience new language and contexts as it provokes motivation and interaction with multimedia. Besides, it promotes self-monitor and self-assessment in class activities and in the learning process. At the teacher’s level, technology helps with the management of large classes. It also introduces a great variety of contexts, language, activities, tasks, and exercises as it exemplifies authentic language in use in natural situations and settings. As a result of it, technology contributes to create in the learners new perspectives of life and interests. At the content and context level, technology provides more content dynamism and context attractiveness since learners work with situational-visual contexts and contents. It also presents verbal and non-verbal elements of language. Finally, technology allows geographical dispersed communication and mobile technology (class, on foot, home). 

 

Thus, after including the four objectives I explained above, I recommend that language teachers make themselves the following questions about the learner, the teacher, the content, and the context before deciding on using any technological device or application in class. The answers of the questions help identify the type of technology that both teachers and students use and the abilities they possess in it, plus the possibilities to use it in class according to content topics and class contexts. 

 

From the learner:

 How many students use technology daily?

 What technology do your students use daily?

 How often and how long do your students get in touch with technology?

 What abilities do your students display when using technology?

From the teacher: 

 How proficient are teachers with technology?

 How often and how long do teachers get learners into the use of technology?

 What technology do teachers use for language learning?

 How do teachers use that technology for language learning?

From the content:

 What language is portrayed in the technological application?

 What situational-visual context is displayed in the technological application?

 How authentic and variable is the content shown in the technological application?

 How accountable is the content of the technological application? 

From the context:

 How equipped is the institution in terms of technology?

 What is the availability of that equipment?

 How is the use of technology evaluated? By whom?

 What cognitive and socio-affective conditions for language teaching and learning are taken into account for using technology? Who evaluates 

them?

 

Conclusions

The use of technology for language teaching and learning demands at least the recognition of what beliefs, purposes, and approaches co-exist with classroom teaching. Its application must start from clear perspectives and objectives of its use and not from the beliefs held for its inclusion in language teaching. The starting points for its application reside from the recognition of these four levels: the learner, the teacher, the content, and the context. 

 

References

Antonini, M. (2004). Designing activities for video materials. Workshop presented at the  22nd annual Venezuela TESOL convention, Caracas, Venezuela.

Barbero, M.J. (1987). Innovación tecnológica y transformación cultural. Madrid: TELOS, No. 9.

Benson, P. (2001). Teaching and Researching Autonomy in Language Teaching. Harlow, UK: Pearson Longman.

Clavijo, A., & Quintana, A. (2004). Maestros y estudiantes escritores de hiperhistorias. Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas.

Crystal, D. (2001). Language and the Internet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dudeney, G., & Hockly, N. (2007). How to Teach English with Technology. England: Longman.

King, A. (1993). From Stage on the Stage to Guide on the Side. College Teaching, 41(1).

Levy, M. (1997). Computer Assisted Language Learning: Context and Conceptualisation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McLuhan, M. (1997). The Medium is the Message. Penguin books, USA.

Murphy, S.M. (1986). Children’s comprehension of deictic categories in oral and written language. Reading Research Quarterly, 21, pp. 118-131.

Reis, L. (1995). Putting the computer in its proper place–inside the classroom. English Teaching Forum 33 (4), pp. 28-29.

Semenov, A. (2005). Information and communication technologies in schools. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0013/001390/139028e.pdf.

Shanaham, T. (1990). Reading and Writing together: What does it really mean? In: T. Shanahan (Ed.), Reading and Writing together: New Perspectives for the Classroom. Pp. 1-18. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.

 

Edgar Lucero works for Universidad de la Salle (Bogotá), in the School of Education. He teaches the subjects of Material Design and CALL, Evaluation in EFLT, and Research & Pedagogical Practice in the BA program of language teaching. He also works for Universidad Santo Tomás in the School of Education. He teaches there the subjects of Discourse Analysis, Research, Didactics, and English Language for the students of the BA program in English language teaching. Edgar Lucero has been teaching English for 11 years at different language academies and universities in Bogotá. He holds a BA in Modern Languages from Universidad de La Salle, and an MA on Applied Linguistics for TEFL from Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas. His research interests are in Discourse Analysis, mostly in Classroom interaction, and Language Teaching Didactics and Evaluation. From these interests, he has published articles in specialized Colombian Journals.    elucero@unisalle.edu.co - edgarlucero@ustadistancia.edu.co.

 

Foto de Biblioteca Juan San Martín. Tomada de Flickr

 

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