Language Educators Put Technology in Its Place

Posted December 4, 2003: Compleat Links Editor Leslie Opp-Beckman asked English language educators in South Africa and Ukraine about the future of technology in the language classroom. See Gina Mikel Petrie's "Future Landscapes of Translation: Shifting Perspectives on Language Technology," Essential Teacher, Winter 2003 (pp. 38-42).

Though they live and teach on separate continents, Susan Brokensha, Leila Kajee, Hanna Khomechko, and Arlys Van Wyk are anything but worlds apart in their views on the future of technology in the language classroom. Their comments provide plenty of food for thought.

I asked Hanna (of Ivan Franko National University, in Ukraine) and Leila (of University of the Witwatersrand, in the Republic of South Africa) this question: As a language educator, what do you wish computers could do in support of language learning?

Where Are the Smart Programs?

Hanna's reply: "I wish there were a program that would help check students' papers and detect problems which are not only spelling and stylistic ones but also problems with overall organization and logical development of ideas."

Such a program would be very smart indeed and could be useful for English teachers who work with learners of all ages. I wonder whose logic such a program would use? Would educators be able to train the program or modify it in some way for different kinds and levels of organization and development in writing? Ideally, such a program would alleviate an instructor's workload and allow more time for personal interactions on academic matters with students.

Take Charge of Technology

Leila laments the current limitations and relative mechanicity of teachers' use of computers. "This is what is currently lacking: the use of ICT [information and communications technology] applications to promote learning and interaction rather than [teachers'] just using a site to dump notes onto and expecting learning to automatically occur."

As teachers and users of computer-based technology, we might challenge ourselves and ask if we can do more to use existing ICT applications to promote learning and interaction. Are we waiting for more advances in the technology itself, or do we ourselves need to transform our teaching practices to make better and more innovative use of current technology? Is there any real difference between a teacher giving a stand-and-deliver lecture in a physical classroom and a "talking head" lecture delivered via video, television, or online transmission?

Leila's right in advocating that we transform our students' learning opportunities in ways that improve on current practices rather than simply repurposing existing materials to a new set of technologies. (See the Winter 2003 issue of Essential Teacher for Gina Mikel Petrie's discussion of how teachers' thinking about technology shifts over time.) Current trends in education tout the benefits of smaller classes; individualized learning environments and pathways; and ongoing, formative (vs. high-stakes, one-chance) assessment. We need to examine ways in which technology can help us achieve these benefits.

What Lies Ahead?

As for making predictions, none of the four educators owned up to having a crystal ball that would predict the future. With the rapid pace of innovation in technology and the changing dynamics in local and global education, not even the bravest of technology experts and futurists will venture far in this direction.

Like many educators, though, Susan and Arlys (of the University of the Free State, in the Republic of South Africa) believe that "computers will not replace crucial face-to-face interaction but can be used [instead] as a supplementary tool." Hanna also holds out hope that "technology won't completely substitute living teachers. Personal relationships between the teacher and students are important, and I just hope that technology will be a help, not a hindrance." My vote's with you, Hanna!

Take Your Class Online

The Internet is full of examples of collaborative educational projects that use ICT. Read on to find ideas and instructions on starting or joining a project.

Collaborate Through iEARN

To see what teachers in South Africa, Ukraine, and other countries around the world are doing with technology, visit the International Education and Resource Network (iEARN,http://www.iearn.org/). Through iEARN, a nonprofit network, young people from more than 80 countries take part in collaborative educational projects using the Internet and other new technologies.

iEARN's partner in South Africa is SchoolNet South Africa. In the First Byte Project, iEARN schools are matched with disadvantaged South African schools to give them access to technology. At the iEARN International Conference in 2001, educators and students from 69 countries shared ways to bring ICT into the classroom. For invitations to join current projects and information about previous projects originating in South Africa and other African countries, see Globe: Africa (n.d., http://www.iearn.org/globe/globe_Africa.html).

In Ukraine, iEARN's partner is the International Renaissance Foundation. For sample projects, see iEARN Ukraine (http://www.kar.net/~iearn/).

After you're done exploring these countries, visit the iEARN Web site for your country. If it's not available yet, maybe you're just the person to help get it started!

Find E-Mail Partner Classes at IECC

Wondering about other opportunities for interactive class partnerships? Stop in and sign up at Intercultural E-mail Classroom Connections (IECC, http://www.iecc.org/). Through IECC, you can find a partner class in another country or culture and arrange pen-pal and other exchanges over e-mail. As the classroom instructor, you can specify the age of your students (e.g., primary, secondary, higher education), their interests, and the kind of communicative project you would like to be involved in.

Be a Cool School

Wishing you could do more to highlight your own school and students? Join an e-mail project at Gigglepotz (http://www.gigglepotz.com/) and maybe your school will win a Cool School award. Here's how Gigglepotz describes Cool School award winner Pitlochry Senior Primary School:

This school in South Africa stands for Personal Development, Enriched Education, and Individual Care. This is a wonderful showcase filled with photos and information for parents, students and teachers. Congratulations to the whole school community for producing a very comprehensive web site that gives a look into teaching and learning in South Africa. Well done! (Cool School Awards, http://www.gigglepotz.com/schools.htm, 2003)

To join this e-mail project or check out projects with other schools, see Class Connect (http://www.gigglepotz.com/cc.htm).

References

Class Connect. (n.d.). Gigglepotz. Retrieved September 17, 2003, from http://www.gigglepotz.com/cc.htm

Cool school awards. (2003). Gigglepotz. Retrieved September 17, 2003, from http://www.gigglepotz.com/schools.htm

Globe: Africa. (n.d.). iEARN. Retrieved September 17, 2003, from http://www.iearn.org/globe/globe_Africa.html

Leslie Opp-Beckman is on the faculty at the University of Oregon's American English Institute, in the United States, where she serves as technology coordinator and teaches ESL courses and in EFL/ESL teacher education programs, both online and face-to-face.

E-mail the educators interviewed for this article:

Susan Brokensha, broksha.hum@mail.uovs.ac.za
Leila Kajee, leila@languages.wits.ac.za or leilakajee@hotmail.com
Hanna Khomechko, hkhomechko@franko.lviv.ua
Arlys van Wyk, vwyka.HUM@mail.uovs.ac.za