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Technology Taking Over: shall we try technology-free when teaching English online?

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Michael O'Ryan, Online English teacher at Acadsoc, Ltd.
Michael O’Ryan, Online English teacher at Acadsoc, Ltd.

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To be honest, I am a bit stressed to talk about this topic because I am an online English teacher and I have to use and face many new technologies every day. I turn on my computer, connect to the internet, open auto grammar checker, teach a class in a teaching software, set time on my coffee machine, check new posts in Facebook, retweet an interesting story from my friend on a cellphone…I am actually surrounded by all kinds of technology every day, just as any other online English teachers at Acadsoc.

The state of learning today is a result of exponential innovation and adaptation over the recent years. As a result of the stagnation of traditional classroom methods, teachers have had to find a way to teach effectively in a way that is conducive to their current generation of learners. On the other hand, because this territory is not fully explored, there may be many challenges that teachers face as there isn’t a blueprint for using these different methods to provide effective learning. Much of it is just trial and error. Many countries are looking to the west for answers to this conundrum and it may be a case of the blind leading the blind – or not? Countries like the United States have pioneered the search of finding the grey-area in effective learning and teaching through technology and that has not come without its own drawbacks. The bigger picture remains, however: We need to find an effective way of using the technology that this generation is so adapted to in order to effectively give them knowledge, and not only that but to find a way to test their understanding using that very same technology.

It goes without saying that the blackboard and chalk method is obsolete – so is standing in front of the class and teaching something that learners can easily obtain through the likes of Youtube and other websites that provide a platform for free educational seminars. In order for many learners to realize their dreams, be it academia or corporate, they need to fulfil the fundamentals of the schooling system all the way up to university level. Without an adequate standard or method of learning, these students may be set up for failure as they enter environments that require them to be more independent – be it at the university or the workplace. So, what are the options open to us? In order to find the solution, we need to first look at the role that technology has played in the classroom and where, if possible, we can make amends.

Technology Taking Over ClassroomStudents are abuzz with the exploration of not only the world but themselves as well. Access to cell phones in the classroom has meant that so many students can be distracted by the latest gossip or trends on Twitter and Instagram that they find themselves not being able to grasp all the critical elements of a particular classroom. These scenarios are not exclusive to countries such as the United States of America, but countries such as China and South Africa, who are trying to merge technology with the school’s curriculum.

In countries such as China, there is a consensus that the quantity of work translates to results, but in actual fact, results are affected by an equal mixture of quality, quantity, and access. Let’s take a look at the latter – access. Access means that students and teachers are able to explore opinions in a fast way that influences how they, themselves, think. Accessibility is the main reason why technology was introduced into the classroom. In instances where students are writing opinion pieces or creative essays, they are able to just conduct their research using their cell phones, therefore, cutting down on the time ‘wasted’ reading up in the library.

In a research experiment conducted by Kaspersky Lab[1], there was a revelation on what the relationship between smartphones and productivity was: Researchers asked participants to perform a concentration test under four different circumstances: with their smartphone in their pocket, at their desk, locked in a drawer and removed from the room completely. The results are significant–test results were lowest when the smartphone was on the desk, but with every additional layer of distance between participants and their smartphones, test performance increased. Overall, test results were 26% higher when phones were removed from the room.[2]

More research, using a definitive method of control is needed, as smartphones, iPads, and laptops are used in the classroom for many different things. This will not only remove blanket statements on the technology being bad but will also shed light on what is considered to be ‘too much technology’.

Technology Taking Over: shall we try technology-free when teaching English online?It appears that there are many people who are advocating for ‘more technology in the classroom’, but many of those people neglect the fact that with every call for technology, there is an underlying issue for every pro they bring forth, therefore it is advisable to look at the call for technology in the classroom in a holistic manner.

  1. Con: The assumption that every child will and does have access to a tablet, cellphone or even laptop is considerably flawed, in addition to that, not all students may have access to internet connectivity to access the learning software at home. In addition to monetary constraints, the health drawbacks are immense. Many tech products are rumoured to be the cause of eyesight problems in many kids.

Pro: In the best-case scenario, students can have continuous support from teachers even when they are at home through the use of learning software through laptops, tablets, and laptops. In addition to that – the social structure, economically is improving and more and more people are able to afford tech products as a day to day necessity.

  1. Con: Staring at a screen during school hours just compounds an already existing problem. Children get too much screen time and not enough face time so they don’t learn how to interact with other people.[3]

Pro: The world is going technologically. The more time students spend on technological integration, the more desirable they become as possible employees.

  1. Con: Using computers taps into a different part of the brain. The continued use of computers at a young age means that students are not equipped with the mental acumen to utilize their own hands for writing purposes – do we need more graphic designers compared to freehand specialists?

Pro: Students are taught to read and write at a very young age, they will never lose that side of them if the technology is used to facilitate a faster way of learning.

  1. Con: Computers are used for writing and not for research. Their presence is merely there to re-write what has been written by hand in a more formal and ‘neat’ way.

Pro: Computers are search engines and can open up a different world for learners, transforming the classroom into a more exciting place for each learner.

These are just some of the arguments brought forward in the battle between the use of technology in the classroom. Due to the fact that for every argument against, there is an argument for, there needs to be a set blueprint for taking technology and the classroom forward before this can be debated further. Like anything that advances the human race, it is not always bad. Take a look at the car, a revolution in terms of transportation – but now the scapegoat for global warming. That is not to say the car is obsolete or bad, it needs to innovate accordingly to match the world’s needs. The same goes for technology in the classroom, with all its cons, it needs to be implemented sustainably.

Possible Way Forward

The United States Department of Education has a list of different schools in the country that are using distance learning, through online platforms to provide a more interactive learning experience. What’s more, these schools provide a walk-in facility where students can easily go acquire face-to-face clarification from teachers and tutors on-site. Some of these schools include:

  • The Florida Virtual School – An online school that provides full-time learning opportunities to students in grades K-12. Districts can also work with Florida Virtual School to provide blended learning opportunities to students by enabling them to access online courses from school sites.
  • Utah Electronic High School – An 18-year-old online high school providing a range of courses to students year-round. The school can award diplomas to students who are home-schooled, have dropped out, or are ineligible to graduate from a traditional high school for specific reasons.[4]

The existence and success of such schools mean that technology and education have a bright future ahead – the one thing that is needed is a feasible way of using these schools as a blueprint to further roll out technology for schools in a broader scale. It will not be easy, but online and distance learning platforms have a future in education – companies like Acadsoc are growing to provide online and distance learning to millions of students around the world, and could possibly start their own schools in dedicated countries – who knows?[5]

[1] http://technology.inquirer.net/51653/kaspersky-lab-study-proves-smartphones-lead-to-lower-productivity

[2] http://technology.inquirer.net/51653/kaspersky-lab-study-proves-smartphones-lead-to-lower-productivity#ixzz54zayE7lP

[3] http://www.graceland.edu/education/blog/620311/8-pros-and-cons-of-integrating-technology-in-the-classroom

[4] https://www.ed.gov/oii-news/use-technology-teaching-and-learning

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