Introduction

This post is the final part of my technology framework: Meat & Three Vege. It focuses on the dangers of technology –  Poisoned TEFLon –  and the care that should be taken when introducing new technology into the classroom –  Wasabi-Infused Ice-Cream.

Technology in ESL is often sidelined on the one hand through inconsistent use across an institute, and on the other through the flooding of colleges with experimental products and web sites that distract rather than help.

My framework tries to address these problems through a back-to-basics approach – with real guidance from leaders – at a college wide-level.

Background

Knewton foretold a bright future not so long ago that:

There will soon be lots of wonderful adaptive learning apps: adaptive quizzing apps, flashcard apps, textbook apps, simulation apps — if you can imagine it, someone will make it. In a few years, every education app will be adaptive. Everyone will be an adaptive learning app maker.

It’s raining apps hallelujah, it’s raining apps… but unfortunately we ended up with a flood; teachers, learners and the occasional app designer began to drown in a technological downpour!

Some in the ed-tech industry, like Randy Weiner, had a mea culpa and admitted ed-tech had ‘flooded the market with unproven products that distracts schools from otherwise focusing on serving their children.’ 

And amidst this torrent of bytes, Kerr (2016) noted two common reactions to tech in Elicos:

On the one hand, there’s a general enthusiasm for anything new, with enthusiasts associating technology with what is cool or modern. On the other, but less frequently, there’s a resistance to technology and there are worries about the side effects of using technology in education.

Set in the backdrop of these quotes, let me now take a brief departure from my culinary metaphors, and get biblical on you, Noah biblical. Just as Noah selected the animals to board the ark, my tech framework (Low Demand Tech, Coaching, LMS & PLN) offers advice on how to select what core technology tools are allowed into your school – or ark. A pair of dictionary web sites, a pair of pronunciation apps… and so on.  

Inversely, Posioned TEFLon vetoes the snake-oil apps from boarding, leaving them to fend for themselves in the inundation of tech. By having a pragmatic approach to technology there will be less resisters and more grounded enthusiasts.

Poisoned TEFLon

Returning to the kitchen – before a tool can join you at the Meat & Three Vege table it needs to be evaluated for its pedagogic value.  In doing this I propose the idea of Poisoned TEFLon:  thinking you are teaching something of value, but actually, you are poisoning your students through badly designed technology. When investigating the introduction of a new tech tool, or deciding whether to spend valuable PD time on a new application, try asking these questions to determine its toxicity levels:

  • How much time does it take to learn, for teachers and students?
  • How often will it be used in class?
  • What’s the pedagogic value?
  • How much data does the student give to access it (more on this later)?

If the answers are: a lot, not many, little or none,and the family jewels; then you have case of Poisoned TEFLon and it’s better to avoid using this tool in the classroom.

On the other hand, if it passes this test then Action Research (AR), classroom-based research, could be a more robust way to test your assumptions about a tool’s validity. AR can help find out the impact technology tools have on the process of learning English. It could be used in the pilot phase of determining whether a tool has been a success or not. I used this type of research when assessing the effectiveness of Voicethread.

It’s a minefield out there though, with Hack Education calling out ed-tech for ‘selling snake oil, magic pills, and enchanted talismans and promising disruption, efficiency, and higher test scores.’  Further tips on checking up the claims of technology products can be found at Willis’ post. Always make sure you are wearing a giant-sized bullshit detector when it comes to ed-tech assertions.

Wasabi-Infused Ice-Cream

But hell, maybe you just want to try something new, make things a bit fun; then in this case, a bit of Wasabi-Infused Ice-Cream could be the order of the day. This is a harmless tool that might liven up a lesson (think cutting out and colouring crap in the young learner classroom). Before reading the next section I want you to look at the following three tech tools: Yarn, Telegami & FaceYourManga. After that, apply the Poisoned TEFLon test above and decide which category it falls under: Meat & Three Vege, Wasabi-Infused Ice-Cream or Poisoned TEFLon. Finally, compare your results with mine below. 

1) Yarn:

How much time does it take to learn, for teachers and students?

Minimal. A search engine for short videos from movies or television shows. If you can use Google you can use this.

How often will it be used in class?

I use it a lot, once or twice per lesson to analyse new vocabulary that comes up in class.

What’s the pedagogic value?

The tool allows me to find short-clips that put vocabulary in context and look at different meanings between clips. Students gets a sample of authentic speech using an expression that might have been encountered in the course book. The sample can then be used for mini-dictations to highlight the ‘stream-of-speech’.

How much data does the student give to access it?

Most of the features can be used without registering, which limits the data that can be collected. Also, if you display it on a data-projector you are not exposing your students to any data-mining whatsoever. You are taking a bullet for the team.  It has web and app options.

Verdict: Meat and Three Vege: Low Demand Tech

2) FaceYourManga:

How much time does it take to learn, for teachers and students?

Relatively intuitive controls that don’t take long to get used to.

How often will it be used in class?

Once or twice a year.

What’s the pedagogic value?

Help introduce vocabulary for describing physical features and clothing. Could then be used as an info gap activity between groups of students. Fairly limited.

How much data does the student give to access it?

Once again if you display it on a data-projector, no risk to your students. But if you get them to use their own devices you are exposing them to tracking software on their web site. It has web and app options.

Verdict: Wasabi-Infused Ice-Cream

3) Tellagami:

How much time does it take to learn, for teachers and students?

Fairly easy but some bugs: crashing during recording. Potential for time-wasting.

How often will it be used in class?

Once or twice a year. Definitely gimmick status.

What’s the pedagogic value?

Recording your voice for feedback but limited recording time (a video of a student speaking would do the job just as well or better). Description activities could work in the Avatar design stage. Just reading the Our Story spiel should set off alarm bells: ‘Tellagami® is a collection of innovators, technology gurus and creative artists in San Francisco… we help you communicate in a way that's never been possible’. Bullshit, bullshit, and more bullshit!

How much data does the student give to access it?

It only has app options which means it’s a lot harder to avoid data-mining for your students and you have to pay for it (originally free then progressively pay-walled).

Verdict: Posioned TEFLon

Any tech diet at a college-wide level should include a big portion of Meat & Three Vege, a few scoops of Wasabi-Infused Ice-Cream and a total avoidance of Poisoned TEFLon.

Who’s Watching the Watcher?

I wanted to finish this section with a focus on data – big frickin data. Nothing is free on the Internet just the currency is different: your data. So, any discussion on technology would be amiss if I didn’t acknowledge this big, murky issue.

In my Study: The Tip of the Iceberg posts, I include information about the downsides of technology (see my Memrise Study Tips handout for an example). I think a quick rule-of-thumb with downloading apps or signing up to web sites is: What benefit am I getting from this tech tool? What data is the owner of this tech tool taking from me? And who are they selling my data to? Furthermore, should you be making these decisions for your students? And if not, do you need to build in alternative options for students who want to opt out? 

To get a deeper understanding of big Ed-tech – warts and all – I suggest reading Kyle Smith’s series of posts called Changing our Default Settings and Audrey Watters Hack Education: The History of the Future of Education Technology. They will help you make more informed decisions about technology in the classroom.

Conclusion

This series of posts started with a Twitter conversation led by Thornbury on Edtech: The mouse that roared? And ended two-years later with a draft framework on how to implement technology at a college-wide level – not to mention two presentations at conferences and a few articles in the English Australia Journal along the way. In the aforementioned Twitter discussion, Thornbury posed Neil Postman’s question ‘What is the problem for which this technology is the solution? My framework, hopefully has tried to answer that question in more detail:

1) Meat (LMS): A ‘humanised’ online community that increases the amount of exposure your student has to the target language. This space also assists in the delivering the three other parts of the framework.

2) Carrots (Low Demand Tech): Help teachers work hands on with emergent language in the classroom and ‘demand high’ from their students.

3) Potatoes (Coaching): Setting goals, motivating students and encouraging practice out of the class.

4) Peas (PLN): Comprehensive and individualised online professional development.

I wanted to find a place for tech in ELT away from the hype and accusations of doom and gloom. These products are not revolutionary, disruptive or wishful thinking, rather they exist now and support good teaching practice – or am I just another tech snake oil peddler? You can be the judge of that.

So, I invite DOSs and Academic managers to come down from their ivory towers populated with Kenyan organic coffee-beans, and get their hands dirty with technology and its role in the classroom.

Whether we like it or not tech is here to stay, and it’s up to language course providers to work out what they are going do about it and give real guidance to students and teachers alike.

To wrap it all up I’ll leave you with this quote:

“Fashion ebbs and flows, the tide goes in and it goes out, but some changes tend to flow in one direction.” Seth Godin

Is your school swimming (or sinking) in the right direction?

References

Ferreira J cited by Kerr P (2015) Then and now in education, Adaptive learning in ELT, available online: https://adaptivelearninginelt.wordpress.com/2015/08/28/then-and-now-in-education/

Godin S (2015) The technology ratchet, Seth’s blog, available online: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2015/07/the-technology-ratchet.html

Kerr P (2016) 10 Questions for Philip Kerr English Australia Journal, 32-01, p.86-88 available online: https://www.englishaustralia.com.au/visageimages/Journal/EAJ32_1Web.pdf

Thornbury S (2014) Ed Tech: The Mouse that Roared? #AusELT, available online: http://auselt.com/2014/01/15/ed-tech-the-mouse-that-roared-scott-thornbury/

Watters A (2016) Wishful Thinking Hackeducation, available online: http://2016trends.hackeducation.com/wishful-thinking.html

Wiener R (2015) A plea to ed tech entrepreneurs, Larry Cuban on school reform and classroom practice, available online:  https://larrycuban.wordpress.com/2015/05/25/a-plea-to-ed-tech-entrepreneurs-randy-weiner/

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