You know, I think I’ve cracked it. I’ve finally worked out, after all this bitching about technology, what I actually do do with it. And l realise, and perhaps you did a long time ago, that the one thing I don’t generally do is technology for the sake of technology. I don’t, by and large, go “ooh, that looks good, I’m going to use it next week.” My usual reaction is to go “ooh that looks good. I’ll try to keep that at the back of my mind and see if I need it later.”
So when I think of my classes, the learners use mobile devices a LOT, but largely as web access or as dictionaries, or as note taking devices, taking photos of the regular (i.e. non-electronic) whiteboard. This is just what happens, mind you, after only the slightest nudge from me. The VLE is used regularly, but mainly because it’s a neat easy way to get documents and links and videos and so on to the learners in a way which means they can have it later if they want it. I posted a video of me giving some instructions, not because I wanted to try it, but because it suited a need that I had. I saw a gap in a lesson which was filled neatly by PollEverywhere, and another where Socrative fitted the bill.
Essentially, then, it’s laziness. By and large technology is there to save us effort, and if learners accessing a dictionary app on their own devices is less hassle than gathering up a bunch of heavy dictionaries, then awesome.
There are benefits and drawbacks to this, of course. As a benefit, it means that most of the technology we use in class is used fairly comfortably and naturally. Nothing is shoehorned in: the technology feels, or at least is meant to feel, smooth. There’s not much by way of farting around with new stuff. Indeed when new stuff is introduced, it’s now and then, as necessary. The drawback, of course, is the missed opportunity. How many ideas or things have I noted, bookmarked, diigoed, and all the rest, which would have saved me loads of effort, or made something a bit more special, but simply haven’t been able to recall when I need them, nor thinking to scan through my increasing list of bookmarks and things,
This is the perplexing bit, but so far I’ve not really found a tool to do it, apart from my brain, which is a fairly creaky piece of kit at the best of times. Bookmarking tools like diigo only really work if you remember to look at them: they don’t think for you. There is an approach issue here as well: I tend to “notice” stuff rather than actively search stuff out, so links get favourited on Twitter, bookmarked or whatever, but then generally forgotten. It usually takes serendipitous aligning of noticing a new thing at about the same time when you really need to find it.
So, for me, perhaps, two lessons from this reflection.
First of all, I need to find/develop a better system / approach to gathering and curating resources, both online and off. After my first four years of teaching, I had about six lever arch files of copied handouts, cut up bits of paper and all the rest. I sent the whole lot to the recycling bin when I went to live in New Zealand, at which point I realised that I had never actually looked at the damn things, and was managing quite happily without largely thanks to memory sticks, CD-RWs and online resources (this was 2004, remember, pre google docs, Dropbox, Facebook and Twitter). So files upon files of paper resources swiftly fell by the wayside, to be replaced by files and files of electronically stored resources. But even then, I have to nudge myself to remember to look instead of trying to find or make something new. We have a huge resources drive at work, shared across and contributed to by the whole ESOL department, and, even if it wasn’t originally my idea, I was fairly deeply involved in redesigning it and setting it up. Since then, I don’t think I’ve ever looked at it, unless prompted to by someone making a suggestion. I guess this is mostly just mindset, rather than needing a system: for a system to work, you have to engage with that system, so that, perhaps is what I need to do.
The second lesson is the more widely useful one perhaps. The approach I have to technology is, I think, fairly healthy. The technology is almost invisible, embedded so well that nobody seems to notice it. Explore new ideas, yes, but I think for me, the technology must be used in a way which doesn’t necessarily make a big deal of the novelty factor, and have a negative impact on timing and classroom interactions. I find it quite hard now to justify spending more than about ten minutes of classroom time getting used to new stuff, even though the long term impact of that is possibly going to be beneficial, because there might be some learning that could happen right here, right now.
I used to be an e-learning evangelist of the highest order. I think evangelism is a good metaphor: most people when they integrate technology do so as a act of faith. There seems to be very little by way of actual evidence that e-learning has a positive impact: just lots of assertions by biased bodies and anecdotes. And we all know what the plural of anecdote isn’t. So I have moved from a position of absolute faith to a questioning faith: in the mid-2000s I was perhaps a dedicated and unquestioning Catholic but have grown to become perhaps more of a Protestant, sometimes even agnostic in my views around e-learning.
I still don’t think that the inclusion of digital technology automatically makes for better teaching and learning. Indeed, the inclusion of any resource at all does not automatically make for better teaching and learning. No resource on the planet, paper based or not, will make you a good teacher if you are already shit. You still have to have an understanding of how learning happens and what things can have a positive impact on that learning. There isn’t a technology in the world which will do that for you, apart from that lump of grey mush inside your skull.