Monday, May 02, 2011

Better 'the Five Ws' than 'Because it's there'

I commented on Scott Thornbury's recent blog post 'T for Technology' that I was "happy to see the ‘edutech/no edutech’ debate has at least moved on, shifting away from the ‘should we use it?’ to the ‘We should be careful when and for what reasons we use it."

During the debate in the comment section on Scott's blog, it was mentioned that many learning technology (LT) presentations at conferences and blog posts are of the type '20 ways of using Wordle', etc., dealing with the 'how to use tech' but not the 'why it should be used'. I heard this criticism while I was at the IATEFL conference in Brighton too, and have to admit that it's often overlooked by many of us who use LT in our excitement to tell people about a new tool we have found to be of use. Sometimes, it's not that there isn't a good reason for using the technology, just that the reason is not made explicit. And, then, it has to be said that there are other times when the only reason for using this technology that is offered by the person presenting it is similar to the well worn mountaineer's adage, 'because it is there'.

So, we ('we', as in language teachers who use technology) should make sure not to fall into this trap, and also to make it explicit when we present ideas for using technology that our reasons for suggesting it are sound.

Related to this, and as a challenge laid down by Diarmuid Fogarty, Sue Lyon-Jones has produced a very useful check-list for anyone thinking about teaching with technology (reproduced below).

I've also been thinking about this, and after using Sue's checklist, I would like to suggest the use of 'The Five Ws' that is commonly used in journalism, police investigations, and which are considered basic in information gathering.

I've now adapted this for any teacher looking to use language learning technology, (and for any presenter or blogger telling others about it) suggesting that the practitioner should ask the following questions:

  • Why use the technology? In other words, don't just use it because it is there. Are you trying to do something with the technology that can be better done in without? As mentioned in Sue's checklist, will the learning be enhanced by using the technology?
  • Who is the technology best for? If learners, then what age/level/discipline? If you are suggesting other teachers use the technology, then you should say how much teaching/tech experience/training is required to use it effectively?
  • What is the technology best used for?  It is worth considering if there is another technology that can be used instead that may better suit the learning objectives.
  • Where should it be used? Is it more suitable for the classroom / connected classroom (i.e. with one computer and the Internet) / computer room / at home? Think also about classroom management issues here. Where in the classroom is the tech to be used (i.e. if you are filming with a camera) and, if appropriate, what will the other learners be doing when one or some are using the technology (i.e. will they also be engaged?)
  • When should the technology be used? Not only when is the best moment during the class to use the technology (at the beginning/end/etc.), but also when in the term/syllabus (it is best if used to enhance and complement what you are already doing with the learners, rather than be used as an added extra).
  • How should the technology be used? This shouldn't just be about what to do, but also how best to incorporate the technology into your class.
It's interesting to note that the 'How' comes last in this information-gathering concept, and that makes sense. It is the last piece of information you need to know, as it deals with details of use.

Hope this makes sense and that you find it useful.