Hugh Dellar on technology and principles

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Hugh began with an anecdote in which he'd received the negative feedback, 'didn't use enough technology', pointing out how absurd that is. Using tech is, in itself, neither good nor bad. Tech is not a magic bullet which will turn bad teaching into good. You can teach well with it, but you can also teach well without.

Hugh's second point was to question the quality of digital material. On the one hand, the ease of self-publishing online opens the floodgates of the internet to amateurish, poorly conceived and badly crafted materials. This tide threatens to overwhelm and bury the good stuff - material crafted through a lengthy and painful process of apprenticeship and editing. On the other hand, professionally produced digital material is often based on outdated theories of language and learning. For example, there is a tendency to focus on large lexical sets of single words while completely ignoring collocation, chunking, usefulness and frequency. Furthermore, there is a tendency towards easily-templated task types rather than to pedagogically sound ones. Overall, the offer in digital material is bitty and ungraded, with no built-in recycling.

The third major point was payment. On the one hand, nobody will be investing the necessary years to construct well-crafted material for nothing. There needs to be a way in which writers can be paid for their work. On the other hand, new tech often requires teachers to invest large amounts of their own free time. The tech enthusiasts who spend nights and weekends on the job set an unfair precedent for the rest of their colleagues, who don't want to be expected to do likewise.

The final major point is that tech is not always better for motivation and learning, as is often claimed. Hugh gave this memorable example. If you are reading an online text seeded with hyperlinks, you'd constantly invited to distraction. If you follow the link, that in turn offers more links, and before you know it, you've forgotten where you started. Tech offers so much temptation to distraction - not good for sustained and focused work.

Read Hugh's blog post on this (with Andrew Walkley) here. Check out the comments at the end too. But please read to the end of this post before you follow the link!

On the map of ELT, I would place this talk near the centre. It is an argument against pushing too far off in the South Easterly direction, and a call to pull back to the principle task of English teachers - to teach English.




Great review, I really wish I'd seen this. I agree with most of what Hugh's saying ... maybe all. I think he was brave to go against the general current. As an author and a teacher I particularly liked the bits about payment problems and all that expected volunteer work. Practical issues that sort of make the pro theory a bit redundant. So, at the moment it looks like it's 2 against the rest of the TESOL world.
Mark Hancock's picture

Kath: I do a fair bit of unpaid overtime myself. Like attending conferences. Hope that's not putting my colleagues in a bad light!

Not at all! Most teachers do unpaid overtime. We expect to. It's the 'expected' bit that bugs me. I was a union rep for a number of years and the amount of 'extra work' that teachers are expected to do is definitely increasing. I'd say that attending conferences is part of self development and the more the better, for the teacher and the students. But being expected to spend extra time preparing IWB activities (for example) isn't the same thing - not if you aren't into IWBs. This whole subject is controversial because lots of technophiles are doing brilliant things with technology and (as Hugh says) expectations are rising for those of us who are less in the know (or just prefer a non-technical approach for whatever reason.
Mark Hancock's picture

Agreed that the 'expected' is bad. It's a paradox. Tech is inherently attractive to a lot of people - students included - so it ought to be a good thing; but it's too much of a good thing if it means non-technophile teachers get trashed for not sharing the enthusiasm. Before this tech mania, similar things were going on. Certain entusiastic teachers were spending weekends laminating sets of cards, for example. But fablon-mania never reached the heady heights of tech, so perhaps less of a problem vis a vis showing up your colleagues in a poor light.

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