Friday, October 10, 2014

Technology: An ally in EFL classrooms

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    What is technology? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is the use of science to invent useful things or to solve problems. It seems to be a pretty obvious definition, but people do not usually think about how far we have come technologically-wise. A long time ago, books were the newest technology invented by humankind, a means to perpetuate knowledge. We may have far more complex technology nowadays, but the objective is still the same: create, develop and, finally, pass long knowledge. Very similarly, Education has also had these same objectives.  Undoubtedly, education and technology have historically walked alongside aiming evolution, and educators cannot help but accept that technology is much needed in classrooms throughout the world in order to conform Education to what students’ needs. For the educators teaching English as a second language, technology comes as an ally in the task of shifting the paradigm of Education from content-based and grammatical to developing skills beyond language acquirement.

            Using technology in classrooms will make English language learning meaningful. As known, language is better acquired when it has real use, when it is more than just adding value to a curriculum. Isabella Villas-Boas (2014), when talking about complexity theory, points out that language acquirement and development are two different objectives. Nowadays, we do not want our students to simply acquire language that will only be replicated inside the controlled environment of a classroom. We want our students to be able to develop language, which means that students should develop real language abilities in real time (Villas-Boas, 2014). And what does technology have to do with that? Simply put, the world individuals live in is a technological world. We do not only have access to technology, we depend on it; whether it is a computer, a smart phone, a kindle, or even the GPS in a car, we just cannot live without gadgets anymore. Most people are really well adapted to at least computers and smartphones, and it is hard to imagine life without them. Education is bound to embrace this new world we are living in. In order to reach out to our students, to develop language, we must use the (technological) world around us.

We do not want our students to just consume all the world has given them, we want them to be a part of it, transforming it. As Carla Arena (2014) points out, it is important that us teachers empower our students with agency, and technology can be of great use to this endeavor. Once again, we are not teaching language so that our students may just replicate the knowledge absorbed in classroom. We need our students to be able to make real use of what we are teaching them. We want them to be able to access information, to look for what they need, to use the necessary tools to develop and improve language. Moreover, we want them to produce not only language, but knowledge. Hopefully, they will be a part of the change in this world.

Some might say that bringing technology into a classroom is a difficult task, for not every teacher is a tech-literate. Although that might seem a big obstacle, one should remember the difference between language acquirement and development once again. In a language development paradigm, teaching language is not a one-directional path, but a bi-directional one (Villas-Boas, 2014). In this context, apart from us pouring knowledge into our students' head, or maybe even learning from them, knowledge will be produced alongside by both teachers and students. Of course some planning is required, but most importantly we must be open to technology and all that it has to teach us. After all, if we aim at empowering our students with agency, we must be agents ourselves. Recognizing our limits and stretching our boundaries is not such a hard task once you see the results. It may take some work, but learning new technological skills will improve your classes in many ways.

            Education and, therefore, English teaching have come a long way since traditional methods that only aim at teaching students how to pronounce, write and understand this language, for now it is understood that educating is about empowerment, agency and development of numerous skills and abilities. It is really important that teachers evolve their understanding of education, that we empower our students to participate in this globalized world revolutionized by information and technology. The word development is a key to this new era of language learning. As educators, we are mediators, and we must mediate students' agency and language learning in a meaningful way. It is clear that meaningfulness will not be reached if technology is not a part of our daily work. Moreover, creating an appropriate environment in the classroom, as suggested in this essay, will provide growth for both teachers and students together. We may be able to put a price in technology and its gadgets, but the possibilities created by them is priceless to education.

Arena, C (2014). O digital para uma pedagogia do empoderamento e ação.

Villas-Boas, I (2014). On language development and affordances.

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