March 26, 2017

Innovation Goes Mainstream: Reflections from Sean Banville

Fourteen years ago, a student at my college asked to use ‘the computer’. His next question stumped me. “How do you turn it on?” I failed in my attempts to help him. How was I to know the power button on the Apple Mac was on the keyboard? I was an EFL teacher! I made lessons for students in my neatest handwriting with my pencil. No need for technology.

Today, I am webmaster of six websites. I have two podcasts, RSS feeds, and a Twitter account. I blog, glog, ning, and create mp3 files, HTML and Flash exercises for class. I use Google docs, digital storytelling, voice threads, wikis and a whole lot more. No need for pencils.

My students love their laptops. They carry them around like Charlie Brown’s pal Linus clings to his blanket. It’s astonishing how many of my class come equipped with their computer and charger but totally forget their pencil and coursebook. Thankfully, the latter is the digital version so I can display it on my Smart Board. My students really get down to work when lessons are computer based. When pencil-equipped, they can get down to some serious doodling.

My students are not familiar with the term Web 2.0. To them, it is simply “stuff we do (all day) every day. They don’t see it as innovation nor experience any manifestation of “new technology” phobia. Ducks to water, pretty much. Same with my two small children (six and eight).

Now, some teachers I know have a reluctance to use these “new technologies”. This is rather peculiar. Laptop computers are two decades old. Smart boards have been around for a decade. We all use e-mail, visit blogs and make stuff on the computer. Web 2.0 is really no longer a term that describes innovation. It’s wholly mainstream. Neither is Web 2.0 stuff new technology – it’s simply ‘stuff’. The myriad of amazing new online things to use in class are just tools. Same as a pencil.

I understand the reticence of teachers who fear dipping their toe in and using these tools. My initial thought when trying another one is “here we go again”. I encounter a small obstacle in thinking it’s a pain to once again register, log in, and then figure out how it all works. Luckily, most of the Web 2.0 stuff out there today is more intuitive to use than my school’s Apple Mac was to turn on way back when.

What I have learned in my very interesting journey from pencil to digital tools is how great the rewards are of engaging students’ interest with computer-based and online materials. In addition, I fully understand that getting over the hurdle of spending a little time to get to grips with the latest tool is definitely worthwhile. I feel happier as a teacher being equipped with all the mainstream tools such as pencils, podcasts and even plurks.

Of course students still need their pencils and notebooks. A healthy balance of traditional tools (pens, pencils, paper) and mainstream tools (digital stuff) is required.

But innovation is now also mainstream, not something we expect future teachers will introduce into the classroom. We should use what the students use. In teaching ESL/EFL, we can easily incorporate new tools while helping students with digital and traditional literacy. They need to know the vocabulary of social media and Web 2.0 tools as much as they need ‘parts of the body’ vocab from Unit Three.

IMHO, there is more hands-on, authentic language and reality on all of the digital tools mentioned above than in coursebooks. Technology integration provides great language practice and motivation. It’s also collaborative, exciting, interesting, and mainstream.

Sean Banville is the webmaster for various ESL materials websites and has plans for many more. He has a Master’s degree in TEFL/TESL from Birmingham University, and spent thirteen years teaching in Japan before relocating to the UAE in 2006. He recently became an enthusiastic member of the Twitter community, and is gearing up to enter the world of blogging. His web-based projects include the following:

Photo Credit: Trek Hound

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