Digital Learning? Digital Promise? Digital ELC?

Informal Learning by Shareski – Creative Commons

I was recently doing some catching up on reading about Education in the News, sparked by the BBC story about Global Education’s WISE laurete , and then added to based on  TESOL bulletin info and so on. While reading, I came across a series of articles about digital learning and digital education.  As this has been a rather difficult quarter with many “battles” often focusing on disrespectful use of mobile devices and computers in the classroom, it’s a topic that has been on my mind for awhile lately.

In my Master’s program from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, I spent a lot of time working with and learning about Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) and educational technology and ways to use technology effectively in the classroom.  I am still very interested in the digital world and how to make use of it. I would not consider myself and early adapter (most technology is too expensive for me to jump right on) but I like to have some idea  about what is out there and what is available. I also believe that many of the digital tools such as mobile devices and online dictionaries can be very helpful for students.  However, the program that I teach with now has a somewhat convoluted relationship with technology in the classroom. In previous quarters we did not have much access to technology, now we have more. Additionally, many of my colleagues have been burned by students cheating while using technology. Because of this, it’s a continually changing relationship.

I want to use technology in my classroom, and I do use it often with the whole class, I also often allow my students to use electronic dictionaries or computers in class. Not on tests of course, but other times. We have also had class sessions in the computer lab once per week.  So, you would think this is all great use of technology for learning. Right?

Conversely however, I’ve been finding that these “helps” more often than not either turn out to be burdens for the students, or distractions, even crutches, rather than helps. For example, often times our hour in the computer lab turns into more facebook checking or people not working on the computer but rather texting people (in their native language rather than English) on their cell phones, maybe doing work for 5 minutes or so, but then shooting off somewhere else. Likewise, allowing students to keep their cellphones to use their mobile dictionaries means that more often than not, rather than trying to figure out the word from context or asking a classmate or myself, they translate and come up with really strange translations that don’t actually work for what they’re trying to say. Plus, when they have a test where they can’t use their dictionaries, they seem to be completely powerless at times. Not all students, just some. Anyway, it’s just hard to find a balance between individualized self-directed learning with technology and disrespect/distractions from technology.

I’ve been trying to think of ways I can make teaching more interesting and meaningful for myself as well as my students and I’d like to do more with technology and student choice, but at the same time, it seems to be incredibly difficult to find level-appropriate sites, activities, materials, and so on at least for the level of learners I’m teaching.

Anyway, I guess I’ll keep searching, trying, probably failing a time or two, and continuing to try again. Maybe that’s what teaching’s all about anyway. At least it’s helpful kind of to know that there are other people also seeking to innovate, and bridge the digital divide. Above all however, I’m reminded or my CALL professor and mentors’ guidelines which were to let the pedagogy drive the technology and not the other way around. I’ll keep seeking I guess.  We’ll see where this goes.


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