What are You Afraid of?

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      What ARE you afraid of?
       If you are connected to higher education, especially in the field of English teaching or ESL, you are afraid of technology. Don’t deny it. I’ve seen you, I’ve heard you, I smell your fear.
      Why?
       I am asking sincerely. What is it that you are afraid of?
       At a conference I attended recently at an institute of higher learning, one teacher confessed that, although wifi is readily available where she works, students are forbidden by the program manager to use mobile devices for any reason in the classrooms. She sheepishly admitted that she allows them to use their phones for translating, and quickly added that I not mention her name or institution to anyone, for fear of reprisals.
      I think the change must begin with teachers. Teachers must be encouraged to have a minimal presence in online class environments.
      I said encouraged, not forced.  Teachers who are unfamiliar with using mobile devices, apps, and the like can’t be dragged through a tech minefield by well-meaning but over-enthusiastic tekkies. How we learn about technology should mimic how our students learn English, and that doesn’t happen in a vacuum. First of all, a desire to learn is essential. There needs to be an objective for learning to teach with technology; there needs to be a supportive network for that learning in place; there needs to be access to mentors; there need to be ample opportunities for practice and questions. All of these things need to be in place in order for confidence amongst educators to flourish.
      Our schools do not provide us with consistent support, and this is problematic for teachers. Some schools have technology departments devoted to teacher inquiries; some schools have no CALL staff to support the desire amongst staff to learn more about incorporating technology into teaching. Those who are intimidated need more support.  But let the shift begin with educators, and allow it to happen because we observe our students daily.
      Our younger learners have their cell phones permanently attached to their thumbs. They don’t know how to disconnect. They eat their lunches in silence together, gaming, chatting, surfing. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some of their teachers think checking email more than once a day is enough technology. How can we pull the two ends of these bungee cords together in order to unite these opposing approaches? The tug-of-war between digital natives and late adopters can’t last forever.
       Advocating for classrooms in Web 2.0 is not realistic or necessarily valuable. Many things that teachers do in class are good things. What if you replaced one of those good things with a small tool that can make a good thing even better?
       Augmenting your classroom activity with a small tech tool, like Socrative, for example, will not change who you are or the materials you use to deliver content. It may, however, give you an insight into your learners – statistical, instant, relevant formative assessment at your fingertips. You may think your learners have difficulty with forming the third conditional, and you may be correct, based on your experience and observations. However, seeing all your students’ answers to one question lined up on a screen will give you an accurate picture of the ratio of understanding to confusion, where the mistakes are occurring, and it’s anonymous. No one gets singled out for not knowing, but everyone benefits from learning. We can’t get those results instantly, daily, effortlessly, without employing technology.
         One of my former students from Venezuela described to me how he and his friends had spent a lot of their student life attending demonstrations protesting government involvement in education and the curtailing of personal freedoms.  He is very familiar with being tear-gassed. He believes in personal freedom and loved his education experience in Canada, where he was free to express himself and learn freely. I asked if he had been afraid at the protests he attended. He replied that he was not afraid of protesting; he thought it was essential, and his friends continue to stand up for freedom in education.
         Let me ask you again: if he’s not afraid of getting gassed or hurt, what are you afraid of?
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