Lindsay Clandfield questions whether teachers are as in touch with technology as they should be, and suggest some valuable skills to learn.

If you are reading this, then you probably know something about using technology. By this, I mean that you can use an internet browser (like Explorer), go to a specific website (like onestopenglish) and navigate around to find information that interests you (like this article). If you are a regular onestopenglish reader, you also probably know how to download material from this site into a computer. You know how to open the PDF files from this site with a programme like Acrobat Reader. You may, if you’re like some teachers I work with, be able to do all the above about ten minutes before a class starts! So, does this make you a teacher of the future? Au fait with technology? Blended?

English language teachers are often portrayed as being rather backwards when it comes to teaching and technology. I think that is true to an extent. With a few exceptions, the majority of language teaching isn’t exactly on the cutting edge of technology. The CD player and the DVD player are as about as high tech as many classrooms will get (although as little as four years ago I remember that cassettes and videos were the norm, that is when the television and video cassette player were working). In most teacher training courses there is lots of time devoted to methodology and language awareness, but perhaps only a 60 minute session on using technology (possibly an elective). I only know of one course which is specifically aimed at giving language teachers ICT (information and communications technology) skills. I’ve heard many teachers say that their students are far more technologically competent than they are.

Do you agree with this? Wait, don’t answer yet. I’d like to share some situations where teachers are suddenly confronted with technology in their everyday lives. These are all situations that I have either experienced myself or heard about from teachers in a variety of contexts. Has this happened to you? How would you react if it did?

Technology and you – potential scenarios

  1. Your school’s administration sets up a computer programme to record and track students’ marks. You get a half-hour training session on how to use the new programme (which can be installed on your home computer if you have one). You are now expected to use this to record attendance and marks on the new system.
  2. Your school sets up a system by which students send homework by email. You are given a school email address and are expected to assign, receive and give feedback on your students’ homework via email.
  3. Your school wants to set up a blended course (a mix of face-to-face and online learning) and will pay teachers extra hours to help develop the programme and become “online tutors”. Do you sign up?
  4. The education policy in your country changes and your school gets a lot of money for a new computer room. The director of studies says that you must take the students into the computer room at least twice a week. What do you do with them in the computer room?
  5. You arrive in class one day to find that there is a new interactive whiteboard in the place of the old familiar blackboard. Your director of studies says that there will be some training on it “eventually” but in the meantime “we’re sure you’ll figure it out”. The students all arrive and start asking excitedly what you’re going to do.
  6. A student says that their homework is stored on their MP3 player and asks if you can download it into the staffroom computer for them. Do you say “no problem” or tell them to print it out at home?

The learners and teachers of the future

It looks as if the learner of the future will be quite technologically competent. Will teachers be able to catch up? Will teachers be able to keep up?

What do teachers need to know to be a teacher of the future? Nicky Hockly and Gavin Dudeney, who run an online consultancy, suggest some of the following skills as being essential:

  • Using a basic word processing program (such as Word) to make material
  • Using email regularly, reading and deleting messages, sending, forwarding and replying to messages
  • Knowing how to create a mailing list
  • Knowing how to send and receive attachments
  • Searching Internet resources effectively using search engines like Yahoo, Google and/or Lycos. Being able to evaluate the relevance of websites and the quality of information found
  • Creating PowerPoint presentations that can be used to accompany a lesson
  • Planning and delivering lessons for learners based on websites
  • Using the Internet and other online resources for teaching materials and information related to the content of classes
  • Knowing about and using a variety of WebQuests with students
  • Knowing about and using the following Internet tools with students: blogs, synchronous chat, wikis, and intercultural email projects

To which I would add the following skills, perhaps not all essential but certainly useful:

  • Using computer data storage devices (CD-ROMs, USB drives, DVDs, etc.) to transport files and other data
  • Downloading and using MP3 files
  • Using an internet discussion board
  • Using a scanner
  • Installing a software package onto a computer
  • Knowing how to protect your computer (if you have one) against viruses

When I look at this list, I see, with some comfort, that there are many things that I can do already. There are a few things, like using a scanner (something that still inexplicably strikes fear in me) or using a wiki with my students that I still have to learn. How do you measure up? Can you do these things? Do you think you need to?

Is it possible?

Valerie Worthington and Andrew Henry at the University of Michigan, talking about educators in America, state that “institutional and individual resistance to technology is a frequent if unwanted by- product of many attempts to incorporate technology use into existing school … practices.” They continue to say that, while teachers themselves don’t necessarily actively resist technology, restrictions in school infrastructure (for example, lack of technical support) and instructional mindsets hinder the integration of technology in the classroom. Is this true for you, in your teaching context? Would you and your students like to embrace technology, but it just isn’t possible?

A closing thought

To conclude, my feeling is that, in the past, having some knowledge of ICT meant that you were the person asked to come and fix the director of studies’ computer. In the present, knowledge of ICT will get you a better job. In the future, I wonder if it could mean the difference between having a job or not. Enough from me; let’s see what you think! See you in the Forum.


Computer Anxiety: A Technical or an Existential Problem? by Valerie L. Worthington
and Andrew Henry, Michigan State University 

Nicky Hockly and Gavin Dudeney are with the Consultants-E, offering an online course called ICT in the classroom