TELL about IATEFL 2017 Glasgow

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Last week I immersed in the world of TEFL again – great to focus on one of your favourite subjects and share experiences with like-minded people for four days in a row! I attended many sessions on teaching pronunciation, which seemed to be a hot topic this year. Of course I also attended some sessions on teaching/learning with technology, of which the first one, Forum on Gamification, turned out to be a disappointment. Fortunately, Nicky Hockly (Digital Literacies) had a much more interesting talk on Myths & Monsters about teaching with technology. We were first asked to share our thoughts on the following four myths:

  1. Children & teens are naturally good at using technology.
  2. Blogs can help young learners improve their writing skills.
  3. Using cell phones in activities improves learning outcomes.
  4. Activities done with digital tools are more effective than activities done on paper.

Have you given these four myths some thought?

Here are the comments described by Nicky in her talk.

The first myth can be dismantled by referring to a large research showing that other factors are relevant for the level of proficiency  with technology, such as the number of books in a learner’s home and socio-economic status. There is no such thing as digital natives – they do not exist. When this term was introduced by Mark Prensky in 2011, he believed that young learners were affected by technology which changed the way they think and process information. Since that time, Marc Prenski has dropped the term himself as well in favour of digital wisdom (source: wikipedia).

The second myth is somewhat more difficult to dismantle. Two different studies revealed different results, which has lead to the conclusion that it may work for some, but not for others. Learners generally write more, but do not necessarily make progress. And not all learners are motivated by this task, which I am sure is something that you may acknowledge.

Regarding the third myth Nicky Hockly told us about an interesting research in the Netherlands, where children did a project on vocabulary acquisition. Three groups got class on animals in the zoo. Two groups then went to the zoo with an app giving more information about the animals. Only one group then got to take home these phones with the app to play games about animals in the zoo. They kept the phones for two weeks and stopped playing the games during the second week. All learners improved their vocabulary on animals, there was no difference between the first two groups and the greatest improvement was in group 3 (game on phone). From this it was concluded that it is not the device itself that made the difference but the time of exposure to the language. The motivational element of the game was also a factor.

Finally, the fourth myth about effectiveness of digital tools, it was clear from research that there is no significant difference between acquiring words through a digital device or on paper. It was the actual design of the activity that worked, not the medium of delivery. This last example goes to show the importance of good pedagogy and methodology when designing any learning task.

I think it is clear that what made Nicky’s talk most interesting were the detailed research descriptions and final results. As a conclusion we can say that teachers need to be sceptical about what people say about teaching and learning with technology. It is better to base your opinion on research and then make informed decisions.

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