Sunday evening – just got back from Eger, IATEFL- Hungary-land for the past three days. I’ll try to capture a few thoughts floating around in my mind raised by this very stimulating and energising event. Thoughts related to technology are uppermost.
Technology has given us amazing resources. They can speed up the democratisation of education, take English to remote villages making it accessible to underprivileged children – as Michael Carrier showed us in his plenary. With the help of technology we can communicate, interact, network and have information at our fingerclicks.
But technology is also seductive. Mesmerising. Addictive. Overwhelming. … So it’s important to do a bit of stepping back every now and then, to make sure the tail is not wagging the dog. After all, as Ken Wilson reminded us with one of his ten quotes: technology is just a tool.
I like to remind myself that there are inner resources and material resources. Remembering words and phrases, formulating questions, expressing an opinion, creating a story, following a conversation etc. tend to draw on inner resources; memory, imagination, ability to listen attentively, ability to improvise etc. The function of material resources is to activate inner resources. Sometimes a simple question can challenge students to think, imagine, speculate etc. better than moving images on the screen.
The reason I love Adrian Underhill’s metaphor of the ‘inner workbench’ is because it focuses my attention on the inner processes of learning. For me it’s important to ask on a regular basis: how are my students engaged? ‘Having fun’ is not enough. ‘Interacting’ is not enough. How can I deepen their engagement? How can I get them to listen and become better observers … of language, of their peers, of themselves? How can I help them to discover their creative self? How can I widen their horizon? … To me it’s important not to lose sight of these questions. And yes, sometimes technology can help. But we mustn’t let it dictate. Just as a coursebook or any other material resource, technology is a good servant but a poor master.
21st century skills. To see more clearly what these are I like to think of people living in the 21st century who are socially responsible, doing something for the common good, who are good to be around, and who lead a balanced life. Otherwise … well, for me the Lily Tomlin quote comes to mind: “The problem with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a … ”
Margit Szesztay (ELTE DELP, ex-president of IATEFL-Hungary)