A serious question on twitter this week, which I couldn’t answer in 140 characters. So, here is the full answer.

Don’t you just love being pigeon-holed? I’m a gen Xer, who grew up on three kinds of video – game, nasty and pop. Before me, the baby boomers. And after? Generation Y – the millennials. Students in university now, and young teachers in training, are the so-called ‘digital natives’. For them, traditional teaching methods are boring and inaccessible. We need to reach them differently, through the technology they are used to. Otherwise, we are doing them a disservice.

Or are we?

Don’t get me wrong. I love a good gadget. I’ll happily tinker with internet tools for hours on end. I am not afraid of technology. I agree that, in general,  “the youth” are more techno-literate than the old. But not all of them. And more importantly, not necessarily in the ways that we understand.

The myth of the generation gap

I know, I know… you can prove anything with statistics. And who knows how reliable these are? But it does seem that a lot of online social networking is being driven by those who should be old enough to know better. A third of tweeters are over 45 years old. The largest single group of facebookers are in the 45 – 54 age group. And yes, we can see that the very young are becoming more involved… but the so called digital natives who are supposed to be permanently plugged in? Not so much….

Where are you?

Of course, it could be that we digital immigrants are looking in the wrong places. We are getting all worked up about our brand-new web 2.0 when the kids are already on 4. The statistics which are most easily accessible are for North American teens in mainstream education contexts. But that is not who I am teaching – and if you are reading this, probably not who you are teaching either. Facebook means very little to my students. Twitter, even less. That is not to say that they are not using technology, but they are unlikely to be using the same technology as English speaking teens, or old people like you. In Japan, the most popular social software is mixi, and there is probably something similar in your local context. However, that in itself is a very limiting view of “digital nativism”

What does it even mean to be comfortable or proficient with technology?

Being comfortable with technology and willing to use it spreads far beyond internet tools, and the boundaries are blurring all the time. As online applications become more difficult to categorise (what is a ning?), so does the hardware which supports it. If you can watch movies on your computer, listen to music through a usb in your dvd player, and send emails from your mobile phone, what kind of crazy mixed up world are you living in?! But the mistake we make is to assume that all young students will be equally capable across the gamut of technology. This is simply not the case, either on a global to local scale, or within a classroom.

On a global to local scale, Japanese students do not react to technology in the same way as (for example) British students. I have never seen an interactive whiteboard (in use) in Japan. Wireless access is still quite uncommon. The mobile phone is quite a different animal, and the true technological and communications hub for the average Japanese person.

Critics of the technophiles often point out the unfair disadvantage that poorer nations have in educational technology, but Elwood and MacLean’s (2009) comparative study of Cambodian and Japanese students and their attitudes towards technology demonstrates that the relative strength of the economy does not necessarily correlate to techno-proficiency. Although availability and opportunity and age are factors, they are not the only factors.

Within the classroom differences are equally marked. In the academic year just gone, I had students who routinely recorded class discussions on their mobile phones for review, and used their phones to post to the class blog. I had students who put together very impressive powerpoint presentations without my input, and some who independently uploaded documents to the internet for classmates to check between classes. We made videos and animations together, and wrote online book reviews. On the other hand, I had students who could not format a word document correctly, who couldn’t send an email online without help, who couldn’t download pictures or comment on blogs. I thought the young people were supposed to be fluent… aren’t I supposed to be the one speaking with an accent?

A quick look on google scholar will toss up a number of interesting articles about “digital natives”, and the uncritical acceptance of the idea that “all kids are good with computers, so we should cater to them”. To be fair to Marc Prensky, who coined the concept in the first place, he himself has more recently talked of a cross-generational “digital wisdom”. Perhaps the best of the rebuttals is Bennett, Maton and Kervin (2008), who talk of the ‘moral panic’ of this generation gap. Teachers who don’t join in are lazy, out of touch or scared. True? Some of them, yes. But not all of them

So why use technology at all?

It is fair to say that not all young people are comfortable with all technologies. We might assume that they will become so after time, and as teachers we need to keep up. However, the rate of technological change and the demographics of uptake suggest that, now and in the future, most teachers and students will adopt new technologies at about the same time – when they make the mainstream TV news. People who are more adept at new technologies, and absorb them into their lives, may have an edge…. but why is it my responsibility to introduce such tools? I am an English teacher. Just an English teacher.

In a tweet? My answer is this.

It is wrong to assume that my students can only respond to technology, just because they were born in 1990 in an economic powerhouse.

Bennett, S., Maton, K. and Kervin, L. (2008),  ‘The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence.’ British journal of educational technology Doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.200700793.x

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27 Thoughts on “the uneven spread of technology

  1. Very nice Darren, and a useful antidote to the kind of thinking that goes like this:

    1. All learners (under a certain age) are techno-proficient and expect technology to be integrated into the classroom experience, willy-nilly.

    2. Teachers who resist this pressure are either lazy, incompetent, in denial, “a tad rude”, or just plain bad.

  2. Well done Darren. A very useful, thoughtful and thought-provoking addition to the techno-debate.

    The most pertinent point you make relates to the techno-awareness, or lack of it, that one encounters in Japan. To an outsider, Japan seems to be the most plugged-in country on the planet. The reality is as you state it – puzzlement when you ask about wifi, especially in hotels, and an evidence that what technology there is available in schools and colleges is under-used or not used at all (I must qualify this by saying this was what I found in the dozen or so schools and colleges that I visited in 2008).

    I also agree completely with Scott’s two succinct points.

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  4. A blackboard is technology. An IWB is technology. Paper is technology. Doesn’t ‘technology’ extend to all the tools at our disposal? Aren’t a teacher’s voice, hands, training, imagination, curriculum, energy all part of their technology? Isn’t it just a matter of how well we use them? The flurry of new ‘technology’ has put a lot on people’s plates in a very short space of time so the definition of technology has incorrectly become ‘something with a plug’ or ‘ something digital’ or ‘something online’. What’s your definition of technology? I certainly don’t know where to draw the line.

    Perhaps the answer to Gavin’s question is that there isn’t really a line. Teachers who fail, fail because they are not using the technologies (and I include all the above here) that they have to hand appropriately, with balance, humour, intelligence, imagination, integrity, passion, luck etc. etc etc. Isn’t the real divide between people who get this and those who don’t. Isn’t it time to accept that these divisions don’t really exist?

  5. A very interesting blog. I have noticed with my adult students that whenever there is a computer in the classroom they get very excited, as if it’s some kind of treat that invokes the memories of when PCs started to become widespread and there was amazement at the black and white blinking screens. In contrast, my teenagers could care less about PCs and just see them as mundane as textbooks or as any of the other instruments of torture that are routinely visited upon them at school.

  6. darren on February 4, 2010 at 9:25 pm said:

    Scott – If you put it like that, I guess I COULD have said it in a tweet…..; P

    Ken – Quite so. I would like to investigate further exactly what my students can and can’t do, and a few of the articles here have come from a bit of digging specific to the Japanese context. The wi-fi conundrum you mention is an interesting one – in some ways it indicates how much more advanced Japan is; mobile coverage is so extensive, with affordable unlimited internet packages and well equipped handsets, that people don’t really NEED wireless. I’m not so sure about the public school system pre-tertiary. I saw quite a few K-12 schools earlier in my career in Japan and saw nothing other than blackboards – but I wouldn’t like to extrapolate that across the whole of Japan. I know that universities do vary though, depending on their specialisations and circumstances. From fully Mac’ed and wireless-ed up, to cassette decks and chalk dust….

    Patrick – My first reaction to your comment is to say “Don’t be so obtuse, we all know what we mean by technology”. But I suppose you are right, a photocopier, a whiteboard, pens and paper… they are all technologies, and technologies inaccessible to millions of students across the world. Beyond that, I’m afraid I’m a simple soul and I would define technology as “something with a plug on it, or a battery in it”. Otherwise we get bogged down in even more nonsense. I think we can assume that we are talking about teachers with energy, humour, intelligence, integrity and the like… there are plenty of them out there who still refuse to use technology. Gavin, I think, doesn’t quite understand why this would be so.

    Sputnik – Another good point. Teenagers will feign boredom at anything, so trying to engage them with something we think they think is ‘cool’ is a sure fire way to kill it. Hip Hop Shakespeare, anyone?. The best way to put a stop to binge drinking would be to send the teacher in with a few cans of Stella Artois… the kids would be Straight Edgers within a week. My (not entirely serious) point? It’s school – it’s not supposed to be fun. Keep cutting up the flashcards, Grandad, and let us enjoy our computer games when we get home ; P

  7. Hi Darren. Thanks for the reply to my comment. I wasn’t trying to blow the discussion out of the water. Simply suggesting that we should not be getting bogged down in the nonsense of an artificial divide between a tool that “has a plug on it or a battery in it” and those that doesn’t. The divide between what might be called skills, resources and tools has always seemed blurred. It seems to be getting blurrier the more sophisticated the tools get. Blurrier and blurrier.

  8. A very interesting post, Darren

    I think the most important thing I take out of this is to respond to your local teaching context.If I look at mine (Barcelona, Spain), I can say that most of my students are on Facebook (even some under 13, which is worrying) and there are signs that some of them are starting to use Twitter too. I like the fact that I can talk to students about this part of their life and also discuss videogames (I am a gamer too) from the point of view of someone who has played them rather than an adult observer. A couple of weeks ago I had a 20 minute unplanned conversation with a class of 15 year-olds about strategies of playing Farmville. They were all animated and anxious to share their experiences of playing the game.

    Why should it matter? Generation gaps do exist, and I believe they are often caused by the older generation not taking an interest in the younger generation’s interests and concerns. If there’s a generation gap, then there’s likely to be a communication gap. Take as an example, my wife discovering today that the Brazillian singer Gal Costa plays the Facebook game ‘Farmville’ and that she’s now her neighbour in the game. My wife’s uncle is a huge Gal Costa fan, and my wife’s first reaction was to tell him about this. And then, on reflection, she realised that try as she might he is never going to understand what this means (he doesn’t use the Internet, he has no idea what Facebook is, no experience of playing computer games) and she decided that it wasn’t worth the effort. Imagine a similar situation in the language class – I think the same thing goes through the heads of a lot of young learners: “there’s no way I can talk about this to my teacher – he/she just wouldn’t understand”

    What’s to be learnt from this for teachers? On the one hand, this is not about technology – it’s about knowing your learners and taking an interest in them and their lives (I hate football, but I can’t teach in Barcelona without a working knowledge of what’s happening in the Spanish football league, for example). On the other hand, we are in the midst of a technological revolution which is affecting the way everybody works and plays. It seems bizarre (perverse even) that some language teachers think their world should be untouched by this technological revolution. I am a firm believer that it will seep into most classrooms (whether teachers want it or not) and I want to be part of the group of people who ensure that as it does, what happens in those classrooms with technology helps learning and doesn’t hinder it.

    So much depends on the teacher and how she uses the technology – I wonder if the teenagers that sputnik mentions have already had a negative experience of a teacher using PCs in class. So much of the groaning of learners about using textbooks has come from the ‘Now turn to page 12 and do exercise 4’ kind of teaching. Believe me, you can teach just as badly with a PC if you want to – but that’s not the point, is it?

  9. Darren,

    Thanks for taking the time to ponder the question and I have bookmarked this and will come back to it when I come round to planning my talk for IATEFL.

    I won’t, of course, rise to Scott’s playground taunting based on my use of the phrase ‘a tad rude’ in the same way that I won’t endlessly repeat the fact that when Scott once tried to use technology in class, his learners (by his own admission) simply surfed for porn. No, it would be pointless to dwell on the failings of someone who can’t use technology or teach interestingly enough to stop their learners surfing for porn, in the same way that it would be pointless to endlessly quote ‘a tad rude’ as if it were some kind of scientific basis for adopting a similarly dogmatic, single-minded approach as, say, dogme. So no, I won’t go on about it…


  10. No, sorry, perhaps I will 🙂

    All learners in many contexts under a certain age actually ARE proficient with technology. There are numerous reports which you can seek out which will attest to this, including the following (from Spain).

    “In terms of leisure, a recent study by the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) and the Fundació Catalana de l’Esplai concluded that almost 97% of Spanish adolescents between the ages of twelve and eighteen have had some access to the Internet, with nearly 54% of those users having taught themselves the basics, and a mere 16% having received some training at school. Other noteworthy statistics from the ongoing study include almost 95% use of email as a form of communication (though Messenger remains the preferred communication tool for most) and a preference for mobile phones as a primary source of communication between social groups.”

    Estudio sobre el Uso de las Tecnologías Digitales en el Ocio de los Jóvenes. Retrieved December 8, 2009 from: http://tinyurl.com/yfwqp9w

    Similar reports in the UK carried out by BECTA produce even more startling statistics in terms of how much time youngsters spend every day engaging with various technologies and various electronic media. So certainly a large majority of young people in countries where the technologies are available and the finances are there are extremely proficient users of technology, and extremely voracious consumers of wired media. So let’s knock that silly argument out of the water.

    I suspect the second half of the Wisdom of Scott, Parable 1, to whit: “expect technology to be integrated into the classroom experience, willy-nilly” displays a similar amount of prejudice to that of which he accuses the technophiles. I suspect that very few young people EXPECT technology to be integrated into their classroom experience because they know their teachers are ill-equipped (both in terms of material equipment, but also in terms of training). No fault on the teachers’ part there, but you can’t sell what you don’t understand. I suspect more young people are resigned to not using technology, rather than expecting it to be integrated. A sad state of affairs – but you’d really only have to look at what those same young people reach for out of the classroom to start wondering…

    As for Parable 2, many people who have a problem with technology display no similar problems with proclaiming that X approach is the one to adopt these days, or that X approach (or state of mind) is preferable to Y approach. Or that having a chat is better than using a coursebook, or.. oh I could go on. Technology, of course, has to be singled out again. It’s all so very dull.

    The fact that someone may state these parables does not make them true, or even a majority opinion. Once again it is merely a polarised viewpoint designed to heap scorn on a significant side of many peoples’ lives. And just because it doesn’t fit with another approach.

    Ho hum, the times they aren’t a changin’


  11. Sorry, Darren – am really with Pat on this and boy, have I read this discussion back and forth and backwards and forwards.

    Whatever “tool” (as if they’re all one, ssshhheeeessshhhhh) or gadget or platform or process or delivery… ya still gotta teach.

    When candles were being used everywhere there were those who didn’t know what a candle is. Oh, I blogged about that – thus, my standard response to all posts herein post and pre is:

    8 radical technological advances which rocked education.

    Tongue must firmly lodged in cheek…

    (nicely written piece though, enjoyed your spirit!)

  12. darren on February 5, 2010 at 8:05 am said:

    Some good points to address – first of all, thanks Graham… some lovely sentiments in the final two paragraphs which I am in absolute agreement with. But I don’t agree that we should have to understand everything dear to the hearts of our students (or our own children…). They are independent beings to whom I can relate on a human level, but I don’t have to know the favourite colour of their favourite singer (just as I wouldn’t expect them to care about Matthew Le Tissier) If I don’t know it, I’m open enough to have them explain it to me…

    Gavin – Those stats actually say something quite different. Of course 97% of teens have had some access to the internet. But how much? Do they all have their own broadband, wireless laptops on which they create multimedia presentations? Or do they sneak on the rickety family computer when they get a chance, to look at a few goals on youtube? 97% tells us nothing. We can also see that 47% haven’t taught themselves the basics of internet use, and that they aren’t getting it in schools. As the Elwood and MacLean study points out, access does not equate to ‘willingness to use’, nor does it mean students have a well-rounded ‘fluency’ in all technologies.

    But aside from that, what do Spanish teens tell me about Japanese teens? This is the real crux of my answer – the failing of teachers (writers / researchers) who embrace technologies is that they don’t recognise local differences. Graham’s teens may be on Facebook, but (aside from the few who have spent time in the US / UK / Aus) mine absolutely aren’t.

    Karenne – I think you know I am not anti-technology… I just don’t like the assumption that all kids everywhere can do everything. I’ll let the big boys duke out the details.

  13. Hey Darren,

    Although I have only limited experience with technology, Blogger and WORD, in the classroom, if it has taught me anything it’s not to assume anything. For example, just this semester I had students make materials for a self-access center using WORD, a program which I incorrectly assumed they could use because I thought, ‘Hey, it’s WORD. It can’t be that hard!’, but as it turned out, most of them had almost no idea of the various functions, even as simple as underlining and bold. I had to teach them pretty much everything, and even then many would still ask me later on in the course how to do something. I’ve therefore decided that in the future if I am going to continue such a lesson, I will make sure beforehand what they can and cannot do with the technology I’ve chosen, and help them learn how to use it, or perhaps better yet, learn what they can in fact use and work from there.

    One other point I would like to bring up is that I think it is important for teachers to make sure that their students understand why they are using whatever technology you have chosen. For example, even something like Facebook or Mixi, something that students may know and love to use, may fail to be effective for teaching if the goals and purposes of using it are not explained clearly and/or mutually agreed upon from the beginning.


  14. Very nice post. I think you bring some much needed nuance and perspective to the debate here. We do tend to assume that kids, all kids, are better integrating with the digital world, but, as you point out, this is not necessarily true. Nor do all parts of the world use the same technology. I remember aol messenger was huge with me and my high school class, but in Turkey everyone uses MSN and in Vietnam it’s Yahoo Messenger. Facebook is a giant in Turkey, just like in the US, and it made lots of headway in Vietnam, but now it’s banned. Finding wireless access in the Czech was a struggle, but it’s everywhere in Turkey and I’ve never seen a more Internet connected society than Vietnam.

    I think, and I’m probably being presumptuous here, but I think we should help students to use technology because it’s a valuable skill (or literacy if you will) in itself. I just did a lesson on using the Internet to practice English with my students and I had one girl that was totally disinterested because she never used the Internet. Quite frankly, she’s missing out on a load of incredibly useful resources to improve her English, not to mention connecting with people or finding information. As I mentioned a while back, I see myself as teaching so much more than English and, despite students familiarity or lack thereof with certain tools, I think it’s important to expose them to and train them in the use of as many things as possible that will make them better global citizens.

  15. Darren,

    That sentence may not tell you a lot, but that report (and others by BECTA, etc.) tell you a great deal and that great deal amounts to this: many, many people (of all ages) are very proficient with technology and wired gadgets, they spend a great deal of time working with them, playing with them and using them to educate themselves. In Japan it’s more likely to be a mobile phone than a computer – but you’re not going to try telling me you haven’t noticed how popular mobile phones are in Japan – and they ain’t all using them to make phone calls.

    Just as the polarised view set forward would have you believe I would line up all teachers not using technology and have them shot, it would also have you believe that kids don’t touch computers and mobile phones and it’s all been made up by people like me, Graham, Nik Peachey and the rest. In fact what people really want to do in class is sit down and have a nice chat to see if something emerges. Most of them don’t even want a chair to sit on, hungry as they are for the pure word of the truth. The argument itself, like so many in this tech/no tech debate is a load of rubbish.

    You ask of context? Of course I wouldn’t teach using computers where there aren’t any (conjuring tricks are not my speciality). I’ve never forced anyone to use a computer in training or in learning and have (on one or two occasions) been asked by learners specifically for them not to have to use computers because they use them all day at work. That’s fine – they were (at the time) paying my wages, so to speak.

    But those teachers who don’t try any technology (where it is available, and where – for example – they may have noticed how popular mp3 players, phones etc are with learners) cannot justify a ‘they don’t really want tech in class, you know’ statement because it’s often founded on a lack of choice. If I only offer you carrots, am I justified in claiming there is really no market for cucumbers as nobody’s asking for them (especially if I see them sneaking a crafty cucumber in every coffee break, lunch break and immediately after school).


  16. Hi Darren, Still really doubtful about if anyone has really defined ‘technology’ in a satisfactory way. I don’t subscribe to the ‘I think we all know what we mean by” line. Did you really mean stuff with plugs on? While I’m here and in obtuse mode, could you also define, ‘big boys’. Is this based on weight, height, number of students or some other criteria?

  17. Hi Darren,

    Yes I know you’re not anti-technology… but if I go back to my candles – do you know when the first people saw those, they were rare? Not everyone had them, you had to be a different socio-economic geographical space to have access to one.

    Aren’t we done with saying that the learners who don’t know how to use something shouldn’t have to – how do we limit their lives?

    Like Nick, if the “thang” is there and accessible and usable and we desist – especially out of the bizarre desire to keep the world the way it is – then what are we doing as citizens of our global planet?


  18. Everyone – thanks for the comments. Eisensei and I share a context and I think he in particular can understand how it is to work with large classes who are techno-literate, but not how you might expect…

    Gavin – You are absolutely right that people are nuts on their mobile phones here, and that they use them for far more than making calls (check out the link in the post). It’s something I’ve been wrestling with in my attempts to use technology in an accessible and meaningful way with my students. That is my problem – I still contend that digital fluency is a much more complex issue than some would have me believe; that the capabilities of students are incredibly uneven, not only from person to person, but WITHIN each person. Why is it that a student comes to class simultaneously listening to music and emailing from her phone, but then hands me a hideously formatted word document as homework? How come when I take the whole class to set up and introduce librarything.com for our reading class, some of them are still looking at the registration page in bewilderment whilst others have finished writing their first book reviews? It’s not only ability, but desire – some are updating the class blog from their iphones twice weekly. Others barely look at it, let alone comment or post, the entire semester. And how come in the end of year feedback the online based sections of the course receive such varied feedback?

    It doesn’t make it any easier to judge these things when you factor in general teaching or motivational deficiencies – I am not going to blame “technology” alone for these problems. As Patrick points out, I haven’t given a satisfactory definition of technology anyway. But I can’t get away from that feeling…. not all students love technology, nor can they all use it all well. I’ll keep trying though, like a good teacher should. Ditto dogme, drama, literature, and any other method I can think of which will make my classes engaging, relevant, memorable and effective. Fingers crossed.

    I saw your plenary at Harrogate five years ago (or so) and thoroughly enjoyed it. I can’t be there in person this year, but thanks to the wonders of technology (!) I’m looking forward to hearing your answer to all of this ; P

  19. Hi Darren,

    A look at some of the the frustrations you describe above might give us a few clues as to why, despite the best intentions, teachers can have difficulty with various aspects of using the tools formerly known as ‘technology’.

    1. You write “Why is it that a student comes to class simultaneously listening to music and emailing from her phone, but then hands me a hideously formatted word document as homework?”
    Listening to music and emailing are very different skills to creating nice word documents so all that means is that the student has not been taught or had to figure out by herself how to use Word. Did you know the shortcomings in the student’s abilities before asking them to produce the homework using that program?

    2. “How come when I take the whole class to set up and introduce librarything.com for our reading class, some of them are still looking at the registration page in bewilderment whilst others have finished writing their first book reviews?”
    This points at an issue with class size and the way you are organizing the students. So, there are too many students and some of them can fly throught the stuff while some of them have less experience. Wouldn’t it make sense to establish some sort of mentoring system in the class? Give the capable students a role in bringing the others up to speed.

    3. “Some are updating the class blog from their iphones twice weekly. Others barely look at it” In an ideal world all your highly-motivated students would be actively engaged in tasks like this. Truth is, university students usually have a list of priorities which, horror of horrors, does not include dipping into their graded reader or class blog as regularly as they might. I suggest that if looking at the class blog and commenting on it are a part of what they are expected to do, make it part of their assessment. I’m sure your class blog is brill and I’m sure you introduced it to them with passion but it is not going to be top of their list of things to do voluntarily, exactly as illustrated by your experience.

    4. “How come in the end of year feedback the online based sections of the course receive such varied feedback?” Well having read your feedback on them I’m not surprised their feedback on the class is mixed. Some students are being left behind, some are probably bored. Some students are meeting your expectations but the majority aren’t. Are you setting them up for success?

    Don’t get me wrong. I know for a fact that you are a 1000% dedicated and inspiring teacher. Aren’t the problems you are having are very commmon ones faced by all teachers irrespective of ‘technologies’? The solutions may be closer at hand thank you think.

  20. Even I begin to roll my eyes when this debate crops up 😉 But it is an interesting debate and it’s apparent polarisation makes for some fantastic mud-slinging. And if a bunch of grown men (with the occasional woman) can’t just stand in a virtual field and throw mud at each other…well…things have come to a pretty poor pass, haven’t they?

    Whilst it is great to see Karenne and Graham and Scott and Gavin do the warm-up, I have finally caught up with you all and am prepared to give you the definitive answers:

    1. Teachers who embrace technology (which in the modern western industrialised world has come to mean “digital technology”…arguing about this is like saying, “What do you mean there are no gay people in EFL books? Headway has lots of smiley people larking about. They seem perfectly gay to me.”) are not necessarily failing to get anything. There is an argument that digital technology is having a profound effect on our societies, it requires longer hours at work, it is feeding consumerism in a particularly unique way, it opens the doors of your home to prying eyes, it can be very alienating, it offers unheard of access to porn which may (or may not) have an effect on society – recent statistics show that prostitution is more widely accepted among men than ever before. We could weigh these disadvantages against the advantages and conclude that technology has more potential for harm than for good if it continues to be used the way that it appears to be used. However, when people take this longer term view, they are often dismissed as crackpots and arsewipes, so I have learnt to skim over this argument. I will not take my Unabomber poster down though.

    2. Teachers who ram technology down people’s throats and squeal, “Everybody has to use technology or they are shite!” are failing to understand that just because THEY might be shite if you take away the Flash and stop them doing the Adobe, it doesn’t necessarily follow that everyone else is as bad as they are. Similarly, as you point out so well, when they spit, “But you are failing your students, you bastid! How very dare you!!!!!”, it takes a pretty unimaginative mind to imagine that the only thing that students need these days is to be plugged into the Information Highway.

    3. Teachers who refuse to countenance the idea that technology may actually be used to some positive effect in the classroom may rightly be diagnosed as having failed to find the key that unlocks the doors of the mind. Not in an Aldous Huxley way, but if anyone wants to send me some premium-strength LSD to help me see the truth, then my address is available on demand (to non-warrant-card-carrying members of the public). As Gavin has pointed out before, technology is not good or bad; people are. The same, of course, can be said for the AK-47.

    4. Teachers who roar, “Technology is the work of the devil and you are to be cursed for inflicting it upon the impressionable minds of the youth,” are failing to uphold their new year’s resolution to stop sounding like something out of The Crucible. Technology is NOT the work of the devil, although there are some very nasty people who benefit from it. They ARE the work of the devil and come the day of judgement, we will laugh as god puts them all in the virtual trash can and never presses delete. But the teachers who roar such things are probably underpaid, overworked and lack the drive (hoho) to prioritise Technolearning as an area of CPD that needs to be addressed. Gavin often points this out.

    5. Technology has a very clearly industrial ethos and belongs very much to the school of thought that says that productivity must increase and costs must go down. People are often praised for bringing technology to the hands of the Poor (TM). Oh great! They exclaim, “Now the Poor (TM) can lead the lives that we lead and enjoy the benefits that we enjoy! Blessed be the Siliconians!” And the Poor (TM) can now sit back under their cardboard boxes and shop online, engage in fruitless debates, catch a bit of porn and play games. If they get bored, they can twitter away or update their status on Facebook. Well…they could if they were ever allowed to stop trying to work out how to feed the family. Perhaps they could go to the nearest McVomit’s which also was brought to them by the kind missionaries who said, “What? Are we to be the only ones to benefit from the right to choose to eat a hamburger? Goddamit! Roll ’em out!” There are those who fail to see that technology might serve some good in the short term, but not necessarily in the mid-to-long term.

    Now I know that this is a topic that exercises people greatly, so I have tried to keep the inflammatory language down. I will not point fingers, but will allow those who have been slandered above to identify themselves and to instruct lawyers as they will. “Diarmuid” is, of course, a pseudonym and I do not know if dogs are subject to libel laws. Must dash – I think I smell a cat in the garden.

  21. By the way, a real human would never have let that stray apostrophe slip into his work. Proof positive that I am not who I say I am – he is a delightful writer and would never make such glaringly obvious mistakes.

  22. darren on February 6, 2010 at 7:42 pm said:

    Thanks for dropping by and patronising me on my very own blog Patrick ; P

    ” But Seriously”, some very good points, taken on board. Rather than answer ‘Well, duh!’ to the lot, I’ll have a crack at them one by one. Not because I am in any way thin-skinned, you understand.

    1. Yes, downloading music, emailing and word processing are entirely different skills – that was my point. Techno-literacy can be uneven, and one person can be excellent at somethings and clueless about others.
    The university offers computer support for students who need to brush up their skills, and I do the same if I find students are having particular issues. But if all young people are experts at all things technical, why should it be necessary?

    2. Actually, the mentoring system is a good idea… and what I ended up doing. Class sizes are something I have no control over, likewise the technical facilities available. We managed just fine, but my point is – if all young people are equally fluent, why is there a need for a mentoring system?

    3. Yes, I do realise that they have other priorities (I was a student myself once, you know…). I didn’t make the blog part of the course requirement or grading system because I was curious to see how it would be used – and who would do it because they WANTED to, rather than because they HAD to. Those who checked it more often may just have been more motivated in general, of course. But shouldn’t they all be slavering to use this blog, as digital natives?

    4. These cases weren’t all from one course… they are all general issues across classes, and feedback refers to that general feedback which says “I think xxxx was a good idea, but I don’t really like computers”. How can anyone born after 1985 say such a thing?

    I suppose this is a pretty ‘Well, Duh!’ thing to say in itself, but technology does need work to implement effectively – something which Gavin is not trying to deny. But I think he is trying to deny that a young person could be uncomfortable with technology, which I can’t agree with.

    I don’t know about 1000% dedicated and inspiring – but I am good enough to know I’ve got a lot to learn. I’ll take the compliment though ; P

    Diarmuid – Your thoughts are always welcome here, however badly punctuated. I roll my eyes at this argument myself – I didn’t even realise that this was the argument I was getting into, but I was naive to think any mention of technology wouldn’t end up that way. I’ve seen your thoughts on this topic many times, but if you don’t mind me saying so I don’t think I’ve ever seen you put them better. Honoured to have them here ; D

  23. I’m baaa–ack…


    Just came home after a real-life community meeting with my writers group and our guest speaker today was a professional storyteller.

    Through mime and minimal words, she told us, no – she drew us into two Native American Indian tales and the lives therein and used not a scrap of technology and we were thoroughly entranced.

    Especially when she gave us tips on how to effectively tell stories ourselves.

    And then I came home, I checked my emails, blog, twitter and saw what’s been going on in your blog.

    The point of my coming back: how many of us are still entranced by good old fashioned storytelling? Probably everyone.

    But how many people sit at home and read a book to their children rather than make one up on the spot. (Because books sure were technology when they first started: it could be argued that the printing press was the greatest invention of all time).

    How many of us turn on the radio or television and watch a series instead of creating blog posts? 🙂

    How many go to the movies instead of sitting at home with loved ones on the couch and going through the week?

    Times change: we can be entranced by the past but we live in the present and we keep an eye on the future.

    No one is a “bad” teacher if they don’t use technology, don’t need technology, have students who don’t need technology, yada yada.

    But if you do have students who need it then you do have responsibility, imho, to be skilled in the ways that they need to be. If their future job placements requires that they are able to write a good email in English or a report on not mangled Word Text or a presentation which must be done in English then, well, the skills for that do rest in your hands.

    Teaching them ‘only’ to StoryTell?

    Why not both?


  24. I know what you mean about the eye-rolling Diarmuid and Darren, but I think Darren’s original post here is an excellent one and makes some very pertinent and important points.

    I think that the argument (not yours Darren, but The Argument) suffers from lumping a number of separate discussions into one big teaching with technology debate.

    These are the 4 areas that I think get thrown together (I’m sure I’ve missed some out)

    1. Using technology to aid the teaching/learning process (informing Ss about useful websites, doing a class blog, etc)
    2. Guiding Ss in using technology to support their language skills (training in using Word etc)
    3. Technology as a conversation piece (have you seen/played X? – this is where Graham’s football in Barcelona analogy fits)
    4. Technology as a way of connecting wiv the yut in the context where they use English outside the classroom most

    I think 4 is the one that most troubles me in the debate. Pre-internet-ubiquity, English outside the classroom for many teenagers came in the form of music. And I never felt that knowing the lyrics to Backstreet Boys songs was a particularly important part of my role as teacher, so why should I play World of Warcraft (unless I actually want to) in order to connect with my learners? I don’t really think I need to, or even if to do so would be massively productive (I think it could even be counter-productive). My 10 year old step daughter plays online games in which she uses English. I’m glad about this because it means she practices English while she’s doing something she enjoys. I’m not interested in playing them myself, and I don’t see this as a big deal. (And for some teenagers, the knowledge that their teachers are also playing these games and might even be encountered at some point, might even be something which would put them off)

    (For what it’s worth my feelings on 1-3:
    1: If students have access and there is not a big divide between haves and have nots, then sure.
    2: Not really my job, I feel, but if no-one else is doing it, I’d step in
    3: With some reservations, yes.)

  25. Karenne – Sometimes it is an either / or situation. As Andy says, it isn’t really my job to provide computer skill training… I want to foster critical thinking skills, encourage learner autonomy through learner training, brush up the present perfect, discuss literature, work on sentence stress and a zillion other things. Certain technologies can facilitate some of these things, of course, and I recognise that writing emails / word documents and the like are important English skills which fall within my remit. But I have ninety minutes a week with about thirty in a class and I have to ask myself; Will this tool save time, or eat into it? Is this activity worth the time spent on it? (that goes for any activity, of course.. not just techie ones). Because not all students are digitally fluent, it takes time to introduce more complex tools. For that reason, I have found it easier to experiment in my twice and three times weekly classes.

    Andy – I totally agree with you. When I was a student, binge drinking and promiscuous sex were popular, but I didn’t expect my professors to incorporate them into the curriculum ; P
    A silly and flippant response, I admit… but we should allow the young things of their own. That is not to say we should never try to innovate, or show any interest in our students lives. But if it really isn’t our cup of tea, people know it and you look like a try hard. In Graham’s case, it’s right that he should know the weekend results and a few players names… but he doesn’t have to provide play-by-play analysis of every Barca match. I know what mixi, world of warcraft, farmville and so on are. I know roughly how they work. That’s enough, I think.

  26. I was at a conference in Ankara last May and Gavin raised the issue of ‘tech comfy’ vs ‘tech savvy’. Perhaps this is what all teachers should aim for.

  27. Is that a “vs” paradigm? Surely there is an overlap?

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