Sunday, April 26, 2009

Technology in the Grammar Class

By Tamara Jones

ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium

When I lived in the USA, I had the pleasure of working at an intensive English program that embraces cutting edge technology. The department even has its own tech-guru to train teachers in the latest technological tools at their disposal.

Technology Heaven

Now, I don’t consider myself particularly tech savvy (I have to draw little pictures of the buttons I should press to make things happen), but I loved the way technology kept me better organized and made my life easier than before. For example, once I finally (after several semesters) mastered a new grade book program, I was able to spit out midterm and final grades in a fraction of the time with far fewer mistakes.

It was also at this time that I became a PowerPoint addict. The ability to create a lesson and then use it again and again in other lessons won me over! Even now, I am constantly looking back through PowerPoint lessons that are years old and copying and pasting slides into new presentations. You could say that I have been in tech heaven!

Technology Purgatory
Technology comes more slowly to some schools than others, however. The school at which I teach now is on the opposite end of the technological spectrum. We recently got TVs in all the classrooms and the teachers share one computer in the workroom that has internet access.

I am not complaining, mind you, I know there are many more challenging situations that teachers face all over the world. That said, it has been a slightly difficult adjustment. It’s kind of like a tech purgatory in that it’s nothing to complain about, but I sure do miss my ready-made class websites and internet access in the classroom.

Technology = Good Teaching?
This new situation has challenged my thinking about what it means to teach with technology. Was I a better teacher when I had access to the internet in my classroom? Do students care whether or not I prepare PowerPoint presentations, or is writing on the board enough? After 8 months of teaching English and learning French here, I can comfortably say that, while technology does not make us better teachers, it does make work easier for us and learning easier for the students.

Recently, my French teacher started showing her lessons (simply word documents) on the TV as well. Although they are exactly the same as what is written on the paper directly in front of us, I find looking at the TV screen easier. I feel more connected with the teacher and the other students when my head is not buried in a book, and it is infinitely easier to follow along when she is pointing at the screen and describing a grammar point than when she is holding up a paper and pointing at something. Being a student, in this case, has actually confirmed my intuitions about technology and teaching: it is an invaluable tool for teachers and students.

Technology = Good Teachers’ Materials
So, if so many teachers and students agree that technology is such a useful tool, why am I still burning the midnight oil creating PowerPoint presentations to accompany many of my texts? Why do I have to lug books home to scan their pages into my presentations so that my Beginner students know exactly what I mean by the “Grammar Spot blue box”? Why can’t every author follow Betty Azar’s example and provide interesting and clear PowerPoint presentations with her texts?

It would be SO nice if I could just plug a few of my own slides into a ready-to-go presentation and not spend hours hidden behind my battered, old Dell. Until the day that PowerPoint lessons automatically accompany Teacher’s Manuals and text websites full of interactive practice are available to students, I will continue to do it on my own.


Comment from Wildaly
November 20, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Interesting conclusion on how technology doesn’t exactly equal good teaching but does make teaching easier. I’m currently taking a course on integrating technology in the classroom and this post provides a good perspective on the subject.

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