Reference review — Gateway Tools

I’ll be honest: I’m not a huge fan of technology in the classroom. Whether I’m enrolled in a class or teaching it myself, I find that all too often, smart boards and video screens distance the instructor from the student. Frequently, and especially in private ESL schools, where instructors are not always career-focused, professionally motivate teachers, videos and websites are used as last-minute time-savers and lesson plan replacements, as opposed to enhancements to the learning process.

So it is that I chose to read Gateway Tools: Five Tools to Allow Teachers to Overcome Barriers to Technology Integration by Laren Hammonds, Lisa H. Matherson, Elizabeth K. Wilson, and Vivian H.Wright.

The Luddite Laptop, by Big Time Attic.

The Luddite Laptop, by Big Time Attic.

Hammonds et al  write, “Having grown up immersed in technology, the students of today are digital natives, but many of their teachers are often playing catch-up because they are digital immigrants” (36). They cite numerous examples of teachers being uncomfortable with technology in their pedagogy, especially where the instructor lags behind students in the understand and usage of said advances. Hammonds et al suggest that the impetus behind true integration of a given tool in the classroom should not come from students; it should be student-centred, sure, but it needs to be led by an enthusiastic, engaged, computer-literate teacher to be successful.

More after the jump.

The authors suggest that teachers’ reluctance to utilise new methodologies can be traced to two main hurdles: first, they cite an earlier study: “educators are not always skilled beyond basic usage and, thus, must learn how to use the technology itself ‘as well as how to use it instructionally—a completely different skill’ (Mishra, Koehler, & Kereluik, 2009).” As well, a teacher’s personal beliefs are often built upon their own learning experiences: “an individual who grew up in a classroom without embedded technology may be unlikely to value technology integration in his or her own classroom ” (38). This statement seems almost quaint in its folksy common sense, considering the hard tech the article endorses.

It is suggested that teachers old and new are willing to embrace tools that help with parent-teacher relations, improve customization of materials, aid PD pursuits and/or move their students to action more effectively. Five online tools are then shared:

  1. Dropbox.
  2. Class Dojo.
  3. Evernote.
  4. Diigo.
  5. Edmodo.

I don’t consider myself to be a newbie to technology at all — in fact, I am active in social media, use multiple platforms of PC and Apple products, and often find myself troubleshooting electronic connections and software glitches for family and friends. With adult immigrant classes, I rarely encounter students with a more involved knowledge of consumer electronics and online content than myself. Thus, my reluctance to use digital tools is not borne of discomfort or the fear of being shown up by those I’m teaching.

There is some truth to the fact that my own formative education was pretty lo-fi. Okay, I was in the audio-visual club in elementary school, and was one of the first kids on my block to own a home computer — it had a tape drive with real cassette tapes! I’m sure, however, that Hammonds et al don’t count threading celluloid through a reel-to-reel projector or using a Commodore Vic 20 as being a schoolhouse digital pioneer.

When given the chance, my students often attempt to offload shortcomings in language and cultural awareness onto their PowerPoint or blog posts. In one case, a student giving a presentation claimed to have spent three days troubleshooting a software issue, and thus had not found sufficient time to learn the vocabulary and content required by the course.

As the authors conclude, “[tech tools] are not the ends in and of themselves but rather the means for assisting teachers in making instruction better” (40). For language acquisition and usage, students must be encouraged to immerse themselves in the target language. Where technology allows that immersion, I’m all for it. When it becomes a barrier — or worse, an excuse — students are in my opinion better served by some good, old-fashioned book-learnin’.

______________________________________

Hammonds, Laren, et al. “Gateway Tools: Five Tools To Allow Teachers To Overcome Barriers To Technology Integration.” Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin 80.1 (2013): 36-40. Academic Search Premier. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.

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