Technology in Language Education Part II - Fad? (with Ray Davila)

Subscribe on Android

The second of our two-part special on technology in the classroom, with Ray Davila, where we discuss the drawbacks of the increasing involvement of technology in education. We talk about what gets neglected instead of technology (where did the budget for those interactive whiteboards come from anyway?!), the effects on how teachers are assessed and evaluated and if technology might eliminate the need to learn a language altogether in the near future…

Tracy Yu, Ray Davila and Ross Thorburn at Ray’s Leaving Party

Tracy Yu, Ray Davila and Ross Thorburn at Ray’s Leaving Party

Technology in Language Education Part II Fad? (with Ray Davila) – Transcript


Tracy Yu:  Hello, everyone. Welcome back to our podcast. Today, we have the second part of our conversation "Technology in Classroom: Fact or Future in Education." We have Ray...

Ross Thorburn:  Davila. [laughs]

Tracy:  Hi, Ross. Welcome back.

Ray Davila:  Good to be back, guys. [laughs]

Ross Thorburn:  If you hadn't listened to the first part, go back and check out last week's episode where we talked about the advantages of technology in education. This episode, we're going to talk about the disadvantages.

Ross:  I'm going to kick things off and say that one of the biggest problems with technology is just overuse and over‑reliance on it. Just to pick a really simple example is what we called interactive whiteboards.

There's so many things you cannot do on them, you can just do with a traditional whiteboard, and companies that I've worked for, that will remain nameless, invested far more in putting interactive whiteboards in the classroom than putting qualified teachers in the classroom.

Ray:  I'm going to agree with you on this one. It's an over‑reliance on education institutions as well of using technology as a gimmick. There is this lack of this human aspect that I can't miss. One of the things that I remember in the school was there was these moments where you could have technology not working.

The Internet is not working or the printer is not working.

Ray:  I liked to look at those as opportunities. Opportunities where teachers are going into a class, somewhat unplugged, and just trying to find alternatives. A lot of times, I remember a lot of teachers giving feedback and saying that class actually went really well.

Ross:  To go back to what you're saying earlier, Ray, it's almost like some companies try to use technology to teacher‑proof education. It's like, it doesn't matter if you had a good teacher or rubbish teacher, we've got technology, computers, and algorithms. We're going to make sure everyone's going to learn, so we don't really have to worry so much about recruiting good teachers.

Tracy:  If you're talking about your best teacher, everybody have different choices, have a different reason why chose that teacher, and they have their own characteristics.

Ray:  That was something that I had an issue with last week's discussion about the advantages of technology in how you had mentioned the facial recognition. Facial recognition being used in a manner that where you can use it to detect things like the student talking time, even things like their participation in the class, or correct usage of vocabulary or grammar or pronunciation.

Even to the point of as a way of detecting the student's mood and their level of attention. One thing we need to be careful of, making sure that we're not reducing that human element in the learning process to something that's just a mere algorithm. I think that there are other elements to a student than just points on their face to measure their mood.

Tracy:  I totally agree.

Ross:  That's the other danger with that is that if that's what you can measure, then that's the thing that people will pay attention to. It's like the old saying, what gets measured gets managed. Make sure you measure the right thing. Therefore, you can do these measures, student talking time and how often the student smiled, then guess what? The teachers are going to be encouraged to do in class.

Tracy:  These are something supplementary that maybe can help you to find out more information about the learning process, but it shouldn't be the tool to determine if that's a good teacher or that's a bad class. Something like that. That's really dangerous to judge something based on that.

Ross:  Another issue with this is that, with not just facial recognition but with so much stuff being on camera now, I think they're truly going to put people off experimenting in the class and trying things that, maybe this is going to work, maybe this is going to be disaster but hey, who cares? I'll try it.

If everything you do is on camera and can be watched back by parents or students, and used as evidence that you're incompetent, I'm probably just going to stick more to what I've been told to do, or play it safe, rather than try things that would challenge their status quo.

Ross:  What do you guys think about this idea that maybe within a few years' time language learning will be pointless? At the moment, we have pretty good translation stuff. Google, YouTube can do it fairly accurately for free. Subtitles, automatically, you can go from speech to text. You can go from text of another language to text of another language.

For quite a long time, maybe for about 20 years, we've been able to get computers that read stuff out loud. It doesn't seem to be a huge leap from where we are now, to me being able to speak on the phone, just like in "Star Trek," and it comes out in a different language. Can you see that changing language learning?

Just being like, "Why would I spend 10, or 15 years, or 20 years, or just the rest of my life working and learning another language when I can just download an app?"

Ray:  Now, just from the press of a button, we can get everything done, rather than us actually having to put in a lot of work. The work, it's the trial and error. It's the process that really helps with the learning process. If we are eliminating that for convenience' sake, then technology could very well make ESL obsolete.

Tracy:  There are people, probably, difficult for them to learn new language. I'm thinking from my mom's age. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it's going to be very challenging for them, and they will say, "What's the point for me? I'm Asian trying so hard learning a new language, but I only use it occasionally."

On the other hand, I'm not sure the accuracy in everything is it really, especially that's something you would like to express? I'm thinking how can the translator 100 percent interpret your feeling, your emotion, and how you'd like to say that in what kind of tone of voice. It's always going to be so different.

For example, English, if you say something, was the tone going up or going down, that's probably means different things in particular context. That's something that would be quite interesting to see if it's going to bring a lot of convenience or a lot of trouble [laughs] for people.

Ross:  What my personal prediction for this is it is going to affect language learning for adults, but I don't think it's going to affect language learning for kids so much. I was thinking about this. Most of the subjects that we learn in school are not very useful, right?

Biology, or physics, or history. You could just google any of those things that you spend all that time at school studying. I think that whatever the point of education at school is, it's often not really that we memorize all this knowledge and we use it in our later lives.

The same is probably true of language learning. It will stay in state schools because for the same reason everything else is there. It's just that it's always been there.

I can see for adults if thinking about I'm not going to spend all this money on a language course to help me in this particular situation? Maybe if I could just download an app. Maybe it's not actually worth it because there is an easier way out.

Ray:  I think for sure that one of the things that happens with new things in innovations in this course of it being developed, this is the new fad. Everyone is talking about tech and how we can utilize it in a bunch of different things.

The problem is, that sometimes we need to sit back and just reflect, analyze its impact overall on the industry, on the students themselves. I think that, again, it goes back into things that are also important in the learning process like social skills, learning how to be a team player. These things are we considering how we're going to implement and teach these soft skills in the process?

Or are we just focusing a lot on how students can win and how we can entertain them? A lot of times we are trying to create new experiences of creating a new reality, a digital reality. I wonder the long‑term effects it might have on how people associate with each other in reality. If we are focusing so much on a digital world, what happens to the real world?

Ross:  The big issue here with technology is not that it's bad but just that where it fits in this so‑called ladder of love. How important is it compared to other things, like human connection, or teacher training, or teaching the right syllabus, or making sure that your syllabus has authentic language or any of those other things?

The danger with all of the things that we've been talking about or we're talking about the previous episode is yeah, overuse, over prioritization. More money and time gets invested in the technology than in any number of other things that we might prioritize over technology.

Ray:  The thing that we haven't really touched about, either in this podcast or in the one before, was is technology and its use with teacher training itself. I wondered, again, especially with older teachers, is some of them are just not as comfortable and confident with technology, and how that's going to play a role in the future.

Will, we just have to sift out all of the teachers who aren't computer literate and competent with technology, or is it going to be something where knowledge in technology is more important than language knowledge?

Ross:  That's an interesting point. I remember watching, when I was a Director of Studies, watching a new teacher. This guy, he must have been 15 years older than me. Watching him with a class of 16 seven‑year‑olds. This guy was trying to turn on and calibrate an interactive live port. It's pandemonium breaking out behind him.

There was one little boy who was trying to tell him what to do. He was like, "Shut up. Sit in your seat." That added nothing to that person's class.

When it comes to any kind of materials, a key principle is to make sure that you're always adding something to everyone's class, and you're never really taking things away. With those things that are difficult to use, you're really just creating more of a burden, some sort of cognitive overload, perhaps, for some, if not a lot of teachers.

Teaching is already multi‑tasking where you're thinking about, "Oh, do I have enough time? Should I end this activity in a few moments? Have I met the aims of this lesson?" All those things.

As soon as you add in some of the clunky technology, perhaps, you're just making the teacher's job even more complicated. Obviously, as soon as you do that, you're distracting the teacher from the other things that they could be doing where it should be helping the students even more.

Ray:  I know a few teachers, then other people who have confessed that they have failed their practical blocks because of technology going awry and it's just...

Ross:  Can I just say, as a former diploma assessor,. I don't think I ever saw anyone fail a class because technology went wrong.


Ray:  I think it's not the technology went wrong, but because they invested so much of their lesson to that, and because it didn't work.

Ross:  That's almost a nice micro cause, isn't it?


Ross:  It's all conversation, Ray, right? Those people made the mistake of investing all of their effort into technology and it didn't do what they expected it to do. Maybe that's the overall danger with the industry. We're in danger of investing too much time and resources into something that might work, but maybe it might not work as well.

Ray:  I think it was Voltaire who once said something that stuck with me. It was, "If you do not accept the changes of your time, perhaps you will miss the greatest part."

I think that, to a certain extent, one of the things that we should be aware of is that technology is happening, whether we like it or not. That development is a part of culture. It's part of society at this point. We might as well just start seeing how we can utilize it and take the advantages, and try to make the best of it.

Tracy:  Thanks very much for listening to these two podcasts. Thanks very much, Ross, on our podcast.

Ray:  Of course. It was my pleasure. [laughs]

Tracy:  See you guys. Bye.

Ross:  Thanks, everyone. Bye‑bye.