On Education Technology, Language Teachers May Be Leading

Language teacher turned consultant Joe Dale is convinced that it's not necessarily the traditional techie types who are on the front lines of a digital revolution in schools — he thinks it's the language teachers.

It might not seem like as natural a fit for language teachers to embrace technology as it is for teachers of science, math and engineering-heavy subjects, but Dale has seen that developing tools like social media, video software and online conferencing translate well to the language classroom.

And the web, despite being full of video, graphics and glitz, is still primarily driven by words. Dale writes in The Guardian Professional's Teacher Network that the "MFL Twitterati," a collection of foreign language teachers, is a perfect example of a group of education professionals using technology to augment their practice:

The ‘MFLtwitterati‘ – a grassroots community of UK-based modern foreign language teachers on Twitter – has proved to be an invaluable testbed for ideas on using new technologies. Over time the group has developed a strong ethos of sharing innovative classroom practice, encouraging each other to experiment and feedback their findings for further discussion and reflection.

It's hard to measure the precise impact of these online tools, says Dale, but the proliferation of forums and collaborative groups who constantly share up-to-date tools, apps and best practices is a testament to their value.

Language teachers have successfully used blogging, audio/video software and conferencing — from Google+ to Skype — to share expertise and to integrate unique language practice into curricula.

Not everyone is an early adopter, though. Traditionalists exist, and some language teachers are more reluctant to embrace new technologies than others.

The issue now is the widening gap between those who pro-actively use technology to promote creativity and collaboration, and those who only tick the ICT [education technology] box with the same old ‘drill and kill' websites (that focus on excessive repetition of simple, isolated skills) and MS Office.

Being slow to hop on the ed tech train is a mistake, Dale argues, because it's leaving the station whether teachers like it or not:

Technology is not going away and language teachers need to embrace its full potential to engage our 21st century learners.

Education technology and foreign languages aren't a new marriage — as early as 1983 there was evidence that the discipline began to embrace tech. Vol. 1, No. 1 from June, 1983 of the journal for CALICO — Computer Assisted Language Instruction Consortium — reports the following:

One thing is manifest. Anything having to do with computers is a hot topic at foreign-language meetings these days. Computers were the subject of one of the Northeast Conference's Winter Workshops in February of 1983, and the Pre-Conference Workshop on computers at the October 1982 meeting of the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association (MaFLA) was certainly not unique in being oversubscribed.

Matthew Tabor

Matthew Tabor

Matthew is a prolific, independent voice in the national education debate. He is a tireless advocate for high academic standards from pre-K through graduate school, fiscal sense and personal responsibility. He values parents’ and families’ rights and believes in accountability for teachers, administrators, politicians and all taxpayer-funded education entities. With a unique background that includes work in higher education, executive recruiting, professional sport and government, Matthew has consulted on new media and communication strategies for a broad range of clients. He writes the blog “Education for the Aughts” at www.matthewktabor.com , has contributed to National Journal’s ‘Expert’ blog for Education , and interacts with the education community on Twitter and Google+.
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