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Expert views on: technology of the future

on Wed, 12/11/2013 - 19:36

Lund thinks that communicative use of language will get a much more central place in the curriculum thanks to Web 2.0 applications. Lund who, like Mary Swain convinced of the importance of language production for language acquisition, expects that technological developments that can support social networks and facilitate collaborative dialogue will allow us to organise language education so that the actual use of language gets a much more prominent place [Lund, 3].

Both Guichon [9] and Davies expect that mobile technologies will provide convenience, flexibility and interesting applications to support  Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL) once costs have been reduced [Davies, 12]

Müller-Hartmann shares the view that recent technological developments have greatly facilitated telecollaboration and with it increased the chances to open up the classroom to the outside world. But again, as these types of project activities are relatively 'unsafe' for teachers [Müller-Hartmann,14] – certainly compared to the regular course of business in the classroom- good teacher training including practical personal experiences in this domain are of great importance. If teacher education succeeds in providing student teachers with valuable telecollaborative experiences then the related 'emotional anchors’ will increase the chance that they will use the technologies required for this purpose in their future professional practices.

Guichon observes that although the ease of ICT use increases so does the speed at which technology is changing. It is anticipated that the new generation now entering the teaching profession has the basic affinity with ICT required for coping with this in a flexible way [Guichon, 3]. 

Although the UK has quite a good reputation in the field of innovation [Davies, 8] - see for example the activities of CILT or the blogs of individual teachers like Joe Dale and José Picardo - the poor position of foreign languages in the school curriculum is clearly not a very stimulating factor.

Davies [9] follows numerous blogs set up and maintained by language teachers who describe their practice and their use of a variety of applications. The use of ICT in teaching foreign languages is required by the National Curriculum [Davies, 5], but in addition there is a very enthusiastic group of language teachers who make creative use of ICT, e.g. to support content presentation and language production. [Davies, 10] Other technologies mentioned are touch screens [Davies, 11] and translation tools.Guichon [10] expects - now that tools like Google Translate are getting better- that they will have an impact on language teaching particularly because these technologies can provide an important contribution to the (acceleration of) development of intercultural understanding.

Invited to comment on the topic of technology Reinders states: […] ‘I often get asked what I think will be the next 'big thing' in language education. Of course I do not know but I do see that a number of developments are starting to come together that are opening up opportunities for ways of learning and teaching as well as monitoring and supporting them, that were previously difficult to achieve. Take, for example, developments in mobile learning. We have had portable phones for many years now. We have also had access to information through the internet. We now also have mechanisms to link those two with information about you as a user, your preferences and your location, and all this is starting to connect to your social identity too. This makes forms of individualised, situated and distributed learning possible, the potential of which we have only started to scratch the surface of.
So in a sense I think the near future is more about the consolidation and integration of different technologies and a recognition of the ways in which they start to (in some ways quite naturally) appear in, or even create new learning ecologies. At the same time our understanding of these developments has grown to a point where different fields are starting to connect and form natural connections, such as those between social constructivist learning theories, second language acquisition and research into the ways which computer-mediated communication (and in particular more recently mobile learning) connect with these. So in a way I am hopeful that new developments continue to lead to new insights’.
For more background information on his statement on technology, specifically on topics such as autonomy, MALL and informal learning Reinders refers to text sequences he published earlier: […] Technology has the potential to not only provide access to resources for learning in a superficial sense, but also to offer increased affordances for autonomous learning. Opportunities for interaction, situated learning, and support for learning outside formal contexts, have greatly improved because of technology. These affordances are not always capitalised on yet but offer the opportunity to support the learning process, in addition to simply providing the building blocks for it. At a superficial level, computers are good at monitoring students’ engagement and progress, and programmes exist that use this information to guide learners and encourage them to make decisions about their own learning (Reinders, 2007). More recently, and perhaps more liberatingly, mobile technologies allow learners to have access to resources in out-of-school contexts (Kukulska-Hulme & Traxler, 2005), potentially linking affordances in the environment with immediate support. As a result, there is now a much richer appreciation of the role of learning outside the classroom (Benson & Reinders, 2011), not only in terms of the time learners spend learning, practising and of course using the language in non-formal learning environments, but also in the ways in which educators can prepare learners for, as well as guide them in such learning.
A reconceptualisation of language education as the provision of a collection of affordances that start from the learners as individuals, and include classrooms, materials, native speakers, teachers, assessment, other learners, the workplace, and so on, has been made more practically feasible, and methodologically easier to investigate, through the pervasive use of technology. We therefore gradually see a shift in our understanding of autonomy as a rather vague set of skills or attitudes, to more specific abilities to navigate different (learning) environments, with technology playing an important facilitative role.
In addition, technology has revealed the extent and importance of the social networks learners engage in, and their effect on what and how people learn. This has helped researchers and practitioners to learn more about what it means to be an autonomous learner in practice.
But technology also places constraints on the development of autonomy (Reinders & Hubbard, 2012).
As mentioned above, access to, for example, authentic materials or native speakers can be detrimental if learners are not prepared or supported for this. Reliance on technology can, for example, discourage learners from remembering new vocabulary when they have direct access to an online dictionary. Technology can also give students a false sense of development; online games, for example, have a great deal of potential for language practice (Gee, 2003), but can be limited in terms of genre and domains and may not push learners to engage in other types of communication that are also important, such as extensive reading, or writing a longer text.

Colpaert [10], finally, sees a more limited impact of technological developments on language education as choices in this domain, also in the near future, represent “only” one aspect of the whole of the learning environment. In his work in the field of design and research of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) he uses as a guiding principle: "No technology inherently possesses an effect on learning”. He then explains why an ecological shift in CALL is needed: in the past, in evaluation research, the perspective was too limited, evaluating the effects of individual technologies on specific aspects such as attitude.