Jack Scholes: You are a teacher, teacher trainer, author, and conference speaker and you are also an Education Technology expert. How, when and why did you first become interested in Education Technology?
Paulo Dantas: I’ve always been fascinated by the use of technology in education, more specifically how it has been reshaping the resources we use and how these resources impact teaching and learning. When I started teaching, there was no such thing as digital devices being used in the classroom but computers were becoming more widely available and bringing them to the classroom felt like a natural move.
JS: What is the place of education technology right now and how would you define digital literacy in second language teaching and learning for our pupils today?
PD: I think technology has made content more accessible and democratic. We – teachers – used to be the main providers of content to our students and that is no longer the case. Any 3-minute Google search will tell our students more about any given topic than we could ever be able to, so in that sense I think our role is being redefined: we are becoming curators of content and our job is, up to a certain extent, to educate our students to navigate this sea of information.
JS: What are some of the possible effects, both positive and negative, of technology on teaching and learning?
PD: While technology can make learning easier and more democratic, it can also hinder learning if it becomes the centrepiece of a lesson. Any device, tool, or service is only as good as its effectiveness in pedagogical terms; if the use of these tools becomes the purpose of our lesson, learning is certainly hindered.
JS: What strategies can teachers use to ensure digital tools are well used and actually foster learning?
PD: Technology should always – and I’d like to stress that adverb – support pedagogy, not the other way around. You can teach a very good lesson with very few resources, if any. Good use of technology should actually make the tool, device, or service invisible. If the technology being used is invisible in a lesson, it’s more likely that learning is taking place.
Also, as the adage goes: if it’s not broken, don’t fix it; whatever tool we use, it should be used to solve a problem we might have, or perhaps to allow for the creation of new things or activities that have clear learning goals and outcomes.
JS: How can we use technology to develop social emotional learning and socio-cultural competence?
PD: One of the main goals of the digital services we use today, such as social media and collaborative tools such as Microsoft Teams or the Google Suite, is to allow for people to collaborate more closely; if we help students to collaborate more effectively, respecting peers and creating strategies to work together, we’re also helping them develop social emotional skills (and life skills as well!).
JS: How can online classes for very young learners be enhanced so that the children can have some socialization?
PD: Personally, I am not in favour of online learning for very young learners. When they come to class, they are learning social and cognitive skills that require actual physical human interaction. While we can try to make this work in an emergencial context, it is not ideal – and it does require a lot of effort from teachers and families alike.
JS: How do you see computers being used with 4 year olds in bilingual regular schools in Brazil?
PD: I think it’s important that children are taught how to interact with digital devices, especially when we consider that they will inevitably do so later in life. However, I think it’s also important that we abide by the World Health Organization guidelines: no screen time for children up to 2; up to an hour a day if they are 4 (https://www.aoa.org/news/clinical-eye-care/public-health/screen-time-for-children-under-5?sso=y). Let’s put it this way: most children who watched the Harry Potter series before they read the books weren’t given the opportunity to imagine what the characters and settings were like: they were bound to always see Harry Potter as Daniel Radcliffe. In other words: too much screen time can hinder creativity, critical thinking and imagination.
JS: What are some tips you can give teachers so that they can use active methodology online or in a hybrid model?
PD: It’s all about the tasks! Well-designed tasks that encourage learners to work collaboratively can work well both online and offline. You can, for example, ask learners to work together and create an audio-guide or podcast about a certain place they have visited instead of asking them to write a composition about it. While developing writing skills is essential, we should also encourage students to work on collaborative tasks that not only will allow them to manipulate the content and/ or target language but also foster the development of life and cognitive skills such as negotiating, decision making and defining roles within a given project.
JS: The pandemic has reshaped the use of technology in teaching. Many schools had to adapt very quickly to respond to this need of remote teaching/learning. How has this reality impacted learning outcomes and what is the current scenario?
PD: There was a lot of trial-and-error, and some teachers and schools were better prepared for this shift than others. From my experience, I’d say that schools who decided to rethink lessons altogether were more successful than those who tried to deliver their usual lessons via Zoom or Google Meet. It’s a different way of delivering lessons and it should require specific planning.
JS: What recommendations would you give to teachers who feel technologically challenged by having to teach online?
PD: There’s a framework developed by two researchers, Mishra and Kohler, that encourages teachers to reflect on their practice and on their use of technology. My advice is always to consider what your gaps might be and how you can bridge them. There is no need to rush things and starting small and building on your knowledge is often effective.
“Well-designed tasks that encourage learners to work collaboratively can work well both online and offline”
“(…) We should also encourage students to work on collaborative tasks that not only will allow them to manipulate the content and/or target language but also foster the development of life and cognitive skills. (…)”
JS: During COVID online learning we have seen some learners working to understand and use higher-order skills and in other classrooms/schools pupils are being taught basic skills. How can schools address the inequities in terms of student access? How can public schools in Brazil close that gap?
PD: I’d love to have an answer for that, but I am afraid I don’t. While most private schools were trying to rethink activities and considering how they could impact learners and teachers more positively, many public schools were struggling to ensure their students had access to some of the most basic tools such as textbooks and, more often than we would like, school meals. I think our job, as citizens, is to ensure these inequities are viewed in plain sight and that governments are questioned constantly.
JS: How can schools plan for a possible reality of hybrid learning environments in the near future?
PD: By giving support to teachers and making sure they have the resources and training they need. Most teachers have not had the opportunity to develop digital fluency skills to be comfortable with this new mode of teaching and their practice might be impacted negatively.
JS: Do you see teaching being further impacted by the use of digital services in the future? How?
PD: Certainly! As technology continues to evolve and becomes more present, and as our learners’ needs change, our role is constantly being reshaped. This is not only due to technology, but rather due to the impact that digital technology is having on society: how we communicate, how we work, the connections we build.
JS: Any final words of wisdom or advice for teachers regarding Education Technology?
PD: Be open, flexible and, more importantly, rely on your community. Building collective knowledge in a community of practice is probably one the most effective tools for professional development, and initiatives like the Braz-Tesol or the Troika Membership allow for an invaluable exchange of ideas.
Paulo Dantas is a managing partner at Troika, a content and teacher development start-up. He has been involved in ELT for 15+ years as a teacher, teacher educator, course designer, materials writer and coursebook editor; in the last few years, Paulo has explored ways in which technology and innovation impact teaching and learning and has developed apps, platforms and other digital products for language learning and teacher education.
As an e-Learning specialist, he has served as international expert panelist for the Horizon Report Higher Education – International (2016, 2017, 2018) and its Brazilian version as well, Horizon. br. Having attended UFPE (Social Studies), Paulo holds the Cambridge ESOL DELTA and is currently reading for his M.A. in Professional Development for Language Education at the University of Chichester.