JS: Could you first of all tell us a little bit about your background and how, having been a professional stand-up comedian and film extra, and then working for a telephone dating agency, you became interested in technology in education?
GD: Ah yes, I’ve had a few exotic jobs in my time – those first three were all in the two years following university. I had moved to London with a degree in French and Spanish and wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with myself. I worked in the dating agency by day, and did comedy by night. After those two years I decided I’d better get a proper job, so I qualified as an English teacher and got my first job in Spain. I taught for a few years, and taught myself how to use computers. I was then asked to set up a computer room for students, and the rest – as they say – is history. I’ve been working now with technology, teaching and training since around 1993.
JS: As Director of Technology at the online and development consultancy The Consultants-E, you say that your “speciality is helping organisations bridge the gap between their training and teaching portfolio and their technical needs.” Could you please elaborate on this?
GD: We find a lot of schools and organisations who want to integrate more technology into what they do, but who don’t know where to start – we help them with the whole journey, from choosing and buying the most relevant technology, through training teachers and managers how to use it, to more long-term projects such as blended learning, course design and even online teaching and training. Nicky (my co-Director) and I cover both the technical and pedagogical side between us, and we’re still an unusual combination of those two things. Because of that, we feel we offer a more rounded service.
JS: You also do a lot of work outside ELT with other professions. How does this impact on your work in ELT and what kind of useful input does it offer?
GD: We bring experiences from other professions – and this sometimes helps us look at things in a different way – but I actually think we take more from ELT back to our other clients, and this impacts on the way they plan and deliver their training. ELT has a lot to offer the outside world
JS: In your work with The Consultants-E over the years, have you seen any changes in the profile of teachers interested in improving their technological skills and awareness of digital resources?
GD: Absolutely! When we first started training teachers to use technology, pretty much everybody came in at the same level of expertise (and a considerable level of skepticism) and it was easy to plan and deliver workshops and longer courses. Now we get all kinds of levels of experience in any training group, and it can be challenging to cater to everybody in that group. Teachers know more about technology, they tend to use it a little more than they used to, and many of them are real experts without training. People are also less skeptical of the benefits these days. Younger teachers have often had some training or experience before they enter the profession, too. This is not to say it’s a question of young and old – I know plenty of younger teachers who are not proficient with technology, and plenty of oldies (like my eighty-something Dad) who could run rings around them on their tablets and smartphones. As with many other things, it’s a question of attitude, not age or experience.
JS: What factors influence the extent to which teachers adopt and integrate new technologies into their teaching practices, both in the classroom and online?
GD: Simple: training and support are the biggest factors, along with management buy-in and a clear vision of why technology is being implemented, and to what end. It has to be a whole organization project, not a top-down commercial decision. Technology only really works when people feel comfortable with it, and when they understand what it is doing, and how it is impacting on teaching and learning. Training and support are a good start, though…
JS: Many people try online courses and end up not finishing, often quoting ‘lack of time’ as an excuse, but what can e-learners do to maximize their success with online courses, minimising dropout and frustration?
GD: Most of it comes down to the e-learning providers, I think. Courses need to be as short as possible (without skimping on content), and they need to fit into the busy lives of people today. Most importantly, they need to ensure that people work with interesting materials, that there is a large variety of interactions (with both materials and people) and that tutor support is rapid, frequent and of good quality. It’s rarely time that’s an issue – it’s usually tutors and course design.
JS: How do you think gamification is going to affect teaching materials in the future? Do you think publishers are going to be able to produce interesting materials with gaming features?
GD: Gamification is probably going to be mostly confined to self-study and social study – the kind of thing you do on websites and in mobile apps – at least for the foreseeable future. I can’t see it having much effect on more traditional teaching materials, at least not short-term. That would imply a real change in the way that publishers view learning and learning interactions (it’s not a very social or competitive process, currently).
JS: You are currently concentrating your attention on what you refer to as “the exciting, expanding sphere of mobile and handheld learning and training” and have recently published, with co-author Nicky Hockly, the groundbreaking book
– Going Mobile. From your own practical experience and research, could you tell us some of the major findings about mobile learning for languages and the effectiveness of this technology?
GD: The simple answer is ‘no’ – it’s too new and there’s not really enough good research around yet for us to be able to talk about ‘findings’ or even to measure the effectiveness of mobile technologies. What we do know is this:
- Mobile phones and tablets have greater penetration than any other technology that has come before them. And this includes developing countries, where it is notoriously difficult to implement any kind of technology-enhanced learning.
- People upgrade their mobiles as often as they can – this means that a lot of modern technology is coming in to schools in students’ pockets and bags – way more modern than most schools can afford.
- People know how to use their mobiles, and therefore need less training and support.
- Mobiles can help learners connect what happens in class (if they’re used in class) with what happens outside of class: they make the journey much more fluid and meaningful
Alongside our book, you’ll also find an excellent book by another co-author, Mark Pegrum (Pegrum, M. (2014). Mobile Learning: Languages, Literacies & Cultures. Palgrave Macmillan) and a very useful guide to the pedagogical side of things, produced by the Open University (UK) and the British Council www.open.ac.uk/iet/main/research-innovation/research-projects/mobile-pedagogy-english-language-teaching).
We’ll need more research and more study to effectively evaluate mobile and handheld learning, but our experience in classes, and our conversations with other teachers would suggest that there is something both motivational and inspirational about using this ubiquitous technology. You can find more from us on mobile learning here:
JS: Many recent studies seem to point in the same direction when it comes to the influence that technology has had on people’s cognition: it is gradually shaping and changing the way we think. If this conclusion holds true, how can new technological developments better prepare current and future schools so they are able to receive this new generation of ‘cognitively modified people’?
GD: I think the jury’s out on this one – there are people very much on both sides of the fence (have a look for Clay Shirky and Nicholas Carr for differing opinions) and if you add in recent developments in our understanding of how the brain works (and can rewire itself), it seems a bit early to be drawing any major conclusions. I suspect, however, that ‘cognitively modified people’ will create the jobs they need –as we see with VR, social media and all the other 21st century opportunities. I would worry about the basics of education, and ensure they are covered. If we get that right, the rest slots into place.
JS: In terms of the skills teachers should be seeking to develop amongst learners, sometimes called ‘soft’ skills or 21st century skills, which do you consider the most important and how can technology help contribute to the development of such skills?
GD: It’s hard to put them in order of importance for me. If we’re talking about technology-related skills then I’d focus on the ones we called ‘Information Literacies’ in our 2014 book (Dudeney, G., Hockly, N. and Pegrum, M. (2014). Digital Literacies. Routledge): search literacy, evaluation literacy and tagging literacy – i.e. the ability to find things online, evaluate and store them. These are the basics of many other skills, and without them people are lost in this day and age. As for technology contributing to their development, well – the medium is the message!
JS: To what extent is the technology currently being used or exploited in teaching practices preparing learners to face the challenges and meet the needs of the 21st century working environment effectively?
GD: Hardly at all, in most cases. Teachers themselves are not particularly au fait with the skills and competences that many young people are going to need when they leave school, so they’re hardly in a position to pass those on. My own feeling (and this is not shared by everyone in our profession) is that teachers are not simply teachers of their chosen subject matter, but are also ‘responsible adults’ and have a duty of care to pass on other skills they think their students may need in the future. What we need to do now is to ensure that in our teacher training programs around the world we equip teachers to do exactly this. We need, as always, to start with the training we give our teachers – this is the key.
JS: Hard as it is to predict the future with any degree of precision, in your opinion, what will be the most interesting technological developments over the next 10 years or so, which will benefit teachers and their students in and out of the classroom?
GD: Outside the classroom is probably easier: better apps for language learning, more opportunities for self-study and study on the move. If we get the predicted improvements in battery life and in wearable technologies (glasses, watches, etc.) then I would expect more people to be learning on the go, and with others, more socially, perhaps more competitively, too (to refer back to the notion of gamification). Inside the classroom is much more complicated, because they change more slowly – they’re dependent on school authorities, district and national education boards, publishers and more. My gut feeling is that a large percentage of the world’s schools will look pretty much the same in ten years’ time as they do today. There may be a bit more technology here and there, a bit more Internet connectivity, but I don’t think most teaching will change significantly in that timeframe. And there may be a problem in that situation – how will we square what happens inside the classroom, with what happens outside?
JS: One final question, Gavin. You are very active in IATEFL. What do you see as the main advantages for teachers in Brazil of joining TAs such as BRAZ-TESOL or IATEFL?
GD: I was a volunteer for IATEFL for around ten years, as Newsletter Editor and then Coordinator for the LTSIG (Learning Technologies Special Interest Group) and then as a trustee, first as Honorary Secretary, and then as the first Chair of ElCom (the Electronic Committee). Since stepping down in 2013, I’ve been a trustee for International House in London. Joining a TA means you’re part of a community; it puts you in touch with other teachers, opens up a world of events (physical and virtual) and discussions, opportunities to learn and develop. It also means you have access to larger international conferences, and opportunities to apply for scholarships and other awards to attend them (see here, for the latest IATEFL scholarship: www.iatefl.org/scholarships/current-list-of-scholarships). Best of all, it gives you a chance to give something back to the profession by offering your experience to colleagues in the same group. I love teacher associations, and firmly believe everyone should join one, where possible.
Gavin is Director of Technology for The Consultants-E, working in online training and consultancy in EdTech. Former Honorary Secretary and Chair of ElCom at IATEFL, he now serves on the International House Trust Board. Gavin is author of The Internet & The Language Classroom (CUP 2000, 2007) and co-author of the award-winning publications How To Teach English with Technology (Longman 2007) and Digital Literacies (Routledge 2013). His new book, Going Mobile, was published by DELTA Publishing in 2014.