Taking the Tech-less Challenge

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I’ve been using, and embracing, technology in the ESL classroom for a few years now.  Working with Level  2 learners in a course partnered with a workplace experience, it was a natural fit.  I had a SMART Board from day 1, access to a computer lab, and training and support provided by LearnIT2Teach to set up a Learning Management System using a Moodle platform.  I also had free and dependable Wi-Fi in the classroom.  I have to admit, I had been getting spoiled.

Some of my colleagues had joked with me about what I would do if I were to be stripped of the technology that I used every day, or if my location were to change,  say, to a church basement or similar.  Then one day last November, it happened.  New location.  No SMART Board.  No Wi-Fi. 

After a wee bit of panic, I realized that the tech isn’t mandatory.  It’s a tool.  It’s like having a blackboard – you can just create far more lively pictures with a SMART Board.  Also, when I first started teaching overseas, there were no computers available, and no access to the Internet.  It would just take a little re-organizing.

After a few weeks, I realized that there was a media cart of which none of my colleagues were taking advantage.  I now use the media cart, projected onto a large screen, with some interactive software.  There is no SMART Board in the room, of course, but my learners can still walk up to the screen and touch it while I manipulate the mouse and follow their movements.  The learners like to explore the technology in this way and look forward to any of the interactive ESL games that are widely available on the Internet.  The learners, by the way, are Literacy level.  We don’t have access to a computer lab, but if we did, I would still open up a Level 1 course with LearnIT2Teach.

I know that as long as I have a computer, and a projector, I will bring technology into the classroom.  Becoming digitally literate is a skill that learners crave.  Many do not have access to computers in their homes, so having access in the classroom brings the digital world into their lives.  Together we have explored how to use a search engine, how to find community information online, and how to be safe on the World Wide Web.  Those that do have computers often have children using them, so this is a topic that they have paid close attention to.

I guess, then, the verdict is that I failed the no-tech challenge.  Perhaps “failed” is not the right word.  Let’s just say I re-imagined how to use technology in a classroom with limited resources.

In a world where digital literacy is not just required in the workplace, it is expected, I think every effort needs to be made to introduce technology and use it with our learners so that they become familiar with it and more confident in their abilities.

Comment here as to whether you agree or disagree.

Post written by Jen Artan. Currently teaching Literacy at TVDSB, Jen enjoys exploring technology as a teaching tool with her learners. Jen divides her time as a TESL Ontario Webinar Administrator, the TESL London Communications Chair, and a current PBLA practitioner. She’s also quite good at Scrabble.


13 thoughts on “Taking the Tech-less Challenge”

  1. I agree that our learners yearn to be given access to the internet and want us to help them learn to navigate the online world. When I took over a class for seniors (55+), one of the first things they told me via our needs assessment was that they wanted to go to the computer lab once a week just like the other classes, not once a month. They wanted help setting up email accounts and to see grandchildren’s photos on Facebook. Instead of Moodle or similar LMS, I set up a blog to give them a one-stop shopping experience and thus simplify the navigating to hyperlinks and the back button.

    When I took over an ESL Literacy class, I was the first instructor ever to take them to the computer lab. They really like being able to choose what to work on and do it at their own pace. I also think that digital tools provide one more way for learners’ brains to make connections to the lexis.

    So while being without Internet or computer would challenge me to be resourceful and creative, and while I’m sure we could still have effective lessons, I will always choose the classroom equipped with computer and / or iPads if given the option.

    1. Thanks, Kelly. I think it is doing a disservice to Literacy learners by thinking that they are not yet ready for the computer lab. They want to get to know how to use a computer as much as any other level. I am so sad we’ve lost our computer lab! What a shame.

  2. Jen,, You are correct. We all need to embrace technology without making it the centre. Students and learning should be the focus. To quote McLuhan, technology is the medium (pen and paper included) – and yes, being literate is more than the 3Rs. Cheers_

    1. It would be an interesting project to try to run a class once in a while with no tech at all…and by that I mean no photocopied handouts, no projection screens, no computers, just a well- prepared lesson plan, a blackboard, the students and the teacher.

      1. My university writing class for international students has a no electronics (laptops, phones etc.) rule and it works fine. My class room is not technology free–I use power points and the internet but the students actually have to take notes. However, I find that for writing, having the students write by hand, especially their journals, creates a different energy in the classroom and seems to make them more creative.

        I am really old so when I started teaching high school, I used a lesson plan, chalk board and chalk. We did not have computers or smart boards in the classroom. I love the convenience of technology but at the end of the day, it will not replace good teaching (enhance it, perhaps).

  3. Jen, I find that this also happens when you are setting up in a classroom and the technology fails. This can be the projector, audio speakers, Internet connection, or the software resource itself. This can be due to wiring issues, licensing issues, inconsistent maintenance, permissions, a network reset, a battery charge or even the wind outside. I always have a back up plan that might entail running back to the photocopier to generate handouts or a spirited discussion based on the topic at hand.

    I agree that an over reliance on technology is a bit embarrassing at times.

    1. John, yes indeed! That exact scenario happened on Friday. I got to class early to set up for the day, and no internet. Rebooted, but it did not come back on. I plugged and unplugged various parts of the computer, and then realized it was something to do with the connectivity in my room, as the lab still had access.

      Easy enough… I just had to open the weather pages that I go to every day, take screen shots, save onto my thumb drive, then go back to the classroom and cut the day’s weather reports onto my interactive software. I could have photocopied the screenshots, but I hate wasting paper.

      Turns out the internet did come back, but I don’t always need a live connection and I do usually have a back up plan.

      Besides, I hear in ancient times teachers used a device called an “overhead”. We’ve still got a few kicking around, gathering dust in the back closets…

  4. Jen – can’t imagine you on a tech diet…withdrawal symptoms? Yeah, as John said Plan B. Interesting how quickly tech is integral part of our lives (well, imagine if, never mind the photocopier – we didn’t have pencils and paper…slates?)
    Photocopies – jajaja! How many times haven’t we arrived to find the photocopier is down (which is why I am always photocopied before I leave school….)
    More and more I am finding reasons to turn to tech to supplement my teaching….(but to be honest, I can’t handle the frustrations of the computer room – and so don’t go there. There are promises to update. However between my inroom computer and my ipad and iphone and laptop – tech has a presence – iphone for the personal hotspost!) I also don’t think we should turn ourselves into computer teachers. I am a language techer. But I do share websites with the students….
    and give them taskss to do at home…I have an Edmodo classroom and a wiki – sometimes play with that…
    I would love to have a whiteboard – heard that there is a way for $50.00 that one can rig one up – does anyone know about this?

  5. Due to an organization-wide internet blackout, we can’t do our work online yesterday and today. So as we speak, my students are doing their CLB6S task for their portfolios not on chirbit but on sound recorder. Knuckle dragging enuff already!

  6. Joseph – I haven’t had to deal with an organization-wide internet blackout before. Wow. Talk about tossing the baby with the bathwater. The internet is more than funny cat pictures and arguments with strangers. There are interactive, pedagogically-sound elements that inject life and fun into the classroom.

    Banning internet in the classroom seems a disproportionate response to what I can only assume was a misuse by someone at some point.

    Thanks for your response; I have to get back to my argument with a stranger on the dog-shaming website…

  7. This is interesting Jen. Thanks for sharing. It so happens that at the TESL Toronto technology conference in January 2016 I’ll be presenting on a related topic. My concept is maximizing what you can do with the tools and tech around you – even if that’s old school equipment or low tech devices. This comments section produced some interesting testimonials that I’ll reread carefully. Maybe I’ll write a post on this after my presentation.

  8. Thanks, Mike. I will try to get up to Toronto to check it out! That’s my plan, anyhow. Lots of useful and v. interesting workshops at TESL Toronto’s Jan. 23 conference.

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