Only a few years ago we were discussing the issue of the computer illiterate teacher. I lived this time intensively and remember it very vividly, first from the post of a Director of Studies in a big organization which comprised private language centres in Greece and the Balkan region and later as the Area Manager of a well-known International Publisher.
Curiously enough, from both positions I was experiencing the same feeling of discomfort, to say the least, when it came to online teaching, or even to using “modern” tools like the computer or later the interactive whiteboard. Usually, the excuses for not using such tools would be lack of time, or compliance with the syllabus and the course plans.
By Konstantinos Nikolaides, Med, Publishing and ELT Professional
And then, the corona virus epidemic broke out. All of a sudden, big organisations, individual language schools and teachers alike, found themselves in the eye of the storm. There was no question of doing it or not. The task was simple: You MUST do it, there’s no other way.
Being the father of two children who go to a public school, all of a sudden I saw platforms coming to life, synchronous and asynchronous teaching, I received emails every day in my inbox from the school, and other things previously unthought-of . What happened was that the sink or swim principle was taking shape: You do it or you simply vanish into thin air.
It’s not the first time that a situation like the corona virus outburst made teachers wake up and restructure certain standard practices. The majority of Private Language Centres were always looking for that edge, technological or other, that would make them stand out from the crowd. Looking back, I can say that especially Greece, compared with other countries worldwide, has been pioneering in the use of interactive whiteboards and other tools that would cater for every student, individual learning styles etc., and publishers played an important role in this respect, providing schools with the required technological tools and know how.
This time is different, though. This is not a step forward; it’s a giant leap ahead. Teachers with no previous computer experience, who hadn’t used a smartphone or a tablet before, now had to remind themselves and others that they’re still standing there, ready to rise up to the occasion. The low information literacy on the part of some teachers with key roles in schools and organisations had to change; and it did, because there was no other way but to go ahead. There’s no excuse now. With the internet, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media brimming with free tools, free courses, online seminars etc., there is no way to get away with technological illiteracy. I am convinced that a new era has begun and the foundations have been set for a new dawn in the field of foreign language teaching and learning, as well as teaching in general. In the next few months we will experience this regeneration unravel before our very eyes.
What shall we do? Spend the rest of our days in front of a computer screen? Do we want that? Is there another way we can proceed? I think that the question is easily answered. A happy medium has to be formed, gradually and methodically, with technology and blended learning incorporated into the existing systems as indispensable parts of the whole. Most schools have gone a long way already, with platforms installed and experts being called on to install the new hardware and software, platforms and other distance learning tools operating, even at an experimental stage. There are a plethora of programmes, blogs, audio books, online teaching platforms and video conferencing tools out there, and some of them are really breath-taking. I am not going to refer specifically to any of them for obvious reasons. After all, a simple Google search will reveal this whole new world to the willing web searcher. Regardless of specific tools though, what we need to remember is that virtual instruction and fine online learning will be the next step and teachers have to be there to take it.
Teaching online and using technology in the classroom has always met some degree of resistance on the part of the teachers, for various reasons every time. Having taken part in CPD and lesson observations in the past, the question sometimes was put to me by colleagues: Will technology replace teachers? In my opinion, the answer to this is no, it won’t. If anything, I am convinced that now the teacher’s role becomes even more central. The teacher, eventually, will not be replaced by the machine, but the teacher will probably be replaced by another teacher who’s not afraid of the machine and can handle it.