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May 2012
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English Teaching in the Year 2032
by Philip Hubbard

Gaze into your crystal ball and consider the following scenario for an ESL class in 2032:

Students are sitting in a classroom in pairs engaging in an information gap activity. They each wear stylish, though still somewhat bulky, glasses: these are wearable computers that include a visual display of their portion of the paired activity. As they speak, everything they say is recorded and sent through an intelligent speech recognition system that builds a model of their current proficiency in terms of pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and pragmatics, and presents suggestions to the teacher.  She uses this information to determine pairings and the level of difficulty for specific classroom activities as well as to individualize both class and homework assignments for optimal learning. Although this could be easily handled remotely, and often is for other groups, research has shown that face-to-face interaction augmented with wearable computers has psycho-social advantages missing in even the best online environments.  This particular information gap activity is aimed at solving a real-world problem, and is the second of several steps in a process that will culminate in the pairs each producing an interactive multimedia production that will be entered into a regional competition appropriate to their current proficiency level.

How likely is this scenario? The answer to that question is…who knows? The one thing we can predict about the future two decades from now is that our predictions will almost certainly be wrong. If we look at teaching from 20 years ago in 1992, the technology of the typical ESL/EFL classroom in the United States and a number of other countries was the whiteboard, overhead projector, and VHS and audio cassettes. Computers tended to be found only in labs, many of which were restricted or off-limits for language teachers. If teachers wanted material outside of their textbooks, they had to duplicate it (if print) or record it themselves. It would be another year before the first graphical browser (Mosaic) for the web would appear. Even the beginnings of podcasts (2004), Facebook (2004), and YouTube (2005) were still more than a decade away. We really can’t predict the future of language teaching beyond saying that whatever the future holds, digital devices in some form will be a central part of it even if the devices, their software, and the ways they interconnect end up being quite different from those of today. This is likely to be true even in developing countries, where mobile phones are already much more numerous than laptop or desktop computers. The roles of the teacher and student are destined to change as well, perhaps dramatically. Are you planning to be teaching in 20 years? If so, do you feel ready for whatever may be coming?

To prepare for this future, instead of struggling to keep up with it after it has arrived, here are three things that every teacher today should know.

1. Teachers Should Master Their Classroom Tech
Technology for personal use does not automatically extend to teaching in the classroom. Teachers may be comfortable outside the classroom using their smart phones, shopping online, watching YouTube videos, posting to social networks, browsing for news, and so on. However, there are considerations of access and appropriate pedagogy as well as legal and ethical issues in many cases keeping teachers from transferring their personal technology practices to the classroom. Furthermore, in the institutional environment, teachers have to be masters of additional technologies and applications, such as data projectors, electronic whiteboards, learning management systems, and many others, each of which can require specialized proficiencies both to operate technically and to teach language effectively. The 21st century teacher needs what Mishra and Koehler (2006) call technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPCK), a special kind of complex, situated knowledge which for our purposes is centered on supporting English language learning. TPCK acknowledges that when learning is mediated by technology, there can be a profound difference in the process and product that involves more than simply adding technology as a neutral tool. Like other areas of pedagogy, such knowledge is based on a combination of theory, research, and practice and is socially and dynamically constructed and developed over time.

2. Learners Need Training
Learners need training as well. Some seem to believe that the current generation of “digital natives” (Prensky, 2001) are already experts at using technology effectively for learning and that the problems are primarily on the teachers’ (often “digital immigrants”) side. Such a view is overly simplistic at best. As Winke and Goertler (2008) demonstrated in a large-scale study at a U.S. university, even students there were often unprepared for specific uses of technology in the language learning realm. As with teachers, students’ personal and social uses of technology do not automatically transfer to learning. To provide the appropriate training and guidance, teachers need to understand both the range of technologies and their distinct and disparate learning advantages. Additionally, and crucially, they need to understand a given technology’s constraints and limitations and to have developed techniques and procedures for guiding their students toward a similar understanding. Finally, teachers also need to prepare learners for the reality of doing much of their English interaction as language users through the mediation of technology. Technology is not just a support for learning: it is an integral part of the linguistic and cultural environment that we are preparing our students for.

3. There Is Help

  • In 2008, TESOL released the TESOL Technology Standards Framework (see an overview of the standards project), and in 2011 TESOL devoted a full book to the topic (Healey et al., 2011). The Technology Standards provide explicit targets for teachers and learners to help them become aware of the expectations of technology integration in language teaching and learning. Get to know them.
  • TESOL offers formal and informal avenues for increasing your knowledge and skills in the technology domain. At a formal level, there is a certification program in online teaching. Less formally, every year before the annual conference, the CALL Interest Section sponsors the Electronic Village online, a series of 5-week collaborative courses that are open to anyone interested. At the conference, the physical Electronic Village provided by TESOL and staffed by the CALL-IS  provides a wealth of professional development opportunities (see the 2012 program). The CALL-IS also supports a set of web-based resources for ESL-EFL teachers.
  • Outside of TESOL International Association, online communities of practice (CoPs) such as the Webheads provide collaborative support for professional development: See Elizabeth Hanson-Smith’s resource site for more information on relevant CoPs.
  • Finally, there are a number of international professional groups dedicated to technology and language learning. Note that these represent only a small percentage of the resources available to support professional development in technology use for language teachers.

We live in a time when technological change happens at a much faster pace than ever before, and there is every reason to believe that the pace will increase. Teachers should not only develop a reasonable level of technological pedagogical knowledge for their field: They need to be continuously exploring technology as part of their ongoing professional development. Goal 1, Standard 3 of the TESOL Technology Standards for Teachers sums this up succinctly: “Language teachers actively strive to expand their skill and knowledge base to evaluate, adopt, and adapt emerging technologies throughout their careers” (Healey et al., 2011, p. 82). 

Teacher educators and those planning on further formal education should be aware that to prepare teachers for 2032 (or 2022 or even 2015, for that matter), it is no longer enough to have them learn about established or even “cutting edge” technology. One of the most important skills a teacher needs now is the foundational knowledge and skill to discover, evaluate, and integrate future technologies and to adopt, adapt, and create the new kinds of tasks and activities they will support. MATESOL and certificate programs should be supporting development of that knowledge and skill explicitly and should be drawing heavily on the established theory, research, and practice base of the field of technology in language learning in doing so.  ESL/EFL program administrators should be supporting this explicitly and rewarding those appropriately who engage in such professional development.

Finally, individual teachers should recognize that, whether supported or not, this kind of development is ultimately linked to their emerging identity as a professional. The goal is not just for teachers to use technology, but for them to be confident that they are using it wisely and well.

Oh, and one last thing—that crystal ball we were gazing into? In 2032, it’s digital too.

References

Healey, D., Hanson-Smith, E., Hubbard, P., Ioannou-Georgiou, S. Kessler, G., & Ware, P. (2011). TESOL technology standards: Description, implementation, integration. Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teacher’s College Record, 108(6), 1017–1054.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon 9(5), 1–6. Retrieved from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf.

Winke, P., & Goertler, S. (2008). Did we forget someone? Students’ computer access and literacy for CALL. CALICO Journal, 25(3), 483–509.

_____________________________

Philip Hubbard is Senior Lecturer in Linguistics and Director of English for Foreign Students at Stanford University. Since the early 1980s, he has presented and published across a wide range of topics in technology and language learning, including technology in language teacher education. He is associate editor of the journals Computer Assisted Language Learning and Language Learning and Technology. He has served TESOL International Association on the Technology Advisory Committee and the Technology Standards Task Force.

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