The debate about Unplugged teaching or technology rages on
over the blogosphere and I was just feeling rather confused. I strongly believe that the learners should be at the centre of the process and I agree that lessons determined purely by materials (which is often the case, when, for whatever reason, teachers have to follow a coursebook) are not necessarily relevant to the learners and may lead to misuse. On the other hand there are some excellent materials around and it would be a shame to reinvent the wheel. I use technology (as you probably know) all the time and yet I think that this very technology leads to a more learner centred classroom, or learning experience beyond the classroom, so where do I stand on the Dogme vs. Technology debate. Well, as I said I was feeling a bit confused and I said so on Twitter, and then Andrea Wade made a comment which made everything fit into place again and the comment was this:
“If it’s working, I don’t think you need to give it a label.” A simple comment but, you know, she’s absolutely right. I simply don’t think there needs to be a debate at all. If I want my teaching to revolve around my learners, to help them in the best way I can then I can use all the tools I know about to do so. In fact, I don’t think teaching unplugged means that you can’t use materials either; that would be far too simplistic.
One example of learner centred teaching without coursebook materials
What attracts me to Dogme is the idea that the materials should be relevant to the learner. Why use photos of places the learners are not interested in and will never visit, on a lesson about writing descriptions of places ( a common activity which s useful for learners who need to do this type of descriptive writing in exams, for instance), when you can:
1) brainstorm a list of the cities they have visited,
2) ask them to post photos of those cities on your blog or wiki;
3) then set up a discussion thread on a blog or wiki where they write short paragraphs describing one of those cities;
4) we all guess which ones they are describing in the next lesson;
5) we analyse the language and develop or extend areas that need to be worked on.
This is what I think of as learner-centred teaching using technology. In our case, where there are very large classes in the university the wiki actually brings us all closer to each other, but even in other teaching situations using a blog or wiki like this means effectively extending the learning process beyond the four walls of the classroom transforming it into something intangible that is akin to communication within a community rather than mechanical exercises in a foreign language.
All that glitters is not good for learning
There is, in fact, a very real danger for all of us to be attracted by the glitter of the coursebook and the Web 2.0 tools, and we have to go beyond that to be sure that when we use these tools we are really using them for a purpose, and that they really are relevant both to us as teachers professionally as well as to our learners. Twitter, for example, has proved to be an invaluable resource for me in my professional development because I have learned so much from other educators by following them and by participating in groups like #eltchat. There are so many generous people on Twitter, who are enthusiastic enough to share their findings with everyone else that there is almost always something connected to just what you were looking for when you go online. It is a phenomenon which is close to synchronicity, I think. One instance of precisely this is a blog post by Sue Lyon-Jones which was retweeted by so many people who found it useful. It is a sort of guide, or checklist, about when to use technology. This is a useful list for all of us whether we are new teachers who have just qualified or whether we have been around for a bit longer than that. It shows how useful Twitter proved for me and underlines the idea that whatever we are using in the classroom we should be using it for a reason.
What are we arguing about?
So basically we seem to be saying the same things and teaching unplugged does not mean going back to Prehistory, but as Anthony Gaughan said in his Iatefl Interview (well worth watching for an interesting discussion of what Teaching Unplugged means) a pedagogical diet can be a good thing and he is right. If we stop eating all that rich food for a while it will taste even better when we return to it. It is not a matter of not using technology at all, but of using the learner’s technology or the teacher’s so that what is in the classroom is relevant. So, I still don’t know what label I should put on my teaching but my learners are flocking to my wiki to add their posts, Wordles and photos so surely that’s the best of all worlds….