An over-dose of scepticism When does a healthy dose of scepticism become an over-dose?

Languages, my own specialism, is a curriculum area which has traditionally spear-headed the use of innovative ICT and developed practice centred around its application in schools. Tape and then CD players, VHS recorders and DVD players have all been widely used, to great effect, in languages classrooms across the world.

Today, we would be hard-pressed to find teachers who would disparage the positive impact the application of such technologies has had in the field of languages teaching. Yet the introduction of these technologies was initially met with great scepticism, as they were deemed to be a distraction from real learning.

More recently, advances in computing and almost ubiquitous internet access have heralded the arrival of the next logical stage in the evolution of teaching and learning. New technologies are conjuring up new and innovative pedagogical practices and questioning traditional teaching and learning paradigms. For example, the application of these technologies allows us to depart from the convention that pupils must be at school in order for them to learn or be taught or for teachers to be able to assess their progress.

Yet, despite the huge pedagogical potential unquestionably present in the effective use of these technologies, many teachers still harbour considerable doubt as to technology’s utility in the teaching and learning context, remaining unconvinced of the benefits the web may be able to bring to their classrooms. It appears that sceptics – as they always have done and always will – attack the adoption of new technologies on the same, familiar grounds: they’re a distraction from real learning.

So, it begs the question: What exactly is real learning? In languages teaching, taking it again as a case in point, the definition of real learning has alternated over the last few decades: first there was a focus on grammatical rigour, then came an emphasis on communicative skills; first there were lists of words to be learnt, then came a focus on the skills needed to put those words together. What is certain, however, is that the essence of what real learning means to many teachers, of any specialism, hasn’t altered considerably: real learning occurs when the teacher is firmly in control1 and when tried and tested practices are used with which teachers are familiar.

This may go some way toward explaining why many teachers see the implementation of new technologies as a capitulation to what they perceive as a lack of discipline, absence of self-control and preference for immediacy among the current generation of students2 , establishing, in my view, a false dichotomy between technology implementation and academic rigour.

Teachers clearly remain split in their acceptance of the different educational paradigm new technologies provide us all. In the meantime, our students – for whom digital technologies, being online and participation in the social media environment are a by-product of living in the developed world3– look on at us in bemusement.

So, when does a healthy dose of scepticism become an over-dose?

What do you think? Conversations are always welcome.

Photo credit

  1. ATHERTON, J S (2005) Learning and Teaching: Behaviourism Online
  2. BARNES, K, MARATEO, R C and FERRIS, S P (2007) Teaching and Learning with the Net Generation Online
  3. SHIRKY, C (2010) Cognitive Surplus, Penguin


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  1. So true. I went to a week long IPAD In Education conference over Easter break. What a great experience. I took my iMac along as well and what I was able to create for my classroom in a short amount of time was incredible and totally unexpected result.

    When I came back to School and shared my experience with my colleagues, well, most of them met my thoughts and ideas with great scepticism and still do. I was actually told by the Head of Maths that the IPAD was not the way forward in education and PowerPoint was as far as technology in education can really go.

    I’m Director of Music at my School and I have used the IPAD In every lesson since. Without even asking, the students started downloading apps onto their iPod Touch and iPhones as well as their personal IPADS at home. So many parents have even seen the light and about 14 students have bought IPADS after seeing how they can be used in their Music education.

    Students and parents have seen the light but sadly most teachers and some Senior Leadership Team members don’t and live in the past. Our students are switched on and we all better get switched on if we are to educate this generation and the next effectively and for the good of our society moving forward.

Your feedback and comments are very welcome