Scott Thornbury on Technology and ELT

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Interesting article by Scott Thornbury on the role of technology in the classroom. To summarise a brief article, his main thrust is that technology is only justified if it can do something better than a teacher. Thornbury then lists six key conditions needed for second language learning and asks, can these problems be solved by technology?

  • input
  • output
  • interaction
  • feedback
  • motivation
  • data (i.e. useable information about the target language?)

Thornbury suggests that if technology is only justified if it can do something better than a teacher, then technology may have a role in providing solutions to the input and data problems, and possibly with motivation too. 

It’s a very clear way of addressing the need for educational technology. Personally, I think technology is a wonderful one-on-one language learning tool, and I use my iPad a lot to help me learn Russian. Sure, I would be better off speaking to Russians in Russian in Russia, but when sat in a coffee shop or on public transport in downtown Bangkok it’s a pretty good substitute. As well as lots of input (such as in the form of websites and radio broadcasts) and data (in the form of information about the Russian language), I can use language learning tools such as Memrise and Italki. But in the classroom, with such ‘tools’ as a teacher and other students, the use of technology has to be critically assessed: for one thing, there is a risk that technology can reduce interaction, by inserting a layer between students and teachers, and between students and other students. However, they do provide access to a rich supply of input and I’d also suggest that they offer lots of opportunities for output, especially when an output task is done in collaboration with other students, thereby giving a more authentic reason for interaction. Of course, you can create output with a pencil and paper, but technology also offers opportunities to produce exciting (and highly motivating) videos, blogs, presentations, animations and comic books, among other things, all of which can displayed to a public audience on the Internet.

Used right, technology can provide solutions to output, interaction and motivation in an integrative way. But it does require a critical eye, and Scott Thornbury’s typically direct and clear views gives us a good framework to approach technology in the classroom.

One article Thornbury cites was written in 2009 by by Mike Levy of Griffith University in Australia for The Modern Language Journal.