Category Archives: General

Is EdTech trying to reinvent the wheel?

I attended the Digital Learning Colloquium at Cambridge last week, and it was a fascinating insight into the future landscape of EdTech painted by a broad spectrum of attendees from different backgrounds: product development, research, academia, consultants, product design, and the odd ELT teacher and trainer.

While there were clear threads of discussion regarding the normalisation of the tech we are using today in ten years time, AR and VR to name a couple, there is one clear question that springs to my mind: Is EdTech trying to reinvent the wheel?

My opinion regarding the use of EdTech for teaching and learning is the same as it is for any activity a teacher or learner engages in: sound pedagogical reasoning. For me, it is not so much what is being done to learn something, but the rationale for how it reaches the learning objective. If an activity which incorporates an AR app really does improve the learning outcomes, or facilitate reaching the pedagogical goal of the lesson, then I’m all for it. I do, however, strongly believe that a lot of products and tools are trying to tap into the multi-billion dollar industry that EdTech has become.

Penny Ur (1996) claimed that there is a difference between a teacher with twenty years’ experience and one years’ experience repeated twenty times. I wholeheartedly agree with this, because I believe that teaching professionals need to learn, adapt and grow along with their experience, teaching context, and learner needs. So, yes, EdTech could well be a part of this growing and development as a teacher, but just because a tool looks good, doesn’t mean to say it actually is. The tool needs to achieve the learning goal that has been set, this can be by motivating learners, or improving interaction, but I reiterate, the main motivation for using any tool, digital or not, should be pedagogical grounds, and the tool must be exploited effectively.

The talk I gave looked at 3 simple tools I use in the classroom to promote interaction and provide learning solutions to some of the problems I encounter with learners in specific contexts. The tools were: Padlet; IM apps (Whatsapp & WeChat); and Dictaphone apps on smartphones. Gone are the days of recording ourselves on a TDKC90 cassette to see how we sound when we speak a foreign language, but this practice is so effective. The modern day version is a Dictaphone app which I regularly incorporate into my lessons, and encourage learners to record themselves out of class to playback and identify action points to work on with their pronunciation and speaking skills. I use IM apps for a range of collaborative tasks (more information to come in future posts!), and Padlet I use as a visual live collaborative tool both inside and beyond the classroom.

So, that said, the literature has been telling us for years what good pedagogical practice is, we just need to stick with that, and map it onto current language learning contexts.  

Ur, P. (1996). A course in Language Teaching: Practice and Theory. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

What does 2020 mean for Ed Tech?

A new year AND a new decade, so what does 2020 mean for Ed Tech? Twenty years ago we were getting to grips with communicating via email. Ten years ago iPhones had already been around for three years, but their price bracket pitched them out of reach for the majority of mobile phone users. So here we are in 2020 with driverless car technology being widely tried and tested, and with China witnessing the birth of the third gene-edited baby. So where does this leave language learning and tech, and what is in store for the near future?

Where we are now

Apps, apps, apps… With the 2019 gaming community reaching a population of 2.5 billion globally (, it is no surprise that apps are an attractive option for learning English. The default options tend to be Babel, Duolingo and Memrise, but there are a plethora of options to choose from. Some recent fun apps I have experimented with are ESLA for pronunciation, TALK for speaking and listening, and EF Hello.

In the classroom however, the digital landscape can be quite different. Low resource contexts and reluctance from teaching professionals to incorporate tech into the learning environment can mean that opportunities for learners to connect with others and seek information are not available. Even is some of the most highly penetrated tech societies 19th century rote based learning and high stakes testing approaches are favoured.

Predictions for the future

Does educational technology have all the answers we need to improve the language output of ESL learners globally? No, probably not. However, society has been so dramatically altered by the impact of technology in almost every facet or our lives, it would be rather odd I feel, to reject it in teaching and learning environments.

In higher education the main concern is data privacy and ethics with exposure to digital areas such as the cloud. Yet, chatbots are starting to become integrated to support students asking university related FAQ’s. Both Differ and Hubert chatbots are being researched for their potential to improve qualitative student interaction and feedback.

Kat’s predictions

In all honesty I think it is a tough call to gauge where we will be with Ed Tech during the next ten years. Data privacy is a considerable issue when incorporating elements of AI into learning fields. This is not an issue with VR and AR and therefore underpins its relevant proliferation in teaching and learning. I feel that VR and AR will continue to mature and provide a more full-bodied learning experience when using VLEs. This may however be a slightly more complex paradigm than some may be able or prepared to employ.

I still firmly believe that reflective practice is a solid foundation for learners using recorded audio or visual content of their language production. So while this doesn’t mean the introduction of a big pioneering tech tool, it highlights its relevance as a reliable learning tool. In the same way, I continue to use Whatsapp, WeChat and Line to share learning content with learners and encourage them to interact with each other, and other learning communities.

Bax on “normalisation” at UCLAN

“As we seek to learn in this brave new digital world…how can we blend technology with human intervention in the most productive way?”

At a recent conference at the University of Central Lancaster (UCLAN), Professor Steven Bax opened his talk with this question. He went on to discuss the “normalisation” of technology once we as humans go beyond the ‘wow’ factor (Murray & Barnes 1988).

Bax argues that normalisation is achieved once technology becomes invisible and integrated into our teaching and learning practices without it being noticed. Obviously we as educators, and our learners are aware that technology is being used, but normalisation suggests that it is imbedded in such a way that it becomes unnoticed and a part of part of normalised practice, thereby supporting learning invisibly without a conscious thought.

In this way, it can be argued that more teaching and learning is achieved because the real pedagogical value of activities is considered, and the learning becomes the priority, rather than the servant, in a paradigm where technology is considered the master. Therefore, learning is maximised and the technology provides an optimum contribution to achieve this.

As individuals, Bax notes seven stages of normalisation and characteristics of users of technology:

  1. Early adopters
  2. Ignorance/scepticism
  3. Try once (find no real advantage)
  4. Try again
  5. Fear/awe/excessive dependence
  6. Normalising
  7. Normalisation

Normalisation of technology seems to be more prominent in society today due to the rise of electronic devices. However, as I reach for my glasses to step away from my screen to go make a coffee, I depend on another technology that has long become normalised in my life. I’m sure when they were first invented, glasses also had a wow factor too!