Technology in Language Use, Language Teaching, and Language Learning by Chun, Kern & Smith (2016)

Posted: November 30, 2018 by sevalatici in Uncategorized

 

In their 2016 paper published in The Modern Language Journal, Chun, Kern and Smith first consider how technology use changes the ways contexts are produced and messages are conveyed. They then ask some practical questions to consider related to the way technology should be used in language learning and how to evaluate its efficacy.

The writers suggest that current literature makes a mistake by defining technology as the use of digital resources and computers only. Instead, they define it as a broad spectrum of mediational resources, ranging from writing and pictures to computers. They hope to give reader(s) an insight into a more “capacious view of technology”, which may help them adapt to tomorrow’s technologies to be invented as well as the current ones.

Whether technology is useful or harmful still remains a dilemma for teachers. The supporters of technology use advocate that it enhances intellectual capacity and creativity; on the other hand, research suggests that there are also downsides of technology use as it harms students in terms of their thinking and literacy. Literacy is defined in the article as “know-how needed to deal with technological forms of language both as a producer and as an interpreter of meaning”. Being literate in one form does not necessarily mean being literate in another (Kern, 2015).  It is suggested that teachers should adopt an approach highlighting the fact that every new technology builds up on the conventions of previous ones as well as bringing its own brand-new properties so that their learners can develop an understanding of the ways to cope with differences each time the medium or technological tool changes.

The writers state that teachers’ being confused about whether or not to use technology or how to use it is not an unexpected phenomenon. Although technology may be harmful in some ways, they argue that trying to exclude technology from any learning /teaching process seems unlikely today as it would be so unnatural, if not impossible. So, teachers must not focus on the question whether or not it is useful or harmful to use technology in class. Instead, they should focus on technology as a medium that affects the way the language(s) change. It is the teachers’ duty to show the students what the old and contemporary forms of language are; as the language also is reflected on many different materials and technology. They should teach students how to pay critical attention to culture bound forms of expression, meanings, ideologies and contexts as well as the mechanics of a language.

Technology use also changes many conventions of communication such as the time and space, genres, writer/reader roles. In the past, face to face communication was mainstream and there was a need for proximity. However, with technological tools, people can communicate via symbolic spaces and they can do it both synchronously and asynchronously. In electronic communication, we produce “disembodied language”-language interpreted at a later time than its production. This shift requires the language learners to be aware of “real” and “virtual” operations. Here, teachers can use explicit instruction to highlight this shift if the students are unfamiliar with the medium. Enabling the students to understand how one context differs from the other is also important because each technological communication medium brings about its own rules. An example to this is how the expectations about the acceptable speed of communication change with different tools such as texting, e-mails and postal mail.

Technology use in language learning/teaching raises questions of ethics. Today, the internet is widely available and anything on the internet is considered common property that can easily be copied and pasted, which makes plagiarism a huge issue. In addition, since the underlying cultural and mediational ways are overlooked, individuals take the credit for the whole production. In order to avoid this, teachers should familiarize students with the cultural values of the target language.

Language learners should also be informed about how deceptive people’s profiles or expressions in the text based technological mediums can be. As it is easier for people to construct a better-self online, individuals have a tendency to overestimate and idealize the qualities of others. This may affect the way the students see the culture. Also, anonymity in such environments may be both good and bad for students. It may be good in that students have more freedom when interacting with others. On the other hand, anonymity also lessens the feelings of responsibility and social obligation, which may give rise to conflicts or even verbal attacks.

Digital literacies have political dimensions that students need to be aware of.  When interacting through new communication technologies, people use their conventions about social life as well. Importance, social position, authority and dependability are also important elements of interaction through these tools. Although the internet can offer many benefits in education, it can also be used to dominate, manipulate or exploit others. When teaching literacies, teachers should make students think about how political dimensions may be interpreted differently by people from different cultures and they should teach them to be kind to others.

In the second part of the article, the writers suggest that teachers take four questions into consideration when teaching a language through technological mediums;

  1. What are the specific learning goals for the students?
  2. What language, culture and instructional resources are available?
  3. How can the available resources be best used to reach the learning goals?
  4. How can teachers assess the effectiveness of resources in attainment of the desired learning goals?

They argue that the needs and abilities of students should be taken into account when planning to use technological tools. The effectiveness of technological tool use depends partly on the literacies of students, which makes it imperative to familiarize students with the cultural relations, meanings and social contexts hidden in different literacies. Teachers also need to consider the availability of different resources that they can use while teaching a language. They should think about ways to incorporate new technologies into their teaching so that they can help students reach the desired communicative competence goals. As opposed to the older media that was only received (read), today’s media necessitates the learners to interact online as well as to create multi-dimensional contexts.  Although these new forms are superior to the previous forms in that they allow more communication and creation, they may also have some limitations. That is why, teachers should carefully design tasks that require the learners to do critical reflection. When it comes to measuring the effectiveness of technology use, teachers should not only focus on the learning outcomes but also on what happens along the way in the learning process. The preferences of and actions taken by learners can provide insight into how each learner makes use of specific technologies for learning purposes.

EVALUATION:

This article is an invaluable resource for the teachers who incorporate technology into their teaching because of several reasons. First, the article exemplifies some ways technology can be used in language learning by giving concrete examples for each one of the four skills. Secondly, it states the role expected from teachers in the process; teach language forms, but also familiarize students with how different tools shape our language use, how different factors come into play when using digital tools, help the learners follow the ethical codes of conduct and politeness as well as an understanding of the other culture(s). Finally, this article highlights the importance of critical reflection on language presented in digital mediums so as not to deter students from learning because of the overestimation of others’ qualities and feeling themselves inadequate. It must not be forgotten that language teachers are generally the planners, guiders and evaluators of students’ learning processes. So, the questions discussed in this article may shed light into their way.

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