Richard McCully

Too much technology

What are the actual benefits of using technology in the classroom - and what could be done better without it?


My first classroom in Thailand had a blackboard and three pieces of chalk, that was about it. 

My current classroom has an interactive whiteboard, a computer and speakers. My situation today does sound better but I’ve become a little addicted to technology in my classroom and I want to try change that. 

Like at home

I’ve been reprimanded in the past for looking at my phone too much and spending too long on the computer at home. I love technology and will admit to being addicted to some of it in the past. The problem is I’m using technology too much in the classroom and there’s nobody there to stop me. 

Technology is useful in many aspect of our lives. I can’t imagine life without the internet. Computers make it possible to put our thoughts down quickly and clearly. Mobile phones allow us to communicate instantly with people from around the world. However, they also stop us from seeing what’s happening around us with our own eyes. I also feel that I could offer more to my students than just what technology can provide. 

Classroom technology

The interactive whiteboard in my classroom is stunning. It lets me write over any document, give presentations, browse the internet and use computer files whilst showing all the students on a massive 2x2 meter screen. 

This board is the centerpiece of the room. It draws your eyes just as a TV in a living room does. The problem is that it becomes the go-to object of the room. I’ve got a lovely standard whiteboard in the classroom which gets used occasionally. It must feel abandoned, outdated and not needed.  

A number of teachers are starting to encourage students to use their own technology in class such as phones for researching points or email to submit homework. I imagine in the future the trend of using technology in the classroom will only increase.

Materials And course development

Part of the reason technology is so important is that, at our school, materials have been developed to make use of the interactive whiteboards. Lessons have been developed based on what these machines can do and how they can enhance the student experience. 

My previous school even changed their course from using paper in class to teaching via tablets. It meant that tasks which could be simply done on a whiteboard or on paper were done on a tablet screen, seemingly just for the sake of it. Students were encouraged to bring their phones or tablets to class and connect via a sharing app to get my notes and feedback online rather than face to face or via paper. 

There’s obviously research involved which shows that students want to use technology. Perhaps using tablets, interactive whiteboards and phones is a way to make studying seem less serious and to enhance “edutainment” in the classroom. 

Maybe the point is that students, teachers, materials writers and course developers just want to make use of technology as often as possible. 

Students expect it

Students, especially young learners, adapt to using technology in the classroom very quickly. They know that there are games and activities for them to do. They can search for videos on YouTube or research information on Google in a flash. 

Students get used to routines and as such they’ll arrive in class waiting for a screen to be turned on and a presentation used or website visited. They’ll know what the technology can do and wonder why a teacher isn’t using it. 

As teachers I bet we’ve all seen students reaching for their phones to translate words rather than asking other students or their teachers. It’s a case of technology allowing students to quickly understand or do something. In a way a lot of these students are heavily reliant on technology at home and they bring that attitude to the classroom. 

Avoiding technology

Whilst technology is needed for a lot of my lessons I try to have periods of the class where it’s not used. If I’m not careful I can turn into a lecturer using screens rather than a teacher using different teaching methods. 

At the start of a class I’ll try and avoid using the computer for at least 15 minutes. I think it’s a good way to get students talking and interacting, especially if they don’t know each other. I’ll also try and make sure the last five minutes are technology-free too. 

A lot of teachers have multiple programs, websites and apps they use in class. I try to limit the number I use as I’ve seen teachers waste time flipping between them. A lot of these sites or apps do simple tasks like keeping scores which could be done a lot faster by hand on a standard whiteboard. 

Finding the sweet spot

In the end I think we’ve lost the battle against technology already. It’s a part of our lives which we take for granted and fighting against it is pretty futile. 

As teachers, there are plenty of benefits that technology brings. For example, I’m sure all teachers have a few words they struggle to spell. Interactive whiteboards auto-correct spellings which is a godsend! I’ll always remember the time a student corrected my spelling of “Inconvenience” which left me looking rather stupid, technology will ensure my bad spelling never affects students.  

They key area to focus on is the actual benefits of technology and what could be done better without it. I’ve put a few of my ideas below, feel free to add any of your own! 

BENEFITS:

- Using media to introduce new language.
- Allows the use of a range of audio sources for listening activities in class.
- Picking students at random for giving answers / games etc.
- Can help students with SEN

DRAWBACKS:

- Slide show style presentations to review material which don’t allow students to talk.
- Can be used to distract young learners when it comes to classroom management.
- Encourages repetitive styles of lessons using the same format. Students know what is likely to happen next.
- If there are technology issues (no internet, power cut) then you’re in trouble!


 If you enjoyed this blog, check out my website - Life in a New Country  


Richard is co-author of a great new book on planning a life in Thailand. 

Planning your new life in Thailand isn’t easy. There are many hurdles to jump and potential frustrations galore. From practicalities through to cultural issues, from finances to fitting in and making friends, there is so much to learn. Luckily, you will find all the basics explained in this 282 page book. 

Settling in Thailand takes a broad, insightful and balanced approach – neither too cynical nor evangelical, this book sets a precedent in terms of presenting a positive but realistic and non-judgemental description of Thailand life for foreign residents. 

Written by two British expats in Thailand, and with interviews with another 13 expats from around the world, you will get first-hand experience, advice and explanations of expat life in Thailand. With a combined 150 years of Thai experience this book is the ultimate guide to making sure your move and settling in Thailand goes smoothly.

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Comments

When I started my first job (35,000 a month), I was told the school wanted a teacher who is good with and embraces 'technology'. I was happy to hear this as I also think technology is here to make our lives easier. Anyway, they didn't have any technology for me to use. I had to bring in my own laptop and speaker system.

After a teaching evaluation and lots of photos of me being forced to point at things, they said my class should have 'more technology!'. I told them them that after all my salary outgoings and saving, I was left with about 15k a month. I asked what more technology I could buy for their school with my vast amount of disposable income. That went over their heads, but they suggested I buy and use an iPad for teaching purposes. I joked and said that I'd pay half if they paid the other half. That was met with a stern shake of the head and a, "No, no, no, no".

I did buy an iPad anyway. I even used it in my classes from time to time when it was a useful tool. I started using it less as it seemed to attract school staff with a camera bursting into my class without knocking and just taking pictures at will.

By Simon, Thailand (20th February 2019)

I played Mr. Bean videos at a prestigious private school for over 2 years with students thinking I was the best teacher ever. My multimedia lessons were a benefit to my students and my sanity.

By Freemo, Bangkok (19th February 2019)

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