The field of English language teaching (ELT) could learn much from the successes and failures of EdTech innovations in the wider world of health, business and broader education. Trends such as speech-enabled technologies and augmented and virtual reality offer the potential to enhance authenticity in learning both inside and outside the classroom.
Could ignoring such trends risk alienating a new generation raised in a tech-enabled society? There is a danger students may come to view the classroom as the place where they power down, losing access to the real-time knowledge of the wider world they are used to having at their fingertips.
So which of these trends should we be following, and which might be relevant to ELT practitioners?
Experts in the field of human–computer interaction (HCI) are looking at new ways to make digital learning activities realistic, authentic and meaningful. Still under question is the extent to which gamification will improve this interaction and whether HCI developments are likely to lead to the use of credible robot teachers in the classroom, as seen with the experimental EngKey English-teaching robots tested in South Korea. Younger learners in this context are apparently very comfortable speaking to and interacting with their robot teaching assistants, who supplement the teacher and facilitate more personal attention.
Experts in Artificial Intelligence (AI) are looking at new ways that machine learning can assist people in their daily life and work, as machines can be taught to learn how to complete tasks to help us – like monitoring health signs, communicating via chat bots that understand what we need, marking papers, booking travel, and so on. AI underpins adaptive learning, which has both its fans and detractors, who are concerned that adaptive learning and testing can disrupt the classroom learning process and prove divisive – or promise more than it can deliver.
Experts in the use of big data – the millions of pieces of data gathered from observing millions of human interactions with search engines, with learning activities, with translation devices – are showing us new ways to find patterns in the mass of information and help us make decisions, carry out tasks, or delegate tasks to data-driven 'personal assistants' and chat bots. This is especially helpful in health care, where computers can now spot tumours in MRI scan results faster than humans. Many teachers have concerns about the privacy of such data, and about the control of students' learning being wrested from their hands – how far is this concern justified?
Experts in the use of mobile devices have been saying for some years that the ubiquity of a personal communications and learning device (be it phone or tablet) will change learning for ever, and there are clear signs that this is happening already, such as in the use of 1-to-1 device experiments in Uruguay and other One Laptop Per Child projects. Whether teachers accept these devices in the classroom or not, there is clearly a substantial amount of learning going on outside traditional classrooms using these devices.
The big question is – what is the role of the teacher in guiding, managing and promoting or holding back this one-to-one device-based learning and how can we provide teachers with the skills and tools that they need to integrate this technology into the curriculum?
Outside in: bringing new technology perspectives to ELT
On our panel at IATEFL we'll be looking at a lot of these issues by engaging with a group of experts who are largely working outside the field of ELT and can help us take a fresh look at technology use.
Donald Clark will be talking about Artificial Intelligence as the future of assisting people in their daily life and work. It is seen by some as an existential threat, but he will show how it is a force for good if it is used to educate and deliver sophisticated online learning.
Paul Driver will be talking about the use of big data in finding patterns in information, the role of interaction design and information architecture, and what we can learn from how digital games create engaging, interactive environments.
Yvonne Rogers will be talking about her work in developing digital fluency in technology users and learners. She will be talking about developments in human–computer interaction and what new ways there are to make digital learning activities realistic, authentic and meaningful.
Geoff Stead will be talking about mobile technology. He will also talk about some of the research and projects that Cambridge English is carrying out, including in augmented and virtual reality and the contribution it can make.
Most of all, though, we'll be listening to the views of the audience – their passions, their concerns and their proposals for a better digital learning future. See you there!