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my thoughts

To Tech? or Not to Tech?

I'd like to use this blog to reflect on the last couple of weeks’ discussions and address a theme I’ve noticed emerging at least in my own thinking. A conclusion that has been made evident in the recent weeks is that use of technology without proper application of a need analysis specifically targeting the digital literacy needs of the students/learners could very likely render any technological interventions pointless. For those not familiar with needs analysis it is exactly what is sounds like: analyzing the needs of the students to uncover what content/instructional style etc. will be most valuable for them at this moment, but also what would be most engaging for them as well. With some of the studies we’ve looked at, there seems to be some attention to what students might be need—digital literacy for instance, but few seem address the appropriateness of the chosen media and how it might be applied within specific classrooms of varying demographics. In other words, does the treatment match the diagnosis?

For instance, if we look at the example from Samanta’s presentation this past week we see this game-like application being used to supplement instruction for university students. For those of use who have taught U.S. college-aged students before, we might agree that it would be safe to assume that these students would be already familiar with and drawn to a game-like applications since half of the time that is what we try to stop them from doing in class. In a questionnaire-type needs analysis, students might even ask for app-based language practice. But I would argue that the flash-card like interface of Conjugation Nation can hardly compete with the interactivity and relevancy of apps that are competing for our students’ attention and that are already downloaded on their phones (Tumblr, Snapchat, etc.); it also hardly differs—as our classmates have pointed out—from traditional in-class flashcard techniques. My main that I’d like to make here is that if technology is going to be introduced within our language instruction, it should be done well. Otherwise it’s just using technology for technology’s sake.

Some people have argued against the necessity for a needs analysis in L2 classrooms because it can often be shortsightedly reduced to simply asking students to tell us or choose from a list what they think they need to learn. As a language teacher myself I can anticipate multiple likely and very unhelpful scenarios for this 1) they say they want to learn everything because—why not? 2) they reply with no information or say they don’t know—because they don’t know. The same thing is also true for technology. If we ask students what they need to learn or what digital literacy skills they wish to acquire, they may not have any knowledge of the wealth of technology that is available to them; it also might not be obvious to them which of those skills might be most important for their achieving their individual goals. So what do we do?

The solution is to not limit yourself to what the students can tell you about themselves. Include this information but also think about their future L2 “audience” – where and with whom are they likely to use this information? The same goes for technology—what technology is frequented by the L2 community and who within that community are your students/learners likely to engage with? For example, if you’re teaching a Korean class, it might be useful for them to learn how to navigate KakaoTalk and Naver. For Mandarin classes, maybe WeChat would be useful. I think a great example of maximizing technology use for instruction can be seen from Celeste Davidson’s work on Join Our Story. The website itself was created for a targeted group of students with deliberate design choices being based on their specific needs. I could easily see this site being used for elderly ESL students who 1) require the same support in digital literacy 2) would benefit from the social interaction perspective that is not available in the “real world” and 3) could learn from their native English-speaking peers while providing texts for the “expert” writers to engage with and discuss.

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