After perusing the inspiring IATEFL Conference 2012 video interviews and the various registered bloggers, it became clear to me that something is missing from my dialogue with the in-service teachers in our training program: technology. Watching Nik Peachey‘s interview prompted me to start the discussion.
In his interview with Rob Lewis, Nik describes what he thinks schools should look like:
“Schools would do much better investing in good wireless, broadband connectivity, and make the whole school a kind of learning zone so that any student coming in with any mobile device can get connected and find useful materials that they can learn from”
He would love to see teachers getting the training they needed to help students develop into autonomous learners. Technology is a key to autonomy. When asked what IT infrastructure he would want if he were a school principal, Nik answered:
“Massive broadband connection with wifi all over the building, which is open access. You can walk in and you’re on the connection. You don’t have to have loads of logins and download things or get permission.”
So I wondered, how are teachers in Korea dealing with technology in their schools? The answer: they pick technology up in the morning, put it in a bag, and give it back to students when they leave.
Out of the 38 participants I asked, 30 said that their school’s regulations require homeroom teachers to collect mobile phones. The participants admitted that this can be quite stressful as sometimes the phones get lost and they are then responsible for covering the cost. One participant reported that a teacher in her school had lost three phones and had to buy new ones for a total of 1,400,000 won (approx 1200.00 US). In many cases, the students lie to the teacher saying they forgot their phone at home, while it’s actually hiding in a secret location. Teachers spend too much time monitoring what’s going on under their students’ desks instead of teaching.
The paradox is that Korea is one of the most connected countries in the world. In last year’s annual report, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) named “the Republic of Korea as the world’s most advanced information and communication technology (ICT) economy, followed by Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and Finland.” And yesterday I just found out that last year, the city I teach in, Daegu, was rated by Akamai as having the fastest internet connection in the world.
Then why are phones picked up? It’s clear that the educational system just isn’t ready. There is a strong trust issue: phones are seen as distractions, not as learning tools. The idea of autonomy seems to be a luxury, and the idea of giving students control of their learning, an uncomfortable subject.
Now I realize that my apprehension for teaching these teachers how to use online services is connected to my understanding of their reality. I wonder how Nik Peachey and other advocates of mobile learning deal with such issues of control and apprehension. Where do the seeds of autonomous e-learning get rooted?
Each time I leave Korea, I realize how much I take this connectivity for granted. But it seems that educational administrators are doing the same thing. As a teacher who loves blogging, following ELT connections on Twitter, and keeping up with past course participants on Facebook, I hope this can change.