Got Bandwidth? @IATEFL 2012

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.

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6 comments

  1. I think that you’ve hit on the key point here Josette, which is that it’s not so much about the technology as about trust and encouraging autonomy, and that the kind of thing that Nik Peachey is advocating here is not possible without a major cultural shift, and huge changes in the attitude of both students and teachers. Having spent two years in public school here, it seems that the role of the teacher is often more like that of a foreman trying to force the students to cram harder, rather than helping them to explore themselves and the world. (This is not to say that teachers even want this role for themselves. I met some incredibly good, and frustrated, teachers in public schools).

    The students role then, seems to be to try and find any time for themselves – they can’t find this in the evening as they’re packed off to hagwons, again denying them the opportunity for independent study – and this often comes in class with trying to snatch a few minutes of Angry Birds (or sleep). I think until steps are taken to build more trust, and encourage students to be more autonomous, the phones will have to continue to be confiscated. I also think that while technology opens a lot of doors to learning, Korea’s pervasive addiction to computer games and chatting is also a powerful force to be reckoned with, and allowing students to have a personal gaming device in the classroom (which a smartphone essentially is) is probably doing more harm than good.

    As a final point, I do see more hope for connected classrooms if the government’s proposed paperless classroom comes in, with tablets for every student. With these kinds of devices, and some reasonable restrictions on what students can use them for, I think a hi-tech classroom is a reality in the fairly near future. Whether it would be a success or not is unclear, but as I said, it starts with the trust, not the technology, and that may take a little longer.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment Alex. You examined many angles as to why handheld devices aren’t permitted in classrooms. Using the word “foreman” to describe the role you noticed public school teachers as having is an indication of what they are often really being asked to do: manage, not teach. It seems that unless we can start getting to the “humaness” of teaching and learning, and away from the factory setting that exists now, technology will only serve the needs that exist now: rest and play. I’d like to think that schools are geared towards real learning, but we know that they are very much based on competition and advancement. As you said, using phones for learning includes a mutual trust that learning is what they’ll be doing. It’s clear that this trust doesn’t exist yet.

  2. Awesome, Josette! I love the points you ponder. It’s interesting that you mention that it is the educational system that is unready to deal with the change. We had a similar issue with therapy over the previous summer. We wanted to Skype with our therapist to help avoid regression with the boys. Skyping provides actual face time. In the end, we were told that DHHS (the Department of Health and Human Services), which issues the insurance–statewide regardless of economic status–for mental health services treating certain childhood mental health issues, was just not ready for the 21st century! In the end, we found a workable solution, which just reinforces my belief that where there is a will, there is a way and that good people can still make good things happen even if they have to work within bad systems.

    1. Thank you so much for your feedback Elizabeth! I like the way you look at this situation. It seems that technology as it is at this point, is very much an individuals game. This means that within a home (or system), luddites and geeks are probably coexisting. Until the day we all feel the same with technology, all we can really do is find workable solutions. And you know me, I’m a firm believer in the power of one :)

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