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Using the right tools the wrong way will not produce the best results.
In a guest post for EdWeek, Spanish teacher Kaitlin E. Thomas explains precisely why educational technology has yet to revolutionize every language classroom:
“Effective integration of instructional technology in learning environments is the unicorn of successful curriculum design and implementation. Yet, one can almost hear the groans during discussions on the benefits of incorporating technology into lesson plans and curricula. Often times the pitch as to what technology could facilitate for learners and educators is aspirational while the actual execution of tech in the classroom is overwhelming, finicky, and unreliable. Indeed, classroom tech setups often appear to be on par with spaceship mission control for the uninitiated.”
It seems we as educators can move beyond why we should integrate technology and start tackling the crux of the matter: how. Sending students home to watch a lesson on YouTube or burying their heads in a computer game during class time is not particularly innovative or revolutionary—it’s using tech for tech’s sake. Just because “there’s an app for that” doesn’t mean you should use it. To truly transform the logistics and outcomes of education, ed tech companies need to provide more than just the best possible tech. It’s time to focus as much on the implementation and methodology as the technology itself.
Sure, you could use a then end of a screwdriver to bash in a screw… or you could use it the way it was intended. It’ll save you time and come out a lot cleaner. The onus is on ed tech companies to make the intended use of their tools just as obvious.
At Transparent Language, we thought of ourselves as an “ed tech company” for many years. After working with institutional clients, namely stringent U.S. Government language training programs, we realized our tech was not a replacement for—or a simple supplement to—a human instructor. Our tech isn’t really ours at all, it is the instructor’s tech, their tool. Like any good tool, we need to provide an instruction manual of sorts. With the help of our 20-year teaching veteran and a team of language learning experts, we pioneered a methodology that best leveraged our technology. Prioritizing methodology over technology manifested in the form of Declaratively Accelerated Blended Learning (or DABL, for the uninitiated).
The most “overwhelming” part of DABL is the name, we promise—the implementation is, by design, quite deliberate and simple. DABL piggybacks on the idea of the flipped classroom, in which students learn new material at home and come to class ready to use and expand upon that knowledge. This method is particularly suited for language learning, as learners need to speak and use the language in context to truly develop fluency.
So, how does our methodology differentiate our tech from the other “aspirational tech” out there? It does not attempt to replace teachers. DABL hinges on the premise of letting both the teacher and the tech do what they each do best. When it comes to languages, tech excels at facilitating rapid rote memorization of words and phrases. Teachers excel at facilitating communication and providing context. In a flipped DABL model, classroom time is suddenly open for contextual, communicative activities that make use of this new vocabulary: skits, debates, role playing, and anything else that gets students involved.
DABL also shifts focus from tech-related preparation to class time preparation. Sometimes technology can revolutionize learning, but it puts double the burden on teachers. We want our teachers spending more time preparing in-class activities than at-home lessons. The authoring capabilities in the CL-150 and Transparent Language Online (our government- and education-facing platforms, respectively) make it easy for instructors to create their own lessons. Copy in a text, select the important words or phrases, add audio or annotations, and pick which activities you prefer—the lesson auto-populates from there. From voice-powered multiple choice to fill-in-the-blank to fundamental flashcard style activities, lessons can take many forms, but never take too long to create. In-app assignments and messaging facilitate the at-home portion of DABL all in one place, eliminating much of what makes implementation “overwhelming” or “finnicky” as Ms. Thomas explained above. That leaves more time for teachers to do what they do best: organize and run their classroom experience.
So, what’s stopping educators from finding the best technology—and the best methodology—for their classrooms? Mark Racine, the Chief Information Officer for Boston Public Schools, highlights another major problem in ed tech implementation—finding the right tech in the first place: “It’s hard for teachers to pick out what’s actually going to work for their classroom when there are so many choices. Right now, I look at the edtech world like an endless buffet and you really just don’t know where to start.”
Before investing in any classroom technology, make sure the provider can answer not only what their product does, but also the important how questions. How can it make your classroom time more productive? How does it motivate your students differently than you can? How seamless is the implementation? The better we can answer these questions, the closer we are to catching that “effective integration of instructional technology” unicorn.
We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: technology will not replace teachers, but teachers who use technology well will replace those who do not. But this burden falls not only on the teacher—it is up to us as ed tech providers to guide and train teachers in how to “use technology well” in the first place.