Old vs New Tech

fridgeMy sister just threw out her 25 year old fridge. Time for a new one. Time for the new and out with the old (my poor niece is suffering!).

Technology is not a recent thing. Nor are the “rapid” changes we are experiencing. (and see my remix presentation of educational technology through the ages)

Socrates famously argued against literacy and books for the masses. There was outrage over the use of the blackboard and the slate. Let’s not mention the stir that “TV” caused both socially and in education. Let’s suffice to say, “we all survived”.

Change is the only certainty. But how to decide whether the “old” technology is better than the “new”? Well, I think there are some important considerations that we should mull over for our own teaching situations (and these decisions are micro and not wholesale – all depends and that’s why with technology, there is no clear line to draw). I’ll add that we should not judge anything in the light of “how we learned”. That’s just bias and bad practice.

Here are the things I’ve advised regarding decisions about the use and implementation of new technologies. I’ve  included the main questions that should be asked about each.

1. Affordances (interactions between user and tool)

How does the technology match the abilities of the teachers or students who will use it?

Will it be under utilized or require “pressure” from above, regarding implementation?

Is it a big jump for all concerned, with the need for extensive training?

How is the technology perceived? Is it motivational?

Take away: Keep the technology that requires low intensity training and that is already being used by students and teachers alike.  KISS – new technologies that are simple to implement and use are best.

2.  Costs.

What are the monetary and time costs  of implementing the new technology?

How much time does it take to set up and for students to engage/use the new technology compared to the old?

Take away: If it takes a lot of time out of your schedule in terms of prep or if it costs an arm and a leg – think again.

3. Specificity.

How well does the technology add to the skill or educational objective in question?

Is the technology something the students will need to use in their future or does it only help teach the subject content?

Take away: Is the technology ubiquitous and “background”? If so, consider using it.  Don’t use technology for technology’s sake, unless for important motivational reasons.

4. Interactional and Communicative efficiencies.

Does the new technology allow for better communication of meaning?

Does the technology enhance student interaction and engagement?

Does the technology allow for better presentation of information by how it both prepares, presents and processes info?

Take away: Use technology that engages students in terms of thinking skills and student centered learning. Ask yourself what value it has for student learning, not your own teaching.

The few recent comment sections of both Scott Thornbury’s and Ken Wilson’s blog have had me grinding my teeth a lot.  I think there is a lot of an “either/or” paradigm in operation, despite protests and posturing otherwise. I find that unfortunate.

Technology is here to stay. We will always be replacing our fridges (so to speak). It is about having best teaching practices in place to evaluate the new technologies and  opt for those that will have an overall postive  impact on learning. That’s why we need leadership in the implementation of educational technology – thoughtful leadership. Not just people jumping on bandwagons.

As far as ELT goes, I’ll leave it for another post. However, I see major positives vis a vis  new technologies when it comes to language. Especially the ability of technology to contextualize and bring the outside, in. Further to this – it extends the classroom by allowing students anywhere/anytime access to information and curriculum. Also, technology provides  access to large linguistic data sets (the work I’m doing with the Gif Lingua app for example – which will become one large video corpus for teachers).

It’s exciting out there but lets  use our heads.

To end – three practical “thought experiments” for  evaluating technologies.  Which would you chose and what questions would you ask, in order to reach that decision?

1. Make a  worksheet or a google form online quiz version?

2. Story writing.  Paper and pen or Storybird?

3. Telephone English. Students sitting back to back doing a  task based dialog practice or students in different rooms with their own cell phones?


If you liked this, you might enjoy – Web 2.0 and English Language Teaching

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Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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3 Responses

  1. HI there.

    Well, I’ve done away with my ‘old fridge’ recently too – and for a very good reason!

    I tend to agree 100% with you, especially when you say “don’t use technology just for the sake of it”. It’s a fact it’s here to stay, it’s part of our lives, so why not make (good) use of it whenever it’s to add sparkle to our lives, or classes?

    At the moment the EFL school I work at is having Skype sessions with students from other countries, and this is giving students a boost in self-confidence and opening their eyes to the world, showing them there’s a another reasont to learn English other than to understand lyrics – communication, pure and simple.

    I guess this a good example of how technology can help and enrich ELT, for without it it would be really expensive to have Brazilian students talking on the phone, for example, with someone in another country.

    Thanks for the great post.

    Bete Thess

  2. ddeubel says:


    Thanks for dropping in and for the great comments. Must be that time of year for old fridges!

    Skype is interesting. I’ve watched its growth and it went from something “difficult” to use and before its time – to something that is right now, incredibly powerful. An example of how a technology may be ahead of its time and not really worth implementing (because of time costs = short lifetime) but over some years has the possibility to become a real “standard” piece of classroom equipment like I know VOIP and cam will become through skype’s prowess.

    It excites me too – how we can bring the real world into the classroom. I bet your students are thrilled (and learning so much!).

  3. Cherry MP says:

    Thanks for sharing this post via Twitter. Was eager to see how you would help teachers in making that difficult choice of “To tech or not to tech”. 😉. In a simple, yet convincing way, you aired your points. Thanks again.

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