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Teachers are the key to maximising potential of technology in language learning

Stephen Fahey, Product Strategy Director, English Language Teaching, Oxford University Press

The adoption of technology by schools and colleges has undoubtedly been accelerated by the pandemic. For example, it has accelerated the integration of video software and cloud-based platforms into teaching practices – making remote working a possibility for students learning from home. It has also allowed for the introduction of different types of content to support the language learning experience, from interactive quizzes to extensive video and audio resources, and language learning apps that can be accessed on the move.

However, today’s teachers continue to face the challenge of deciding how to make the best use of technology for learning, alongside balancing the varying needs of students impacted by a disrupted learning experience and juggling multiple pressures – lack of time, parental expectations, curriculum changes to name but a few. Learners often do not have the skills to effectively learn through technology most effectively, and it goes without saying that teachers need the right kind of professional development and support to help them motivate students through digital technology. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has developed a set of standards that recognizes that teachers play seven different roles when using technology: learner, leader, citizen, collaborator, designer, facilitator, and analyst. Teachers are therefore crucial to the success of technology in the classroom – it cannot be considered intrinsically motivating. Technology needs a teacher to take on each of these roles when implementing it, to ensure it is successful.

For example, one of the main hurdles that teachers must overcome is selecting, adapting, and implementing technology in a way that motivates learners, not just in the short-term but throughout their studies. Motivating learners on an ongoing basis requires teachers and other stakeholders to have a deep understanding of the limitations and potential of specific technologies, the realities of implementing them and how learners and teachers can best be supported in this process. Meeting this challenge is vital because motivation is a key enabler of good learning outcomes, and in encouraging lifelong learning.

That’s what led us at Oxford University Press to commission a report that summarizes the opinions and findings from a group of leading educational researchers and practitioners with the aim of showcasing the opportunities and challenges of effectively using technology as a tool for motivation both inside and outside of the classroom. At its core, our report found that regardless of learner engagement with it in their personal lives, technology alone does not increase motivation for learning. We need the human touch.

This is in part because motivation relies on psychological needs being met, namely autonomy (feeling in charge), relatedness (feeling connected to others), and competence (feeling effective and able). Therefore, teachers need to understand the nature of motivation, the factors that influence it, and the role and limitations of technology in fostering it. The report – Using Technology to Motivate Learners – explores how the potential of technology as a motivational tool can only be realised with the right planning, implementation, and support from the teacher, regardless of student proficiency and enthusiasm for using technology in a non-educational setting. In fact, teachers who advocate and believe in the benefits of technology, and who think carefully about how to best adopt and integrate technology into learning, can have a transformative effect on learners’ motivation. The findings also show that the effectiveness of technology to inspire learners is further heightened if teachers receive structured support from their institutions. Our research has consistently shown that there is a clear and persistent digital divide in teacher and learner access to technology. Over half (56%) of the teachers we surveyed cited a lack of digital competency as a barrier to effective teaching.

We need to empower teachers and inspire confidence in using technology to motivate learning, while also calling on governments and policy maker to support teachers in integrating such technology consistently. In this way, we will build digital competency among educators, learners and parents, which in turn will support greater learning in an evolving world. The value of technology exists only if we make good use of it.

By Stephen Fahey, Product Strategy Director, English Language Teaching, Oxford University Press

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