Teaching English has always been a challenge for teachers and new directions are permanently developing. Eclectic techniques, entwining modern methods with the traditional ones and constantly keeping the pupil-centered orientation are part of the daily teaching practice. However, a new concern is on the mind of the modern teacher – that of making learning more efficient in a way that both pleases and serves the child.
Nowadays, children have a different spectrum of hobbies. We often state that they do not know how to play anymore, that the ball and the hopscotch have rapidly been replaced by video games and IT apps – IT stands for information technology, while applications (apps) are a type of software that allows people to perform specific tasks. Even if their preoccupations are different from the ones of past generations, we nevertheless ought to acknowledge the importance of technology in our children’s lives. The negative effects (social alienation, psychological issues and physical disabilities) can easily be surmounted by the advantages computerized devices propose (improved IT competences, globalization of knowledge, a wide range of communication channels, a large variety of educational sites) with the condition of close parental supervision and a balanced time management.
Since the future still sounds good, but seems deeper and deeper technologized, why not use our pupils’ guilty pleasures within the teaching and learning process? Informational communication is incorporated in various devices, but tablets and smartphones are the easiest to operate. A tablet is a portable computer of smaller sizes than a laptop. It has a touch screen display and can be instantly connected to the internet in order to access online applications. A smart phone is a multifunctional multimedia mobile phone, with a real or virtual keyboard.
It has a sensitive touch screen and can easily and rapidly connect to an internet web. It is often lighter and smaller in size than a tablet, but can also be much more expensive, depending on the producer and the facilities offered. The introduction of such digital devices in the classroom should not be done abruptly. The pupils should be told why working with tablets and smart phones is a benefit and then, they have to get used to the devices step by step. It is very important for the children to understand that the devices are not to be used in the classroom in the same way they use them at home – they are going to be exclusively a learning instrument.
Teachers can operate tablets, smart phones or laptops in order to teach and to evaluate. No matter the purpose, the teacher must obtain feedback from the pupils after the first IT classes – have short debates, apply questionnaires, analyze test results– and thus draw a conclusion and decide whether keeping the lessons technologized is still a good idea. Not all children respond positively to innovative teaching methods. Some feel more comfortable with traditional techniques and the use of tablets might somehow confuse or discourage them.
The school management team must take responsibility for the introduction of digital devices in classes. Proper conditions have to be ensured: a sufficient number of tablets and/or smart phones (using them for evaluation purposes requires that each pupil works on his own tablet), a very good internet connection and someone responsible with charging the devices and verifying them after each use. The staff members who are to manipulate the devices have to be trained beforehand. There is an important percentage of adults who are not familiar with up-to-date technology and even the daily utilization of tablets and smartphones for personal intents, like accessing Google or social networks websites, does not imply an accurate employment in educational purposes.
IT apps have been widely spread throughout Europe and step by step they slowly make their way into the East-European classrooms. The poor economical background is the main reason for this delay, though teachers in Romania have long expressed their will to align to the new modern and technologized teaching methods.
What do IT apps represent actually? They are computer assisted applications that may be accessed on smartphones, laptops, desktops, tablets or i-pads. Most of these applications are free to download and do not require a lot of space in the memory of the device. Any pupil can install such an app, but an adult’s guidance is frequently necessary so that the app is correctly utilized. The applications that are mostly or exclusively designed for assessment purposes must be installed at a teacher’s advice, as they can primarily be used with specialized assistance in evaluation and marking processes.
Even though IT apps have been reluctantly received, especially in our country, because of their complexity and elements of novelty, people in the educational system have finally begun to accept them as innovative and extremely useful. The advantages of using IT applications in evaluation are based on the teachers’ and pupils’ experiences with evaluation during English classes.
Due to their attractiveness and solving facilities, such applications are an excellent way of assessing weaker pupils as well, at the same time with the better prepared ones; the free navigation option thus gives the possibility of choosing which question to answer and one may come back to the previous exercise at any time to revise the initial responses. Materials are considerably simplified and there is no use for either paper or a writing instrument. All you need is a device connected to the internet and to make sure the devices are fully charged every time.
The lack of paper is time-gaining and not only does it prove efficient and more rapid, but it also eliminates stress on behalf of pupils. The flow of ideas is better stimulated, firstly because children are being more and more attached to technology and secondly, because once they are presented with a paper on their desks, they experience physiological, psychological and emotional changes. We ought to focus on the pupils’ learning outcomes and avoid stressing the children as much as possible. The evaluation should be a relaxing method of acknowledging their merits after a learning episode and not a method of creating confusion, fear and reluctance towards the assessment process.
The digitalization of the educational process is an innovative pursuit that might change the entire academic future of our pupils. It sharpens their minds, opens new gates, saves time and it also contributes to the improvement of the ICT skills along with the linguistic competences. Nevertheless, as in any bold enterprise, there are several challenges and impediments that have to be dealt with consciously and realistically.
There are external and internal barriers that might bring difficulty into the teachers’ endeavour of implementing technology. The external factors appear at an institutional level. First of all, both teachers and pupils must be provided with the necessary devices, tablets, smartphones, I-pads or laptops. Access to these digital learning instruments presupposes full access to internet and a fast connection that would not slow the teaching pace and thus endanger the quality and quantity of the learning act. As schools in our country are generally mixed ones, sheltering pupils from families with a poor economic background as well, the managerial teams have to ensure that they constantly supply the technological reservoir so that no pupil is left behind. They also have to draw up secure agreements with the internet providers in order to assure a smooth online interaction during the educational process. There have to be sufficient plugs set up in every classroom and laboratory in case one of the devices is running out of battery. In Romania, electricity shortcuts are mostly frequent under stormy conditions, so it would seem a good idea to plan a test by means of IT apps when the weather is fine. Support is extremely important, too. ICT teachers should offer permanent assistance to both teachers and pupils and offer consultancy whenever needed. They should well master the operation of the devices and be ready to update or fix them if the situation requires it. Thus, teachers can fully focus on the lesson and worry less about the teaching instruments. As teachers become more proficient in the technical skills required for the new technology, their needs may shift to administrative and peer support to help develop and apply new uses for the technology in their classrooms. This type of support may be provided in professional learning communities through regular discussions regarding novel, domain-relevant uses of the technology. In the terms of the internal factors that challenge the use of IT applications in the classroom, we must take into consideration the teachers’ beliefs and attitude towards the introduction of technology in the classroom. They should no longer ask themselves whether to use IT apps in the teaching process, but how to use them effectively. A conservatory educator, who mainly employs traditional teaching methods, will surely manifest certain skepticism as far as the efficiency of the modern techniques is concerned. She will likely feel reserved and not at ease with the new approaches. “If teachers feel they do not have the necessary competencies when using technology, they may feel less in control of the class, use less technology, and be unlikely to explore new possibilities that utilize technology when designing their classes.” (Hughes, 2005)
Implementing technology into the lesson planning can be a very demanding task. The curriculum is dense, time flies by and teachers barely manage to deliver the contents integrally. Adapting to the technologized era means to rethink the whole didactic planning and pedagogical approach, which can be rather discouraging for many educators. Simply revising lesson plans can occupy a great deal of time, but revising lesson plans to incorporate technology is even more labour intensive. When adopting new classroom technologies, educators face the problem known online as the “double innovation” problem (Cleaver, 2014). Double innovation essentially adds an additional layer of preparation teachers must work through. The teacher must first learn the technology well enough to utilize it in a classroom setting before deciding how to integrate the technology with classroom objectives and curriculum.
Technology integration in the classroom will require the ongoing collaborative efforts of teachers, educational technology professionals, school administrators, researchers, and educational software personnel. Fortunately, the benefits to schools, teachers, and pupils will yield tremendous returns.