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e-Help Seminars - Vincente Lopez-Brea Fernandez
e-help Seminar 20
ICT and language learning
Toulouse 10-11 June 2005


The main aim of my presentation is on the improvement brought about by ICT. I am no expert, but I am convinced that tools are helpful if we are able to provide a reason for use and a safe atmosphere to use them. In this sense I consider that ICT provide for the language teacher (sorry, this is my field/limitation) a relatively safe environment (provided the teacher "feels" confident with the media), but also a strongly realistic use of language, thus providing a reason to learn. There is little doubt that we, language teachers, need to focus on the use of language, and ICT make it easy for us to do so. Bringing a sense of reality also contributes to facilitate learners be less dependent, fostering their autonomy.
What I may foresee for the future is, in the context of Spain and Madrid specifically, is an extension of relationships among the different curricular areas, in which language teachers contribute to the linguistic development of both teachers of other sub-jects and students. The uses of ICT will enable to facilitate the intercommunication of teachers and students, and I think there will be an extension of communities of users hooked to wider thematic areas. This is what I have in mind.


Professional background to justify my views:

Language teacher (English):

I am no expert, but I am convinced that tools are helpful if we are able to provide a reason for use and a safe atmosphere to use them. As stated I am a language teacher, an English lan-guage teacher. So the main idea I have always had is that it is my duty to use a foreign language and help others become reasonably good users of this foreign language. I have used all kinds of approaches and elements to make my subject close to students’ experiences and relatively safe for my personal self. Computers came to me as one of these gadgets for which I was not fully prepared (still do not know a terrible lot), but was intrigued enough to investigate how to use them. In this sense I consider that ICT provide for the language teacher a relatively safe environment (provided the teacher "feels" con-fident with the media), but also a strongly realistic use of language, thus providing a reason to learn. There is little doubt that we, language teachers, need to focus on the use of lan-guage, and ICT make it easy for us to do so.

Views on Language learning:

It is not very easy to define the key question “how students learn”. In my view (which is “a”, but not “the” view) I believe that students learn by using the language and by reflecting af-ter their language use. My main task is then providing opportunities for meaningful language use, and building up a sense of community between the students and myself, so that we generate a relaxing environment. A second aspect to be taken into consideration is the issues that may come in a classroom as a consequence of a different role demanded for teachers and students: a more open, flexible class structure may defy certain educational institutions or administrators. The ac-cepted role of the teacher as “controller” in a language classroom, in what Jeremy Harmer calls “lockstep” (teacher ex-plaining everything, providing all the contents and students assimilating the information received), is severely defied. So we, and our institutions, are to adopt more flexible patterns of classroom distribution and clearly redefine the patterns of be-haviour. One last aspect to be borne in mind would be, especially in the institutions I have had the opportunity to teach, State Schools in Spain, is the difference between attendants (and even those who do not wish to be where they are when they are in a classroom) and students, which also raises classroom issues. Again flexible patterns of class organization and an accepted code of behaviour have to be established as a pre-requisite for language learning.

Eagerness for new perspectives applied to teaching a FL.

To sum all the views, I believe we must agree on the necessity to show an eagerness for new trends, so long as they are in-clusive (for all students, regardless their abilities) and adapt-able to the varied reality in which we work.

Benefits of ICT

Real life learning: reality of virtuality.

Language appropriacy. There is little doubt that we, language teachers, need to focus on the use of language, and ICT make it easy for us to do so, especially after the use of internet as a didactic tool. Bringing a sense of reality also contributes to facilitate learners be less dependent, fostering their autonomy. Of course this has created an intense demand on the teacher to be selective (to tell the trees from the forest) and to adapt the wide variety of resources at hand to the variety of students.

Meaningful learning

It is clear that the concept of meaningfulness has two main sides: meaningfulness in terms of teachers’ curricular demands/aspirations and the obvious second would be students’ interests and expectations. The presence of a virtual environ-ment proves to be attractive. The main goal is to make it last beyond the mere visual impact, in other words, make it memorable so that the contents and abilities may remain. For such a purpose we still need a great deal of careful planning.

Teachers’ roles: redefinition of literacy

It is not easy to be up-to-date, and this is a social requirement, if not a demand. In many cases these new virtual environments are not so teacher friendly as they are required to be, but this is no excuse to prevent teachers from using these resources. I believe that we cannot be stopped by technological challenges. Again, teachers’ attitude may allow a role of a teacher as an average user, not a master. Probably this simple lack of reliability in a role of teacher not holding the strings of knowledge in a class is the single most outstanding obstacle to the extension of ICT in teaching, at least in language teaching.

Language learning and CALL

Initial programs tended to adopt a role similar to that of a “traditions” teacher, providing acceptable/unacceptable responses. CALL tends to be good for reinforcing structures and acquiring vocabulary. Not so much for creativity. New applications are developed that intend to provide resources for teachers to generate their own materials (Hot Potatoes, for example), websites provide free software or support to generate or adapt existing materials.


If there is a field where technologies have to provide resources is in Special Educational Needs. This is also the area of prime interest for me. I think there is a vast amount of material, mostly in English, though most materials developed in websites require the adaptation to the specific needs of the real students that we have.

Textbook writing?

I must admit I am not a great materials creator. I have always been keener on adapting what others had done (mostly better than I would dream to ever do) than generating my own mate-rials from scratch. I do feel an urge for my students generating materials and using those materials with other students (effort-outcome balance of a reasonable quality. Reading John Simkin’s information about textbook writing I am also concerned about 1st world market demands, but I am still unable to come to grips to a solution to the problem posed.


Computer literacy.

In my view, as I stated before, I believe it is more a question of attitude than a question of knowledge. There is little doubt that a certain level of computer skills is more and more a necessity, but it is also true, at least in the environment I work (a Teachers’ Support Centre) more and more resources are devoted to implement teachers’ knowledge of ICT.

Attitudinal requirements

What I said before, eagerness for change, but also a perspective of the roles of the teacher and the student in a classroom.

* Technological Equipment availability

* Class control.

* I will not insit on this idea of agreements for classroom behaviour. I sincerely consider it is a must.

The future to come


It seems to me that one of the many uses that internet may bring for contributions of language departments to teacher development.

I do think it is necessary to reinforce the links between the school members, and it is a must the collaboration among the institution de-partments to carry our common processes. This is particularly relevant in the case of State Secondary Schools in Spain. European pro-jects are a good way to incorporate more and more teachers into collaboration, and bridging departamental gaps.

Technological gadgets:

No one (at least, not me) can tell what the latest craze is about to be. The tendency that I notice goes towards easy-to-use, reasonably-priced youngish compressed “walkable” items. I know of language teachers who bring their MP3s or iPods to the class to have the choice of support music for the lessons (used as background to the class, to encourage oral practice, or in many other ways, such as for intensive or extensive listening). That availability and the capacity of storage have made their life easier. Still and all, I have met too few a teacher who do so.


Reliable technology and teacher friendly software:

Not everything seems to be valid for classroom work. Technology needs to develop items who are adaptable to classroom environments. The same can be applied to the software to be used. As I have been able to read through the very many posts on the subject, I find the HELP project has many talented members who may well develop tools to help teachers.

1st World 3rd World teaching: differences matter.

We are part of a whole. We teach in responsible institutions (grin!) where a variety of school cultures exist. We are placed under pressure by the different community sectors. In the end it is our students who tell of our teaching and how big the impact is in their future (professional and personal life). Our students are, then, members of a community where what they know is essential for the social texture. Hopefully they are armed with “the necessary skills to function as citizens of the country”. And society demands that the students we teach have a high technological proficiency, the difference that may allow them to be active members of a specialised labour market. Yet, I still wonder if we are contributing or not to widening the gap be-tween worlds. (?)


But essentially, are we doing anything different from what others did 2000 years ago? I was shocked by John Simkin’s words when “he thought he was debating this issue with himself” and stated “the structure of what is going on in the classroom has not changed (in fact it has remained the same for over 2000 years)”. Shocked, as I guess expected by the author of such opinion, I experienced a feeling of panic: Are we moving? Or it is just introducing new gadgets to preserve the isolated mastery of knowledge and let others out of the race? Is there a 1st world learning, sophisticate, technology-oriented,

I still consider that the act of learning, if we consider that an act of apprehension of content in a memorable and independent way, is always affected by those who participate in the process (Teacher and Student). Still my idea of a teacher is more that of a facilitator than that of an content instiller, by that meaning that a teacher needs to lead to knowledge, create ways in which this content is graspable by the students (in their diversity) and LET THEM LEARN by using. As the English saying goes “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. In my view what I intend to do is making my students (was tempted to continue with horses, but resisted temptation – I am closer to sanctity now!) as thirsty (of using the language, that is, of needing to express their ideas regarding a particular field) as possible so that they do want to participate, do want to join in, and consequently discover that “the water” that satiates their eagerness to participate is the knowledge they have acquired by using the lan-guage object of study. The image is clear to me: the water (the content) flows from their inside (their use of the content). Not a bad metaphor after all.

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