In the third installment of Professor Hayo Reinders’ series about innovation in the language learning classroom, he considers some questions teachers should ask themselves when deciding whether to implement an innovative technology.
Teachers have important decisions to make about what suits their learners best in a given teaching context. The latest tablet might be an exciting addition to the classroom, but unless there is a budget to buy appropriate materials to put on it, and technical support to make sure it works, it is unlikely to improve learning outcomes. In a way, teachers have to act as gatekeepers, critically reviewing what is available and making informed decisions about its practical use. Here are some questions to consider when reviewing new materials:
- This book/ technology/teaching method makes claims about its benefits. How are these benefits defined? For example, what do the authors or researchers mean by “autonomy” or “fun”?
- How are these benefits operationalized? It is one thing to claim a book introduces “real English as used by native speakers,” but what do the authors mean by this? For example, is the language in the book based on corpus studies?
- Do I agree with these definitions and operationalizations? Your ideas of, for example, peer-assessment or motivation may simply not match those of the resources or method you are reviewing.
- Is there evidence for the purported benefits? In other words, are intended changes in, for example, student learning outcomes measureable?
- Is the purported innovation an add-on or integrated feature? An exciting new feature is only helpful insofar as it is connected to the wider context and integrates with it. If this is not the case, the burden of making the necessary links will fall on you.
- Is this important? One of the most vital steps is to complete the “So what?” test. A new technology may offer an innovation, but it may be one that you have no use for, as it may not be relevant to your learners. For example, tablets are versatile devices, but may not be particularly helpful in a conversation course.
- How will I use this innovation? Finally, it is important for teachers to consider if and how they can make use of a purported innovation. For example, inclusion of online resources can be useful, but only if the technical infrastructure allows this.
Innovation for the sake of innovation is likely to fail. The examples I’ve given, however, show ways in which changes can be made gradually and in a consistent and sustained manner that meets the requirements of the curriculum and that does not place undue burden on the teacher or the available technical infrastructure. True innovation is a process, not simply another product or an add-on feature to an existing course or teaching method. Ultimately, innovation is the result of an interactive process that brings together teachers, learners, and resources in ways that have the greatest impact on learning outcomes.
To find out more about innovation in language teaching, why not read Professor Hayo’s fourth and final article in the series, where he discusses autonomy and multimedia?