by Jeanette Sakel
A few years ago, it was still rather unusual to rely too much on technology for learning and teaching. Or rather, lecturers would use their Powerpoint presentations in class, upload these to a virtual learning environment such as Blackboard and that was it. Using online discussion fora, videos (such as lecture capture), or even utilising electronic devices in the classroom was often left to the ‘adventurous’ few. I sometimes held back from using too much technology in – and outside – the classroom, in order to avoid singling out students who do not have access to such technology. Teaching fieldwork (and language contact), I have for quite a few years asked students to go out and ‘record a speaker’. When I started this over 10 years ago, the cheapest way to go about was to borrow a tape/minidisc/solid state recorder from a technician (or me, in most cases), or to purchase a dictaphone. This could be cumbersome, at least for those less conversant with these technologies. In the last few years, most of my students simply used the recording device on their smartphone or laptop to record spoken language – often with much better results than from those old dictaphones.
For my own teaching practice, I feel that a big shift in the use of technology has happened. Now, most, if not all, students have access to portable devices in class, such as smartphones, tablets or laptops. It has become much easier to use different technologies when teaching, working with the students’ own devices. Still, I keep a mindful eye on not excluding anybody. For example, I usually first ask who has access to a device, and, if necessary, set up group work to ensure that every student will be able to access the materials.
Here is an example from a level 1 seminar I ran a week ago, where we looked at language data online to establish where English and Kalaallisut (Greenlandic) are on a scale of ‘fusion’ and ‘synthesis’ (two scales in language typology that are used to classify the languages of the world in terms of their word structures).
Using the students’ own devices, we were able to work at each our own pace – rather than having to read from a big screen. Students could look up terms they didn’t know (in their own time), do word-counts on the data we used and copy the data we used into separate documents! All great!