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         Volume 11 |Issue 41| October 19, 2012 |


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The Magic of Technology

Dr Helen Bond, Howard University, July 13, 2011

Dr Helen Bond Ph.D, an associate professor at the School of Education, Howard University in Washington DC, is a great advocate of technological innovation in teaching methods. She has a Bachelor's of Science degree in Education, a Master's Degree in Communication, and a Ph.D. in Human Development. She won the 2012 Inspirational Interdisciplinary Award, the 2009 Teaching with Technology Award, and was selected as the 2011-2012 Fulbright-Nehru Scholar to India. She served as an international researcher (consultant) for the United Nations Development Program to conduct a nationwide study focusing on teacher education in Ethiopia. Dr. Bond and co-authors have published a new book, “Through Children's Eyes: President Obama and the Future Generation” that is based on an international research study involving school-age youth in Africa, China, Jamaica, Russia and the United States. Bond is keen to see that new technologies are introduced to expedite learning especially when it comes to learning languages. On a recent visit to Dhaka she speaks of the new wave of technological breakthroughs that is revolutionising education.

Jesmina Shanta

How did you come to specialise in the use of technology in higher education?

I love technology, but I actually have several specialty areas, and one is international comparative education. However, I see technology, social change, and education as being very connected. Technology is revolutionising education and can be used for an instrument for good. I received my Ph.D. in Human Development from Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech is a major research university and an early pioneer in technology. I am very much interested in world affairs and human development; comparative education systems; global childhood studies; and technology as a social change agent. So, I am not singularly focused. I have multiple research interests that are very much connected. I did anthropological fieldwork in West Africa for my Ph.D. I travelled to Cuba when I was working on my doctorate, but decide not to do my field work there. I worked for a short time as an international researcher (consultant) for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Ministry of Education (MoE) in Ethiopia. I conducted a nationwide-research study on the feasibility of a implementing a teacher licensing in the country. But the highlight of my career has been my Fulbright Scholar experience time in southern India.

Do you think that modern technology has eased the methods of teaching at the university level?

Technology has made things easier, and has also made things more complex. For example in the USA, some of the best universities are now experimenting or innovating as we like to say, with all kinds of technology applications. The latest innovation are the massive open online courses called (MOOCs) , which are a type of online course that is free and open via the web and can enrol a hundred thousand people at a time. What technology certainly has done very well is increase access for many people to receive a fine education. The Internet has increased the possibility for sustained collaboration between people, and universities.

For me, it is not the technology so much, although it is fun to play with; it is what can be accomplished through technology – for human good. That's really where my interests lie– in human development. Also, I have an interest in global childhood as I don't think we pay enough attention to our youth.

Using modern technology, do you think it is possible to teach a greater number of students more effectively than before?

It absolutely is. And as my father likes to say….the train is out of the station. Meaning that people bemoan the loss of traditional face-to-face teaching. And I always say, the lecturer will never disappear. Many people thought with the e-readers and digital books, libraries would close, bookstores would go out of business–but none of that has happened. There will always be a place for the letter and the book

I think technology though will revolutionise the academy (meaning the university). There are so many tools that allow such easy communication and access and sharing of files, people, ideas, best practices. Some say technology's greatest benefit may be the hybrid course, but I'm not so sure. Hybrid courses meaning some mix and match between online and face-to-face

But I think the greatest benefit…the absolute greatest benefit of technology, is that technology can bring people and good ideas together in one shared space without the constraints of time and distance—it's almost a miracle. Imagine that. This is what an online classroom can do when people from different parts of the world come together in a shared spirit of the mind to learn together. This idea, actually a very simple in one way, has not been fully appreciated.

This is what is going to spur innovation. I spoke on the conditions that breed innovation while I was in Mumbai and this is one of them. I am writing a piece on this now.

What, in your opinion, were the obstacles in teaching that technology has taken care of?

Yes, technology is as good for teaching as it is good for learners. However, technology is not a panacea for all the problems in teaching and learning. Technology may create as many problems as it is understood to solve. But that's not the issue. Besides, technology has been around a long time. Anyway that humans have modified their world to make something or solve a problem, is technology. So, in this sense, technology is not new, but computer technology is though.

You see technology can open virtual doors and take you places that you may never get chance to physically go. To answer your question more directly, there were and still are plenty of obstacles in university teaching. Tons. But technology, even a little bit of it, can open doors to books, museums, and more importantly to people and new ideas—that is the magic, that is the mystery.

What are the prospects of teaching and learning English through technology?

Huge! First, ELL or English Language Learners or even DLL dual language learners, need lots of opportunities to practice communicating and nothing affords you more opportunities than the internet. Like, I said before you can interact with students in real time. Plus students can go to certain sites on the web and actually listen to authentic English conversations!

Applications for Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL), has really grown and increased in capacity with the growth technology. As human needs and as needs in the industrial and educational sectors continue to grow, so will these capacities. However, what is really exciting is the integration of CALL programmes integrated into larger distance-learning programmes. This integration offers students' access to a broad range of texts, multimedia interactive materials, along with other kinds of contextual teaching and learning applications that really supplement CALL. Other advances focus on the interactive communicative support for enhancing user's skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing that certain technologies can support.

I have read about the work of the Foreign Language Training Centre (FLTC), as a Project under the Ministry of Education and the Communicative English Language Certificate (CELC) course run by the Ministry. Very impressive! Is it ongoing?

In our country English is the second language. It is difficult to teach the students English Language. Do you think in this scenario this method of using technology will be useful?

Yes, it will for all the reasons I mentioned. Students are interacting with English-speaking students more and more. This increases interest in learning and there are excellent tools on the web that makes it easier and more accessible.

Which other countries in your experience have effectively used these methods of teaching and learning English through technology, especially in the developing world? What are the outcomes?

Countries really make use of whatever technologies they can get. Sometimes they adapt them. For example in the States, I have a student from Africa who is studying how to use cell phone technology to spread indigenous knowledge among farmers in Ethiopia. Technology is a tool that will aid ELL learners accomplish their goals!

I am really excited about the implementation of electronic speaking portfolios for (EFL) learners, though. Also, some universities in Jordan are pioneering some exciting methods for computer- assisted programmes for teaching English and in computer assisted pronunciation training software. And some English language teachers in Malaysia are doing some interesting work in developing communities of practice through blogging that expose teachers to new skills for computer-assisted teaching. So there are many exciting advances on the horizon.


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