FEEDBACK – COMMENT AND EVALUATION
Foreign Languages for Professional Purposes –
with focus on ICTinVOLL
Innsbruck, 5 – 7 March 2001
Course set-up, organisation and delivery:The programme and the language items dealt with during the workshop were well balanced and very relevant with regard to using ICTs for VOLL. The presentations given by the trainers were clear, relevant and to the point. The active and sometimes spontaneous responses from the participants indicate that the subjects taken up were engaging and relevant. The participants were also given time to ask questions and discuss in groups the points that the trainers focussed on. The presentation of the ICT-tools was straightforward which gave the participants time to get to know and practice the tools as well as discovering the potential of such tools in language learning.The trainers soon established an informal and relaxed atmosphere throughout the workshop which obviously made it easy for the participants to feel at ease and contribute to the discussions and views that were raised. Due to this relaxed atmosphere the national as well as the 'Non-Austrian' participants mixed easily and seemed to feel very comfortable. They all seemed to participate on an equal level.The method of interaction was varied; short and to-the-point presentations by the trainers mixed with plenum discussions and discussions in small groups. The topics and questions raised by the trainers focussed on central aspects of language learning, e.g. 'cultural aspects' in 'negotiation-situations', in various types of spoken English in different cultural settings.
Every language item was amply exemplified by the trainers and supported by handouts, worksheets and software that the participants worked with actively throughout the seminar.
From a pedagogical point of view it's my overall impression that the workshop, as it was conducted and carried out, may serve as a good example of how this type of workshops should be arranged; short, relevant, engaging and to the point presentations that were mixed with time for participants to reflect on and discuss in groups or on a one-to-one basis with trainers and colleagues.
Seen from an 'English-language-learning' point of view, the topics were very relevant in a number of respects; the use of ICT for VOLL; the cultural aspects of language learning ('globalisation' - we're increasingly living in multicultural societies); as well as the focus on 'language-teaching-strategies'.
Perspectives and feed-forward:My impression is that the teachers who attended the seminar all were very eager to start using ICT in their language training. And that is an important starting point; there's got to be some enthusiasm among the teachers if you want to succeed. Even if their familiarity and competence with regard to computers and ICTs for VOLL are modest, that shouldn't be an obstacle; those are skills they'll develop as they go along. - I sometimes use the metaphor of 'building a bridge across a steep valley' about this process. And the point is that you'll have to cross the valley as you're building the bridge - which implies making mistakes and almost falling into lots of pitfalls as you're progressing. There's no complete, finished bridge that you may cross in your BMW.
So the first point is to have the tools you need; the computers. The Ed. Authorities and the schools will have to come up with the money needed to buy PCs for staff and students. I take it you know all of this, so I won't go into the details here.
Then there's got to be some 'organisation' that will run the initial stages, e.g. CEBS, and that will report to the authorities. But I think that some teachers and some schools should be given maximum freedom (within a set framework) with regard to implementing ICT so as to keep up and benefit from the enthusiasm and drive among them.
What to choose with regard to software shouldn't be any issue; there's so much to choose from and new tools are being developed all the time. Tick Tack and the Report Writer seem to be adequate tools to start with. But setting up websites - either on a 'teacher-to- class basis' or on a 'school-to+subject basis' is something that should be discussed. In Norway we have a mix of both, but I think the latter basis will be the best one, provided teachers are willing to network and cooperate when developing the sites. From what I've seen, lots of good 'one-man-initiatives' die from exhaustion and lack of feedback from colleagues. We've got to work together and help each other out when we get to the 'tricky' parts of ICT.
This will also apply to introducing the teachers or the schools to setting up websites, learning about file formats, clients-server- relationship and the use of multimedia. There's no point in making all the teachers equally good in all these technologies, but I think it's worthwhile that each school has three of four teachers who are 'more equal' than the rest - to be some sort of a 'resource-' or 'expert group' that may help the others. Such a group should focus on or be oriented towards the pedagogical use of various ICTs and how the use of these tools may eventually lead to a new way of organising teaching (the new roles of the teacher).
Now, the distance to the other side of the valley is long and we will feel time and again that we're hanging in a thin wire above an abyss and that we'll have to go back and redo what we've done. And this is a situation that's exhausting - and discouraging. We may get help from outside experts with regard to explaining the technical aspects of ICTs and I'm sure you have plenty of them in Austria. But still I feel that developing the skills needed is an individual matter. Some of my colleagues say "Why don't we get external experts to develop all we need? - Why should all of us become experts?"And my answer is: "We're not going to be experts in ICT, but we should all have some basic knowledge about the technologies and know how to use them, because it's we who do the teaching. External experts will never be able to develop what we need; it's too expensive, what we get is not what we wanted to have because when we have tried it out we realise that the product didn't live up to our expectations. Besides, as teachers we're the experts and we should develop what we need for various purposes."But getting such a message across to my colleagues is difficult - for a number of reasons. The difficult and probably most crucial part, as I see it, is to change their attitude: to develop seminars and strategies that may convince teachers that 'implementing ICT for VOLL is very much like living in a limbo - or hanging in a line from an unfinished bridge above an abyss'; to make them accept that this is today's situation; it's a situation that's not only challenging but also worthwhile, - for language teachers too. And there's no other way to go; you'll have to build the bridge yourself to cross the valley.
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