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Zoom to the future?

Across all sectors the UK’s language lockdown has sent learning online but there is still a future for schools, says Melanie Butler

All over the world, education is still going on. Learners are still learning, teachers are still teaching, even the researchers are still squirreling away their stats. It’s just all the buildings that are shut.

Is this the Brave New World the educational technologists have always promised us? Will schools be replaced by screens and teachers by robots? Or will artificial intelligence-powered earphones make language learning a thing of the past?

Probably not. Though as John Roscoe reports on page 22, AI is closing in on humans in the world of testing. And as Graham Stanley points out on page 20, automatic speech recognition does a splendid job helping 7 to 9-year-olds with pronunciation, especially when it’s gamified. Did you hear that Alexa?

Stanley is responding to the results of a Welsh research study. Asked to find the best method for teaching language, in this case Welsh, in schools, a team of researchers scoured hundreds of studies. As you can see from our summary of their findings on pages 18 and 19, they found teachers, not methods, made the most difference. Something the commercial language teaching industry has a tendency to forget.

“Learners, it turns out, can survive without schools, colleges and 
universities. But they need teachers to continue to learn.”

But not just any teachers: they need to speak the target language and they need be trained and supported. In other words, just the sort of training and support the world’s teachers could have done with when they suddenly found themselves asked to work online at a couple of days’ notice.

Learners, it turns out, can survive without schools, colleges and universities. But they need teachers to continue to learn.

And those teachers need training. In fact, training centres, at least EFL training centres, have seen a mini boom. After all, EFL has been delivering diplomas by distance for over 30 years, and some of the online Masters we list on page 24 go back at least as long. What hasn’t gone online, at least until the coronavirus crisis, is teaching practice, or practicums as our US readers call them.

As we report on page 23, Zoom has zoomed into our lives, making it easier to practise teaching groups online. Even crusty old Cambridge has crumbled and allowed all Celta teaching practice to be done online, at least during the lockdown.

Surely some online teaching practice should be standard going forward? After all, most language teachers will spend some of their career online. In the US, the trainers at Bridge certainly think so, and on page 26 they tell us how and why.

Is the future of education now online?

We’ll certainly see more online, especially for adults for whom, as we explain on page 25, research finds distance learning is as effective. But blended learning is significantly more effective, so the classroom combined with the computer screen may be the way to go.

But kids need schools to learn, and parents need schools for them to go to. As long, of course, as all the teachers are prepared to come back to class.

Image courtesy of Library
Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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