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The Pros and Cons of Using Tech in the Classroom

By Armando Pannacci
If used effectively, technology can make your lessons more engaging for students, can increase both student and teacher productivity, and can lead to greater English acquisition in learners.

As technology becomes more prevalent in all aspects of our lives, the trend towards technology in the classroom is quickly changing how we teach. Ensuring these changes are beneficial is crucial. If used effectively, technology can make your lessons more engaging for students, can increase both student and teacher productivity, and can lead to greater English acquisition in learners.

Technology may be helpful when presenting learning materials to students, but there are also a few downsides that should be considered as well. Deciding whether you should use technology or not within your lessons can be a tough decision. Knowing the benefits and limitations of technology can help you plan tech-integrated ESL lessons. With that said, here are both the pros and the cons you may encounter when using technology in the ESL classroom. 

Advantages of Using Technology to Teach:

Increased Student Motivation

One of the more obvious benefits of using tech when teaching is its effect on student motivation, both inside and outside the classroom. Technology can increase motivation during lessons. It presents information in a way that often feels more fun, modern and relatable for students. This increases their attention towards the material that you’re teaching and helps it stick afterwards. Homework can become more engaging as well. 

Because some forms of technology, such as computers and tablets, are often found in students’ everyday lives, this can lead to more interest in the material outside of the classroom. When students are taught how to learn about a topic using technology within the classroom, they are often motivated to continue learning about the subject using similar technology once they’re home and better equipped to expand that learning. This type of self-directed learning can translate to better learning acquisition and better results in the classroom.  

Appealing to All Types of Learners

It’s been known for some time now that students have different types of learning styles and acquire languages more quickly when a teacher is considerate of this. The VARK model is the most well-known breakdown of different learning styles, which separates them into four distinct categories: visual, auditory, reading and writing, and kinesthetic, meaning relating to sensory perception.  

With some forms of technology, such as an online ESL learning game, you can target all four of these different learning styles in one lesson. This type of activity can incorporate images and sounds that appeal to both visual and auditory learners, while also requiring students to read while jotting down notes, clicking a mouse, or typing. These latter characteristics can be appealing to learners who fall within the reading and writing style group, as well as to kinesthetic learners who prefer to learn things through a more hands-on approach. It is important to focus on a dynamic approach when using technology and consider all aspects of VARK. Focusing on only one or two aspects alone will be less effective. 

Greater Peer-to-Peer Scaffolding

While the use of technology can sometimes lead to students being more isolated from each other, it can also facilitate greater teamwork when it’s utilized with this purpose in mind. Providing your students with computers or other devices and then pairing them into pairs or groups can lead to peer-to-peer scaffolding.  

Think of scaffolding as a way to provide initial support to any of your students who might be unable to perform a task without assistance. Peer-to-peer scaffolding takes place when a student learns something from another student, such as by watching them perform a task. When students are using technology, whether it’s the internet, an iPhone, or a laptop, they are often eager to demonstrate how to use this technology to others.  

This sharing of information between students as they’re working on a task can increase a student’s understanding of the technology, which also improves their understanding of the content. They can strengthen their confidence in using technology to perform ESL activities when they see their peers doing the same tasks with both excitement and ease.  

Disadvantages of Using Technology to Teach:

Learning Curves Can Be Steep

One reason why many teachers are hesitant to incorporate technology into their lessons is that there’s sometimes a learning curve involved. Both teachers and students can be faced with a scenario where an unfamiliar form of technology may be difficult to operate or grasp at first. This can be unproductive if it means you’ll have to spend the limited time you have during a lesson to provide additional training to your students.  

You may even struggle with the technology yourself if it’s something you’re not yet familiar with, which means extra hours spent before or after class to give yourself adequate time to learn it. When teaching in schools, administrators are sometimes reluctant to set aside funding for new technology because they understand that it often requires additional training for both their teachers and clients.

Tech Can Serve as a Distraction

For the same reason that using technology can motivate learners, it can also serve as a distraction. When you’re deciding what type of technology to use during a lesson, you should think about how you will manage and monitor your students while they’re using it, as well as how it might impact their attention towards the material. While you may expect this to be more of a problem with younger learners, distractions can occur with all age groups.  

When utilizing a new tech device in the classroom, you may want to carry out some research first to determine how you can limit its controls or accessibility options. Being able to limit students’ access to information or functions that are unrelated to the lesson may be ideal.  

However, you should keep in mind that doing this may also impact your students’ ability and enthusiasm to seek out new information on their own in their spare time. All of this needs to be taken into consideration when you’re implementing any new technology within your lessons.

More Chances for Things to Go Wrong

Technology can also disrupt your lessons if a device malfunctions or any other unintended incident happens. Using technology can open up numerous opportunities for things to go wrong. When this happens, you may have to focus all your attention on troubleshooting the problem, which can halt a lesson if you’re in the middle of explaining or demonstrating something to students.  

Also, issues can arise with student’s devices as well. While some devices may be inoperable, you’ll likely have unequal distribution of devices within the classroom. One or more of your students will have to share, which can lead to distractions if the lesson isn’t intended to involve group work.  

To avoid this, you should think of the feasibility of using different types of technology during your lessons and ensuring all devices are operational.

In Conclusion

Consider Both the Teaching and Learning Aspects

Technology offers ESL teachers many opportunities to make their lessons more entertaining and interesting for their students, but must also be planned carefully. All of the previously mentioned pros and cons of using technology should be considered when planning your lessons.

Consider not only how it might improve your lessons, but also how your students may respond to it, as well as what types of obstacles you may encounter when implementing it. 

Written by Armando Pannacci for Tefl.NET January 2022
Arm is a Canadian ESL teacher with over ten years' experience teaching English in Thailand, Korea and Canada. He has a bachelor's of social work degree and received his certificate in TESOL from TESOL Canada.
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