I brought more tech with me to Colombia than South Korea.

I brought more tech with me to Colombia than South Korea.

I like technology. As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Barranquilla, Colombia, I think my life is very different than most of my peers. My public school has two computer labs, wireless internet (that usually works, too!), countless computers (some of which are still sitting in their boxes), microphones, speakers, etc. The second story apartment I call home is also equipped with wi-fi, which I use on my MacBook, iPhone and Kindle Fire. I am one well-connected dude.When I see photos of Peace Corps Volunteers in African huts or on beautiful tropical islands, I do get jealous. In the back of my mind, I know that the amenities that come with such accommodations would not allow me to live the lifestyle I have in Colombia, but there still remains a sense of adventure in me that looks at a hut or beach shack with awe. Maybe Volunteers living in those situations wish they could switch places with me? I guess it depends on the person.

My room my not be an African hut, but it does have the finest in lawn furniture.

My room my not be an African hut, but it does have the finest in lawn furniture.

This overabundance of technology in my everyday life has allowed for its use in the classroom. At least once a week I teach an English class using a video projector to play videos with fun songs that will stick in my students’ heads. Or, I use Netflix to show short English cartoons that the students and I discuss afterwards. These relatively simple tools (as seen from back home in the States) have allowed me to engage students that otherwise have shown to have behavior or attention problems.

However, like any new advancement, there comes a price. It’s easy (and fun for both students and teachers) to overuse tech in the classroom, bypassing rigorous lessons and homework for videos or media projects that concentrate more on technology than language. With that being the case, why don’t we just show videos in language classes?  It’s always easier to show a class of 40 students a video of their favorite English cartoon than teach the same 40 kids a lesson on grammar, but we don’t because videos and technology ALONE aren’t effective.

There, of course, needs to be a balance. But, while still a dude who “likes technology,” I think, overall, ESL teachers need to rely LESS on video projectors, movies, and the like to affectively teach their students. The example that sparked this blog topic came from a teacher I know who was having students perform short English sketches for a video project. Once again, on paper, this sounds great. But, as the students came to the front of class to perform, it was clear that none of them had completely memorized their lines. A few students came close, but the mistakes they made told me they had memorized sounds, not MEANINGS, which prevented them from reciting their lines correctly.

At first, I was rather critical of the assignment, thinking how this wouldn’t be the norm at my public school back home in Iowa. But, the more I thought about it, the more I remembered of my own Spanish education, where a group of buddies and I routinely dodged important homework assignments by creating videos. We’d go to someone’s house on a saturday, spend all our time setting up a shot or preparing the props, only to haphazardly write down Spanish dialogue before filming. In fact, for my American History class, I was allowed to do a final project on the Civil War by creating a video of the battle of Gettysburg with my paintball friends. It was a really fun project, one that involved a couple dozen kids and a lot of managing and directing. But, I really don’t think it helped me understand or memorize anything about the Civil War (other than I apparently wasn’t the first to come up with the idea … see below).

I hope the paintballs were Union blue and Confederacy gray. Talk about an attractive mask.

I hope the paintballs were Union blue and Confederacy gray. Talk about an attractive mask.

Realizing that the teaching technique I was criticizing was actually a large part of my past schooling came as quite a shock. It seems teachers on both American continents have become fond of using or creating videos for the classroom. But, is this change really that beneficial? As a former student / current teacher, one that has internet at his school, his home, and multiple portable devices … I’d say no.

Either way, the students sure do enjoy making videos, especially when food is involved. Check out a few of the videos I have made with my students below:

6th graders explaining how to make Colombian-style hot dogs - http://youtu.be/OISjVQM7qUE

3rd graders performing short English sketches about what they like to do - http://youtu.be/t7p91LGGgnM