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Could Computers and the Internet REALLY Replace TESOL English Teachers?

A Controversial Question

At ELT English seminars, workshops and TESOL conferences, one question I’m frequently asked is whether I think computers will eventually replace English teachers. I flash back to the film “Matrix”. In an early scene, our neophyte hero “Neo” is learning Kung Fu by being plugged in to a computer. Scant hours later, he opens his eye, sits up, and announces, “I know Kung Fu!” The ensuing scenes depict how an older, more experienced mentor (a.k.a. a teacher) follows up by evaluating young Neo’s “skills”. “Show me”, the teacher asks in typical fashion. Now if you’ve been following along with me so far, you already have a clue as to my asnswer to these teachers’ question.

Computers replace a human English teacher?

Are you kidding?

“Ain’t no way, Jose.”

But English teachers, don’t totally relax just yet. What I think we DO need to do is to “re-invent” a portion of the concept of “school”. Here’s what I mean.

Reinventing the Concept of School

Schools, at virtually any level, will need to be virtually and interactively linked to an extensive array of external resources. This means that the “traditional” board, markers and OHP will need to give way to additional, integrated resources that expand the classroom environment to an almost unlimited degree. I mean the works; audio, video, internet, webcams, IM, TXTing, chat, e-mail, RSS, even real-time multi-media input feeds. The classroom and its students would be linked to additional resources like:

• Corporations

• Libraries

• Museums

• Government facilities

• Science, technology and medical centers

• Industry

• Laboratories

• Other learning Institutions

In this way, students would more normally utilize learning activities such as web quests, inter-active dynamics and virtual tours to expand and deepen their knowledge on principles and concepts. The learners would no longer be limited to the knowledge, resources and facilities available at the institution where they attend classes. Instead, the world, literally, is their classroom.

Impact on Learning

How would this directly impact learning? Well, if you’re learning computers, wouldn’t direct access to Microsoft Corp. materials and training be a real boon? Technology students would doubtless derive immense benefit from direct links with MIT (http://web.mit.edu/), Cal Tech (http://www.caltech.edu/), or Lucent Corp. (http://www.lucent.com/) Engineering students would thrive on access to NASA located online at: (http://www.nasa.gov/home/index.html), Boeing (http://www.boeing.com/), Westinghouse (http://www.westinghouse.com/home.html), Dupont (http://www2.dupont.com/DuPont_Home/en_US/index.html) or a host of other high-tech corporations.

Law, Government, Human Rights and Political Science students would be at the top of their game hard-wired into Federal, State and local government databases, or FBI (http://www.fbi.gov/), the London Metropolitan Police (http://www.met.police.uk/), the CIA (http://www.cia.gov/) and ATF ([http://www.atf.treas.gov/] ) databases with their accompanying local, regional and national resources. Health majors could be up to date with real-time events in Pathology, Epidemics research, natural disaster response resource information and population health threats through the CDC (http://www.cdc.gov/), medical and health networks or the UN (http://www.un.org/). The possibilities are almost endless.

So, I agree that the “traditional” approaches to teaching and learning, not only English and other foreign languages, but numerous other fields as well, will continue to evolve to serve the needs of learners, business and educational institutions. With CBL (Content-Based Learning), well-prepared TEFL English teachers, armed with knowledge, skills and continually developing technology, have nothing to fear from computers. Technology is yet another powerful tool in promoting the acquisition of new knowledge and skills, now and in the future.

What do YOU think?

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