Op/Ed: Modern foreign language programs don’t prepare students for the work force – The University of Alberta example

August 19, 2013

Warning: This post may offend literary scholars and literary theorists.

One of Canada’s most reputable institutions of higher learning, the University of Alberta, announced today that it is cutting 20 arts programs. Languages and culture programs are taking the brunt of the cuts. Included in the cuts are undergraduate major programs in classic languages, Italian, Russian and Ukrainian. A full list of the cut programs can be found here.

For years I’ve said to my colleagues that languages programs that focus mainly on literature and culture are doomed. I agree that there is immense value in learning literature and culture, but the reality is that it won’t get you a job — unless you want to become a literature professor.

Employers looks at people with literature degrees and ask themselves, “What can you do for us?”

I remember sitting in a department meeting 15 years ago asking if we could incorporate courses in foreign languages for business and commerce?

My colleagues who were literature experts hissed at me. I became an instant heretic. The suggestion was tantamount to treason in a department where the senior professors were literary scholars.

I was proposing specifically that we incorporate language and culture courses of a more practical nature that students could use as viable and marketable professional skills to position themselves for success in the global job market.

Consider the difference between these two scenarios:

Scenario #1:

Prospective Employer: So, I see you did a major in Italian. Tell me more about that.

Italian major graduate: I learned about Dante, Petrarch and major Italian literature, along with grammar, structure and syntax.

Prospective Employer: How would you use what you learned on the job?

Italian major graduate: I’m not really sure…

This is the reality of most modern language majors today. They learn about literature, culture, art and history, but without concrete skills that are easily transferred to the work place. Employers can’t make those links either. The value that languages major brings to an organization have never been made explicit.

(In case you  think I’m exaggerating about the kinds of topics Italian majors learn about, I took my example from the current University of Alberta web page on Italian studies course offerings, though I suspect the web page will be defunct before too long…)

Scenario #2:

Prospective Employer: So, I see you did a major in Italian. Tell me more about that.

Italian major graduate: Unlike traditional programs in modern languages, the one I took was modernized to include courses in Italian business language and professional culture. The courses I took introduced me to fundamental business language in Italian so I can converse more easily with clients, as well as understand how business is conducted in Italy, including cultural norms and social expectations in the Italian workplace. I also took courses in current issues that included a survey of key political and economic factors that allows me to understand the situation in Italy today, as well as where it is headed tomorrow.

The value that this graduate would bring to an organization is much greater. It is difficult to internalize the nuances of foreign business practices. It goes beyond knowing how to dress or greet one another. The subtleties are vast and almost impossible to learn without guidance — for any foreign culture.

I say this as someone with two degrees — a bachelor’s and a Master’s — in literature. I loved studying literature. It goes without saying that we need to teach students critical thinking skills and that learning about culture is important to understand the human race. I learned first hand what it meant to live under the poverty line for a number of years in my adult life. My degrees in literature did not prepare me for the work force. I had to learn to market my skills in other ways. Only then was I able to pull myself ahead of the low-income cut-off (LICO) line. It was a long road and one that my colleagues with full-time tenured positions as literature professors are unlikely to understand.

The days of the self-indulgent scholar are quickly coming to an end. The romanticized version of a scholar puzzling over pile of ancient texts is quickly fading. I’m not suggesting there is no value in learning ancient texts and literature. I’m saying that surrounding yourself with ancient texts is not a viable career option for most language and culture students of the 21st century.

For years literary theorists in institutions of higher learning have stubbornly refused to entertain the idea of expanding modern language and culture programs beyond literature. We could call it professional hubris. The repercussions are that modern foreign language programs are now being cut. It makes me feel sad, but I can’t help wondering if international language programs that focus solely on literature and art aren’t doing a disservice to their graduates?

Imagine what would happen if we taught our students how to navigate cultural differences in the workplace, adapt to global professional environments and learn basic workplace vocabulary, rather than literary terminology. Imagine how we could help our students understand clearly and explicitly the value their foreign language and cultural skills bring to an employer, regardless of whether that employer is corporate, government or non-profit.

It’s not about selling out to corporate consumerism. It’s about giving our students professional opportunities outside the literary realm. There are more jobs outside the literary realm than inside it. Why wouldn’t we want to create opportunities for our students to be successful in other sectors, too?

What’s your take on all this? Should foreign language programs that focus on literature, art and culture be saved? What needs to be done to revitalize and revamp foreign language programs to make them more viable?


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Learning to Talk Like Jesus: How TV shows in Sweden support the Aramaic revival in the Middle East

May 29, 2012

Sarah Elaine Eaton blog - Languages, Literacy and Leadership

Sweden is providing a new twist on learning an old language, for  young learners of Aramaic in the two villages in the Holy Land’s small Christian community, in Beit Jala, Palestine and Jish, Israel.

In the Beit Jala Mar Afram school, run by the Syrian Orthodox church, priests have taught over 320 students Aramaic over the past five years.

In Jish approximately 80 elementary school children are taking Aramaic as a voluntary option in school.

The elementary school children who take part in the Aramaic language learning program learn to speak, listen, write Aramaic script and read the language.

Dia Hadid of the Associated Press reports that:

“The dialect taught in Jish and Beit Jala is “Syriac,” which was spoken by their Christian forefathers and resembles the Galilean dialect that Jesus would have used, according to Steven Fassberg, an Aramaic expert at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.”

The language classes have been met with criticisms from some parents and community members, some of whom are worried that having students learn Aramaic may be an attempt to convert them to Christianity or may be a threat to their Arabic identity.

According to the Associated Press, some members of the Christian community in the region still chant their liturgy in Aramaic, but few people understand the prayers.

Enter Sweden. Swedish officials estimate that anywhere from 30,000 to 80,000 Aramaic speakers reside in that country. The Aramaic community is strong there and includes an Aramaic soccer team, “Syrianska FC” in the Swedish top division from the town of Sodertalje.

Aramaic speakers in Sweden publish a newspaper called “Bahro Suryoyo”, as well as pamphlets and children’s books, including The Little Prince. But what really helps the students learn the language is Soryoyosat, a satellite television station maintained by the Swedish Aramaic community. For some members of these two villages in the holy land, watching Aramaic programming from Swedish TV station provided the first opportunity in decades for them to hear the language spoken outside church. The Associated Press reports that “Hearing it in a modern context inspired them to try revive the language among their communities.”

This is one case, where technology and television are benefitting language learners both in terms of making learning more accessible and in increasing their motivation. These kids are “kickin’ it old school”, using new technology. Aramaic may be saved, yet.

Related post:

Can TV can help you learn another language?



Associated Press. (2012, May 28). Pair of villages in Holy Land teaching Aramaic in effort to revive language that Jesus spoke: New focus comes with help from modern technology. NYDailyNews.com. Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/pair-villages-holy-land-teaching-aramaic-effort-revive-language-jesus-spoke-article-1.1085728

Hadid, D. (2012, May 28). Aramaic: Efforts To Revive Jesus’ Language In Christian Villages Beit Jala, Jish In Holy Land, Sweden. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/28/aramaic-holy-land-jesus_n_1550507.html

Hadid, D. (2012, May 29). Revival of Jesus’ language attempted in two Holy Land villages. Southeast Missourian. Retrieved from http://www.semissourian.com/story/1854012.html


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

A language teacher’s legacy (A year of inspired insights #8)

March 24, 2012

The phone rang in the Halifax apartment that I shared with my university roommate. I answered it and heard the voice of my favorite, cousin, Brian. He was calling to wish me a happy 22nd birthday.

Brian was not only my cousin, he was a lifelong mentor and personal hero. He was the first person in my entire extended family to have ever earned a bachelor’s degree. He had a degree in French. Not only did he have a degree, he had a degree in a foreign language. He also spoke Spanish and had travelled throughout Latin America and other parts of the world.

After getting his degree in French, Brian went on to teach English as a Second Language teacher at a CEGEP (college) in the small community of Rouyn-Noranda, Québec, Canada. As a language teacher, Brian was my first professional mentor. He knew that from an early age I wanted to be a teacher too and he encouraged me to pursue that dream.

A taste for adventure

Brian was a much-loved character in our family because of his adventurous nature, his playful sense of humour, an insatiable curiosity about the world around him and most of all, his willingness to try new things.

My mother once told me the story about a time she and might Dad had an argument. My Dad went out to clear his head. Brian happened to call and my Mom told him about the fight. He said, “I know what will make you feel better! I’ll bring over a pizza!”

Brian arrived some time later, with a fresh, hot pizza. As they sat down to eat it, Mom said, “It tastes funny. What’s on it.”

Brian grinned and said, “Octopus!”

Without thinking, she gagged and spit it out. Even though it was the 1970s and my parents did their fair share of experimenting, the idea of eating an octopus was too far out of her comfort zone.

Offended at what he perceived to her ingratitude for the delicacy, and lack of willingness to try new foods, Brian stood up, slammed the pizza box shut and then tucked it sideways under his arm as if it were a book and said, “There’s more to the world than pepperoni!” He too, then took his leave.

But he was easily forgivable and won others over easily. I often wonder if there is a gene in us that predisposes us to be willing to try new things. Like Brian, I have tried my fair share of exotic foods… everything from deep-fried Guatemalan ants to Alberta “prairie oysters” (bull testicles) and cajun alligator. I don’t mind octopus either, if it’s cooked properly.

A deadly secret revealed

Something in his voice on the phone that day didn’t sound right. He was serious, and Brian was almost never serious. “I know it’s your birthday,” he said. “And I am calling to wish you happy birthday, but I have to talk to you about something.”

“O.K.,” I said, sitting down.

“I am HIV positive.”

“What?” I asked, stunned.

Even though Brian had never officially “come out”, he had also never had a girlfriend or a wife. His private life was never a topic of conversation. His numerous trips around the world provided more than enough fodder for entertaining stories. His most recent trip, however, combined with his overly free spirit were to be his demise.

“Are you sure?” I asked, trying to process what I had just heard.

“Yes, I wouldn’t be calling you if I wasn’t sure. The test results are certain. I got it when I was in Thailand. I was stupid. I had unprotected sex.”

The conversation went on from there. It was the early 1990s… We knew about condoms, but their use was not as widespread as they are today. I had never met anyone before who was HIV positive or had AIDS. We cried together on the phone that day and promised to stay in more frequent contact.

Brian’s legacy

Our phone calls increased in frequency from a few times a year to once a month. There were no “phone plans” then. Every long distance call cost money. Brian knew I was a student, so he often initiated the calls. Nevertheless, I did not want to abuse his good nature and spent a fair amount of money on long distance calls, too.

A year later, I started teaching Spanish. I had no formal training as a teacher. I was a Master’s student and had been awarded a “Graduate Teaching Assistantship”. In the department where I studied, that meant I was given a textbook and a list of my students and told, “Go teach”.

In the first year of my teaching career I struggled to plan my lessons and engage my students. I often found myself at a loss for teaching activities that were interesting and purposeful. The textbook we used was not bad, but it contained only one or two activities for key concepts. My students needed more practice.

During one of our regular phone calls, I lamented, “This textbook we are using just doesn’t have enough activities. Do you have any ideas on how I can teach these basic language concepts?”

Brian replied with, “Sure I do! Don’t worry, textbooks often lack either activities or explanation. You get to fill in what the textbook lacks. That’s the fun part! I’ll send you a few ideas…”

The next week, a package arrived in the mail. Brian’s version of “a few ideas” was 75 or so exercises that he had created himself throughout his teaching career. Every activity included annotations about how what parts of speech it focussed on, how to set it up, how to lead the activity, how to evaluate it and how to connect the activity back to the language concept it addressed and how much time to allow for the activity in class.

He also included hand-written file cards as examples to use with the students. The activities included personal annotations such as, “This activity is good when students are low on energy.” or “Don’t use this one unless they already understand verbs in the preset tense.”

It was a treasure trove of knowledge, practical activities, insights and wisdom.

When the package arrived in the mail I called him and said, “Wow! This is incredible!”

Brian replied with, “Good, now try them and let me know how they work.”

“I do have one question though…” It seemed like an obvious question to me, but I needed to ask it. “You teach ESL. I teach Spanish. How are these going to work for me?”

He chuckled and said, “Some of them apply only to English, but most of them will work for any language. I learned some of them from my French professor in university. Try them. You’ll see…”

I put the activities to use immediately. Brian was right. The students responded well and the activities provided solid learning in an entertaining manner. I was thrilled.

Eventually the envelope that the activities had arrived in became tattered. I took the individual activity sheets, 3-hole punched them and put them into a binder. I still have that binder. Over the past 18 years of my teaching career, I have used every single activity at least once. I have used some of them so many times that I no longer have to refer back to the activity sheets. I just “know” them.

Brian passed away in 1995 from AIDS-related causes. His language learning activities became a staple resource for my professional teaching practice. As a young 20-something, it did not occur to me that he was leaving me his legacy. I was trying to navigate a new professional landscape. Brian not only gave me a map, he bestowed upon me a whole survival toolkit.

Inspired insights

Sarah Eaton speaker presenter keynote education literacyThe older I get the more I understand the importance of sharing what we have learned with those who are new to the profession. I have learned that excellent learning activities can often transcend individual languages. What works in ESL worked just as easily in Spanish (and apparently in French).

Too often, we divide ourselves professionally by the languages we teach. I have often wondered if this is due to language teachers’ own comfort speaking in the language they teach. Let’s face it, it is easier for native Japanese teachers to get together and do professional development in Japanese than it is for a number of people with a variety of languages to get together and share ideas in a common language (which is often English).

While I absolutely think it is important for language teachers to develop professionally and socialize in the languages they teach, I see no value in doing so at the expense of learning from other professionals who might teach a different language.

It is foolhardy to dismiss the validity or discount the wisdom of other teachers simply because they do not teach the same language as us. We have much to learn from one another as language teachers across the entire profession.

5 strategies to leave your own professional legacy

Ask yourself this: What legacy am I leaving? What have you learned over your career that could help others? Here are some simple strategies to capture those ideas, insights and activities.

1. Share your activities with other teachers.

The format is less important than the act of sharing. Whether they are hand-written notes, computer-printed worksheets you have created or digital activities, they are valuable and worth sharing.

2. Relate the activity to learning concepts.

An activity may be fun and engaging, but unless it relates in a functional way to a particular concept or language function, it has little pedagogical value. Help new teachers understand the “method behind the madness” by  making links between your activities and the language functions they support. Activities need to make sense and have clear links to content.

3. Add personal notes.

Have you ever seen a recipe book that is full-handwritten notes from the cooks who have actually tried the recipes? Maybe you have one of those cookbooks yourself. These notes add to the overall value of the actual step-by-step instructions because they share “insider’s tips” and knowledge that is only gained by actually going through the process yourself. Adding the notes personalizes the experience and helps others learn from what you yourself have lived.

4. Include ideas for evaluation or reflection.

In addition to knowing how an activity relates to a learning concept, it is also helpful to share ideas for evaluating it. Not every activity needs to be evaluated with a formal test or quiz. You can still increase a learner’s self-awareness of their learning with a simple reflection at the end of the activity. Sharing your ideas on how to effectively assess or reflect on a particular activity can be very helpful to others who are less familiar with the activity.

5. Share the best of your tried-and-true experience.

How many times have you tried an activity from a textbook and asked yourself, “Did the authors of this book even test this activity before they put it in their book?”

Leaving a legacy isn’t about sharing what you think would work. It is about sharing what has worked — and passing on the wisdom of what you learned from it. If you haven’t personally tested it, leave it out. Let someone else who has tried it share it. Your legacy is about sharing your authentic, lived experience and wisdom.

What are you leaving to the next professional generation?

 Related posts:

A year of inspired insights #7: What to do when a student hates technology

A year of inspired insights #6: You can raise me up: The lasting impact of a teacher’s words

A year of inspired insights #5: When reason falls on deaf ears

A year of inspired insights #3: Servant leadership in the scullery

A year of inspired insights #2: Conversations change everything

A year of inspired insights #1: There’s a silver lining in every ambulance

My 2012 resolution project: A year of inspired insights


Share or Tweet this post: A language teacher’s legacy (A year of inspired insights #8) http://wp.me/pNAh3-1jZ

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

What to do when a student hates technology (A year of inspired insights #7)

March 6, 2012

Gabriel sat there with his arms crossed on the first day of class. A third-year undergraduate student, he had not enrolled in my Effective Learning course by choice. The course was mandatory for students on academic probation. Enrolling and passing the course were among the conditions students had to meet in order to be allowed to stay at the university for one more semester.

Every student had their own story and their own reasons for being on academic probation. While their stories were unique, they shared a common sense of resentment and distain at the idea of being forced to take a class on effective learning. My job was show them strategies and tools they could use to improve their success at university and ultimately, to help them get off probation.

Rather than starting with the idea that the students were somehow deficient and needed “fixing”, I used a strength-based approach to learning and study skills. I started with the assumption that they were all talented, smart and capable. We were going to uncover their strengths and then leverage them to help them succeed.

A rebel without a cell phone

Like his classmates, Gabriel did not particularly want to be there. Unlike his classmates, he was reluctant to explore the idea that he had strengths. He was quietly rebellious. He had hobbies outside school that inspired and energized him, but he could not make the mental connection between the skills he used in his hobbies and the skills he would need to succeed in school and in life. Though his outward appearance did not scream anarchy, it was clear that part of him rejected mainstream culture. He secretly enjoyed the idea of not being part of the status quo.

As part of his desire to express his individualism, he renounced technology. In fact, he started the semester by declaring, “I hate technology. I hate computers. I don’t own a cell phone. I don’t text. I barely check my e-mail. And I especially hate social media! We should learn with books and pens and pencils!”

Being the techno-geek that I am, his words were like fingernails down a chalkboard for me.  I thought to myself, “Great. Just great… I have the only 19-year old Luddite on the entire university campus in my class.”

A strength-based approach to learning

I challenged him, but not on technology. I challenged him to re-examine himself and his skills not in terms of what he didn’t like or felt he was not good at, but rather in terms of his strengths. “So, tell me what you’re good at,” I said.

“What I’m good at?” He looked perplexed.

“Yes. You’ve just said that you’re not a fan of technology. So what are you a fan of? What are you good at?”

“Well…” He thought for a few seconds. “I’m good at public speaking. The art of rhetoric and oratory dates back to the Ancient Greeks. That, to me, education. The Greeks had it right. I think we need more face-to-face communication, not more technology. We need more contact with each other as human beings.”

Gabriel couldn’t help but turn his thinking back to what he didn’t like.

“OK, so forget about technology for a minute,” I said. “Tell me more about public speaking. What makes you good at it?”

He went on to talk about how he loved to stand in front of a crowd and give a speech. Gabe certainly did have “the gift of gab”. He could pontificate on any subject with no preparation. He rambled in a stream-of-consciousness manner and his speech craft needed work, but he was articulate and not at all nervous about speaking up.

I challenged him to explore the art and science of persuasive speaking and to refine his presentation skills. He seemed pleased that I had not pushed the technology issue. He agreed to explore the idea of deepening his public speaking skills.

Assignments using technology and social media: a pedagogical rationale

Throughout the semester, students had a number of assignments that involved technology including learning how to post to a class discussion board and an assignment that involved them using Twitter. This meant opening a social media account, learning how to post, use hashtags and interact with their peers in a meaningful manner.

Gabriel was not happy about these assignments. “Why do we have to use social media?” He growled. “It’s evil.”

“Hhhmm, I’m not sure evil is a word I’d use, but I get that you are not a fan of it. We are using it in a short assignment because learning how to interact effectively with others is an important skill that will serve you both inside and outside the classroom. When you are looking for a job after university, having a sense of what effective digital citizenship is may be helpful.”

He still didn’t like it, but since the assignment was required, he did it.

A strength-based approach to assessment – With digital and analog options

Instead of a final exam, I arranged for the students to do a strength-based assessment of their learning. Their learning portfolio was carefully explained and students were given a grading rubric so that they would clearly understand what constituted a highly successful – or not-so-successful – learning portfolio.

Students were given the option of choosing their own format for their portfolio. A traditional binder with pages inside divided into sections was one option. An e-portfolio was another option.

The archangel of surprises

To my amazement, only one student developed an e-portfolio: Gabriel.

While the other students were keen to use technology to text their friends or check in on Facebook, when it came to using technology for learning, they opted not to.

It was Gabriel who chose to develop his own website using Google sites, and add pages and entries to create a digital learning portfolio. He also used his digital camera to document the entire process of the creation and wrote reflective journal posts about the process of constructing his e-portfolio.

In his reflective online journal posts, he discussed the method he used to create his site, the process he went through to conceptualize what his e-portfolio should look like and how it should be organized and how he went about curating and including entries.

As a tech geek, it thrilled me to bits that my self-proclaimed technology hater was the only student in the class to choose the digital option for his final assignment.

As a teacher, what impressed me the most was the depth of his metacognitive and self-reflective process as a learner that he invested into the project. It was evident that he did not do it as a slap in the face or some kind of bizarre act of defiance. It was not a case of, “See? Any idiot can do tech!” Instead, he demonstrated a sincere willingness to step out of his comfort zone and try something new.

He engaged deeply with the assignment and used self-reflection and analytical thinking to drive his learning process.

I reflected for some time on why Gabriel may have chosen a digital option for his final assignment. While it was true that over the course of the semester we’d had some good conversations and he was doing much better in his studies, I was not convinced that alone was enough of a reason to make him to a technology-based project. He was not just using technology to consume information — searching web sites and reference articles on line, he was using technology to create something that was entirely his own.

I was so happy I wanted to cry, precisely because I knew that this was a really, really big deal for him. He was willing to go out on a limb and try something that three months earlier he had been dead-set against.

Here’s what I learned:

7 Tips to deal with a student who is resistant to technology

1. Allow critics the right to their opinion

This creates a mental and social space for dialogue to occur. Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.” If you are a tech supporter, are you really ready to entertain the thought that technology is a turn off for some people?

2. Be an advocate, not an antagonist

If someone really, really hates technology then you saying, “You MUST do it this way!” does little to inspire them. Instead, try engaging the learner in an open dialogue about why they feel that the way they do. The point is not to try and change their mind (antagonistic), but to allow the other person to be heard, and ensure that you are heard, too (advocate).

3. Provide logical reasons for what you are doing

If you incorporate technology into your classes, be very clear about you are doing do. Do not go high tech simply because it is fashionable. Ensure there are sound pedagogical (or at least logical) reasons for doing so. Be able to articulate those reasons to your learners. Even if they do not agree, they are more likely to respect you as a professional for being able to explain why you are using technology in a particular way.

4. Focus on learners’ strengths

Just because a learner may not like technology does not mean that they lack talents, skills and abilities. If tech is not their strength, find out what is. Help them identify and cultivate what they are really, really good at. Make it about them and their learning journey, not about prescriptive course content or worse, about using technology simply because you say they have to. Students do not have to be “fixed” and they will not suddenly become complete and whole human beings as soon as we stuff them with the right knowledge. Start with the idea that they are strong, capably and perfectly OK they way they are. Build on what they are already good at.

5. Earn, then develop learners’ trust

When you help learners shine in a way that makes them feel comfortable and safe, they are more likely to trust you. When students trust you, they are more likely to allow themselves to be vulnerable when they are around you. When they allow themselves to be vulnerable, the are more likely to engage in new acivities or tasks in which they have lower levels of confidence or engagement.

6. Let learners adopt technology at their own pace

Sarah Elaine Eaton, speaker, presenter, keynote, technology, social media, Calgary, Canada, educator, education, professional developmentNot everyone is an innovator or an early adopter. That is not only OK, it is a scientifically proven phenomenon, as evidenced by Everett Rogers in his 1962 Diffusion of Innovation theory. People adopt new innovations at a variety of rates. Some people lag behind others. There is nothing wrong with that. Let them be a little reluctant. It’s who they are. Gentle guidance is more effective than pushy insistence.

7. Give learners options

Acknowledge that while technology is an important aspect of twenty-first century learning, it is not the only way. As human beings, we were perfectly capable of learning before the the personal computer was popularized in the 1980s. We can train our brain to be curious even if there is no technology around. We can also develop critical and analytical thinking skills without sitting in front of a computer. By giving learners options in terms of how high-tech they want to go, we keep the learning focussed on the student and their lifelong journey as learners.

Inspired insight: As an educator, I have biases too

Every now and then, a student with a completely different way of thinking and looking at the world may open themselves up to try something new. We lead by example when we  as teachers, allow ourselves to look at the world differently, too — even when it makes us uncomfortable to do so.

While I remain a huge advocate of technology and a techno-geek, I also realize that this  is a bias in my own personality and teaching. As teachers, we all have biases. I am openly biased in favour of using technology for learning. There are those who are biased against it.

There is value in recognizing and questioning our own biases as educators and as human beings. When it is helpful for our students, being able to set aside our biases and focus on what helps them learn in a way that makes sense for them is one of the most difficult — and most productive — skills we can learn as teachers.

Related posts:

A year of inspired insights #6: You can raise me up: The lasting impact of a teacher’s words

A year of inspired insights #5: When reason falls on deaf ears

A year of inspired insights #3: Servant leadership in the scullery

A year of inspired insights #2: Conversations change everything

A year of inspired insights #1: There’s a silver lining in every ambulance

My 2012 resolution project: A year of inspired insights


Share or Tweet this post: What to do when a student hates technology http://wp.me/pNAh3-1it

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Skype for Literacy and Language Learning: “How To” Tips and Best Practices for Teachers

February 21, 2012

Sarah Eaton, literacy, languages, language, ESL, EAL, keynote, speaker, presenter, Canada, Alberta, English, educationAfter doing a number of workshops and research on how to use Skype for literacy and international languages, I’ve put together a free, downloadable guide for teachers and tutors.

Here’s what is in the guide:

  • Introduction
    • Technical requirements
    • Thinking about a computer-to-computer call
    • Skype versus other technologies
    • Skype-enabled handsets
  • Set up your Skype account
  • Add Contacts
  • Make a Skype call
  • Advanced features
    • Conference calls
    • Instant messaging or chat
    • File sharing
    • Screen Sharing
  • Ideas on how you can use Skype
    • Personal use
    • Organizational use
    • Marketing your programs
    • Teaching
    • Tutoring
  • Conclusions
  • Bibliography (includes 22 citations)

Check out the guide and download it from Scribd:

View this document on Scribd


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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