Monday, 4 May 2015

Guest Post -Dr. Atanu Bhattacharya

Digital Technologies and Teaching-Learning:
 Certain potential questions
Atanu Bhattacharya
School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies
Central University of Gujarat, Gandhinagar 
The ubiquity of web-based technology either at the policy level or at the, less discussed and yet profoundly significant, transactional level of the English classroom has created a discourse that seems to seep into the basic framework of all pedagogical discussions today. The contours of this discourse are shaped by, and negotiated through, diverse terms that often circumscribe the position of the learner (‘digital native’, ‘digital immigrant’ or ‘digital outcast’) in the field of language pedagogy, or construct an overarching framework of ‘inevitability’ that is elevated in policy documents, or foregrounds narratives of ‘affordance’, ‘learning environments’/ ‘syncing’ among practitioners. The transition from web 1.0 to web 2.0, and the auguring of web 3.0 soon, has only furthered the intensification of this discourse. This especially is significant in the Asian context where e-learning initiatives across curriculum have gained considerable ground particularly in the tertiary sector. Policy makers, administrators, and educators are often engaged in shaping the possible transactional boundaries within the language classroom. While many of these web-based/ non-web based initiatives across Asia are top-down, a study of the realization of these initiatives within actual pedagogic framework of classrooms would be, to say the least, illuminating.

In the context of Asia, however, one needs to proceed with caution. This is due to the fact that while digital pedagogy is celebrated as liberational in certain contexts, especially when the discourse veers around extending learning beyond the classrooms, in some other contexts, it is often regulated through institutional apparata (through ‘Do not use mobiles’ or ‘No Chatting’ types of prohibitory texts). While the advocates of digital technology often proclaim the immense benefits and possibilities that these technologies bring, the dissenters, so to say, often delight in pointing out the lack of criticality and absence of a coherent information retrieval framework for learners that these technologies engender. The debate thus, seems to hinge around three major issues:
a)         Do emerging digital technologies play a significant role in buttressing the content-heavy pedagogy of the Asian English classroom?
b)         Do we “tweak” existing pedagogic principles to fit in digital possibilities or are emerging technologies themselves moulding the way we teach our “digital natives”?
c)         Is there a cultural connect between digital learners outside the classroom and the content-digitisation within?

While the first issue is integral to digital interventions since it touches upon questions of negotiating the curriculum that is heavily loaded with texts that are to be ‘completed’ and ‘assessed’, the second issue assumes that if and when digital intervention happens, methodological concerns immediately come to the fore. These would involve concerns not only in transactional terms but also how to integrate and evaluate such interventions in a still overwhelmingly ‘traditional’ evaluation framework. The third issue possibly requires further elaboration. What I intend to say here is that ‘digital literacies’ or ‘digital engagement’ is often perceived as initiatives in English pedagogy that do not have semiotic import. What, then, are the possible ramifications if digitization itself is seen as a cultural construct and is located within the socio-cultural praxis of “teaching” English? How, in other words, can we theorise such a “construct” and “practice”? Or do we need to?

The questions, I would wish to ask are:
a) How do we explore the practice of technology within the English classroom in Asian contexts?
b) How do we probe the pedagogic principles of English “teaching” (the methodologies) that need to be adhered to / discarded/ reattributed/ reformulated due to emerging technologies?
c) How do we investigate the links within a particular context, however immanently, with a view to locate digital technologies within cultural matrices and theoretical praxes.

I personally think that we need to bring together these three seemingly disparate strands together in the field of English teaching: digital practice; the interdependence/ interlinks between principles and practice; and, the theoretical framework needed to engage with this cultural conjuncture.

Your comments are welcome!