A 'common sense' approach to the use of technology in the EFL classroom

Angela Pilello


Like it or not, we are living in the midst of the digital age.  Why do I say this?  Because there are those of us who have “grown” with technology organically and there are those of us who have been forced to “come to terms” with technology.  Those who belong to the first group feel “comfortable” with technology, while those who belong to the second group, are under pressure to adapt to the new reality.  Some have done so successfully while others are still struggling and some have refused outright.   But whatever the case, as teachers we cannot ignore the presence of technology in our world and, most importantly, in the lives of our students. 

Regardless of our position in what I call the technology comfort zone, I don’t think anyone can deny that technology can be a powerful educational tool if used appropriately.  As teachers our challenge is to define the role of technology in the classroom and to ensure that we use it in ways that help language learning.  So how do we do that?  Having read various articles on the subject, I’d like to share Michael Morgan’s view (see references below). 

Morgan puts forward a number of tips that all come down to common sense and are based on the premise that technology can only be judged as effective if it is used in a way that promotes learning – in our case English language learning.

Primarily, he warns that neither enthusiasm nor the pressure to adopt new technology must cloud our judgment as teachers.  If our purpose is to achieve specific teaching objectives and facilitate learning, then it stands to reason that any technology used in the classroom must be compatible with those objectives.  If the technology does not support those objectives, then it should not be used.  Sounds pretty sensible, right?

In selecting the technology to be used in the classroom, Morgan’s approach can be broken down as follows:

Step 1:  Define your teaching objectives first. This is something teachers do every time they plan a lesson.  Selecting the right technology should be no exception.

Step 2:  Identify what is out there and examine the relationship between new technology and its predecessors. For example, letters and fax machines came before email.  Our lives have now been “Google-ized.”  Using internet browsers such as Google, we now have access to an enormous amount of information – books, videos, images, music and so on – that were not previously available in digital form.  Black boards, whiteboards, CD players and overhead projectors came before interactive whiteboards and so the list goes on.  Whatever the technology, thinking about what it replaces can help to clarify its compatibility with specific teaching objectives and how it can be implemented in the classroom.

Step 3:  Consider the implications of new technology on English language teaching.  Let’s look at a few examples. Today it has become second nature to send SMS texts and/or chat on Facebook using brief texts that combine words, “code” and emoticons. If the objective is to teach informal writing, we need to ask ourselves whether it is appropriate to teach/study these forms of written communication in the English language classroom.  Some might say “no” because they do not employ correct English, while others will argue that it is appropriate to expose learners to these models of “live” English provided that students have reached a certain level of proficiency.

The internet can be an excellent resource for expanding on topics that are covered in the classroom.  But teachers need to take care that the allure of “surfing” does not make them or their students stray from their teaching/learning objectives. 

Not too long ago, there was enthusiasm and skepticism for Interactive Whiteboards.  Fundamentally they haven’t changed the core of EFL teaching.  Students are still required to do a variety of grammar and vocabulary tasks.  However, IWBs have certainly proved to be an excellent tool to present these tasks in an engaging way that keeps students motivated, attentive and promotes group participation.

Step 4:  Select the technology that fits the teaching objective(s) – not the other way round! 

Another hurdle often referred to as a barrier to the effective integration of technology in the EFL classroom, is that some teachers may feel intimidated by students who are more technologically savvy than they are.   But at the end of the day, it’s important to remember that we are the facilitators of learning and as such, we are not expected to be technological “whiz kids.”  Yes, we are required to “familiarize” ourselves with new technology.   But in addition to that, why not learn from our students and use their input to create a meaningful learning environment?

Certainly, the plethora of new technology can be overwhelming and the digital age indisputably presents a new challenge to teachers.  But remember:

  • Define your teaching objectives first
  • Examine available technology and what it does
  • Review the impact of technology on teaching
  • Determine which technology supports your teaching objectives
  • If the technology helps you to achieve your teaching objectives, use it.  If not, don’t.
  • Don’t feel “intimidated” by technologically-savvy students.  Collaborate with them to become more “tech” proficient and to set up meaningful learning scenarios.

Of course there are other issues to consider when integrating new technology in the EFL classroom.  But if we follow Morgan’s advice and view technology as an educational tool, at least we won’t make the fundamental mistake of “forcing our educational objectives to fit the technology.”

It makes sense to me.  I hope it does to you.

Angela Pilello

Independent ELT Consultant

B.A., Dip. Ed., Dip. Mgmt., Dip. Bus.Admin



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  • Morgan, Michael. “More Productive Use of Technology in the ESL/EFL Classroom.” The Internet TESL Journal, VOL XIV, No.7.  July 2008. Web. 31 May 2013.
  • Orr, Michael. “Learner Perceptions of Interactive Whiteboards in EFL Classrooms,” CALL-EJ Online Vol. 9, No. 2.  February 2008. Web. 31 May 2013.
  • Valdez, Gilbert, Ph.D. “Critical Issue: Technology: A Catalyst for Teaching and Learning in the Classroom,” North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. Posted 2005. Web. 31 May 2013.