A great week for me (September 14-20)  as this was the first time I was participating in an online course on the Moodle platform. The course was  organised by SEETA (South Eastern Europe Teachers Associations)

The topic was “Teaching without Technology”  with Scott Thornbury as the tutor and, by the end of the week, about 100 registered participants. The course was announced via email to prospective participants – I received my own notification through Windows Outlook courtesy of TESOL Macedonia-Thrace, the Northern Greece Chapter of TESOL International.

The course was posted on Twitter and retweeted several times by friends and colleagues on my PLN (Personal Learning Network) as well as by  Scott Thornbury himself (who is also part of my PLN ).

On Facebook where I posted it as an announcement to my teacher friends, a couple  queried the fact that a course on this topic would be taking place online but quite a few others decided to disregard these remarks and registered as well!

Scott Thornbury is the creator of the DOGME movement – “not an approach” as he hastens to add, and rightly so, lest he should appear to be replicating similar approaches, and most specifically early CLT, throwing people off deep ends or the famous “bus ticket” approach to CLT favoured by C. Candlin &  M.Breen (1980).

More on DOGME for those interested in the Yahoo discussion group with the title “Dogme – a pedagogy of bare essentials”.

This discussion promised interesting and sure enough, Gavin Dudeney appeared on the register as a student. Some held their breath since a day or two before the course start, Gavin had written a rather provocative but quite funny post with the title “A Passion for War(craft)” a parable of the effects of denying students access to technology, so we all waited with bated breath fearing bloodshed and a continuation of the constant jabs Scott and Gavin direct at each other on Twitter.

A short break to listen to a favourite song by U2, read the first few lines of the lyrics and do some imaginative prediction…

WITH OR WITHOUT YOU
“See the stone set in your eyes
See the thorn twist in your side
I wait for you
Sleight of hand and twist of fate
On a bed of nails she makes me wait
And I wait without you
With or without you
With or without you”

Well,  in the end, no stones or other materials were thrown about or were made to block our vision and no thorns twisted in anyone’s side but a lot of great discussions were generated, all thanks to Scott who prompted, probed and moderated the course with great finesse managing  to avoid major clashes with any of the course participants.

From the word go it was clear that we were debating DOGME vs technology and Scott queried us all closely on the issue of using technologies in our classes. A variety of viewpoints, applications and even actual lessons ( one which stands out in my memory is one described by Karenne Sylvester, self-declared Dogmeist (I suppose some sort of suffix was needed) were discussed by the participants and it soon became obvious that most people – including the tutor – were in favour of a principled use of technologies “for a defined cause”, a great phrase by Michele Ben in one of her posts.

The discussion is all there for anyone to see and even now to add comments and continue it – unmoderated now of course, but a great read and with lots of participants who seem keen to keep it going.

So, With or Without Technology?

All the links to technological miracles in my post should indicate my own personal attitude – but I can also bawl out  “With or Without you” to my students if technology fails me,  or just can’t find that CD in good time for my lesson. Though listening to U2  and watching them on You Tube is not quite the same experience, is it?

I can put up my students’ errors on the chalkboard or whiteboard but giving the class a soundfile of their spoken output recorded through some programme like Audacity (an open source application) is a completely different experience and engages them at a completely different level.

And if I am using this programme and I have asked them to write a new verse to the song they like, then I can also record them singing the song and their own new lyrics and give this memory bit a  much longer life.

But sometimes it’s also lots of fun NOT to use a storyboard application from the web but to give my learners bits of card and paper for an improvisation activity or post-its stuck on their back for a fun guessing game.

Who decides?

This was mentioned during the SEETA discussions although not perhaps to the extent it could have been developed – the question on who makes the decisions. And the assumptions on both sides seem to indicate that given any opportunity to choose, the learners would choose technology (according to some) or without technology according to others. I am not so sure about that.

Perhaps I am unaware of good research but I am hesitant about research which asks learners questions of this kind – who are the learners and how they are asked is often problematic. I think we have to be honest and say that we have to make some choices and some decisions, and if we are learner focused we may ask our learners how they feel about them and whether they liked a method, technique or approach – something which Karenne attempted by showing us a video recording of one of her students who very articulately described dogme and his understanding of it….

Whether his fluency is because of dogme or because of other factors is not something which was very clear to me, but I fully support her openness to her learners regarding the methods she uses and the objectives and thinking behind the way she teaches her learners.

Discussion open and comments welcome.

Some further reading

Breen,M. & Candlin, C. (1980). The essentials of a communicative curriculum in language teaching. Applied Linguistics, 1/2, 89-112.

Dogme – a Teacher’s View from the British Council – BBC website Thornbury, S. (2008).

The Dogma of Dogme – Karenne Sylvester’s blog post which contains lots more good links

P.S. For the benefit of those of my trainees who were not able to participate, I saved the discussion pages in pdf format and if interested in reading it but unwilling to register to SEETA as a participant, you can email me for a copy.

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