Why do the Cambridge courses steer clear of technology?

The classroom is changing.

I’ve only been teaching English for three and a half years but even in this short time I’ve noticed the massive developments in the technology available to assist teachers in the classroom. Some of these innovations may be a little gimmicky, but there have been hundreds of really useful ones and it seems to me that many schools around the world (especially in North America) are switching over to take advantage of the new tools at their disposal.

I’m lucky enough to work for such a school and have had many opportunities to try out some of these websites, apps and other multimedia in class and with teachers during training sessions. In fact, the whole company recently switched over to Google for Education, giving the chance to collaborate in real time on documents, spreadsheets, websites and more. Teachers are encouraged to try out these new technologies in class with their students, and they generally receive a positive reaction when doing so.

Yet despite these huge leaps forwards in what we can do with smartphones and projectors in the classroom, it seems that the people who matter in ELT, Cambridge, haven’t been as quick on the uptake. So far on my DELTA course the most technologically advanced moment we’ve had is when one of the trainers put on a TED talk video as an example of authentic materials. When we asked whether the tutor could make the huge piles of handouts he’s given us available online instead, he said this was impossible, giving some vague, mumbled answer that left us all a little confused. I know from personal experience that this would take about 10 minutes if he shared the folder with us on Google Drive, so I can only assume that the powers that be have told him to keep it traditional and stick to paper handouts. The inclusion of technology was similarly lacking when I took the YL extension course last year.

I can have a guess at the reasons behind this reluctance to embrace 21st century technology. I assume that Cambridge would argue that these courses provide you with training that you can use anywhere in the world, without having to rely on computers and tablets and that they’re focused on teaching you how to teach, not how to use certain websites and apps. This is sound logic, and these courses are excellent preparation for any classroom anywhere in the world, but I still feel that they’re missing a trick by not at least showing trainees what’s available out there.

I think that most teachers would agree that the modern learner expects to use some type of technology in the classroom and is far more engaged than they are when just using the course book. Additionally, the argument that not everywhere in the world has access to technology is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Recent studies have shown that by 2016, 2 billion people will have a smartphone with Internet access, apps and hundreds of other features. Here in Vietnam, most people have at least two phones and they’re constantly using them to chat with friends, catch up on the  news, watch videos or even to create content for themselves.

I guess my point is that, if 21st century technology is so widespread and has such an impact on the daily lives of the students, then teachers should be using it in the classroom too, and by extension training courses like CELTA and DELTA should include elements of technology in them.

It might be a little hyperbolic to suggest that failure to make changes to these courses could result in them becoming obsolete. After all, Cambridge is where the money is in ELT at the moment and as everyone knows, where there’s money, there’s power. However, we are starting to see a movement away from learning in the traditional classroom, with apps like Duolingo and flipped learning models becoming more popular, and this, coupled with an increase in the availability and quality of online courses run by corporate giants like Google, could lead to a shift in who’s in charge in this teaching industry. Therefore, I for one feel that it’s time for Cambridge to embrace these changes, before the 21st century learning bandwagon leaves them behind.

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