This paper reports on in-depth interviews about attitudes to technology with English language teachers in a Japanese university. Despite the ubiquity of mobile device usage among students (and most staff) in daily life, and the manifest utility of mobile technology as a tool for language learning, there is little support within the institution for the exploitation of mobile technology within the context of formal learning.
A small group of highly experienced English teachers, both Japanese and non-Japanese nationals, in a private women’s university in Japan self-identified themselves as ‘Luddites’ or ‘old fashioned’ with regard to technology. The teachers are all senior faculty members with between twenty and forty years teaching experience. It was found that despite most teachers having fairly extensive abilities using technology in their private lives and for research, their use of technology for education was fairly limited.
This group formed the focus of the present inquiry. Their attitudes are explored through the lens of three contrasting explanatory propositions:
- That reticence to engage with technology is a cognitive deficit which can be addressed through appropriate training;
- That reticence to engage with technology is based on irrational and groundless fears about technology;
- That reticence to engage with technology is based on justified fear and awareness of the risks not only of technology itself, but of the march of technology in education.
With regard to proposition 1, whilst teachers who do not engage with technology are sometimes the target of initiatives to improve “digital literacy”, there are indications to suggest that cognitive deficit is not the issue. The group expressed views about teaching and learning which privilege face-to-face conversation, criticising mobile tools as potentially ‘distracting’ and not affording the richness of face-to-face dialogue. Given that there is evidence to support these concerns in the literature (Losh, 2014, Selwyn, 2016) it seems that their rational basis cannot be dismissed.
In rejecting proposition 2 on these grounds, we consider proposition 3 in more depth. The advocacy of technology in education characterises most of the literature in educational technology. We highlight the self-identification of these interviewees as indicative of opposition to an orthodoxy, which disregards many of the risks identified as “rational” contrary to proposition 2. We argue that this boundary is one of conflicting determinations of effectiveness of technology in education. This reveals an underdetermination of risk on the part of the advocates of technology in education, and that a constructive determination of risk is hampered by the negative positioning of those who do not engage with it.
In conclusion, we argue that a coherent framework for rich descriptions of educational experience both in face-to-face and through online and mobile tools is required in order to be able to establish the foundations for an account of risks of innovation and those of institutional conservatism. The prospects for this are currently hampered by negative positioning of those who reject technology, and blind faith in those who champion it.
Losh, E. (2014). The War on Learning- Gaining Ground in the Digital University. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Selwyn, N. (2016). Is Technology Good For Education? Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.