From the chalkboard to the abacus and beyond, technology has always played an important role in education. Educational technology refers to any teaching tool that helps supports learning (1), and given the rapid advancements in Information Technology and multimedia applications, the potential to support the teaching of foreign languages in Algerian universities is ever more great.
The use of modern technologies can enrich the experience of learning a foreign language because they provide features that are not present in traditional technology. They can offer a wide range of multimedia resources, opportunities for intensive one-to-one learning in language labs and resources for authentic materials, which can be motivating to both students and teachers. The advent of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and online interaction can also open up new range of self-access and distance learning opportunities (2).
But technology can also be a source of distraction, particularly when its use conflicts with learning goals. Interestingly however, when the use of technology is a means rather than an end in itself, learners can still acquire ICT literacy in the process and this is something that could be harvested for the benefit of the learning experience.
A recent study on the use of technology in higher education in Scotland and Wales, for instance, found that the social web has had a profound influence on students behaviour (3). This implies that teachers must cope with the needs of this digital generation of learners in order to avoid a digital divide. Importantly, the study identified two crucial issues that should be considered in policy and practice in higher education. The first is ensuring access to technology for all and the development of practical skills – including staff skills – in the use of technology as a basic right. The second is ensuring that both learners and teachers possess the skills and understanding to search, authenticate and critically evaluate material from the range of appropriate sources.
Despite the widespread of the Internet and computer applications particularly in the past decade in Algeria, the situation in its universities is tellingly different. Technology is seldom made accessible for teachers and students despite the new educational reforms which emphasised the integration of technology, and multimedia labs in particular, in higher education. These reforms are exemplified in the LMD system (Licence, Master, Doctorat); a new system adopted at the Algerian university between 2004 and 2005, and, as of 2011, generalised in all faculties. The LMD system’s emphasis on the integration of ICT and multilingualism is translated in the addition of a transversal teaching unit in the curriculum comprising compulsory foreign language and ICT courses.
To urge the utilisation of ICTs in the educational process is something, but to practically encourage their usage and ensure the implementation of reforms is something else. The introduction of the LMD system aimed to keep the Algerian university abreast of new trends in higher education to attain the international standards followed elsewhere in the world, including the use of technology enhanced learning (4), but little is done to ensure the application of its principles.
Having been an English Language Teaching (ELT) lecturer at the English Department of the University of Setif for five years, I have noticed that there is no systematic use of modern technological tools in the EFL (English as a foreign Language) classroom. Instructors are not encouraged to use modern technologies due to little access to ICT facilities at work, outmoded language labs, class size and instability at the level of administrative management. This situation does not reflect the aims set to be achieved by the LMD system.
It is worth noting that the majority of instructors claim that they tend to use traditional tools, namely chalk/white boards and handouts, rather than modern technologies as a matter of accessibility and availability. Some make personal efforts by using their own laptops in the lectures since these are convenient and easy to carry anytime anywhere, which shows that teachers have the aptitude to use technology in class if these are within reach. Traditional media like handouts and chalk/white boards remain efficient tools, always helpful and never go out of date, but there is plenty of room to improve the experience of teaching and learning a foreign language.
The case of other language departments in Algerian universities is perhaps no different than my own experience in Setif University, though there is an urgent need for in-depth studies to confirm this and essentially understand the teaching dynamics in Algerian universities so that adequate measures are taken to accommodate them. While such thorough studies remain missing, the following practical suggestions could be useful in the meantime:
ICT technology is increasingly used at the personal level in Algeria, but it is time to make the leap towards exploiting the potential of this technology in educational settings. There are many difficult challenges that need to be overcome in order to achieve this, but perhaps a first step is to ensure that reforms are implemented in practice and encouraged on the ground of the Algerian university rather than merely articulated on paper.
(2) Graham Davies, Editor-in-Chief, ICT4LT Website. Sue Hewer, Freelance Educational Consultant, UK. ICT4LT Module 1.1 Introduction to new technologies and how they can contribute to language learning and teaching. Retrieved from this link. Last accessed July 2012.
(3) Plenderleith, J. and Adamson, V. (2009). The policy landscape of transformation. In T. Mayes, D. Morrison, H. Mellar, P. Bullen and M. Oliver (Eds.), Transforming Higher Education through Technology-enhanced Learning (pp. 6-18). York: The Higher Education Academy.
(4) Idri, N. (2005). The LMD system experience as a struggle between the educational development and reform: An analytical study of the endeavour of the academic year 2004/2005 in Bejaia University with suggested solutions. Rencontres Internationales sur le Dispositif LMD Problèmes et Perspectives, 4-5 Dec, 2005, Université de Bejaia. Retrieved from this link. Last accessed July 2012.