Dr. Jennifer Sheridan Moss of Wayne State University and I co-led a lunchtime roundtable discussion on technology and teaching Latin/Greek at the 2008 annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and American Philological Society. Six teachers (one junior high, one college, four high school), one entrepreneur, and one college student joined us to fill the table. The 90-minute discussion covered everything from iPods/podcasting to Second Life to on-line flashcards and Internet-only parsed Latin readers (e.g. Cambridge's Lectrix software).
Almost halfway into the discussion time, talk of specific gadgets and websites and other on-line resources was replaced by some very interesting, difficult questions which are necessary to ask as teachers, students, software developers, and publishers:
1) Access to technology -- The assembled group did believe that Internet access is widely available to most students in the United States, specifically high schools and colleges. One teacher lectures to students who do not have computers at home, much less the Internet, but do have free access to use computers in the school's computer labs. It is up to the teacher to decide if Internet use will be required for completing compulsory coursework. As for gadgets like iPods, schools like Duke University give an iPod to every incoming student. The same is true of Wayne State University's language lab. Gadgets must be provided to students to use in order for it to be fair to everyone completing courses and homework that require their use.
2) Knowledge of technology -- Students know what iPods are and that information can be found on-line, but many of the teachers at the table discovered that this knowledge if mostly superficial for many of their students. One junior high school teacher at the table did assign a class project that could include an optional PowerPoint presentation, but the assignment was given with the warning that the teacher would not be technical support as students created PowerPoint slides. Dr. Moss assigned a podcasting project but the results were disastrous. Her students were warned about how long and difficult a first-time podcast would be, but many students left the project to the last minute and could not complete their projects in time. One high school teacher at our table mentioned that he will try technology classroom projects twice, and if a project bombs on the second try, he tosses it out of his syllabus.
3) Educational Timing -- One criticism of on-line exercises and drills was the fact that students get the results back too fast of the questions they missed when drilling on the Internet. Student habits which have been observed by many at the roundtable are to plow through the questions, and that the self-correcting elements are either glossed over or ignored in a student's pursuit of completing the series of questions. The assembled teachers (and student) felt that these exercises are valuable, however, but perhaps we could think about how to work with the coaching aspect of self-correcting exercises.
4) Flexibility -- All agreed that technology needed to be flexible, and that self-pacing exercises, software, and the like meets the needs of all students instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach.
5) Practicality -- Everyone assembled at the roundtable also agreed that technology should be used to teach/learn Latin/Greek only if it fulfills this mission in a way that standard, non-digital methods cannot. Any new software/hardware "solution" must be evaluated by this standard. It seemed to the group that at times schools and school districts can get distracted by something shiny, new, and high-tech and will ignore this question in favor of being contemporary. But if that shiny, new, high-tech thing enables us to teach language in a way that is better than before, then it should be tested and hopefully accepted.