-My dear child, how am I possibly to learn English? At my age, I shouldn't even bother.
-I know you are a modern language school, but giving us homework online? Really, I find it quite problematic.
- What do you mean - you sent us an email? I rarely check that. I may have even forgotten the password.
Having been an English teacher in a private language school for several years, I have had a good fortune to work solely with adult learners. So far, the experience has been rewarding; however, after becoming a school manager and implementing some technological novelties in the classroom, I was surprised that I had to deal with different forms of resistance, as described in the examples above.
Students in our language school are between 18 and 60 years old and are an educational melting pot. One thing that seems to link them all, however, is the strong dislike towards technological aides in the classroom. Even in the 21st century, some old rules of thumb still prevail - learning shouldn't be fun; it should involve a book, a notebook and a pen; going online for the sake of learning is a waste of time. In a country such as ours, it is immensely difficult to convince even younger students to open up to new sources of learning.
Nevertheless, we are proud to be able to report some progress in this area. One of the most useful tools I have had the chance to use is Amazon Alexa, a piece of artificial intelligence able to assist with spelling, factual information and pronunciation practice. We practiced asking correct questions in English, played spelling games and had a couple of quiz evenings. Its main contribution is, however, motivational rather than educational - my students feel they are communicating to a native speaker of a sort.
In addition to this, more than one class was enriched with the help of QR Codes. Students are provided with several papers with codes, usually cleverly scattered around the classroom. Upon finding it, students are supposed to scan the code with the help of an application and load revision questions prepared for that particular class. This is done in teams, so that students could compete in groups and at the same time revise the previously covered material. Using a mobile phone in class gives them certain liberty, and revision (so often dreaded in paper form) becomes a game. This is merely one use of QR codes - they can be used for introducing new grammatical point, describing photographs or crossword puzzles.
Finally, one thing I love giving every once in a while is online homework. It varies in frequency and type, but students don't have the feeling they are doing homework if it is set on a platform that they connect with fun and entertainment. Apart from sending homework files via email, one can get creative and ask them to watch a certain YouTube video and write a summary, create podcasts where they would discuss topics covered in class, or even writing an essay in Google Docs where other students would do the grading (thus giving them the power of a teacher).
Options are limitless and students have become more and more open to new technologies and online learning. Still, we still seem to be fond of old-fashioned desks and blackboards and the transition is much slower than in some other countries. One of the main reasons lies not only in students, but teachers as well. I believe it is possible to change the current state by increasing the number of seminars dealing with digital literacy and encompassing both general public and professionals in the field. Additionally, many seminars and conferences present digital tools that are rather expensive for an average Serbian consumer. Offering certain discounts or providing several installments would certainly go a long way in increasing the number of users. Lastly, introducing grants for digitalising classrooms all over Serbia would help build a new generation of digital users. This is currently a case in our capital city, Belgrade, but many smaller towns are still struggling with this notion.
I remain hopeful that digital revolution is going to change the perception we have of education. Learning is by no means dull, uninspiring and repetitive - it can be entertaining and educational at the same time, if we know how to go about it. English teachers have already felt the dash of that change, being couriers of the most important language in the world; it remains to be seen what novelties digital era has to offer to other fields as well. Only by hard work and perseverance can we make sure that new generations of adults will embrace online learning as a useful tool in their continuous development.