chapter  14
Technology and language learning
ByRichard Kern
Pages 15

The relationship between technology and language learning begins over 5,000 years ago with the development of writing. Using clay tablets and reed styluses, Mesopotamian scribes used writing chiefly for accounting purposes, but pedagogy had its place too. Archaeological findings include lexical lists – thematically organized groupings of Sumerian words for professions, places, trees, wooden objects, leather objects, stones, fish, and so on – which scribes used to teach the conventions of the cuneiform writing system to their apprentices (Green 1986). Racing through millennia, through the use of wax tablets and papyrus rolls in Ancient

Greece, through parchment manuscripts in medieval times, we come to the form of technology that has without question had the greatest impact on language learning: the printed book. Books could be perused in nonlinear fashion, and were therefore well suited for reference use and autonomous study. Once they become affordable through mass production, they altered the relationship between learner and teacher. With knowledge and standards transmitted by print, teachers were no longer necessarily the ultimate source of all knowledge and came increasingly to be viewed as interpreters of books (Kelly 1976). In the last 150 years, the phonograph, radio, film, tape recorders, television, and the com-

puter have all played their role in language learning. Computer technology, because it incorporates and remediates all of the foregoing media, and because it has become so integrated into people’s daily lives in industrialized societies, will be the focus of this chapter. But it should be borne in mind that the questions and issues raised are usually not just pertinent to computers but relate to technological support in general. Similarly, debates about the primacy of teachers versus technologies in teaching are not new. Despite the cries of doomsayers who believe that computers will replace teachers, teachers in the digital age are as essential as ever in helping students to make and interpret meaning in a new language and culture. A unique and defining feature of digital technology is that it combines previous media

which were traditionally displayed in their own specific medium and format (e.g. paper, vinyl, magnetic tape, cellulose) and represents text, image, sound, and video with a common underlying data structure encoded in zeros and ones, allowing unprecedented integration and manipulability of media. These changes in the material infrastructure of media, by allowing

rapid electronic transfer, have been accompanied by social changes as well. Information and communication technologies have made it possible for us to make contact with people, images, ideas, and information from around the world faster and more cheaply than ever before. The rapid spread of participatory tools and sites facilitating social networking, interactive game playing, collaborative writing and editing, and multimodal production provide opportunities for new kinds of social encounters, new kinds of communities, and new kinds of learning environments. We will begin our exploration of the topic by outlining some common metaphors of

technology and language learning.