HomeDigital technology & MultimediaKeeping it Human: Four Things Every Teacher Should Consider When Using Technology

Keeping it Human: Four Things Every Teacher Should Consider When Using Technology




I have something to confess. Technology stresses me out. Even though I have been teaching, writing about, and doing research on the use of technology in language learning and teaching for a quarter of a century (wow, that went quickly!) not a day goes by that it does not frustrate me or, increasingly, scare me. And I am not alone. Most teachers I speak with experience a mixture of awe and fear when it comes to technology and AI in particular. This explains why on the one hand a recent survey by Imagine Learning shows 90% of teachers said they see AI as likely to lead to more accessible education, while another survey by the EdWeek Research Center shows more than two-thirds of teachers and school and district leaders expect that AI will have a negative impact on teens’ mental health over the next decade. Most people can see both upsides and drawbacks but all experience a sense of unease at our inability to anticipate technology’s impact when it continues to develop so rapidly.
So, what can we do, both for ourselves as well as our learners, to use technology in ways that align with our needs and aspirations? In our recent paper on Humanising Technology in Language Learning & Teaching we explore how teachers can take a proactive role in understanding the impact of technology, realising its benefits, and minimizing its potential dangers. We came out with four key recommendations to share with you:

1. Promote Digital Literacies

Now more than ever we need to develop a range of digital literacies to use technology effectively and responsibly. This includes understanding the impacts of technology, both positive and negative, as well as having the skills to plan for beneficial technology use and adapt to changes.
Two critical new areas of digital literacy are AI literacies and attentional literacies. AI literacies involve critically evaluating the role of AI in education and understanding its potential harms and benefits. Attentional literacies focus on our ability to intentionally direct our attention and be open to diverse viewpoints, in the face of digital distractions. In the paper we discuss some classroom practices to enhance attentional literacy, such as helping learners understand how attention works, demonstrating attention interruptions, and teaching strategies for maintaining focus.

2) Develop Digital Wellbeing

Digital wellbeing involves using technology that is aligned with our values and that enhances our everyday wellbeing. Much of current technology use can instead be harmful, with well-documented impacts such as digital distraction (our lack of ability to concentrate, or be present with another person due to technology-driven interruptions), digital disconnection (lack of genuine relationships and the inability or unwillingness to deal with different viewpoints), and digital disorder (the prevalence of mis- and disinformation). As teachers we can question our own practices and model to learners how they can develop healthy habits around technology. For example, learners can be taught how social media is designed to trigger strong emotional reactions in order to capture and maintain their attention and shown how to regulate their responses more carefully. Taking this one step further, teachers can investigate the use of technologies that actively support the development of wellbeing. For example, certain text processing applications like Scrivener (www.scrivener.com) and Ulysses (www.ulysses.app) are designed to minimise distractions and enhance creative thinking, thus enhancing ‘stable, focused attention’. And journalling apps like Rosebud (www.rosebud.app) use AI to encourage learners to set personally relevant goals and monitor their progress (developing a ‘growth mindset’).

3. Humanise the Learning Experience

Education is first and foremost about people and one way to humanise learning with technology is by using it to enhance relationships between all the different stakeholders in our context, including learners, teachers, administrators, parents and the wider community. Rather than using technology merely to support transactional communication, it can instead be used to improve understanding, empathy and social connections. Examples include the use of ‘backchanneling’, apps that give learners the tools to express ideas, questions and concerns without having to speak up in class in front of others, or that can encourage learners to support each other, both inside and outside of the classroom. Classroom management apps, such as those that allow teachers to recognise positive student behaviours (for example, when a learner helps out a classmate), can be useful too, but it is important to consider the potentially negative impact of the extrinsic rewards (stickers and points, for example), that many use.

4. Use Data in Positive Ways

Vast amounts of data are now generated in education. But data is not the same as information (I like to think of information as specific data that is useful to a particular person in a particular context). So it is important for teachers to know what information they seek and then to identify the necessary data to answer the pedagogical challenges they have. A good example is the use of learning analytics, or the collection and analysis of data to help understand learners and their progress. This can be helpful to  identify at-risk students and understand learning patterns, but excessive reliance on such data risks over-monitoring and losing sight of the individual in the learning process. It can also lead to using data ‘on learners’, not ‘with learners’. Ideally, data should empower your learners by helping them gain insight into their learning and to develop the ability to act on these insights critically and independently.


What the four recommendations above share is a primary focus on people, not technology. Just because technology makes something possible does not mean it should be done. Instead, now more than ever it is important that we ask ourselves how technology can serve us in achieving our hopes and dreams. Much of the answer depends on our willingness to experiment, to learn, and to share. Exciting times indeed.
If you want to learn more about using technology in an effective, responsible way you can download our position paper for in-depth advice!
Hayo Reinders is TESOL Professor and Director of Research at Anaheim University, USA, and Professor of Applied Linguistics at KMUTT in Thailand. He is founder of the global Institute for Teacher Leadership and editor of Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching. His interests are in out-of-class learning, technology, and language teacher leadership. Hayo is the author of our paper on humanising technology

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