Interculturality vs. ICT - María Elena Gómez Parra (Universidad de Córdoba) talks about the future of language teaching
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María Elena Gómez Parra is the Vicedean for International Affairs and Institutional Relations of the Faculty of Education at the University of Córdoba, Spain. Her work is focused mainly on international mobility and she is the Institutional Representative of the Erasmus Programme of the Faculty (thus, responsible for the mobility of students, teachers and administrative staff). She also develops other international programmes at the Faculty, such as the exchange for teaching practices of students between the University of Birmingham and Córdoba, and a programme of international cooperation for students of Education with the Saharan refugees in the Algerian desert.
The Future of Education conference, in which she is participating as a speaker, has prompted us to ask María Elena Gómez Parra some questions about exactly that - the future of education, in particular langugae teaching and learning in the age of ICT.
eLearningeuropa.info (eL): Do you think the physical mobility of students is still important in a highly globalised and inter-connected world? What does first-hand real-life experience (as opposed to a virtual one) provide that a virtual experience cannot?
Mª Elena Gómez Parra (GP): Yes, I think physical mobility is important for students, and for teachers! Being able to experience life as others do is very important in a globalised world, where different cultures mean different ways of living. Think, for example, on food, weather, direct contact with teachers, tutorials, speaking and listening to other languages (and their registers) ... All things machines cannot offer and, I am sure, they will not do. In addition, I think physical mobility is also a must for those students who live with their parents in their home countries; going abroad will not only make them independent, but it will also help them to be aware of their own abilities.
eL: As far as second language didactics go, do you see a tendency you think will become the future of language learning?
GP: I think second language didactics should become more focused on strategies and real classroom techniques. Personally, I feel much better when I am given specific tools, resources and ideas that others have used and which worked! CLIL methodology, for example, is working on this, and I think many good examples can arise from that approach.
eL: What would you like to see happening in language teaching/language learning in the next 10 years?
GP: I hope teachers become more and more aware of meeting students' real needs to teach them useful language resources that then students can improve by using ICT (to work at their own pace) and by going abroad (to experience language and culture). I think the most useful way to learn a language is first to know the basic structures and vocabulary (an area where second language teachers are really useful). Then, students should practise them and put themselves to the risk (an area where we teachers are not so useful); finally, if students need to improve on certain areas (e.g. academic writing, technical vocabulary ...) specific courses on this can help a lot, once students have quite a good level on the second language (again, an area where second language teachers are really important). Following a different way is, for me, making a mistake.
eL: Will distance learning ever replace face-to-face learning completely?
GP: Definitely no, I think direct contact with the teacher will be important, no matter how advanced ICT are. Consider, for example, spontaneity in a second language class - sometimes it is a very rich resource for teachers which many of us use to get the best of our students. Also important is direct contact with students in tutorials: learning a second language is emotionally a hard test for many students, who feel really bad because they find themselves unable to express themselves because they lack certain words, structures, or just because they do not feel very confident on the pronunciation of a word. Emotional support by the teacher and direct contact is really important in such a situation.
eL: How, do you think, has the use of ICT changed the ways students develop their intercultural competences?
GP: I think interculturality is still an unresolved matter for ICT because, as I said before, many cultural things need to be experienced first-hand. For example, eating camel meat in the Sahara; being able to live (and study and then pass exams) at -20º in Poland, or dancing "sevillanas" in one of our Spanish 'feria' celebrations; all those cultural things are impossible to be experienced if you do not have the opportunity of living in that specific country. ICT has been really important for intercultural second language teaching as it allows teachers to offer a first approach of the kind of things students can find in another country; first-hand experience will do the rest.
(Interview conducted on 7 June 2012)