Open Letter to English Language Institutions

In response to Scott McLeod's call-out on his Dangerously Irrelevant blog for postings regarding Technology Leadership in education, I decided that I'd write an open letter to:

Directors of Studies and School Administrators of the international Adult English Language Learning Institutions and Centers.

This is my letter:

Dear Sirs and Madams,

This is what the lives of our adult professional students currently look like:

This is what many TEFL teachers' classrooms still look like:

Now, there's nothing innately wrong with the above pictures however to adequately reflect our student real-world experiences and to adequately prepare them to conduct global business, while speaking English, this is what they really should look like, as often as possible:

What are you and your teachers doing?

Technology won't replace teachers but teachers who use technology will.

Robert Copeland

What you could do right now:

1. Read:

2. Watch:

3. Invest in your staff… and invest in your institutes' future.

External Options:

a. Consultants-e

Cert IBET Certificate in International Business English Training, Cert ICT Certificate in Teaching with Technology + short courses in moodle, e-moderation, podcasting, e-networks, 2ndLife, webquests & blogs.


Offers a 3-month professional development course in the methodology, intercultural competence and technology of teaching a language in virtual classrooms using state-of-the-art synchronous Internet communication tools. They also have 2-3h live online workshops conducted by LANCELOT certified language trainers. These provide concise information about a special set of tools.

c. Pete Sharma & Associates

Combining face2face teaching with blended learning. Blended Learning, evaluating web based ELT materials, blogs and wikis, podcasting, interactive whiteboards, virtual learning environments and new technologies.

In-house Options:

a. Hire a teacher-trainer to work through the various web2.0 based tools with your teachers.

Contact me to see if I can come over and train your teachers (check out examples of my presentations here/sign in to LinkedIn to read my professional references here).

If I'm not available, I'm very "socially-networked" and therefore can easily point you in the direction of another good teacher-trainer or three!

b. Hire an experienced techie teacher and assign IT leadership (or give the task to one of your current employees). Pay him /her to get up to speed and get this senior teacher to train the rest of your teachers.

Whatever it is that you and your team do decide to do, just don't do this:

Useful links related to this posting:



Questions? Don't hesitate to ask.

9 Responses to “Open Letter to English Language Institutions”

  • Heike Philp says:
    July 13, 2009

    Hi Karenne,

    True, so true.

    May I add that Gartner predicted that in the year 2009 telephone conference will be replaced by webconference. And they wrote this at a time when Skype did not even exist as of yet.

    They also predicted that in the year 2011, 80% of all Internet users will be in one kind of a 3D world or another.

    This is like predicting global warming ...

    Rgds Heike

  • Neal Chambers says:
    July 14, 2009

    Great post Karenne!

    My favorite argument against not updating materials is that English doesn't change that much. Obviously this is a head-in-the-sand stance which is totally ludicrous but it just shows how much they don't know.

    I guess the other problem is that some students feel this way too. In Japan, there are some students that have not touched a computer going into high school. In Japan! They don't see the importance in it. The technology needs to be sold to the students too. Even some adult students don't see the importance.

    Thanks for the post!


  • Alex Case says:
    July 14, 2009

    Hmmm, appreciate the positivity and enthusiasm, but not sure you chose the best of all possible arguments this time. Let's try it with some other topics:

    - Our students live in a competitive world, so we should make our classrooms more competitive
    - Our students live in a celebrity obsessed world, so we should do more lessons on celebrities
    - Etc


    The grumpy old man of teaching technology/ The TEFL blogger who most hates computers

    July 14, 2009

    Fair enough, Alex - not bad points.

    However, sometimes we do add the element of competitiveness in our lessons - through teamwork/ project based tasks or simple chalkboard scoring - and many a textbook is er, um, filled with many a celeb...

    But all that aside, it's just plain odd if you're sending a guy off to do a presentation overseas and he doesn't know how to ask for the nearest socket to plug his laptop into or how to ask for a copy of something to be saved on a usb stick... yadda, yadda

    1000 years ago we used sticks and stones to teach math with because we all had sticks and stones...

    200 years ago we used fountain pens and paper to teach because everyone had a feather they could dip in ink...

    50 years ago we taught English using books because it was cheap enough to produce textbooks for everyone's access...

    The tools change but using "technology" to teach is something as old as the hills - simply can't get what the problem is with using a computer other than it has a few more buttons to press!

    Nice to hear from you though!

    xx Karenne

  • Tobius says:
    July 17, 2009

    Hello, Anne!

    I guess you know that I run a language blog--I think that technology has a lot to offer to help language learners--but if you're going to take a "learning by doing" approach, you have to accept that learning a language is all about communicating. . . and technology can, in some cases, facilitate communication. In a lot of cases, though, it's something we hide behind to avoid communicating. (I think PowerPoint is used more to convey an impression than a message, but I'm a skeptic.)

    And another point is this: my students--who are IT specialists--tell me that the best part about the lessons is that for one morning a week, they can talk to people and not to a computer. They enjoy the break from technology.

    But, yeah, they need to vocabulary to discuss what they're doing. No arguments, there.


  • Andy says:
    July 22, 2009

    Can I also add a slight note of doubt? I agree with the overall message, and appreciate the options you've offered, and the offer to answer questions...

    But, the picture montage of "the current classroom" is a bit ridiculous, no? I mean do any classrooms, especially in the developed world, actually look like that? And when you want to motivate people to change, ridiculing their current state is rarely (if ever) helpful, I find. I mean when we teach, we don't begin the course by telling our students how bad their English is.

    If the object is to make people change, then the old training ideal - unfreeze-move-refreeze - could be borne in mind. You've suggested ways to help people move, but I would argue that you're unlikely to have unfrozen them in the first place (and indeed might make them even more rigidly opposed to change).

    Anyway, I'll come back to this issue in the next day or so, I hope, on

    Thanks for the great blog and the great work you do online. Hope this feedback is taken in the spirit in which it's offered.

    Andy Hockley

    July 23, 2009

    Hi Andy,

    Yes... unfortunately yes, a lot of classes in the "modern" world do indeed look like this still. I know, I've even taught with a chalkboard (VHS, Stuttgart, Germany)...

    and while it is possible to use the chalkboard - hmm, not quite aimed at our students' needs!

    But I absolutely agree with you regarding

    "If the object is to make people change, then the old training ideal - unfreeze-move-refreeze - could be borne in mind. "

    That's the problem about ranting about things that are really important to ya!

    Thanks for stopping by, by the way, enjoyed looking your blog and am looking forward to hearing more!


  • Harvey says:
    August 04, 2009

    I am both dazzled and puzzled by your open letter.

    Dazzled by all the teaching technology you know about and puzzled because for all that, your critique seems misdirected.

    Let me explain.

    1. If technology can teach language, then classroom teaching by a live teacher is no longer needed.

    Is that your point? It isn't clear from your letter what the role of the classroom teacher of the future is to be and I didn't check out all your links so maybe I would have found the explanation there.

    If so, I apologize.

    2. The same arguments you make about language teaching apply to every other subject taught in schools today.

    If your criticisms are valid, there is a bigger problem here than just language instruction.

    3. Seems to me that language is most effectively learned when it is has to be used.

    So in my language classes, I feature debates, presentations, essays about a provocative subject--none of these things directly involve technology unless it's showing a video on the beamer that the students are to comment on.

    My students seem to like the challenges these activities present.

    4. I do not permit students to have their laptops open during class.

    Reason: if they are looking at the laptop, they are not participating in the class activity of the moment.

    This seems to fly in the face of the classroom scenario you are advocating.

    5. I see two other problems that are, IMHO, much more important than introducing more technology to the classroom:

    a. Class size and composition--I teach classes of 25 to 30 students of ability (in that one classroom) ranging from A2 to C1. I think classes of this size are typical in the German school system and need to be made much smaller, if real progress is to be made by the students in the language.

    Of course, it won't happen because of budget.

    b. Language textbooks need to be adapted to the web much more than they have been thus far--I have submitted an abstract for a talk I hope (it has not been approved yet) to give on the subject at the Nov. BESIG meeting in Poznan.

    It incorporates some suggestions I have for the textbook publishers to move at least some, if not all of their product off paper.

    Thanks for the chance to present my views.


  • Paul Bogush says:
    August 05, 2009

    Hmmmm....some of the above commenters really have great points...but also a one-sided view of how technology would be used in a traditional lesson plan. To use it effectively you need to change your daily routines otherwise the tool reinforces old traditional ways. Also you can't use technology to replace old tools. At the end of each year my kids always comment on how technology has improved their communication skills. Technology can in the four walls of a class and a closed door, or it can break the doors and walls down. Every tool is only as powerful as it's owner.


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