Language use does not happen in a vacuum. We communicate ideas and needs to others. Even if we are only using language to hash out our own ideas, for our own personal development or enjoyment, we are hashing out ideas that are impacted by the world around us. Language learning does not happen in a vacuum either. Students who come to language classes come with goals and motivations that are always, in some way, linked to a larger community.
The role of community is central in my philosophy of teaching. Students need the appropriate linguistic tools to participate in communities of practice, with the language classroom itself being one of those communities. Therefore, in order to successfully learn a new language, we need each other. While learners need a teacher to provide direction, scaffolding, and language expertise, they also need their classmates if they are to interact, negotiate for meaning, provide and receive feedback, solve problems, complete tasks, and own the fact that they are part of a community of English users.
As technology finds its way into more and more of these communities of practice, it must also find its way into our teaching philosophies. Teachers must acknowledge that technology is both shaping communication and becoming a prerequisite for educational and vocational success. And, by considering how technology factors into students’ needs, lacks, and wants, teachers may have a better idea about (a) what technologies students know and need to learn, and (b) how to use technology as a tool to meet language needs and wants.
Technology does not replace people; rather, it connects people and ideas in new ways. Technology also does not replace good teaching. If anything, it requires even more thoughtfulness and intentionality from the teacher. Teachers who incorporate technology must continue to build community and provide the scaffolding and support for students’ language needs as well as their technology needs. If the classroom has already been established as a place where learners work together and need each other, then technology can be an extension of that—it is one way learners can work together, and it can also extend the community of learners to other speakers and learners. The Internet and Web 2.0 technologies provide new forms of collaboration, allow learners to communicate with new interlocutors for new purposes, and offer opportunities for learners to explore topics of interest in their L2.
Obviously, teachers must always take inventory of what is feasible. Classrooms have technology limitations, and learners may have insecurities about language abilities and anxieties about using technology. If everyone in a community of learners needs each other, then they must be sensitive to each other. Teachers must be sensitive to affective considerations and be aware that technology has the potential to distract from learning. They must make decisions and guide a community of learners, and decision-making in the L2 classroom should be informed by research as well as the learners (or the community members) themselves.