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Integrating Digital Technology into Higher Education in Language


Integrating Digital Technology into Higher Education in Language

Assist. Lect. Mohammed Raad  Jaddoa


          Perhaps the greatest challenge and innovation in education over the last forty years has been the introduction of new digital technologies, with networked classrooms, online teaching and distance learning systems. In the new digital “information economy,” learners can gain knowledge and acquire skills that help them prepare for the technology requirements of the 21st century. The integration of technology into education has meant that students are no longer forced to remain immobile in classrooms, listening to rote drills and “chalk and talk” demonstrations (Blake, 2013). With the advent of distance learning over the internet, mobile computing and handheld devices, and numerous digital learning resources, educators can use digital networks to deliver knowledge to students in a variety of settings, from home-based, self-guided instruction over the internet, to “bring your own device” group learning activities in the traditional schoolroom.

          This paper will describe a program to integrate new digital and educational technology into an established language learning curriculum. The paper makes several basic assumptions: 1) the school has sufficient resources to purchase and install the required new equipment; 2) the student body is already computer literate, and possesses or has access to a home computer or a mobile phone capable of accessing the school system remotely; 3) the school tech support team will proceed to implement and expand digital equipment and systems on a continuing basis; 4) the school is able to develop and implement a step-by-step sequence for the TIP (Technology Integration Plan), as adapted

to the curriculum and level of instruction; and finally, instructors are on board for an accelerated technology integration program, in the context of new language instruction at the upper division, college and university level.

A plan to integrate new or expanded education technology must begin with an assessment of the existing facilities and student readiness, so the system administrator(s) must prepare a scheduled program of new tech deployment, a series of professional development orientations and staff days for the instructors, a best practices policy for curriculum integration, and a set of minimum new technology requirement (for hardware, this may include audiovisual systems mobile devices and network software) and a specific wireless network set of standards for the school. This assessment will be aimed at developing and adapting the existing iinfrastructure to the required new technology levels.

For a college, academy or university, the new technology will require preparation of a multi-year staged implementation for the upgrades, facilities improvements and staffing requirements which will establish the basic foundation for the new technology system. The next stage of the upgrade should focus on deploying advanced mobile devices  to all teachers and students at the institution (academy, college, technical school or university) for the testing and tracking of later iterations of the deployment.  These mobile devices, unlike


* Assist. Lect. Sammarra University.iraq, Director of Scholarships, International and cultural Relation in Presidency of Sammara University.

the older tape and video training kiosks, are not dedicated language instruction machines; second language instruction does not utilize digital technology directly in most cases, since basic skills- natural language (spoken), grammar (declensions, vocabulary), reading and writing and other language arts are more difficult to translate and test than comparable classwork.

          But language learning’s core elements, like vocabulary, conversation and pronunciation, can now be easily communicated on these devices, which have visual and audio recording and storage features that were unknown in the past. These new digital devices are simply the latest in a long series of manmade tools— from stone tablet inscriptions and codices, to papyrus and vellum, and then to blackboards, chalk, pen and pencils, and all the related tools that facilitated instruction in the past. In the last millennium, language instruction has progressed from spoken lessons and rote drills to communication on a complex array of new technologies, with modern developments such as printing presses, linotype, newspapers, telegraph lines, advertising and propaganda art now giving way to digital technology.

Technology Advances and Language Learning

          Unlike the spoken word, writing and reading are intimately bound up with human physical technologies The evolution of written language from the earlier marks, hieroglyphs and images, occurred alongside the development of spoken language and silent reading (the cognitive deciphering of written language), which was also synchronous with writing. The emergence of the new writing and printing technology marked a signal advance from simple speech, because it meant the knowledge and record of spoken language was fixed and set, leading from the evolution of the written books (Hammurabi’s law codes) and language in its most charged forms– poetry, histories and

drama. Early writing technology (hieroglyphs, papyrus, etc) also codified the major elements of grammar—nouns, verbs, infinitives, and eventually sentences and paragraphs- so that teaching language could become a regular process of instruction, where conversations, drills, definitions and sentence structures could be practiced and tested by instructors. In short, the first grammar was a spoken and written system adapted to an evolving set of technologies, culminating in today’s estimated six billion handheld devices and phones capable of accessing other devices and the ubiquitous internet.

          These steady advances in writing and printing technology have also changed the way people learn a new language, so that today’s digital networks are rightly viewed as a high speed “information superhighway.” While traditional print textbooks have given way to digital information and wireless networks used for blackboards and notebooks, language instruction has tended to lag behind, since it has always focused on classroom lessons in speaking, writing and reading the language in brick and mortar settings. But the most recent advances in language technology also require teachers and students to become literate in the digital devices and software programs that have taken the place of old-fashioned textbooks.

          Teachers’ willingness or disposition toward technology can be a decisive factor in whether these devices and systems are actually placed and used in the classroom. Fortunately, use of home computers, mobile devices and wireless networks means that language learning no longer need by restricted to the brick-and-mortar classroom. The new technology places demands on student finances, which are often addressed by simply incorporating the devices and systems into the classroom on a cost-per student basis.

What is the Role of Technology in Language Instruction?

          What place does traditional technology, like the pen and ink of the past, have in this world of distance learning, digital devices and wireless networks?

The simple truth is that different systems of language learning, teaching and communicating in words, translate differently in the digital sphere. The pen and pencil are increasingly out of favor, except for paper-form tests, as even the most basic handwriting functions have been replaced with digital facsimiles, digital e-signatures, digital recorders for lectures, and so on. But the creation of written communications, as taught in the language classroom and honed and developed over an entire lifetime, remains the central creative activity of individuals’ relationship with  language and literature. Writing activity still takes place in the mechanical manner, on the computer keyboard, and can even be simulated by electronic transcription and digital stenography.

          Beyond transcriptions, hand-typed texts can be scanned, digitized, and, in many cases, translated into many foreign languages by the technology like Google Translate, which has a website, API interface, downloadable mobile applications, and over 100 languages from English, French and Spanish, translatable into Arabic, Chinese and many more unfamiliar languages. Over 500 million people use Translate every day, and its obvious applications to foreign language learning and instruction bring numerous new possibilities to foreign language instruction. Language learning already involves TESOL interfaces and BYOD (bring your own device) classroom exercises for teacher-pupil communication. These systems could be rapidly deployed in a complex cultural environment, such as the trilingual education system of Lebanon, where competing academic systems and bureaucracies pose difficulties for translators (MEHE, 2012).

           The point of this is that, as many investigators and researchers have found, whichever equipment we use to communicate words quickly shapes and limits the form and content of what we say and write; the most glaring evidence is the compressed, 140 character form of the “tweet” message used on phones, computers and webcasts. As Kittler (1990) remarked long before Texting and Twitter changed our languages, “writing instruments contribute to our thoughts” in ways that quickly become second nature (p. 195); doubling the Tweet limit to 280 characters had no impact on the compressed, telegraphic language most users adopt; average length of a tweet remains steady at about 33-34 characters (Perez, 2019) Similar changes in language communications have occurred with cell phone texting and email messaging, where users adopt abbreviated sentence structures and choose indirect (asynchronous) messaging rather than direct, person to person  spoken words.

          In some other important respects, of course, human beings’ physical use of the technology of reading and writing has changed very little in the digital era. Readers may download digital novels and texts into a reader, such as the Kindle Paperwhite, Kobo Aura, or Sony devices, and read them off of a mobile or notebook screen anywhere they go; e-books are now the accepted format for the traditional paperback and hardback books, which have become too bulky and cumbersome for people to carry on their person or onto airplanes or trains. Even “Books on tape” have gone digital and downloadable. Writers can also use a stylus-and-tablet technology to enter their words and drawings manually, and if appropriate to the application, can digitize that information further by putting into to traditional Latin alphabet fonts or non-Latin scripts. In this sense, most readers and writers are still using the legacy of outdated 20th century technologies (the paperback book, the manual typewriter, the telephone answering machine) in ways adapted to the new digital devices. Teaching Language is Teaching Culture

Foreign language teachers are often given the responsibility for bringing students to understand the role of cultural expression, common public behaviors in restaurants and shops, and local customs and signals. Because of this, it remains very important for foreign language teachers to focus on how language instruction has changed over the years, and how it has translated into different materials and media. The main focus of this paper has been on this integration of technology use into education and learning as described by Chapelle (2017) and Blake (2013).  But it is safer to assume that language instruction technology will continue to evolve alongside personal computers, mobile phones and digital devices

Essentially, modern day linguistic communication relies on writing as the most fundamental input, because it is today built from a mix of signs and script systems as well as technological systems. The many advances in technology have also led to the new developments in the ways people communicate; new technological platforms have been developed that are more efficient and rapid in information transmission and reception than spoken words. However, all these systems rely on human inputs and outputs for them to function. Learning to use such systems effectively has emerged to be a critical need that must be addressed in the linguistics discipline (Lai, 2015). The 21st century has seen the emergence and rapid development of social network communities that are made to make people “stay connected” to one another, by providing means of shared status updates and personal and community information. Because of this new internet-based social media, foreign language users are already accustomed to joining and learning an online community (their classmates and teachers), and adapt quickly to this online format.

Translation and Transliteration

In the 21st century, the majority of the computer-aided learning technologies rely fundamentally on the internet, the computer and the cell phone (mobile computer device). In this context, language learning requires knowledge of digital devices and computer literacy, and access to language software programs that enhance ordinary classroom learning. There are many such online and disc-based programs on the market. Duolingo, for example, “has 20 fully developed courses, plus several that are in beta or “hatching,” meaning they are currently in development. Rosetta Stone has courses for 28 languages, not counting American and British English.” (Duffy, 2017, p. 1) Pimsleur has a wider range of software language packages and programs as well. The most diverse brand, Mango Languages, is an online platform that offers in-class learning materials, films and lessons. However, it can only be implemented where all the learners have access to the internet, and reviewers have found the technology awkward and, to use the standard computer terminology, not “user-friendly.” (Duffy, 2017, p 2.) Nevertheless, in schools and classrooms where all the students already have smartphones or tablets and can access the internet without much difficulty or cost, an application such as Mango or Pimsleur can be implemented and subsequently evaluated for effectiveness in fostering the learner’s experience.

 As usual, English is the dominant language platform for second-language instruction, probably because English is the de facto language of computer program, the mainstream internet, and (because of its primacy in business and technology education) in language instructi9on. TESOL technological standards are critical in evaluating digital learning environments. The standard provides performance indicators, standards, and goals that can be utilized by both teachers and students in the learning process. Specifically, the standard account of every learning standards and how the teachers and students can achieve them in both a high and low technology environment is very resounding. A critical point to note, however, is that the fact that technology is more powerful and complex does not make it better for language acquisition. Superior outcomes to language learning may emerge from the simplest “chalk and talk” classroom technology. In the end, teachers and students will have to identify and adopt the most appropriate language learning technology, based on their resources and experience, to achieve the optimal results from their language programs


 This study has reviewed the issues and tools for the integration of new digital technology into second or foreign language instruction, looking at higher education but nothing that all the devices and principles described all apply to earlier language instruction. The research suggests three main ways that can be employed to strengthen language learning through the integration and application of technology. First, any given learning process must be defined by a specific set of objectives that the learning process aims at achieving. In essence, learning that is not guided by any specific objective is bound to fail, as there is no sure way of determining the progress made by the learners or the achievements made. Second, a shift in focus back to fluency is recommended; implementing new technologies and strategies just to bolster students’ communication volume of outputs on digital devices may not achieve the intended goal, if there is no emphasis on the quality and content of the messages.

Finally, the general concern of language instructors should be with enhancing the student’s comprehension and application of language in the real-time, real-world setting of the academy. Higher education language learners and users already have many of the devices described here: instead of old-fashioned “language labs,” they have internet connections, wireless mobile phones, and sophisticated digital devices and software, perhaps from the “cloud,” that implement all the traditional language learning functions on a new platform. (Chapelle, 2017). What is needed next is perhaps more rigorous testing of the results in terms of learners’ bottom-line communication proficiency.


– Blake, R. J. (2013). Brave new digital classroom: Technology and foreign language learning. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.

– Burns, M. (2002). From compliance to commitment: Technology as a catalyst for communities of learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 84(4), 295-300.

– Chapelle, C. A. (2017). Computer-assisted teaching and testing. In Handbook of technology, second language teaching and learning. New York and London: Blackwell-Wiley.

– Duffy, J. (2017, Oct 18) . Mango languages. PC Mag Reviews, (10/18/2017) p. 1.

          Online at URL:

– Kittler,d. (1990). The mechanized philosopher. In Looking after Nietzsche, (New York: SUNY Press), 195-207.

– M.E.H.E. (2012) Teaching and learning in the digital age: Lebanon’s national educational technology strategic plan. Beirut, Ministry of Education and Higher Education.

– Perez, S. (2019) Twitter’s doubling of character count from 140 to 280 had little impact on length of tweets.  TechCrunch.  Accessed  online May 11, 2019 at URL

– Vannatta, R. & Fordham, N. (2004). Teacher dispositions as predictors of technology use in the classroom. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 36(3), 253-268.

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