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Teaching with the New Technologies: an interview with Richard Hannah

Enseigner avec les Nouvelles Technologies : un entretien avec Richard Hannah
Mireille Hardy et Richard Hannah
p. 66-73


Richard Hannah, professeur d’économie à Middle Tennessee State University, a enseigné à l’IUT Cherbourg Manche en tant que professeur invité pendant un mois en janvier-février 2001. D’abord spécialisée dans le secteur des ressources humaines et de l’emploi, sa recherche s’est peu à peu tournée vers le développement du commerce électronique et de l’éducation en ligne. Il intégre l’Internet et toutes les nouvelles technologies dans son enseignement mais conserve une vision très humaniste de leur utilisation. Lors de l’entretien qu’il nous a accordé, nous lui avons demandé d’imaginer quelques usages possibles de ces technologies dans l’enseignement des langues, et de nous faire part de sa vision du futur de l’enseignement.

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1At MTSU, you have been a forerunner in using the new technologies, particularly the Internet, in your teaching practice. What exactly motivated you at the beginning, at a time when you had to show your students how to use email and the Internet?

2Well, I had a rather unique experience compared to most American faculty. When I finished my PhD I made a conscious decision not to stay in academics and to go out and do other things for about ten or twelve years, and to bring that practical experience back into the classroom. Now the relationship of that to your question is this: I think by doing so many other professional activities I was more open to new technologies, to the potential applications in education and for learning. So in 1992, when I returned to Higher Education to teach, I wasn’t, as we say in the United States, “frozen” into a certain way of teaching and I was very curious about the new technologies. So I wouldn’t say that I adapted very rapidly but I worked at it consistently and it took about 2 years to sort of understand what the potential was with the Internet. Once I understood that, then I began to think of potential possibilities for using the Internet for learning, for research, for communications, and that led to other areas of technology that I have since developed a little bit of expertise in – I guess that’s the way that I would put it.

3Could you give us a few practical examples of the way you use the Internet and the new technologies in your teaching?

4In the United States, our students work a lot, they commute and drive back and forth from work to school to home. What has become very important to them is not much different than most Americans and probably most people in the industrialized countries around the world: time is absolutely crucial. Anything that will help my students save time, that I can use the Internet and other technologies for, I will certainly experiment with it. They are most appreciative for example if I put my lecture notes up on a web page so that they can access them. Now this doesn’t mean that that substitutes for attending a class because what goes on in class is now very different, there’s much more dynamic interaction between me and the students- well at least I try to create that- and among the students themselves. As a practical example I use web pages and email to improve the communication and information flow. I have also used email for examinations – to distribute examinations to students –, to communicate with them and if there is a problem in the class or something in particular that they’re having a difficulty with. Sometimes it doesn’t work well to do that by email and you need to meet the students personally, but a personal meeting means that someone needs to drive somewhere, that there has to be a scheduled meeting and that time should be used very wisely. I think the students are very amenable to organizing their lives pretty much the way that I do, and that is use the technology where it helps and recognize that it doesn’t solve all the problems. I also try to engage my students to use the technology themselves, to create web pages, to perhaps doing something with television programs and thinking about how they may develop a tool that they can use in their work lives, either at that time or later on.

5You teach Economics. Obviously, as language teachers, we don’t have as much content – course matter – to put on-line, especially in IUTs: we teach languages for special purposes, we don’t teach literature or linguistics. I mean our role as language teachers is mainly to help our students understand and use the language to communicate – language as a vector of communication. So my question is: do you have any examples of how we can use technology in language teaching?

6Probably the most practical example that I can think of is that with the Internet, especially now, it’s easy to send audio messages, as an attachment to an email or have them linked in to a web page. Just to play that idea out a bit further, since my visit here I know that my southern accent is problematic probably, to say the least, for many French students – nespecially if they’ve never heard it – and it would be probably helpful to them to have four or five minute scenarios of audio clips where they listen to me or someone else with a southern accent. I could conceive of maybe five or six different accents in the United States or in other English-speaking parts of the world. So it is important that the students have a bit of preliminary exposure to condition themselves to the change in the rhythm, to the different ways that we enunciate our words or fail to enunciate the words as the case may be. So it’s an efficient process to get some samples, so the students can listen to them over and over and there’s not a “shock effect” when they first come into a class and they hear me speak or someone else speak. I think it’s also important – and I know that language labs do this now, it’s part of the instruction – for people to hear themselves if they’re trying to imitate the language that another person is using, and then compare the two. I do not know if these exist but if there’s Internet language clubs for example, where people exchange audio attachments so that they can listen to these different dialects and accents, it would be one practical way of using the technology. It exists, it is widely available, people have a pretty good access to it. And it’s efficient, it doesn’t consume a great deal of bandwidth in terms of the transmission – video’s another problem, but audio seems to work quite well.

7Another possibility is the use of video taping, not with the purpose of sending video through the Internet, but for review and critique. Quite often body language, eye movement, etc… puts the verbal communication into a context of physical expression, which may be easier for students to remember and use. This might be particularly useful if more than one person is being videotaped because the pattern of conversational flow is sometimes easier to understand by seeing and hearing the interaction. Of course, we are all far more critical of ourselves when we see how we present in this medium. This can be a powerful self-correction in the learning process.

8To extend the TV example a bit further, I require all of my students to give their presentations on camera – essentially producing a 30-minute TV program in groups of four, in which they report their project or research findings. The program is unedited and is telecast on our cable Channel 9 in the Middle Tennessee area. I’ve done this for the past five years. It is rather amazing how much more serious students are in terms of preparation and presentation if they know the public will be seeing their program.

9There may be another dimension to TV use for language too. Perhaps it is important for students who are contemplating studying a language to see and hear beginners struggle with the words and conversation. Many of us don’t have an easy time learning a new language and often get frustrated. To see others having similar difficulties simply shows us we’re not much different from one another. Also, this approach might be an interesting experiment to videotape a bit of conversation among students at the beginning and end of the semesters for a convincing documentation that reinforces how much they improve.

10I suppose that you will agree with me: it’s certainly not realistic to expect technology or the Internet to work miracles; once the novelty has worn out, it is difficult to maintain the motivation of the students. And learning languages especially requires very regular practice, strong discipline and commitment. Do you have any secrets?

11You know me well enough to know that if I had any secrets they probably didn’t last too long because I put everything that I can on the Internet with the idea that we should give it away as academics. But you know there are some rules in life that don’t change: hard work. Regardless of the technology it still takes time to learn. What I tell my students is that there are now many more choices in terms of technology and other ways that you can learn a language or learn about economics or other subject matter. We’re all individual and unique beings and we have to find that niche of what helps us accomplish our objectives. As an example, I just mentioned the possibility of using the Internet as an audio medium to learn languages and there are many sites on the Internet where you can hear the audio, pronunciation on web sites and things like that, but I’ve found, in what little ability I have in language, the way that I reinforce it is I spend quite a bit of time in an automobile, the old-fashioned way – plug in the tapes. But you know there is no problem of buying the tapes, they’re very inexpensive, a tape-player in the vehicle. The problem is the old one of discipline: don’t turn on the music, push in the tape. And it’s the minimal discipline which has to come first. Once the student has that, regardless of the subject, I think they just stay after it and stay after it and stay after it. So the rules are old, the technologies in some cases are new, and it’s where the individual finds the best way to bring the two together for his or her own benefit.

12What about testing? Testing is to be one of the key issues in online education. How can you be sure of that person over there and that you are grading the right paper?

13There are many ways to address this issue. If there’s a concern, for example in a distance-learning environment, where an instructor may have students at different sites, arrangements can be made for supervized testing at the sites, at the time that is scheduled. This is something that we very commonly do at our university. So it’s like sitting in a classroom, you have someone there to monitor the process and keep time and those kinds of activities. That’s on one end of the scale. On the other end of the scale I test, in the subject matters that I teach, often through the Internet. When testing in this manner, being very clear as to time limits for response is very important. For example, I will be very explicit about telling the students when the exam will be sent by email and the hour and day I expect it back. If the responses are late, I will deduct points. Also, I often use the email exams when I know I must be out of town during a class and don’t want to lose valuable time. Usually I try to schedule the conferences and other professional activities a year in advance, or at least a semester in advance, so I can synchronize my syllabus and exams with my travel schedule.

14This only works well in very small classes. One must know the students well enough to know their intellectual abilities so that when you critique their answers you can go back to the students and ask them to clarify and it becomes very evident at that point if this is their own mental construct that they’re working with. It becomes double, sometimes even triple testing, or perhaps more accurately, iterative testing, which I think is the truest way to make some judgement as to the rate of intellectual advancement of the student and the type of skills being acquired. Now don’t let me be deceptive here, because I know that in many cases, if you have very large classes it’s just not possible to do this because of the time constraints. But in smaller classes, and especially in the upper division undergraduate and graduate courses, I think this is the way to ensure the intellectual quality of what we’re trying to do for our students. Many students don’t like this, but I think it’s the best way if you have the option.

15The revolution in technology implies a revolution in the working habits of faculty and students. But one of the obstacles to on-line education lies with the necessary adaptation of the faculty – both technical and intellectual. Has the faculty at MTSU adapted easily and willingly?

16We use this term in the United States, or this phrase: “a digital divide”. It’s most often applied to rich versus poor having access to computer technology, or young versus old in terms of how it’s used. But the digital divide can apply to many different professions and, quite honestly, I think it also applies to some degree to academics. We have many professors who do not want to adapt to at least the best ways the technology can be used. But those numbers are diminishing every year because eventually they come around or they decide to leave the profession. Regarding the younger faculty members that we have hired, I’ve been extremely impressed with them because they now have gone through a system that was built around the technology, unlike myself. I’m just constantly trying to add a layer to what I know, and professors and students that have grown up with the technology, I openly admit, are much better equipped than I am. I think the challenge is still the variety of technologies available because you can’t be an expert, or you can’t even be proficient in all that we have to teach now. So it’s important to pick the ones you are best at, and to stick with them and to become expert in specific niches if that supports your instructional goals.

17I also wanted to have your opinion on the “de-humanizing” effect of technology. We already spend so much time in front of our computers… And somewhere in our minds is also the fear that technology will replace us, teachers…

18There is that possibility. When we think about those kinds of issues, what we have to keep in mind is that technology has been around as long as there’s been humans. And we have to decide… there is a dividing line between… thinking about technology and how it helps us to have better lives versus substituting for the quality of human interaction. Once we reach the point we’re asking ourselves the question: am I having a better time interacting with my computer than I would with friends and family, then it’s time to back up a little bit and think about priorities because in our life time the computer is not going to be anywhere near human quality of interaction. It should support that interaction, it should not substitute for it. Because we have all these senses that we rely upon: we look at people, we look in their eyes, we think about our history with them, and all the things that we use to evaluate human interaction, which are available through a computer. And we don’t want to interact with the computer to the point that we do not practise using those other human senses. Those would be the tests that I would apply and I have often had to apply them to myself for being critiqued by my wife about spending too much time on the computer, and it’s fair – it’s a fair question.

19To address the question more directily about technology replacing teachers, to be honest I think some of that will happen. For example, multimedia language labs which students essentially use as a self-service language center might eliminate many of the traditional roles of a language teacher. But imagine the situation where language labs can be accessed remotely by students from their homes, or anywhere in the world via the Internet. The “presence” of an instructor at the physical location of the students is not possible anyway. I don’t have the answers, but the questions are centered around how a language teacher or language lab technician supports this kind of activity. I think as academics we are responsible for finding ways to be more creative in teaching, so one way to look at these kinds of developments is that we are freed to pursue higher level activities. Maybe this is too idealistic, because two things are required to maintain this ideal world. First, we must be employed in an environment that supports this process of change. Second, we must have a large voice in maintaining the quality of learning. In short, the second item means that we must recognize that technology is no substitute for the human exchange if the quality of learning is diminished.

20So you’re not in favour of the all-technology but you put the human aspect first

21I do. And I think I always will.

22One last question: the philosophy of teaching and learning has changed radically with the invasion of technology. What is your vision of education in the future?

23My vision is limited to how I think about the remainder of my career and I prepare to try and be a better teacher. The attention span of – American students certainly – is probably no more than twenty to thirty minutes. It may be true of the American population as a whole at this point. So the lecture as the primary mode of delivery – I think most people in my country would agree – is now a part of the total delivery system and the technology is a growing part. But the lecture can still inspire, it can inform in a very concise way, and we should think of it that way. Other avenues that we have to develop are leadership skills if you have especially advanced students – graduate students, or undergraduates. How we help them to learn becomes crucial, because in my experience students, good students always teach themselves regardless of what you do. So our role is more to facilitate and function in the leadership capacity and add that intellectual dimension that is beyond what they’re capable of adding on their own. A third area is in better presentation orally, or with body language, and I guess I’m talking about acting. Not acting in terms of being a facade as a teacher, but using the full range of my skills to communicate the ideas to the students. That is more important, not only because it works in person, but it works through the medium of the new technologies, like the audio-visual devices, and television and things like this. We don’t need to have a fear of getting in front of the camera if we know how to do it properly.

24I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about the emerging world as defined by technology advances. When we think of all the advances of the 20th century, contemplating the 21st century may be a futile exercise. It is true that technology in recent decades has brought terrible weapons of destruction, not just in a military sense but the destruction of social and economic fabric. But we must be optimists. Technology is as much a part of society as DNA is a part of being human. We can’t, and shouldn’t, lament the products of inventive minds. We have to find ways to stay focused on the human good, and technology at least offers such opportunities. If I might take the liberty of waxing philosophically in closing, when we look to the future maybe we are phrasing the question wrongly in thinking about technology (or machines) as substituting or complementing the roles of human beings. That was a 20th century question. The 21st century questions center on the combination of man and machine (as manifested by technology). New developments in biotechnology, nanotechnology (materials), and micro mechanical devices are already mapping this future. But in whatever ways we believe ourselves to have a soul, something that transcends the physical human existence, we are safe from becoming machines. The form and substance of what is man and machine may be an important question some day, but I’ll leave that for a 21st century interview!

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A selection of Richard Hannah’s publications on the Internet and the new technologies

Hannah, R. 1998. “Comments on Networked Pedagogy.” The Internet and Higher Education, 1(3): 235-238.

Hannah, R. 1998. “Education: The Internet Example.” Lead article in The Internet and Higher Education, Feb. 1998, vol. 1(1). JAI Press: 7-20.

Hannah, R. 1997. “New Communities of Interest on the Internet.” Business Education Forum, Oct. 1997, vol. 52(1): 20-22 and 35.

Hannah, R. 1997. “Delivering Education in the Real World.” Comment in Perspectives on World, Aug. 1997, vol. 1(2). Sloan School (MIT) and IRRA: 9.

Hannah, R. “Experiences from Developing a Teaching Related Internet Infrastructure.” In Morrison, J. L. (Ed.). Technology Tools for Today’s Campuses [CD ROM]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation. Also available at: Social_Sciences/Hannah.html.

Hannah, R. 1996. “Teaching Resources and Patterns of Association on the Net.” Labor Law Journal, Aug. 1996, 47(8): 516-523. Reprinted in the IRRA 1996 Spring Proceedings: 516-523.

Hannah, R. 1996. “Internet Sources for Business Educators.” Journal of Education for Business, Mar./Apr. 1996, 71(4): 209-213.

Hannah, R. 1995. “CyberEd: It’s Not Coming; It’s Here.” Tennessee Education, Spring 1995, vol. 25 (1): 5-8.

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Mireille Hardy et Richard Hannah, « Teaching with the New Technologies: an interview with Richard Hannah », Recherche et pratiques pédagogiques en langues de spécialité, Vol. XX N° 4 | 2001, 66-73.

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Mireille Hardy et Richard Hannah, « Teaching with the New Technologies: an interview with Richard Hannah », Recherche et pratiques pédagogiques en langues de spécialité [En ligne], Vol. XX N° 4 | 2001, mis en ligne le 28 août 2014, consulté le 13 mai 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Mireille Hardy

Mireile Hardy est Maître de conférences en anglais à l’IUT Cherbourg Manche, Université de Basse-Normandie, et rédactrice en chef de la revue Les Cahiers de l’APLIUT.

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Richard Hannah

Richard Hannah est professeur d’économie du College of Business de Middle Tennessee State University à Murfreesboro.

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Association des Professeurs de Langues des Instituts Universitaires de Technologie

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