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Editor’s Note
: This paper presents preliminary findings of a study to determine how computer technology impacts teaching of Gaelic language. It defines new roles for students and teachers as a result of “technology-based practices”, “changes in curriculum and pedagogy”, and “an instructional shift toward project-based constructivist approaches to teaching and learning”. The use of technology is embraced by students while raising some concerns from teachers.

New Teacher and Student Roles in the
Technology-Supported, Language Classroom

Daithí Ó Murchú


The focus of this paper is a challenging analysis of how the roles of teachers and students in different classroom settings are altered as a result of computer-based technologies. I am particularly interested in how the capabilities of computer-based technologies, and technology-enhanced learning environments can enable and\or constrain innovative pedagogical practices in and elementary school, Gaelic language settings, in Ireland[1]. Powerful new capabilities of computers make it possible to access, represent, process, and communicate information in new ways (Kozma, 1991, 1994). These capabilities make it possible to search and organize information, analyze data, represent and transform ideas, simulate complex systems, and communicate with others in ways that were previously not practical or even possible. They also enable new ways of teaching and learning – new activities, new products, and new types of learning and teaching (Kozma & Schank, 1998), but, do all teachers, students and educators feel and agree with the general, positive, societal perception of technology in education?



School's hierarchical organization is intimately tied to its view of education and in particular to its commitment to hierarchical ways of thinking about knowledge itself. What one will consider to be the proper place for School on the heterarchy-hierarchy scale of organizational forms depends on the location of one's theory of knowledge on the heterarchy-hierarchy scale of epistemologies. (Papert, 1993 :pp. 61-62)

The research literature (Means & Olson, 1997) documents a strong association between new technology-based practices, and changes in curriculum and pedagogy. For example in many countries, the use of educational technology is part of an instructional shift toward project-based, constructivist approaches to teaching and learning within a context of school improvement or reform. Instead of focusing solely on increasing the acquisition of facts related to specific subject areas, teams of students are collaboratively engaged in solving complex, authentic problems that cross disciplinary boundaries. Instead of dispensing knowledge, teachers set up projects, arrange for access to appropriate resources, and create the organizational structure and support that can help students succeed. This approach moves conceptions of learning beyond rote memorization of facts, instructionist and behaviourist methodologies, and procedures to learning as a process of knowledge creation. It moves education beyond the notion of a place where knowledge is imparted, to one of classrooms, organisations, communities of practice (COPs), and societies as knowledge building communities (Wenger, 1998: Bereiter, 1999: Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1994; Brown & Campione, 1994). These are more appropriate constructs for the information society and knowledge economy of the future. Technology plays a role in this approach of providing students with tools and information that support their problem solving, communication, collaboration, and knowledge creation. It also provides teachers with new tools and challenges that can transform instructional roles, curricula, and practices.

Plomp, Brummelhuis, and Rapmund (1996) define learning as a process in which four components interact: (1) the teacher, (2) the student, (3) curriculum content and goals, and (4) instructional materials and infrastructure – more specifically in this paper, the role of multimedia and information and communications technology (ICT). This paper, will discuss findings about changing teachers’ and students’ roles and classroom practices in technology-enhanced, Gaelic language classrooms across the Republic of Ireland. This paper will also allow for a more open debate on the effects of TELLE (Technology-Enhanced Language Learning Environments) be they positive or negative, advantageous or dis-advantageous, creative or destructive, on the roles of both teachers and students (perceived and emergent), in their daily lives, with technology, at school.

To Roll the Role?

What implications do these new instructional approaches have for the roles of teachers and students? What new teacher roles complement those of students and visa-versa? How does technology support these roles? In the following sections, these questions will be addressed based on video, peer-mentoring and observational data, and qualitative and quantitative interviews from 500 in-service teachers in the republic of Ireland (a randomly selected sample of a much larger body of research undertaken by the author and presently being scrutinised).

Student Roles

New student roles:

Looking across the participant students of this study, three new roles were perceived for students, which were often associated with project-based or inquiry learning:

  1. self-learner,

  2. team member/collaborator, and

  3. knowledge manager/leader.

Each of these roles are, in turn, associated with typical activities.

The “self-learner” role:

In all schools chosen (100%), students selected their own real-world, real-time, multimedia projects in the Gaelic language classroom and identified possible solutions to improving lessons by making them more interactive, more enjoyable, more relevant, more authentic and more meaningful. In this way, students helped determine the content of the Gaelic language curriculum. Students went further by organising their multimedia projects into ‘Thematic Portfolios’ as suggested by the Revised Curriculum in Ireland (NCCA, 1999), for future usage by themselves and other classes. They also managed progress made on the various ‘portfolios’ as various collaborative groups came up with new multimedia ideas and possibilities to enhance learning. “If children really want to learn something, and have the opportunity to learn it in use, they do so even if the teaching is poor. For example many learn difficult video games with no professional teaching at all!” (Papert, 1993:pp. 139-140)

This management task extended to managing student time where they often sacrificed other activities to complete design tasks. The role of self-learner extended to that of helping others learn also and a definite mentor/mentee role relationship was also prevalent. As one teacher put it, and this was echoed widely in schools (78%), “They definitely depend on each other more than on me/us. The work is all about them and not just about me/us as their teacher(s).”

The ‘Team member/collaborator’ role:

While students have almost always been divided into groups, even in some traditional, ‘instructionist’ environments, the role of collaborator or “team member” is a relatively new one for students and no more so than outlined in The Revised Curriculum in Ireland (NCCA, 1999). The difference here is that the social interaction of the teams in some way gave them ownership the multimedia projects or ‘portfolios’, and the team members were actively involved in advancing the project. There was both shared and individual responsibility for the success of the project. Students worked collaboratively to move it forward.

For example in the multimedia, hypermedia “Cúchulainn” project, students rotated between different tasks given to a design committee, a research committee, and a language committee. For the 5th class “Pop -Ghrúpa” project observed at one particular school, students performed specialized tasks such as collecting survey data on the preferences of their friends, their neighbours, developing and implementing an advertising campaign for a ‘top of the pops’ show in Gaelic where the multimedia presentations were used to encourage other students to make preferences concerning various pop-groups and design their own presentations using the PowerPoint templates which had already created by their fellow-students.

The role of “knowledge manager\leader”:

The third role that we observed was that of “knowledge manager/leader”. This was, perhaps, the most prevalent role and the one most often associated with the use of technology to support project-based learning. The focus of the role was on the development of knowledge products. These are often reports, newspapers, or multimedia presentations that solve a real world problem, address a social question, or express personal feelings. Activities demanded of this role include formulating questions, searching for information, collecting and analyzing data, and designing reports and presentations. The schools that took this role most seriously had as their mission “to prepare students to experience the Gaelic language as a living language in an information-based, technologically-advanced society”. Students were viewed as knowledge-workers.

Technology supports for new student roles:

A range of hardware and software applications supported these new student roles. The most supported role was that of “knowledge manager”. In this role, students had access to vast stores of information, either on the Internet or in a limited way, on Gaelic CD-ROMs. In addition, they had a variety of tools that they could use to transform this information into knowledge, tools such as search engines, word processors, graphics packages, multimedia, presentation and web-development software.

The role of “team member” was supported through the use of communications hardware and software. Student groupings were generally based on what made the most sense for learning rather than on hardware constraints (which were few in all schools).

The least-supported role was that of “self-learner”. This role was marked by the need for students to see their own goals, organize their own work, and manage their own time.

Teacher roles

New teacher roles:

Generally teachers retained many of their traditional roles (e.g. class leader or director, lecturer, information giver, discussion leader). They also negotiated multiple new roles in Gaelic language classrooms that utilised innovative technology-supported practices. The new teacher roles identified were: instructional designer; trainer; collaborator; student; silent partner; team coordinator; advisor; and monitoring and assessment specialist. Each role was associated with specific activities and was made possible by the use of technology in support of project-based learning in inquiry-based instructional methods.

“Instructional designer” is one of the more common new roles taken on by teachers. Much like the “self-learner” role adopted by students, teachers in this role found themselves designing, planning and organising their classrooms in order to effectively use and integrate technology into their Gaelic language lessons. “The instruction designer takes into account all of the resources available to meet the variety of needs his/her students have and implements well-designed activities to address those needs.” (Kozma, 1994)

The role of “trainer” was also reflected in the study. “Trainers” give individual instruction to enable skilled development. This training or mentoring was accomplished through modelling the use of multimedia and technology, and helping the students see how they might use software tools to accomplish unique language learning tasks.

The “collaborator” role was also evident. “Collaborator refers to a variety of activities teachers undertake to work with their colleagues to improve their instruction.” (Kozma & Schank,1998). These activities included informal sharing with colleagues and team teaching. They also included collaborating, sharing and learning with the students as equals. “I am convinced that the best learning takes place when the learner takes charge..,”(Papert,1993:p. 25).

“Team co-ordinator” was another teacher role supported by the data collected. The focus of this role was on the active assignment of individual students to project or portfolio teams. In addition to opening up opportunities for collaborative and social learning activities, teachers who assumed the “team co-ordinator” role created opportunities for peer tutoring, apprenticeship modelling, and support between students with mixed ability levels.

The role of “enabling advisor” refers to those teachers who gave assistance, advice, suggestions or posed questions in a way that enabled students to find the information they needed to complete particular multimedia or language-learning tasks. “Teachers who give so much autonomy to their students are thereby declaring their belief in a radically different theory of knowledge, one that entails far more work for them as well as their students (Papert, 1993:p. 63). A common term used sometimes to describe this role is the term ‘facilitator’.”

The “mentoring and assessment specialist” refers to the new role where teachers and students alike mentored and monitored performance and attempted to assess and improve that performance.

These various teacher roles align with, and exist in tandem with the new student roles previously outlined. Additionally the new teacher roles appear to overlap the different student roles observed in the schools. The student role of “self-learner” is complemented and supported by the roles the teachers play as “trainer”, “instructional designer”, and “monitoring and assessment specialist”, and visa versa. The student role of “knowledge manager”, a creator of Gaelic language knowledge portfolios, is related to and supported by the advisor, instructional designer, team co-ordinator, and collaborator roles that teachers adopted. Indeed many roles were inter-changeable throughout the observations.


Findings from this randomly chosen sample of a five hundred in-service teachers in a variety of elementary schools, reveal that technology is being used in a variety of ways to improve classroom instruction in the Gaelic language. Moreover, teacher and student roles are being altered in ways that are reflective not only of the presence of technology, but also the efforts at spontaneous and systematic school and curriculum reform. The findings highlight ‘some’ of the different and emergent roles that students and teachers adopted in the course of their interaction with technology-enhanced, technology-supported pedagogical practices in the Gaelic language classroom, in elementary schools in Ireland. These practices:

  • Promote active, autonomous and transformative learning in the students.

  • Provide students and teachers with competencies and technological skills that allow them to search for, organise, and analyse information and communicate and express their Gaelic language ideas in a variety of multimedia projects.

  • Enable teachers, students and the general school population to communicate and share information.

  • Engage students and teachers in collaborative, project-based learning in which they work together on real-time, real-world like, language projects.

  • Provide students with individualised or differentiated instruction at all levels of ability, interest and/or learning styles.

  • Allow teachers and students to assess performance (a total interactive, interpersonal human process).

The Flip-Side of the coin

Thirty-eight percent (38%) of the teachers involved displayed a certain resentment to the presence of what they perceived to be the policy-makers’, non-consultative imposition of technology into their classrooms. They viewed technology as annoying tools, implemented with a top-down philosophy, which in some cases (20%) challenged their professionalism and ‘raison d’être’. Twenty-four percent (24%) looked upon technology as a possible de-humanising influence in their relationships with students. To this group, time given to technology-enhanced language projects, detracted from what they believed to be what Gaelic, language teaching and learning was all about – instruction and communication, reading and writing. Another group of teachers (14%) also indicated that their students, being surrounded in society with the gadgets of the digital-age, were being de-sensitised to, and deprived of what they perceived to be the basic human needs for face-to-face communication and inter- and intra-personal social skills.

I would have to state at this point that there was very little negativity, either observed or pronounced by the students. They seemed to be totally engrossed in the technology-enhanced tasks already outlined, and the majority of them (94%) said that they preferred the combination of Gaelic language instruction and project-based learning to traditional face-to-face only instruction. It challenged them to think and work in a variety of interesting and fun ways and it was rarely boring! When the students were asked what their ‘utopia’ would be in the Gaelic language classroom, their answers were unequivocal – Playstation and PC interactive games that would be voice-activated in Gaelic and available on the world-wide web to all Gaelic speakers and learners. They wanted their Gaelic language classrooms to become communities of practice around the world, based on the ‘technology toys’ which they found most motivating in life.

Video games teach children what computers are beginning to teach adults—that some forms of learning are fast-paced, immensely compelling, and rewarding. The fact that they are enormously demanding of one's time and require new ways of thinking remains a small price to pay (and is perhaps even an advantage) to be vaulted into the future. Not surprisingly, by comparison School strikes many young people as slow, boring, and frankly out of touch. (Papert, 1993:p. 5)

In conclusion, this paper intends to ask more questions than provide answers. The larger study will undoubtedly throw up many more interesting and challenging realities for all teachers, students, educational bodies and policy makers, as we progress into the 21st Century. Issues surrounding transformative learning, reflectivity, technology and emergent roles in TELLE also suggest very interesting possibilities in the larger study. It is important that we do not ignore any of the experiences being explored in technology-enhanced learning environments, as a Gaelic language saying also tells us ‘bíonn dhá insint ar gach scéal’ - ‘there are two sides to every story’.

Finally the word ‘enhanced’ as indicated in TELLE must not be viewed solely as implying ‘advantage, positive, wonderful’. The results were overwhelmingly positive and in favor of the TELLE in the Gaelic language classroom but serious doubts were also conveyed by teachers who felt alienated, afraid and undervalued by the organizations and policy makers who deliberately introduced technology into their professional lives without consultation.

One moral of the story is that we might all do better if we dared classify
ourselves as "developing." (Papert, 1993:p. 75)


Bereiter, C. (1999). Education and mind in the knowledge age. http://csile.oise.utoronto.ca/edmind/edmind.html

Brown, A. & Campione, J. (1994). Guided discovery in a community of learners. In K. McGilly (Ed.), Classroom lessons: Integrating cognitive theory and classroom practice (pp. 229-270).

Kozma, R. (1991). Learning with media. Review of Educational Research, 61(2), 179-212.

Kozma, R. (1994). Will media influence learning? Reframing the debate. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42, (2), 7-19.

Kozma, R. & Schank, P. (1998). Connecting with the twenty-first century: Technology in support of educational reform. In C. Dede (Ed.), Technology and learning. Washington , DC : American Society for Curriculum Development.

Means, B. & Olson, K. (1997). Technology’s role in education reform : Findings from a national study of innovating schools. Washington, DC. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement.

National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), (1999). Primary School Curriculum – Gaeilge Teanga – Treoirlinte do Mhúinteoiri. Dublin. Government of Ireland Publications.

Papert, S. (1993). The Children's Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer. New York: Basic Books.

Plomp, T., Ten Brummelhuis, A. & Rapmund, R. (1996). Teaching and learning for the future (Report of the Committee on Multimedia in Teacher Training (COMMITT)) to the Netherlands Minister of Education). The Hague: Sdu

Scardimalia, M. & Bereiter, C. (1994). Computer support for knowledge-building communities. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 3(3), 256-384.

Wenger, E. (1998): Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. UK.

About the Author

Daithí Ó Murchú Ph.D.

Daithí Ó Murchú is an all-gaelic, Irish medium, elementary school principal teacher in Gaelscoil Ó Doghair, Newcastle West, Ireland since its foundation in 1985. In 1993 he founded the first co-educational, second level ‘ all-Gaelic Gaelcholáiste’ in the Mid-West and in 1996, was awarded his Masters in Management and Curriculum studies in Trinity College, Dublin. Following his first PhD in Technology and linguistics and subsequently in Elementary education and Learning, he was elected executive vice-president of human language and technology with SITE (USA).

As a cultural and technology expert with the European Union’s MyEurope schools, Daithíalso collaborated with Waikito University, New Zealand on their distance-education, teacher training programme and began collaborating with Trinity College, Carmarthen, Wales and the University of San Diego in their technology and Multiple Intelligences programmes. Having been seconded to Mary Immaculate College of Education, University of Limerick as a lecturer in Methodology of teaching Gaelic, Daithí continued to work with the Master programmes in MSc, MEd and MA in Education and ICT programmes in the various universities. As a research fellow in ICT and Education at Trinity College, Dublin, he lectured and designed the first MSc programme modules in Gaelic in Knowledge management and ICT.

Presently Daithí is working with Aalborg University, Denmark in their VirtDan project which designs innovative, e-Learning, blended environments for linguistics, and is contracted to the position of National co-director of Gaelic in blended, e-Learning environments with Hibernia College, Ireland. He continues to teach in Gaelscoil Ó Doghair, which is his first ‘mathethical’ love and his books, presentations and keynote speeches have been enthusiastically received worldwide.

Contact Dr. Daithí Ó Murchú by email: omurchu.ias@eircom.net 

[1] The schools and teachers involved were from ‘ordinary’ elementary schools where Irish Gaelic was taught daily as a subject only as defined and outlined by the National Curriculum in Ireland.


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