Bring the World to Your Classroom: Videoconferencing

By Bryan A. Upshaw

My worst grade in high school was in Spanish I. Our teacher was tough, and the pace was blistering. I struggled to learn the vocab, grammar, and odd verb conjugation charts. I found the culture interesting, but the rest of the class was just frustrating and seemingly pointless to my future. Guess what subject I mainly teach now? That’s right – Spanish. What turned my worst grade and most frustrating class into my career?

Getting to see the world outside my little East Tennessee community and building relationships with people who at first seemed so different from me changed the way I saw the world. I was inspired to travel abroad, learn a language, join a local Hispanic church, and live with an undocumented family my last semester of college. Those relationships and experiences made language learning fun and transformed pointless grammar exercises into real-world challenges that unlocked boundaries that separated people.

How can I show them the world when we can’t leave our classroom?

I share my stories with my students and perhaps it inspires some to consider traveling one day, but how can I motivate students right now? How can I show them the world when we can’t leave our classroom? In my opinion, one of the most underused tools in education is videoconferencing. While expensive systems with fancy cameras and monitors can make it seamless, most teachers already have the resources to videoconference. If they have a smartphone, tablet,  or computer, then they probably have everything they need!

As a foreign language teacher, I use videoconferencing in my classroom in many different ways. For example, my friend in Nicaragua, Emanuel, converses with my students. My sister shares stories about her semesters abroad in Nicaragua and Honduras. Another friend, Garret, has talked from Germany about his year abroad in Argentina and how it helped him to learn German and get a job with BMW. My students love hearing stories from guest speakers projected in the front of the classroom. They have fun asking questions and always learn something new. Continue reading

‘A Child’s Relationships with Technology’

lynnz_col2

Students Visit Other Countries – Without Leaving NZ from RNZ, 23 June 2017

High school students in New Zealand are piloting a virtual reality foreign language app. They can visit other countries and learn languages without leaving New Zealand.

When ELA Tools Can’t Adapt to Students’ Native Language by Jen Curtis, EdSurge, 29 June 2017

Curtis looks at some of the issues involved in creating translated online materials for English language learners. She focuses on Spanish/English and the difficulties of translation between these two linguistically different languages. Edtech companies are trying a variety of solutions, but even with good translations, there can be problems. Sometimes the level in the translated version may be beyond that of the original English text. Another issue is that some learners may not be literate in Spanish despite being Spanish speakers. Some online platforms have decided that good support in English is more useful than translations that may not be accessible to learners.

Navigation of Computer-Based Tests Matters for Young Students, Study Finds by Benjamin Herold, Education Week, 30 Apr. 2017

Herold reports on a research study conducted by American Association for the Advancement of Science, which found that while high school and college students showed no significant difference, elementary and middle school learners did not perform as well on computer-based tests that did not allow them to “skip, review and change previous responses” as they did on computer-based tests that do allow this and on paper-pencil tests.

The Role of Relationships in Children’s Use of Technology by Jeremy Boyle, The Fred Rogers Center, 23 Feb. 2017

Boyle looks at how the conversation about children and technology has shifted from whether children should use it to how they use it. Since the Fred Rogers Center focuses on relationships, Boyle makes the connection to a child’s relationships with technology and with other people.

Do Mobile Devices Harm Toddlers’ Speech Development?

lynnz_col2

Tablets and smartphones damage toddlers’ speech development, by Sarah Knapton, The Telegraph, May 4, 2017

Knapton reports on a new study that makes a connection between the use of mobile devices and speech development in children under two years old.

Infographic: The ed-tech challenges faced by immigrant students by Laura A Scione, eSchool News, April 14, 2017

Scione reports on a study that shows that 43% of Hispanic immigrants who buy technology generally buy it to support their children’s education.

After Outage, Ed Department Unveils New IDEA Site by Michelle Diament, Disability Scoop, June 1, 2017

Although this article is not directly about educational technology, it highlights the importance of technology for presenting and disseminating up-to-date, accurate and accessible information to the public.

New Directions for Technology Use in ELL Instruction by Scott Evans, Language Magazine, May 9, 2017

In this article, Evans describes various ways that teachers can use technology to enhance the learning of English Language Learners. These include uses in differentiation, autonomous and self-directed learning, access to diverse language content, mobility, and multimodal learning.

It Turns Out ‘Screen Time’ Isn’t That Bad for Kids, by Julia Layton, How Stuff Works, Culture, Jan. 14, 2016

This article from 2016 reports on a study that claims research on the bad effects of technology on children are outdated.

 

Computational Thinking, LiuLiShuo & Audiobooks

lynnz_col2

Why Computer Science Education in K-12 Settings Is Becoming Increasingly Essential by Mehran Sahami, The Huffington Post, 14 Sep. 2016.

Is computer science for everybody? In this blog post, the author reminds us that in today’s world, computer science goes beyond programming for programmers. It is more and more part of our everyday lives. The author asserts, “This is the reason we don’t talk about teaching CS as just teaching ‘programming,’ but rather as a means for students to develop ‘computational thinking’ skills.”

Ex-Google Guy Builds English Teaching App That Adapts to Student by Selina Wang, Bloomberg Technology, 13 Sep. 2016.

Chinese parents spend quite a bit of money for English lessons for their children, then find out that their children don’t speak English very well. In steps LiuLiShuo, which means “speaking fluently,” an app which incorporates gaming and social media into English learning. While it has its critics, it also has 30 million (yes, million) users.

Audiobooks Can Support K-12 Readers in the Classroom by Kate Stoltzfus, Education Week, 19 Sep. 2016.

Audiobooks have been around for quite a while, and their usefulness for struggling readers has been supported by research. With the growth of digital media, audiobooks are becoming even more important as a tool for learners, especially students who have trouble reading. A study by the American Association of Schools Libraries in 2012, which focused on elementary students, found that “audiobooks improved students’ reading scores, increased students’ positive attitudes about their reading ability, and offered students more personal choice in what they read.”

How Can Technology Enhance Language Learning?

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

Second language acquisition as a body of research looks at various aspects of learning and teaching languages other than one’s native language. Most people probably think of this as foreign language teaching and learning. Because of the complexity of language learning and teaching, this field of research covers a wide range of issues from the order in which learners acquire grammar and vocabulary in the language they are studying to what the most effective teaching methods and strategies are. As learners and teachers alike seek more effective and efficient ways to teach and learn languages, technology use has grown.

Perhaps technology use for language learning began back when people used record players to listen to and repeat what was on a record. In the 21st century, the opportunities for using technology has grown enormously, ranging from podcasts you can download to interactive activities on the Internet where you can practice all aspects of a language.  These activities range from short texts to read and answer questions about to full-length courses taught over the web. With mobile technology, learning apps enable the learner to study anywhere, anytime. Each of these types of technology-assisted language learning comes with its own strengths and challenges for the learner and the developer.

In his blogpost, “How could SLA research inform EdTech?,” Scott Thornby suggests that the developer or user needs to ask some questions based on second language research about how an application may fit into the language learning process to determine its effectiveness for learners’ specific needs. He lays out what he calls 10 “observations” from second language research. Then he formulated questions, related to each observation, which ask how technology can enhance language learning. His questions focus on how adaptive the software is to different types of learners and to an individual learner’s history as well as how it addresses the complexity of the language. Thornby also suggests asking how well it gives opportunities for meaningful input and output as well as how well it provides feedback.

However, in the long run, I think the most important question he poses is “Is the software sufficiently engaging/motivating to increase the likelihood of sustained and repeated use?” After all, no matter how good it is from a pedagogical standpoint, if the software doesn’t engage the learners, it will gather dust on the virtual “shelf” as surely as those records from days past have gathered dust on people’s bookshelves.

Smartphones, Tablets & Subtitles for Language Learning

lynnz_col2

NY program uses phone calls, text messages to teach English by Deepti Hajela, Associated Press, 30 Nov. 2015.

Using basic phone technology, New York state has created lessons for English language learners that are flexible and free.

Tablet use can benefit bilingual preschoolers by Elin Bäckström at Phys.org, 10 Nov. 2015.

The author reports on the result of a study done in Sweden that shows the value of tablets as teaching tools for preschoolers whose first language is not Swedish.

Spain considers ban on dubbing in bid to boost English language skills in The Local, 4 Dec. 2015.

Spain’s Popular Party wants to eliminate dubbing of TV shows and movies and retain original sound-tracks with subtitles in an effort to boost English language learning.

My Changing Expectations About Social Media: Facebook

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

When I arrived in Albania to teach future English teachers at a university, I wanted to use online resources to stay connected with my students like I do in the US. After trying several different free learning management platforms, I decided to set us up on FaceBook. Most of my students already have FaceBook accounts, and they were used to using it. Although things did not work exactly as I had planned, it did form a basis for online communication among the students and with me.

My intention was that “our” FaceBook page would be a place for English-only communication about issues related to English and English teaching. I linked to the American English website and the British Council so we’d get their feeds. I asked the students to do the same when they find relevant links.

What actually has happened is that the site has functioned primarily as a social networking page for the students with daily posts of selfies and a lot of comments in Albanian. At first, I was upset by this because it did not meet my expectations. However, as time has gone by, I have accepted the social aspect of this and how it has created a sense of community among the students in a different way. I do use it to post class-related information and to link to “professional” resources, and they do occasionally post in English. However, the next time I do something like this with a group of students, I want to try to create more of a learning environment.

BBC LE
Eryk Bagshaw’s article “Social media is teaching the world English1 about using social media to offer “snack-size” English language lessons gave me some ideas about how to do this. This Australian initiative has found that users respond positively when offered small bits of English – a few idioms, a few uses of modal verbs, difficult spellings, etc. Bagshaw says, “It is all about giving people context to hang that learned language on.” He also wrote about how the BBC uses Twitter to connect English learning and current events and mentioned that creating a community is a part of the service and part of the appeal of using social media in this way. “You can get instant feedback from other users a world away, they collaborate, correct, rework. That is how you learn and that is really exciting.”

As a teacher, I recognize the importance of building community among learners. Therefore, I intend to take what I learned from my experience in Albania and what I learned from Bagshaw’s article and think about how I can change my expectations about social media use for a group of students so that it functions as a more effective learning tool, as well as for community-building .

I would like to hear others experiences with using social media in learning environments. What has worked? What hasn’t?

__________
1Sydney Morning Herald, 26 June 2015.