When I first became active on Twitter, I followed the general #edchat quite a bit and was stunned and fascinated by all the tech tools people were tweeting about. I read blog posts and reviews about the latest web 2.0 tool someone was using in X class and got excited. I tried many new tools (that aren’t new anymore – that’s how the tech world works!) and some worked, some didn’t. Along the way I learned a lot of lessons and developed a lot of just plain opinions about technology integration in the world language classroom. Humor me for a minute and see what you think.
Too much of a good thing?
I do want to emphasize that technology is a beneficial and important part of any classroom, including world language classrooms. But where do WL teachers go wrong when implementing them? I think the problem is excitement over using them combined with a simple lack of evaluation.
- Too much time from learning language
When students spend more time putting a movie together than using the target language, the tech tool has gone wrong. This is especially a problem in lower level classes. Novice learners do not have the language to work on a project and maintain target language with their peers. My AP Spanish students have difficulty sustaining the level of planning and reaction required to do this. So when students have spent 30 minutes of a 50-minute class period hashing out in English how to upload photos to VoiceThread, it’s time to reevaluate.
- No life skills
The tool also goes wrong when we fail to ask the question, what life skill does this develop? Are students thinking critically? Defending opinions? Negotiating community? Or are they just playing with a tool? Sometimes this is a problem with the task instead of the tool. If students are using Prezi, fine, but use it as an opportunity to build students’ presentation skills, definitely a life skill highly needed in many professions.
- Frustrating learning curve
I’m sure you’ve seen these tools – I’ve been reviewing online publishing tools lately (think magazines) and they fall into this category more often than not. It takes so long to figure out how to use the tool to do anything, it frustrates me and so not only am I not using language, I’m not likely to ever use this tool again.
Worst tech tools
What tools fall into these categories? Again, any tool can go wrong fast and most tools can be used well. For me, the tools that fall into these categories are VoiceThread (way too much work for way too little language), Voki (it’s good for one time in low levels, but nearly useless after that), and Powerpoint (so many better tools to foster presentational skills). My question is – if you’re using a tool to get a student to speak a sentence, maybe two, and then rework or listen to the same sentence over and over, and then abandon it – why not just get them using meaningful language in context and drop the tool altogether?
However, there is the argument that some of these are motivating. Maybe students who will not talk in class will use a Voki to talk for them with excitement you’ve never seen in them before. I love motivation – great – do the activity – but don’t dwell on it, don’t make it a common thing, don’t give up on developing that student’s life skills. Otherwise you’ll end up with a student who can make a Voki like a pro but can’t speak the language and can’t talk in front of people.
Incidentally, as an alternative to VoiceThread, I like Yodio. It’s super easy for students to call in a comment on a photo from their phone, and you drag and drop it into the photo to make a slideshow of photos and student comments. It’s still not a lot of language, but it’s an easy and fast tool that can be fun one day and then be left for another time.
Tech tools gone right
Don’t get me wrong; I love using technology. But it has to be used well or we’re wasting everyone’s time. What makes the use of a tech tool go well?
- Culture: Good technology integration adds an element of culture, or lets you do it.
- Future use: You’re doing students an extra favor if you’ve chosen a tool that they may use in other classes or their future, whether in college or a profession.
- Motivating: Students enjoy using it (rather than getting frustrated or bored). This supports forming good brain connections.
- Supported by your infrastructure: If your school network or systems or devices can’t handle the tool, your plans will go awry.
- Authentic: The best tech integration for world language teachers uses authentic tools- media in the target language, changing Google News to another country, or change the language on Audio Lingua.
So, what tools make the grade for my classroom?
- Google Earth: Culture, geography, photos, museums- a treasure trove to explore.
- Video cameras: I love recording interpersonal and presentational speaking for review (and grading) later.
- Photo tools: For example, PhotoPeach, a slideshow tool that’s super easy to use for presentational writing and discussion. Right now I’m really interested in exploring AudioBoo as well.
- Google Drive: For a place for students to collaborate on writing, for me to share questions with sources, etc., Google Drive is our favorite.
- Prezi: Personally, my favorite presentation tool. But I don’t care which presentation tool students are using, as long as it’s 1) easy to use and 2) not Powerpoint. I just want them to realize there’s more out there than Powerpoint.
- Glogster: We love Glogster because of how it puts multiple media together – audio, video, writing. Our only problem with Glogster is that it can take forever to upload media.
- Edmodo: Sharing links, free-topic blogging, cross-school interaction, and infographic quizzes are a few of the ways we use Edmodo. Let me know if you’d like to join AmigoWeb, our multischool collaboration group, to see how students are communicating with each other.
- Web-based apps on authentic language sites: Hands down, one of my favorite uses of technology. Students can work with interactive mall maps, create a shoe, build a car, decorate Barbi’s house – the possibilities are just about endless. Check out my extensive list of Spanish-language corporate websites to explore.
This list is by no means complete – what are your favorite (or least favorite) tools, and why?