I started teaching French in 1993. At that time, the technology to which I had access consisted of a Brother word processor I shared with my husband at home, a high-speed duplicating machine that used a drum and pushed out volumes of paper with blue ink that smeared and faded, a slide projector with carousel for showing dozens of slides, an overhead projector with plenty of overhead sheets and wet-erase markers, a tape player in the classroom (not even a CD player in the classroom yet), and …wait for it….a reel-to-reel film projector.
So when the Internet first became available to me in 1995, to say it transformed my practice would be an understatement. For the first time, I could log onto a computer and within a few keystrokes and clicks, I could see what native speakers around the world were reading in real time, at the same time that they could be reading it. My students didn’t yet have access to a computer lab connected to the Internet at school, but I could print out the documents to share with students. I was ecstatic and took long virtual (and largely text-based) journeys nightly from my AOL account. And this was with static Web pages: text and a few images, no interaction within and among the creators and the users of the content. But I could see the potential.
Fast forward 10 years. By 2005, YouTube and Google Search had both hit the scene…and redefined the Internet as we knew it. The content didn’t just look different. It was different. More dynamic. Audio-visual. Enhanced search capacity. Commenting and interaction between the creators and users of content. And in fact, the line between creators and users started to blur at this point in our collective cyber history: anyone who could figure out how could upload a video to Youtube. Wikipedia turned everyday citizens into content creators and curators. Today, the line between creators and consumers of online content has disappeared completely. We all can be creators if we choose to. And we continue to be users. We can create, publish, edit, republish, share, collaborate, comment, and more.
The true power of technology does not lie in any one tool, suite of tools or newest, glitzy capacity. Instead, the real power of technology as an educational tool lies in its ability to provide ongoing, diverse and dynamic opportunities to inform and connect anyone, anywhere.
As a world language teacher, I am inspired and energized by the possibilities technology affords to help my students become not only more knowledgeable, but more connected to the communities of target-language speakers all over the world.
- Tools like ExplainEverything, Doceri, myBrainshark and Educreations that make it possible for teachers to ensure that learning, practice and enrichment available to students 24/7.
- Skype and Google + Hangouts connecting my students to classes elsewhere to talk in French, in real time.
- Video editing tools like Zaption, Educanon, EdPuzzle and Blubbr that let teachers add questions and other activities to existing YouTube videos.
- Twitter to share their work to a real audience and to engage in global dialog around current issues.
- Dynamic tools like Padlet and TodaysMeet where students can quickly post thoughts on any topic and see what others (local and global if the links are shared with others) are posting as well.
- Collaborative tools, such as those in Google Drive (and, for those schools that use it, Google Apps for Education) that allow students to collaborate, create and publish–locally and globally.
- Rich tools like Blendspace that allow users to organize all kinds of content into an interactive, multi-media presentation in which users all over the world can use the commenting feature to dialog about every item in the presentation.
- Creative multi-media tools like Storybird, Wordle and Tagxedo, Voicethread, PowToon, Animoto and more that help students build capacity to use and ultimately publish their work in their new language creatively.
- Mobile tools like Toontastic, Tellagami, ShadowPuppet and others that allow students to quickly and effectively combine their own spoken audio with video and images on their mobile devices and publish to an audience with one tap on their screen.
- Free mobile and online tools, such as WhatsApp, Snapchat, Viber, and more that allow students to foster one-to-one connections in real time with native speakers around the world–allowing them to communicate authentically when and where they want.
I’m fortunate to teach in a place where technology is seen as an ally in students’ education. Virtually nothing is “blocked,” thereby allowing my students to learn, explore, communicate, collaborate, create and publish using a variety of media and tools, right from my classroom. Yes, we have an obligation (legally as well as ethically) to protect our students from nefarious content and people on the Web. But we are also responsible for preparing students to become productive, responsible, and media-literate global citizens: these tools allow my students to learn and practice, but also to produce and share and get feedback from real audiences. More importantly, these tools allow my students to make real connections with French speakers around world right from their residences in suburban Northern California where French is rarely heard on TV and virtually never on the radio or in person. Through their interactions and their experiences with a rich array of authentic documents now easily accessed from their pockets, they increase both language and cultural proficiency by interacting with a variety of people from diverse communities where the language is spoken. As technology continues to shape how we work and interact, it truly empowers teachers and students to transform what it means to “study” a language or to “learn” a language by taking their voices and their experiences out of the book and out of the classroom to the global community.