Nicola Work, University of Dayton
Times have changed. Nowadays, technology is everywhere. And with more new technologies evolving every day, the question arises: Does technology have a place in education, and more specifically in the foreign language classroom? Absolutely.
Reason #1: 21st century skills
In order to better prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s world, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and the International Society for Technology in Education have drafted frameworks and guidelines outlining what students need to know to meet the challenges of the modern age. Besides focusing on core content areas, they emphasize the importance of other interdisciplinary skills, such as creativity and innovation, communication and collaboration, research and information fluency, as well as critical thinking, problem solving and decision making.
Reason #2: Digital natives
Learners today are “digital natives”, a term for the generation who has had access to computers since their childhood and grew up with video games, internet and other digital devices and services. “Digital Natives are used to receiving information really fast. They like to parallel process and multitask. They prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked” (Prensky, 2001). Thus, by integrating technology into their teaching, educators – often “Digital Immigrants” – address students in their language and style.
Reason #3: Differentiated Instruction
Differentiated instruction “involves providing students with different avenues to acquiring content; to processing, constructing, or making sense of ideas; and to developing teaching materials so that all students within a classroom can learn effectively, regardless of differences in ability.” (Differentiated instruction, 2010). Through the use of technology, different learning styles (visual, auditory, kinesthetic) and speeds can be addressed, allowing teachers to pay equal attention to all students.
Reason #4: Instant access to a variety of materials
With internet connectivity, learners have instant access to authentic sources of language and culture in a variety of different formats (written, audio, video). Virtual trips, museum visits, news, cultural facts, maps and interviews are some of the resources available. With the help of course management systems educators can provide quick, sometimes immediate, feedback.
Reason #5: Up-to-date information
With the Internet, educators have immediate access to up-to-date cultural information (more current than textbooks can ever be). Opening hours of certain establishments, TV listings and movie schedules, weather forecasts, news, biographies, movie critiques are only a handful of authentic materials that provide current information in order to complement and update any outdated textbooks.
Reason #6: Language for a real-purpose
Technology allows language use for a real purpose instead of construed, mocked situations in the classroom. Students can address a wider audience than their teacher and their classmates. With the use of eCards to native speakers of the target language, blogs or movie critiques read worldwide, technology becomes a window to the world, taking the foreign language beyond the four walls of the classroom.
Reason #7: Practice skills
With technology students can practice all skills in the foreign language outside of class – something most educators have always emphasized. Tools such as Skype and Voicethread allow speaking practice; websites, blogs and ebooks involve reading; blogs, Wallwisher and Prezi involve writing, and Youtube and podcasts involve listening in the foreign language.
Reason #8: Accessibility and availability
Mobile phones, tablets, and laptop computers grant access to authentic language materials and skills practice anytime from nearly anywhere with Internet access. In class, students can now use the Wordreference app on their phones or the corresponding website when in need of a dictionary. Learning can happen almost anywhere and anytime.
Reason #9: Make learning fun
One last reason for integrating technology into the foreign language class is that it can break up a boring, monotonous routine of grammar presentation, textbook activities and written homework and instead make language learning interesting, fun, different, appealing, more realistic and relevant to learners.
These are only some of the reasons as to why technology integration is crucial in foreign language education. A word of caution is in order though: Technology needs to enhance instruction and improve student learning; it should not just be used for its own sake.
Differentiated Instruction. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Differentiated_instruction
International Society of Technology in Education. https://www.iste.org/
Johnson, D. (2010). Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part. Cleveland, MN: Blue Skunk Press.
New Technologies and 21st Century Skills. http://newtech.coe.uh.edu/
Partnership for 21st Century Skills. http://www.p21.org/
Prensky, Marc. Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon (MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October 2001)
Ubiquitous Learning. http://edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/Ubiquitous_learning