Tech in the Foreign Language Classroom

old computers

There is probably no more efficient and dynamic way than technology to give your students access to interesting, informative, and engaging content in the target language. Technology can also, however, be one of the biggest headaches. Here are a few tips to smoothly incorporate more technology into your class.

1. Familiarize yourself with what technology will be available to you ahead of time – There is nothing worse than spending hours creating lesson plans based on a technology that you do not have access to!

If little to no tech is available in the classroom, perhaps you can bring it with you. But, be realistic about whether you are up to trudging across campus everyday schlepping a projector/computer/etc. You can always tailor your weekly lessons so that you only have to bring your equipment once or twice a week.

2. Start Simple – Videos are a simple way to introduce the target language in a culturally authentic manner. YouTube is an excellent starting point because it is easy to use and has a ton of content produced in the target culture. In beginning level courses, students are just learning the basic components of the language. What better way to learn the alphabet, days of the week and numbers than by watching children’s programming from the target culture? Once students develop higher proficiency, you can incorporate more challenging and age-appropriate content such as news segments, dance tutorials and documentaries. Be sure, however, that your videos are captioned so that they are ADA compliant.

3. Don’t fear the informal –  Instagram posts, memes, .gifs, and social media discussions may seem decidedly un-academic, but their simplicity, especially in beginning level courses, can very quickly engage students. I had great success using a private Facebook group to connect students enrolled in a U.S.-based Elementary Portuguese course with a group of students taking an English course in Salvador, Brazil. Students would reply to prompts on the group site in each classroom’s respective target language, and then have the other group comment on and correct the other group’s work. The informality of the platform led to more casual communication between the classes. They started posting videos and articles beyond what was assigned to them. Some of the students were even motivated enough to visit one another in Brazil!

4. Use your university’s Learning Management System (LMS) –  Sometimes videos and other resources are incorporated into a lesson at the last minute. You wake up in the morning and an amazing, must-use video pops up in your Facebook news feed. You show it in class that day, but when planning next quarter’s class comes around, you simply cannot remember where to find the video. At UCLA, a course site within the university’s LMS (CCLE) can be a valuable asset for keeping and organizing information for both you and your students. Any videos, websites and other information that you already know will be used for the quarter can be placed in the course website in a variety of ways. So, for example, I personally prefer to organize my content chronologically by week.  

Students (especially incoming) also expect to see course content on the course website and will turn to it to view the syllabus, check on weekly assignments, and to engage with one another in discussion forums. Make sure that the content is there for them on the site! If you are teaching in the Humanities at UCLA and would like help setting up your course site in CCLE, let us know by emailing ritc@humnet.ucla.edu.

5. Have a backup plan –  Everything that can possibly go wrong with tech in the classroom eventually does. Always have an idea of what you will teach if the technology is not there. What can students do in the book that corresponds to what you were going to teach? Sometimes bringing hard copies and handouts of a backup activity is helpful. For any pre-planned YouTube videos, use a video ripper* to download the video directly onto your laptop so that it will be available even if internet service is not. (The 4K Video Downloader free app is a good option, but there are many others available.) If push comes to shove, be prepared to write things out old school in chalk on the board. (Always, always, always, have dry erase markers handy if you have a white board).

6. Lastly remember that the technology is not enough. Showing cool videos, using an LMS, or an online homework platform without clear and measurable learning goals will not improve your class. For example, when giving students video to watch, pair relevant and targeted written questions for them to answer both as they watch and afterwards.  While online platforms such as Pearsons’ MyLanguageLab, can make grading, collecting and correcting much easier for professors, it is important to be selective when curating the homework assignments and realistic about student workloads. The use of technology should merely improve an already well thought out and planned lesson.

*Always be sure you are complying with copyright law and following Fair Use guidelines when creating local copies of media you have not created yourself! For more information on this, please see: http://www.library.ucla.edu/support/publishing-data-management/scholarly-communication-resources-education/learn-about-copyright

Featured image: East_German_pre-1984_DIY_PC_-_complete_setup.jpg by Niklas Roy.  Modified and used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Technology#/media/File:East_German_pre-1984_DIY_PC_-_complete_setup.jpg)

Amber Williams is a Research and Instructional Technology Consultant (RITC) at the UCLA Center for Digital Humanities, and is a PhD student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Her research focuses on depictions of slavery and the enslaved in contemporary Afro-Brazilian literature.

Resources:

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