Before starting to write this new post of mine about technology in language teaching, I would like to make a reference to my introductory post, clarifying that my personal position about the use of technology in several and different disciplines is absolutely positive. In other words, I am very keen of technology and the more it will be regarded as means of progression in all the branches of knowledge, the more – in my opinion – humanity will progress. That said, from my humble perspective I would say that being critical – evaluate all the possible future implications of something (e.g. technology) that is not entirely known yet – is the key for good progress. Hence, that is what I wrote about in my previous post.
As for today’s topic, I would like to tell you about my personal experience with the use of Facebook as a learner of English. Back in Italy, I have been studying English as a L2 since I was 7 years old, and I have never been asked to use Web 2.0 technologies to this aim until when at university – but obviously, this is in part due to the fact that Web 2.0 technologies had not been in use until the first decade of the 21st century.
My degree course was called ‘Western and Eastern Languages and Cultures’, and my choices were English as first option, and Chinese as second. The languages were structured with two sub-options – namely, ‘Language and translation’ and ‘Advancement language’, the latter being run by a mother-tongue teacher. Our mother-tongue teacher, whom I am going to call M, was an Australian young woman, and very creative and innovative in her way of teaching. What M did is setting up a Facebook group for debating and conversing about whatever topic that either we students, or she, wished to talk about. The group was also widely used as immediate way of communicating between students and teacher, or between students and students. For example, we often wrote questions there if we had any doubt about an exam date or what topic would be covered during a session. I remember it being very interactive and student-centred, in that, as I have already mentioned, most times answers to one student’s question came from peers rather than by M. By this, M’s intervention was often avoided, and hence any students’ anxiety in having to talk (or write asynchronous emails) to the mother-tongue teacher, and any waste of M’s time in replying to students’ basic enquiries, were avoided. In other words, that had a double beneficial effect: 1. it was learner- and learning-centred, in that 2. it saved big amounts of both students’ and M’s time for bureaucratic and organizational purposes. One further aspect that I particularly liked was the fact that it did not look at all like some compulsory – although innovatively developed – task that students had to contribute with some minimum number of interventions per week (just to give an example). Instead, it was at total students’ discretion as to what to write, when to write it, and whether contributing or not to their peers’ posts. The weird thing is that sooner or later everybody came to actively contribute to that group, with no stress nor anxiety.
This extract from the ESOL blog of British Council ESOL website sums it up pretty well about what this Facebook group worked for from the teacher perspective – despite actually describing the advantages of blogging, and not interacting through Facebook, for language class tutors:
“[…] is run by the teacher of a class. The content of this type of blog can be limited to syllabus, course information, homework, assignments, etc. Or the teacher may choose to write about his or her life, sharing reflections about the local culture, target culture and language to stimulate online and in-class discussion.”
Switching over to the other side of the classroom, because this use of Facebook brought students’ contribution into focus, this other definition works as well as the previous one:
“[…] is a shared space, with teacher and students being able to write to the main area. It is best used as a collaborative discussion space, an extra-curricular extension of the classroom. Students can be encouraged to reflect in more depth, in writing, on themes touched upon in class. Students are given a greater sense of freedom and involvement.”
What do you think about it? Was it only M’s lucky strike to get all her students actively using her new Facebook group with no need for pushing from her side, or could it actually be not so risky to leave total freedom to adult learners? I am looking forward to know your opinions about it. Thank you for your attention, and happy techy teaching!