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by Erica Fischer on Jun 15, 2012

Online tools and how they support instruction and student engagement

Welcome back, everyone! Last Thursday we had a dynamic and well-balanced discussion about the use of online tools in language teaching, and how they can support instruction and student engagement – or not.

The Purpose of Online Tools in the Classroom

We started out by talking about the purpose of online tools in the classroom – what role should they play in teaching and encouraging the use of the target language?

  • @SECottrell said that online tools must require students to create, and @trescolumnae agreed, adding that students themselves prefer tools that require that they participate actively, not passively.
  • @SECottrell and @placido added that online tools and resources can also provide interesting input for students.
  • @trescolumnae added that such tools and resources can be a valuable means of exposing students to the culture of the target language.
  • @mskbordner explained that she uses technology for efficiency, helping to close the gap between what a student can do and communicate by themselves and the level of detail and accuracy in their expression in the target language.
  • Our participants agreed that social media-type online tools encourage interactions between students in the target language, not just between student and teacher.

Potential Pitfalls in Classroom Technology Use

Our participants were quick to identify some of the ways in which technologies can impede language acquisition in the classroom.

One of the ways in which this can happen is if the use of technology overshadows the purpose of its use: target language input and/or output. Participants agreed that the use of technology should not be just for technology’s sake.

  • @tmsaue1 pointed out that replacing “bad projects” with technology options doesn’t necessarily make them “good.”
  • @placido warned about the “technology time suck,” which happens when learning a technology takes up a lot of time, losing sight of the class goal: language acquisition.
  • @mskbordner reminded us that technology is a teaching tool, and should never be viewed as taking the place of the teacher.

In conclusion, @alenord reminded us that technology itself is not the problem – only misused technology!

Sharing Experiences with Online Educational Tools and Resources

Then we proceeded to the pros and cons of specific online technologies; our participants shared their experiences using sites and programs developed specifically for language teaching, as well as other resources that can prove to be surprisingly helpful, too.

One of the most talked-about tools used by our participants is Edmodo.

  • @jjezuit described it as similar to Facebook – which students loved – and praised the way it encouraged exchanges between students in the target language (as opposed to only responding to the teacher).
  • Participants described it as easy-to-use, with functions like shareable folders, and the ease with which homework assignments, “words of the day,” and discussion topics can be shared. Students can also ask teachers questions directly.
  • The quiz function on the site is still new, and a work in progress.
  • @alenord and a few other LangChat teachers have been working on AmigoWeb on Edmodo, which provides a Facebook-like atmosphere for students and teachers to interact in Spanish. More information can be found here:
  • @CoLeeSensei is so enthusiastic about Edmodo, she’s signed up for Edmodocon, which will take place on August 8th.

Several educators shared their experiences using Quizlet, which they praised as a good way to practice vocabulary before a real-life in-class assessment.

Participants also praised the Rich Internet Applications from CLEAR and Lingt Language for listening and speaking practice. For reading practice in Spanish, and to train students not to always rely on a dictionary, @placido uses Other sites mentioned included Moodle, Voicethread, Prezi, Glogster, Evernote, and Posterous. The TELL project (Teacher Effectieness for Language Learning; was mentioned as a place to find and discuss additional resources.

Using Other Sites as Language Education Tools

Not all the online tools mentioned by our participants were sites specifically designed for language education: many participants shared creatives uses for non-educational sites to reinforce language learning.

  • @SECottrell suggested using corporate websites (like that of Mattel and Starbucks) in the target language as a way to get students interacting with the language in a context that interests them. @CoLeeSensei reminded us that “tools” can also just mean visiting a website in the target language and finding information.
    @placido for example, used the website for El Corte Inglès ( , a Spanish department store group, as a fun, creative way to reinforce vocabulary with her students.
  • @alenord uses to share music in the target language with her students.
  • Some participants have tried using Twitter to encourage their students to output in the target language, but many participants found that their experiences with Twitter in the classroom amounted to more site use and less language use.

Even seemingly “simple” online tools, like Blogger, Google Maps, and Google Docs can be used creatively as teaching tools. Although not as high-tech as many of the other sites discussed, participants nevertheless often found that their students were impressed by such sites, and often did not have prior experience using them. Our participants concluded that despite the reputation of today’s kids as being “digital natives,” educators should not overestimate students’ tech skills. Without simple tech skills, students will not be able to get the most out of more complex tools and resources.

  • @mskbordner tries to use online tools that students will also be able to use outside of the classroom.
    @alenord agreed that teaching such “simple” tools is important because they are things that students will need for their professional resumes later in life.
  • @trescolumnae agreed, pointing out that unless they start out with basic tech skills, students will struggle and resist more complex tools.
  • @CoLeeSensei pointed out that project time can be lost in teaching the complex tool needed to complete the project.

Potential Challenges to the Use of Online Tools

Technology is supposed to make our lives simpler – but we all know that this is not always a reality. Our participants cited several obstacles to the effective use of online tools, and shared ideas for how to overcome them.

@CoLeeSensei noted that a big challenge to her use of online tools is her school district’s use of blocks that prevent access to certain sites – especially sites from other countries. @tonitheisen shared that she, too, used to have that problem, but solved it by contacting the district. She also learned that filtering program that block sites often take up more bandwidth than the use of the sites themselves. This provided an added incentive to unblock those sites.

@SenioritaGilbert posed an important question, asking for advice in implementing online tools in low-income, rural school with limited web access.

  • @placido suggested offering no-tech options for those for whom internet use was simply not an option.
  • @tonitheisen argued that it’s important that students get a chance to have exposure to online technologies. She suggested starting simple, with Wikis or sites like Wordle or wikis.
  • To speed up the process of using online tools in-class (if internet access is only available to students at school) @alenord suggested starting with online templates for projects that are ready to be filled in.
  • @placido added that realistic time management of these in-class projects would be important – making sure they can be completed during the class period and school hours.
  • When computers themselves are a limited resource, @trescolumnae recommended group projects where several students collaborate using one computer.

Even when computers and internet access is not a problem, students themselves can prove resistant to the use of technology.

  • @esantacruz13 worried that the introduction of too many technology tools and resources could cause students to feel overwhelmed.
  • @SECottrell explained that some students just prefer traditional learning and presentation methods to online ones.
  • @CoLeeSensei added that that’s why she likes to offer at least two options to her students for completing projects, and lets them offer their own suggestions, too.

@tonitheisen left us with something to think about, suggesting that language educators can also serve as digital mentors.

Thank you to all our participants for a lively and thought-provoking discussion, which really drove home the value of online tools and resources, and creative ways in which they can be used to promote language acquisition.

The full archived chat from this discussion can be accessed on our GoogleDocs page. Be sure to join us Thursday at 8pm EST for our next #langchat! And remember to share ideas for future LangChats on our suggestion page.

See you next Thursday on #langchat !

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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