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In this section your will find interesting articles and resources on technology in teaching.
Below is the list of entries.
21st Century Technology and 18th Century Techniques
Getting More From What You Have: Making Powerful Points
Choosing the Right Technology to Support Online Learning
Getting More From What You Have: Productivity Tools
Getting More From What you Have: When Free Isn't Free
Getting More From What you Have: Concept Mapping
Review: Speech As You See (SAYS) 3-Dimensional Pronunciation Program
Getting More from What You Have: Digital Storytelling

Technology Tips: Getting the Most from Online Learning
Digital Technologies: Friend or Foe for the World Language Teacher
The Flashcard Exchange
Helpful Tech Tools for Teachers
SCOLA Review
Using Online Video in the Language Classroom
Make Skype more than just another desktop icon
Let the Dry Erase markers dry out; try Skrbl!
Metacognition and 21st Century Skills: Exploring the use of technology in your classroom
Technology for Classroom Feedback and Interaction
Teacher Collaboration & Newsgroups
Podcasting: The Language Lab has left the building!
Going Global with Technology

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21st Century Technology and 18th Century Techniques
By John D. Ross, Ph.D., Former classroom teacher who has worked in the field of educational technology at the state and national level for more than a decade. He is co-author of the textbook Technology Integration for Meaningful Use: A Standards-Based Approach and his book on online professional development will be published by Corwin Press in 2011. You can learn more about him at You can email Dr. Ross directly.

Moving Beyond the 18th Century

I had the pleasure recently of visiting several middle schools that are participating in a one-to-one laptop initiative. I was part of a team that went into classrooms to observe teaching and provide feedback to the schools and district. We visited several foreign language classrooms—both French and Spanish. The classrooms I visited were fairly ripe with technology, not just the laptops every child sported, but interactive whiteboards and many digital resources. These are what many people might consider rich “21st Century classrooms,” and our visitors included administrators from other schools and districts who may have been a bit jealous about the preponderance of technology. Unfortunately, the teaching I most often observed took little advantage of the wealth of technology. The instruction could have occurred 100, 200, or even many more years earlier.

One member on my team was a principal who had been a Spanish teacher. He concurred, but also said it was representative of how he had originally been taught how to teach. What we saw was very traditional, teacher-directed instruction that took little advantage of the available resources. Primarily, teachers lectured at the front of the room, using print-based handouts that had been digitized so they could be displayed on the interactive whiteboard. Students could access the forced-choice and fill-in-the-blank handouts on their laptops, but most used the paper-based versions even though their laptops sat unopened on their desks. Students were passively engaged and called upon one at a time to give their answer to questions that related to vocabulary recall, sometimes going to the front of the room to write an answer on the interactive whiteboard. That novelty didn’t seem to engage many students, though. That’s pretty passé to someone who can spend hours a day online pitting their skills with others from across the globe in a multi-user videogame.

These were language classes, and in the 45 minutes we visited each, there was very little language going on, especially when considering language consists of reading, writing, speaking, and not just listening. The students might have read 10 sentences total and underlined vocabulary. The worksheets had an opportunity to write out approximately 20 isolated vocabulary words, and the listening—besides the language immersion approach the teacher should be commended for—consisted of a digital recording that required students to “check off” whether spoken terms were masculine or feminine, so very little written language occurred, too. Students might have been called upon once—at most twice—during the entire class to respond, so there was very little speaking going on, and none in context, as they merely reported their vocabulary responses. It’s reasonable to assume that these students spoke no more than one or two words in their language of study in an entire class period.

You’re Not Just On or Off

In our discussions following the classroom visits, we considered ways to better monopolize on the digital technologies now available, so we can break the paradigm of the teacher-directed instruction we saw that provided so little opportunity for engagement in language (and other content). We did usually see a variety of activities within a 45-minute period, but if I had to sum up the instruction we observed using a single word, I’d say it was boring. I was bored. The kids were obviously bored.

The key is changing the instruction, not providing more tools. The tools are nice, and provide some unique opportunities, but most classrooms now have at least one Internet-connected computer that would allow teachers to bring the world to their classroom, if they felt comfortable changing their instruction. That change has to occur in more places than just that classroom, though.

There are several continuum theories applied to the adoption of technology in instruction. That’s important because it’s not like you are or aren’t a 21st Century teacher. You’re not on or off. Most of these theories suggest that teachers begin using technology by replicating what they are familiar with. That’s what we saw with the workbooks and handouts—that were just as effective either as paper or digitized—and the heavy reliance on response and recall of low-level information. But higher up those theories are stages where teachers create instruction that utilizes the technology in such a way that the instruction could not otherwise happen. The technology provides access to activities and information that are not feasible or not practical in an analog classroom.

Knowing when a teacher is at a lower stage of the continuum is important for supporting professional growth. You can’t expect these teachers to leap to the end of the continuum. But it is reasonable to expect them to move to a higher level of the continuum, maybe the next level at first, and then going on. It takes some skill training, obviously, but perhaps most importantly it takes an environment in which teachers are willing to take risks and are given the opportunity to practice new pedagogies and give up some of the control they may feel in more directed lessons. To a teacher, the term “student-directed” implies “I’m not in charge,” and that can be the hardest change to make.

I know these types of lessons may not happen every day, and building basic foundational skills is important, but we were invited to see the very best “21st Century lessons” from these teachers, not 18th Century lessons with 21st Century tools. So, what would we have liked to have seen?

It’s About the Skills, Not the Tools

To me, the workbooks and handouts obscured the real purpose of the class. They were not the best means to an end. They were an end to themselves. Why do students study language? To use it. They should be able to read and write the language and use it to communicate with others. Ultimately, we want them to be able to engage in language at a level where they are thinking and responding from the new language. How reasonable is it that these kids will go to an area where these languages are used and complete a fill-in-the-blank worksheet? Or to check off which words they hear are masculine or feminine?

Digital technologies allow you to bring the world’s resources to your classroom, not just scanned worksheets. You can bring in newspapers and video broadcasts from across the world. You can access images, audio, and video from government organizations, travel services, and educators from across the globe. You can find podcasts in many languages for students of all ages, or you can have your students create their own with free tools like Audacity or GarageBand. You can also store and organize all of these resources on a class website, a school file server, or using a social bookmarking site like Delicious or Diigo, so you’re not recreating lessons every year.

Real life is engaging. Walk through the halls of your local middle school when kids are changing classes, and you’ll hear lots of language and engagement. Bring it into your classrooms. Have your students apply their language skills, either with their own classmates or with those from another class. You don’t necessarily have to sign up for an electronic pen pal in another country (although it can be fun and engaging to do so). You might just want to pair your students in different classes, or with students in other classes in your district, just to give them an opportunity to apply their language skills with other kids their age. Focusing on their lives makes the instruction more relevant to them and will increase engagement.

They can participate in real-time interaction through common webconferencing tools like iChat, ooVoo, or Skype or they may create asynchronous interactions. If you have limited access to computers, consider broadcasting your streaming web video to the front of the class and using different students each time to lead discussions with those at a distance. Consider creating a class website, blog, or wiki, that allows students to communicate to each other during class and beyond. Students can journal or blog about their day-to-day lives using their growing language skills. You don’t have to share them with the whole world if you don’t want to, as students can create digital journals or portfolios that are only shared with other students in their class or with their teacher, such as developing a dialog journal in which teachers provide formative assessment of language use. And digital journals can include audio and video files to build language use in other areas.

If you do want to use worksheets and handouts, which do provide a level of practice that can be important for building vocabulary and other foundational knowledge, consider new ways to incorporate them. The students I observed went through three pages of forced-choice or fill-in-the-blank responses in 45 minutes. It should have taken about five. Have students share their responses with others and identify the most common misconceptions, or put them in a dropbox so you can monitor them but spend your instructional time on actual language production. Expose them to foundational information, but use class time to apply that information as much as possible.

The Format is Not the Test

After visiting many classrooms, and not just language classrooms, one of the visiting administrators verbalized a common concern. Teachers feel pressured to prepare students for end-of-course tests that are usually presented in forced-choice formats. True, but the catch is that these assessments—at every grade- and content-level—still address higher levels of cognitive demand. They’re based on standards and the standards in all grades and content areas go beyond identification and recall tasks. Teachers who simply use the forced-choice format but who do not present instruction or even find or generate questions at the appropriate level of cognitive demand have not prepared their students for these assessments. The format is not the test. How well prepared were these students who filled out three worksheets but might get only one opportunity to speak during an entire class period?

Yes, these formats are easier to grade, but you have to mix it up. If language requires application, you have to find opportunities for students to apply language in authentic contexts. If you’re shooting beyond application to synthesis and creation, you need additional opportunities, and creating forced-choice assessments at these levels is difficult and time consuming. In these cases, teachers can apply different assessment methods.

One quick and easy way to guide and evaluate learning is the use of checklists or scoring guidelines. These are often based on the presence (or lack thereof) of critical attributes. Did your dialog use at least five of this week’s vocabulary words? Did you find three relevant news stories? What is the level of accuracy of your translation? These make great job aids or guides for students and can be posted on a class website, file server, or other shared space where students can access them both in and out of classroom.

Rubrics are also popular, especially in more open-ended activities supported by technology, but take more time to develop and can be difficult for novice teachers. It’s hard, sometimes, to know exactly what makes a response a 3 vs. a 4, or basic vs. proficient. Having students co-create rubrics can be a great learning opportunity, but can take away from limited instructional time. Sometimes you may want to include them, and sometimes not, depending on how much time you have available in your curriculum. I am a strong proponent of sharing the rubrics up front to guide student learning and for ongoing self-assessment and monitoring, but one teacher we visited last week says she has found it helpful to let the students get started on their projects first and then introduce the rubric in the early stages of work so they are better able to understand what are the most important aspects of the rubric. In a complex rubric, they may place inappropriate attention to some categories over another.

If you’re new to rubrics and want some help, the best resource I know is RubiStar ( It provides rubric samples or allows you to quickly create your own. RubiStar has rubrics in many categories, not specifically foreign language, but reading, writing, and other language-appropriate categories. You can also access RubiStar en Español (

What Goes Around…

I want to conclude by giving some kudos to these teachers. They were doing what they thought was appropriate. They were using methods they were familiar with from their own days as students and perhaps from their language methods courses. And they all showed willingness to try new technologies in front of people they didn’t know! (Being observed always causes some anxiety.) I just felt like they were missing opportunities that the powerful resources they had access to could provide to their students. Given some guidance and support, though, and I think they’d all begin moving up that continuum.

If we’re going to move beyond 18th Century lessons with 21st Century tools, we need to provide our teachers with different examples. We need to engage them as we’d like them to engage their students. They need to see authentic instruction models and be given an opportunity to develop and practice them on their own. We can’t all get to the end of that continuum right away, but we can all move forward.

Please let me know if you’d like to explore any of these topics in greater detail. I’ve contacted a few exemplary teachers and some programs that incorporate technology in language instruction and hope to share some of their stories with you. I’d be glad to hear yours so we can all work together on determining what is the best way to use technologies to support instruction. As my good friend and colleague Joy Runyan says, “we’re all in this together.”

P.S. I want to send out thanks to Marlene Johnshoy from the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who providing the winning title for my upcoming book, Online Professional Development: Design, Deliver, Succeed! The book should be out in the spring from Corwin Press and Marlene will get her free copy then. Thanks to everyone who entered the contest. It was a fun way to get input.

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Getting More From What You Have: Making Powerful Points

By John Ross

John D. Ross, Ph.D., is a former classroom teacher who has worked in the field of educational technology at the state and national level for more than a decade. He is co-author of the textbook Technology Integration for Meaningful Use: A Standards-Based Approach and his book on online professional development will be published by Corwin Press in 2011. You can learn more about him at To contact Dr. Ross directly:

I spent a good deal of my time this past month preparing for and presenting workshops for two different groups of educators I have been working with, one of which is a cadre of language coaches who work with teachers to address the needs of English language learners. We’ve been exploring different technologies to support teaching and learning, and I focused much of our work on the process of creating digital stories using presentation software as a means to learn about using multimedia in the classroom. In others words, we used Microsoft PowerPoint to support teaching and learning. Even though it wasn’t designed for educators, it’s a really powerful tool that has the potential to support a variety of teaching needs. It’s also an application most teachers and students have access to, so I thought I’d share some of those ideas with you as a continuation of my series on using what you have.

Before we get started, let me say that I use both Windows and Macintosh Operating Systems and am familiar with PowerPoint, Keynote, and OpenOffice. You can accomplish most of the tasks I’ll present here on any of these applications, but perhaps because PowerPoint is so widely accepted in the business world, there are a few additional things you can do with it that you can’t do with the others, yet. I’m a big believer in the idea that if a technology feature is popular in one application, you’ll soon find it on others. I am also not going to include step-by-step instructions, but will try to guide you towards key menu items or functions to look for. The steps can change, even over subsequent versions of the same software. When in doubt, try two things: 1) right-click on an object to see what options you have, or 2) search the help menu.

Learning from Stories

I use digital storytelling as a framework for helping teachers learn about multimedia because it’s easy for people to relate to. Teachers often use or tell stories in their teaching. As a young teacher, I had to learn to tell fewer stories, or so my students would probably tell you. But you don’t necessarily have to follow a formal digital storytelling process to use the techniques associated with it ( You might consider keeping a journal, a digital portfolio, or even a lab journal in science as storytelling. Following are just a few ways you can use presentation software to support teaching and learning based on skills you can learn from creating digital stories.

Conduct research and organize information. When I’m wearing my instructional designer hat, I use presentation software to create storyboards that present and organize information. I can keep notes, including pertinent research, either on a slide or in the notes field with a more formal reference list on the last screen. And by displaying the slides in the “sorter” view, I can reorganize my information easily. For long projects, I will color-code the slide backgrounds so I know which slides correspond to which topics. I put major concepts on the slide and the detail in the notes. After my research is over, I finalize the text and images on my slides for my formal presentation.

Revision and reorganization are common to many research projects, and presentation software makes it very easy. You can provide templates to students to support a project, either a formal research project or a more personalized story, and they can keep all of their information in one place. Presentation software will support images they’ve found or have created with a camera or scanner, notes from primary resources, URLs for pertinent websites, and even audio and video clips.

Create or edit graphics and images to augment written or spoken text. There are several stand-alone photo and image editors and design tools available, but the learning curve for some of these can be steep. Most teachers and students are already familiar with presentation software, and can use it to quickly create custom graphics. You can insert an image or clip-art graphic to a slide usually through a simple Insert command. Graphics that support learning often include labels or guides to focus the learner. You can add arrows, highlighting, shapes, or text to a graphic easily. You can also usually change the style, color, or opacity of an image to make text or other information stand out. (see example 1)

internet + girl computer 1 +
girl computer 2 + ipod =

Example 1. Images from combined and edited in PowerPoint

It’s easy to find images online, but make sure you are following copyright or licensing requirements. Two websites to visit for images you and your students are likely to be able to use for free are Wikimedia Commons and You can search Wikimedia Commons and each picture on the site will include a statement about how it can be used, such as whether you need to provide attribution or whether you can edit it or not. searches all of Flickr, the popular photo-sharing site, for images based on keywords you enter. In your search, select the “Creative Commons: ON” setting to find images you are most likely to be able to use. No matter where you find your images, make sure you check the copyright or licensing rights.

Presentation software, like PowerPoint, often comes with several different clip-art galleries installed, but there are many others you can download for free from the Microsoft website. Clip art is actually a combination of drawn elements (lines, shapes, and fills) that you can actually ungroup and edit (this function can often be found in the Arrange or Grouping menus). You can delete sections of a clip art graphic, recolor it, or combine elements from one clip art graphic with another (see example 2). Clip art also usually resizes better than photos, including enlarging, with very little loss of fidelity. I won’t go into the reason here.


Example 2. Clip-Art from Microsoft edited and combined in PowerPoint
After you’re done designing your graphic, you can export your slides as images (either one at a time or all of them at once) that you can use in other applications, such as on a class website, a presentation on an interactive whiteboard, or inserted into a document. They can also be used for more “video-like” digital stories created in PhotoStory, MovieMaker, or iMovie. And the export process tends to reduce the file size of your image, making it more practical for use online. In PowerPoint, you can export a single slide by first grouping all of the elements on the slide, right-clicking on your slide, and select “Save as Picture.” Of course, you can also export your entire presentation as shows that cannot be edited, but these may not be able to be shown online, especially since they may be quite large files depending on how much media you’ve inserted.

Address multiple forms of language representation. Obviously, presentation software supports written language. You or your students can create text elements on the slide or in the notes area that can be read individually or in group settings. But you or your students can also include audio to provide support for listening and speaking or to augment the written text onscreen.

Some presentation software allows you to record directly into a presentation, either on a slide-by-slide basis or as a narration across slides. Narrations are harder to pull off, as you usually have to go back to the beginning of a narration if you make a mistake. Inserting sound by slide is easier to control and edit. At the very least, you’ll have a shorter section to re-record if you make a mistake. You can have your recorded sounds play automatically or force the viewer to click on something (look for an “automatic” vs. “on-click” setting) to hear them.

You or your students can also record or edit pre-recorded audio clips in an external application, which gives you more flexibility in terms of editing and the quality of the recording. The free application Audacity by SoundForge is very easy to use and is cross-platform. You’ll want to export your Audacity files into something your presentation software can use, such as a .WAV or .MP3 file. GarageBand is a free application on the Mac OS that allows you to create sound files that you can import into iTunes and then can be pulled into KeyNote or exported for use in PowerPoint. The best advice I can offer is use a microphone you plug into your computer, not the internal microphone.

If you record your audio in an external program, you can actually insert multiple audio files on the same slide in a presentation that you can trigger by different actions. You can create multiple buttons (by adding a shape) and link a different sound file to each (the sound is usually considered an “animation”). That means you can record a soundtrack in multiple languages, or have audio clips from different people to demonstrate different dialects or accents, and your users can pick the most pertinent one. Students can even record themselves speaking and use different presentation files they’ve created over time as a digital portfolio of their growth in language development.

Differentiate learning by providing scaffolding. The idea of providing optional audio is one aspect of scaffolding learning for different levels of ability. You can record examples or create an audio glossary for critical vocabulary within a presentation that students can access only if they need to. Having audio tracks both in English and a student’s native language can support English language learners or those learning a foreign language.

Presentation software also supports hyperlinking of objects and text. You can embed a link to a URL of related website to a text or a picture in your presentation that will open on your computer’s browser. You can also link to other screens in the presentation, or even different documents, so that students have greater control over their learning. You can link students to an assessment after completing a presentation, or have supplementary or enrichment material for those students who need them. Students who have already mastered concepts in one part of a presentation can follow a link to a later part of the presentation, or others may want to return to previous information for additional practice. If you’re creating a set of linked information, make sure to keep them all in the same folder or relative location when you distribute them. Otherwise you might break the links and your presentation won’t be able to find the appropriate document.

And don’t discount the value of your students creating their own multimedia presentations to differentiate their learning needs, whether they create reports about a country of study, personal stories they create on their own, or support for oral presentations. Based on your students’ ability levels—both language and technology skills—you can allow them all to address the same content standards but to do so with great flexibility in terms of student products.

Focus on Your Outcomes

In closing, I need to offer you the same caveat you might want to share with your students. Playing with these features can be a lot of fun, but can become time consuming. You can really get caught up in the technology. Stay focused on your teaching or learning outcomes, and don’t let the technology take precedence. Only use what is necessary to get your point across, but do have some fun along the way.

I hope you try some of these ideas to support teaching and learning in your classroom. If you’d like to see a short digital story I put together for these workshops, you can view it at The example was created in PowerPoint and Audacity first, imported into MovieMaker, and exported for display on the web. Please feel free to contact me and let me know if you’ve used these or other ideas with presentation software. I enjoy getting feedback from you and will try to respond to additional requests for information through e-mail or future editions of this TechTips article.

Resources for more information

Audacity by SoundForge
Free, cross-platform sound editor
Search tool for Flickr. Make sure you select the “Creative Commons: ON” setting.
Free images.

Wikimedia Commons
Media in a variety of formats that you may be able to use. Files use Creative Commons licensing.

Microsoft Clip-Art Galleries
Free images for school use.

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Choosing the Right Technology to Support Online Learning
By John Ross

John D. Ross, Ph.D., is a former classroom teacher who has worked in the field of educational technology at the state and national level for more than a decade. He is co-author of the textbook Technology Integration for Meaningful Use: A Standards-Based Approach and his book on online professional development will be published by Corwin Press in 2011. You can learn more about him at To contact Dr. Ross directly:

It still feels like summer outside my window today, but I know schools are back in action and the traditional end of summer for me—that first school bell—has already rung across much of the nation. I hope the summer has been relaxing and productive for you. Yes, productive, because I find my downtime is the time when my creative juices seem to get going and I come up with some of my wildest ideas! My students never knew what hit them in September after I had a little time of my own.

This summer, to get those juices started, I was able to attend the ISTE Conference in Denver. It’s the largest educational technology conference in our country and recently went through a name change from the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) to one synonymous with its sponsoring organization. There is always so much to see and do, but I tried to find a few good stories to share about language acquisition. And I do hope to share some of those throughout the year.

It’s Not the Technology that Matters

An often-repeated mantra in educational technology is that “It’s not whether you use technology that matters, but how you use it.” I tend to use that a lot, but I can’t take credit for it. It became a guiding principle in a textbook I co-authored on using educational technology, and I find myself saying it to the graduate students I work with in my new online teaching gig, and with the classroom teachers I work with in school districts.

It’s now also become the focus of a chapter I’ve been working on for a new book about online professional development. This is why September seemed to come upon me too quickly, because there’s a big deadline looming at the end of it. I hope you will bear with me and let me share some of the things I have been thinking about as I prepare for that deadline.

I stumbled into online learning more than a decade ago without really meaning to and now have a good bit of experience, especially with designing and delivering online professional development for educators. One question I get a lot is, “What technology should we use?” I have to admit, that working on that chapter seemed pretty daunting, because there are so many different technologies available and I felt a little overwhelmed. We always seem to get so bogged down in the technology, and it’s changing all the time. It’s hard to keep up. Then I remembered that mantra. It’s not about the technology. I needed to take my own advice.

How Will You Use the Technology?

By thinking how to use the technology for online learning instead of the technology itself, it became much easier to focus my thoughts on what technology to use. So, the following is a brief list of technologies, primarily to support online learning but that would work in hybrid situations, as well, that I have organized by the how, not the what. Because of space, this isn’t the whole list, and there’s not a lot of specifics, but I hope there are some kernels of interest that you can take away. Some of these, perhaps, deserve a full article of tips and tricks, so please let me know if you want to hear more about any of them in future issues.

Presenting basic information via text and images

A lot of online learning gets panned as simply being a “textbook online.” There are two consistent requests for online learning, that it be 1) engaging, and 2) interactive. We have television and movies on demand, simulations and animations online, and we can go bowling in our living room with a Wii video game. But there’s a lot of learning that occurs using text and images. Remember books? I’ve learned a lot from books, and still do. I find some books to be really engaging. Text and images are a staple learning resource.

If you don’t have George Lucas’ budget, you can still make online learning engaging with text and images. If your content is engaging, students will interact with it. If you’re content is not engaging, it doesn’t matter how pretty it is. Text and images are good for complex information or when you have a lot of information that people need to spend time with and review. Common learning activities include reading research and literature and synthesizing that information, and text often works very well for that purpose.

If you run your own web site, now you don’t have to know how to program in HTML (the primary programming language for the web) to post text and images, but can rely on easy-to-use blogs, wikis, and course management systems. Keep the amount of text on those screens brief, and attach documents you’ve created in word-processing or presentation software for longer segments of text which, for me, is anything more than a page.

Demonstrating a process, sequence, or procedure

Once you move into the realm of skill building, you might want to demonstrate some kind of action or sequence. Action implies motion and that’s where web-based technologies can really help you out, even some very common technologies you probably have access to right now.

Presentation software (like PowerPoint or Keynote) is a great starting point for capturing and demonstrating process. You can record and insert audio, include navigation buttons and hyperlinks, and package the presentations for downloading or viewing on the Web. PowerPoint may be a little more malleable, because you can import it into additional applications to create animations or movies.

Flash is an animation application that is probably the de facto tool for movies and animations on the web, but it can take some time to learn. You can, however, import PowerPoint into Flash and speed the process up. There are also some powerful, and admittedly more expensive, applications like Articulate’s Presenter and Adobe’s Captivate that use PowerPoint files to create robust, standalone Flash presentations with audio that come in their own little course shell. The benefit of using these kinds of tools is that content experts often own and know how to use PowerPoint, and you just need one person with the know-how to make it something extremely “engaging and interactive” on the Web.

I get a lot of requests about making and putting video on the web, and it is very helpful, but it’s expensive and time consuming, even with the less expensive digital videocameras available now and free editing tools like iMovie or MovieMaker. Consider whether you actually need video, or whether you can use a video-like sequence. Talking head? No video! Instead, you can import royalty-free still images into PowerPoint, GarageBand, or MovieMaker, add an audio track, and still have a powerful learning experience that you can post as Flash or a podcast.

Hosting Asynchronous Interactions

We do this all the time through text, audio, and video. Asynchronous just means that people don’t participate in something at the same time. You probably do this already through e-mail and social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace. While language acquisition certainly requires synchronous interactions, the benefit of asynchronous interactions is that it gives people the gift of time. They can be flexible in their learning.

Threaded discussions between teachers and students are common in most online learning, and not only help students practice written skills but also give them time to think and process information. A blog might be considered an extrapolation of a threaded discussion if you use it to allow students to comment on postings. Blogs are also helpful for students who want to create an online portfolio of their learning or who use dialog journals in conversations with their language teachers.

Hosting Synchronous Interactions

However, there are times where you and your students need to communicate in real time. One of those is chat, but I find chat to be most valuable when it is embedded in a different application, like web-conferencing software. These tools, like Adobe Connect or Horizon Wimba, usually include interactive whiteboards, support for presentations and document sharing, polling and surveys, webcams, and chat. This is one of those technologies that probably deserves an article on it’s own, but I have two suggestions (for now) about web-conferencing to promote learning.

The first is, if you’re not working 1-on-1, turn off the webcam. O.K., maybe not all the time, but most of the time. I think it’s nice at the beginning of a session and maybe at the end to allow at least the teacher or presenter to use their webcam to say hello, but few people really use them well with a group. Webcam images tend to be small, grainy, and dark. If you try to get more than one person in the view, they begin to resemble stick figures—ghostly stick figures with shining eyes. Instead, create a presentation or document that supports what you are saying, and avoid the distraction of bad video.

My last suggestion is, don’t forget the phone! Everyone has one—some people have more than one. Unless you practice with your group, audio over the web on a web-conference can be painful, literally ear-splittingly painful from feedback. If you do go that route, make sure everyone has a headset with a microphone. External or built-in speakers often get picked up by microphones and you get stuck in a toe-tingling experience of ever-echoing interference.

More than How

That’s a brief overview of how technology can support learning online. I hope you indulge me as that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. In upcoming issues, I hope to go beyond the how to include some stories from some great people I met at the ISTE conference. Of course, if you have any ideas or requests, please feel free to let me know.

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Getting More from What You Have: Productivity Tools
By John Ross

John D. Ross, Ph.D., is a former classroom teacher who has worked in the field of educational technology at the state and national level for more than a decade. He is co-author of the textbook Technology Integration for Meaningful Use: A Standards-Based Approach and his book on online professional development will be published by Corwin Press in 2011. You can learn more about him at To contact Dr. Ross directly:

We’ve All Got ‘Em

Productivity tools are those software applications developed for the business world and so called because they make us more productive. They are also very prevalent in schools today. They include applications such as word processing, spreadsheets, databases, and presentation software. Along with some Internet applications like e-mail and web browsers, these are the applications that most teachers and students will be familiar with outside of the classroom, but not necessarily to support teaching and learning beyond their basic functionality.

But these are the workhorse applications that many students use to create products and projects throughout their school career. Unless we help teachers understand otherwise, they may use them simply for document creation, classroom management, and record keeping tasks rather than using them as powerful supports for learning.

While productivity tools were once designed primarily for a single task (i.e., word-processing software is used to create text-based documents, presentation software creates presentations that can be displayed to a group, databases store data that can be searched, etc.), commonalities exist across these applications. In fact, the extended functionality of many of these applications means that some of them can be used for multiple purposes. A document created with word-processing software, for example, can contain images or movies, links to web sites on the Internet, data tables and graphs drawn from spreadsheets, and many other functions. When used creatively, these tools support functions far beyond their original intention and can be powerful learning tools.

Supporting Learning

Obviously, productivity software can be used by students to create documents or presentations, but they can also scaffold learning for students, helping them to do more than had they tackled a task on their own. When used in this way, productivity software can be considered mindtools, tools that help document and scaffold thinking. Consider the following common functions in productivity software.

Supports for language. Unless students are required to demonstrate their knowledge of grammar or spelling, the spelling and grammar check functionality of most productivity tools can be implemented purposefully to scaffold student learning. I know this sounds like taboo—to have the computer suggest the correct spelling or identify errors—but the standards based objectives teachers have to address are not necessarily focused on spelling or grammar. These tools can be turned on as students create documents in classes that require the use of academic language to learn subject-specific content (i.e., science, social studies, etc.) or students can evaluate their own documents after they are completed to determine correct spelling, punctuation, and even word choice. Debating the word choice options can also be a valuable learning exercise.

Reference tools. Many students are encouraged to look up unfamiliar words in a dictionary or to use a thesaurus when writing or learning new vocabulary. These common reference tools are already built in to many productivity tools, are available online, and can even be found on phones and other handheld devices. I use the dictionary on my Kindle (digital book reader) often to look up words I’m unfamiliar with. No longer do I have to get up and go find a dictionary, which I rarely did, anyway. Now, with the click of a button, I’ve got the definition right there, and I know it increases my comprehension of whatever I’m reading.

Word processing software may also include dictionaries in multiple languages as well as translation tools. As long as students know when and how to use these tools appropriately and understand when and how they are not to be used, they can provide substantial support. Addressing both the capabilities and the limitations of translation tools in class can prove to be a valuable lesson about language and culture for students who may already be experimenting with these tools on their own. The translation functionality can also be added to applications, such as web browsers. One of my favorites is the powerful Hyperwords plug-in that conducts Google searches, provides access to reference tools, or translates text on a web page with the click of a button. I encourage you to try it out.

Text-to-speech. There are several applications you can download or purchase that read text aloud in a document or web page, but many productivity tools—including word processing software—have this functionality built-in. The quality of the voices, cadence, and pronunciation in these applications continues to improve. In writing this article using Microsoft Word, I had the application read this paragraph back to me as a reality check, and the quality of the reading was better than I remembered.

Struggling readers can have passages read to them that they can follow along or re-read. These tools may also include visual cues through the highlighting of the text as it is read or simply the display of each word. Text-to-speech is easy to use in Microsoft Word, Adobe PDF files, or may be used more comprehensively across multiple applications by accessing the Universal Access controls of your operating system. To access this feature on your computer, search the Help menu in your word-processing or PDF software for the term “text to speech.”

Commenting. If you’ve used the Reviewing Toolbar in Microsoft Word when editing documents with other people, you’ve used the commenting features. These functions include the ability to create notes or to track changes—each change being attributed to the individual (actually, the computer) that made them. Comments and changes are noted by color and name. I’ve experienced some resistance by people to use the commenting features. Some people choose to highlight or change the color of text, but comments and tracked changes can be found much more quickly through the use of the “Next” and “Previous” comment icons on the reviewing toolbar.

If you’re not ready to try out the reviewing features, simply highlighting text or changing the font color are strategies that students can use to organize their thinking, to indicate areas of confusion or that need further work, or to identify areas where help is needed. I was writing a book with a friend who taught me to color code text as it is generated. The color can help you keep strands of thoughts together, because sometimes, those thoughts just don’t come out in order.

Comments are not automated—meaning they are not suggested by the application as spelling and grammar are—but are input by peers or teachers. That means these comments can be used to track progress of drafts over time, to support peer review or a writer’s workshop forum, or for conversations between a student and teacher or between students. Toolbars that provide additional commenting functionality, such as a toolbar for indicating common errors in student compositions, are also available.

Incorporating These Features in Practice

We call these applications productivity tools because increasing productivity is central to business and industry. But as with most technologies, educators don’t always use technologies the way they were originally intended. Our productivity is measured in terms of student learning, and these tools can support powerful learning. Maybe “power tools” is a better term for them.

One of the best reasons to learn these features and how they can support learning is that productivity tools are ubiquitous. You can find them on just about any computer. There are also free, open-source versions of common productivity tools available that have some of these features. GoogleDocs are free, shared productivity tools online that offer additional supports for collaboration, such as through document sharing and group creation. Many of these tools are also available on common portable devices, such as smart phones or other handheld devices.

If you are considering using these functions in your own teaching, do acknowledge that many people know the basic functions of productivity tools, but most may require some explicit training to learn some of the more advanced features. Reluctance to use new things, as I mentioned, can also be a concern. Start slowly and have your students build their skills in using these features. Success breeds success. And, yes, students have to be taught when to use these functions and when they are not appropriate. But that knowledge and experience using them appropriately will go much farther than simply prohibiting their use at all times.

These are just a few of the features that exist on your computer right now that can significantly change the way you provide learning supports to students. There are other features that you may use that I didn’t address. I’d like to hear about how you use them to support learning, so please feel free to contact me about them. In the mean time, if you have not tried these, consider exploring one or two of these features and incorporating them into your own instruction. Design a lesson that incorporates one of them and get feedback from your students on how well it worked. After you’ve mastered a couple, move on to another one. Determine what works for you and your students and keep the best.

Resources for more information

Microsoft product and technology tutorials
If it’s from Microsoft, you can learn about it here, and this list is specific to educational uses.

Cyber-Grading Your Students' Papers: Saving Trees & Much, Much More
Workshop from Randall Rightmire, UC Santa Barbara, with links to an ESL toolbar and an editing toolbar for English composition by Daniel Kies.

Plug-in to the Firefox browser that gives students one-click access to references, Google searches, and translation on the page.

Annotate for Word
A toolbar that can be added to Word for easy editing of student compositions.

T.A. Toolbar
Toolbar plug-in that identifies common errors in student compositions through the use of one-click buttons.


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Getting More from What You Have: When free isn't free
By John Ross

John D. Ross, Ph.D., is a former classroom teacher who has worked in the field of educational technology at the state and national level for more than a decade. He is co-author of the textbook Technology Integration for Meaningful Use: A Standards-Based Approach and his book on online professional development will be published by Corwin Press in 2011. You can learn more about him at To contact Dr. Ross directly:

When free isn’t free

My friend Laurene and I used to work together until she went back to academia to pursue her doctorate. I’m really glad she has this opportunity, but I miss the conversations we used to have about some new technology we had seen or other developments in the EdTech world. Her former experiences using technology in classrooms and school districts have given her a healthy perspective in terms of the reality of technology integration and she taught me a lot. For example, I am confounded by the number of new technologies that we would find for free. “How can a company afford to give this product away?” I’d ask. “What kind of business model is that?” And Laurene would say, “Free like a beer? Or free like a puppy?”

You see, when you get an offer for a free beer, or your favorite age-appropriate beverage, you thank your friend, drink it, and you’re done. No more obligation. But when your friend offers you a free puppy…it’s just the beginning of obligations. I’m not saying you shouldn’t take the puppy, because there are benefits to puppies that can outweigh the obligations, but I think you should consider those obligations first.

The Ning Heard Round the Web

My original article for this issue was about free social networking tools you can use to support language instruction. There are many different applications out there to support social networking, that in turn support a variety of instructional activities you can use in the language classroom. If you have a Facebook or MySpace account, you’re already familiar with social networking tools. You may even have some favorite blogs (short for Weblog) or wikis that you visit on the Web. You may not even realize that’s what they are, because they look just like a Web site. I hope to get back to that article at a later date.

Blogs and wikis have purposes they meet well, but one of the powerhouse social networking tools that has become popular in education, and elsewhere, is a Ning. Ning provides a powerful suite of tools all in one place. You can run discussions, post pictures and videos, embed a blog, attach documents, and many more things. You can limit access to your Ning to invited friends or approved guests, or it can be completely open to anyone on the Web. And just like smartphones, software developers have been creating “apps” (short for applications) that can be added to a Ning to provide even more functionality. And all this for free! Or it was.

New corporate leadership at Ning announced they plan to stop providing access to the free version of Ning software, sending reverberations across cyberspace. Ning supposedly refers to the sound a Chinese temple bell makes when it is struck. It means “peace” or “peaceful.” Ning. But the loss of free Nings raised such a cacophony that the reverberations have yet to fade away.

There are many, many education-based Nings on the Web with an untold number of participants. I use a Ning to support trainings I do, so participants in my workshops have a place to go during or after the workshop to download handouts, share ideas, upload their work, or communicate with me once we’ve left the computer lab. I’ve participated in two book studies through Nings (which is where I first heard the news), and I’ve used Nings with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. There, the Title III staff members have used Nings to create communities of educators who work with English language learners. My fledgling Ning efforts impact a few dozen people, but there are Ning communities with hundreds of participants, some estimates are hundreds of thousands total, who have been posting content for years. There’s a lot of information in those Nings.

Ning has always offered some for-fee services with the fees being relatively small. Just not free. The Ning leaders have been suggesting they will help their free customers transfer their content and data to other providers, and those providers have been jumping in to offer help, too. Others have thrown up their hands in defeat and there are reports of people just abandoning their Ning communities. Unfortunately, it appears the answer to my question is that unlimited services for free may not be the best business model, and I sympathize not only for the Ning communities that are stressed and struggling but also for the Ning employees who lost their jobs.

But we’re educators. We embody lifelong learning. We have a chance to learn from this. So, what have we learned?

The Care and Feeding of Your New Puppy

As educators, we’re pretty addicted to free stuff. As a teacher, I used to love to get free stuff. I’d come back from conferences with my arms loaded, carrying as much free stuff as I could gather. I would get books I’d never read, software I’d never install, and all varieties of knick-knacks and goo-gaws. And now I don’t have to leave the comfort of my own home to find free content, activities, and even free software. They’re available from my computer, and even my phone. And believe me, I see this love of free stuff in educators from the classroom to the state board room. To some, the only thing that can make a product better, it seems, is if it’s free.

But I hope the ning that is still resounding serves as somewhat of a wake-up call to us and we stop to think a bit more about the obligations before we just go with the free option. Ning may have been free like a beer for a while, but sometimes you may just want that puppy. You just have to know what you’re getting into and accept the obligations. Following are a few suggestions you may want to think about as you’re considering your next free puppy, er, technology.

Focus on the process, not the product. About the only thing constant about technology is change. How much do you depend on something that wasn’t available just a few years ago? Wikipedia? Your smartphone? Facebook? And will those things be available a few years from now? In a textbook I co-authored, we deliberately set out to write a technology book that did not tell how to operate technology. You won’t find any tutorials about word processing, spreadsheets, or databases. Instead, we focused on why to use technology, and we embedded a process that encourages the reader to develop strategies for learning about new technologies and how they can be used in order to better deal with the element of change. I know how to copy and paste, format documents, insert images, and other skills that apply to a range of applications. If I lost my word processor today, I could pick up tomorrow with another one. A process that is wedded to only one product may be doomed.

Do it yourself. Once you understand your process, you may find that you can do a better job if you use in-house resources, including people. At least, if you develop a means to support your process in-house, you may have a better opportunity to overcome obstacles like the loss of a product because you and your colleagues will have skills, knowledge, and some vested buy-in about the process. You may also be able to pool resources to get more from your time and effort. The in-house communication you spark may even provide ready-made solutions. I often work with state departments of education, and one of the greatest benefits they report from working with my colleagues and me is that they communicate with more people internally more often and so have a better feel for what resources are available and how they can be used. Very often, we find technology support and resources already available. We just get the two connected.

Build a routine. Once you’ve identified a solution for your process, develop a routine of checks and balances, because either your process, solution, or even your goals are going to change over time. When I’m asked to provide input on product design, I focus most of my time on trying to get people to think about the future. And the end of the product development stage is not far enough in the future. Products evolve. You may have the goal of setting up an online course by the end of the semester, but are you really just going to offer it once? What happens if things don’t work as you planned? Better yet, how about when your course is successful? How will you handle requests for more classes? More students? When you use technology to solve a problem, think of your use as a cycle. You identify needs and your audience, find out what’s out there that matches them, implement a solution, and evaluate what went well and what did not, so you can go back to the beginning of the cycle, always keeping your eye on those needs and potential solutions so you can adjust the next time around.

Housecleaning. Sometimes we focus so much on getting and implementing a technology that we don’t think about the ongoing consequences. All technologies and the processes they support need a little housecleaning, especially those where information may be created that becomes quickly outdated. These can be class web sites, student portfolios, or even social networking communities. When I worked in an office, we used to have “Back-up Fridays,” on which I would remind everyone to back-up their computers before leaving work. While you’re doing that, also consider getting rid of what you don’t need. A process to think about is: sort, prioritize, cull, back-up. Then, if you have a major loss, like the loss of a critical piece of software, you have a strong foundation from which to get back up and running.

It’s all in your mind. Ironically, there is already a free solution to replace Ning that is more popular and may have even more functionality. Facebook. But most schools and districts—and even workplaces—block Facebook and sites like it. That’s a common reaction in the education space to new technologies. All kinds of powerful technologies, like Internet access, e-mail, cellphones, and others were, and in some cases still are, banned from use in schools. The solution for getting these technologies into teaching and learning has been helping students understand how to use these technologies appropriately. But in order to do this you have to think about the technology differently. It’s not a threat, it’s an opportunity. I can’t predict that Facebook is going to stick around forever, but I do think that some schools will begin to open their virtual doors to it and similar tools—just as we’ve done with previous technologies—so they can capitalize on the power these technologies have to support teaching and learning when used appropriately.

Sometimes, it’s o.k. to pay. Before you select a technology, you should determine what you are trying to accomplish. Be clear. Describe it. If you can do this, you will have a better chance of identifying a range of technologies that might meet your needs. Then, as you review technologies, you’ll start to see what is consistent about them, as well as some unique features. Those unique features can either support your goals, or completely distract you from them. One of those features is free. Sometimes, the free solution is the best solution, but not always. Instead, consider whether the cost might help you reach your goals better. Sometimes, even a minimal cost can provide tremendous value added well beyond the reach of a free tool.

I’ll get back to the original social networking article that will provide some strategies for using them in language instruction. In the meantime, I’d be glad to hear from you with questions or concerns.

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Getting More from What You Have: Concept Mapping
By John Ross

John D. Ross, Ph.D., is a former classroom teacher who has worked in the field of educational technology at the state and national level for more than a decade. He is co-author of the textbook Technology Integration for Meaningful Use: A Standards-Based Approach and his book on online professional development will be published by Corwin Press in 2011. You can learn more about him at To contact Dr. Ross directly:

I’m a big fan of concept mapping and related strategies like flowcharting or diagramming. I use them in my own work to plan and organize projects, analyze content I’m developing as instruction, or to capture ideas in meetings with others. I know teachers have used these strategies well before computers became commonplace in schools, but the ease that this software helps you and your students create concept maps has undoubtedly led to their increased use in teaching and learning. This month’s Tech Tips continues the trend of looking at common technologies that most schools have available, many of which are free or low cost.

What is it? (Links and nodes) (Spider)

In the “old” days, concept maps were usually described as a graphical representation of a collection of concepts, sometimes called nodes, that are connected by their relationships. The connectors are often referred to as links. These diagrams are sometimes called mind maps or even spider maps because links project out from a central concept much like the spokes on a wheel or, you guessed it, the legs of a spider.

These types of concept maps are thought to imitate the semantic webs we create in our minds that show the connections between related concepts—at least the connections the way the map creator understands them. If you remember schema theory from your EdPsych classes, a concept map is a graphical representation of a schema.

But just as concept-mapping software has made these tools more popular in schools today, the maps and diagrams they create have really evolved, again because the technology makes it so easy. Now these tools quickly provide support for students in a range of skills, including defining terms, building vocabulary, comparing ideas or objects, or applying planning and thinking skills in a variety of settings.

Supporting student learning with concept mapping

In 2003, I worked on a team that reviewed research related to the use of concept mapping in education. Positive gains in student achievement have been attributed to the use of concept mapping in multiple content areas (including foreign language acquisition), grade levels, and types of students. Many of the learning processes students use concept mapping for are related to developing critical thinking, regardless of the content area. You and your students can use them to develop, organize, and communicate ideas. When used with small or large groups, they can improve social interaction and engagement with content. Concept mapping have been shown to improve reading, writing, vocabulary development, and facilitate recall and retention of content.

A concept map can be used at the beginning of instruction to access prior knowledge or to evaluate current levels of student understanding and misunderstanding. This works well in a group setting where students can share their own prior experiences and come to consensus on critical content or ideas.

Concept maps can also be used during instruction to collect and represent information and data related to a variety of concepts and strategies. Students can create a Venn Diagram that identifies elements of a cultural or political issue; they can create a story map of a story they are reading that identifies the main elements and how they are related; they can also be used in learning new languages as some concept-mapping software can incorporate graphics or images as well has support multiple languages.

Concept Map

Source: Cennamo, K. S., Ross, J. D., & Ertmer, P. A. (2010). Technology integration for meaningful classroom use: A standards-based approach. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Inspiration and Kidspiration, two popular concept mapping software applications for different grade levels, toggle back and forth between graphical and outline views—allowing access to and use of the organized information in multiple modes. I may vary my approach towards building a concept map, sometimes starting with the outline and then switching over or vice versa. The text outline then makes a great guide for larger projects, especially those that involve writing. Inspiration is not free, but relatively inexpensive, and continues to add features that make it extremely powerful in the classroom. The latest version, just released, can transform maps and outlines into presentations or digital stories.

Concept maps can also be used for self-evaluation, especially when students complete a concept map at the beginning of a lesson or unit and then revise their concept map at the end, recording changes in their learning.

Concept mapping in practice

Don’t be reluctant to bring concept mapping into your instruction. The software is often easy to use, even by students. Most schools will already have access to concept mapping software, but there are also several versions available online for free.

As I’ve mentioned, concept mapping is evolving, and these tools often allow you to incorporate images, digital pictures taken by students, and link to other data visualization tools. Not all concept-mapping software contains the same features, such as toggling between a text outline and the graphical representation, so select the tool that meets your learning needs. Many for-fee applications allow you to download a free trial copy so you can practice with it before you buy.

Concept mapping can help students at every grade be more reflective learners, learners that develop and incorporate metacognitive strategies that help both you and your students better understand what they know and can do. They support a variety of learning activities, especially those that involve critical thinking, planning and organizing, and writing.

Resources for more information
Free online brainstorming tool. Requires registration.

Free online concept-mapping tool. Requires registration.

Free online concept-mapping tool.

Inspiration and Kidspiration
Popular concept mapping software. Inspiration 9.0 was just released.

Visual Thesaurus
A for-fee application that creates word maps (concept maps) of words that are connected by meaning to related words

Concept Mapping: A Graphical System for Understanding the Relationship between Concepts.
An ERIC Digest from 1997.

The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct and Use Them
Very long article with many examples by Joseph Novak and Alberto Cañas from IHMC, which offers the free online Cmap.

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Review: Speech As You See (SAYS) 3-Dimensional Pronunciation Program
by Talia Kowitt




3D is no longer just for the movies anymore. Language learning can now include computer generated characters with mouths synchronized with the words being spoken. Learning Technologies International’s Speak As You See (SAYS) three-dimensional pronunciation program is a great example of how the next wave of ESL & foreign language pronunciation, as well as speech therapy assistive technology, may look in the near future. A more technology savvy and discriminating audience may now demand more “life-like” three-dimensional language instruction for classroom learning and independent study. This new technology comes with both its perks and drawbacks.

projected on pull-dwn screen
Projected on pull-down screen
says on a private computer screen
SAYS on a private computer screen

The Problem & Solutions

Many students experience endless frustration with their attempts to pronounce English words correctly. Since many of these sounds (phonemes) do not exist in the student’s native language. Teachers may also experience great frustration in trying to explain to students where the exact placement of the tongue, teeth and lips should be in order to produce a sound or word “properly” in American English. Some students may seem to pick up new words and sounds very quickly, whereas other students never seem to be able to detect these subtle variations in speech.

Children often seem to have a knack (or “brain flexibility”) and often pick up new words and sounds very quickly and with very little detectable accent. Many adults are posed with the problem of “brain fossilization” in their native tongue, and have more trouble distinguishing or learning new sounds in a second language. Perceived inability to produce “perfectly pronounced” American English may cause the speaker to become insecure or uncomfortable in speech production, later causing problems in casual conversations or even business interactions.

Other alternative technologies are available to students. One example is University of Iowa’s Pronunciation website:

This program is wonderful, free, online and provides pronunciation guidance in English, Spanish and German. However, it does not show the workings of the inner-mouth in three-dimensions. Also, students may need the help of a teacher in order to understand how to use a program that incorporates the International Phonetic Alphabet.

Many pronunciation programs exist that provide the speaker with vocal frequency charts that look like sound waves of correctly pronounced phonemes. These are often hard for the student to understand. A myriad of other pronunciation programs exist, but many are too expensive for students to buy and none are in 3D. Similar programs may exist for speech therapists to use with clients, but most using the International Phonetic Alphabet and not necessarily user-friendly for ESOL students.

Brief History

SAYS was developed by two ESOL teachers, Neill deHaan & Scott Gannon, who have 30 years of experience teaching ESOL between them. In a Radio Bangkok Podcast, Gannon explains that he and deHaan spent the past 7 years developing this program in Thailand in order to improve the pronunciation skills of their university-level ESOL students. “The program is currently being geared towards Asian learners. Version 1.5 of SAYS addresses the 20 most difficult sounds for Asian learners to pronounce.”

Gannon also explains that, “The application of SAYS for speech therapy contains 20 consonant sounds/practice words, some of which may be problematic for patients requiring Speech-language pathology (SLP) pronunciation treatment. Future versions will contain many more animations, and exercises of the most common difficult sounds that SLP's work on. Current purchasers of the SAYS software are entitled to future updates free of charge.”

SAYS in Japanese

SAYS in Thai

The program was originally inspired by a pronunciation experiment involving sequential X-rays administered to the skulls of study participants as they spoke in English. The study was designed to explore how the teeth, tongue, palate, larynx, voice, etc. interact in real-time in order to produce particular sounds in clear and coherent speech. The study took place in the 1970s, and cannot be repeated because of the high doses of radiation participants would have to endure as a result of X-ray exposure. SAYS offers a clear alternative to this kind of study of pronunciation study.


3-D Technology in Modern Language Learning

Those who play on Second Life using the internet, or go into language learning virtual classrooms with three-dimensional computer characters (avatars), may feel comfortable learning using this new technology. (In case you have not heard of it, Second Life is a “free 3D virtual world where users can socialize, connect and create using free voice and text chat.” It is another way to learn and teach any language.)

Example of a 3D head in SAYS programs

Those who are less familiar with 3D technology may initially be intimidated, but there is no need to fear. SAYS is very user friendly and allows the user to interact with the animations the way one would control a DVD player or VCR. There are “Play,” “Pause,” “Stop” and “Volume” buttons.


The program also offers 3-dimensional heads that can speak to the audience from a variety of views, including head-on, in profile, and even from behind (inside the mouth). The program allows the skin and teeth of the character to become translucent in order to allow the viewer to see how the phoneme (sound) is being created with the tongue and palate.



This kind of program is a dream come true for some pronunciation instructors who have been struggling with teaching their students the exact placement of the tongue. At times, the tongue is barely visible behind the teeth. The techniques used in this program are even effective for working with students who are deaf.

The skin, teeth, and palate can be removed
in order to see exact placement of the tongue.

SAYS breaks down the components of language pronunciation into its most basics forms. This allows students to better produce consonants, vowels, and specifically phonemes (individual sounds) and they have been struggling with. Visual and audio-visual learners will benefit most from this kind of technology.

Tongue placement for the letter L

The phonemes for the letters “l” and “r” may pose problems for speakers or various Asian languages, such as Chinese or Japanese. These phonemes do not exist in their native language. They have never learned the proper tongue placement that would allow for the sound production of these particular letters. Also, sound combinations, such as /th/ or /sh/ may be an entirely new experience. Continuous exercise of the muscles that would be required to produce these sounds may be necessary in order to properly pronounce them in English.

The sound /th/

Knowledge of tongue placement is crucial in producing phonic sounds for the letters “d” and “t” and “j.” Anyone who has tried to teach students how to pronounce these letters in context knows how difficult it is. Also, being able to distinguish “voiced” vs. “unvoiced” phonemes will require extra attention. An example of a voiced letter is “v” vs. the unvoiced “f.” The letters require identical tongue placement, but different amounts of air or sound passing through the lips.

The sound for letter V or F.

Distinguishing between “voiced” and “unvoiced” phonemes.


SAYS only teaches 20 phonemes (from 3 different 3D views each), but provides links to more extensive outside sources and translation assistance. This may only be one tool in the teacher’s language teaching toolbox; however, it may prove to be an effective and powerful tool for those students who struggle most with speech production and pronunciation.

The SAYS kit does not come with earphones, video camera, microphone or, of course, a human teacher. There is no external human source to provide an honest critique of the sound production. The kit does, however, provide a mirror, user’s guide, and excellent video and audio recording features.

says says

Ultimately, nothing will replace the effectiveness of a real three-dimensional in-class teacher or private pronunciation tutor. It is important to not only produce sounds, but receive feedback from someone who can:
• See how you are producing the sound.
• Know if you are pronouncing the sound correctly.
• Correct mistakes in pronunciation and tongue placement.
• Produce chains of sounds, sentences and words pronounced correctly in the local dialect of English.


Producing each phonetic sound individually may have little meaning, but the proper combination of correctly performed muscular and dental movements can open up a whole new world for language students. When interacting with fluent speakers of English, the listener may be able to spend more time focusing on what the student/speaker is saying and less time in how the words are being produced or mispronounced. Increased fluency and correct pronunciation of words may allow the student to feel more confident and successful in the English-speaking world.

Future Possibilities

According to Neill deHaan & Scott Gannon, “after the initial version [of SAYS] is released, work will begin on pronunciation practice for other languages: French, Spanish, German and many oriental languages.” With any luck, soon programs like SAYS will be available to teach thousands of foreign languages in 3D and allow the user to practice proper pronunciation and speech without needing a teacher or tutor for assistance. When used in class, SAYS could free up teachers to focus on other aspects of the English language, such as content, grammar, production, etc.

• 3-Dimensional and extremely realistic.
• Can be rotated so that several views of the mouth are displayed, including: “front view, side view (which for some animations has a translucent skin area) and an inside view.” Neill deHaan & Scott Gannon
• Can clearly see how tongue, teeth and palette interact in order to produce particular phonemes. Skin and teeth can be removed in order to focus entirely on tongue movement.
• Can be used in speech therapy, language teaching and even with hearing impaired students.
• Created by experienced ESOL instructors.
• Can be used by teacher to present to classroom, as well as by individual students in computer language lab.
• Little direction or instruction required for students to practice independently.
• Students can view animations repeatedly, with the ability to freeze or slow down animations.
• Provides three feedback mechanisms and features (a mirror, video recording and audio recording).
• Focused on specific phonemes such as the /r/, /l/, /v/ and /w/, which pose difficulty for many ESOL students, especially those who speak Asian languages
• Effective with labiodental (/f/ vs /v/), linguadental (/th/) bilabial (/p/, /b/, /m/, /w/), lingua-alveolar (/t/ vs. /d/, /l/, & /r/) & lingua-palatal (/r/, /j/, /sh,/ & /ge/) phonemes
• Distinguishes between voiced and voicelss phonemes (such as /f/ vs. /v/).
• Improvement over vocal frequency charts.
• Installed onto computer through DVD. (NOTE: students “do not run the program from the DVD, and it is not a DVD that can be viewed by a DVD player.” Scott Gannon)
• May be a good tool for people who deal with English speakers during business transactions.
• “Alongside external internet links that will forward you to further help and downloadable exercises including sound files etc.” - Neill deHaan & Scott Gannon
• “Comes with explanations of how to produce the sounds in Japanese or Thai, as well as English.” Scott Gannon
• “After the initial version is released, work will begin on pronunciation practice for other languages: French, Spanish, German and many oriental languages”. - Neill deHaan & Scott Gannon
• Limited introductory promotion: SAYS program for $99 + $20 postage for U.S. purchasers (normally 159 + $30 postage and packing from Thailand).

• Installation of this software requires Apple Quicktime (free for Windows and MacOS X from and Adobe Reader (free from to be installed.
• Minimum system requirements: Mac OS X 10.3 G3 700MHz, Windows PC Pentium III 1.4GHz (with sound card).
• “Focus on 20 phonemes. 60 animations in this early version of the program. More should be available in later versions of the program.”
• Does not show real people pronouncing the sound.
• Does not show how nose, larynx, pharynx, soft palate, epiglottis, and diaphragm are involved in production of sound.
• Does not provide 3D pronunciation of sentences.
• Needs future comparisons with other speech therapy programs.
• Does not include earphones and microphone.
• Not focused in lingua-velar (/k/ vs. /g/), glottal (/h/), phonemes
• Does not include monophthongs (/i/ and /a/) and diphthongs (/ai/ or /ou/).


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Getting More from What You Have: Digital Storytelling
By John Ross

John D. Ross, Ph.D., is a former classroom teacher who has worked in the field of educational technology at the state and national level for more than a decade. He is co-author of the textbook Technology Integration for Meaningful Use: A Standards-Based Approach and his book on online professional development will be published by Corwin Press in 2011. You can learn more about him at To contact Dr. Ross directly:

When I visit schools I like to talk with teachers about the technologies they’re using. It’s invigorating to hear the creative way teachers use technology to support their work. I find it unfortunate¸ however, when I visit schools where not all the teachers seem to realize the many powerful tools that they have available to support teaching and learning are right at, well, their fingertips. Over the next couple of Tech Tips, I’m going to introduce some powerful technologies that you probably have access to right now that can support teaching and learning. Some of these are common tools, like word-processing and presentation software that are available on virtually every computer in every school. Others are free or are relatively inexpensive. Consider this an effort to help us all cut costs and get the most from what we have.

I’ll take your 1,000 words, and raise ya’

Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but digital pictures have got to trump that. Add digital audio and video, and you’ve certainly hit the jackpot. These elements can be combined together to create digital stories, which can be created by teachers and students alike using tools that I’m willing to bet all schools have access to right now.

Students can use a variety of software applications to tell “stories,” but the stories can be told about any content area and told by students in any grade level. The stories can be in any language, or more than one language, and can incorporate audio, graphics, digital pictures, scanned images, or video. Digital storytelling is often personal in nature, but the skills used in developing and telling stories are valuable for learning how to communicate in many forums.

The software teachers and students can use for digital storytelling include presentation software (e.g., Microsoft PowerPoint or Apple Keynote), video creation and editing software (e.g., MovieMaker or iMovie), podcasting (e.g, Apple’s Garage Band or Audacity for audio only podcasts), animation, or web development software. While originally designed for the boardroom, Microsoft PowerPoint, arguably one of the most ubiquitous technologies in most schools, easily supports digital storytelling. Students can easily and quickly import images, video, and audio files into presentations and change their order effortlessly. Students can even create slide shows with their own narration and export them as self-contained movies.

Another tool, this one freely available on the Internet, seems to be gaining popularity for digital storytelling, collaboration, and other uses. A VoiceThread is a tool that supports individual and group storytelling. Users can import images, videos, and audio into a “story” that other users can then comment on using a phone, a webcam, a microphone, text, or by uploading an additional file. You’ll have to sign up for a free account, but you will find complete directions along with hundreds of examples, many in support of language instruction, on the VoiceThread web site.

Supporting student learning with digital storytelling

Digital storytelling is primarily an activity that engages technology in ways that noted educational technology expert David Jonassen describes as a mindtool. Students use the tools and tell stories that are usually personal in nature, or reflect their personal understanding of a situation or phenomena. The stories can also share what students have learned by completing an activity, an activity that synthesizes content knowledge and skills.

Generally, five steps are followed to create a digital story. These five steps emphasize planning and organization, information and resource management, collaboration, and communication.

1. Write a script. While the script emphasizes writing, it’s important to have your students read their scripts out loud while they are drafting them to ensure they have captured appropriate tone and character.

2. Create a storyboard. Similar to creating panels as seen in comic books, students can use presentation or word-processing software in this step to chunk their script into discrete segments that will be supported by images or video.

3. Create or locate images or video. This step can involve students incorporating elements from their own lives and experiences or information they find online or elsewhere after conducting research.

4. Create the story. Students often have the most fun actually creating the story. In this step, they combine the images or videos, narrate their stories, and perhaps include music or sound effects. Reading their stories into a microphone often takes a little practice.

5. Share. Perhaps the most important step is sharing their stories with others, which they can do in class presentations or by posting to school web sites or servers.

When stories are shared, depending on the medium used, this technology-based activity also supports communication. For example, the stories can be shared on a web site—private or public—and others can comment or reflect on the story by sharing their reactions to the story or relating similar stories. A school I visited recently had their sharing session in the auditorium where all of the eighth grade students shared the digital stories they had created in their English language arts class. Interactive software, like VoiceThread, supports annotation using additional images, audio, or video to create a complex web of stories.

Digital storytelling in practice

Digital stories can be created by teachers or students in any grade level and content area. There are a wide range of tools that can support digital storytelling and the skills learned are transferable to other situations where students capture, synthesize, and report information or what they have learned. Digital storytelling also helps students better understand aspects of communication and gives them opportunities to develop skills related to reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

If you incorporate digital storytelling in your instruction, try to keep the students focused on telling an effective story and appropriate language use. Students often get caught up with the ease with which the technologies allows them to incorporate many different colors, fonts, images, and incorporate animations, transitions, and other effects. Done poorly, they can loose sight of the content and language objectives of the activity. But these challenges also present opportunities for helping students better understand how to best communicate with others.

Resources for more information

Center for Digital Storytelling
CDS is an international non-profit whose reach extends beyond education. Sources for some very powerful stories and resources you can use to create digital stories.

Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling
Comprehensive site on digital storytelling with examples, helpful guidance, and tips on evaluating them from the University of Houston

Elements of Digital Storytelling
A site from the University of Minnesota that includes research, a forum, as well as background information on digital storytelling.

Tech Head Stories
List of digital storytelling web sites from

These Stories from These Pictures
Guidelines for creating better digital stories.

Tips For Digital Story Telling
Educator-specific stories from any article by Jon Orech for Tech&Learning (November 1, 2007)

Free, online software that allows users to annotate digital stories through text, audio, and video, creating communities around stories.

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Technology Tips: Getting the Most from Online Learning
By John Ross

John D. Ross, Ph.D., is a former classroom teacher who has worked in the field of educational technology at the state and national level for more than a decade. He is co-author of the textbook Technology Integration for Meaningful Use: A Standards-Based Approach and his book on online professional development will be published by Corwin Press in 2011. You can learn more about him at To contact Dr. Ross directly:

The opportunity to participate in online learning continues to grow as the tools we have available to develop and deliver online learning become easier to use and more readily available. More educators at all levels—K-12, colleges and universities, or continuing education—are using these tools to help meet the needs of their students, whether through stand-alone courses or by creating resources to supplement classroom instruction.

I’ve been involved in developing online professional development for teachers and school leaders for more than ten years now. I’m currently interviewing people who have led the development and delivery of online professional development programs across the country and beyond for a book on the subject. What is interesting are some of the similar challenges we have all faced in our work, often without knowing others just like us were going through the same thing. Better yet are some of the strategies these innovative leaders have used to create successful programs.

Online learning holds great potential to connect and support teachers of world languages and their students. Online learning in its many forms can be supported by technologies that are available in most classrooms and many homes. However, it’s been my experience that when many educators move to creating online learning, whether formal classes or less-structured learning opportunities, these now common technologies that allow us to quickly create audio, video, and web pages can overwhelm the most critical aspect…the learning.

In order to help you if you plan to develop your own online learning or even if you are evaluating online learning developed by others for your own use, I’ve put together a short list of tips. These are drawn from my experiences and my initial thoughts from the interviews I’ve been conducting. These five tips are a starting point, and I look forward to hearing from you about strategies you’ve used to make online learning more successful.

Tips for Developing or Evaluating Online Learning

Guide the learner. Much online learning is accomplished asynchronously. In other words, many online learners go through content on their own time at their own pace. While there are many opportunities for synchronous interaction, this asynchronous mode predominates in online learning. Therefore, online learning should provide explicit directions and cues to guide the learners with whatever technologies are being used. Navigation systems for web sites and other media should be obvious. Follow common protocols for links and use standard buttons and interfaces to start and stop videos.

Online learning should guide the learners through good pedagogy, as well. It should have clear learning objectives or learning targets for the learners that tell them what they are going to learn in language that is easily understood. A good rule to follow is tell the learners what they are going to learn and be able to do, provide the content, then tell them what they should have just learned (and what to do if they didn’t). This is especially true with video, because videos provide so much information at the same time that learners have to be guided to look for the information you want them to observe. Very often, learners can’t raise their hands online and get guidance from a live teacher, so sometimes you may feel you are being overly descriptive. But chances are some learners will appreciate detailed guidance while others can just ignore it if they don’t need it.

Don’t restrict the learner. Learner control is a big concern in online learning and receives significant scrutiny in instructional design research. Often in my initial meetings with clients they want me to ensure that every user reads every screen and views every video and sits in front of that computer screen exactly as long as they would in a classroom. In reality, we all learn differently and come to learning situations with different levels of interest, motivation, knowledge, and skills related to the content. I may like to print out pages and highlight them while you just skim through them. You may watch videos over and over while I just go to the transcript.

Too many novice designers try to restrict users as if they can impose their own brand of learning on them. Learners are forced to watch a video before they can go on to the next screen. Information is presented in only one way, such as a narrator reading information on the screen rather than having a transcript learners can read on their own. Learners can’t navigate to different areas of the content but are locked into a prescriptive sequence. Ultimately, your learners do have ultimate control regardless of how you may try to restrict them, because if they don’t like the instruction, they’ll just turn it off.

Give feedback. For me, I learn through interaction. I like to try new things out to see how well they work and I need to know how well I did. In a classroom, teachers can give feedback about student performance almost constantly. In an asynchronous online course, it can be more difficult. But remember, giving feedback about a student’s performance is good teaching, and good teaching trumps the technology.

Feedback can be provided in asynchronous online learning by including examples and non-examples, encouraging self-reflection that relates to past learning, and through quizzes and other self-assessments. Your examples and non-examples should include guidance as to why they do or don’t represent a concept. Too often, I see questions for reflection that have no supporting guidance and make it easy for students to generate misconceptions that they then believe are true. Many online quizzing and survey applications also allow you to link back to the content for questions the learner may have gotten wrong.

People often give the best feedback, and it’s easy to connect people through technology rather than trying to replicate people with technology. We don't all have access to intelligent tutoring systems or artificial intelligence engines, but we do have access to technologies that connect learners with other learners, with teachers or content experts, and with others who can serve as guides, mentors, or who can practice with learners. While a lot of online learning happens asynchronously, consider the benefits of using synchronous communications tools, such as chat, video- or webconferencing, or even a telephone to connect students with other students or with teachers to provide feedback and check for understanding.

Content is still king. This is derived from a phrase often mentioned in the early days of web design, but it is still appropriate today. When working with people who want online learning, I often hear the words "interactive" and "engaging." My job is to make sure it promotes learning. Very often interactive and engaging translate into action, animation, video, bright colors—what we experience in movies and video games. Learning requires explicit instruction, high-quality content that is relevant and engaging on its own, and opportunities for practice and feedback.

You can strike a balance between engaging media and engaging content, but as I’ve heard time and time again and experienced in my own work, if the content is not good, it doesn’t matter how engaging the media is. And poorly designed media can ruin even the best content. Start with good content and strong pedagogy and find media that supports it.

Learn from the pros. This is a codicil to the previous tip. Because online technologies do support a range of multimedia, they do provide us an opportunity to create more engaging learning environments that go beyond simple presentation of text. With that said, just be careful of technology used for technology’s sake. A saying I often use is, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

It’s very easy to create videos using iMovie or MovieMaker, but there’s a reason why television shows and movies are engaging. They have people trained in filming who use the right equipment to record, edit, and produce their videos. That still doesn’t prevent us from turning them off or going to another channel when the content is bad or the acting is poor (see, content is important in entertainment, too). You can improve the media in your online learning, though.

Watch news clips or channels like the History Channel to see how the pros use still images, voiceovers, and text to augment videos. They still get factual information across, but they often do it by making it engaging and interesting to watch. You’ll see very few “talking heads” on entertaining shows.

And this goes for other media as well. Find web sites with engaging graphics and color choices and try to determine what you like about them and how you can use similar strategies in your own online learning. Perhaps the most important suggestion I’ve picked up recently came from Matt Huston at the EdLab Group in Washington State. He said to be able to develop better online learning, be an online learner first. Go take an online class. Become an ePal. Participate in a webcast or a webconference. Find out what works for other people and see how it can support your own needs.

As you review these tips, don’t forget that you should always work from your understanding of what you know to be good instruction. Even if you’re using a digital video, or a wiki, or you’ve created an avatar in a virtual world, the technology should promote that good instruction and not overwhelm it. Ground your technology use in what you do best…teaching. Consider how these tools best support good teaching and learning, and justify your technology choices from this perspective. I look forward to your feedback on these ideas and learning more tips from you.

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Digital Technologies: Friend or Foe for the World Language Teacher
by John Ross

John D. Ross, Ph.D., is a former classroom teacher who has worked in the field of educational technology at the state and national level for more than a decade. He is co-author of the textbook Technology Integration for Meaningful Use: A Standards-Based Approach and his book on online professional development will be published by Corwin Press in 2011. You can learn more about him at To contact Dr. Ross directly:

I recently read about schools using a popular software program as the sole means of language instruction for their students. You may have, too. The language community is buzzing with the news. The idea that computers can replace teachers is an old one. One that routinely proves unfounded, at least with currently available technologies. But cash-strapped school administrators are often forced to make difficult decisions based on dollars rather than, well, sense. School budgeting is often a balancing act with too much pressure and too few dollars.

But in terms of dollars and cents, investments should yield some type of return. In the case of schools, that return should be measured by student learning. What are schools using computer instruction getting for about $100 a student? What would the return be if the class was taught by a highly effective teacher? Better yet, what would the return be if that teacher had adequate access to and training in these technologies and used them appropriately? These are questions we should be asking these schools, technology developers, and ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m an advocate for educational technology. Used well by highly skilled educators, digital technologies have the potential to yield higher learning returns for our students than when not using them. But like those technologies that came before them, the teacher plays a pivotal role in making sure they are used in the most effective way to benefit the students.

This article provides some background on the use of technology to support language instruction. Subsequent articles in the Tech for Teachers section of this newsletter will continue to explore the best uses of technology in language instruction so that we all benefit from the highest return possible on our learning investments.

Digital Technologies and the Flattening World

Educators are frequently reminded of the notion of the increasing “flatness” of our world and the need for our students to be better prepared to live, work, play, and thrive in a global society. Thomas Friedman shares compelling stories and experiences in his book, The World is Flat, that I find especially relevant for me as an educator who works in the field of educational technology. I hope you’ll oblige one more article that borrows his popular thesis.

As we chat on our smart phones, find our ways using global positioning systems, go home to play on our Wii interactive games, or catch up with the news from our friends and the world through online news services, e-mail, and blogs, we may not stop to realize the impact that digital technologies have had on our lives. These technologies have transformed how people across the globe interact. These technologies have helped to change the way we do business, which industries are successful, where they are located, and the reach they have to clients across the globe. New technologies account for much of this flattening of our world.

Schools: The Last Frontier?

I’d like to say that the digital revolution has also had tremendous impact on the ways we teach and the ways our students learn. In some places, it has. I’ve been able to visit some of those schools—schools with exemplary technology-using teachers and administrators—and I hope to hear more about others from you.

But too many schools have just barely stuck their toes into the tidal wave of change that digital technologies can offer. I visit too many schools where computers are never turned on, labs are locked, and high-priced interactive white boards are used as room dividers. In some of these schools, I do run across some reluctance to integrate technology, but more often I find a lack of awareness or understanding of how new and emerging technologies can help us meet the needs of students and prepare them to live and thrive in this ever-flattening world.

Computers in Schools: Looking Back

Education has seen many movements to use new tools to solve old problems. When the first personal computers began to appear in classrooms across the nation in the 1980’s, there was much speculation that teachers would become obsolete, that the computer was going to replace the teacher. The same learning problems were going to be solved by a high tech version of an old tool.

Early learning software was often glorified drill-and-practice games, many of which provided little more feedback to students than whether an answer was right or wrong. Feedback was rarely personalized or customized, and there was little scaffolding provided to students with different needs. In every classroom, the learning problems still existed. The rudimentary learning software available at the time didn’t go far towards moving the computer as teacher idea very far towards fruition. Luckily, these applications evolved.

It took decades to simply develop a critical mass of teachers who understand how to operate these new technologies. Indeed the first technology standards for students and teachers, the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) developed by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in the late 1990’s, emphasized basic skills so that we would learn how to use computers. While there are still some educators reluctant to use these technologies in their teaching, we have reached a point where we may be seeing a critical shift. Teachers have embraced a range of powerful new technologies and are using them to address what it means to teach and learn in a flat world.

Today: Language Skills for Flourishing in the Flat World

The world has very real and complex problems to solve that will take creativity, innovation, communication, collaboration, and a good deal of critical thinking and decision-making. This means the problem of what our students have to learn has changed, as has the way we have to teach them. The tools and methods we once used are no longer the most efficient, effective, or successful.

The new standards created by ISTE nearly a decade after the first version no longer emphasize basic operations and skills. Instead, skills related to creativity, innovation, collaboration, higher-order thinking, and problem solving top the list. These skills, while always important, become ever more important in a global economy where the failure of banks in one part of the globe impacts economies the world over and where jobs and entire industries no longer take place down the street but across the globe. Now, schools are offering language instruction in Mandarin, Arabic, Kiswahili, and a host of other previously less commonly taught languages.

The National Standards for Foreign Language Learning published in 1999 raised the bar for teachers of world languages beyond building grammar and helping students listen to, read, and write languages. These standards encourage the use of higher-order skills in which students “provide and obtain information, express feelings and emotions, and exchange opinions.” They are required to “demonstrate an understanding” of cultural practices, perspectives, and products as they relate to their learning of a language. They require students to engage in their own and other cultures through language.

These standards go beyond even these complex skills by encouraging students to “connect with other disciplines” through their language of study. Using languages to acquire information, reason, and ultimately learn concepts and skills in other disciplines requires a significant level of proficiency. And, perhaps of great boon to the concept of living and thriving in a global society, these standards push students to “develop insight into the nature of language and culture.” Students who will be able to demonstrate these understandings about language and culture will certainly be better prepared to meet the demands of living in a global society.

To achieve these complex cognitive and social skills, students will require opportunities to interact with others and develop their language skills within learning contexts that utilize technology. The same technologies that have transformed business, government, entertainment, and the arts hold the potential to do this. 

Embracing Change

This is why I am excited about teaching today. Most teachers have access to powerful technologies that can help address the complex skills and knowledge identified as being important in both national technology and language standards. Highly effective teachers outfitted with these technologies have the potential to yield higher learning returns than either on their own.

I’ve interviewed many exemplary technology-using teachers over the past 10 years and they often describe how using commonly available digital technologies changed their teaching. In classrooms where teachers master these technologies, where they understand that learning is bigger than memorizing discrete bits of information, the way they teach changes. Technology facilitates this change. They report their students learn more, too, developing deeper knowledge.

These technologies allow for greater communication and collaboration—both during and after the school day and within and outside the classroom. They are able to tap experts to enhance their students’ learning experiences. These experts may be in the homes or communities surrounding the schools or may come from museums, business and industry, or other agencies both near and far.

In the case of language instruction, networks of native speakers can be connected with learners in real-time communication, and many of these experts are students with similar interests. Teachers are able to bring in artifacts from cultures and countries where languages being studied are spoken. They are able to address real problems using real information that can encourage students to express feelings and emotions, to exchange opinions, and do so in a way that uses language to communicate information, ideas, and concepts and that develops insight into the nature of language and, perhaps most importantly, culture.

Teaching in the Flat World: Learning Together

To apply Friedman’s phrase, what it means to be a teacher in a “flat world” must be different than, well, when I was in school. One of the reasons our world appears flatter is because of the ways that digital technologies have connected us. Most of our students have already mastered them outside of school. They play games online—participating in gaming communities with others from across town or across the globe. They share pictures and send instant messages using devices more powerful than those personal computers that started the digital technology wave in education a couple of decades ago. What they already do outside of school, and what they will be required to do to live and thrive in a global economy is different too.

Together we can address the lack of awareness of how to use these and other digital technologies to address the different problem of what our students need to know and be able to do. Putting students in front of a drill-and-practice tutorial, no matter how engaging the graphics may be, is an attempt to solve an old conception of the problem of what it means to learn a language. Trying to automate language instruction by isolating students in a language lab is yet another.

Let’s stop using new tools in old ways and use them instead to generate new solutions. It’s not the technologies you use that matters, it’s how you use them. And we are close to seeing these powerful technologies being used in ways that address the needs of living in our ever-flattening world.

Over the next few months, I’ll explore the ways technology can support world language teaching and learning. Some of the technologies are common to most schools and some may be unique. I also hope to hear from you about the technologies you use, the challenges you face, and how we can overcome them.

I look forward to hearing from you and learning along with you.

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by Thomas Braslavsky, NCLRC/The George Washington University
Originally published in the NCRLC Language Resource, March 2009

If you are looking for a large online repository of information on language-learning, you may do well to check out Vistawide (, the self-proclaimed “information source for language learners and language learning on the web.”

The site, run by a group of “lifelong language learners and educators with both formal training and practical experience in language teaching and learning,” provides a wealth of information on learning foreign languages, going abroad and finding practical applications for a foreign language college degree.

Though the homepage is a bit disorganized, it is still simple to navigate to any portion of the site through links to the different sections. These include specific sections about Arabic, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish. Each of these pages has many resources, including the history of the language, information about the cultures that speak it and study tips. The site also recommends effective language learning materials and books.

Another section of Vistawide deals with language learning software. The site includes short descriptions of different language learning programs – some free and some not – in over 25 languages. These programs range from vocabulary learning to games and translation. There are also downloadable dictionaries in various languages, as well as a collection of free downloadable fonts for different alphabets.

The site also includes resources on careers involving foreign language skills – something that could be very useful in encouraging the study of foreign languages. For those unsure of how to pursue language learning, there are descriptions of the available options. The study abroad guide gives good advice to college students considering the option, and the pages on grants and scholarships aid students in finding ways to help finance their study. Vistawide also has a forum that was formerly used to discuss languages. Although it is currently closed “due to excessive abuse,” the forum is planned to reopen soon.

This website should be useful for teachers who want to provide their students with helpful online tools and advice for learning languages. Large amounts of information on so many topics related to foreign language study make Vistawide a worthwhile online resource for the foreign language teacher and student.

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The Flashcard Exchange
By Tom Braslavsky
Originally published in the NCRLC Language Resource, December 2008

The Flashcard Exchange is self-proclaimed as “The world’s largest flashcard library.” This online collection holds more than 16 million flashcards on subjects ranging from science to foreign languages, all uploaded by its users. Sets of flashcards are organized by tags, and there is a search bar for finding card sets by tag or title.

If one chooses to register for a free account on the website, there are options to store relevant flashcards on a “clipboard” and create a list of “favorites.” There is also an online study tool which can be very helpful to language learners studying vocabulary or other language-related subject matter. This study tool has various options for presenting flashcards to the user, and it can track one’s accuracy in giving correct answers or translations. It gives the user an idea of learning progress and allows one to go over incorrect or unanswered questions. Also, in preparation for an exam or as an added learning tool, users can create and store their own flashcards on the website. The cards are also printable and downloadable to Word, Excel and Acrobat. The site even has a special program for flashcards on an iPhone.

The Flashcard Exchange is a useful resource for language learners and educators because it provides, free of charge, an enormous repository of shared study tools. These can be used both in and outside the classroom to study vocabulary, phrases and grammar. The flashcard creator tool also provides an enormous asset to those teaching or learning new material.

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Helpful Tech Tools for Teachers
by Leah Wilner
Originally published in the NCRLC Language Resource, September/October 2008

Quia Books


Quia books are foreign language textbooks that are supplemented with student workbooks and online learning aides. Each chapter in Quia has corresponding online grammar, vocabulary and audio resources, as well as interactive homework problems that can be graded and submitted online. This type of learning encourages students to teach themselves grammar at home, therefore these books are most helpful to students who are practicing their verbal skills in class.

Tech Soup

techsoup logo offers nonprofit groups dependable technological assistance in the form of free information, resources and support. In addition, TechSoup Stock offers nonprofits technology products that have been donated or highly discounted by nonprofit and corporate technology partners. This website is an excellent resource for teachers who would like to buy updated language software or another computer for language practice.

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SCOLA Review
By Ben Redmond
Originally published in the NCRLC Language Resource, April 2008

scola_picA customer service representative contacted me not long after I had submitted an email request for information about SCOLA’s website, granting two weeks of full access in order to explore their content. Language teachers and learners alike may be familiar with SCOLA’s cable and satellite TV channels, which re-transmit native language news broadcasts from around the globe 24 hours a day. With online access, you can watch streaming newscasts from each of their six region-specific channels and you have the freedom to select from any programs broadcast over the course of the past week.

While World TV Online may be the definitive feature, SCOLA’s website offers a number of distinct sections, each contributing to foreign language learning and an understanding of world cultures. Every week SCOLA uploads one "Insta-Class lesson" in each of 30 different languages, accompanying a selected newscast with its transcription, detailed translation, and questions to test comprehension. Unfiltered newscasts, while rich in vocabulary and particular examples of vernacular, can be tricky for even the most experienced language learners to tap into. Each "Insta-Class Lesson" increases the accessibility and value of a newscast as an effective resource for the student.

I previewed both the Italian and French "Insta-Class lessons" and found that the transcriptions were almost exact and the translation followed closely, clarifying instances where my own comprehension lacked. SCOLA also provides Insta-Class lessons following the same format for a number of non-European languages including Korean, Arabic, Farsi, Tajik, and Chinese.

The "Specialized Word Video Search" is another great tool for students. The lexicon search feature was especially helpful, allowing users to browse, in English, by the first letter of a foreign language word that may need clarifying. Once an instance of the word is found in the video archives the student can hear it used in a news broadcast, which eases difficulties in pronunciation or confusion regarding appropriate word usage. The Foreign Text section should also be noted, as it provides access to foreign language newspapers from a number of different countries, which may not be widely distributed.

I appreciated the fact that in addition to the download option for audio and video file, they are embedded on the site, which means that you do not have to launch an external application to play them. I found the customer service department to be extremely accommodating, offering to help me navigate the site by phone if I had any questions. Overall, the website expands on SCOLA’s TV services, effectively providing users with a number of helpful features to aid their study of language of culture.

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Using Online Video in the Language Classroom
By Abbe Spokane, Program Coordinator, NCLRC
Originally published in the NCRLC Language Resource, January 2008

In the last year, the amount of video content on the Internet has grown exponentially. There is surely more video out there than one person could ever watch in their lifetime. Unfortunately, online video has a reputation of being inappropriate, amateur, strange, self-indulgent, disturbing, and/or just plain useless. None of these are necessarily true, and if you know where and how to search for it, online video can be a quick, inexpensive way to introduce authentic material into your language classroom.

The Ubiquitous YouTube:

Probably the best known venue for videos on the internet is YouTube. The site is basically a giant repository for all manner of digital videos that varies widely in quality (everything from professional footage to fuzzy bootlegs). YouTube’s biggest advantage is also its biggest downfall; there are videos of just about anything you can think of, and lots that you would NEVER think of. The good news is that YouTube runs on a simple search engine that most of us are familiar with. You type what you’re looking for into the search box, and up pops a listing of videos that match your terms. The trick with YouTube is to know exactly what you’re looking for and be as specific as possible in your searches. For example, searching "French Film Clips" brings up a link to "My Artsy Fartsy French Film," which, though entertaining, is not rich in educational value and includes almost no actual French. But if you can think of a particular film or director, you might have better luck. Searching "Marcel Pagnol" turns up clips of his two most popular films, both of which my high school French teacher still shows in class.

YouTube is also a great place to find videos on current events or politics. Try searching a particular person’s name or a news headline. You could ask students to compare/contrast news broadcasts or political debates in the U.S. with those in the target culture. It’s also a great place to find commercials--short, self-contained, authentic video often with relatively simple language and lots of context. Sharing a YouTube video with your students is easy, too: just copy the video’s website address from your browser’s address bar and paste it in an email or other document, or copy the "embed" link to place it on your class webpage.

One of YouTube’s best features is that you can download the new version of RealPlayer for Mac or PC (free at ) and choose to display the option of downloading videos from YouTube. If you place your mouse on the video as it is playing, a button will pop up above the video giving you the opportunity to "Download This Video." This means you can save a video you find to your computer and play it from RealPlayer anytime without connecting to the internet. Videos sometimes "disappear" from the site, so you may want to save ones you use for future classes.

Beyond the Tube

If you’d rather not sift through the millions of videos on YouTube, or you prefer to browse a smaller collection of videos, there are plenty of other options. Many newspaper, magazine and television station websites have collections of free videos. In the NCLRC’s Culture Club Internet Media Room ( you can find links to sites in several languages. If you’re looking for English-language videos to supplement culture lessons, you might want to try ( This website has partnered with dozens of organizations and media outlets to make a collection of online videos sorted by topic, region, or producing organization. You can browse through a "channel" that interests you, or search for a specific topic. There is also an Education channel with hundreds of thought-provoking videos of interest to educators in the U.S. and around the world. contains consistently high-quality videos, many with well-known speakers, but beware, some videos are long and can be slow to download.

Wherever you find them, online videos can be used for all sorts of activities in the classroom. The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) has a list of tips for how to use online videos in language classrooms, ( as well as sites for individual languages with information on where to find online video content ( If you find that what you’re looking for just doesn’t exist on the internet, you can always try making it yourself. It’s not as difficult as you think, and you can upload your masterpiece to the internet for other teachers to use. If you’re interested in learning more about producing digital videos for your classroom, join us for our summer institute, "YouTube Video and Beyond" from June 24-27, 2008.

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Make Skype more than just another desktop icon
By Ben Redmond

Originally published in the NCRLC Language Resource, December 2007

skype logoForeign language teachers should already be familiar with what Skype has to offer. Now hosting nearly 220 million user accounts worldwide, it has become the preferred alternative for affordable international communication. By offering free global Internet calling Skype has built a vast network, while successfully managing the sale of premium features and extras to become a financially viable entity (in 2005 eBay acquired Skype for $2.5 billion). Awards have been lavished on this young communications giant by everyone from Time to The Economist, recognizing its innovation and influence in the field of global communications. For these reasons and many others, savvy language instructors have already joined the Skype generation. They recognize an unparalleled possibility; with Skype, instructors can offer students the experience of true interaction with native speakers of almost any target language while bypassing the hurdles of international travel.

Conversing via a text-based instant messenger, calling from one computer to another, and making videophone calls is all free. And Skype is simple. You need only a microphone (built-in or external), speakers and the latest download of Skype’s free software to begin. And at an affordable rate you can use Skype to call home phones and cell phones in over 30 countries as well. Yet like any program, Skype has its limitations. In order for language instructors to effectively employ Skype software in the classroom they must choose the proper companion tools or risk allowing Skype to become just another desktop icon.

Skype’s innovative software offers instructors the opportunity to promote international language exchange, but only if they make use of fitting complementary applications. Don’t expect students to connect with a capable and enthusiastic language exchange partner by casually browsing the profiles of 200 million plus Skype users. Instead, point them to the Mixxer, an online language exchange database provided by Dickinson College, which hosts a global community of over 13,000 members. The Mixxer helps Skype users find an exchange partner by narrowing their search according to native language and one of 28 available target languages.

Signup for the Mixxer is free and finding a language exchange partner is as simple as signing up and deciding on an online meeting time. In order to field a greater range of response, have your students personalize interests and include basic information about their experience with the target language. The site lists nearly 300 instructors seeking partner classrooms for language exchange. A willingness to explore applications like these makes dedicated language instructors better able to incorporate effective technologies in the classroom. Partnering Skype with the Mixxer gives students the opportunity to chat face to face with a native-speaker. And that may be just what today’s students need to actively engage in their study of a foreign language.


  • The Skype knowledgebase, accessible in their website provides thorough answers to any questions you may have.
  • Unfortunately, access to Skype is sometimes restricted on school networks due to high bandwidth requirements and concerns over Internet messaging services as a whole.
  • You may need to help your students structure exchange sessions so that speaking time is equally distributed between English and their target language.
  • Make your students aware of Time Zone differences when coordinating online meeting times with their language partners.


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benLet the Dry Erase markers dry out; try Skrbl!
by Ben Redmond
Originally published in the NCRLC Language Resource, September/October 2007

Borrowing its concept from schools around the world, Skrbl (pronounced "scribble"), a new online application, provides users with a simple and fun way to share ideas, files, and photos, all with the ease of writing on a classroom whiteboard. For language educators looking for a truly interactive, free discussion board to communicate with both colleagues and students in real time, this represents quite a step up from dry-erase markers. Though still in the later stages of development Skrbl already offers many of the tools necessary to foster informal communication over an easy-to-navigate, shared forum.

The biggest questions regarding Skrbl are:skrbl_logo

  • the necessity of such an application for educators when many schools already provide access to online discussion forums
  • the lack of a read-only function (which makes preventing users from altering important whiteboard messages nearly impossible)
  • the ease with which one can slip into a frenzy of drawing smiley faces and stick figures instead of making intelligent contributions.

Skrbl does, however, simplify the process of online cooperation and saves time as a result.
The application boasts basic videophone and Skype compatibility and allows users to type a number of foreign languages. Getting started takes only a matter of minutes and no downloads are required. Also, for a fee of $10 a month Skrbl will open access to a private online meeting space (a great way to encourage cooperation on group projects) and give up to 5 users a number of enhanced features not offered in the basic free version. Quick to setup, easy to use and share, Skrbl is at least worth the time it takes to add a little harmless graffiti to any vital memo.

visit to test it for yourself.


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Metacognition and 21st Century Skills: Some highlights from our summer institute 2007
by Jamie Lapore Wright
Originally published in the NCRLC Language Resource, August 2007

On June 22, 2007, the NCLRC held our first Metacognition summer institute, taught by Drs. Ana Uhl Chamot and Jill Robbins. The purpose of this institute was to help foreign language teachers explore how the 21st century skills for learning and thinking, could be developed in their classrooms using technology. (A set of technical and learning skills was identified by a group of businesses called the Partnership for 21st Century Skills ( These skills include:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills
  • Communication Skills
  • Creativity and Innovation Skills
  • Collaboration Skills
  • Information and Media Literacy Skills
  • Contextual Learning Skills

During the first half of the institute, participants engaged in activities to gauge how "tech-savvy," they are, learned about the metacognition model, and discussed strategies for communicating using technology. Guest speaker Christine Meloni, who runs the NCLRC Culture Club, talked to the group about using technology to enhance cultural learning in the classroom.

After lunch, participants re-grouped to do a small group activity on integrating a metacognition narrative into their classroom, giving them a chance to apply the knowledge and skills they learned in the first half of the institute. Then, they were instructed in the use of Instant Messenger (IM), podcasts, blogging, RSS (Really Simple Syndication), Audacity, iTunes, YouTube, and Quia in the foreign language classroom, and given the opportunity to experiment with applications. All of these can be easily used in classroom exercises. In particular, podcasting is a helpful tool that teachers can use to increase individual investment and speaking and listening opportunities for their students. Since many students today are already familiar with these technologies, it doesn’t take much effort on the part of the teacher to get them interested in their use as a language learning tool. An example of how classroom teachers are using podcasts can be found here: (this is for Spanish).

The institute concluded with a discussion of future directions for professional development, and participants sharing their favorite sites and tools. Some of these can be found in the links below.

Interested in exploring the use of technology in your classroom? Here are some links from the Metacognition institute:

Ethnic Community Radio: The Voice of Home in America by Renee Domogauer - one option for finding authentic listening materials on the Web

Microsoft tutorials for various applications (Access, Outlook, Powerpoint, etcetera):

Guide to creating a web activity for foreign languages:

Apple set of lesson plans on Language Arts using technology:

Podcasting Red Planeta Radio – Spanish language podcasts:

CALPER page Provides information on podcasting for foreign language instruction -

Apple online tutorials - For use of podcasting in education

Odeo – community-based podcasting service which allows the user to share the files created -

iPod microphone:

RSS For content receivers (Windows), FeedDemon 2.0

Feedburner – for RSS content creators

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Technology for Classroom Feedback and Interaction:
Student response systems (SRS)
by Laura Blythe Liu
Originally published in the NCRLC Language Resource, January 2007

Wikipedia offers a succinct definition for CPS, or classroom performance systems, which is another term often used for student response systems (SRS):
Classroom Performance Systems (CPS) is a technological way to assess students. The instructor is able to ask objective and subjective questions to each student. The questions come from a computer, and are displayed for each student to view. Each student can answer their test questions at their own pace and respond with a remote control device. A radio or infrared transmitter picks up the student's response and sends it to the computer, which stores the responses and can provide detailed reports. This system allows instructors to obtain immediate feedback from each student. The system keeps a log of every class session, so student records are always available (Wikipedia, 2007).

Using SRS in the classroom
Numina II SRS
0701srsNumina II SRS is a specific brand of a web-based student response system This product is a system of “wireless networks, handheld computers, and a data projector” that enables students to submit individual or anonymous responses to inform instructors of student understanding of a concept, attitude toward a subject, or any other kind of information desired for assessment of learning. A summary of student responses for the entire class is then displayed next to the question so that students are able to see how others respond and to monitor their learning (Vetter, 2000).

Numina II SRS has created a tutorial for using their SRS system, which can be found at: This tutorial includes an overview of use, how to create a question, a question set, or an entire session. Printable direction for using Numina II SRS can be found via a link on the overview tutorial page, or can be found at:

Pearson Assessments
Pearson Assessments offers CPS products on their on-line store found at: Prices for CPS units vary depending on the number of student response pads included. A CPS unit with 16 pads costs $1,200, a 24 pad system costs $1,500, a 32 pad system costs $2,000, and a 40 pad system costs $2,500. Each CPS unit sold includes a USB receiver that plugs into a teacher’s computer, the given number of student response pads that wirelessly transmit student responses to the receiver, a CD installation guide that helps teachers align lessons to state standards and track student progress, a quick start guide, two AAA batteries for each response pad, and a carrying case for everything. Teachers provide their own projector or monitor to display teacher questions and student answers (Clickers (CPS), 2006).

Pearson Assessments also offers on-line a "case study" of a school district that applied for a No Child Left Behind Grant and received support from the U.S. Department of Education’s Enhancing Education Through Technology funds to help purchase SRS for their district. The 34,000 students of the Modesto City School District, just east of Oakland, saw an average increase of 4 to 6 percentage points on students’ science and math final exams, as teachers started integrating interactive SRS technology in the classroom and moving away from content memorization and hand-raising teaching techniques. Benefits of using SRS include student engagement and anonymous participation, immediate teacher assessment of student learning, and new forms of collaborative learning. The district plans to purchase 20 more SRS for eighth-grade science and math (Profiles, 2006).

Researched benefits of SRS in education
Roschelle, Penuel, and Abrahamson’s (2004) Classroom Response and Communication Systems

Roschelle et al (2004) cite a description of classroom response system technology by Bransford and colleagues in How People Learn as “one of the most promising innovations for transforming classrooms to be more learner-, knowledge-, assessment-, and community-centered.” The authors describe the teacher’s role as one of formulating questions and facilitating discussions based on required student responses, while the technology serves to first provoke student thinking in question representation before displaying aggregated anonymous student responses in a thoughtful manner. Finally, they describe the student response to this technology-enhanced teaching as participatory, mutually supportive, and self-regulating of the learning and conceptual change created by the lesson (Roschelle et al, 2004).

The authors aptly state three primary steps as core to the use of SRS in the classroom as "1. Present a probing question at the heart of the subject matter. 2. Gather student responses rapidly and anonymously. 3. Quickly assemble a public, aggregate display (e.g. a histogram) that makes salient the variation in the group’s ideas without disclosing individual contributions” (Roschelle et al, 2004). The author’s find in their literature review research showing that the use of SRS leads to improvement in student learning. While much evidence has been found in physics undergraduate classrooms, further evidence has been found in K-12 settings as well, including middle school and high school mathematics, physics, chemistry, and elementary, middle school, and high school reading. The authors present no discussion of findings for the foreign language classroom, though their discussion suggests SRS to be helpful in this setting as well. (Roschelle et al, 2004).

The positive outcomes cited by Roschelle et al (2004) include “greater student engagement (16 studies), increased understanding of subject matter (11), increased enjoyment of class (7), better group interaction (6), helping students gauge their own understandings (5), and teachers have better awareness of student difficulties (4)." In engaging in a deeper investigation of education and psychology of learning theory, the researchers concluded formative assessment through questioning and feedback to have the greatest positive impact on learning in the classroom, as SRS allows teachers to have immediate access to student understanding. Teachers can modify instruction with this immediate feedback, demonstrating true interactive learning (Roschelle et al, 2004).

Researchers also found that student discussion centered on contrasts among ideas or between an individual’s idea and the ideas of the group, led to enhanced student learning (Roschelle et al, 2004). The researchers further concluded that students more carefully monitor their own learning when they have first reflected on the information presented, or have a "personal stake" in the outcome, i.e. wanting to know if their SRS response is correct or incorrect. Contrast also encourages learning in discussion in that it emphasizes "argumentation, elaboration, explanation, and comprehension," each of which is a significant process leading to conceptual change (Roschelle et al, 2004). Finally, a third positive outcome found in the research was that student motivation increases with the use of SRS as 1) the "performance" goal for affirmative judgments of their ability is met in their responses being anonymous, and 2) the "mastery" goal for an actual increase in ability is met as students do not experience "performance avoidance" and are encouraged to use SRS feedback primarily to provoke thinking rather than as a tool for the instructor to formally assess their level of mastery (Roschelle et al, 2004).

Draper’s (2002) Electronically enhanced classroom interaction.
Draper (2002) has created his own list of pedagogical benefits in using SRS, a list comparable to Roschelle’s discussion of the benefits. Draper states that both formative and summative assessment is possible with SRS and that both can happen much more quickly with SRS than with a scantron or paper and pencil assessment. Draper notes that both formative feedback on student learning and formative feedback on teaching are feasible within one class period rather than within the time period of a couple weeks, or as a procedure saved for the end of the class altogether. Along with initiating discussions, Draper also offers three more creative teaching techniques using SRS. Community building at the beginning of class in which students respond to personal questions intended to develop group awareness is one option. Another teaching technique with SRS would be to have students peer review one another immediately after each other’s presentations. Finally, Draper notes that effects on human response, such as social psychology experiments, could be demonstrated through the use of SRS (Draper, 2002).


  1. Classroom Response Systems. (01/04/07). In Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia [Web]. Wikipedia Foundation, Inc.. Retrieved 01/17/07, from

  2. Draper, S.W. (06/09/02). Electronically enhanced classroom interaction. Australian journal of educational technology , 18, Retrieved 01/17/07, from

  3. Clickers (CPS). (2006). Retrieved January 18, 2007, from Pearson Assessments On- line Store Web site:

  4. Profiles: California School District Engages Student with Interactive System. (2006). Retrieved January 18, 2007, from Pearson Assessments On-line Store Web site:

  5. Roschelle, J., Penuel, W., Abrahamson, L. (April, 2004). Classroom Response and Communication Systems: Research Review and Theory. AERA 2004 Proposal, Retrieved 01/17/07, from

  6. Vetter, R. (2000). Numia II SRS Student Response System Home Page. Retrieved January 17, 2007, from Numia II SRS Student Response System Web site:

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Teacher Collaboration & Newsgroups
by Laura Blythe
Originally published in the NCRLC Language Resource, December 2006

Interactive technology has changed the meaning of the word, collaboration, as it has opened a wider variety of options for how teachers would like to collaborate with one another. One form of collaboration that has recently grown in popularity through the use of interactive technology is that of the on-line newsgroup, or listserv as they are often called. The number of newsgroups created for teachers is continuing to grow as well.

A particularly resourceful newsgroup for foreign language instructors is the FL Teach Newsgroup, which offers discussion on everything from the origin of the term E.E.U.U. to suggestions for a Spanish lesson on creating children’s books. Joining a newsgroup is usually not difficult and directions for joining are typically provided on the site. An official description of the FL Teach Newsgroup and directions for joining are below and can be found on the FL Teach website at

FLTEACH Newsgroup - For subscribers who do not wish to receive FLTEACH via email or WWW archives, we run a private newsgroup server for FLTEACH:  All FLTEACH list postings appear in the newsgroup, so it is possible to read FLTEACH in any news reader, but we have not enabled posting through the newsgroup.  There are many different kinds of news readers available.  To use this this point of access, set your news reader to connect to the server and then subscribe to the newsgroup called flteach.list.  Information on using news readers is available online (another source and yet another).
            The opportunities for collaboration on the FL Teach Newsgroup are endless. A number of recent post titles have included: Creating Children’s Books, E.E.U.U.: Origin of the Term?, Proficiency vs. Fluency, French III Readers, and Open your books and turn the page. Each of the above discussion threads became a hot topic in the FL Teach Newsgroup, as responses tended toward four or five per thread. However, the final discussion listed, Open your books and turn the page, drew 18 responses.

            Included below are the initial queries and a few follow up responses for each of these five threads. As you read through them, consider what kinds of discussions may be helpful for you in your teaching practice and how you might begin a discussion thread.

I. Creating Children’s Books

This discussion begins with a query for creative Spanish 4 activities, and requests suggestions for creating a children’s book in class. The question is followed by many responses for how other FL teachers have successfully done a similar class activity. A couple of the responses are included below to provide example of their helpfulness.

1) Hello,
I am looking for a creative activity for my Spanish 4.  I was thinking of having them create a children's book, either by themselves or with a partner and then we would walk down to the elementary school and read it to the children.  Our elementary school does teach Spanish.  I was wondering if anyone has done this project before?  How have you set it up?  Did you make a rubric?  I am really interested in any information you may be able to share with me.
TR, Spanish teacher

2) I have done this before with great success. First I begin by having my students read children's books in Spanish. I have many, but if you don't, your public library may. Then we talk about how they are written, how many lines are on each page, their appeal, the characters, etc.

My instructions are that they will write their own children's book. I usually ask them to tell the story as if they are telling a story that has already happened. This does not mean that there cannot be any present or future tenses. I ask them to write a minimum of twenty pages. Some students will write one line per page and others write three per page. I am okay with this. They are told to write the complete story before constructing the book. They are to write the number one on a piece of paper, and write the sentences that will go on page one. Then they continue that process until all twenty pages are written. Some have me proofread after every five pages it seems and some wait until the end. I circle wrong verb ending and glaring mistakes and lead them to figure out what is wrong. I am always sure to give positive feedback, as well. I also allow peer editing but explain that directly translating for others is not acceptable. By the time the last person has finished his/her writing, I have helped to edit all books during class time.

To illustrate, they may draw, use magazine pictures, Internet or whatever. I let them know that the major portion of their grade will be based on the Spanish. After initial complaints that this will be to difficult, the students usually take great pride in their work and produce wonderful books that elementary level or Head Start kids have really enjoyed.
Hope this helps.

3) I have done this before with great success. First I begin by having my students read children's books in Spanish. I have many, but if you don't, your public library may. Then we talk about how they are written, how many lines are on each page, their appeal, the characters, etc.

Are public library has hundreds of pounds of children's books in Spanish.  Unfortunately, most of them are mediocre translations of English books. Some of them are BAD translations of English books.  The worst one was actually a great story--if you could ignore the bad grammar.

II. E.E.U.U.: Origin of the Term?

This quick reference questions draws a number of practical and helpful responses. Included below is a response with a website describing the meaning of the term, as well as a simple response from a teacher who is already familiar with the term, E.E.U.U.

(Quick reference questions like this typically draw quick responses in the Newsgroup.)

1) Does anyone know the origin of the term, E.E.U.U.?  I was told that it is used to make a distinction from EU, or, European Union.
M in CT

2) According to

it's the Spanish abbreviation for "Estados Unidos". The double E and double
U indicate that the letter represents a plural.

3) It's EE.UU.  It is simply the normal doubling of initials because the words are plural.  It existed long before the European Union ever came into existence.

III. Proficiency vs. Fluency

Topics such as this one seldom sit without a number of intellectual responses. As there are quite a few expert linguists lurking around the FL Teach Newsgroup, questions such as this will quite often draw an insightful and informative response from someone. The response included below is an example of such insight and information, complete with website links to serve as resources for the writer’s further inquiry.

1.  What do proficiency and fluency look and sound like for 8th graders, and for level 2 students in 9th and 10th grades? 
2.  What are our proficiency and fluency benchmarks and objectives for students in grade 8 level 1 and grade 9/10 level 2?


1. While not very succinct, offers some interesting links to accuracy vs. fluency"  Fluency is how easily you communicate and accuracy is how "correct" your language is, even if you laboriously create your sentences.  Proficiency encompasses both, and proficiency guidelines can make it less subjective.
2.  What are our proficiency and fluency benchmarks and objectives for students in grade 8 level 1 and grade 9/10 level 2?

See the links I provided in the thread "What does it mean to be fluent?"  Or get the latest (print) proficiency guidelines from the ACTFL.  Reading the descriptions, decide which one describes the better 50% of your students in those classes.  Then make that or a higher level your goal.

IV. French III Readers

Newsgroup discussions also tend toward very practical needs of teachers, such as suggestions for a good French III Reader. While the question below may seem simple, the responses below exemplify the very complete and descriptive kind of response that a question about textbook use often draws in the Newsgroup.

1) I am a French teacher in New Jersey. I teach a non-honors' French III class, a mixed group of nice students. Some struggle with the grammar, but really like the language. I have been teaching for 35 years and also was a Supervisor and Department Chair of languages. I am searching for some readings in French of interest to high school students, which are not too long or difficult. I have used readers in the past, but they do not suit certain language students of today. They are too difficult for some students. Could you suggest some for me? J'apprécierais cela! Please write back!!

2) Dear PR, I love stories from "Petit Nicolas," but the vocabulary is perhaps a bit dense.  Of course, there is nothing to prevent the students from learning it anyway.  I usually make vocabulary sheets or allow the students to make their own vocabulary notes as we go along.  What text do you use?  I use the Discovering French series, and the Rouge has some good readings, one, in fact, that includes Petit Nicolas. 
You could always go on the internet and find readings that would suit teenagers.  Have you thought of finding stories from francophone countries, like Haiti or countries in Africa?  I imagine the students would enjoy those.  Excerpts from books, perhaps.....and poetry, of course!
Bon courage.

3) PR,
I also teach a non-honors French III class.  I introduced a book last year "Phantom of the Opera" it comes with questions and activities at the end of  each reading.  My students liked it and this year I am bringing them to NY city to see it on Broadway and make comparisons.  If you would like, e-mail me off list and I can get you more info.

V. Open your books and turn the page

A query such as this one frequently becomes a hot topic on the FL Teach Newsgroup. I suppose this is confirmation that if a group of foreign language teachers are in an on-line room together, they can talk about linguistics for quite a while. I have included many, though not all of the responses to this question below. Take note of the detail given to the nuances of the language, as well as the expertise within the response.

1) Bonjour and hola!
I teach both French and Spanish and I have a few questions about simple commands.
  a.  Listeurs:  How do you say "Open your books"?  Is it "Ouvrez le livre", "Ouvrez les livres", or "Ouvrez vos livres"?
  b.  Listeros:  How do you say "Turn the page"?  I don't have any clue, since using the phrase "dar una vuelta" seems absurd.
Merci beaucoup and muchas gracias!!

2) vuelvan a la página

3) ???  "Vuelvan a la página" would mean "return to page..."

4) You are right MB! Now you got me thinking...what is the verb for to turn?

5) Doblen la página is what my high school teachers always said.

6) I have also heard "voltear la página"

7) Doblar the page would get a lot of creased, folded textbook pages, if taken literally most places, I think.  So, native Spanish speakers out there, do you ever "turn" pages in
Spanish when reading a book, or do you do (say, think) something else when you change or pass from one page to another?

8) I say, and my teachers in Spain said since I was 3 to college, "Vayan a la pagina" . I agree "doblen la pagina" would get a lot of creased corners :)

9) I think the best way to say "turn the page" in Spanish is "pasar a la  siguiente página". For "Let's turn to page 34" you can say Vamos a la página 34"  or Pasemos a la página 34. These equivalents of the English phrase can be  found in any good dictionary.
In fact, a good exercise in comparative lexicon is to look up English "to  turn" in a good bilingual dictionary (I recommend the Larousse or  Harper  Collins) and see how many translations there are, since a verb such as "turn" in  English has so many meanings. 
Looking for one to one equivalents of words inevitably leads one into  error.

10) In Spanish: abran los textos y pasen a la página... If you want them to turn to the next page: denle vuelta a la página or pasen a la siguiente página or la página que sigue

11) Why would you not say, "Abran su libro a la pagina" whatever? Or, if their
book is already open, "Miren la pagina" whatever?

12) My family is from Colombia and that is what I have always heard. Dar vuelta is when you are traveling around.

13) I am a native speaker and If I wanted my students to turn to page "5" I would simply say, "Por favor de len vuelta a la pagina 5 or dar vuelta" 

14) After my post, I did a survey of my colleagues for "to turn the  page":
Puerto Rico, Argentina, Spain: pasar la página, pasar a la página #
Colombia: voltear la página

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Podcasting: The Language Lab has left the building!

The spring conference season has kept your wandering editor busy and provided much food for thought about innovations in foreign language teaching. I’ll share with you some of the exciting new ideas from presentations at the Northeast Association for Language Learning Technology (NEALLT), which was held April 8 - 9 in Philadelphia, PA. The organization can be found at:

The first thing I realized is that the iPod has the potential for taking listening and speaking practice to higher levels of student motivation and engagement. Several presenters told how their classes have undertaken projects that involve listening to and creating audio podcasts. Teachers are using podcasting and blogging to stimulate students and provide more listening and speaking opportunitites.

A discussion of the pedagogical implications of podcasting signaled that this technology is part of the shift from teacher-centered environment to a learner-centered environment for language learning. Learners are in control of the medium and therefore are invested in producing the message, which is in the form of their own experiences and opinions, delivered in the target language and shared not only with their classmates and teacher, but the rest of the world as well. Links to the presenters' notes and website are promised soon on the NEALLT site. In the meantime, I will summarize a couple of presentations and point out a few websites that support educational podcasting.

1.- Podcasts as Instructional Tools: Taking Language Tasks Beyond the Classroom.

Two teachers, J. Torres and R. Araujo, from St. Lawrence University, in Canton, NY, told about a project in their advanced Spanish Conversation class.

  • First, they listened to examples of native-language podcasts; and personal podcasts.
  • Next, they trained students in how to create podcasts, using Audacity ( a free, cross-platform sound editor) or Garage Band (on Mac) or Loudblog:, which sets up an iTunes-ready RSS feed.
  • The main aspect of the project required students to produce four 10 - 20 minute podcasts about topics that would be of interest to other students.

The course website can be seen at: where you can hear examples of the student podcasts.

2.- Promoting Oral Proficiency with

Three language instructors, J. Ruth and L. Teixeira from East Stroudsburg University and S. Villa from The New School, showed how they use Odeo in their Spanish and Portuguese classes. is a community-based podcasting service which allows everything created there to be shared via email. The presenters explained this process for using it:

  • The teacher posts a picture and some audio to accompany it. For example, a picture of four people would have the audio, "Describe estas personas." Another teacher might send students to a BBC news clip in Portuguese and ask particular questions.
  • Each student responds orally, recording and saving the audio that is sent to the teacher automatically.

The instructors say this greatly increases the amount of time students are listening and speaking in the target language.

3.- Podcasting and Foreign Language Education - Current Practices and Future Possibilities

Instructors from Pennsylvania State University (L. Agafonova, N. Isenberg, M. Lipschultz, J. S. Payne, and T. Tasker) discussed the future of podcasting as a pedagogical approach from the perspectives of students and teachers, and argue that "its potential for transforming foreign language instruction remains largely untapped." That is because our students are generally so far ahead of us as teachers in using digital technology. You may wonder if this is just another variation on the older technologies we’ve incorporated into our teaching. Among the insights the panelists shared were:

  • Podcasting IS different because it combines ease of student use of recording with ease of dissemination through the Internet and the RSS feed. (RSS is what allows users to subscribe to podcasts so they are automatically downloaded whenever a new segment is created).

  • This technology allows for a new phenomenon in language learning: "Mobile Language Immersion." As described by Thorne and Payne, using the iPod, students can create their own immersion environments while walking between classes, commuting, etc.

  • The mobile immersion environment is considered less stressful than foreign immersion or domestic immersion. What is the effect, one panelist wondered, of the mobile aspect, creating increased circulation and respiration, on the cognitive functioning of students? Will we see higher proficiency being developed by students who are listening to their target language while they're on the move?

Speaking of the iPod creating an immersion environment: this looks mighty nice.
Picture by Travis Hammond.


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Going Global with Technology
by Jill Robbins

“My students aren’t interested in learning Spanish, they just want to send messages on their cell phones and listen to their iPods…” one of my graduate students complained the other night. I suggested that she meet her students in that realm of interaction: make it possible for them to communicate in the target language in the electronic formats they’re comfortable with. We have suggestions for a couple of ways to begin:

Internet Collaborations

Summer is a good time to prepare for the coming year by thinking about inter-school projects. Here are two websites that provide extensive resources for email and other online exchanges between teachers and classes.

Intercultural E-Mail Classroom Connections

Started by a team of professors from Minnesota, IECC is a free service to help teachers at all levels to link with partners in other cultures and/or countries for email classroom pen-pal and other project exchanges. Since its creation in 1992, IECC has distributed over 28,000 requests for e-mail partnerships. Registering on the site permits you to view four different listservs and see what the latest requests are for exchanges. You can post a message there or search for a particular topic.

Global SchoolNet Foundation

Global SchoolNet was founded in 1984 by teachers who believed that in a connected world students need a global perspective, brings together youth online from 194 countries to explore community, cultural and scientific issues that prepare them for the workforce and help them to become responsible and literate global citizens. The site lists competitions for cyber exchanges that provide cash for schools and scholarships for students. The clearinghouse lists free or low cost software that teachers can use to carry out collaborative learning projects, contains a registry of projects:
and resources:


The New Oxford American Dictionary chose “podcast” as its 2005 Word of the Year and defines podcast as “a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar program, made available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player.” Check out the runners-up for new words of 2005 here:

If you become familiar with this booming development in technology, you may be better equipped to understand and use the knowledge your students already have to engage them in practicing their foreign language.

Apple’s Education website has tutorials and videos on how to use podcasting in education:

Or, you can use pocasts that have been created by others for educational purposes. For a directory, see:

Or in iTunes Music Store, choose Podcasts, then Browse, and Educational. Podcasts are available for elarners of ESL, French, Spansh, Japanese, Italian, Russian, Chinese, and German.

Even elementary school students are producing their own podcasts. Radio WillowWeb has a list of some here:

Or see a directory at:

Online video

Teachers of Generation Y can easily grab their students’ attention by developing multimedia presentations to stimulate class discussion and writing. n example of this can be found relating the current controversy over a national language. Dennis Baron, a University of Illinois professor of English and Linguistics, has created a video montage on his web page called, “José can you see? The controversy over the Spanish translation of the Star-Spangled Banner” Baron says, “The controversy over the recording of the national anthem in Spanish occurred just as my history of the English language class came to the unit on multilingualism in the USA. So I prepared some teaching materials to stimulate discussion on this topic and placed them on my website.” The video includes a clip from The Colbert Report, with an ironic view of the debate.

Hope you have a great summer playing around with some of this new technology! See you in the Fall!

Thinking Globally

The strongest motivation for foreign language learning is to understand people around the world - so it makes sense for FL teachers to teach about gloablization. Students should be aware of the relationships between their own country and other countries in order to communicate effectively in their foreign language., a project of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is an objective online resource to teach high school & college students about policy aspects of globalization related to civics, economics, geography and history, without any fees or charges. provides unbiased, easily understandable information and related lesson plans to teach about cross-disciplinary subjects such as international trade, world - wide health and environmental issues and global technological changes. The site includes 11 in-depth issue briefs, more than 70 news analyses, teachers’ resource section (with lesson plans and alignments to state standards), video interviews and a useful links section. We have just recently uploaded a Spanish-language translation of the Culture Issue Brief and a Chinese Language translation of the World Bank and IMF Issue Brief. Lesson plans to use with the World Bank Brief briefs and the IMF Briefs are offered. They appreciate any feedback on the translations and look forward to adding more translations over the coming year. Teachers can sign up to field test the lessons - download the application here. (Note - aWord document will download) If you want to learn more or sign up for their newsletter, e-mail

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