Monday, March 5, 2012

Example of Student Experience with Language Learning Social Media Sites

by Ann Abbott

On this blog I mostly talk about my work at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign running the Spanish community service learning program and teaching "Spanish in the Community," social entrepreneurship and business Spanish. 

But another part of my job includes coordinating some of the advanced Spanish language courses, including our conversation and composition courses. So I oversee about 14 sections and sometimes up to ten TAs/Instructors. The most time consuming part of the job is updating, every semester, the syllabus, course calendar and all the elements within the course management system. It's a lot. And on top of this, all the requests to do an honors project from the James Scholar students come to me. I'd say I average about 15 of those per semester. (You can see my wiki here if you're interested in how I came up with a system that allowed students to have a good learning experience yet keep me sane in the process.)

One of the possible honors projects is for students to use a variety of language-learning social media sites, log their experiences and then write an analysis of their experiences. For starters, it is a system that allows students to work independently--necessary when there are around 15 students doing projects! But more importantly, really, are the following qualities of the project:

  1. It involves students in the global community of Spanish speakers and language learners; in other words, it's a way to engage students in the 5th C "Communities" in a way that I feel complements the work I do with community service learning.
  2. It gives them the tools to engage with Spanish and language learning in a way that is not academic, grade-focused or teacher-mandated. My hope is that these students will get hooked on the experience and continue using it even when it's not an assignment. (I don't have any data to say whether they do or not. That would be a good research project.)
  3. They learn about culture in a unique way--especially when they use the chat function of most of these sites to interact with people from Hispanic cultures.

There are drawbacks, too, of course. Students are frustrated by the need to pay for premium services, for example. Some students, I have noticed, seem scared to interact with people via chat, perhaps because of safety fears.

So when I saw this student's update (below) come to my e-mail the other day, I was really impressed by his level of engagement and the way his worklog showcases the possibilities that exist for our students to learn languages in these social media sites. In this particular case, he writes about his experiences using LiveMocha. 

What is your impression of his learning experience? Which of the 5 Cs do you see playing out here? What is he gaining in this learning experience that we could/couldn't offer in a traditional classroom? Does this experience in any way compare with a CSL experience? I'd love to read your comments!

"Livemocha: This week, I was planning to continue with my speaking exercises, but when I logged in I realized I didn't have enough tokens to pay for it! Each lesson costs a certain amount of tokens, which you can either buy with money or earn by reviewing the submissions of other users. I'm pretty low on cash so I decided to do some more reviews. Last week I reviewed some audio submissions, so this week I looked through some of the other users' writings. It was interesting to see the common mistakes that people made, and I was able to understand why they would make those mistakes when learning English as a native Spanish speaker. For example, someone wrote "He can fix my car, but he doesn't want." It should be "want to," but in Spanish it would just be "no lo quiere." It seems to me that the rules of Spanish are much more intuitive and straightforward than those of English; I'm glad I don't have to learn English as a second language. Once I earned some tokens I completed a few more activities, then explored some of the culture page and spent some time on chat. I spoke to one girl from Ecuador, and I told her about how I'm considering studying abroad in Ecuador and the Galápagos islands, but I can´t convince my parents to let me go because they think South America is too dangerous. She told me how the area I would go to is very safe and that my parents have nothing to worry about. However, I´m not sure that her word will be enough to convince my parents."

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