iPods in the Italian class…again :)

In the fall semester, I introduced the iPod Touch in my senior level Italian courses. Our majors and minors were excited about the idea of the iPod Touch but their excitement was far surpassed this semester, when I introduced the iPod to intermediate level students. These students, few of whom will declare Italian as a major or minor, were thrilled beyond words. I remember the looks on their face when we started distributing them last Thursday. I hadn’t provided them with the syllabus yet so they did not know that some of the usual language learning objectives were going to be reached via mlearning.

I walked into Monday’s class with time to spare and all the students present were using their iPod. Were they doing anything class related (i.e., in Italian)? Only 2 of them. The others were just using them, making it a part of their daily routine. Will this help them become better Italian students? I hope it will be giving them immediate access to information (see this interesting article on learning & technology in eLearn Magazine) in the target language and give them access to it whenever they seek it rather than waiting to get this information from me in class those 150 minutes a week.

I will share via Twitter some milestones and would like to blog more about it…however, for different reasons, I can’t make any promises as to the frequency of these updates. For the time being, remember Marshal McLuhan‘s famous expressions: “global villages” and “the medium is the message”.

Annunci

Twitter and Teachers and Bloomfield College (NJ)

Months ago, I was invited to lead a workshop on Twitter at Bloomfield College. I am very grateful to Yifeng Bei who organized this faculty technology workshop because I feel that I was finally granted a hiatus from administrative responsibilities (which have totally consumed me the first half of the academic year semester) and bring me back to talking about my research interests and sharing it with like-minded people for discussion, feedback and more.

It was a fun experiment for many and as only few were already tweeting, we tried to get everyone to send out a couple of tweets to determine if they were comfortable with the interface and sending an update. This was the end result.

I posted the presentation on SlideShare but because there are a number of links, I decided to write this brief post to for the links, which can’t be clicked on Slideshare.

Twitter Bird & Books image

Tweet is the Word of 2009

Building your PLN

RETWEET image (article by S. Cole)

Twitter and Academia (AcademHack)

25 Interesting ways to use Twitter in the Classroom

How We Skyped in the FL Classroom

Time to share what a wonderful experience this semester’s e-twinning project with Seth Dickens at Martino Martini has been, and in particular the final culminating technological project, the Skype calls.

Over the semester, as mentioned in a previous post, Seth and I introduced our students to Twitter to give them an opportunity to interact and engage in conversations related to topics covered in our courses this semester. Initial tweets were very encouraging and many students exchanged opinions and perceptions about a range of themes from passions to politics (in Italy aren’t they one in the same? 😉 ) and some usual daily chatter.

Seth and I arranged to conclude the project with a video conference followed by one-to-one Skype sessions for our students…how could we not provide them an opportunity to “see” one another after months of tweeting? Seth’s excellent post is a thorough and well thought out overview of the organization and what went well and not so well for us. I whole-heartedly agree with his take on technology and overzealous teachers giving too much to focus on for the task and not enough time to feel free to chat in the L2. 😉

The group hug

Affectionately termed this by AJ Kelton, MSU’s Director of Emerging Instructional Technology, this opening activity gave us an opportunity to not only see the others but also  visualize their lab and get a sense of how they work (technologically speaking). Seth, having everyone group around in front of the webcam was a great idea (my students were already seated in front of their computers so it was hard to take see them all at once).

During the group hug, the large image projected on the SmartBoard was not very clear so beyond the sound issue Seth mentioned, sometimes details were lost…ah, if only we had the best of everything 😉

From a presentation perspective, I think I should have requested my students prepare some relevant information…funny how when you ask people to say something, they become quickly aware that they are in the “spotlight” and then freeze & we need an ice-breaker. Maybe next time, we could have them prepare five bits of relevant and interesting information (name, Skype name, years at MSU, specialization, and…I don’t know, the best thing they ever ate!)

By the way, I have a really unsteady hand and I was holding the webcam, trying to make sure I included all students…what I also included was the ceiling, the main computer at the front of the lab, AJ’s webcam for the Ustream, etc. Next time, we’ll have to place it somewhere so I don’t mess that part up  😦

skype

The one-on-one chats

When I was at Calico in March, I attended @judifranz’s session and adapted her idea/process for Skype chats. The break out into personal chats was something of which I would not have immediately thought so I am very grateful to her for this idea.
I thought this went extremely well for our students. Many students were very engaged in their conversation and I think at this point the nervous excitement just turned to excitement. They chatted for more time than planned or anticipated, which for me was a great treat. Also, their ability to chat and share websites and friend each other on other social network sites was truly awesome. I remember walking around the room with my Flip recorder and thinking to myself that they, most of them being digital natives, have once again impressed with what they can do with technology, esp. if it serves an immediate need (as they did on Twitter in SP08, on Pageflakes in FA09 and now on Skype in SP09).

Only two disappointments from my students’ perspective: 1) some issues with sound on our end made voice chatting impossible so they were required to text chat; and 2) not being able to use video. Unfortunately, due to a shortage of webcams at Martino Martini, my students could not see them. Some of my students, however, did allow for video and they were “seen” during the one-on-one sessions too.

The end of the semester…the beginning of a continued e-learning relationship

As many of you already know, I was tenured in November, so now I can turn my attention to working and researching not according to mandates dictated by some archaic notions of what is expected by university professors (remember publish or perish?) but rather more in line with 21st century learners, personal learning networks/personal web, and the role of technology in foreign language education.

Collaborating, organizing and achieving what Seth and I have with this e-twinning project would have been considered quite insignificant on my tenure application, but is really quite significant in terms of learning and creating connections where none have existed in the past. So I hope Seth and I will continue with this in the fall (so many more exciting projects to develop) and maybe the spring too (what do you think Seth?) 🙂

P.S. A special thanks to Michael and Robyn for their endless assistance before and during the Skype event. I am so lucky to work with such wonderful, gifted and just darn nice people (esp the techie ones!). Grazie infinite *big hug* 🙂

I’m still here

Finding it difficult to juggle end of term and many other “ends” right now so I haven’t blogged in about a month! 😦

I will be blogging soon because Seth Dickens and I have a virtual meet-up planned for our students on Thursday morning. Looking so forward to it because after a good number of weeks of tweeting, our students will have a great opportunity to chat via Skype.

Will provide more details very soon 🙂

Calico ’09 musings

I was fortunate enough to have a paper accepted at the 26th annual conference of Calico ’09,  my first Calico conference ever. It was an experience that surpassed any and all expectations (how often can we say that?!). Different aspects of the conference that made it so memorable include the venue, the presentations, the participants and the discussions that happened online and off.

Arizona State University is a large, modern campus abounding with art, architecture and green space. The fact that the talks were mainly in the lower level of Coor Hall (a glass ice cube with etched text fragments and letterforms) could easily be forgiven, given they were fully equipped to meet all our tech needs.

The presentations I attended were, for the most part, very interesting and engaging. There were 6 concurrent sessions, which made selecting a session quite difficult. Thankfully, there will be podcasts and presentations available on the site (organized by @msiskin) so anything I missed I can listen to at a later date. Getting a glimpse of the gamut of investigations conducted in technology (more specifically, Web 2.0 applications) and foreign/second language learning, was very inspiring. The range of research is incredible…but as @glordward mentioned in her session, we are such preliminary stages of research, focusing much of our research agenda on students’ evaluation of the implementation of various tech tools. Hopefully, in the very near future we will begin to see investigations that demonstrate concrete evidence in terms of benefits to language learning in terms of increased proficiency.

My presentation, 4:30 on the Friday afternoon, went well. I had a smaller turnout (read below to find relativity in this statement) but was well-tweeted on the back-channel thanks to @judifranz, @glordward and @eRomanMe. It was the Pageflakes project, about which I have previously posted, on which I collaborated with @kahnp and @hellermd98. Another little bonus was the idea of Twitter Crowd Status as a widget, thanks to the ingeniuty @sethdickens, which the audience seemed to like.

The participants in the various sessions I attended were equally as engaging as the presenters themselves. I met a number of intelligent, interesting and committed scholars and researchers who provided feedback and were involved in each session. Being able to connect with these people, network with them was rewarding. Even more rewarding would be future collaborations and/or discussions.

From this, I must highlight two different things that occurred during the conference that impacted me the most, both related to Twitter.

The Twitter back-channel
This is the first conference that I attended that had as much of an online discussion via Twitter as it did in the actual presentations. The dynamic presenters were so engaging that they created discussions both in the session and on twitter. Many people in our respective communities joined in on points raised during the presentations as we tweeted them. Read, for example, @eslchill’s post about his presentation being retweeted (i.e., shared with a different twitter following by a member of @eslchill’s community) by someone who wasn’t at the conference. It is a great success when you find approximately 22 pages in a search for the #calico09 hashtag. (Btw, the other hashtag used was #calico2009)

This was a great experience for me, the avid twitter aficionada, to participate actively with so many other great twitter conference goers. Additionally, I had received a DM re a position opening, and that given my interests, as indicated by my tweets at the conference, I might be interested in pursuing. LOL! If only this had happened pre-tenure, maybe I would have considered it 😉

An impromptu presentation on Twitter
My first day at the conference (the first day of sessions) brought about another personal success. There was a presentation to be given, entitled “24/7 Twitter” at 11:00 a.m. The classroom was full—standing room only (about 50+ people; great news for Twitterati). However, the presenter was a no-show. After a few moments, the chair of the session asked if there was anyone who wanted to say something about Twitter. The phenomenal Claire Siskin (@cbsiskin) spoke briefly to what an effective tool Twitter is and then I, in a moment of self-indulgence, commented that the 4th chapter of the monograph, which was given at registration, was based on my initial investigation on Twitter in the intermediate Italian class.

One thing led to another, then I heard myself saying: “Well, if you would like, I could give the presentation. I have my flash drive with me.” Yes, what a über geeky thing to say! The audience was very indulgent and I gave my impromptu talk about my work with Twitter and language learning. I must admit, this was one of my most rewarding, professional experiences.

Calico ’09 was an amazing conference and I look forward to the next year’s conference in Boston. From the conference program, I created this wordle to give you an idea as to the top 200 terms. Enjoy 🙂

wordle

E-Twinning: NJ & Trento

Why we learn foreign languages…to understand better the world in which we are living thus, in turn, understand ourselves and our homeland better. Except, with globalization people think barriers are being removed and everyone should just be able to speak English, since it is considered a global language.

But that is not globalization. Cultural globalization does not aim for homogeny, it rather foresees a growth of cross-cultural contacts, something that is dear to me as a language professor. Understandably, teaching foreign languages occurs in a rather artificial environment (the classroom) since the professor is the only contact with the target language that a student has.  With technological tools, this is no longer the case. Culture and language can be explored via different tools to bring the reality of the target language to life in and out of the classroom. In previous posts, I have discussed my personal exploitation of technology in the classroom, and, yes, I have explored Twitter ad infinitum.

And it is to Twitter that I return for this post too. Except now I am not alone. Just before the Christmas holidays, I chatted with @sethdickens (whom I know solely from following him on Twitter) and I proposed creating a community on Twitter for both his students and mine. This e-twinning proposal excited us both and we decided to use Twitter for 1) my grammar and composition course in Italian and 2) my Contemporary Italian Cultural Studies in English. Seth was agreeable and introduced his Italian high school seniors from his philosophy and history course to both of my classes.

We are in our third week on Twitter. Seth has prepared for everyone in our community a wiki to introduce and provide details for this project. Just amazing.
So far, I have been rather laidback giving students an opportunity to explore Twitter (again, for the majority of students, Twitter was a new social networking tool) and get comfortable with the text limitations, language use and course requirement (3 general tweets a week, 1 reply tweet to another community member). As past experience has shown me, some students tweet away while others wonder why they should tweet.

Some exciting conversations have taken place, but with either myself  or Seth at the helm of the discussion. The prompts that we provide have led our respective students to engage with us in the target language and Seth’s students have engaged with me and vice-versa. Just the other day, there was some good exchanges between our students, which pleased us to no end. To many of you reading this, you’re probably thinking that “it really ain’t much” but the truth is, yes it is. For students to feel comfortable enough to engage in the foreign language to discuss and assist other language learners is a great accomplishment. Knowledge, linguistic and cultural, is being constructed by the learners, and the scaffolding of new skills and concepts is evident.

Read for yourself:
In the culture course, the talk of some current events in Italy led to students contributing to the talk and wanting to learn more from one another.
culture
In the grammar course, learning new vocabulary was the impetus of the exchange.
profeac

In both exchanges, I would hope that students did, even momentarily, recognize the value of Twitter, both in synchronous exchanges (the second example) and asynchronous (given the time difference with Italy).

I am really thrilled to have found such an engaged and knowledgeable collaborator (read his blog to learn how talented his is) and I know this e-twinning project this semester will continue to surprise and excite me.

Arriverderci AP Italian?

Just 4 years into it…and now this!

In the fall, I had published an article on Italian teacher training in Foreign Language Annals (the journal for the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages). Shortly before its publication, the editor had asked me to comment on the then recent decision of the College Board to no longer support the financial costs of administering the Italian Advanced placement exam. Here is my comment:

Worth noting are the results of the inaugural year of the Advanced Placement Italian Language and Cultural Exam, particularly with respect to New Jersey. Villa Walsh Academy in Morristown was recognized as an Exemplary AP Italian Language and Culture Program for small-size schools that “lead the nation in helping the widest segment of their total school population receive an exam grade of 3 or higher . . .” (The College Board, 2007, p. 52).

Notwithstanding the national results for the inaugural year, the College Board has announced the imperiled position of the AP Italian exam. Practitioners, politicians and ambassadors, and community supporters alike have mobilized in support of the exam (as evidenced by messages from the president of the American Association for Teachers of Italian, various letters of support, a recent meeting of the Ambassador of Italy to the United States with the College Board, etc.). It is the hope of this author that the ongoing negotiations with the College Board will soon yield positive results for the future of the AP Italian exam.

Here we are, just months later, the AP exam has been discontinued, with this ray of hope from the College Board:

[w]hile AP Italian will not be offered in 2009-10, if at some future date the funding partnerships needed to support an AP Italian program arise, the Board of Trustees will consider renewing work to develop and offer the AP Italian course and exam.

Between the two announcements, the Italian community came together and worked very hard to try to raise the $1.5 million (originally $4.5 but reduced in negotiations) required. This community raised a good chunk of the money, but everything was contingent upon the Italian government’s contribution of more monies. Unfortunately, the Italian government did not come through.

In an email sent today to the AATI, the president of the teacher’s association made the following comment:

By not having an AP in Italian, the Italian language acquires in certain quarters of society a de facto second-class status.

My personal take on this situation

I first read about the College Board decision on Jan. 8 in an article in the NY Times. Once the initial shock wore off, I did two things: tweeted it and then wrote an email to the president of the AATI. In his reply to me, he referred me to two other news articles: The Washington Post and the LA Times.

Having read the latter article, I was a tad annoyed that the presentation of stats compared Italian AP examinees and Italian high school programs nationally and in the state of California to Spanish. Uh, hello?! Did the journalist not reflect on the status of foreign languages in the US and realize that Spanish is not just another foreign language but rather a language of the US (since it does not have an official language)? I also emailed him and tried to explain to him that his presentation of the statistics was not an equitable comparison for Italian. I used the adage “comparing apples and oranges” and that Italian has always been and should be compared to French and German, the other foreign languages that maintain a foreign language status in the US, unlike Spanish, which is a second language for all intents and purposes. Well, his reply to my request for a follow-up paragraph accurately representing the reality of the Italian AP exam within the context of foreign languages was rather dismissive. So I will, for the sake of making some noise, post it here. In 2008:

  • Italian AP had 1,529 examinees and increased by 18% since 2007.
  • French language AP had 20,675 and German 5,259.
  • Both, however, experienced a decrease since 2007 (-5% and -3% respectively).

Yes, economically speaking, the exam is not financially feasible…but we are growing, not at the initial projected rate, but let’s face it, we aren’t Spanish!

What options are available?

First and foremost, the idea of taking the test via computer vs. pencil and paper. Terminally Incoherent’s blog post about electronic test taking gives some examples as to benefits and pitfalls of these types of tests. Financial justification by the College Board cannot be the only reason to go this route.

Next, find more money. We are in the midst of the worst recession since pre-WWII across the globe. Can we really be expected to find more money? Unfortunately, Italian has been considered the “stepchild” of modern foreign languages, given the limited number of speakers of it world wide (according to Wikipedia, Italian ranks 20th in terms of native speakers, and it is an official language in: Italy; Vatican City and San Marino, both geographically located within Italy; Switzerland; Croatia; Slovenia). So to whom can we turn for financial rescue? Obviously, Berlusconi’s government is unable to fulfill previous promises given Italy’s economic turmoil. Italian Americans? Many of them who have already generously promised monies must be applauded. They recognize the value of maintaining language in tandem with culture (funny how many people label themselves Italian American but cannot speak the language and for the most part, don’t encourage their children, grandchildren to study the language/cultural formally).

Another possible strategy? Find ways to lower the cost of grading the exam. I have never been involved in grading it (but I have been invited to be a reader this summer), but I can appreciate the entire grading process. Language learning isn’t just right/wrong answers, it is negotiation of meaning, free writing, persuasion, narration. There is also an oral component that needs to be evaluated. Finally, the 0-4 grading scheme is revisited every year in light of the test-takers.

What else can be done? I’m not sure.

I hope that we can reinstate the AP exam in the future.

Similies & smiles

Happy 2009!

Before I get back to the grind, I had to catch up on some e-reading…tweets, blogs, news. It seems that some people never really take a break from their social networks, and for that I am grateful. Much reading, as you can imagine, also occurred as it was written, in real time, so to speak. So for those who also spent time away and played catch up like me, their return was also appreciated.

In particular, I would like to thank @ophelia for these precious gems this morning. Being I love food as much as I love social networks (able to resist overindulgence but also known to binge time and time again), I had to compile them for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

opheliatwit
opheliaa1ophelia1
ophelia2ophelia4

Pageflakes as a LMS

I had the opportunity over the last semester to use Pageflakes as a learning management system for my intermediate Italian course. The basis of this undertaking was the following, as prepared by @kahnp:

This study proposes a project to significantly enhance student success in a college intermediate Italian course by using new technologies and multimedia that will promote different ways of learning “ many of which are not traditionally part of the University classroom” and also support a range of learning styles. For instance, the inclusion of: a) images, charts, maps, videos, and animations to benefit visual learners; b) audio files, especially if these are linked to accompanying text files, to which auditory learners respond; and c) controls that allow students to regulate the way in which they interact with course materials for kinesthetic learners. (Richards, 2003).

Specifically, this presentation will show how Pageflakes was used instead of Bb as the chosen LMS in an Italian course. This customized webpage was used to deliver content in a variety of formats as well as provide the learning environment that promotes social constructivism that is suitable for today’s learner. For example, much of the content will be supported by news feeds using an RSS reader. In addition, students will participate in a variety of group activities as well as interactive exercises that utilize Pageflakes group sharing capabilities, audio and video podcasts, and Twitter, a hybrid micro-blogging and instant messaging system.

From this proposal we went on to conduct a pilot study to assess how content delivery would differ and if this difference does in fact compliment certain learning styles. I appreciate how we all think so, but there needs to be some measurable data to support our claim.

I can share some preliminary materials with you, but not everything for a number of reasons. First, I have one more presentation to give on my Pageflakes and Blackboard project at CALICO in Arizona (March) and I hope to be co-presenting with @sharongs at IIALT in Georgia (May). Second, I have so much data to analyze, I would be falsely presenting my findings if I provide you with perception of how the semester went with both groups.

What I can share with you is what I thought. In terms of preparing the material to share and assign to students, these is a very basic comparison of functional challenges we (@iVenus, @hellermd98 and @kahnp) found:
pf-bbcomp

In terms of the aesthetic layout, compare these for yourself. Which do you prefer? I definitely know what I think is more holistically organized and more appealing.

pf2Pageflakes – project outlinebbBlackboard – project outline

Tell me what you think. I’m very interested if you have any experiences you’d like to share.