People always look at me cross-eyed right after I tell them that I teach Spanish online. If I had a nickel for every time a person raised their eyebrows at me to say that they were very sorry, but language just couldn't possibly be taught online because students have to have that face to face. While I agree that on site classes can be wonderful and I recommend them to everyone, learning a language online can also be very rewarding and in some cases, better. It is better when technology gives my online students more access to their classmates' speaking and writing and connects them to each other outside of the classroom.
The nay-sayers (many of whom are language teachers) have as their biggest hurdles creativity and an openness to innovation. Here in Salamanca where I have had to go without many typical teacher resources such as a printer and a copy machine, I'm having so much fun pushing myself to dream up ways to adapt to this new environment. What adapting to this environment and the online environment have in common is that both have given me amazing ideas on how to improve my on site classes at MiraCosta.
Students in my online classes used ning to submit their bi-weekly writing assignments as blogs. Everyone could read and comment on their classmates' blogs. I would offer suggestions on how they could improve their writing (under the blog for all to see) and they could go in and edit and improve. Students could easily use ning to submit drafts. By the end of the semester, they each had their own page with an e-portfolio of their best writing which informed all of their tests, their speaking assessments and their final written and oral exams. Students could add photos, videos and music from the Spanish speaking world so the site served another fun purpose and their blogs came to life. This semester I'm using ning because at the end of the semester the students in one of my classes are supposed to submit a scrapbook with pictures documenting their experiences with Spanish life and culture. Most of the students have cameras, but were worried about printing, developing, etc... The solution: NING! They are uploading pictures and blogging about their experiences on a weekly basis. Since each student has their own page, their e-scrapbook is taking shape, they are commenting on other students' pages and sharing photos and video of each other. One of the students had set up a Facebook page for our study abroad program, but some of the students expressed frustration that because it was on facebook, it wasn't only for our program and it got lost in the mix of updates from friends and family.
I use Elluminate for office hours, ice-breaker activities, student conversation meet-ups, to meet up with students to explain difficult concepts (recorded and archived for those who miss it live) and for oral exams (they have to have a camera to show me their id). Elluminate has made it possible for students across the US and as far as Japan to take Spanish online and still feel connected to me and their classmates.
Blogger: I set up a blog on blogger for Mateo, my 10 year old, to document his experiences here in Spain because he is supposed to be journaling twice a week for his school in the states. His teacher can grade it and send comments via email while his classmates can keep up with his life. We also skype with his class once a week to share maps, pictures of Spain and experiences (Skype has desktop sharing capability). I too have a blog, but personally prefer to contribute to a community blog like this one. On my own, it feels a bit lonely and I wonder if anyone is reading it or cares. I don't feel that common purpose like I do here, but that's probably just my own idiosyncrasy.
I also have a twitter account, but I forget to go to it and see what's going on. When I do, I get information overload. I think I made good choices about whom to follow, so the posts are very interesting, but I feel overwhelmed trying to keep up. I considered using it for my Spanish classes to post reminders or a weekly question in Spanish, but decided against it since it is something that students would likely be using on their mobile devices and therefore, would not have easy access to accents and tildes.