Just as foreign language teachers have to come to terms with the proficiency movement, student-centered teaching models, performance based instruction, and national standards, modern teachers are caught in the web of technological advances that nowadays influence teaching and learning a foreign language. Both teachers and students are supposed to learn how to use new technologies and applications. The teachers are to learn in order to redesign their curricula, to apply technology in ways that meet their instructional goals and the needs of their students, and to assume new roles as tutor, manager, and assessor. The students are to learn in order to be able to work with the teacher and the class when learning a language more effectively.
There can come big challenges ahead for teachers, whether they are teaching foreign languages and cultures or whether they are in the field of teaching prospective teachers. Those professors who are teacher educators are in the middle of the fray. They must prepare future teachers for teaching in the classrooms that will definitely include technology, and in order to do this, they must also prepare themselves to use technology. This restricts to the technological aspects of teacher preparation, and this does not address the enormous institutional challenges that teacher education programs have to undergo if they want to integrate technology into their curricula rather than to add it on as an isolated curricular component [1, p. 25].
Current technological advances have become the impetus for a huge number of reform efforts for education system. Two main questions seem to frame the discussions about these educational changes. There are a lot of questions determine the teaching content across the various disciplines. The first question is What technological skills will workers need in an information-based society? The second question is Can current technologies improve the way we learn and teach? This question explores technology as an instructional tool. This function of technology as instructional content and as instructional tool provides the underlying definition for the discussion in the section of what technological fluency or technological literacy actually means in the context of foreign language education and, consequently, for foreign language teacher preparation. Modern definition of technological fluency evolved from the intersection created by the technological pull that is, advances in what technology can do, and how it is used in the world outside the classroom as well as the pedagogical push that is, changing views of learning reflected in the educational standards and assessments that drive instruction.
There is a strong need for change in education due to the driving force of information technology “generating the great transformation of economic, political, and social life in recent years. Information has become central to every domain of human life and pervasive in every venue of human existence. Human beings have always had the task of obtaining, integrating, and using information as a basis for their thoughts and actions, but at no point in human history has day-to-day life for the preponderance of the population put them in such proximity with informational resources of the culture” [2, p. 198].
What exactly are these new “skills” that are required of students in order to learn, work, and flourish in the digital age? There have been identified a core of basic skills, thinking skills, and personal qualities, as well as five competencies that are the “hallmarks of today’s expert worker:”
- identify, organize, plan, and allocate resources;
- work with others;
- acquire and use information;
- understand complex interrelationships;
- work with a variety of technologies. The need for new “global communica-
tion skills” combined with the use of newer technologies not only strengthens the arguments for foreign language learning but also challenges traditional views of foreign language teaching and learning. For example, Brecht and Walton [3, p. 59] argue that teaching “global communication management” strategies, in particular cross-cultural skills and self-managed learning, must play a greater role in preparing students for the future, and that, therefore, colleges and universities should be structured around two basic premises.
First and most commonly accepted, learning is lifelong; and so the instructional task of the formal educational system is to provide the students not only with a basic set of facts and skills, but also to enable students to manage new and developing knowledge throughout their lives. Second and less well understood, more and more knowledge is generated, stored, transmitted, and applied across cultural lines. Accordingly, success in any aspect of ‘knowledge management’ requires an understanding of sociological and cultural basis of knowledge as well as the skills to manage communications across cultural lines.
The changing job profiles for an information-based society bring about a number of challenges for the educational system charged with preparing students adequately for these new roles. How can foreign language teachers equip students with skills and cultural knowledge bases required in an information-based society? How can technology itself help to facilitate the learning and teaching process? And how can colleges and universities prepare foreign language teachers for effective technology integration into their curriculum and classroom activities so that they in turn can guide their students? In an effort to find answers to these complex and intricate questions, many foreign language experts, such as Nina Garrett [3, p. 54], call for more fundamental research and stronger research paradigms in the area of language learning and processing.
Garrett states, “The most important requirement is that teachers and students alike should have a clear and purposeful idea of how each use of technology is expected to contribute to language learning, and that, of course, begins with a clear notion of how language learning happens.”
Indeed, we need to collect research data on a large scale and over a substantial period of time in order to investigate the effectiveness of computer-based technologies used to learn specific linguistic and cultural skills in specific learning environments, and even technology itself may be a valuable tool to collect and analyze research data. In addition, more research data (as well as closer collaboration between schools, colleges, and governmental institutions) are needed to clearly identify the challenges teachers and teacher educators may still be facing today when trying to integrate technologies into foreign language curricula and classrooms [4, p. 259]. However, all of these questions about the effectiveness of various technologies in foreign language learning cannot be answered if we do not explore the potentials of the newer technologies by actually using them in the classroom.
Given the obvious benefits of current technologies, for example, access to an abundance of authentic multimedia resources via the Internet and the motivational influence they have on students, it is not surprising that more and more foreign language teachers use computer-based classroom activities.
What then are the advantages and disadvantages of using new technologies in the language classroom? One question often asked by administrators is whether or not technologies truly "work," that is, if they promote language learning and do so in a cost-effective way. These types of questions motivated much research in the 1970s comparing use of computers to non-use of computers.
This type of research ignored two important factors. First of all, the computer is a machine, not a method. The world of online communication is a vast new medium, comparable in some ways to books, print, or libraries. To our knowledge, no one has ever attempted to conduct research on whether the book or the library is beneficial for language learning. Seeking similar sweeping conclusions on the effects of the computer or the Internet is equally futile.
Secondly, and even more importantly, new communications technologies are part of the broader ecology of life at the turn of the century. Much of our reading, writing, and communicating is migrating from other environments (print, telephone, etc.) to the screen. In such a context, we can no longer think only about how we use technologies to teach language. We also must think about what types of language students need to learn in order to communicate effectively via computer. Whereas a generation ago, we taught foreign language students to write essays and read magazine articles, we now must (also) teach them to write e-mail messages and conduct research on the Web. This realization has sparked an approach which emphasizes the importance of new information technologies as a legitimate medium of communication in their own right rather than simply as teaching tools.
The advantages of using new technologies in the language classroom can only be interpreted in light of the changing goals of language education and the changing conditions in postindustrial society. Language educators now seek not only (or even principally) to teach students the rules of grammar, but rather to help them gain apprenticeship into new discourse communities. This is accomplished through creating opportunities for authentic and meaningful interaction both within and outside the classroom, and providing students the tools for their own social, cultural, and linguistic exploration. The computer is a powerful tool for this process as it allows students access to online environments of international communication. By using new technologies in the language classroom, we can better prepare students for the kinds of international cross-cultural interactions which are increasingly required for success in academic, vocational, or personal life.
There are several different approaches for using the Internet to facilitate interaction within and across discourse communities. One way is to use online activities to foster increased opportunities for interaction within a single class. This takes place both through computer-assisted classroom discussion and through outside-of-class discussion.
Computer-assisted classroom discussion makes use of synchronous ("real-time") writing programs. The class meets in a networked computer lab, and students communicate through writing rather than through talking. Students type in their messages and hit a key to instantly send the message to the rest of the class. All the messages are listed chronologically on the top half of the screen and can be easily scrolled through and re-read. The entire session can later be saved and passed on to students, either in electronic form or hard copy.
Outside-of-class discussion is usually carried out using asynchronous tools, such as e-mail or conferencing systems. Special lists can be set up so that students' messages get automatically forwarded to either a small group or the whole class.
Electronic communication within a single class might be viewed as an artificial substitute for face-to-face communication. However, it has been found to have a number of beneficial features which make it a good tool for language learning. First, computer-assisted discussion tends to feature more equal participation than face-to-face discussion; teachers or a few outspoken students are less likely to dominate the floor, resulting in class discussions which are more fully collaborative [5, p. 249]. Second, computer-assisted discussion allows students to better notice the input from others' messages and incorporate that input into their own messages, thus expanding opportunities for learning of new linguistic chunks [1, p. 248]. Third, computer-assisted discussion, which takes place in writing and allows more planning time than does face-toface talk, features language which is lexically and syntactically more complex than oral talk [6, p. 54]. Finally, since computer based discussion can take place outside of the classroom, it provides students increased opportunities to communicate in the target language. For all these reasons, language teachers (especially but not exclusively in courses which feature writing) have found single-class computer-mediated communication projects to be beneficial.
Speaking about multimedia that is a part of new technology we must say that multimedia features found in e-learning environments incorporate new ways to learn, including: videos, audio, interactive grammar correction tools, automation, chat boards, telephone, instant messaging, webcams, and much more. Teachers are finding that this technology is helping students learn and stay connected. Plus, multimedia can increase students’ retention rates and correct mistakes before they turn into bad and embarrassing habits.
It is no surprise that watching movies and TV shows in a language students are learning is a great way to get the authentic listening practice they need to improve their proficiency.
Few people pick up new foreign language lessons on the first attempt; thus, repetition will help students truly master another language. However, traditional class environments don’t necessarily offer you the chance to repeat lessons on the spot without disrupting the teacher and the lesson. On the contrary, new technology can help to do this. Not to mention, technology also engages students throughout the learning process. Additionally, e-learning allows students to learn at their own pace, while providing a comfortable and safe environment, as well as a solid and comprehensive education.
Computer technology is not a panacea for language teaching; using it demands substantial commitments of time and money and brings no guaranteed results.
Yet, when appropriately implemented, new technologies provide the means to help reshape both the content and processes of language education. As seen from the above three case studies, appropriate use of new technologies allows for a more thorough integration of language, content, and culture than ever before and provides students with unprecedented opportunities for autonomous learning. Computer technologies not only help teachers and students to transcend linguistic, geographical, and time barriers but also to build bridges between bilingual, ESL, and foreign language programs. The use of new technologies allows students to engage in the types of online communication and research which will be paramount for success in their academic and professional pursuits.
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