Web 2.0 Tools, Security, and Online exchanges for language learning

Most secondary schools have chosen and purchased a range of Web 2.0 tools that offer their staff and students many choices according to their teaching and learning needs.  When using these cloud-based tools, students and staff are protected by sign on and security systems.  These are necessary given a school’s duty of care.  However, this duty of care can run counter to the sharing features of web 2.0 tools.

One of the most exciting elements of web 2.0 for foreign language learners is the way they link learners with each other and with native speakers around the world for the purpose of asynchronous and synchronous communication.  This could be with old technologies that are still highly effective like email, or with newer technologies like Google Drive and MS OneDrive.

However, to reach outside the school’s safety systems and sign on protocols to use the newer web 2.0 tools doesn’t always work.  For example, some schools prevent access to Facebook and Youtube as they are seen as unsafe and a distraction to learning; and to coordinate several classrooms in more than one school is a nightmare.

Responses to this dilemma have been interesting.  One response has been the creation by companies of teachers of education-safe lookalikes that invite parent involvement, such as Edmodo, the Facebook lookalike.  Another response has been the addition by the web 2.0 companies themselves of dedicated education features, such as Youtube’s education channel and Google’s Classroom.  In both instances, teachers and students may have to go outside their school’s security systems to use them.

Over the past fifteen years, I have used several web 2.0 tools to facilitate genuine social interaction between language learners and with native speakers.  I remember in the late 1990s using the Hilites research project to facilitate a one-to-one email exchange between my Year 11 French class and a parallel class of learners in the United States. Then in the early 2000s I used The Internet Classroom Assistant (Nicenet) to teach my homeschool cooperative students on the four out of five days a week when I didn’t see them face-to-face.  They were able to access resources, post homework questions, email each other and me, and most importantly for me, use their new language learning in asynchronous threaded discussions using slo-mo text-talk.  In the past five years my students and I have enjoyed using Edmodo to communicate with native speakers in France, first with a bilingual French-Basque school in Bayonne, and then with one in Chauny, near the Somme, as part of our WW1 Commemoration project.  Some of the friendships begun on Edmodo have developed further as the students have gone on to share online and phone contact details with each other.  Last year I was delighted when a student excitedly showed me the texting conversation she was having with a new friend in our partner school in France.

I have to remind myself of the following tips when conducting online exchanges:

  1. Teachers need to organise up front realistic programmes and timelines when their students can communicate.  It’s surprising how little mutual in class time there is when you remove the weeks, even months for the  holiday and examination periods in southern and northern hemispheres, quite apart from time zone issues.  The Bayonne colleague and I first made contact in Skype for Teachers and continued our planning through Skype.  He would be getting up and chatting with me over his summer breakfast while I would be shutting down for the night after a winter dinner.
  2. In a foreign language learning context, it is important to have negotaited an agreement for the equal use of both languages being learned so both sets of students in the partnership have the opportunity to model native language and practise foreign language.  In Edmodo we set up English-only pages and French-only pages and students spend equal time discussing in both.
  3. Another essential is to remind students that although they are online, they are still at school and in a classroom and school and classroom rules still apply e.g. no suspect handles or seedy images or inappropriate language.  To this end, negotiating up-front netiquette documents is wise.
  4. Then there are intercultural as well as interlinguistic issues.  Students need to be reminded to think about what a student in the suburbs of Paris or in a little village on the banks of the Somme might find interesting about a student in the suburbs of Auckland or in a little seaside town on the Coromandel Peninsular.  They need to be taught how to enrich the online learning experience of their partners.

Can anybody else add to my list based on their use of web 2.0 tools for classroom exchanges?

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