Technology can be one of the more challenging things in the world for me to integrate into the classroom. It never fails, whenever I need to access Youtube, the internet is down, or lagging. Whenever I need to use the overhead projector to show the students a presentation, something isn't working properly. I'll admit it, and I won't beat around the bush, I'm terrible with computers, and I'm terrified of having my students lose focus with an iPad in the classroom, or come across some obscene image/website either by accident or design. However, technology is an important aspect within my teaching methods and styles, and I rarely go a day without some form of it in the classroom.
It is true, that language learning is easier with technology. Without the use of email, Skype or other chat programs, apps and features, students would be limited in being able to be engaged with native speakers in either real-time or nearly-real-time. Having email pen pals is one technique I would love to try with my future students, and it would help to greatly increase language exposure between students in both Germany and the US. Similarly, having a class "skype date" with a native German speaker could be a really fun class time activity, in which students would be able to ask a variety of questions, as well as be more fully exposed to the language in ways that would otherwise be impossible when bound to the United States.
I already use Youtube regularly, either with videos pertaining to the vocabulary, a poem, music, virtual tours of a landmark, or any other number of cultural exposure items, which we would otherwise not have in an American-based classroom. I have already seen a greater influx of interest in my students whenever they are given the opportunity to listen to music, read the lyrics and jot down notes all at the same time, with the end of the activity culminating in either small or large group discussions about what it is that they were being presented with. Just a simple, weekly music exercise as a warm-up, when using Youtube has helped my students in so many ways, by simply exposing them to all four modes of communication within language learning. In just a short span of time, I have seen a dramatic increase in language usage, retention and understanding already.
Similarly, the use of video has played an important role in teaching my students about the history and culture of Germany. Although reading is important, having instead a short video about a landmark, historical building, or cultural practice from Germany is far more interesting for my students. It also has the added bonus of helping visual learners, and can open up far more in-depth discussion about the topic at hand and increase class participation 100 fold. Because of this, I am far more inclined to use Youtube as a teaching tool. Of course, I would refrain from making it a crutch, or my main method of teaching, I would use it as a supplemental tool to facilitate learning, rather than replace it.
After a short, professional panel about technology in the classroom this past week, I have learned about several other interesting teaching tools for iPads, wikis, and group projects which make learning more interactive, interesting and fun for all parties involved. Although the greatest obstacle to technology in the classroom is the availability of the technology itself, simply using one iPad in the classroom can create a plethora of opportunities for all language learners, but by not having a 1 to 1 ratio, students are limited by time constraints. However, by using free apps, such as Sock Puppets and Screen Chomp, students are able to record themselves speaking while presenting/acting, then listen to how they said things multiple times through, and possibly help address weaknesses and strengths in the language (when students are seeking to address such aspects in their language development). This allows not only for a fun, low-stress opportunity to give a presentation or act out a play for more shy students, but it offers a new way for students to self-assess themselves, making corrections along the way.
Games are always a fun way to grab a student's attention, but learning through technology, and changing up normal tasks can add a wonderful variety to the classroom. As a musician and one-time, prospective music major, I will once again return to the topic of music in the language classroom. Instead of using a CD to hear a piece of music, Youtube can provide a fun mode of watching and listening to music, or programs like Garage Band would open up the ability for students to write and produce their own German music as a final project. By simultaneously bringing culture and language together through music, coupled with varied technology use, students then would be given the opportunity to use the four modes of language communicative use, as well as be given variety and choices on how to perform a task.
As was discussed during the panel, giving students the option of using/not using technology, and then giving them the option of various TYPES of technology, only helps students in their focus and interest in the assignment. Student work quality increases, and students are given much more freedom to produce meaningful projects on their own terms. As is my favorite classroom management technique, giving students choices only yields better focus and more willing participation. If I were to assign a project in which students were to present about their family, they would be given the options of using PowerPoint, Word, Publisher, Prezi, Glogster, Youtube, or any other number of free applications. Suddenly, a dull, routine classroom exercise in speaking becomes a fun, worth-while task. Students use the language in a retention-oriented manner, and they are given ample opportunity to learn through speaking, writing, reading and listening, which would contribute to more meaningful classroom discussions.
For me, when evaluating the quality of a technological tool, I always look to see if the application engages students in the four modes of communication in some way, or at least lends itself to the major overarching theme of the unit, lesson or plan. For example, in my Nibelungenlied unit, students are exposed to a lot of medieval and historical vocabulary from the story. To tie in culture and history, as well as the vocabulary and overarching themes of the story, I look for music which uses the vocabulary for that week, as well as pertains to the subject of the story we are reading. Our auditory and reading exercises through Slow German (a podcast from a native speaker), although not medieval, match the week's lesson in some way: weddings/relationships when the story is about the characters getting married, or even clothing fashions, when we are discussing the clothing, armor and fashions from the Nibelungenlied. And finally, using presentations with culturally relevant pictures of the vocabulary only helps retention, and visual, auditory and mental bombardment of language stimuli.
In short, technology helps students to learn a language more easily. However, it is not without its limitations. Viruses, popups, dead batteries, power outages, and any other number of Murphy's Law nightmares can throw a lesson plan off kilter. As is my advice, and a personal practice in all forms of my life, I always keep a contingency plan in my back pocket. If I cannot teach it without technology, then it shouldn't be taught without a completely separate back-up plan. Anything can happen within the classroom, and it is best to be prepared, but technology usage, no matter how subtle, adds to the lesson and captivates students more effectively than straight-up lecture/discussions.