(Post written by guest authors: Si (Tracy) Li, Israel Pacheco Galacre, Simon Kelly and Sarah Wagner, all of whom are master’s students in the TESOL program at GSE)
Tuesday, April 19 saw language educators and technology enthusiasts from all over the Penn community descend upon the Collaborative Classroom in Van Pelt for the Language Without Borders colloquium. The event, sponsored by the Penn Libraries and the Penn Language Center, featured presentations from graduate students, professors, and language teachers on the pedagogical applications of technology in language education. The topics covered by the presenters were diverse and included using memes to teach humor; encouraging students to document their experiences in a new city using Twitter, Instagram, and blogs; creative new uses for Canvas; building community among Korean heritage language learners with Lino; using videos tools to facilitate multimodal language learning; teaching pronunciation with Audacity and ways to incorporate video games into task-based language teaching.
Before the presentation started, the organizers, Dr. Catrice Barrett (pictured standing above) and Dr. Christina Frei (seated in green), first gave a speech talking about the relationship between language teaching and technology and also thanked all the sponsors. Then the colloquium started with two main rounds and one bonus round afterwards. In two main rounds, six amazing presentations took place simultaneously at six stations, and in the bonus round, another four presenters from the Practice Teaching course shared their research.
The colloquium was structured in a way that was very time-efficient (guests present at 6 tables at the same time), but also enabled the audience to attend to the topics that interest them most (in main rounds, the presentations are delivered twice). All the sessions were very informative and inspirational. As one audience member stated, “I think I learned a lot today which I may be able to use tomorrow in my own class!” This reflected the excitement and joy of most participants, who are dedicated language teachers eager to learn about how to use more concrete and effective technological tools to facilitate their learner’s language development. After the colloquium, audience left with joy, knowledge and lots of inspiration.
Dr. Rymes and Leone Pizzighetta discussed the usefulness of using YouTube videos to introduce learners to different “accents” as well as to different language varieties. For example, when teaching a foreign/second language such as Spanish, the presenters argued that learners could be made aware of the different varieties of the language so that they could develop a more realistic understanding of what it means to learn and speak a foreign/second language.
Exploring different dialects was also claimed to be useful for learners as it allows them to choose how they want to style themselves linguistically. Moreover, exploring different dialects presents students with choices regarding what L2 identities they wish to embrace. One of the limitations to using YouTube videos, however, has to do with the use of potential “bad” language. Most of the comments that follow such videos include swear words that might not be appropriate for discussion in a formal setting as the classroom. When asked about this issue, one of the presenters argued that language is dynamic and that is the kind of language that students will probably hear outside the classroom in the real world.
Jennifer Decker (in green above), a TESOL graduate student, gave a presentation titled “Socially Awesome Penguin and Company: How to Use Image Memes to Inject Humor and Focus on Meaning in the Second Language Classroom”. Ms. Decker discussed how she has used image memes in an ESL class to teach humor and encourage learners to be creative with language. Since memes are extremely common, many learners are already familiar with them, yet they may not understand the cultural context of the joke or the ways in which language is employed to create humor in the meme. Therefore, incorporating memes into a second language classroom holds great potential for language teachers and learners. You can learn more about using memes in the classroom on Ms. Decker’s website (https://teachingwithimagememes. wordpress.com).
Overall, attendees left the event with an array of technology-based strategies to try in their classrooms. We are grateful to the Penn Libraries for its partnership in the event and hope to continue the tradition of bringing educators together in a thoughtful exchange of innovative ideas in teaching and learning!