Traumatic Experiences with Language Learning Technology?

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Tech tools can be fabulous tools for language learners, but not always…

This summer, I’m taking an online introductory Italian course and simultaneously teaching an online English course. What a combination, I know! Over the past month I’ve reflected on a few things related language learning and technology. Here’s my working list:

1. An expensive textbook which claims to have interactive design isn’t necessarily the best tool for the language learner. We all know what it’s like to sit down with a workbook and do the activities in the classroom. Sitting down and doing the activities on the computer isn’t any different. It’s still not fun.

2. Programmers aren’t necessarily speakers of the language, and those very spiffy activities are going to have mistakes. This can make it frustrating for those of you who are really focused on perfection. I remember one activity where I had to change what I knew was a correct answer to an incorrect answer in order to get credit for the activity. UGH!

3. Online teaching should be equivalent to face-to-face teaching. Expecting to fit 15 different activities into a language learning session with the learner over a 1-hour lesson just to be able to say “We covered it!” isn’t a good idea. The teacher and learner both walk away stressed out.

4. File size and connection speed are still issues (Yes, even in 2016)! I remember posting a list of things to know about online teaching back in 2009 where I mentioned connection speed as an issue, but another professional in the group said it was never a problem for him. Here we are, 7 years later, and students still talk about the difficulty of downloading video files (which are admittedly larger than the typical file size). I’m spending 1 hour on a 30 minute activity waiting for the interactive activities to load. UGH again!

5. One program or book probably isn’t capable of doing everything well. To really have a meaningful learning experience, you (or the teacher) will have better results if you pull from different sources that all specialize in different areas of language learning. For example, an amazing online flashcard program is Before You Know It. The program was designed for the U.S. government and uses a complex set of algorithms based memory cycles in your brain. Neat! Another software program that let’s you connect with teachers is iTalki. This program has perfected scheduling and teacher rating to help you find exactly what you need when you need it. Each of these companies have focused their technology development on one specific area of learning, and pulling them together to learn just makes sense.

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