Saturday, October 29, 2011

Assistive Technology in Second Language Teaching

       In my 10+ years of experience as a second language teacher, I had never taught any “special” student until 2 years ago, when Matthew came into my classroom.  An 8th grader of Chinese heritage, Matthew speaks English at school and Cantonese at home.  His dad was very proud of his intelligence in Math.  Unlike other students who usually come to Chinese school under the pressure of their parents, Matthew showed strong interest in picking up Chinese Mandarin.  However, I realized Matthew was far behind the other students in terms of his language proficiency from the first class: he seemed to have trouble identifying different sounds and tones, as well as linking words and their meanings.  As a teacher, I really appreciate Matthew’s enthusiasm and his parents’ kind support, but 2 years passed, Matthew’s oral output is still incomprehensible, most of his writing is a strange mixture of English and Cantonese structures plus literal translations from English to Chinese.  As a matter of fact, the way he speaks English and Cantonese is also “different” from other kids.

Matthew was diagnosed with brain tumor and had a minor surgery, which I believe are the roots for his talent in Math and incapability in languages.  It is not hard to imagine students with learning disabilities, hearing or vision impairment experience difficulty taking in, retaining, and expressing information of language in second language classrooms.  Teaching second language to these special learners could be a daunting task.

The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange provided guidelines and tips on teaching foreign language to students with disabilities, and recommended the following uses of assistive technology for students in learning a foreign language (

·       JAWS screenreading software. (

·       ZoomText text enlarger and screenreader.  (

Another topic related to both special education and second language teaching is the sign language.  Sign language is considered as one type of second language used by deaf or hearing impaired population.  Assistive technologies on sign language recognition and translation are being developed by researchers. Apps of learning sign language are available in the market for iPhone and iPad users.

In the area of second language teaching, I believe there are more opportunities than issues for improving the access of assistive technology.  The prices for most assistive technology products are affordable, ranging from several dollars to hundreds of bucks.  A variety of funds and grants is available for disabled students to apply for.  With the progress of in-depth research and the fast growth of technology,  the special needs and educational rights of students with disabilities would be better met and protected.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Research Trends: Podcasting in Second Language Teaching

As the technology of computer and the Internet changed communication capacities in ways that shaped our lifestyles, offices, as well as educational practices, one of the recent developments of the educational software support tools is web-connectivity features: the basic tools (e.g. video, audio, movies) allow “live” web page links, and allow documents to be exported and viewed on the Internet (Roblyer & Doering, 2007).
 Podcasting, the recording of class lectures to make them available online, so students can download to their iPod/MP3 players for later review, is a web-based technology appeared in colleges recently. Purdue University (2006) has delivered their podcasting of lectures from more than 70 classrooms; both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2007) and the University of California at Berkeley (2007) allow for studio and video streaming of some campus lectures and events (O’Bryan & Hegelheimer, 2007).
What are the potentials of implementing podcasting into second language classroom?  O’Bryan and Hegelheimer (2007), researchers of Applied Linguistics and Technology at Iowa State University, conducted a small sized study on using podcasting with language learners.  Six college and graduate level ESL students participated in this 15-week-long research project on academic English listening strategies.  Hosted on a course weblog, 14 podcasts (12 audio, 2 video) designed specifically for the listening course were assigned throughout the semester to coincide with the topics covered in class: academic and general listening strategies students would use as they listen to the lectures, take notes, and address difficulties that may come up in class.  Students had the choice to either listen or view these podcasts on a computer, or download to their personal computers or MP3 players.  After each podcasting assignment, students completed a quiz or task over the content of the podcasts in webCT, a course management system, in order to assess their comprehension. 
The researchers’ instructional goals of utilizing podcasting included:
1.     Make language input salient by having vocabulary repeated and more likely to be acquired by the language learners;
2.     Provide multiple modes of input (verbal, audio, and video), so that students have access to the same information in different modes that bring out better understanding and retention;
3.     Offer outside and authentic perspectives, through interviews of other language learners or professors in real life.
4.     Increase intrinsic motivation, by embracing the motivational appeal inherent in many multimedia-based language learning tools.
The project was evaluated at the end of the semester, both instructor’s and students’ reflections were investigated:
The instructor reported two main benefits of using podcasting:
1.     Podcasts extended class time by allowing students to spend additional time working with the concepts taught in class outside of class.
2.     Students have the opportunities to gain more exposure to different types of spoken English since some of the speakers on the podcasts have accents.
The students’ feedbacks were collected through an 18-item survey.  They responded that podcasting is interesting, closely linked to the class content, formative, and helpful, and they believed podcasts were a positive component of the course.
The researchers concluded that although small-sized (6 students and 1 instructor), this research provides a detailed example of how computer-assisted language learning can be achieved through the technology of podcasting.  Researchers also raised 2 issues that were important in implementing technology into classrooms:
1.     The instructor needs to be well-trained in realistic uses of technology.
2.     Face to face meetings between students and instructor is helpful to bridge the gap between what goes on in class and what they are doing outside of it.
Useful inks: