Teaching English to digital natives
In September 2011, facebook claimed to have reached “more than 800 million active users”. At fixed times throughout the week I meet about 100 of them: they are my students. For them, as much as for me, the use of social networks and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has become an integral part of our daily lives. A considerable part of the world population follows its innate need and desire for connectedness in this way, living out its primal tendency as a gregarious being to form communities and interact with others. Thanks to the Internet, physical distance is effortlessly overcome in the virtual world, which has become an extension of the real, rather than an alternative environment.
These developments have prompted teams of educators around the world to try and implement Vygotsky’s socio-constructivism with the technological tools of the 21st century. Within the framework of this thesis I would like to:
- verify whether online social interaction has inherent educational potential or should be dismissed as distracting from the acquisition of both language and cognitive/transversal skills
- find ways of making the use of social media in particular and ICT in general an integral part of my teaching in the hope of extending the learning process beyond the walls of my classroom and creating a truly socio-constructivist learning environment which cultivates a sense of belonging, and hence responsibility and teamwork
I used the educational social platform Edmodo, which allows for the safe, virtual continuation of in-class interaction, where students can further develop the working relationships necessary for successful teamwork, as well as engage with a range of tasks. The integration of Google Docs, allowing for real-time collaboration on word-processed documents, proved a highly useful extension of Edmodo’s functions. Furthermore, with the possibility for students to hand in assignments online I could easily keep track of submissions as well as correct, give feedback on and grade their work, with the platform automatically keeping a record for both the students and myself. Thus, it is possible to provide formative feedback more easily and at crucial moments. According to Alan Pritchard’s definition of social constructivism, dialogue is “the vehicle by which ideas are considered, shared and developed” and “the teacher has the role of stimulating dialogue and maintaining its momentum.” With the technological tools at my disposal it was possible to keep alive and allow that dialogue to branch out organically beyond the walls of my classroom where it originates.
The project can confirm the hypotheses of educators worldwide: that even online social interaction has educational potential and that the use of ICT can indeed enhance the socio-constructivist dimension of my students’ learning experience. While interaction happens in a virtual space, it still exerts a positive effect on the real world. Edmodo and Google Docs helped create an atmosphere of mutual support, where students realised and valued each other as resources in the sense of “more-knowledgeable peers”, which in turn nurtured a more learner-centred, inclusive and constructive environment. Furthermore, it provided a space within which to practise peer-assessment, group-editing and problem-solving. This allowed students to move to the higher levels of Benjamin Bloom’s revised taxonomy of analysis, evaluation and creation, which are all transferable skills that will be useful in different subjects, their professional and even private lives.