As a French language teacher I am always looking for ways to better engage my students with the language and support their learning needs.
And as I work in a British university in China, teaching French to students from all over the world, using English as the instruction language, it can be a challenge to find an approach that appeals to all.
One thing my students do have in common is the internet and their ability to use it effectively. And as language teachers we should be harnessing this ‘Generation Y’s’ digital know-how.
The internet is changing how young people learn.
Young people today, for the most part, are more tech-savvy than they have ever been.
They are actively involved in the internet’s participatory cultures like joining online communities, producing new forms of creative work such as video or digital sampling, working in teams to complete tasks and develop new knowledge, and shaping the flow of information by creating blogs or podcasting.
Being literate today doesn’t just mean knowing how to read and write on paper, but knowing how to read and write across multiple media platforms – books, videos, social networks, blogs, text messages etc.
And being fluent in another language also means being able to navigate, and contribute to, these platforms.
How can these skills help us teach young people languages?
Alongside my teaching, I have conducted research into how the internet’s participatory culture can be used in student-centred learning environments and found that transmedia storytelling – telling a story across multiple media – can be an extremely effective method of teaching.
My research involved asking students to create multiple media products to investigate, and help others learn, lexical and grammatical teaching points in French, Japanese and English.
Once they had created their products, the groups then commented on others’ products using Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and blogs moderated by their tutors. They used these comments to improve their own products and to practice writing and reading in the respective languages.
The results showed that the students were able to create sophisticated media products ranging from multi-genre films to remixed songs and computer games, and that from the comments posted on the blogs, and elicited after the project, they had fun while also improving a number of important key competences that are often outside the domain of language learning.
I found that if well moderated, transmedia storytelling can provide students the opportunity to engage in projects that tap into their own experiences of social networking and digital creation.
Teaching the teachers.
The key to this, of course, is ensuring language teachers have the knowledge necessary to create these kinds of learning environments.
I recently shared the findings of my research, and trained secondary school teachers to use transmedia storytelling, at the V International Convention of Reading and Writing in Bogota, Colombia, which explored new ways of language teaching.
I found that the teachers who attended the conference from all over the world were keen to explore teaching methods that ensure the language skills young people are developing are relevant to them in the real and online worlds.
Meanwhile, my colleagues in the Language Centre at The University of Nottingham Ningbo China are engaged in research and course development that investigate new ways of using technology to enhance learning.
It is really through our own continual learning, and sharing of knowledge, that we can hope to teach young people the language skills that will help them navigate the online world and achieve true digital literacy.
Filippo Gilardi, is a French tutor in The University of Nottingham Ningbo China’s Language Centre. For more information on his transmedia storytelling research contact him on Filippo.Gilardi@nottingham.edu.cn