Facebook for (language) learning. (LLAS workshop at UCL language centre)

ImageIn London, at the UCL Language Centre, the participants of the workshop “Using Facebook for (language) learning” worked all day ( 12-5) on producing practical language immersion techniques to include as activities within Facebook.

We managed to complete the following activities:

  • Creating a fictitious character’s profile
  • Describing a family outing using YouTube videos
  • Creating sub-pages to act as content repository pages to a course
  • Using polled questions to promote inquisitive learning
  • Using Dropbox to create links to activity files
  • Using shared Google documents for activity preparation
  • Creating a commented video from photos downloaded from the internet using Windows Movie Maker 2.6

At 1pm, whilst the workshop participants were working on their 1st activity,  I connected simultaneously with my lab class at Swansea University using a shared Google Document, and was able to tell them about the activity they had to do in their 50 mn session. I provided them with a link from Dropbox to a Word document describing the session’s activity, by pasting the link into the Google document ( that updates in real-time), and could make sure they understood what they should be doing. It was fun to connect with 20 my students in a lab 157 miles away by using this simple real-time co-editing method provided by Google Documents

The workshop re-affirmed for me how practical and flexible Facebook is as a teaching and immersion medium/ tool.

After the workshop one of the organisers was genuinely asking for opinions with regards teaching grammar, since it was something she was providing in her classes, but was not really sure how helpful it was for the students ( especially in German since there are so many cases and exceptions).

As a lover of grammar and linguistics I found this quite difficult to answer, though with the help of a Japanese tutor from King’s we finally came-up with a useful analogy based on learning how to walk or swim: when we are learning how to walk or swim we are encouraged to practice these activities as much as possible. We do not learn about the mechanics involved in walking nor the laws of buoyancy at the outset. Perhaps if we were Olympian athletes doing the 50km walk or the 10km freestyle, we would look into principles of momentum and Archimedes’ principle of floatation, though even then they would not be necessary to complete races.

On that basis, why would grammar be necessary to learn a language? Surely we would do better just to practise it. After mastery of the language, if we were so inclined, we could go back and learn the principles governing it.

Back in Swansea the next morning after a hectic nocturnal train journey, we continued our activities using Facebook. As the students produced content and comments for their activity, I could correct them immediately with the help of Facebook notifications. I was also having conversations in French with the students using Facebook chat.

Social networks are more flexible for interaction than conventional VLE’s and CMS’s such as Blackboard or Moodle. Creating pages to add to a profile in Facebook also solves the problem of course building, and enables students to add content separate from their main page. Social networks are also free and independent from institutional access problems. Neither do they have as many maintenance issues. Facebook, up till now, has been completely reliable, and it continues to add features that enable faster communication and updating.

I’ll soon be developing activities using Google+. The advantage of using Google is that only one log in is required to access all of its tools: Google +, Google docs, YouTube and Gmail. The problem in developing this method of immersive teaching is that its potential is only realized with use, when 20+ students are all connecting on one network. Facebook is very well developed and we are all familiar with how it works. It has less tools than Google for now ( such as Google Documents), though with its highly ambitious aims, and because it is in direct competition with Google ( on the stock market soon), we might yet see the sort of developments within Facebook that has made Google so ubiquitous. Facebook is a lot of people’s first port of call on the internet ( from their mobile app.). Will they soon be providing a browser-free experience that will include all the most common productivity tools? Is this the next step in Internet development, or will Facebook just focus on being the most developed Social Network?

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3 thoughts on “Facebook for (language) learning. (LLAS workshop at UCL language centre)

  1. I would like to remark on the grammar-no grammar discussion.
    I am still not convinced that one should dispense with grammar when teaching a foreign language (although I might change my position eventually).
    You gave the analogy of riding a bicycle or walking, so I give another analogy: I imagine that predicting the position and trajectory of a star before heliocentricm was discovered must have been pretty cumbersome; once it was clear that the earth revolved around the sun visible loops and shapes of a star’s trajectory where much easier to calculate.
    In German there are basically three groups of prepositions: some that require the accusative, some that require the dative and some that can take either. I imagine it would take long and be cumbersome to predict the correct case after prepostions when learning German at school and think it would be more efficient to be explained the grammar and aided to learn the groups of prepositions.
    There are plenty of other examples where grammatical rules didn’t help me (rules that describe a grammatical structure that is subjective and interwoven with the perception of a situation such as the imperfect subjunctive in Spanish. Other examples are superfluous rules as they
    describe a pattern that one comprehends easily after having seen it just three times.)
    Maybe it is that, that there are not just two positions (grammar – no grammar).

  2. Of course there are not just two positions (grammar- no grammar). Surely it depends on the learner, and how he wishes to learn a language. If language were as relatively predictable as the courses of stars ( that change only over the course of millions of years), then we would be very fast learners indeed.

    The analogies of swimming and walking are correct in so far as they address a practical activity, and the same would apply to language if we were always in a position to apply a language in order to learn it. That is not always the case, since we often have to separate the activities of learning and practising language, due to the physical distance that separates us from the target language country and culture.

    We become fluent in a language at the point when we can release all the grammatical underpinning we have learned and converse or write without thinking about its rules ( at least this is true for me in English, though not in French because of the complex written gender and number agreements between object and verb)

    We can build our knowledge of a language with grammar, and release its fairly stiff structure once we become fluent. The best way to become fluent though, is through practice and immersion. You can verify this by researching the methods used to train the military in preparation for expeditions abroad. In a situation where the lives of the learners are at stake depending upon their fluency in a given language, they are made fluent principally through artificial immersion.

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