Ending the semester, lessons learned (Part 3)

Lesson #3: Marc Prensky got it all wrong

Marc Prensky’s famous and yet false binary that says our students are digital natives and the rest of us are digital immigrants has addled me for years. As -if- we needed to create any more barriers between us and our students….as if we needed to distance ourselves any further from our students. They are more like us than we actually realize.

This semester in HISP 205-09 hammered home a point for me: students will use a tool if they are certain you, as the teacher, can explain to them what the tool will help them learn, see, discover, experience. Do you have research to back that up? They will want to see it. Can you prove that you are not wasting their time? They’ve been burned before by well-intentioned and poorly-executed tech infusions…how can they be sure that this won’t be the case here as well? Huh?

My students this semester were mini 50 yr olds. They are skeptical, busy, harried consumers of education. Yup… education is now a consumer good for our financially strapped students and their families. Faculty need to get used to their hard questions, especially if your class is an elective.

Some background: Each of my students had to come up with three personal language goals or “metas lingüisticas” in the class. The first was to be the easiest, the second a bit more of a stretch, the third…something more long term, something for the future. Metas 1 & 2 needed to build towards 3. Only two requirements: #1 each student had to make contact with a native speaker to move towards those goals (in any way they felt comfortable doing so) and #2 they had to blog about it on their class blogs

I spent class time showing them some of the tools (they didn’t like this…they wanted class time for speaking, I was soundly “learned” by them and I won’t make that mistake again!). They included Skype +Mixxer, Ways to find blogs in Spanish, ways to use Second Life to talk w/native speakers, and how to play World of Warcraft on European servers with Spaniards and using the Spanish language pack.

My students found Skype +The Mixxer extremely useful. There were immediate, tangible, focused benefits. Most of them had no qualms about setting up a language exchange with a complete stranger and doing so outside of class.

Second Life, however…that creeped most of them out. I had thought that having an avatar would help them visualize their interactions better. Nope, most of them were quite happy being a disembodied voice at the other end of a Skype call in Spanish**

(** which of course we know is MUCH harder than a face to face conversation, but time and time again they chose making mistakes with complete strangers, rather than having those mistakes following them throughout the rest of their day, week, semester here on campus)

And I did not have any gamers in this class so WoW turned out not to be an option (I did have another student from a 2nd year class come to the lab and play… basically, starting over from the beginning and running raids she had done before in English, now in Spanish and with Spanish speakers. She enjoyed it)

Did they take to the technology like fish to water because they were under 30 yrs of age? oh heck no. They chose tools that made sense for them — based on their comfort level and their intended outcomes in the language and the course.

And the results were remarkable.

Up next: Lesson # 4 or, what I learned about assessment

Series Navigation<< Ending the semester, Lessons Learned (Part 4: Assessment)Ending the semester, lessons learned (Part 2) >>

Barbara is a Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at a small liberal arts college in Maine. Rumor has it this was also her alma mater. She used to work for a small liberal arts college in the cornfields of Ohio for almost 20 years as a teacher and language center director. Prior to these adventures in higher ed she taught high school Spanish and loved it. She wishes she had more time in her life to play with her dogs, write, read, swim, do yoga things and making stuff out of clay. To see her online portfolio please click here!


  1. Jan Marston · June 24, 2009 Reply

    It’s good to hear about your experience with your class. I can echo some of what you learned. I’ll profit by the rest as we launch our new grant-funded Drake Virtual Language Studies, putting together native speakers, students, faculty and assorted invited guests from far away, meeting online for interactive classes five days a week, in Russian and Mandarin. We want to take advantage of the technology to connect more individual learners from around the country and around the world, so we’ll look and Skype and Mixxer as well as working with our sister cities and our exchange universities. It feels a little like I imagine the mother bird might, as she encourages her fledglings to fly away from the nest. But when I’ve assigned students to connect with a native speaker, they always rave about how much they learned, once they got past the terror.

    • Barbara · June 24, 2009 Reply

      Pete mentioned your great grant getting fortune and I am thrilled for you and for Drake. Huzzah!

      The work you all are doing at Drake is an example that all of us (in this downsizing kinda world in which we live) should follow: relevant, learner centric teaching and learning.

      Language learning is, far too often, seen as the low hanging fruit that administrators and bean counters can snatch away without adversely affecting the students’ learning experience. Part of that, I believe, is that many of us are still teaching the way we were taught (ie nothing has changed). Students need and deserve more…and despite their initial fear, they thrive and their learning soars thanks to these challenges.

      Thank you for setting such a wonderful example…we look forward to your continued progress!


  2. Launching. · March 24, 2013 Reply

    […] am proud of the work I get to do in both parts of my job.  The results, both in terms of my students learning outcomes as well as my former colleagues’ professional accomplishments, have been […]

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