A research chat with MA graduate Cam Smith
Tell us about your research project.
I investigated the beliefs and experiences of French as a Second Language (FSL) teachers in Alberta using digital technology in their classrooms. As a previous French teacher in Ontario, I was interested in getting a sense of the successes and challenges of FSL teachers here, to see how they might connect to national conversations on FSL.
Educational technology is growing in schools, and all teachers need to be prepared to use if effectively. Studies have shown that technology can be a great benefit in the language classroom: for engaging students, connecting them with language in the real world, and providing a greater variety of interesting tasks and resources that teachers can draw on.
However, there is an ongoing critique that second language teachers aren’t as confident about technology use, and struggle to access the training and supports they need to really make technology work for them. I surveyed Alberta FSL teachers in a local school division, and interviewed 7 of them. The survey was used to get some initial insights into the teacher’s thoughts on technology use, and the interview helped me get deeper into their experiences and opinions.
What did you discover?
The teachers emphasized that understanding how to use technology, and feeling comfortable doing so, were essential elements of technology integration. They considered using technology an important part of the profession, possibly even an expectation. They were excited to use technology to make French learning more accessible and meaningful, helping to engage those students who might have been put off by more traditional methods – worksheets, memorizing conjugation tables, etc.
Technology access, and their knowledge of technology practices in FSL learning, were significant barriers for these teachers. They spoke to their need for more professional development in the area, since they did not think that current options were truly working for them. They also felt quite alone in their challenges – since they were often the only FSL teacher in their school, they weren’t sure who could help them with their day-to-day questions and wonderings.
In schools, reviewing the access and availability of technology may be important in meeting the needs of all teachers. Just because a school has technology in it does not mean that every teacher will be able to access it, or know how to use it to its full potential. Teachers also need to have training and supports that are relevant to their practice – which for these teachers means having a clear connection to the FSL classroom.