Friday, December 19, 2008

Language Exchange

In an effort to make my own learning as transparent as possible, I thought I'd share a clip of a class I was involved with this month and reflect on the experience.  

This clip shows three language learners participating in a presentation about women´s roles and their differences between American and Mexican cultures.  The student sitting down is a Mexican English language learner and her partners (American Spanish language learners) are the two students in the video being projected on the wall.  This project was a capstone performance task that ended a semester-long language exchange.  Using Skype, language learners participated in weekly, hour-long exchanges speaking half the time in Spanish and half in English.  These weekly events ended up driving the rest of the week's lesson as learners were given the opportunity to prepare for subsequent exchanges and to reflect on prior ones.    

Towards the end of the semester, my colleague (in the US) and I decided to extend the language exchange experience to include mini presentations that would give the partners a chance to simultaneously present something to the rest of the classes (in the US and in Mexico).  We really left it wide open in the beginning but would require that the groups compare and contrast cultural differences between the US and Mexico.  With a little assistance on our part in narrowing down topics, the groups were really off-and-running from the beginning.

The technology used to simultaneously display the PowerPoint presentation is Google Docs and the video being projected on the wall is Skype.  The first attempt at this activity included using Yugma to project the PowerPoint presentation and Skype for the video.  Considering all the presentations of this kind that were conducted over a four-day period, I feel confident in saying that the preferred technology is Google Docs.  The day we used Yugma, we ended up scrapping the whole day - the connection was just too poor to conduct the presentations.  Having said that, there was one day where the connection caused a bit of a distraction while using Google Docs, however we were able to get through it.  Our American counterparts have a "hyperspeed" connection while we typically have 150-200 bps connection.  Clearly we are the bottleneck, but if this 150-200 bps is maintained (as it is being maintained in this video), then it doesn´t really affect the quality of the experience.  Broadband is an important consideration when doing a language exchange that incorporates audio, video, and a shared presentation.  

As I reflect on this particular class, a reoccuring theme keeps entering my mind: preparation.  As you see in this video, our learners were advancing the slides, both for their own presentation and their American partners' as well.  In other words, consolidating PowerPoint presentations beforehand is helpful and should be uploaded to Google Docs and shared before the presentation begins.  If you notice at 7:00 minutes, this is me not being prepared.  This is an example of what not to do.  The presentations here are divided into two separate files and I failed to upload my learner's presentation.  As you can see, it takes me three minutes to get it going.  Advice: Have both PowerPoints as one file and have it uploaded and shared in time for the actual presentation.   
One of the most important aspects of this performance task was at 14:14.  After the Mexican English language learner finishes her presentation, an American student offers a slightly different perspective.  At 14:38 I paraphrase what the American student said after detecting that some in my group did not understand.  At 14:55, the teacher in the US offers more perspective. At 16:06, the teacher in the US asks how my group feels about their presentation and as you can see, they are a little slow to respond.  At this point, they are not quite used to having a discussion of this type and they are still feeling a bit intimidated.  At 17:34, notice how the Mexican learner states the difference in cultures.  A reflection activity might expose at what point she realized this difference.  Did she believe this before she met her partner?  Or did she have an inclination going into the language exchange that was then later confirmed after having worked with her partner over the course of a semester?     

A performance task of this type is best served when both groups can get as involved as possible in the discussion.  Due to time constraints, the question-and-answer stage of this presentation was rather brief, but in my opinion effective.

Any comments/suggestions on this activity are welcomed, and I would love to know what other technologies are being used to achieve similar or different learning goals.