Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Technology and Teaching Culture: What Spanish Teachers Do

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Technology and Teaching Culture: What Spanish Teachers Do

Article excerpt

Abstract:

This study gathered data on Spanish public school teachers' use of existing technologies to teach culture. A questionnaire gathered data on teacher background, use of technology, competence to teach culture, the inclusion of culture courses in degree programs, and courses on teaching culture. Observations over a three-year period provided snapshots of what teachers did. Findings from the study revealed that teachers neglect the teaching of culture, continuing to show a preference for the simpler technologies like television and video recorders. There was very little use of more interactive technologies such as the Internet. Data also indicate that teachers prefer to focus on teaching grammar and vocabulary, and on developing reading and writing skills, because department tests focus on these aspects. The teachers felt they were competent to teach culture but were constrained by time and a lack of resources.

Key words: action research; culture; public school teachers; teaching Hispanic culture; technology

Language: Spanish

Introduction

The National Standards and Teaching Culture

In 1996, the Standards for Foreign Language Learning was published (National Standards). It was a historic year for foreign language teachers across the nation because, for the first time, teachers had national guidelines to help them plan, develop, and evaluate their foreign language curricula. By creating common goals and objectives for teachers, the Standards provided a type of checklist against which learning and teaching could be assessed. The Standards include "5 Cs," namely communication, comparisons, cultures, connections, and communities. The two major standards related to cultures are that "students demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the practices and perspectives of the culture studied," and "students demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the products and perspectives of the culture studied." (Lange, 1999, p.59)

While the Standards did not recommend a specific teaching method for students to achieve these goals, they did provide sample activities and scenarios that can help teachers design their lesson plans and activities. Furthermore, with advances in technology such as the rise of the Internet, educators welcomed the opportunities and challenges for teachers to create better and more effective ways of developing and using instructional material for teaching language and culture (Bacon, 1995; Finneman, 1996, Walz, 1998). Finneman (1996) argued: "... it is clear that the Web promises to be an important resource for language teachers" (p. 6). Walz (1998) stated that the Web allows teachers to meet the goals set out in the Standards by helping students build competence in more than one language and culture, and by providing students with a variety of learning settings. The belief was that students can be surrounded by sights and sounds of native speakers in the target settings through the use of DVDs, computer animated objects and figures, and voice activators that produce nativelike utterances, (Finneman, 1996; Warschauer, 1996).

As with any new technology, teachers have to develop not only the technological skills to use the tools, but also, and maybe more importantly, the pedagogic skills to develop teaching materials and activities. For example, Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) programs are based on two important technological developments-multimedia computers and the Internet. Multimedia technology, as exemplified by CD-ROMs, allows a variety of media (e.g., text, graphics, sound, animation, and video), to be accessed on a single machine, the computer. In order to use the technology effectively, teachers have to develop a fairly advanced multimedia literacy through courses taken during their preservice or inservice training.

Social Constructivism and Technology

Many teachers and students today are daily users of e-mail and the World Wide Web, the two most common network features used in first (L1) and second language (L2) instruction (Cononelos & Oliva, 1993). …

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