ESL Professors Embrace Technology


Professors Sarah Elia and Jessica Marchi have been using interactive technology in their English as a Second Language (ESL) classrooms and recently shared their ideas with other educators at several conferences.

Elia began teaching at the Haggerty English Language Program in 2009 and Marchi joined the teaching staff in 2010. Their presentation, titled “Trendy Technology: Free & Engaging Apps, Websites, & Software that Enhance Learning,” highlights the free and easy-to-use technology that Marchi and Elia have been incorporating into their lessons along with student responses to the technology.

They presented their findings at the 2012 New York State TESOL Conference in Albany, the 2013 Applied Linguistics Winter Conference at Columbia University and at the 2013 International TESOL Convention in Dallas, Texas.

“We had an excellent turnout in Albany at the New York State TESOL Conference and we had a full house,” Marchi said. “The room was overflowing. There were people standing who had no chairs, so we were really happy about that.”

Connie Perdreau, director of the Haggerty Language Program, said technology has been used in the classrooms since 1979 with the use of audio and video recording devices and the language laboratory.

Elia and Marchi aid the program in keeping up-to-date with technology for foreign language teaching, she said. Perdreau also said that their presentation will help to spread information to other educators about effective technologies for foreign language teaching.

“Professors Elia and Marchi have helped us to keep up with the pace of this rising tide of technological growth by developing ways to use the latest learner and teacher-friendly free applications, websites and software available for teaching a foreign language,” Perdreau said. “Our professional organizations strongly encourage sharing information about new developments in effective foreign language teaching, and I know that other universities are looking at what we’re doing in the ESL classroom here at SUNY New Paltz.”

Elia said there are many benefits to this technology, including the ability for students to self-evaluate.

“For both students and teachers one big benefit is sharing works that they’ve created,” Elia said. “Also, probably an even more important instance, students being able to self-evaluate, like with making videos or doing anything with recording their voice and listening back and watching back. That’s a whole other process of self-reflection, self-evaluation and then growing from that.”

Marchi said it is important to be interested and engaged in what she is teaching so that her students feel the same way. Though the students are not proficient in English, most of them are familiar with this technology.

“This is what they’re using every day to communicate and to be connected,” Marchi said. “The benefit is that we’re tapping into their identities and a world that is very meaningful and real to them, so we’re kind of using technology as a springboard to get at the content that they need to learn.”

Marchi uses the recording program Audacity in conjunction with Windows Moviemaker so students can make digital poetry projects. Students write their own poems and compile pictures and music that relate to the poem. They record their poem and import their voice recording along with photos and music to tell a story. She also uses Tumblr, which she heard about after her cheerleading team constantly mentioned the blogging platform.

Elia, who is teaching a listening and speaking class, uses websites like TED Talks and Khan Academy to help illustrate history lessons in English. She uses Blogger to upload essays and have students share and comment on them for her reading and writing class. Elia said although students may know the history behind World War II, these websites help them understand the stories in English. Students also use smartphone apps to work on their pronunciation by recording their voices and listening back.

“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback [from students],” Elia said. “With Ted they really like how it cultivates their note taking skills, they learn about American culture watching that. With the blog, they like to share their essays, grade each other’s essays.”

Marchi said using this technology lowers the affected filter for students, which is the fear associated with doing new things. Some students in their classes come from cultures where communication is not emphasized and participating in these projects allows them to become “more comfortable with the learning experience.”

The technology used in lessons is only a supplement, Marchi said. The professors still use traditional teaching methods because these projects take a substantial amount of time to plan.

“It’s like a blessing and a burden because it really does take a lot of planning and so that’s why we use it as a supplement, because it’s not realistic to think that you can have all these engaging projects and activities everyday,” Marchi said.

The professors do not research this technology, but look out for tools and technologies that students are already using, Elia said. She credits the students with sparking these ideas for application.

“I think overall the ideas that we get our not our personal. I don’t research this technology. The students tell me what they’re using already and then I take it and I apply it to our lessons,” Elia said. “These ideas, they start with the student and then we take them and we look for language learning benefits from them.”

Elia and Marchi will look to attend the International TESOL Convention next year to present an updated version of their findings.