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Years ago, I arranged for my high school students in their third year of French language

study to exchange letters with pen pals from the African country of Togo. My students would

write letters in their emerging French and months later receive letters in the emerging English of

the Togo students. Although the excitement was high when the packet of letters arrived and the

cultural exposure and learning was unique and powerful, the language exchange was very limited

due to the long distance and slow mail. This same student exchange can happen today on a daily

or hourly basis with email and even in real time using instant messaging technologies. Photos

and videos could be easily shared, giving students a glance into cultures and communities far

from their own. Utilizing technology in this type of lesson enables real world connections and

digital literacy practice which are both necessary skills for developing students to be global


The inclusion of world language instruction in American schools is historically rooted in

the desire to prepare our students to be world citizens who can communicate in languages

beyond English (Pufahl & Rhodes, 2011). Communicating in multiple languages is a desirable

skill that creates new opportunities in travel and work. In many countries, it is obligatory to

study new languages and in many American high schools and universities, language study is

required to graduate or earn a degree. In the United States, the Association of Teachers of

Foreign Language (ACTFL) have created standards to guide the variety of languages taught in

American schools (2018). These standards are organized into what is called the five ‘C’s’:

communication, cultures, connections, comparisons, and communities. The intention of these

five ‘C’s’ is to make language learning applicable to real life, not just the classroom setting

(ACTFL website, 2018). Furthermore, students will be prepared “to apply the skills and
understandings measured by the Standards, to bring a global competence to their future careers

and experiences” (ACTFL, 2018). Importantly, in a 2017 position statement on technology in

foreign language classes, ACTFL recognizes that in the 21st Century, it is critical that teachers

leverage technology use in achieving skillful, competent, and world class citizens. Specifically,

the organization recommends that the teacher “be responsible for the planning, instruction,

assessment, and facilitation of any language course, leveraging technology to support language

learning” (ACTFL, 2018).

Frameworks for Technology Inclusion

ACTFL’s recognition of digital literacies in world language teaching is supported and

influenced by ongoing discussions and research across curriculums. For example, Chung, Gill

and O’Byrne (2018) argue that digital literacy has become the 4th fundamental skill after

reading, writing and arithmetic. In “Web 2.0”, they discuss the research behind the creation of

the Mozilla Foundation Web Literacy Map (2018). In an effort to guide educators, the Web

Literacy Map is centered on the belief that successful students in the 21st century will not only

be consumers of digital media and information, but also producers who can readily read, write

and participate in the digital world. According to Chung, et al. and the Mozilla foundation, these

skills are vital to living and working in the 21st century, and therefore, should be connected to all


The Mozilla Foundation Web Literacy Map is not the only framework that provides

guidance for educators recognizing the need to leverage the power of technology to engage and

support student learning. The International Society for Technology in Education, Partnership for

21st Century Learning (P21) and the National Council for Teachers of English are examples of
other organizations that have invested in comprehensive frameworks to guide the integration of

technology and digital literacies across school content. In reading through this literature, there is

a sense that educators and businesses understand the importance of technology integration and

literacies, and are urging for schools to develop the content that will prepare students with the

skills they will need in the future. Where access to internet and technology resources was once

the issue, the problem has evolved to the appropriate leveraging of technology to deepen


Teachers and Technology Literacy

In “Technology stalled: Exploring the new digital divide in one urban school”, Lohnes

Watulak, Laser, and Liu (2011) observed that too often digital resources and technology use was

teacher-centered, leaving students out of the vital learning necessary to become proficient users

and producers of digital resources. Their study highlights the importance of facilitating student

participation with technology so that it becomes a learning tool and not just a mode of lesson

delivery. Their research was inspired by the work of Henry Jenkins (n.d.), who advocates for

changes in education that focus on student “opportunities to participate and to develop the

cultural competencies and social skills needed for full involvement” in the digital world (Jenkins,

n.d., p. 4). Both Jenkins and Lohnes Watulak et al. highlight that even though children today

have a life time of exposure to digital media and technology, teachers are core to the

development of students’ digital skills. The teacher’s role is to guide student development of the

skills to use these new 21st century resources appropriately and efficiently for critical thinking,

safe communication, open collaboration and creative production. Therefore, it is critical for

teachers to guide and instruct students across all content areas in how to learn with technology.

According to Jenkins “our goals should be to encourage youth to develop the skills, knowledge,
ethical frameworks, and self-confidence needed to be full participants in contemporary culture”

(n.d., p. 8).

Echoing Jenkins and Lohnes Watulak et al., Hague and Payton state that, “It is teachers

who have experience in the higher order critical thinking skills that can support young people’s

use of digital technology” (2010, p. 10). These authors developed a handbook for educators who

recognize the importance of digital and technology literacies being a focus across all

curriculums. They reiterate that students need teacher guidance to navigate the multiple modes

of information available in the digital world. They also highlight the importance of using digital

technologies in the classroom to make learning relevant to today’s students. Jenkins (2006) also

emphasizes the power of the digital world to deepen student engagement in learning because it

allows active participation- something that can not exist in an unchanging textbook or un-

connected classroom. As a world language teacher, the opportunities for student participation in

new languages is endless through technology. However, ensuring that it is a beneficial tool and

not a distraction requires planning and training.

Potential Drawbacks

In his book “The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains,” Nicholas Carr

(2010) argues that over consumption of digital media lessens our ability to focus and reflect. He

suggests that the constant barrage of information results in superficial understanding instead of

the deep deliberation that happens when reading books or long in-depth articles. He admits that

as this skill weakens, other skills are emerging. For example, proficiency in the digital world

requires the ability to multi-task and skim for information. The web-based writer and blogger,

Andrew Sullivan, warns that the web and all its data, video, and up-to-the-minute information
and entertainment is addicting, resulting in poor health and lost relationships. Academic

research describes university students distracted by personal devices with declining achievement

compared to peers not using devices during class (Kraushaar & Novak, 2010; Kuznekoff &

Titsworth, 2013; Nworie & Haughton, 2008). These studies found that many students admitted

to checking email, and social media, or watching on-line entertainment while in class. As Carr

and Sullivan have cautioned, it seems the web can be so compelling that many university

students choose to communicate with friends or watch entertainment rather than engage in the

classes they have payed to be a part of.

These findings may discourage some from including technology and digital media in

classroom lessons. However, the reality of today is that students are deeply connected to digital

devices, information, entertainment and communication and it is here to stay. Finding ways to

use these tools in the classroom can prevent them from being distractions and make them a part

of the learning process. Kuzenkof, Munz and Titsworth (2015) examined this idea in their study

of using mobile phones in the classroom. They found that when teachers provided opportunity

for students to Tweet and manage notes during class with their smart phones, that these students

engaged in the class learning and achieved success at the same rate as non-smart phone using

students. By making the devices a tool, teachers were able to control the level of distraction,

resulting in learning on par with their peers. These results highlight the importance of making

technology use in the classroom deliberate, structured and purposeful. Nwroie and Haugton

(2008) reiterate this in their article on the unintended consequences of adopting technologies in

the classroom. For example, there are many potential issues when personal computers are

introduced to the classroom, such as students being off-task on social media or distractions from

inappropriate websites. They suggest that the benefits of digital tools in the classroom, such as
connections to resources, differentiation of learning, and improved student motivation, can be

preserved with the training of both educators and students (p. 53). This training should include

“acceptable technology use” and expectations of purpose and etiquette (p. 56). As educators, it

is crucial that we provide opportunity and guidance for students to practice and learn the skills to

make them informed, healthy consumers of digital information and devices.


Harnessing the power of technologies in the classroom can benefit students in many

ways. In the foreign language classroom, access to cultural resources and connections to far

away places are accessible thanks to videos, reference sites, and news outlets via the web.

Communication with experts and peers is facilitated by email, chat rooms, and messaging sites.

Connections and collaboration with students from other classes, schools or communities can

happen with social media, blogs, and online discussions. And most importantly, technology and

digital resources allow for student creativity and problem solving. Educators, communities and

business leaders recognize the importance of authentic meaningful tech integration, especially in

STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) classes. Likewise, educators in content

outside of these core areas must also consider the preparation of students for 21st century

careers. Not only will this support student mastery of digital tools, but technology rich

curriculums will also make learning authentic and relevant to today’s students connected digital