Interview with Dr. Edwige Simon of University of Colorado- Boulder

One of the most important aspects of language learning is the ability to communicate in an authentic manner with other speakers of the language; in fact, this immersive communication experience is the key to any successful language learning. But for many teachers finding these authentic opportunities can prove difficult, especially when one lives in an area with few to no speakers of a language.

Thanks to the Internet as a whole, but especially the prevalence of video conferencing such as Skype and Xoom, teachers of languages have had unprecedented access to enhance their students’ proficiency. Dr. Edwige Simon of Colorado University, Boulder has been paving the way to show teachers how to use technology to enhance their classrooms, both to access these authentic resources and also to utilize interactive technology to increase engagement, with her graduate certificate in Language Teaching with Technology. I had the opportunity to have an e-mail exchange with Dr. Simon about the origins of the program and its implications in the future, and here’s what she had to say.

Please explain your language and education background.

I started out teaching French when I first got to the US about 20 years ago. I quickly branched out into teacher PD with a focus on technology and this is what I have been doing ever since. I worked for 10 years as a Language Technology Specialist on the University of Colorado Boulder campus. After I finished my PhD in 2012, I started brainstorming a fully online PD program for language teachers with Mark Knowles who was my boss at the time.  We wanted to offer a Master’s program but it seemed more feasible and faster to start with a graduate certificate. I launched the certificate 4 years ago and we’ve been growing steadily ever since.

How did the program at UC Boulder originate? Is it an extension from a different program or is it an original program?

The certificate is a brand new program. Before that, I was running workshops and presentations and working one-on-one with faculty on a technology integration project but it was fairly informal and did not lead to a credential. I felt I could make a bigger impact with an online program that would allow any pre-service or in-service language educator in the US or the world to participate. You can see a map of our students’ location on our website.

What are some of the best technologies you have discovered or taught about in the program?

It’s hard to choose, I discover new tools every day. I would say that the most impactful discovery is the idea of live telecollaboration or the practice to pair students with native speakers to help their proficiency and fluency. The technology behind it is simple (a video conferencing tool) but the impact is huge. I actually have a course in my program that allows teachers to work on their own proficiency through one-on-one weekly meetings with a language partner. It’s a simple concept but the impact on their proficiency and confidence is significant. It also gets them to experience these exchanges for themselves and many decide to do something similar with their students, which actually is one of the goals for the course. It’s becoming more and more common at the college level but it is still a very anecdotal practice at the secondary level.

What have been some of the challenges (technology or otherwise) of a fully online program?

The biggest challenge of online learning in general is motivation but that’s not an issue in my program. The teachers I work with are self-directed. I have found effective ways to establish a strong sense of social presence for myself and my students and it helps build community. But teaching online is time-consuming and I am still working on finding a good balance and knowing when to get off the Learning Management Systems

 Do you have any notable student success stories that have been shared with you?

I have a lot of small success stories: stories of teachers who successfully implemented a project in their classroom; teachers whose self-confidence skyrocketed after taking the proficiency course; teachers who got new jobs, successfully applied for grants, presented at a conference for the first time or published an article about their projects. You can read more about the impact of the program on our website under the Meet Our Students and under the Testimonials page.

Where are you hoping to see the program head in the future?

It’s all very tentative right now but I am working on several partnerships with other programs and organizations. I’d love to find creative ways to offer funding to some of the students and I am currently exploring options.