Social networks and language didactics: teaching Italian as a second language with Ning


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Author: Emanuela Cotroneo
Being able to create ad hoc social networks for your own class provides new opportunities for experimenting with and testing out L2 teaching, broadening the possibility of improving connections among students and practising language skills in a motivating and active way, as illustrated in the didactic experience presented here.

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Social networks and language didactics: teaching Italian as a second language with Ning

  1. 1. From the field Social networks and language didactics: teaching Italian as a second language with NingAuthor Being able to create ad hoc social networks for your own class provides new opportuni- ties for experimenting with and testing out L2 teaching, broadening the possibility ofEmanuela Cotroneo improving connections among students and practising language skills in a motivatingPhD student in Language,culture and ICT, University and active way, as illustrated in the didactic experience presented here.of Genoa, 1. Introduction Due to the evolution from web to web 2.0 and from e-learning to e-learning 2.0 (Downes,Tags 2005; O’Reilly, 2005; Bonaiuti, 2006), teachers are approaching a new conception of learn-Web 2.0, language learning, ing/teaching which considers in opposition to the “closeness” of the e-learning platforms,Erasmus the richness and the openness to the network and to the on line community. Siemens’s Con- nectivism (Siemens, 2004) highlights the networks, the connections among people and the ability to get in touch with possible sources of knowledge. The typical tools of web 2.0 (blog, wiki, social network, etc.) encourage the creation of connections among the learners (Fini & Cigognini, 2009) and open the door to new opportunities of contact with the target language. They also allow to practice one’s receptive and productive abilities, in an active, collaborative and amusing way, thus motivating, encouraging collaborative learning strategies and provid- ing an anytime and anywhere learning environment (Berger & Trexler 2010). 2. Web 2.0 and didactics of Italian as a Foreign Language: focus on social network The social networks are communication, interaction and sharing environments which involve users of different kind and can even be a valuable resource for linguistic and cultural learn- ing and reinforcement, if conveniently used (Cotroneo, in press). In a paper about Facebook, Addolorato (2009) focuses on Spanish as a second language: according to the author, the sharing of texts, videos and links helps learners to improve their competence and to be al- ways connected with Spanish language and culture. Other studies (Bedini 2009; Troncarelli 2010) have been dedicated to describe and analyse social networks specifically dedicated to teaching and learning languages, such us Livemocha (, Babbel (, Busuu (, My Happy Planet (http://www. and Palabea ( these social networks high- lights the role of non – formal learning and of the peer tutoring1. The project here described put side by side the face-to-face training, dedicated to some Erasmus students guests of the University of Genoa and learners of Italian L2, and the use of a social network created ad hoc for the class. Many web services and social software applications like Ning (http:// 1 Another interesting project, based on a social network and developed by the University for Foreign Students of Perugia, is about sharing materials to teach and learn Italian as a Second Language (http://elearning.unistrapg. it/l2o/). ing earn eLearning Papers • ISSN: 1887-1542 • www.elearningpapers.eueL ers 26 u ers.e gpap .elea rnin n.º 26 • October 2011Pap www 1
  2. 2. From the, Twiducate (, post contents not strictly pertinent to the syllabus, yet having,Elgg ( and Dolphin (http://www. at their discretion, a linguistic and cultural significance for allow to create online learning environ- class. One of the most popular features of the social networkments with the same features of the most popular social net- is, for example, the sharing of song videos. The song has a mo-works easily, quickly and relatively cheaply. The advantage over tivational role and assures also, depending on the selected text,a traditional social network like Facebook is the control the the possibility to use and analyze morphosyntactic, lexical andteacher has over the available tools, the resources, the contents cultural aspects (Caon & Lobasso, 2008). In the “video” sectionand the members who can access, according to the subject and of our social network 23 song videos were posted both by thethe pre-established didactic aims. It is possible to share pic- teacher and the students. One of the assignments given to thetures, videos and documents, recommend links and exchange students asked them to choose the greatest Italian love songmessages either public (shorter as status indicators, longer as ever in their opinion, to post it and comment it. The studentsblogs and forums inside the social network) or private (emails had to play on their cultural and linguistic foreknowledge, look-inside the system). The learners are so in contact with huge ing for their video on YouTube (, listening to it,quantities of inputs in L2 and can practice their linguistic skill trying to understand the lyric in order to write a short commentinteracting with the teacher and with the peer community in a in Italian language. The activity reported on fig. 2 illustrates howmotivating and active way. a video shared by a student, quoting the lyric of the chosen song, was followed by two comments in L2. As you can infer3. Learning/teaching Italian as a second from this example, the social network can become, as already highlighted by other authors (Bonaiuti, 2006), a virtual learning language with Ning environment similar to an e-learning platform, but more openThe 40 hours course which is subject of this study was addressed to the users’ contributions, encouraging in the case here stud-to 25 students with different nationality and with a knowledge ied the dialogue and the exchange in non-native languages, inof Italian equivalent to level C1 of Council of Europe’s Common order to practice the perceptive and productive skills.Framework (Council of Europe, 2001). Beside the face-to-facelessons, divided in six hours per week, was suggested the use ofa social network created with the web service Ning (Fig. 1). This 4. Students’ feedbacksocial media has already been tested in a few educational and 16 learners, aged from 20 to 28, expressed their opinion aboutpedagogical projects (Allegra, 2010; Vagnozzi, 2010; Marcelli, the social network used during the course. All of them had an2010) with good results in terms of motivation and collabora- Internet connection and declared to use regularly the social net-tion. It is also used to teach languages and to help language work Facebook, with changeable frequency, mainly to exchangeteachers to get in touch with other teachers (Rich 2009)2. The messages and to comment the pictures. The activities of com-social network offered different possibilities to consolidate and menting videos and writing short notes instead are reported in 4deepen the linguistic-cultural skills: the communication tools and 3 cases out of 16. 15 students out of 16 accepted to join theencouraged the synchronous (chat) and asynchronous (emails, social network Erasmus C1, using it in 6 cases once a week andblogs, forums) interaction, while the sharing tools (pictures and in 5 cases several times a week. The class social network camevideos) encouraged new inputs to discussion and confrontation in useful, with different percentages depending on the opinionwhich could take place on-line or face-to-face, improving the expressed by each student, to find the pieces of informationpractice of oral and written skills. The contents (links to songs, concerning the course (for ex. change of classroom and hour),movie extracts, pictures, texts) were chosen depending on the to deepen the Italian language and culture and to communi-subjects covered in class, making room for suggestions and cate and socialize with the teacher and with the mates. The twocomments made by the students. They were also allowed to most used features of the social network were the internal mail system and the video embedding: this in particular is at odds2 See, for example, the paper at with the common use of the social network Facebook, where htm, describing an experience of teaching English as a second language us- the users state to comment mainly the pictures. In 9 cases out ing Ning by Dolores Molero De Martins or the social network dedicated to of 16 the students stated to be persuaded that the class social the teacher of English as a second language (http://englishcompanion.ning. network contributed to improve on the linguistic-cultural skill in com/). ing earn eLearning Papers • ISSN: 1887-1542 • eL ers 26 u ers.e gpap .elea rnin n.º 26 • October 2011 Pap www 2
  3. 3. From the fieldL2 (“to find out other things, as culture”), while in 3 cases theanswer was negative. References Addolorato, A. (2009). Facebook come piattaforma di autofor-Conclusions mazione linguistica. In Borgato R. et al., (Eds.) Facebook come. Le nuove relazioni virtuali, Milano: Franco Angeli, 176-181.This experience makes hypothesize an increase in the use of so-cial networks, in order to check if it is really possible to improve Allegra, C. (2010). Usare un Social Learning Enviroment a scuola:on the linguistic acquisition. The guarantee of more autonomy un approccio integrato per l’apprendimento. Esame di un caso. Into the learners, who can select resources and contents to share Andronico A. et al. (Eds.), Atti del Convegno Didamatica 2010,with the class for didactic aims, besides the possibility to get Roma: Università La touch with more quantities of inputs in an interactive way(Bettoni, 2001), even after the course ends, could broaden the Babbel (2011). Retrieved September 28. 2011 from http://opportunity of linguistic-cultural consolidation and reinforce-, diluting the boundaries between the didactic in class and Bedini, S. (2009). Livemocha: un social network peroutside the class. Furthermore, as reported in Fini & Cigognini l’apprendimento-insegnamento delle lingue, retrieved September2009), the openness towards the community of linguistic prac- 28, 2011 from which spontaneously rises on line could represent, at the load&name=ezcms&file=index&menu=79&page_id=498.end of the training, the evolution towards a continuous andlifelong learning, thanks to the peers’ contribution: this way a Berger, P. & Texler, S. (2010). Choosing Web 2.0 Tools for learn-theme-based social network would be created, open to count- ing and Teaching in a Digital World, Portland: Book News.less friendships and dedicated to Italian as a second Language, Bettoni, C. (2001). Imparare un’altra lingua. Lezioni di linguisticawhere learners and teachers from different countries could in- applicata, Roma-Bari: Laterza.teract, sharing resources and materials, in the common chal-lenge of learning and teaching a language and a culture. Bonaiuti, G. (2006). E-learning 2.0 Il futuro dell’apprendimento in rete, tra formale e informale, Trento: Erickson. Busuu (2011). Retrieved September 28. 2011 from http://www. Caon, F. & Lobasso, F., (2008). L’utilizzo della canzone per la promozione e l’insegnamento della lingua, della cultura e della let- teratura italiana all’estero. Studi di Glottodidattica, 1 (54-69). Cotroneo, E., (in press). Da Facebook a Ning per imparare l’italiano: quando il social network fa didattica. In AA.VV., Atti del First International Language Conference: Translation, Technol- ogy and Autonomy in Language Teaching and Learning, National University of Galway, Ireland, 10-11.12.2010. Council of Europe (2001). A Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment, Cam- bridge: Cambridge University Press. Dolphin (2011). Retrieved September 28. 2011 from http:// ing earn eLearning Papers • ISSN: 1887-1542 • eL ers 26 u ers.e gpap .elea rnin n.º 26 • October 2011 Pap www 3
  4. 4. From the fieldDownes, S. (2005). E-learning 2.0, retrieved August 25, 2011 from Palabea (2011). Retrieved September 28. 2011 from http://www. Rich, E. (2009). The World’s largest English Department, re-Elgg (2011). Retrieved September 28. 2011 from trieved September 28. 2011 from articles/2009/10/01/01ning.h03.html.English Companion (2011). Retrieved September 28, 2011 from Siemens, G. (2001). Connectivism: a learning theory for the dig- ital age, retrieved August 25, 2011 from http://www.elearnspace. org/Articles/connectivism.htm.Fini, A. & Cigognini, M. A. (2009). Web 2.0 e social networking.Nuovi paradigmi per la formazione, Gardiolo: Erickson. Troncarelli, D. (2010). Strategie e risorse per l’insegnamento linguistico online. In Jafrancesco E. (eds.), Apprendere in rete: mul-Livemocha (2011). Retrieved September 28. 2011 from http:// timedialità e insegnamento linguistico. Atti del XVIII Nazionale ILSA (Firenze, 21 novembre 2009). Firenze: Le Monnier,Marcelli, M. (2010). Blended Learning e Inverted Classroom in 9-22.un Social Network. In Andronico A. et al. (Eds.), Atti del Conveg- Twiducate (2011). Retrieved September 28. 2011 from http://no Didamatica 2010, Roma: Università La Sapienza. De Martins, D., Using Ning in a University EFL Class- Vagnozzi, M. (2010). Sostenere attraverso un social network leroom, Retrieved September 28. 2011 from attività educative rivolte agli adolescenti. In Andronico A. et al.etnirag/issue5/doris.htm (Eds.), Atti del Convegno Didamatica 2010, Roma: Università LaMy Happy Planet (2011). Retrieved September 28. 2011 from Sapienza. YouTube (2011). Retrieved August 25, 2011 from http://www.Ning (2011). Retrieved August 25, 2011 from http://www.ning.’Reilly, T. (2005). What is Web 2.0. Design Patterns and BusinessModels for the Next Generation of Software, retrieved August 25,2011 from Edition and production Name of the publication: eLearning Papers Copyrights ISSN: 1887-1542 The texts published in this journal, unless otherwise indicated, are subject Publisher: to a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivativeWorks Edited by: P.A.U. Education, S.L. 3.0 Unported licence. They may be copied, distributed and broadcast pro- Postal address: c/Muntaner 262, 3r, 08021 Barcelona (Spain) vided that the author and the e-journal that publishes them, eLearning Phone: +34 933 670 400 Papers, are cited. Commercial use and derivative works are not permitted. Email: The full licence can be consulted on Internet: es/by-nc-nd/3.0/ ing earn eLearning Papers • ISSN: 1887-1542 • www.elearningpapers.eueL ers 26 u ers.e gpap .elea rnin n.º 26 • October 2011Pap www 4