This is the proposal I put in with my application for my Master in Modern Languages Education. Subjects to complete this year, and then thesis next year. Feedback more than welcome, as it is only ideas at this stage…
Realising the potential of social networking in the Chinese language classroom.
“If you’re not using technology to teach, you should be! But then again, you already knew that…And your students did too!” 
For the past twenty years, the internet and world wide web (WWW) has become an increasingly integral part of our daily work and social lives. Ease of access and use has led to a revolution in the way we search for information, contribute information and communicate with each other. Web based information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as Web 2.0 applications (For eg. YouTube for uploading and sharing videos, Facebook for social networking) enjoyed a vastly increased user base over the past 5 years as more and more people adapt them to suit their daily lives and tasks.
These developments have presented new challenges to educators and increasingly more emphasis has been placed on integration of various technologies into school curricula so that Australia’s students become “confident, creative and productive users of new technologies, particularly information and communication technologies.” The Digital Education Revolution is a Federal government initiative, created in recognition of the importance of these new technologies in the school environment is ” a five year $1.2 billion Federal election commitment that will enable schools to better access the benefits of technology for their students.”  One of the four key strands as outlined in the DER Strategic Plan is Teacher Capability, which states that teachers should have the skills and tools to design and deliver programs that meet students needs and harness the benefits and resources of the digital revolution.” 
In the Chinese language learning classroom specifically, the use of ICTs could be extremely valuable. In general, language classes suffer from lack of classtime which limits the progress possible. By providing access to a virtual Chinese language world and encouraging students to interact with the Chinese language outside of the classroom, ICTs could be an excellent way of engaging and motivating students to participate more readily in class and spend more time on task, which would mean they enjoy more success, which in turn may then encourage them to continue their language studies. ICTs also provide opportunities for language teachers (and students) to create resources that allow for differentiated development. For example, lessons recorded and available to each student to listen to indivdually allow students to work through them at their own pace and without having to perform under pressure in front of their peers
Within the field of ICT, social networking seems to have strong potential for language learning, however may pose problems for teachers who are not used to teaching with a technology that allows for more student input in to each others work, access to an online community, and possibly high levels on engagment and interaction outside the classroom. Social networks such as the popular Facebook allow users to create a personal profile and then add friends (other network members) to their page. Members can publish their own photos and videos, as well as comment on those of their friends. In the case of Facebook, members can also post ‘status updates,’ a short message about what they are doing or thinking at any given time. Their friends on the network are able to then comment on this and a conversation between two or more people often follows. Facebook is the world’s most influential social networking platform, and now has over 300 million active users.
Teenagers in particular are avid contemporary users of social media technologies, participating in social networks such as Facebook and other very similar networks that have the same funcitonalities, such as MySpace and Bebo, to stay in touch with their friends, share their life events, join interest groups, contribute to discussions and comment on each others content. Many spend much of their after-school time engaged with these networks. In a language learning environment, these sort of social networks and games could be especially useful in providing students with and engaging way to spend time on tasks outside the classroom mediated by their second language. For example, the network students use could be set up in the target language so all orientation points such as ‘My Page,’ ‘Home,’ ‘My Friends,’ ‘Send a Message,’ were in the target language. A social network designed around connecting with friends, sending messages , contributing to discussion groups and posting work for others to comment on could provide ‘content-oriented, culture- and task based foreign language curricula.’  Students from a country that speaks the target language could also be invited to join the network and interact with the L2 students.
Such networks would appear to offer considerable potential for assisting langauge teachers and learners, but questions arise: can the potential benefits of social networks be realised for language learners within the normal constraints of the school classroom? Would such activities be feasible in Chinese with its particular writing system? Can a teacher who is not yet familiar with this technology be taught to use it effectively? Could teachers educated in a very different system learn to appreciate the freedoms and flexibility such a program would offer?
In looking at these issues, the first part of my Masters work will comprise researching and presenting an in depth analysis of social networking for the teaching and learning of language, specifically Chinese, leading to guidelines for the design and implementation of one such social network in a classroom, I will then undertake an action research project working with a set of 4 teachers to implement the social network (possibly created using Ning.com – a platform for building social networks) in the classroom, documenting their understandings and processes of learning to become familiar and comfortable with the resource. The effects on students’ learning will also be recorded.
Keeping in line with the Digital Education Revolution’s emphasis on teacher capability and new technologies, the outcome for schools will be further knowledge of the potential for social networking in language education, specifically Chinese, as well as the issues involved in its implementation with respect to teacher education.
T4 Jordan School District, 2007, ‘Pay Attention’, http://www.teachertube.com/members/viewVideo.php?video_id=448&title=Pay_Attention, accessed 21/02/10
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), 2008. Success through partnership – Achieving a national vision for ICT in schools: Strategic Plan to guide the implementation of the Digital Education Revolution initiative and related initiatives, p. 4
 Ibid., p. 3
 Ibid., p. 6
 Chatfield, T, 2010, ‘Serious Fun,’ Australian Financial Review, http://www.afr.com/p/lifestyle/review/serious_fun_zSAfApEmobSMviHs8YJwxN, accessed 30/01/10
 Neville, David, 2009. ‘Digital Game-Based Learning in Second Language Acquisition,’ The Language Educator, Vol. 4, Issue 6, p. 47.
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