Faculty Experiences - Katrina Daly Thompson

Katrina Daly Thompson - photo



Interview Topics:
What matters most to you in your teaching?

How are you using technology as a tool to achieve your teaching goals?

How have your students responded to your use of technology?

What new goals do you have for using technology in teaching?

How could the university better facilitate the use of technology in instruction?

Maximize class time
Use authentic materials
Research projects
Get students comfortable with technology

Class web site
Online discussions
Online quizzes

Maximizing Class Time and Connecting Language and Culture

Here at UCLA most of my classes have been Swahili language classes. In the future I plan to teach some other classes and my goals might be different, but in those language classes my goals are to get students really excited about learning Swahili, expose them to another language and culture, and get them as proficient as possible in the limited amount of time that we have, which is five hours a week for 30 weeks over the year.

I use technology in several different ways. The first one is basically to maximize the amount of time we have during class. When I first started teaching I created a lot of activities that I could have students do outside of class using technology so that we could spend more time in class using the language and conversation. I’ve done most of that using course management systems. Here at UCLA I’ve used WebCT, and I guess next year I’ll start using Moodle, to post lots of materials that they can access outside of class. Instead of doing quizzes in class, for example, I have them do those at home, on the computer, over the weekend. And that also saves me time because some of the questions can automatically be graded by the computer, and then I can just go in and grade the more open-ended questions. I also use the course site to provide them with lists of vocabulary that may not be in their textbooks but that I don’t necessarily want to spend time going over in class. And I also put lots of links to materials that other people have created, audio they can listen to, videos they can watch, online dictionaries, and so on.

I’ve been doing one activity this year that is building from one quarter to the next. When I first started teaching, I had this idea that language and culture are so intricately connected that it would be obvious to the students that they were learning the culture alongside the language. But I found that it wasn’t as obvious to them as it was to me. Because I want them to do everything in Swahili in class, they didn’t have the Swahili skills yet to learn the culture in depth. So I started creating activities that they could do outside of class using English. I have them do online discussions where they read an article, respond to discussion questions, and read each other’s responses and questions. During the first quarter of the year, I choose the articles and post questions. In the second quarter I assign each of them to choose a topic, so they find an article that interests them and they write the discussion questions and respond to each other. And in the third quarter that expands to a longer research project, where they do some web-based research but also look for journal articles and interview native speakers. And then they share what they’ve learned with their classmates.

I was surprised when I was nominated for this award, because my impression was that the students were not that excited about these technologies, or that they couldn’t see the benefit. To me, it is really obvious that it is serving the purpose that I want it to, that we are spending a lot more time in class using the language than we could if we were doing quizzes and things like that. And also, with the online discussion I can see that they’re learning quite a bit more about the culture than they would if we didn’t have those kinds of activities. But it wasn’t so clear to me that they understood those benefits, because I use the technology to maximize the class time, and I think that hides it from them. It’s not like I’m coming to class and doing Powerpoint or anything where technology is the main focus. I think they’re kind of unaware of the reasons that we’re doing it, but at the end of the year, when they see how much they learned in Swahili, I do hear from students, “Oh, I learned so much more in a year than I when I took a year of Spanish,” or French, or some more commonly spoken language. And I think that it’s because of all these things that I do, but I’m not sure that they realize the reason.

One thing I would like to do that I haven’t done yet is to hook students up more with people in East Africa, using chat rooms or other kinds of communication technology. The difficulty is that access to the Internet in East Africa is still relatively low. Something else I want to do more with is having advanced students create online materials for lower level students, where they’re actually learning how to use various technologies so that they’re both increasing their Swahili proficiency and learning how to teach, so that if they have an interest in becoming language teachers themselves they’re gaining those skills.

CDH (the Center for Digital Humanities) is the office I have worked with the most, and I have found them very helpful whenever I need to do something. One frustration that I have is about the big switches from Ecampus to Moodle (course management systems), which require a lot of retooling of materials. I also feel like there could be a little more support when things go wrong, for instance right now there’s a problem with student records being deleted. I feel like there’s a lot of support for the creative aspect of using technology, if you have an idea there’s people you can go to and they’ll help you get started with it, and you can learn about what other faculty are doing, but then when there’s a snag sometimes it takes a little too long to correct. However, I feel like this kind of work is supported and encouraged at UCLA.

Oral interview, April 2008