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Bridging the gaps: Using social media to develop techno-pedagogical competences in pre-service language teacher education

Les médias sociaux pour combler les lacunes : le développement de compétences techno-pédagogiques dans la formation initiale des enseignants de langue
Shona Whyte
p. 143-169


Intégrer les TICE de façon efficace dans la classe de langue pose problème aux futurs enseignants, qui doivent acquérir des compétences techno-pédagogiques et apprendre à choisir parmi des ressources internet abondantes.  Les recherches récentes soulignant l’importance du travail collaboratif en réseau, nous appliquons ce modèle socio-constructiviste à un public de futurs enseignants de plusieurs langues étrangères. Nous cherchons à savoir à quel point ces étudiants peuvent s’approprier des compétences techno-pédagogiques, filtrer des contenus numériques, et s’investir dans des pratiques collaboratives hors contact direct avec la classe. Nous analysons des données de projets de groupe (curation numérique, wikis, médias sociaux) et démontrons des acquis en compétences techno-pédagogiques et collaboratives ainsi que des changements d’attitude aux TICE en classe de langue.  Notre travail tend à montrer qu’une activité sur les médias sociaux permet aux futurs enseignants de bénéficier de ressources d’enseignement-apprentissage en ligne et même d’y contribuer, préparant ainsi le terrain pour une formation professionnelle future fructueuse.

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Introduction: Learning to teach languages with technology

1Pre-service language teacher education involves bridging a number of different gaps between trainees’ understanding and experience of language teaching and learning with technology on the one hand, and the competences they need to develop for their future professional careers on the other. One gap is a gap in knowledge of particular tools for language teaching, together with their pedagogical affordances (Kessler 2006): for example, many students in traditional university modern foreign language programmes have little experience of digital audio editors or learning platforms commonly used in secondary school classrooms. A second gap separates students’ previous learning experiences and their future needs for professional development as new teachers: here again, many language programmes are designed around fixed principles of cultural transmission and gatekeeping which do not prepare students to take an active role in their own professional development (Whyte 2011a). The third gap between trainees’ experience and needs concerns social media: while many of today’s new teachers may be confident using technology and social media for their own purposes, few are aware of the potential of social networks in their future professional practice (Madge et al. 2009). The following literature review examines each of these three gaps in turn.

1. Bridging gaps for trainee language teachers

1.1. Using technology in the classroom

2Much recent work in language teacher education has centred on questions of how best to help teachers to integrate technologies into their classroom practice. Two recent edited volumes by Hubbard and Levy (2006) and Kassen et al. (2007) offer a range of different responses to these questions, while Stockwell (2009) proposes a well-defined framework for ongoing professional development. Other recent overviews of CALL and CMC in teacher education by Hong (2010) and Guichon and Hauck (2011) emphasize the crucial role of teacher education in developing teachers’ awareness of technical and pedagogical affordances of tools and resources, as well as their ability to use them effectively in the language classroom. These abilities have been referred to as “techno-pedagogical skills” (Desjardins & Peters 2007: 6) or “techno-pedagogical competences” (Guichon & Hauck 2011: 189) to capture the combination of technological know-how and pedagogical expertise required. Key aspects of teacher competences and training guidelines as summarised from Guichon and Hauck’s (2011) analysis of this literature are presented in Table 1. The competences teachers require to teach effectively with technology involve matching learners’ needs to pedagogical affordances of learning tools. The training guidelines are distilled from research in teacher education studies.

Table 1. Teacher competences and training guidelines

Table 1. Teacher competences and training guidelines

Guichon & Hauck 2011: 191

3The complexities of the interactions between teachers’ knowledge, beliefs and experiences and their actual classroom practice have been the focus of much recent research over the past fifteen years (Woods 1996; Freeman & Johnson 1998). Peacock (2001) showed the difficulties of eradicating what he called “detrimental trainee beliefs” about second language acquisition, while Borg (1999, 2003, 2009) has instigated a fruitful strand of research into teacher cognition (Feryok 2005; Cross 2006; Wyatt 2008) demonstrating the complex interplay of factors influencing teacher behaviour in the language classroom. Work in the teacher cognition paradigm which specifically examines teachers’ integration of technology shows that their uptake and exploitation of new technologies is also influenced by their beliefs about language teaching and learning, as well as by their own institutional contexts (Cutrim Schmid 2010, 2011; Whyte 2011b). Although teachers are often trained to use new tools such as the interactive whiteboard in constructivist learning environments emphasising communicative and task-based teaching approaches, their observed classroom use of the tools, and their comments on their own practice often reveal objectives and concerns which are at odds with this orientation, but which also evolve with support over time (Cutrim Schmid & Whyte 2012; Whyte et al. 2013). Hoven (2007) has shown that collaborative “experiential learning” activities in which trainee teachers test tools and activities among themselves can foster gradual learning leading to deeper and more durable changes in teaching behaviour and attitudes.

4Research into teacher education for languages with technology therefore suggests: a) teachers need to acquire a range of basic techno-pedagogical skills, b) attention must be paid to teachers’ knowledge of and attitudes to second language learning and teaching, and c) technology integration in the language classroom requires long-term support to develop effective teaching practices.

1.1.1. Training literature graduates for secondary school contexts

  • 1 It is […] appropriate that, as has been happening in many European countries in the last twenty yea (...)

5The major part of teacher education for language teachers in the state sector in Europe is conducted in graduate language courses1 where initial programmes involve the study of the literature and culture of the language to be taught. It is on this recent experience of language learning, studying, and evaluation that pre-service teachers draw on their arrival in teacher education courses, and on this academic culture that they base their approach to learning to teach in public high schools. However there are differences between these contexts and thus a number of transitions to be made.

6Just as the digital revolution is transforming school language classrooms, so too is it changing the landscape of higher education. In “The Tower and the Cloud”, a collection of essays on information technology in higher education, Katz (2008a) offers a variety of viewpoints on the opposition between the ivory towers of traditional universities, originally built by a gatekeeping elite to preserve scarce academic knowledge, and today’s internet information “cloud”: superabundant resources, easily accessible, often ephemeral, and of uncertain provenance (Katz & Gandel 2008). Stallybrass sees a threat to the “tower” from a “cloud” of literary databases allowing users “to separate knowledge from academic prestige and from its attendant regime of intellectual property”, undermining “an academic elite’s control over the circulation of knowledge” (2007: 1581). For university teaching, Lane suggests that the easy availability of high quality educational resources places new burdens on both teachers and learners to “put the education into their own open educational content” (2008: 166), while the debate in higher education language and literary circles surrounding the evaluation of digital scholarship in the humanities (Ball 2010; Schreibman, Mandell & Olsen 2011; Parker 2012) illustrates many of the controversies and conflicts currently challenging “our traditional ideas about scholarly quality, method, and literacy” (Katz 2008b: 29).

7Trainee language teachers thus come from a historically closed academic context, albeit one which is currently in transition. Resources have been scarce, leading to transmissive teaching and gatekeeping (cf. French national competitive secondary teaching exams, Ministère de l’Éducation nationale, n.d.). Yet this context is evolving, and many of the resources students will need as secondary school language teachers are readily available online. Learning to navigate through this information overload is no simple task, and new models of higher education teaching and learning are arising in response. Connectivism, for example, (Siemens 2004; Siemens & Matheos 2010) takes a radical socio-constructivist approach to learning in the digital age where each learner charts his or her own course. Emergent learning is another, related, approach (Williams, Karousou & Mackness 2011), while the flipped classroom, which relegates lecture content to homework in order to free up class time for discussion (Gerstein 2012) is receiving much attention from online educators.

8Meanwhile, in school contexts, language teaching in Europe has been particularly affected by policies aimed at developing wider language skills in the community. These policies have led to the adoption of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) framework in many school curricula (Council of Europe 2001) and an attendant shift in focus in language teaching and learning from linguistic knowledge to communicative competence. While these programmes define learning objectives and evaluation criteria within a broad task-based approach, they do not specify learning materials or pedagogical practices. Teachers must therefore learn to identify learning resources to meet these objectives; English resources are of course superabundant, but other European languages such as Spanish and French are also well-served online. Thus one transition from the role of language student to language teacher requires the development of new skills for researching and evaluating online resources.

1.1.2. Exploiting social media

9Table 1 suggests that the new pedagogical practices, technologies and classroom materials trainee teachers require are best addressed via constructivist, collaborative approaches, where students can pool information and co-construct knowledge and skills. Numerous studies of technology use for university language learning provide support for the effectiveness of online collaboration using new technologies, social media and mobile learning (Järvelä et al. 2007; Lomicka & Lord 2012; Thouësny & Bradley 2011). While Thorne and Reinhardt’s influential work on bridging activities shows how learners’ existing online practices can be harnessed for language learning purposes (2008), other studies suggest a clear gap between students’ online social and study practices (Madge et al. 2009; Guichon 2012). Action research on personal learning networks (PLNs) and personal learning environments (PLEs) (cf Educause 2009; Wheeler 2010a, 2010b) by teachers of advanced university learners also supports constructivist approaches (Guth 2009; Laakkonen 2011). With PLEs “the goal for the student shifts from a need to collect information to a need to draw connections from it – to acquire it, disseminate it, and collaborate in its use” (Educause 2009). Zourou’s (2012) state of the art article on social media in language learning highlights the importance of participation, openness, and network effects, as seen for example in the emergent practice of online curation.

10Online curation offers an elegant solution to the problem of information overload in the cloud by allowing users to filter and share content on a particular topic. The term “content curator” is generally attributed to marketing and social media specialist Rohit Bhargava, whose original definition is “someone who continually finds, groups, organizes and shares the best and most relevant content on a specific issue online” (2009). While the concept has attracted the business world’s attention to strategies for what another new media expert calls “newsmastering” (Canali di Rossi 2010), it has also been adopted by library and information science professionals. A recent special issue of the French journal Documentaliste-Sciences de l’Information compares curation with more established types of technology watch, and analyses curation tools and practices for different research, teaching and commercial goals (Deschamps 2012).

11Online content curation for educational purposes is evolving rapidly due to both the overwhelming needs of users to filter information, and the advent of simple, powerful digital tools. Curation platforms such as or Storify allow users to set up pre-formatted online magazines, add content via links and commentary, and finally share their posts automatically on social networks or blogs such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and WordPress. As with more traditional blogs, curated collections may attract casual readers but also build up a more committed following who subscribe to feeds or e-mail updates. As with PLEs, in curation the objective is to select and present information in a structured way which benefits both curator and reader/follower. As one academic curator puts it: “publish, don’t just read” and “share, don’t just publish” (Cann 2011).

12For teacher education, curation offers an opportunity for students to bridge the gap between their social use of online communication tools and professional practices which can serve in their teaching careers for their own development. Social media skills can also help teachers support new language learning practices in their classrooms: Zourou argues that “a solid understanding of social media in language education seems both a necessity and an incentive for extended data-driven research on learning dynamics supported by emerging socio-technical contexts” (2012: 65-6).

13From this review of the literature it appears that graduate language students thus need to make three major transitions during their pre-service teacher education: from low or mainly personal use of technology to basic techno-pedagogical competence for the classroom; from a scholastic tradition of information-gathering from limited authoritative sources to managing greater quantities of content from a variety of sources (cf. Katz 2008a, 2008b); and from individual, teacher-controlled classroom activities to more autonomous, collaborative and networked approaches to learning to teach.

1.2. Research questions

14The present study analyses a pre-service teacher education course at a French university and investigates the following questions:

151. Can constructivist and connectivist principles of group collaboration, web-based research, and social networking inform effective course design for pre-service teachers of a number of different target languages and in the absence of class contact with learners?

162. To what extent can students a) acquire technopedagogical skills, b) learn to filter online content, and c) adopt collaborative learning practices in a short course on ICT for language teaching?

2. Method

2.1. Participants

17The participants in the study were all enrolled in a second year Masters in Languages programme, taking classes in English, German, Italian or Spanish language, culture and pedagogy in preparation for national competitive exams for language teachers in French secondary schools (concours). The programme includes two 3-week classroom placements: a first year observation and second year teaching practice. Twenty-four students completed a course on digital technologies for language teaching taught by the author, and all agreed to participate in the study. Table 2 shows participants’ age and language background.

Table 2. Overview of participants (number, languages, age)

Table 2. Overview of participants (number, languages, age)

18All course project work was carried out by students in three groups according to language, with the single German student choosing to join the English group rather than work alone.

2.2. Course overview

19This class on digital tools for language teaching met in a 24-place computer lab equipped with an interactive whiteboard and ran for six 2-hour sessions across a ten-week semester. The syllabus included lecture content on the theory and practice of ICT integration in FL teaching (interlanguage research, communicative and task-based language teaching, practical concerns) as well as web-based group work using wikis and curation sites on these topics, conducted both in and outside class time. An overview of the course content and organisation is given in Table 3.

Table 3. Course overview

Table 3. Course overview

2.3. Data

20Three types of data were collected from students during the course: a) group project work, carried out collaboratively in each language group, b) reflective feedback in the form of individual reaction papers and a final group presentation, and c) a post-course questionnaire. This work was analysed in quantitative terms to provide a broad overview of involvement in activities, and qualitatively, in an attempt to explain these findings. Each data set is discussed in turn in section 3.

3. Analysis

3.1. Project work

21The main task assigned to each language group was to collate online resources for teaching the language in French secondary schools, including: information about language acquisition and learning; the Ministry of Education’s official programmes for the language; linguistic resources for the classroom and for teachers to maintain or improve their own language skills; and digital tools for teaching and learning. Students set up curation sites ( and used social networks (Facebook, Twitter) to find web-based resources, which they then organised and presented on a wiki (Google site). Data from each task is examined in turn in this section.

3.1.1. Curation sites

22Table 4 lists the curation sites created by each group on, a curation platform which allows users to create up to five free “topics” or online collections to display and link to selected web-based resources, which they can comment and tag using a bookmarklet installed on their web browser. These posts can then be shared via social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Users can also choose to become “followers” of particular topics, which they can then comment on or “rescoop” (repost in their own topics). Curators’ own social network sharing of their posts as well as rescoops, comments, and thanks by other curators are tallied as “reactions” to the topic, and other standard statistics are available (number of views, visitors, followers, plus a “ score” assigned by the platform hosts to all topics with more than 10 posts, based on recent traffic).

23During the course, each language group created a number of sites which they curated individually or in tandem using a shared password. Throughout the course in my role as instructor I suggested, commented, and shared student scoops with my own network of language professionals via the platform and social media. statistics were collected 2 months (Time 1) and 7 months (Time 2) after the end of the course and are presented in Table 4, including the instructors’ own sites for comparison purposes.

24The English and Italian groups each created four sites and the Spanish students two. There were an average of 23 posts per site (range 8-60) and by Time 1 the ten sites had averaged 162 views (range 33-337) from 104 visitors (range 23-251). The sites which attracted most traffic were those whose curators either shared their posts systematically via Twitter and/or Facebook (E1, I3, S6) or followed other curators and attracted a following on (E3). At Time 1, 7 of the 10 sites were still functioning, with the latest post less than one month old, and scores from 37 to 66. By Time 2, half the sites had been updated again, and some had attracted substantial traffic. Among the curators of these “live” sites, three (E3, S2, S6) attracted over 300 visits from over 200 visitors: all either posted more than the two less popular live sites (E3=28, S2=17) or shared systematically via social media (S6). Although E4 and I3 also continued to post to their sites, the lower frequency of updates seems to have resulted in fewer visits (+63-85) from fewer visitors (around 40). These figures are comparable to those of four of the five “dead” sites which were no longer updated (I2, I9, I12, G1), and which gained some 60 to 100 views from around 50 to 80 visitors.

Table 4. site usage

Table 4. site usage

a Time 1: 21-22, Feb 2012
b Time 2: 23, July 2012
c Students are coded E1, E2, E3 for English students, G for German, I for Italian and S for Spanish

25The exception is E1, whose site was last updated on January 30 yet between February and July received over 500 hits from over 400 visitors, more than all but one of the live curation sites. E1 was the only student to share on her personal Facebook account, though site analytics to investigate the provenance of visitors are not available.

26In spite of the short duration of the course, the students’ activity thus seems rather successful by these measures. A majority of students continued to update their topics after the final class meeting, suggesting they found the tool useful, and at least one site per language group attracted followers outside the class group – teachers of their language and curators who reposted their links to their own collections – providing external validation of the students’ work. Regarding the topics which were created only to meet course requirements, I2’s site is interesting because this student made all her (41) posts on the same day in the last week of class without sharing or following other curators. The eight reactions in Table 4 are rescoops of these posts by another topic (curated by the Italian department at another French university) almost two months after the end of the course. Thus work that would otherwise be invisible or lost to the wider community once a course assignment is completed here can be recovered and exploited by others.

3.1.2. Social networks

27The English group created a Twitter account followed only by the instructor with 19 tweets from Session 4 onwards. They did not follow other users. Three of the four curators shared their posts using this Twitter account, first G1, followed by E1 in the final week of class, and E4 two full months after the end of class. The group also opened a Facebook account in the final week of class, with 2 likes and no friends, and posts which linked to the four sites, some of the instructor’s SL acquisition and teaching sites, and other related sites, which were not, however, shared from the sites nor via Twitter until E4’s new posts after the end of the course.

28The Italian students created a Twitter account which produced 2 tweets, but I3 linked his site to another Twitter account (53 tweets), which he had created for other professional purposes. This student followed 17 accounts, half of which were related to course topics, but did not attract followers apart from the instructor.

29The Spanish group used three social networks: Facebook, Twitter, and Tuenti (a Facebook-type platform used in the Spanish-speaking world). The students created a Facebook account for the group at Session 4 and posted on three further occasions: 4 photo albums with 10-25 photos of Spanish cities, and three posts from their sites. The account had 23 friends. S6 opened a Twitter account in her name and linked it to her site: she posted 30 tweets, mainly from her posts, and attracted 3 followers (S2, the instructor, and another curator who also followed her The Tuenti account was not shared with the instructor (a non Spanish speaker); it seemed to be used to post links to sites related to Spanish language and culture, often based on the group’s experiences teaching and living in Spanish-speaking countries.

30It appears that most students did not take full advantage of the potential of social networks to share their work with others interested in the same topics, and to benefit from work and resources shared by others online. Where students did make use of social networking platforms, with one or two exceptions, they tended to use them to house new content, rather than to share what had been produced elsewhere.

3.1.3. Wikis

31Table 5 gives an overview of students’ usage of their group Google sites as recorded in the site history for each of the three language groups, showing pages created and revisions, with information concerning when and by whom they were made.

32The English group created 10 pages, editing each an average of 10 times from sessions 2 through 6 of the course. Six of these pages were created and edited in the final two sessions when the group was organising their curated links for the final presentation, and the majority of the work was carried out by 2 editors at or around class meetings and throughout the final week of the course. One student made further edits and created a new page well after the end of the course (E4, week 17). The Italian group made 13 pages, 5 of which corresponded to coursework unconnected to the wiki project. The 8 task-related pages were edited an average of 8 times mainly in the final weeks of class and by 6 members of the group (I2, I3, I4, I5, I9 and I11). The Spanish group created an 11-page wiki, although 6 of those were created in the final week of class for non-project coursework, as in the Italian group. The main contributions to the Google site were by S3 and S4 and the revision history is similar to the other groups.

33In final presentations and reflective papers students were positive about the collaborative process of constructing the sites and the utility of the final product:

  • 2 All participant quotes were translated from French and attributed to anonymised members of each lan (...)

The site that we created on Google Sites made a definitive impression on me, so much so that I’m currently using it with my own tutees for them to find information necessary for them to follow secondary school Spanish classes. (S3)2

34Differential patterns of student participation in and across language groups were also apparent. In the English group, three students were more active: E3 and E4 both contributed to the Google site and curated topics, each working more on one than on the other, while E1 was more active on The Italian students shared work more equally, although I3 and I9 were both active on as well as the Google site, and some students were almost invisible online. In the Spanish group tasks were divided cooperatively, S2 and S6 curating Scoop.its, S3 and S4 working on the Google site, and S1 and S5 on Facebook and Tuenti.

Table 5. Google site usage

Table 5. Google site usage

35Students views of the tools and resources identified during this group work, and of the collaborative process itself are examined in the next section.

3.2. Reflective feedback

36At the final class meeting students gave group presentations at the interactive whiteboard to share project work with the other language groups. They then composed final reaction papers on Google Documents in response to three general questions about their work in the course which concerned:

  • the acquisitional and pedagogical value of ICT for secondary school language teaching;

  • the most relevant tools and resources identified by the group for teaching their language;

  • their success in creating a personal learning network and remaining ambitions.

37The original questions and translations are given in the appendix. Students’ papers were analysed using a grounded theory approach in which themes emerging from several reading cycles were used in coding the full corpus to identify shared concerns. Findings for each question are examined in turn in the following sections.

3.2.1. Acquisitional and pedagogical arguments

38Analysis yielded thirteen different reasons advanced by students to justify the use of technology in the secondary school language classroom. Table 6 shows the percentage of students citing each argument in each group and as a class in order of popularity, with high scores shaded.

Table 6. Justification of ICT for teaching and learning

Table 6. Justification of ICT for teaching and learning

39Many students believed technology helped to increase learner participation (active learning, interaction, learning through play), to promote learner motivation or engagement, to exploit authentic (or diverse) teaching resources and/or activities, and to improve efficiency in teaching or learning (save time in class or increase exposure outside class). Half the group felt that they should use ICT in their language classes in order to conform to modern or future expectations or habits concerning general technology use by secondary school learners. They claimed that since their learners already used technology heavily in their daily lives and would need it in later life, teachers needed to use technology to gain learners’ attention and improve their ICT skills. Task-based language teaching and developing learner autonomy and/or meeting diverse learner needs were more frequently cited than arguments involving collaborative learning between the teacher and learners, or among learners; oral production or listening comprehension; and access to native speakers and/or culture. Finally, arguments regarding the CEFR, official programmes, and ICT certification for pupils were advanced by only one in four students or fewer, suggesting that the majority of students understood ICT integration in language classes as more than simply an institutional requirement.

40There were some differences across the three language groups: the English and Spanish students favoured arguments concerning learner participation and motivation, while the English and Italian students also mentioned efficiency and ICT expectations. The Italian and Spanish groups both valued authentic resources. Each group also favoured one additional argument more than the other groups: for the Spanish students this was task-based learning, for the Italians learner autonomy, and the English the CEFR.

3.2.2. Tools and resources

41The digital tools and learning resources which students considered most relevant to their teaching context are shown in Table 7.

Table 7. Tools and resources for teaching and learning

Table 7. Tools and resources for teaching and learning

42The most frequently cited tool was the digital audio editor Audacity, followed by the video communication tool Skype, and social media (overwhelmingly In terms of learning resources, students most often cited websites offering activities for learners and podcasts, as opposed to dictionaries and grammar reference sites or news portals. Four students also valued teaching blogs, which were not highlighted in instruction, and three chose video websites (such as YouTube) and portals for target language culture. The English and Spanish students showed a strong bias in favour of sites with learning activities, with podcasts, video sites and news sites also popular, while the Italian students preferred reference sites, with a more even distribution over the remaining options.

3.2.3. Self-evaluation of development

43Regarding their own personal learning networks, students’ responses showed an uncertain grasp of the PLN concept, often confusing this with social networks in general, but comments offered insights into students’ assessment of the broader implications of course activities for their future professional development. Table 8 groups their comments under three rubrics: what they felt they had learned, what they considered their next steps to be, and any drawbacks to technology use they saw. (This last category was not solicited by the question prompt but was spontaneously mentioned by a number of students.)

Table 8. Achievements, goals and caveats for teaching and learning

Table 8. Achievements, goals and caveats for teaching and learning

44Regarding their learning during the course, the students most frequently mentioned the different tools used for coursework, particularly Google sites and Six students expressed surprise and satisfaction with the development of their digital skills, claiming low confidence prior to the course:

During this course I learned to create a website! I had no idea how to do this and the task seemed out of my reach. In fact Google sites is really easy to use and you pick it up very quickly, even a beginner like myself. (E6)

45Almost half the class also said they had learned to collaborate with other students and that this had been a worthwhile and often novel experience:

The sharing of information via collaborative sites like and social networks is very useful because it allowed us to see that we could act as a united group and to exchange information for the same goals […] We worked very closely together and also helped our classmates with their tasks. A student in the Italian group even sent us a link she found for an extra resource (S1).

46Other types of learning cited by the students were more directly oriented to teaching: one in four claimed to have gained pedagogical knowledge or resources; all but one of these were students of Italian. Finally a smaller number of students felt the course had allowed them to learn about social media and sharing online.

47Concerning the next steps for professional development, responses fell into four categories, in order of popularity: exploiting ICT tools with learners in the classroom, learning to use more tools or improving their command of existing tools, maintaining, extending and/or sharing collections of learning resources creating during the course; and collaborating with other teachers in the local teaching context or online. The Spanish and English groups were particularly motivated to apply what they had learned in the course directly to their teaching contexts, and three students had already done so by the end of the course. Others often had very specific implementations in mind:

for example pupils can consult the I have made and just by reading the summaries should easily be able to find the information they need. (If they are looking for a site to improve listening comprehension they won’t waste time typing “English listening comprehension exercises” into Google and clicking on various links to find a suitable site. With they will immediately find useful, clearly identified links.) (E4)

48The English and Italian groups expressed a desire for greater mastery of more tools, while the Spanish students were particularly motivated to maintain and extend their resources sites, and to share them with others.

49Finally, some students used the opportunity for wider reflection offered by this last question to consider negative aspects of ICT use both personally, in terms of problems experienced during the course, or more broadly with respect to future technology use in the secondary school classroom. Six students raised privacy/safety issues, generally in the context of Facebook use with schoolchildren. Others, particularly the English students, mentioned technical problems and information overload, as well as the complexities of managing different sites without an institutional learning management system (LMS; which the instructor chose to bypass for various logistical reasons).

3.3. Post-training questionnaire

50At the final class meeting students completed a short online survey including questions on their background (languages, age; Table 2), their attitudes to ICT, and their own assessment of their ICT abilities in relation to language teaching before and after the course (See appendix).

Table 9. Participants’ self-assessment of skills in ICT for languages

Table 9. Participants’ self-assessment of skills in ICT for languages

51Table 9 summarises students’ attitudes to ICT based on their degree of agreement with statements on a 5-point Likert scale. While less than a third of students self-identified as experienced ICT users, two thirds claimed to enjoy using ICT, and 84 % were convinced of the value of ICT for language teaching, 46 % choosing the strong option and no student in disagreement. These response patterns were mirrored in the averages for each language group, although the Italian students rated themselves more experienced with ICT (44 % agreed or strongly agreed) and were slightly less convinced of its utility for language teaching (72 % agreed or strongly agreed).

52Other questions invited students to compare (with hindsight) their skills before the class with their current self-assessment at the end of the course. As Table 9 shows, before taking what was for most students their first class in ICT, participants were most confident in their abilities to find language resources online. Approximately half the class were also familiar with online collaboration. On the other hand, very few students had worked with Google sites, and participants were fairly evenly distributed across the spectrum in their confidence using social networks. Finally a majority felt unable to explain the utility of ICT for the language classroom before the course.

53After the course, these pre-service teachers expressed much greater confidence in all areas: more participants were confident in each area, and confidence levels were also higher. Regarding finding language resources and collaborating online, for example, where a good proportion of students expressed confidence in their pre-course abilities, these proportions were higher after the class and confidence was stronger: only 1 in 5 students expressed great confidence about their ability to locate online resources before the course, compared with 3 out of 4 afterwards; for online collaboration, the corresponding change was from 1 in 5 to 2 out of 3. Gains were also apparent in areas where pre-course confidence was lower: the 8 % level of confidence with Google sites increased tenfold, and the number of students who were at ease with social networking doubled. Finally, where before the class only 2 students expressed only moderate confidence in justifying ICT in the language classroom, this figure grew to 20 students after the class, including 9 who were very confident, and no student expressed disagreement with the statement.

54In summary, these data show gains in confidence in all areas across the group: after the course, more students expressed greater confidence in the ICT skills used during the course, and it seems likely that those who rated themselves negatively before the course were more positive afterwards, while students who were already confident with their ICT skills became more so.

4. Discussion

55With respect to three transitions for pre-service teachers of languages with technology in university settings enumerated in section 1, this study offers the following findings. First, concerning the development of techno-pedagogical competences, it is clear that the students in this course were generally able to learn to use a variety of digital tools to create resources which some hoped to maintain or extend, and many expected to exploit in their future teaching contexts (Table 8). The course evaluation questionnaire suggests that most students felt they had learned new ICT skills, and also better understood the utility of ICT for language teaching (Table 9). Some expressed utilitarian views:

This course has [therefore] constituted a methodological and logistical prelude to the C2i2e [ICT certification for teachers] and will help us to validate the different competences for this certificate, particularly during our teaching placement in March when we will be able to use the resources for class work and the tools for our teaching units (S6).

56Others articulated deeper changes in their attitudes to ICT:

The activities with ICT have helped me to understand how to use these tools which are great when you know how to use them. I have stopped saying “it doesn’t work” and say instead “I can’t get it to work!!!” (E2)
In the end to my surprise I found myself spending a lot of time improving the English site and gaining pleasure from the experience (E4)
This course has changed my mind about the use of ICT in the language classroom: I arrived with some scepticism, and am going away quite convinced. (I8)

57Regarding the second transition from a scholastic tradition of scarcity to managing abundance, the study also reports success: 96 % students reported confidence in locating teaching resources by the end of the course (Table 9). However, there were indications that more remained to be accomplished in this area:

The problem [with Facebook and] is that we can’t classify the information received, so we can easily get lost. We need to find a way to make the information more readable, because at the start when there are only ten links it seems very practical, but with fifty links we don’t know where we are any more, what’s been said, and what – if anything – needs to be added (E6).

58No doubt the course was not long enough for students to master the advanced features of tools and identify the particular affordances of each. Another incoherence in student views expressed in the study concerns Skype, a tool which permits live video communication via Internet. Students overwhelmingly favored this tool for language teaching (Table 7), but did not prioritize its main affordances – learner collaboration, oral language, and access to native speakers – in their justifications for ICT use (Table 6).

59Some students also admitted to initial difficulties adopting social media for professional development: several remarked they did not feel ready to share links and resources outside the group. Such reticence reflects common reluctance to share work in progress (and perhaps procrastination as a simple fact of human nature) but is also consistent with the traditional values of the academe described in section 2.2. As Table 5 shows, much was accomplished in the final week rather than incrementally throughout the course.

60The third prospective transition for these pre-service language teachers involved a move from individual, teacher-controlled classroom activities to more collaborative, autonomous, and networked approaches. As shown in section 3.2.3, students commented positively on the collaborative aspects of the course, and although some were clearly more active than others in each group, problems of “social loafing” (Wheeler et al. 2008; Ducate et al. 2011) were marginal.

61Class members generally showed independence in the selection of tools and resources for teaching their languages: while the instructor was unable to assist with Italian and Spanish language resources or fully evaluate each group’s selections (neither teaching nor speaking these languages), the fact that resources chosen during the course were noticed and shared by other secondary and university language practitioners online testifies to the quality of this project work. Some students also displayed autonomy in adopting a critical perspective on course tools:

As far as sharing sites like Google groups is concerned, I think it’s a good idea: it allows us to centralise information, to have the latest news always available online. At the same time I know that often we waste a lot of time setting them up adjusting the settings, solving technical problems… I don’t know that they offer much added value compared to an LMS that works properly (I3)

62Differences in individual developmental trajectories can be glimpsed in the responses of different language groups to tasks and reflective questions. In contrast to the other language groups, for example, many of the Italian students claimed to have gained knowledge about language teaching during the course. In terms of the role of ICT for language acquisition and teaching, this group cited access to authentic materials, teaching efficiency and learner expectations of ICT use as reasons to use technology over factors such as learner participation and motivation which were favoured by the other groups (Table 6). They also prioritised tools for curating resources over audio and video tools, grammar reference websites over sites offering learning activities (Table 7), and commented more on what they had learned in the course than on what they planned to do in the future (Table 8). These students, some of them older and schooled outside France (Table 2) may have been less exposed to task-based language teaching during their previous studies, which in turn affected their approach to technology for the language classroom.

63Concerning networking via social media, the study produced some unexpected results, with two types of unintended benefits. As already noted, a student who collected links solely to fulfill a course requirement (for an instructor who could not benefit directly from these resources) actually unwittingly added to online teaching resources when her site was discovered by an external curator. This example is heartening for any teacher/trainer who has ever worried that less active, quieter learners are not gaining enough from coursework, or spent hours grading final papers destined never to be read. A second unanticipated finding was the longevity and richness of social media contacts between myself as instructor and some students: while at the start of the course comments and suggestions generally came from me and were shared via my own incipient network, by later stages, sharing was multi-directional and no doubt contributed to maintaining motivation for and shaping the content of both students’ and instructor’s curation sites and related networks.


64What, then, can be concluded about the effectiveness of this type of constructivist, connectivist course design for pre-service language teachers? The foregoing discussion has shown that students in this course were generally able to participate in the digital collection and structuring of relevant teaching and learning resources, and that they also positively evaluated both process and product. Many claimed to progress from low or mainly personal use of technology to greater confidence in their own use of digital tools and their pedagogical applications. The course also allowed students to experience more autonomous, collaborative and networked approaches to learning; some enjoyed this opportunity, and expressed a desire to implement similar activities in their own classrooms. As befits French students trained in literary criticism, one pre-service teacher was able to articulate an understanding of why collaborative tasks might improve language learning opportunities, seeing in the experiential modelling approach to the class a mise-en-abyme (or self-reflexive embedding) of task-based language teaching:

it really seems to me to fit the expectations of task-based learning in that each pupil provides his or her personal contribution in a fun way. He is therefore learning by doing […] but this personal contribution is embedded in a real, wider project, a collective task in which each plays a full part. I really found this approach worthwhile and I think it would be fruitful to use in the language class. It would also allow the development of pupil-teacher relations which are no doubt different from the usual interaction. (I8)

  • 3 And indeed, as one anonymous reviewer correctly notes, for teacher education courses to make this r (...)

65It only remains for these students to see the relevance of the model for their own professional development3.

66The limitations of the present study of course include the small number of students, and the lack of actual classroom implementation of tools and resources. In addition, the limited time span of the course, which involved relatively few hours of instruction over a short period of time, is likely to have prevented greater engagement with social media. Further research of a longitudinal nature, including in-service teachers with access to learners, would allow participants to develop richer networks and perhaps necessitate the development of a more pedagogically oriented analytical framework to supplement the generic usage statistics employed here. The participant-researcher’s dual status also no doubt influenced both the orientation and unfolding of the course, and the findings of the study, since the average instructor may have neither the time nor the motivation to revisit students’ sites after the end of courses and access the analytics which provide some of the encouraging findings reported here.

67These findings support recommendations to replicate web-based collaborative projects for other pre-service teacher education courses as an effective means of introducing digital tools, locating teaching resources, and developing professional networks. Hubbard (2012) goes as far as to suggest curation should be “a new pillar for CALL”. The paper also suggests that careful attention to use of social media is required to ensure participants understand the goals of this type of activity, and learn how to separate personal and professional spheres online. In this way, social media can be used to help trainee teachers in early stages of development to benefit from and contribute to online teaching and learning resources, allowing them to gain confidence with digital tools for teaching, and laying the groundwork for ongoing professional development.

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1 It is […] appropriate that, as has been happening in many European countries in the last twenty years of so, teachers should be educated in universities. The incorporation of teacher training colleges, of Pädagogische Hochschulen, of écoles normales, and similar institutions into universities is a widespread phenomenon throughout Europe (Byram 2003: 8).

2 All participant quotes were translated from French and attributed to anonymised members of each language group (E = English, G= German, I = Italian, S = Spanish).

3 And indeed, as one anonymous reviewer correctly notes, for teacher education courses to make this relevance apparent.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Table 1. Teacher competences and training guidelines
Crédits Guichon & Hauck 2011: 191
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Titre Table 2. Overview of participants (number, languages, age)
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Titre Table 3. Course overview
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Titre Table 4. site usage
Légende a Time 1: 21-22, Feb 2012b Time 2: 23, July 2012c Students are coded E1, E2, E3 for English students, G for German, I for Italian and S for Spanishd​t/​telte​t/​learning-technologies-for-efl
Fichier image/png, 148k
Titre Table 5. Google site usage
Fichier image/png, 216k
Titre Table 6. Justification of ICT for teaching and learning
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Titre Table 7. Tools and resources for teaching and learning
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Titre Table 8. Achievements, goals and caveats for teaching and learning
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Titre Table 9. Participants’ self-assessment of skills in ICT for languages
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Titre Final paper
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Titre Final questionnaire
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Shona Whyte, « Bridging the gaps: Using social media to develop techno-pedagogical competences in pre-service language teacher education »Recherche et pratiques pédagogiques en langues de spécialité, Vol. XXXIII N° 2 | 2014, 143-169.

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Shona Whyte, « Bridging the gaps: Using social media to develop techno-pedagogical competences in pre-service language teacher education »Recherche et pratiques pédagogiques en langues de spécialité [En ligne], Vol. XXXIII N° 2 | 2014, mis en ligne le 16 juin 2014, consulté le 08 juin 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Shona Whyte

Shona Whyte est MCF en anglais à l’Université Nice-Sophia Antipolis où elle enseigne l’anglais et l’enseignement-apprentissage des langues. Ses recherches portent sur la didactique des langues et l’apprentissage des langues médiatisé par les technologies. Elle fait partie de l’unité de recherche UMR 7320 Bases, Corpus, Langages.

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