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Skype in the classroom


Graduate Spanish student wins Vanier for work on CMC technologies.

By Caitlyn Spencer

Instant messaging and other CMC programs are well known for allowing us to talk in real time across continents for next to no cost. However, not everyone realizes how much potential they have in classrooms. Brandee Strickland, a student in the Department of French, Italian, and Spanish, is exploring the use of Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) technologies in her PhD research, which recently won a Vanier scholarship.

“Students use this technology a lot already, and it’s important to see how we can use them in the classroom,” says Strickland, a native North Carolinan who did her undergraduate studies at Bowdoin College in Maine. Strickland spent several years teaching English at the Universidad de Concepción in Chile before coming to the University of Calgary to do her graduate work on the use of CMC, supervised by Ozouf Sénamin Amedegnato and Elizabeth Montes Garcés.

Strickland is currently performing a literature review for Alberta Education on the utility of CMC and other computer technologies in primary and secondary school language classrooms. She was surprised at the dearth of research on the topic.

“Instructors need to know how they can use these new technologies in classrooms, and which technologies are best for different groups, but there’s just not a lot of research out there,” she says. “For instance, if I want to use Skype in my class, what’s the best time to use it? How important is it that I know what my students have said, when there won’t be a recording of the conversation?”

The Vanier win not only provides considerable financial perks, but also creates many possibilities for her in the future. “It opens doors for you, when someone puts that stamp of approval on your research,” Strickland says.

“The Vanier’s valuable in that it’s open to international students, which many major scholarships here aren’t,” she explains. “They’re capitalizing on students who have leadership potential, and whose research could be helpful to Canada.”

Strickland has not only employed linguistics theorists in her studies, but also the work of Mikhail Bakhtin, more commonly studied in literary theory. “He looks at how languages affect you, and the process of taking a language and making it your own,” Strickland says. “I’m interested in studying how we can remind students that language is communication, not just memorizing grammar. I’ve been through the process of becoming bilingual and learning to live in another country, and now I’d like to help others through the process.”

To learn more about Vanier Scholarships at the University of Calgary, click here.