InterviewsMarch 2014

Interview: Marlene Johnshoy, Technology Project Coordinator and webmaster at CARLA

Marlene Johnshoy


Marlene Johnshoy, Technology Project Coordinator and webmaster at CARLA


Adrienne Gonzales: Do you want to go ahead and introduce yourself and CARLA?

Marlene Johnshoy: Well, my name is Marlene Johnshoy and I work here at CARLA which is the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition at the University of Minnesota. I always have to think twice because we normally go by CARLA, that’s how everybody knows us. And here, I am the Technology Project Coordinator and webmaster. And so let’s see a little bit about CARLA, CARLA is a national Language Resource Center and we’re funded by government grant title VI. We work mostly with language teacher education so we’re working specifically with language teachers and we’re probably most well-known for our week-long summer institutes and I think we’re up to maybe ten or twelve different ones that we do now on a variety of language related topics like immersion, pragmatics, second language acquisition, CDI, assessment, um, and of course technology. So that’s one of the ones that I work with as well…

Adrienne Gonzales: That’s great.

Marlene Johnshoy:  As well as the one that you took with me. We do an online summer institute on technology, so that was a lot of fun.

Adrienne Gonzales: Yeah, it was! So how long have you been with CARLA?

Marlene Johnshoy: I think I started not right at the very beginning but like maybe six months or a year into it and I don’t even want to say… CARLA had its twenty-year anniversary last fall. So I’ve been here like nineteen or twenty years.

Adrienne Gonzales: How have things changed in the area of language teaching technology since you first started?

Marlene Johnshoy: Oh goodness! Twenty years ago, let’s see… We were mostly working with software at the time, the internet was not a big thing yet although it did exist. I remember some of the first workshops I was doing. We had a tech person go out a day before the workshop started and spent the whole day installing cd-roms on the computer. (Laughs) So that was kind of a big mess. The internet has made things a whole lot easier. And even here at the university, I remember being able to help put together the first computer lab for languages with all of the language students we have. There were 10 computers in the room.

Adrienne Gonzales: Wow. How many do you have now?

Marlene Johnshoy: Now we have, let’s see, 1, 2, 3 dedicated classrooms or 4… 4 dedicated classrooms and 1 walk-in lab and so that’s a whole lot more computers. Even then, when you’ve got you know, first year Spanish with 25 sections, it’s almost impossible for them to get in. And so the whole movement of having your own laptop and doing things from home with the internet has really made a huge change in how we use computers for language teaching now.

Adrienne Gonzales: Right! So this sort of segues in a bit, so why do you think it’s important for teachers to have an understanding of all the tools that are available for communicative language teaching?

Marlene Johnshoy: Just because it is! No (laughs). I’m going to go at that from two different directions or two different levels, one on a language level. Communication is really what language learning is all about. I mean whether you’re speaking or listening, reading or writing, you’re communicating with another person. I have a graphic from the NAEP, it’s actually an assessment graphic but I love this graphic; I use it a lot in my workshops because it puts communication right in the middle and everything else around it all supports it.
And then along with that communication thing, the technology piece of this is connecting with people all over the internet and it’s so much easier to do these days and it’s wonderful to give students that connection to the real people who are using the language that they’re learning.

Infographic of NAEP foreign language framework 2000.
Source : NAEP foreign language framework 2000.


Adrienne Gonzales: Absolutely. I remember some of the first workshops I was doing. We had a tech person go out a day before the workshop started and spent the whole day installing cd-roms on the computer.

Marlene Johnshoy: And it’s just so motivating for students to be able to talk to people and actually have conversations in the language other than just writing or speaking for their teacher or their classmates so that communication piece I think is huge. And then I also think that we as language teachers need to be aware of where students live. I mean you see (laughs), we kind of laugh at the students who are walking around with their phone and you know doing their little thumb texting everywhere but that’s where they live.

Adrienne Gonzales: Right.

Marlene Johnshoy: And I know that as teachers we don’t always appreciate… well now I’m going to turn it around… students don’t always appreciate the fact that teachers are in their social spaces so we need to be somewhat careful of that but it seems that there are ways that language teachers can link in to the tools that the students are using and give them better, more educational ways to use some of those technologies tools as they’re communicating with other people.

Adrienne Gonzales: So, I have a couple of follow up questions to that. One is can you share an example of a particularly effective use of technology for language teaching that you’ve seen? Or a favorite that you have?

Marlene Johnshoy: (Laughs) That’s a hard one because there’s so many of them. An effective use and not specifically a tool right?

Adrienne Gonzales: Well I’ll ask about tools as well. Skype exchanges with other students give them a chance to look at the culture that another student is coming from, whether they’re in another country or even just someone in this country.

Marlene Johnshoy: Okay, well maybe one tool is Skype exchanges. That’s something that lots of people are doing, I mean even my mom Skypes these days. Things have gotten a lot more ubiquitous. I’m a really big advocate of content-based instruction, so teaching a topic through the language so that you’re challenging students on a cognitive level besides just (and I shouldn’t say “just”) learning the language but giving them something to talk about. And Skype exchanges with other students give them a chance to look at the culture that another student is coming from, whether they’re in another country or even just someone in this country, you know, other parts of our country are different. And doing collaborations, learning things… I remember way back when when we were just doing things on email still there was this huge project of grade school kids and I don’t even know that this is a language learning project but it certainly could be. They were looking at levels of pollution in the Mississippi river and they had connections to classrooms from the top to the bottom, all the way down to where it went into the ocean and then they had the students go out and take water samples and bring them back and analyze them and then they gave each other all of their results so that they could make a huge spreadsheet and compare. I thought wow, what a great use of technology connecting kids together and giving them a reason to communicate with each other and learn something about the science . That’s one of my favorite activities from way back and now with the technology being so much better and so much more immediate, Skype exchanges are wonderful. Or bringing in an expert in the field of whatever it is you’re studying so that the students can ask questions and get direct information that way through the technology.

Adrienne Gonzales: If you had to give a language teacher one piece of advice about using the web or a specific technology for communicative language teaching, what would it be?

Marlene Johnshoy: I guess a couple of things. First of all start small. If it’s something they haven’t done before, take one thing, one activity, one task and give it a try. For as much as I’m a total technology nut, I still have to admit that sometimes it doesn’t always work out the way you think it’s going to. Then I would also add the words patience and persistence, so that if it doesn’t work well, do it again. And you learn from doing it again so the next time you do it, it will be better and the more that you can repeat a similar type of activity, maybe it’s different content but the same tool, your students will also get better at using it. And so you get better and your students get better and things get easier so I guess that’s what I would recommend. Start small and then add patience and persistence.

Adrienne Gonzales: That’s really great advice.

Marlene Johnshoy: (Laughs) I know, I’ve done workshops with teachers sometimes and we teach a lot of different tools and they’re like, “Yeah I’m going to use every single one of these this fall,” and I’m going “That’s maybe not such a good idea, pick one.”

Adrienne Gonzales: Ha ha that’s true. So what do you see in the future then for CARLA and the other national Language Resource centers?

Marlene Johnshoy: Well, you may or may not be aware that the Language Resource Centers are usually on a four-year grant cycle and we’re coming up on the end of one this summer. So that means we’re up for re-funding so hopefully CARLA and the other LRC’s still have a future come next fall. They’ve been pretty good about re-funding us every year so we’ve got our fingers crossed but there’s always that possibility that we may not exist in September. But assuming that we are re- funded, we’re busy thinking about what we can do. Obviously our focus is on helping language teaching and learning and here at CARLA, specifically about teacher training. Each LRC has a different focus so they’re all looking at whatever their different areas are for needs and trying to think ofbuilding on what we’ve done that’s successful and also doing some innovating work and thinking of what we can do that’s new. So keep your fingers crossed for us.

Adrienne Gonzales: Oh absolutely and one large last question. Where do you think the future of language teaching and learning technology lies?

Marlene Johnshoy: Well I don’t have a crystal ball that works very well but I could probably take a couple of guesses. I’m guessing the internet and mobile devices of any sort is just going to keep growing. I was talking with one of our Spanish teachers this morning who was saying that in his class, out of twenty four students, twenty of them had a smartphone of some sort that they could use and the other four had access to one through a friend or someone they could borrow from.

Adrienne Gonzales: Right.

Marlene Johnshoy: And so I think that whole mobile device thing is going to be bigger and bigger as we go. We could talk about chips in our heads but I’m not sure I want to go that far yet. But I do think as the technology becomes more and more integrated into what we do on an everyday level, that is going to find its way into education and it should, especially for languages so they can use them for that big “C”, that communication “C” and the national standard so I’m excited to see what’s coming and I’m kind of a tech gadget freak so (laughs) I like to see all the things that are coming.

Adrienne Gonzales:  Will you be teaching your course at the summer language institute again this year?

Marlene Johnshoy: Yes. We always try and do some tweaking so that we get some new things in it and we have a lot of fun with that class, not only just teaching the tools and seeing what teachers come up with that is creative. I have to say I really love the grade school teachers, they are so creative with things, they come up with fabulous ideas. So that’s a lot of fun.

Adrienne Gonzales: Great, well thank you Marlene so much.

Marlene Johnshoy: Well, you’re very welcome and it’s very fun to talk to you again.

Adrienne Gonzales: Yeah, it’s great to talk to you!


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