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By M. Sidury Christiansen, PhD
UTSA 2021-2022 Next-Gen Provost Fellow
Associate Professor, COEHD Bicultural Bilingual STD

This week our Teaching Tip comes from Whitney Chappell, Associate Professor of Spanish  Linguistics in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures in the College of Liberal and Fine Arts. Whitney teaches courses such as Sociolinguistics and Bilingualism in the Spanish Speaking World. One of her most recent courses is on how the internet is changing languages, in which she uses several techniques to facilitate higher level thinking in the classroom.

Whitney’s approach to promote critical thinking and engagement is a little different from the tips given in previous blog posts, which focused on the teacher’s side, and how teachers manipulate technology for their practices. However, she wants to offer a different perspective, and that is to have students use technology to bring their real world practices into the classroom.

There are three components to Whitney’s success in promoting higher level thinking skills among her students. The first one is to forge the connections between students themselves and between students and their realities. The second key is to bring real life examples to the classroom, or even better, have students bring their own real life examples to share with others. The last component is to adapt digital literacies to stimulate creativity and allow students to produce shareable research that is rigorous and follows all academic standards but that can be understood by friends and family outside of a university setting. Whitney’s goal is two-pronged. On the one hand, these components help her create fun and engaging activities for her students. On the other hand, they make students aware that “education is not just something confined to the walls of a classroom or confined to Zoom.”  

Watch Whitney explain the ways in which she applies these three components in her classroom.

Whitney encourages students to use social media safely either through their existing accounts or creating new ones specifically for the class. Depending on the task, she has had students analyze linguistic data from Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, TikTok and other social media outlets. She believes that the pandemic has caused people to crave connections, and that the media they already use is a great way to connect the theories they discuss in class with their own worlds. In turn, using social media meaningfully and purposefully may remove feelings of isolation. 

Whitney explains that “some teachers are still reluctant to get rid of the traditional paper;” however, she sees the potential in including digital literacies. Instead of the traditional research paper, Whitney assigns her students to do high quality credible research presented in a webpage made with Adobe Express. She explains that in a digital format, students are able to embed related images, videos, or social media excerpts for their analysis, which in turn helps them engage in high level thinking as well. Finally, Whitney thinks it is important for the families to get a better sense of what students do in college. Equally important is for the students to learn how to critically consume social media. 

UTSA Adobe Creative Cloud offers programs such as Adobe Express where students can record their own videos, create webpages and presentations, and record their voices, all important aspects of digital literacies.