December 2013
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Kelly Torres, Florida State University, USA

The ethnic makeup of American K–12 classroom settings has dramatically changed over the last several decades. One of the most significant changes found in classrooms is the increasing number of English Language Learners (ELLs) enrolling in American educational settings each year. In fact, the largest growing subgroup of learners in American schools is ELLs, with the highest percentage of ELLs entering seventh through twelfth grades (Calderón, Slavin, & Sánchez, 2011). As the number of ELLs in educational settings continues to grow, the need for qualified educators to effectively teach this subgroup of students is becoming increasingly more important. Therefore, requiring preservice and in-service teachers to complete coursework focused on culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) learners is becoming of upmost importance.

Through this type of coursework, preservice and in-service teachers can begin to acquire confidence in their abilities to facilitate effective learning outcomes for CLD learners. Lucas, Villegas, and Freedson-Gonzalez (2008) have stated that “to be successful with ELLs, teachers need to draw on established principles of second language learning” (p. 362). Faculty who teach coursework focused on CLD learners need to determine how to effectively incorporate assignments and activities into their classroom settings because it is through this type of coursework that preservice and in-service educators will be able to develop the confidence and skills needed to work with the ELLs they may encounter in their classroom settings. However, not all courses focused on CLD learners are offered in traditional face-to-face classroom settings. Due to the convenience and flexibility of online courses (Evans & Nation, 2003), more preservice and in-service teachers may choose to complete CLD coursework in a distance learning environment.

Online Education

The popularity of online education has grown substantially as a result of the advances in technology (e.g., improved web experience and portable devices) and the expansion of social learning theories (Ke & Hoadley, 2009). Online classes can now be found in settings such as formal education (e.g., K–12, college/university), professional development (e.g., continuing education courses), and knowledge sharing (e.g., support groups; Chang, 2003; Pearson, 1998). However, online educational environments may provide many inconveniences (e.g., lack of face-to-face interaction with teacher and peers), and learners may find these types of settings challenging. Indeed, McLoughlin and Marshall (2000) have stated that distance learners may be for the first time “faced with a new learning environment and the expectation that they will have independent learning skills and the capacity to engage in activities that require self-direction and self-management of learning” (p. 1).

Web 2.0

One way to provide distance learning students’ efficacious learning experiences is through the use of Web 2.0 tools (e.g., blogs, wikis, VoiceThreads™). Samouelian (2009) has proclaimed that through Web 2.0 tools, students are able to “embrace collective intelligence and participation” and that these tools help to “afford previously passive recipients of content the opportunity to engage with, combine, share, and ‘mash up’ information in new and imaginative ways” (p. 43). Essentially, through the use of these tools, learners in online environments can be provided more engaging learning experiences in which they may be able to become more interactive with their peers. One such tool that has been used in educational settings is VoiceThread™.


Brunvand and Byrd (2011) describe VoiceThread™ as a multimedia tool that has the capability to provide a slide show with pictures, documents, and videos. Through the use of this tool, learners are able to provide their responses to teacher directed discussion questions in a video, audio, or text (or combination of any of the three) format. As a result, students may be more likely to be engaged with the online course materials because they are able to see and hear their peers. Additionally, educators can incorporate visuals and recorded lectures with VoiceThread™ to provide their learners a better understanding of the course content they are teaching. For example, when completing a lesson focused on the stages of language development, the educator can upload charts, examples of activities, and so forth, that would be useful for ELLs at various stages of language development. The educator is also able to record a brief lecture outlining the purpose of the image and appropriate accommodations for ELLs at a particular stage of language development. Learners in the online class are able to view the VoiceThread™ link multiple times prior to typing or recording a response to discussion questions provided by their educator.

Once preservice teachers and in-service teachers learn to use this Web 2.0 tool in their online educational courses, they are able to incorporate the tool into their classes when working with ELLs. Brunvand and Byrd (2011) outline several learner scenarios in K–12 settings in which the incorporation of VoiceThread™ could help to facilitate and enhance learning outcomes for all students. Although the examples in their article are not focused on ELLs, the benefits they outline within their scenarios are considered effective accommodations and strategies for ELLs as well (e.g., providing extra time for assignments, integrating all four language skills, incorporating visuals for content, and repeating exposure to content).


In essence, incorporating Web 2.0 tools into distance learning courses for preservice and in-service courses could be beneficial for helping ELL educators acquire L2 learning strategies and providing them with activities they can incorporate into their future lessons. Through the enhancement of new Web 2.0 technologies, educators are able to provide their learners new ways to demonstrate their levels of understanding course content. Moreover, incorporating interactive Web 2.0 tools into classroom settings can be one way to engage and motivate learners in their academic pursuits. Brunvand and Byrd (2011) have suggested that “such tools can provide a guided learning environment where students can participate in ways that are conducive to their individual learning styles” (p. 36). As American classroom settings continue to become more diverse, meeting the needs of all learners will continue to be a goal that all educators will need to determine how to most successfully obtain. The incorporation of Web 2.0 tools, such as VoiceThread™, can be one way to enhance ELL academic and language skills.


Brunvand, S., & Byrd, S. (2011). Using VoiceThread to promote learning engagement and success for all students. Teaching Exceptional Children, 43(4), 28–37.

Calderón, M., Slavin, R. & Sánchez, M. (2011). Effective instruction for English learners. The Future of Children, 21(1), 103–127.

Chang, C. (2003). Towards a distributed web-based learning community. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 40(1), 27–42.

Evans, T., & Nation, D. (2003). Globalization and the reinvention of distance education. In M. G. Moore & W. G. Anderson (Eds.), Handbook of distance education (pp. 777–792). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Ke, F., & Hoadley, C. (2009). Evaluating online learning communities. Educational Technology Research and Development, 57(4), 487–510.

Lucas, T., Villegas, A., & Freedson-Gonzalez, M., (2008). Linguistically responsive teacher education: Preparing classroom teachers to teach English language learners. Journal of Teacher Education, 59(4),361–373.

McLoughlin, C., & Marshall, L. (2000). Scaffolding: A model for learner support in an online teaching environment. In Flexible futures in tertiary teaching. Proceedings of the 9th Annual Teaching and Learning Forum.

Pearson, J. (1998). Electronic networking in initial teacher education: Is a virtual faculty of education possible? Computers & Education, 32(3), 221–238.

Samouelian, M. (2009). Embracing Web 2.0: Archives and the newest generation of web applications. The American Archivist, 72(1), 42–71.

Kelly Torres is an assistant instructor in the Foreign and Second Language Education Program at Florida State University. Kelly also works with preservice interns and volunteers in a local ESOL program.

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