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Bridging Language Gaps with Technology


Shannon Bishop

Shannon Bishop

Shannon Bishop sees computers as a means to promote English skills in South Africa

By David McKay Wilson

In a nation with 11 official languages, South Africans typically use English to bridge the language divide. Yet fewer than 10 percent have learned it as their first language, so educators like Shannon Bishop, ’11, have the opportunity to make a major impact.

“Young black children in South Africa are exposed to a minimum of two to three languages before they start school, and English could be the fourth or fifth language they’ve heard,” says Bishop, who has spent the past two years at TC, earning her master’s degree in TESOL (the teaching of English to speakers of other languages) sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s Fulbright Scholar Program.

In her master’s thesis, Bishop explored the use of English as a medium of instruction in post-apartheid South Africa, and she believes that technology is critical to making that strategy succeed. It’s an outlook that marks a new direction in her teaching career, which has included stints teaching English in South African schools, tutoring children involved in the film industry, teaching English in Great Britain, and teaching English to adults through her tutoring company, Clever Communication.

At TC, Bishop says she made great strides in adding technology to her teaching repertoire. In one class, she learned to develop downloadable teaching podcasts that could be sent to TESOL students.

In Lecturer Carolin Fuchs’s class, “Classroom Practices,” Bishop worked with TC students from Cyprus, Pakistan, Taiwan and Japan to set up a proposal for a private social network on Google Sites that could be used for off-campus teacher training. As a requirement for her practicum class, she also created her own e-portfolio, an online CV that allows her to share her work with potential employers.

“The main thing I have learned about living in the U.S. is that you can’t be afraid to market yourself,” says Bishop. “You can’t be shy about telling people what you are capable of doing.”

Bishop will return to South Africa this summer and hopes to launch an after-school academic center in Cape Town—for which she is already seeking funding—where students will develop basic literacy and computer skills. The center would be linked to several schools, building on the teacher-training project she conducted in the summer of 2010, in which she taught computer literacy to 100 Cape Town teachers from five schools.

That program’s culminating project was a multi-media personal story, presented in a digital format. She also created a Google site that accompanies this project and contains the procedure, technology used, pictures and video clips.

“By the end of the course, the teachers were able to use all the technology, and we sat there speechless, watching and listening to story after story,” Bishop recalls. “It was quite powerful.”

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