Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series of blog posts in which teaching award winners will share their experiences, philosophies, and techniques. To read the previous posts, click here.

Dr. Juman Al Bukhari is an assistant professor of Arabic and a winner of the 2019 Teaching Excellence Award.

I teach my students to become language-learning experts. As a linguist, I make sure that my students understand the science of a language in a way that helps them build the appropriate skills to learn Arabic more efficiently and even learn other languages for the future. Accordingly, students are engaged more effectively in the skills of critical thinking, research, and writing.

To this end, I emphasize the use of technology to enhance students’ engagement, boost their motivation, maximize language practice via the use of multiple apps (like Flipgrid and Microsoft Teams), diversify content, facilitate working in groups, and conduct peer-reviewing and peer-editing via AppleTV, which I have implemented in class. AppleTV allows each student to mirror their iPhone, iPad, or Mac laptop using the projector for the purpose of discussion, editing, and reviewing in collaboration with their peers and me.

Dr. Juman Al Bukhari

The use of technology in the classroom has many benefits. To begin with, it prompts the less-engaged students to interact in the classroom and have fun while learning a language that differs from their native language (English, in this case) in structure, alphabet, and writing system. The use of websites and applications assists me in evaluating students based on comprehension checks and performance on online activities. For instance, I created an activity on Socrative for which students answer questions from their phones that might involve a short answer or multiple-choice questions. Another example is Flipgrid, for which students record a short video of themselves answering a question in the target language. They then have to watch other students’ videos and reply to at least two peers. This not only allows me to assess students’ skills, including reading, listening, speaking, and writing, but also diversifies the presentation of the material, which is delivered via video, audio, text, or photos. Since students learn differently, this provides them with more ways to interact with content and promotes engagement.

Accordingly, I submitted a proposal to the iPad project organized by the Distance Education and Technology Integration office. I was the iPad project winner for the academic year 2017-2018. I won based on the variety of Apps and tools that maximize the use of iPads inside the class. I was loaned iPads, and I distributed Apple pencils to each student. Students wrote Arabic homework assignments on OneNote, and took notes using Notability, instead of the traditional paper and pen. Additionally, students used their iPads to watch authentic videos for the purpose of listening comprehension and cultural awareness, access electronic dictionaries, work solo and in groups, create skits, complete video- and audio-based speaking assignments throughout the semester, and work on OneNote and/or D2L.  Students expressed their interest in technology use and they were motivated to learn Arabic language and culture by using iPads to access authentic materials (texts and videos). The classroom environment was more participatory, and everyone was able to interact easily. Students expressed their satisfaction with submitting their work paperless and all in one place.

With the growth of eco-awareness, there is a need for “going paperless.” In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that paper is the number-one material thrown away, comprising 40 percent of our waste stream. My students and I noticed that the use of an iPad reduced our use of paper to almost zero during the semester. The only time that I used paper was when conducting tests. For the sustainability of our campus, I encourage the use of technology, although it is often seen as a luxury. What’s more, a study by Oklahoma State University has proven that iPads decrease costs for students and schools because they reduce and sometimes nullify the need for physical textbooks. For sustainability purposes, students did not use pens, which cut down on plastic and paper consumption as well. UNG-Dahlonega won First Place in a national campus competition, Pledge Against Plastic Straw, and we are becoming more and more sustainable with the great work that the Sustainability Committee has undertaken since its founding two years ago. I encourage “going paperless” and reducing plastic use in teaching materials and paper/writing supplies.

Another benefit of technology in the 21st century is communicating with people elsewhere in the world. The lack of native speakers in Dahlonega urged me to incorporate an innovative program for students to interact with native speakers online. NaTakallam is a great initiative for students learning Arabic and Arabic-speaking refugees. The program connects refugees to remote work opportunities in the language sector, providing them with economic empowerment, honing their marketable skills, and fostering friendships worldwide. NaTakallam was implemented in the class as a way to use the language and engage in projects outside of the classroom whereby students could communicate with native speakers via Skype. Then, the native speaker leaves his/her comments and feedback.

To test how much the use of technology is useful to UNG students learning a foreign language, I conducted a study on the effects of technology use on the acquisition and the retention of incidental vocabulary. I hypothesized that vocabulary retention must have a relation to working memory. Thus, I have contacted the Department of Psychological Sciences in order to collaborate with them and seek information regarding recent tests that measure language and memory. They welcomed my interest in interdisciplinary research, and I partnered with Dr. John Dewey, assistant professor in psychological sciences. Dr. Dewey used the Psychology Experiment Building Language program to test the Arabic learners’ (my students’) working memory. In August 2018, we presented the first results of this research at the Arabic Applied Linguistics & SLA Conference at the University of Michigan. In January 2019, we started a second experiment, and we presented our complete findings at the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning conference at Georgia Southern University. The paper has been sent out for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

Another research project that I have worked on is entitled, “My notebook is yours and your notebook is mine.” I have presented this research at the Innovation in Teaching Conference hosted by the College of Education at the University of Georgia. This research investigates an innovative teaching technique that I have invented in OneNote. OneNote is an electronic notebook where each student can create a notebook that I can access as an administrator and teacher. My idea was to have the students take notes in one notebook all together under different sections headers: vocabulary lists, writing, and themes. A notebook would then be created that all students and I could view and edit. In order to have the students write Arabic and not type Arabic, I distributed iPads with Apple pencils to my students. I conducted this research on an advanced Arabic class. I created a survey and conducted individual interviews to check students’ perception and satisfaction regarding this initiative. The results were positive and they reported that they will be using the shared note-taking in the future because they trust the collective material more than their own individual notes. They also used the shared notes to look for vocabulary instead of using the dictionary, as dictionaries provide different nuances that might not correlate to the word that they are looking for.

My ultimate goal is to create Arabic learners who can communicate and comprehend native speakers of Arabic. This will allow UNG students to interact with the locals when they travel to study abroad at Sijal Institute, which hosts the UNG Arabic Study Abroad Program in my hometown, the capital of Jordan, Amman. I trust that my focus on speaking and using Arabic in the classroom has allowed students to develop stronger competency in the target language.