G. Carloni1, F. Franzè2

1University of Urbino (ITALY)
2Columbia University (UNITED STATES)
This presentation examines the results of an international joint research project: implemented by the Italian Department of Columbia University, USA, and the Faculty of Foreign Languages of Urbino University, Italy, in the Academic Year 2011-2012. The project called “New York skypes Italy: let’s get global!” aimed to provide: a) American students attending the Italian Intermediate Conversation II class at Columbia with the opportunity to interact in Italian with native speakers in an authentic context; b) pre-service teachers attending the Master’s degree in “Insegnare italiano a stranieri: scuola, università, impresa” at the University of Urbino with the chance to teach Italian to American students.
Columbia students were partnered with Italian pre-service teachers to talk on Skype about a variety of topics related to Italian culture. Four video-conference sessions of at least thirty minutes each were scheduled during a two-month period. Teachers and learners were provided in advance with the classroom syllabus and the topics to be covered in the video conferences. Individual meetings were scheduled independently by the participants within a time frame of one week. Each video conference focused on Italian issues which were being analyzed in the conversation class at the time. After a 10-minute review of the major grammar points, the video conferences focused on communicative activities as well as discussions. Sessions were recorded by teachers using Callburner, a free audio-authoring tool. Prior to each virtual meeting, pre-service teachers were required to send the communicative and grammar activities they had devised to both coordinators for feedback. Moreover, at the end of each session, everyone was asked to fill in a questionnaire. In particular, teachers were required to self-evaluate their own teaching experience. Upon completion of the four video conferences, trainee teachers also had to fill in a final questionnaire targeted at both assessing the American students’ performance and evaluating the effectiveness of the project.
The analysis of the data showed that while the meetings were virtual, the context was experienced by the participants as extremely authentic. American students felt they were provided with a great chance to practice and develop their communication skills in Italian effectively. Furthermore, technology-enhanced activities seemed to have a very positive impact on the students, who found this input-rich learning environment both challenging and highly motivating. Likewise, video conferences provided the trainee teachers with the opportunity to plan and implement their newly-devised activities targeted at enhancing the acquisition of communicative socio-pragmatic skills in Italian in an authentic international setting.