Transcript of Episode 30: Fear of Failure, Twitter, and Virtual Reality with Patrick Murphy

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Stacey Margarita Johnson:  This is “We Teach Languages,” a podcast about language teaching from the diverse perspectives of real teachers.

I’m Stacey Margarita Johnson. Today, on episode 30, Jose Luis de Ramon Ruiz interviews Patrick Murphy about how his teaching has changed during his nearly 20‑year career teaching language courses at the university level.

It’s an exciting, wide‑ranging conversation that I think many of us will relate to about how radically technology has transformed, and about how important it is for teachers to be fearless in their risk‑taking sometimes, and really model that behavior for students as well.


Jose Luis de Ramon Ruiz:  I’m really excited to be here today with Professor Patrick Murphy, who is a senior lecturer of Spanish at Vanderbilt University. He has taught elementary and intermediate level, reading and translation courses. He has led study abroad, groups in Cuba, and in other countries in Latin America. This semester, he’s also the coordinator of the Spanish 1103, an intensive Elementary Spanish class.

Thank you so much, Patrick, for joining us today.

Patrick Murphy:  Thank you.

Jose:  Why don’t you tell us about the class that you are teaching this semester? Who are your students? What’s their level?

Patrick:  Currently, I’m teaching a class that’s, we call it Spanish 1103, which is an intensive course for beginners. Essentially, we take Elementary Spanish and we have students who are typically high‑beginners. That’s what we like to call them because they’ve had some experience with Spanish. They come into our class and we basically go over the elementary function of the language.

We try to get them ready for the intermediate course, which would be the next step of matriculation here at Vanderbilt.

Jose:  Nice. I think you started teaching in 1999. I was wondering how your teaching practices have changed over the past years.

Patrick:  My practices have changed greatly and I would say that is due to the advances in technology obviously. I think when I first started teaching, I was using an overhead projector with a dry erase markers and chalk on a daily basis. I was making tons of photocopies, bringing handouts to class typically. Those days [laughs] are long gone at this point.

I think the biggest difference has been the technology that I use in classroom now every day. Not just in the classroom, but with the assessment. I don’t collect a lot of work anymore. Most of the work, they’re submitted online.

Homeworks, they’re submitted online. Compositions and essays, they’re all submitted online. Writing assessments, writing assignments, they’re all submitted online.

I project on the overhead, everything I use is either something I can pull up from an online resource, or it’s a document that I have that I can project, or we use social media in class. There are a number of advances in technology that I have taken advantage of in my teaching, especially in the last five years, that have made significant changes in how I teach from when I started in ’99 to now for sure.

Jose:  Obviously, we live in a technological world. I agree that we should make use of all the resources available to improve language teaching. You mentioned social media. How does Twitter, or Facebook, or any other social media platform help your students achieve their goal in class?

Patrick:  One of our goals is to make cultural connections. As nice as the book will tend to present cultural information, I think our book in particular we use for the high‑beginner course does a nice job with cultural information. It can be outdated the moment it goes to print. We want the students to be connected to the culture that is happening in real time.

The best way to do that, and the way they are very familiar with, is through social media. I use Twitter specifically in my 1103 class because it allows students to get information quickly and a lot of information in real time. They can look at the information. They can read it. They can make a personal connection to it. They can correspond with whatever topics we’re talking about in class.

Whether it’s related to a specific country in a Spanish‑speaking world or it’s related to the topic for whatever chapter we’re studying. They’re able to connect to those topics and those other cultures in real time, and it’s been really fascinating to watch the students connect that way without having to use the textbooks all the time for cultural information.

The other thing we use it for is for writing. I like to do exercises with Twitter where the students can write things in real time and tweet it so I can project it.

We can filter through and look at it together on the overhead and on the projector screen, and actually look at what they’re writing, and then make error correction explicit, error correction while we’re in class, and we can see their tweets live. It’s been a really useful tool for writing as well.

Jose:  What would you say to professors or instructors who are wanting to implement technology, who are wanting to use Twitter in their classes for the first time? Could you give them any piece of advice?

Patrick:  My best piece of advice for that is to try it, to make the attempt. I think the scariest thing for me as an instructor has always been trying new things. It took me a number of years to ever want to try new things because I was always worried about failure in the room, in front of the class. I never wanted to fail or look like I didn’t know what I was doing in front of my students.

That fear would impede my evolution as an instructor. What I started to do, and I started it with Twitter, was just to throw it out there and see what happens. As scary as it was for me at first, it altered the way I teach because I just started to see what worked.

The very first time I started using Twitter in the classroom, it didn’t work very well. It was very confusing for the students on how to use the hashtag, or what to tweet, or how to find the information. It took a number of weeks and even a few semesters before I finally found a system that worked. But now, it seems to work so well. It’s opened my eyes to many other things I can try to do with technology and anything in general with any part of my teaching, is to just try new things.

If I could give a piece of advice to any upcoming instructor, is don’t be afraid to try new things. Make sure you push the envelope because that’s how we evolve. That’s how we become better. That’s how our students will become more confident and comfortable with the language in the world we live in today. I really think so.

Jose:  That’s a really good piece of advice. I agree that we learn through trial and error. I think it’s important to be OK with making mistakes, yes. Try new things, see how they work, and then we can make changes from there. That’s very true.

We have been talking about some really interesting and effective teaching practices. I was wondering if you could define excellent teaching for you. What does it look like?

Patrick:  For me, excellence in teaching is innovation and evolution. What I mean by that is innovation is trying to be creative with how you teach because my goal was for my students to become intermediate speakers. I want them to be comfortable and competent with the elementary basics of Spanish.

In order to do that, I try to innovate ways to help them become more competent and more comfortable and enjoying the language. For me, excellence in teaching is pushing that envelope, pushing new ways, becoming a better instructor that way.

Jose:  I completely agree. Finally, before we wrap up the interview, I would like to ask you, what are you most excited about in your job right now? Is there anything in particular that you are very…?

Patrick:  Actually, there is. I am pretty excited because there’s new things I’m thinking about all the time, but right now, I’m actually thinking about how to incorporate some virtual reality technology in the classroom, which is really cool. The genesis it is for me anyway was we got a pair of virtual reality headset. We got some VR, the goggles, and we got it last year as a gift for my son.

I started to just fool around with him and play with it and realized that this could be something I could use in the classroom with my teaching. It’s so immersive because you can literally put the headset on and you can travel to just about anywhere in the world with a lot of the different applications. What I would like to do is figure a way that I can incorporate that into class.

It’s actually really exciting because there are people here at Vanderbilt that are actually kicking this idea around as well. We have a working group here at the Center for Second Language Studies that’s actually meeting this afternoon. [laughs] We’re going to start talking about how we can actually practically use this type of technology in the classroom. I’m super excited about that.

Again, it’s probably going to be something that I will trial and have a lot of trial and error with. I’ll give it a shot. Maybe this semester, I might try to pilot an activity or two with one of my classes. Maybe implement it a little more next semester and just see how it goes. It looks really cool, so let’s see.

Jose:  It does look very cool. I’m looking forward to hearing more about that in the future because I would love to try that myself as well.

Patrick:  It looks pretty fun.

Jose:  Thank you so much, Patrick, for doing this interview with us today.

Patrick:  Yeah, great. Thank you.

Jose:  It was a pleasure to talk to you. I hope you have a great rest of the semester.

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Patrick:  Thanks, you too.

Stacey:  The two main technologies that Patrick mentioned in this interview were Twitter and virtual reality. We’ve actually had a couple of guests talked about how they use Twitter in the classroom. We’ve had many guests talked about how they use Twitter for professional development. But, Twitter in the classroom for language learning specifically was brought up in episode 13 by Noah Geisel and then again in episode 14 by Lisa Shepard. I’m going to put links to both of those episodes in the show notes.

If you haven’t listened to that far back, if you’ve just started recently, you can go back and check out those two episodes, which happen to be two of our most popular episodes of all time also, definitely worth checking out in any case. I think this is the first time we’ve had someone mentioned virtual reality as part of a language classroom.

I wanted to mention a few things that I’ve come across recently that are related. One actually was a couple of years ago. October of 2015, I was at a conference for the Midwest Association for Language Learning Technology, MWALLT, at Valparaiso University in Indiana. I got to go to a presentation by a faculty member named Carlos Miguel‑Pueyo, who’s an Associate Professor of Foreign Languages there, who presented on how he is working together with other units on campus to provide immersive virtual reality opportunities for his students. The presentation was called When Content Comes to Life ‑‑ Using Virtual Reality to Teach Spanish Civilization. I put a link to Carlos’ faculty page at Valparaiso University in the show notes. In case any of you guys would like to follow up on some of his work, maybe check out some of his publications on similar topics.

I also recently ran across a blog post, like a press release sort of blog post from the University of Texas at San Antonio, describing how last fall some of their language classes were using virtual reality in the classroom. There’s a really fun picture on the site. If you follow the link, there’s a really fun picture of all the students in class wearing their goggles, their virtual reality goggles. [laughs]

I think there’s a lot of opportunities to give students the feeling of being able to travel through virtual reality. What I’m most interested is how are people applying virtual reality in really pedagogically interesting ways. Not just as value added but really integrating it and making it something that’s encouraging language learning in very specific ways.

If any of you out there have experience with virtual reality, have concerns about virtual reality, or maybe have ideas for how it could be a really pedagogically effective tool, I would love for you to use Facebook, Twitter, or particularly actually the comments section of the website underneath this blog post that contains the episode.

I would love to get a running list of how people are working on this or thinking about this. We can have a site that I or other people working on this issue can go back to over time, and maybe get some great ideas and inspiration, and follow up with people and ask questions about what’s currently going on.

Very closely related to virtual reality is the idea of augmented reality.

This is the Pokemon Go phenomenon. You see a picture of what’s really there but your screen augments it with other things that aren’t actually there. I found a really interesting funded research project from Indiana University. It’s in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning vein, which is definitely my jam. That’s I’m all about, [laughs] the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

You get to read the entire 23‑page proposal at the link that I’m going to share on the show notes. This is a really fun topic and I would love to hear all of your thoughts.

Please leave comments on the website, or just add us on Twitter, or post on Facebook. We would love to hear from you. All right, if you are interested in being a contributor just like Jose Luis, please let me know.

My highest hope for the podcast actually is that we feel like it belongs to all of us. Hence the title We Teach Languages and that teachers who know teachers who are doing really cool things will interview them, and then submit those interview recordings to the show so I can turn them into podcast episodes.

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Stacey:  If you are interested in being a contributor, in interviewing someone, and having your interview on the show, please let me know. You can email me at You can @ us on Twitter @weteachlang. You can really find us all over the place, so reach out.

I would love to share with you how you can become a contributor and get someone that you know and love as our next guest on the podcast. Thanks for listening. Bye‑bye.

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