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University of Iowa News Release

Nov. 2, 2005

Dissertation Wins National Award From Foreign Language Teaching Council

Like other educators, teachers of foreign languages are under increasing pressure to incorporate computers into K-12 classrooms as aids to learning. But while many teachers use technology for administrative purposes and recognize its potential as a tool for language learning, far fewer use computers specifically for classroom instruction.

That is the main finding by recent University of Iowa Ph.D. graduate Anne Cummings, whose dissertation has won a national award from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and the Modern Language Journal. The ACTFL-MLJ will award Cummings, now an assistant professor of Spanish language education at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, the Emma Marie Birkmaier Award for Doctoral Dissertation Nov. 19 during its annual conference in Baltimore.

Cummings graduated this spring with a Ph.D. in Foreign Languages and English as a Second Language Education from the UI College of Education. Additionally, the Wauwatosa, Wis., native holds a master of arts degree in Spanish and a bachelor of science degree in Spanish and bacteriology, both from UW-Madison.

The Emma Marie Birkmaier Award was established in 1980 to recognize an author of doctoral dissertation research in foreign language education that contributes significantly to the advancement of the profession. Royalties from Foreign Language Learning Today, Pergamon Press, Ltd., London, established the award.

The ACTFL-MLJ is the largest organization of foreign language research and education in the United States.

"It is a great pleasure to be associated with Emma Marie Birkmaier's legacy in the foreign language profession and provide my own contribution to the field," Cummings said of being chosen for the award. "This contribution could never have been accomplished without the help of numerous practicing teachers, my family and friends, and my dissertation committee at the University of Iowa."

Cummings' dissertation, titled "The Administration and Pedagogical Uses of Computers in Foreign Language Classrooms: A Survey of Spanish Teachers' Beliefs and Practices," examined more than 340 K-12 teachers of Spanish to gauge how aware they were of expectations for using computers in the classroom, and the extent to which those teachers actually use instructional technology.

"When I started my dissertation on the impact of technology in the foreign language classroom, I predicted that teachers would report a tendency to not use technology," Cummings said. "My survey of K-12 Spanish teachers indicates just the opposite. Teachers report using computers to different extents for both administrative and pedagogical purposes. Further, teachers report positive beliefs about the potential of computers for language learning. The remaining question, it seems, is how to use technology to powerfully enhance language learning -- a   question that I look forward to exploring at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire."

Leslie Schrier, Ph.D., Cummings' adviser and an associate professor in the Foreign Languages and ESL Education division of the UI College of Education's Department of Teaching and Learning, said Cummings' dissertation was remarkable for several reasons -- not the least being the instrument Cummings used to gather her data.

Cummings encouraged survey respondents to submit their information via a Web site she created for the study, while simultaneously making a paper survey available to teachers unable (for instance, because of a lack of Internet access) or unwilling to use the Web form. The options chosen by respondents were factored into the study as additional evidence of their facility with -- and comfort in using -- technology.

"Nationally, in federal policy and other standards, teachers are judged in part on how well they incorporate technology into their teaching," said Schrier, who will also be recognized at the ACTFL-MLJ conference for her work shepherding Cummings' dissertation. "But no one has every investigated whether they do or not. This was a start, looking at several hundred classrooms of Spanish teachers, the largest block of foreign language teachers in the United States."

Schrier added, “Anne Cummings' research gives us a very useful picture of how and for what purpose technology is used in secondary Spanish language instruction. From Dr.  Cumming’s research, we will be able to enhance our teacher education practices and assessments .”

Schrier said Cummings, who is working on turning her dissertation into a journal article, is destined for great success in the field of foreign language instruction.
"She was an absolute outstanding student," Schrier said, adding that Cummings won an award for her teaching while at the UI. "She's a very creative, innovative person and a pleasure to have as a student and colleague."

The Emma Marie Birkmaier Award is named for, and honors, the ACTFL's first president, a woman who worked tirelessly in the creation of the association and its new programs, including the ACTFL Annual Bibliography of Books and Articles on Pedagogy in Foreign Languages and the ACTFL Review of Foreign Language Education (now known as the ACTFL Foreign Language Education Series). Birkmaier was an outstanding teacher educator at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and her career influenced countless students of foreign language education at that institution and practicing teachers across the nation.

Through publications, professional service, and the organization of summer institutes for foreign language professionals, Birkmaier's legacy and impact continue unabated.

More information on the ACTFL is available online at

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