Term of Award

Fall 2019

Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Curriculum Studies (Ed.D.)

Document Type and Release Option

Dissertation (restricted to Georgia Southern)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Curriculum, Foundations, and Reading

Committee Chair

Ming Fang He

Committee Member 1

John Weaver

Committee Member 2

Alma Stevenson

Committee Member 3

Marcela Ruiz-Funes

Committee Member 3 Email



This is a digital ethnographic inquiry into the experiences of Spanish learners in Georgia with the intent to create a Spanish curriculum that engages students in learning Spanish to cultivate their cultural and linguistic empathy to understand and learn from others who are different from themselves. Theoretically, my dissertation research was built upon a wide array of works such as creating world citizens through critical literacy (e.g., Brown & Thompson, 2018; Cummins, 2000; Derrida, 1986; Freire & Macedo, 1987; Gay, 2018; He and Phillion, 2004; Hensen, 2011; Killman, 2007; Luke, 2012; Morris, 2016; Nussbaum, 1997; Pinar, 2007; Popkewitz, 2008; Valdés, 1996), cultural learning in foreign language curriculum (e.g., Cummins, 2000; Brown & Thompson, 2015; Pang, 2005), caring and justice in foreign language classrooms (e.g., Noddings, 1992; Porto & Byram, 2017; Roberts, Byram, & Barro, 2000), and language learning (e.g., Chomsky, 1986; Krashen, 1982; Vygotsky, 1978).

Methodically, I used digital ethnography (Pink et al, 2016) to examine the experiences of four college Spanish students. Four participants, Amelia, Chandler, Kimberly, and Taylor, participated in my research. These participants learned Spanish as adolescents from a suburban high school in Southeastern United States and are currently studying Spanish at various universities. Digital ethnography allowed me to remain a part of their daily lives and observe their journeys of learning Spanish from a distance. For instance, my participants recorded themselves in Spanish activities such as school events, interactions with friends, and classroom assignments. I then analyzed the video recordings by taking detailed field notes and composing theoretical memos. I also conducted interviews with my participants through video recordings. I then analyzed the video recordings by paying close attention to the ways in which they described their experience of Spanish learning.

Seven findings emerged from this inquiry: One’s passion for music, songs, poetry, and play helps learn Spanish with joy. Technology—YouTube, Instagram, Google Home, and language apps—helps learn Spanish more effectively. Communicating Spanish with others in real-life situations enhances Spanish proficiency and helps overcome language anxiety. Using a wide variety of instructional strategies motivates learners to engage in learning Spanish creatively and actively. Cultivating cultural empathy while learning Spanish fosters critical consciousness. Learning Spanish, learning cultures, and cultivating cultural empathy helps perceive oneself not only as a member of a local community but also as a member of world citizens. The experience of Spanish learners helps create a Spanish curriculum that engages students in learning Spanish and cultivates their cultural and linguistic empathy to understand and learn from others, who are different from themselves. The outcome of the study provided suggestions for improvement for Spanish instruction in my classes so that students are able to learn the language, to communicate with a fast-growing population, and to become more open-minded and engaged citizens in an increasingly diversified world.

Research Data and Supplementary Material