Sunday, August 21, 2011

61_ESl Learners and Culture Online

International ESL Graduate Student Perceptions of Online Learning in the Context of Second Language Acquisition and Culturally responsive Facilitation
F. Tan, L. Nabb, S. Aagard and K. Kim  Adult Learning: Vol. 21:1-2. (2010)

I continue on with my readings as I discover additional pieces of the puzzle about online learning, that are also taking me to further considerations, other than the specific adaptation questions that started this blog. The idea is that anything the can increase understanding around online learning, and specifically ESL learning, from students, instructor, designers and stystsmes' perspectives can add to the overall picture of this new mode of delivery that will soon take over the more traditional ways of teaching we are mostly familiar with.

The dance has begun about 15 years ago, and I want to join it and hope to support ideas for others who read this page, to avoid fear of the unknown - online learning can be understood and improved and can make us all life long learners.

This article deals with the specific focus of how - or if - the online learning delivery can support and enhance not only language learning but also cultural understadning. From the lens of the language skills that a given ESL course sets to develop, the study focused on the idea of cultural understanding and transfer. Here some highlights.

  • Remember that technology remains a tool - "Despite offering the capability of reaching myriad students, technology is only an educational tool that can either enhance of hinder learning and understanding. (page 10)
  • Vocabulary acquisition appears to be supported by online learning - words used in context and accessible for reflection and additional practice are a plus of online delivery in ESL settings.
  • However - use of vernacular amongst students of similar cultural background, that was not supported by scaffolding and explanations can become an element of distress.
  • Reading and writing also seem to be highly supported by default, in online learning environments and allow students to revisit and correct one's text, use texts for meaningful purposes and to cement collaboration amongst students. Students participating in discussion forums admit their need to ensure they have read their peers' contribution to make their own. This calls on skilled instructors to ensure that students do not feel overwhelmed in reading hundreds of text entries.
  • Listening and speaking skills, according to this study were not positively affected by the online delivery. This can be definitely taken care of as an element of the course that more recent technologies can support and scaffold.
  • First time users, especially ESL learners, seem to have a very low sense of trust with the technology and time management, for self-pacing also seems to be a challenge without support and scaffolding.
  • Cultural concerns were expressed by students in this study around the expectation of language and content in academic discussions - some ESL learners felt that the expectation was always to write academic-based thoughts not personal stories included in the discussions.
  • Overall participants in the study indicated their idea that online learning does not promote cultural exchange and understanding. There seem to be a default sense of loneliness in students if not structured and supported all along.
  • Instructional designers and instructors need to anticipate students' needs and foresee ways in which the needs can be addressed by the technologies.

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