January 2002, Vol. 6, Num. 1 pp. 165-180 Language Learning & Technology
It is interesting to consider how a research conducted almost ten years ago, provided the basis for what would be confirmed and realized, through newer technologies (Web 2.0) and reflections on different uses of online learning in second language courses.
The study reflected on perceptions about the isntructors' presence importance for online learning deliveries, the use of structure in lab sessions to learn the language and the impact that online learning has on students of second languages in general.
Some of the key messages worth considering (even though the article is a bit dated) include:
- understanding that overall there are benefits for students using technology in their SL learning experience. these include: motivation, mastery of basic skills and the potential for higher level thinking skills. The use of multimedia for factual information access and sharing seems quite positive.
- communication, empowerment and learning (control of learning) seem to have been identified contributions of the use of technology in learning in general (Warschauer, 1996).
- As realized in several later studies we already discussed here, writing skills, when structured and intentional, result in improvements using technologies. However, when writing is used mainly to communicate with no emphasis on accuracy, even the more frequent use will not have salient positive effects.
- Self-confidence in speaking can also improve, based on ongoing practice and written use of colloquial structures.
- videoconferencing was already highlighted as having potential - nowadays, with the use of tools like Skype, it becomes and even more powerful opportunity for live interactions.
- Instructors and students' roles change when technology becomes a more prominent channel and delivery mode.
- Constructivist approach remains a basis for the new pedagogies.
- The teacher presence was felt by students in this study as being very important.
- Time on task appeared to be higher when completing work using technology.
- The ability to offer a flexible but structured schedule to complete tasks online is important and should be taken into consideration. Putting too much pressure to complete something in a shorter time usually affects students' perceptions in a negative way.
An interesting observation follows about SL students using technology-supported learning environments:
[...]the student must confront a certain level of ambiguity, engage in a wide array of learning choices, and make meaning out of material presented in a nonlinear fashion. Moreover, it may also be difficult for students n a whole language environment to realistically evaluate their own learning. In this study, holistic learning consisted of authentic texts, large amounts of linguistic material, and students engagement in the construction of complex knowledge evaluated through performance-based measures, as opposed to traditional testing. (p.173)The study finally concluded that the role of the instructor, though a changed one from the more traditional approaches, remains pivotal to the online learning experiences and must include well-developed new instructional skills, that include the understanding of the use of the new tools but also the new dynamics that take place when technology is used to support the learning. Additionally, teachers' roles and work commitment appear to be more time-consuming and somewhat 'harder' at the early stages of implementation of adoption of technologies and that "positive changes from technology are more evolutionary than revolutionary" (page 176).