Skip to Main Content

Special Topics in Online Teaching

A W&M Libraries-STLI collaboration

Developing Collaborative Learning Practices in an Online Course (2016)

There is much evidence to support the occurrence of learning in connection with collaboration, both in face-to-face and online teaching situations, but much less research on how such collaboration develops over the duration of a course. Using Dillenbourg’s concepts of situation, interactions, mechanisms, and effects as a framework, this study aims to fill that gap by following a group of 47 university students participating in a 15-week online English course for low- to mid-intermediate learners. Data gathered included participants’ reflective journals, questionnaires, written assignments, comments posted on Discussion Forums in a Learning Management System, and e-mail exchanges between individual students and the instructor. These were analysed using open, axial, and selective coding. Three different forms of collaboration were identified – reading each other’s work, providing feedback, and working in groups. The main points to emerge from the study were the importance of the social aspect of collaboration, of allowing time for collaboration to develop, and the effect of the gradual development of confidence among the students. Patterns of collaboration changed as the group developed a sense of community and mutual trust, with students who initially held back from offering their work for comment gradually posting their work early to encourage feedback from others.


Assessment in Online German: Assessment Methods and Results (2018) - Can apply to any language.

There is no question that online education has been on the rise (Allen & Seaman, 2014), however, language instructors have been especially cautious about embracing online delivery formats (Arnold, 2007; Kessler, 2010; Reinders & White, 2016). Typical worries about language education online include increased time commitment for students and teachers (Kraemer, 2008), testing security (Chenoweth, Jones, & Tucker, 2006), learning outcomes (Timms, 2017), and the concern that it is intended to save costs and eliminate teachers (Blake, 2001, 2008). One of the greatest benefits of online education is the flexibility it offers in time and place of instruction, which makes language education possible for those who would otherwise lack access (Hampel & Hauck, 2004; Meskill & Anthony, 2015). As argued elsewhere (Goertler, forthcoming), online education is here to stay and educators, regardless of their opinions about it, must become conversant with its possibilities and limitations, advantages and disadvantages. Here we hope to add to the knowledge base about online instruction by focusing specifically on assessment, namely (1) by investigating best practices in assessment in online language courses and (2) by comparing learning outcomes in online courses with face-to-face (F2F) courses. We discuss both previous research as well as the practices and results at Michigan State University (MSU), our own institution.


Measuring Oral Proficiency in Distance, Face-to-face, and Blended Classrooms (2008)

Although the foreign-language profession routinely stresses the importance of technology for the curriculum, many teachers still harbor deep-seated doubts as to whether or not a hybrid course, much less a completely distance-learning class, could provide L2 learners with a way to reach linguistic proficiency, especially with respect to oral language skills. In this study, we examine the case of Spanish Without Walls (SWW), a first-year language course offered at the University of California - Davis in both hybrid and distance-learning formats. The SWW curriculum includes materials delivered via CD-ROM/DVD programs, online content-based web pages, and synchronous bimodal chat that includes sound and text. The contribution of each of these components is evaluated in the context of a successful technologically assisted course. To address the issue of oral proficiency, we compare the results from both classroom and distance-learning students who took the 20- minute Versant for Spanish test, delivered by phone and automatically graded. The data generated by this instrument shows that classroom, hybrid, and distance L2 learners reach comparable levels of oral proficiency during their first year of study. Reference is also made to two other ongoing efforts to provide distance-learning courses in Arabic and Punjabi, two languages where special difficulties in their writing systems have an impact on the design of the distant-learning format. The rationale for offering language courses in either a hybrid or distance-learning format is examined in light of increasing societal pressures to help L2 learners reach advanced proficiency, especially in less commonly taught languages (LCTLs). 


Integrating Digital Technology in an Intensive, Fully Online College Course for Japanese Beginning Learners: A Standards-Based, Performance-Driven Approach (2017) - Can apply to any language

The development of distance learning courses for less commonly taught languages (LCTLs) often meets with instructional challenges, especially for Asian LCTLs with their distinct non-Roman characters and structures. This study documents the implementation of a fully online, elementary Japanese course at Stony Brook University. The curriculum was designed around the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages’s (ACTFL) World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages; performance-driven assessments; and task-supported, technology-enhanced principles. Asynchronous and synchronous tools were incorporated to facilitate task delivery and reduce the virtual isolation of learners. A simulated Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) was conducted for the online students in order to compare their oral performance with that of the face-to-face (F2F) cohort in the preceding semester. Quantitative results show that online students outperformed their F2F counterparts in most of the Integrated Performance Assessment’s scoring criteria, with a statistically significant difference in the criterion “Communication strategies.” Survey results indicate students’ positive attitudes toward language gains and corroborate the qualitative results gleaned from student learning journals and survey responses: Students’ sense of isolation was replaced by a sense of co-presence. We conclude that developing an online LCTL course, though challenging, is feasible and maximizes outcomes through the synergy of multimodal digital platforms, and a standards-based, task-driven curriculum design.


Student engagement and foreign language learning through online social networks (2016)

Introduction: Nowadays, one of the most important questions in teaching and learning involves increasing the degree of students’ engagement in learning. According to Astin’s Theory of Student engagement, the best learning environment is one in which it is possible to increase students’ engagement. The current study investigates the influences that using these networks for educational purposes may have on learners’ engagement, motivation, and learning.

Results: By a detailed comparison of a control group using face to face education and an experimental group using the social network Facebook, this study found significant differences between the two groups in terms of learning, engagement and motivation. The Facebook group showed higher outcomes in the TOEFL post-test than the face to face group with no differences in the pre-test. The Facebook group report significantly higher levels of engagement and motivation after the course than the face to face group.

Conclusion: Engagement was related to learning outcomes in the Facebook group, but not in the face to face group. Also the results of the Facebook group supported Astin’s theory (the fourth principle: ‘Development is proportional to quantity and quality of involvement’ and fifth principle ‘The effectiveness of any educational practice is directly related to the ability of that practice to increase student engagement’). No correlation between engagement and motivation was found. The discussion focuses on the role of engagement in learning.


Task-based language teaching online: A guide for teachers (2017)

Technology-mediated task-based language teaching is the merger between technology and task-based language teaching (TBLT; González-Lloret & Ortega, 2014) and is arguably now an imperative for language education. As language classrooms are being redefined, training for how to set learners up to successfully do tasks online must be part of teachers’ professional development. However, while multiple resources have been written on tasks, technology, and task-based language courses online (e.g., Chapelle, 2014; Doughty & Long, 2003; González-Lloret, 2016; Nielson, González-Lloret, & Pinckney, 2009; Thomas & Reinders, 2012), teacher training for this purpose has largely been ignored. To date, no methodological guide for how to do TBLT via online video interactive tutorials has been published for teachers. In this article, we address this need by proposing a methodology framework for doing TBLT online. We begin with a brief review of TBLT fundamentals and demonstrate how to adapt the Willis (1996, 2012) task-based methodology framework for synchronous, online video-based interaction. We describe the framework and show examples of how to apply it while fostering socialization and community building (Hampel & Stickler, 2005). We also discuss unique challenges that teachers face when doing TBLT online, and propose solutions for how these can be overcome to maximize language learning.