Designing a course or learning event in the digital era requires an awareness of what tools and resources are not only available, but learning how to filter, use them in the correct way and be able to provide support to students are important factors. A sound understanding of digital literacy, networked learning and online pedagogy needs to be the starting point from which to begin. In the following proposal I will be looking at how to enhance the language acquisition of second-language (L2) learners by the design of a new approach of implementing principles of Networked and Global Learning (NGL) to my existing context as a face-to-face (FTF) IELTS tutor to my Korean students.
Statement of Problem
In my context as a classroom tutor, I am acutely aware of the fact that my students have a limited time to spend practising their second language (L2) skills with me in the short hours we spend together each week. Whilst I encourage my student to email or call me during the week to further practice their language skills, they have yet to do so. When I have asked them why, the response is that they feel vulnerable speaking one-on-one to a native speaker and the pressure of that situation unnerves them. When I ask my students about their social lives, they often answer that they work, socialise and live within communities of other Korean speakers, they do not attempt to make Australian friends because they are too nervous about the language barrier. This is not specific to my students, Benny Lewis blogs about his experiences with language learners and learning and the issue of expat communities limiting exposure to the language and culture surrounding them, as language is a social tool, it should be learned in the same manner (Lewis, 2011). Often, languages are taught as a code to be learned rather than as a social practice (Liddicoat & Scarino, 2009; Garrett, 2008; Thorne et al, 2009). The matter of linguistic self-confidence is something to be addressed and the most common solution for fostering this is in implementing community-based learning programmes (Pellettieri, 2011) which, most importantly, facilitate student-student communication, interaction and knowledge-sharing.
The main research question that is focused on within this proposal is:
How will implementing NGL principles enhance L2 learning for IELTS students?
Sub-questions to be investigated are:
– What NGL principles best support the facilitation of an online L2 community?
– What are the limitations?
Traditional educational settings have been rather slow to catch on to the meteoric rise of informal learning which now occurs in a variety of easily accessible ways through online communities of practice and personal learning networks (Siemans, 2005). Whilst education in its slow approach to online learning has largely adopted the use of online Learning Management Systems (LMS), there is now an increasing need for formal educational settings to incorporate the informal and open learning approach.
In our digital world we have the ability to access information on any topic we can imagine with just our mobile devices, with millions of available learning networks to choose from and endless information resources available to us within seconds. As the move from instructor-led to student-led learning becomes more prominent in educational settings, the use of technology in education and the evolution of traditional pedagogies continues. Platforms embracing student-centred learning and connectivist principles (Downes, 2011) are now emerging as the new ‘normal’ in education.
Principles of NGL and Connectivism are defined by Blackhall, 2007 & Siemans, 2005 (as cited in Kligyte, 2009) as the ability of learners to access endless sources of information, build relationships and collaborate to build knowledge of formal educational environments. The ability to establish and maintain relationships whilst collectively building knowledge amongst L2 learners is the driving force behind this proposal, effective ways in which to do this is to provide opportunities for interactivity with the content and allow as often as possible for learner collaboration and peer review (Pelz, 2004). Whilst in class my students are very happy to speak English in the group setting because they can help one another in understanding meanings and translate for one another. This example of learning as social construct is the reason why we teach L2 in small groups, to enable collaboration amongst students and co-construction of meaning. What is lacking is the maintenance of language practice and linguistic self-confidence between our FTF sessions. When considering the principles of NGL, the idea of facilitating an online knowledge-based community of learners (Riel & Polin, 2004) seeking to advance the collective understanding of the subject of L2 appears to offer the best solution to the problem. This communicative approach to L2 learning using web 2.0 technologies is ideal as it teaches learners to communicate using their target language and through the use of authentic situations, i.e. expressing opinions, offering critiques and practising everyday linguistic interaction (Byer, 2014).
A particular concern when designing for online learning is that students may feel a sense of disengagement from the learning content, even more so when considering the students are also trying to overcome a language barrier and with varying degrees of proficiency to consider, this is why the ability to communicate and share their understandings is of such vital importance (Rourke & Coleman, 2011; DuCharme-Hansen & Dupin-Bryant, 2011) as is the need for a critically reflective online space (Mezirow, 2009). The solution is to make use of technology and e-learning to merge online and FTF learning to maximise the possibility of collaboration and critical reflection between participants in using blogs or wikis as a form of communication in which ideas and understandings can evolve and be shared (Duffy & Bruns, 2006), and to encourage students in the creation, sharing and maintenance of Personal Learning Networks (PLN) not only within the class but also seeking connections elsewhere to incorporate the wider learning potential of NGL (Burt, 2014) to create a larger learning community and therefore promote transformative learning (Reushle, 2010).
In my setting, I am proposing to make the use of a well-known LMS, Moodle as the main platform from which I will be facilitating online communication of course content and links to participants blogs and space in which participants can also share useful links they have found within their own PLNs. The moodle platform permits a wide range of tools such as tests, wikis or forums and especially important in this context is the ability to create activities within glossaries (Guillén-Gámez& García-Magariño, 2015). For L2 learners, being able to hear a pronunciation, as well as the ability to have a visual representation of a word is thought to enhance language retention. Of further benefit to the learning environment is the fact that the learners themselves can create this glossary. This practice of students creating their own glossary was researched by Marrone et al., (2012) as a new method of L2 learning and proved a greatly successful exercise in creating a reusable resource which enhanced learner experience by offering them the chance to create their own practice material using collaboration and the chance to peer review one another’s contributions to the glossary (Marrone et al., 2012). By being able to make use of the range of educational tools, activities and media available to enhance a learning community through Moodle also means addressing the varying degrees of understanding individuals have will be easily measured and able to be addressed through shared understanding and peer interaction as well as tutor-student interaction (Collis & Moonen, 2002).
Whilst using Moodle is a practical online space for students to communicate and share, another focus of the proposal is to encourage individuals to create their own PLNs, which they will share with the group via blogs on Moodle with links to their findings, finding ways in which to encourage your students to develop their PLNs often starts by demonstrating your own PLNs and also from encouraging them to seek wider connections for themselves online, examples of which can be found on the WHAT ED SAID blog . It is important that learners experience the wider world of open learning networks as well as function within a learning community in a measurable learning space that can measure outcomes and monitor progress. In sharing their findings with others, individuals are creating further potential connections to embrace the nature of NGL to its fullest potential. Encouraging the exploration of platforms such as twitter, VoiceThread and the many other alternatives available may enhance the learning community significantly. Whilst the benefits of having an online social platform from which participants can communicate with one another are discussed throughout this proposal, the limitations or issues are also abundant. As well as the potential for a period of unsettlement as students become accustomed to learning in a new environment and/or community and getting grips with using new methods and approaches to learning, from an L2 perspective, becoming accustomed to communicating in a foreign language may prove initially alien.
When faced with the differences between formal language acquisition and idioms and text-speech, despite the difficulties that may arise in the beginning, learning informal English is arguably a better way to learn. When I teach English language idioms to my class, putting them into context always proves to be relatively difficult in terms of them understanding why we use them, whereas being immersed in an informal learning environment may enhance their ability to understand their uses. Being a part of a more informal learning environment is more realistic to everyday life and will enhance the students’ ability to converse more easily with native speakers when they understand their casual language uses, most of us intuitively feel we learn best outside of the formal system, with deeper learning occurring through meaningful interactions throughout work and life (Holmen, 2014). Being able to bring phrases from their PLNs back to our central hub in Moodle, or raising them in-class will most likely offer far more opportunity than I can provide by trying to think of and provide examples. Being able to utilise an approach that incorporates an LMS and PLNs appears to be a solution that works in my context as well as in many others. As Mott argues in 2010, the future of technology in higher education will largely be defined by how we strike a balance between the two (Mott, 2010). Overcoming issues that arise in the initial setting up of the new technology and language issues will be through communication via the forum and in our FTF sessions. The fact that activities and assignments to be produced online will be assisted by asynchronous forum and blog participation will also help to enhance understanding by providing a resource that can be revisited, offers peer-peer interaction and the ability for participants to spend time preparing their work before posting online. In terms of maintaining connections online, following one another’s blog posts through a feed such as Feedly will offer the chance for students to keep up-to-date with one another’s progress and offer opportunity for further interaction among participants.
With little to no cost involved in the implementation of this proposal, the potential benefits of doing so seem to be too worthy to miss, as I have already discussed with my employer at the tutoring academy, it is something he is interested in looking into, although his reservations are not entirely unfounded in the implication that offering an open online learning opportunity may negatively affect the income he receives from offering FTF tuition which he believes will become a thing of the past, as well as his uncertainly of how secure an online course actually is. Online security is another implication to consider when partaking in any online community, again raising the issue of digital literacy research and teaching as a prior consideration of the implementation of such a proposal. The academy is based within Australian National University (ANU) and so we are privileged to have access to a range of technology that would be useful in setting up an online platform and providing resources such as the ability for students to create videos and podcasts should they not have access to the technology at home. Having access to these things for within our FTF sessions also offers the opportunity for demonstrating the use of them and how to overcome technical issues should they arise.
Whilst there are most likely going to be issues not already expected within this proposal and possibly more difficulties with language barriers for some students to overcome than others, the hope is that offering an opportunity for a supportive and interactive community will provide the chance to overcome these barriers as a group of learners. This proposal outlines the ways in which I have considered in its design the factors of NGL that promote connections between peers, between learners and tutors, and between a learning community and its resources (Goodyear, 2005) whilst considering the implications and benefits of doing so within a community of L2 learners seeking to expand their understanding of a foreign language.
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