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Implementing and evaluating an online learning environment to enhance second language learning at the beginner level
thesisposted on 27.02.2017, 01:41 by Chakowa, Jessica
Web 2.0 tools are used increasingly in many academic institutions but there has been insufficient research conducted on the use of online learning environments (OLEs), based on multiple technologies, to support second language learning at the beginner level. Indeed, beginner learners have restricted knowledge of the target language, which makes it more challenging for them to collaborate and interact with others. Furthermore, in the context of Second Language Acquisition (SLA), Web 2.0 has been predominantly used to investigate English in a formal (graded) setting, giving less attention to other languages and to informal learning, both of which are gaining interest worldwide. The current research is based on the implementation and evaluation of an interactive platform to enhance the learning experience of beginner learners of French, in an informal (not graded) setting. The platform under investigation (French Plus) was introduced as an optional learning environment enriched with different tools, to consolidate the learning of French in a university context. Multiple learning theories, such as behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism have influenced the design of French Plus. Through this interface, learners were given the opportunity to develop the four language skills in a collaborative way, and to interact with different communities in real-life situations. In return, they received regular and individual feedback on their work from the teacher, who encouraged them to improve their contributions. The study examined the factors that promote and maintain students’ interest in an informal learning platform; the kinds of activities, tools and mode of expression preferred; and students’ engagement with their different learning partners. Based on the analysis of French Plus, a theoretical model has been developed to consider the learner, teacher and technology as part of a holistic approach, in order to facilitate the implementation of online activities. To ensure the triangulation of the research design, various data collection methods have been deployed, including online surveys, focus groups, activity trackers to monitor students’ participation, and a selection of students’ productions. This study combined both quantitative and qualitative analysis which was facilitated by the use of the Nvivo software. Findings reveal that students enjoyed being able to consolidate their skills in a personalised and flexible environment, which highlights the importance of addressing students’ needs and interests, providing the appropriate facilitation and finding strategies to maintain students’ interest in an informal learning environment. Students showed interest in the different aspects of the French Plus offering, although to different extents, hence the relevance of balancing opportunities, combining different tools and sustaining activities. The different learning partners proved to be beneficial in a progressive way, with the ultimate goal of encouraging students to reach a global audience. Based on the above findings, the model developed is to be applied in a flexible way to reflect the adaptability that OLEs like French Plus should present to ensure effectiveness of online activities. Given that development of OLEs requires specific skills from the teachers, the current research also points out the implications for 2.0 teachers in their capacity as designers, facilitators and action-researchers.