Computer-Assisted Language Learning
Dr Aparajita Dey-Plissonneau & Prof. Alan Smeaton
|Subject:||Higher-intermediate French (French language & culture)|
Computer-assisted language learning
|Mode of Delivery:||Online full time|
This case study written by Dr. Aparajita Dey-Plissonneau & Prof. Alan Smeaton shows how language students use the recordings of their virtual exchanges with native speakers of their target language using Zoom video conferencing for online language learning. The recordings are used to generate graphic visualisations that allow students to analyse their participation rates and conversation flow, as well as playback the videos to engage in self- and peer-review with the aim to reflect on their linguistic competencies, intercultural understanding, any challenges encountered and how they could be overcome.
Videoconferencing for educational purposes is not only used for learner-teacher interaction but also to foster pedagogically-structured online collaborative learning between geographically distant learners. This type of virtual exchange is commonly known in foreign language learning and teaching as telecollaboration (Dooly & O’Dowd, 2018). Telecollaboration has been particularly beneficial to language students in the current context of a global pandemic as learning and teaching has moved online and study abroad mobility programmes have been cancelled.
In this work, final year undergraduate students from Humanities and Business learning French in DCU interacted with undergraduate students from University Paris Sciences et Lettres (PSL) in Paris via Zoom to practice their foreign language skills with native speakers of the target language. The addition of the L2 Learning system, to this tandem (French & English) language learning telecollaboration project, addresses some challenges of synchronous telecollaboration by developing on the affordances of videoconferencing. The L2 Learning system facilitates innovative learning activities, such as students reviewing recordings of their synchronous interactions for learning and reflection. The system not only helped DCU and PSL students in reviewing their linguistic knowledge and intercultural understanding, but it also helped in increasing students’ confidence in speaking with native speakers, monitoring their own progress in terms of participation, and remaining motivated to do their work thus reducing student attrition.
What was the learning and teaching challenge you faced?
In today’s connected world, students need to be prepared for workplaces that require them to be culturally aware, negotiate and collaborate in international multicultural environments. In this regard, we have already initiated a number of telecollaboration projects as part of language pedagogy in the School of Applied Languages and Intercultural Studies (SALIS) in DCU. However, in the process, we encountered some recurrent challenges. With DCU students being unable to benefit from their year abroad in France this year, undeniably the most attractive feature of their DCU Bachelor’s programme, due to the Covid-19 crisis, it was all the more urgent to address these issues:
- Students felt high levels of anxiety before and during the synchronous interactions as they lacked confidence in interacting with native speakers. Communicating effectively with native speakers of the language requires intercultural and sociopragmatic skills and linguistic knowledge that most students may never have had the opportunity to practice before;
- The fast-paced nature of the synchronous sessions are too ephemeral for intermediate level students to benefit from them exclusively. Such synchronous settings engender a high cognitive load and time pressure for intermediate speakers. Moreover, students participate in such interactions without having a clear idea about how much they participated and contributed to the conversation either qualitatively or quantitatively. This necessitated post-session asynchronous reviewing of, and reflection on, their participation;
- Student attrition with regard to online learning: sustaining student motivation, investment & engagement was found to be difficult. Telecollaboration is daunting for many students and they may not engage with this activity fully by getting out of their comfort zones if the activity is not properly followed up on by the lecturer. Moreover, students feel tempted to use English instead of using their target language;
- Difficulty in giving personalised teacher feedback to a large number of students each and every week on hour long interactions with native speakers, which is tremendously time-consuming for the lecturer.
What was done?/What did you do?
To address the above challenges, a system called L2 Learning was developed and introduced in 2021 to allow students to concretely visualise and reflect upon their participation and learning on a weekly basis. For this, the automatic audio transcript functionality of Zoom was used to generate participation rates and the conversation flow of students in their online conversations with native speakers. This system, designed and deployed by the Insight Centre for Data Analytics in collaboration with SALIS, allowed DCU and PSL students to concretely visualise their participation rates (whether their occupied floor time was too little or too much or indeed balanced with respect to other participants in the group) and their conversation flow after every session. Moreover, a playback video option allowed students to watch their interactions in order to give and receive peer-feedback and qualitatively analyse their interactions in terms of linguistic learning, intercultural understanding, challenges faced, and how they could be overcome in subsequent interactions.
Seven weekly video conferencing sessions via Zoom were conducted from 1st March to 16th April 2021 involving DCU and PSL students learning French and English respectively in triadic and quadruple settings. These students come from Humanities, Sciences, Economics and Business backgrounds. The themes of university life, job markets, and the reception of various current affairs in their respective countries were discussed. These online interactions were recorded by students on the Zoom cloud and more than 230 such Zoom sessions with an average of 1 hour each, were uploaded and analysed by the L2 Learning system. Once this was done, DCU and PSL students could analyse their own sessions quantitatively and qualitatively.
This is a screengrab from the processed output of a Zoom meeting among some colleagues (not students) and the live and interactive version of this is available for public viewing here.
How did it work for you?
Students reviewed their own quantitative participation and how it changed from one session to the next and for what reasons, in the post session phase. This allowed students and the lecturer to monitor the work weekly. Students also had access to the playback video function for qualitative analysis of their interaction. They could simply click on the audio graphs to locate that portion of the interaction where they were speaking, instead of having to watch or fast-forward through the entire video all over again. This allowed them to reflect on the quality of the interactions in terms of linguistic, intercultural and interaction points after the sessions. Furthermore, they engaged in peer-feedback with the help of the recordings. The general student consensus was that the system mainly helped them in regaining confidence in interacting with native speakers and reviewing their effort. It not only helped them to be mindful of errors and how they could be eliminated, and their participation and how it could be enhanced in subsequent instantiations, but also the positive aspects of their interactions. Apart from this, there were some teething problems with the technology because it was being developed as it was being used but these have now been stabilised and the system is robust and is used without problems.
What tips would you want to give to another lecturer implementing this practice?
Although, this project involving virtual exchange aided by the L2 Learning system was used for a tandem French-English language learning scenario, it can be used for any language pair or even in exchanges where English could be used as lingua franca. Virtual exchange/Telecollaboration aided by the L2 Learning system is not just limited to language learning, it can also be extended to interdisciplinary projects where students from partner universities can engage in collaborative learning using English.
This system is not just meant for technology-minded students. We had students from Humanities and Business using this system and benefitting from these exchanges. Moreover, the exchange is not just limited to symmetrical settings, but can also be extended to asymmetrical interactions (with exchanges between students on one side and teacher trainees on the other side) or interaction between students & experts or teachers.
The best outcome is achieved when the L2 Learning system is meaningfully exploited by the lecturer as an integrated part of the learning activities. It has the potential to offer students the possibility to reflect on their exchanges, monitor the progression of their work, provide peer feedback, participate in tasks, engage mindfully in subsequent synchronous interactions, and do the online exchanges till the end without giving up.
For telecollaboration to be successful, it should be integrated in the module’s learning design. For students to feel motivated, it is important to involve them in the choice of tasks or topics for discussion. It is advisable to strike a balance between synchronous & asynchronous communication. Additionally, students should be given some structure, regular teacher or peer feedback, and credit and recognition through formative and other assessment. This would facilitate learning and also help to keep a check on student attrition.
Telecollaboration requires a high level of collaboration at the level of the lecturers of the partner institutions too. Any potential challenges with regard to differences in institutional or educational culture contexts, assignments, calendar, timetable, student and lecturer workload, degree of learner autonomy in each institution etc. should be discussed and addressed right at the beginning of the creation of the project. Finally, pedagogy before technology should be your guiding rule.
Reflections and future plans?
Future plans involve expanding on and sharing the L2 Learning platform with other telecollaboration-based initiatives for language learning and also for interdisciplinary exchanges.
Can you recommend further reading and/or resources (inc. rubrics, templates etc. as appropriate)?
If you are looking for more information on telecollaboration tasks and looking for partners, you could consult the UNICollaboration platform (https://www.unicollaboration.org/).
References on virtual exchange/telecollaboration:
Akiyama, Y., & Cunningham, D. (2018). Synthesizing the practice of SCMC-based telecollaboration: A scoping review. Calico Journal, 35(1), 49–76. https://doi.org/10.1558/cj.33156
Clot, Y. (2009). Clinic of Activity: The Dialogue as Instrument. In A. Sannino, H. Daniels, K. D. Gutérrez (Eds.), Learning and Expanding with Activity Theory, Cambridge University Press, NY, pp. 286-302.
Dooly Owenby, M., & O’Dowd, R. (Eds.). (2018). In This Together. Bern, Switzerland: Teacher’s Experiences with Transnational Telecollaborative Projects. Peter Lang CH. https://doi.org/10.3726/b14311
Guth, S., & Helm, F. (2011). Developing multiliteracies in ELT through telecollaboration. ELT Journal, 66(1), 42–51.
Helm, F., & Beaven, A. (Eds). (2020). Designing and implementing virtual exchange – a collection of case studies. Research-publishing.net. https://doi.org/10.14705/rpnet.2020.45.9782490057726
Kirschner, P. (2002). Three worlds of CSCL : Can we support CSCL ? Computer. Retrieved from http://igitur-archive.library.uu.nl/fss/2008-0108-212846/kirschner_02_threeworldcscl.pdf
O’Dowd, R., & O’Rourke, B. (2019). New developments in virtual exchange for foreign language education. Language Learning & Technology, 23(3), 1–7. http://hdl.handle.net/10125/44690
O’Dowd, R., & Ware, P. (2009). Critical issues in telecollaborative task design. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 22(2), 173–188.
O’Dowd, R., & Ritter, M. (2006). Understanding and working with ‘failed communication’ in telecollaborative exchanges. CALICO Journal, 623–642.
Rivière, V. & Guichon, N. (2014). Construction de bilans rétroactifs par des apprentis tuteurs de langue en ligne : régimes d'action et dynamiques sociocognitives, Le Français dans le monde - Recherches et applications n°56, pp. 118-135.
Turula, A., Kurek, M., & Lewis, T. (2019). Telecollaboration and virtual exchange across disciplines: in service of social inclusion and global citizenship. Telecollaboration and virtual exchange across disciplines: in service of social inclusion and global citizenship. Research-publishing.net. https://doi.org/10.14705/rpnet.2019.35.9782490057429
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