Robert O'Dowd The University of León, Spain ecml, Graz: 25. 02. 2009

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  • Robert O'Dowd
  • The University of León,
  • Spain
  • ECML, Graz: 25.02.2009
  • The Aims of Blended Learning in VOLL Contexts
  • Development of
  • Communicative Proficiency
  • Development of
  • Learner Autonomy
  • Development of Intercultural
  • Communicative Competence
  • “…it is no surprise that language teachers and learners are having difficulties trying to find the right balance between the many competing elements that authors and commentators argue are important in responding to the needs and goals of the contemporary language learner (Levy and Stockwell, 2006:77)”.

What is Telecollaboration?

  • In telecollaboration, language learners in different locations use on-line communication tools (such as e-mail, blogs and social networks) in order to engage in collaborative project work, debate and intercultural exchange with each other.
  • Why? On-line interaction with distant partners – when organised within a structured format - has great potential for the development of intercultural communicative skills, language awareness and learner independence.

Issues when Designing Telecollaborative Projects

  • How to combine the L1 and L2?
  • Which online communication tools to use?
  • What should the students do/discuss together? [Task Design]
  • Should there be an explicit focus on form?
  • What should be the role of the teacher?
  • How should telecollaboration be assessed?
  • What are the new online literacies which learners need in this learning context?

1) How to combine the L1 and L2?

  • The Tandem Approach: “…this entails that each partner should communicate as closely as possible to half in his/her mother tongue and half in his/her target language. This grants both learners the opportunity to practise speaking and writing in their target language and listening to and reading text written by their native speaking partner.”
  • Hey Pablo! It was great to receive your letter. I was so happy to see that you responded to my questions. Thank you. Your responses were very informative and definitely showed me that family life in Spain was not all I'd expected it to be (I was surprised, for example, that your family is not religious. I assumed that most families in Spain are, and I'm sure you have many assumptions about life in America as well).
  • Your English is very good. There are only a few suggestions that I have to correct it. Some of your sentences are too long, and would make more sense if you separated them into two or three sentences instead. For example, "My parents are not divorced in Spain there are very few cases of divorced" could be rewritten as "My parents are not divorced. In Spain there are very few cases of divorce." Your letter was great and made sense despite these things. Good work. Las fiestas en the ciudad de Nueva York son muy locas y emocionantes. Voy a las discotecas con mis amigas los jueves, los viernes, o los sabados. Vamos a los bars tambien. Nosotros volvemos a nos salons de dormitorio a las cuatro de la manana. Queremos bailar a las discotecas. Necesita tener veintiuno anos por beber el alcohol pero la mayoria de estudiantes en las universidades tenen los "fake IDs" y ellos beben el alcohol. … No sabo mucho de Espana. Sabo que hay un museo de Guggenheim en Bilbao y sabo que hay muchos castillos bonitos. Que sabes de los Estados Unidos? Como es la fiesta en Espana? Elena
  • The Cultura Approach:
  • “To have students write in the forums in their "native" language was also a deliberate choice. We wanted to make sure that students were able to express their thoughts in all their complexity as fully and as naturally as possible…what students may "lose", by not writing in the target language, is largely offset by the gains they make by getting access to a rich, dynamic and totally authentic language.”

  • In your opinion, what are the different advantages to an online exchange offered by the following tools?
  • Asynchronous v. Synchronous tools?
  • E.G. E-mail & Message boards v. Messenger & Chat
  • Oral v. Text-based tools?
  • E.G. Skype, Wimba &Videoconferencing v. All above
  • ‘Web 2.0 v. ‘Traditional’ tools?
  • E.G. Blogs, podcasts & wikis V. All above
  • Which Online Communication Tools to use?

Understanding Technology in Context

  • “Successful implementation of CMC…depends on having clear pedagogical objectives in mind, knowledge of the technical options and an awareness of the needs, goals, and skills of the learners (Levy and Stockwell, 2006: 107)”
  • Spanish student feedback comparing oral and written discussion boards:
    • “I prefer the written one because you don’t get so nervous and you have more time to think about what you want to say. Also I did not like to speak in the computer lab with my classmates listening to what I was saying.”
    • “It’s easier to understand them in the written forum because it’s very difficult to speak with someone that you don’t see.”
  • Telecollaborative Tasks (Type 1): Information Exchange Tasks:
  • Telecollaborative Tasks (Type 2): Comparison and Analysis Tasks:
    • Require learners to go a step further and carry out comparisons or critical analyses of cultural products from both cultures (e.g. books, surveys, films, newspaper articles).
  • Telecollaborative Tasks (Type 3): Collaborative Tasks:
    • Require learners to work together to produce a joint product or conclusion (e.g. an essay or presentation, a linguistic translation or cultural adaptation of a text).

Issues when Designing Tasks:

    • Should tasks be chosen by the instructors and/or by the students themselves?
    • Should task outcomes be more or less focussed in nature (i.e. do they require students to simply ‘discuss’ a topic or to reach a specific outcome or conclusion at the end of the interaction)?

E-mail from Alex (Tutor in Spain) to Susan (Tutor in USA)

  • “…Another worry is the first Spanish activity - students are being very general and vague about their choices and according to our timetable we have only one week left before moving on to task two. What can we expect students to do this week? Who should make the final decision as to what film/ad/ song they should discuss together? How much time will they have to then carry out this discussion? Do you share my worry about this? Or maybe I am being overly-teacherly about this and should just sit back and let the students work out all this for themselves...”

Reply from Susan to Alex

  • “As far as the students being very general and vague about the choice of Spanish activities, I would have to say that, in all honesty -  that’s their problem. They know how telecollaboration functions and what impact it has on their grade. If they don’t intend to take it seriously on their own, their grade will suffer. Although they might not learn a lot of Spanish from that, it’ll be a valuable lesson in other senses: namely, I always tell my students that part of their academic experience is not only to learn about the subject matter, but also to learn responsibility, (self)discipline, time-management, collective awareness as well as many other concepts and principles on which the adult world operates. So, if my students don't grasp the subjunctive fully, but I manage to teach them some of the afore-mentioned principles - that satisfies me as a teacher as well. Ideally, I'd want to have them grasp both aspects, but that's not always possible…”

Issues when Focussing on Form

  • Students don’t know how to correct their partners’ mistakes- How many English natives could explain the difference between ‘practice’ and ‘practise’ to a non-native Spanish speaker?
  • [A Spanish student after her exchange with an American partner] “It’s ok but I think there is a bad point. That is that they are not teachers. They can make mistakes too. In the correction she sent me of ‘firstly’ she didn’t realise you can say this in British English.”

Some more Problems…

  • Difficulties correcting your partner
  • “I thought, I would seem arrogant if I tried to correct their grammar and their spelling in a casual conversation about the topics. When you’re speaking to somebody, you don’t expect them to correct you and it could actually insult them”. [Dana from the USA speaking about her Spanish partner]
  • Schwienhorst (2000): even though students were explicitly encouraged to correct their partners’ grammar errors, very little evidence of error correction appeared in the transcripts. Perception by students that tandem was primarily a communicative activity?

What should be the Role of the Teacher?

  • Two opposing approaches:
  • [A teacher writes to partner teacher] “Do you think there is any need to monitor the discussions or just exchange e-mail addresses and let the students handle the rest? (E-mail to author, 2001)”
  • [Another teacher writes to partner teacher] “On-line exchanges should be integrated into the regular classes in the way which the teacher finds most effective. When students are left to themselves they lose interest in the process fairly soon. As any other teaching/learning process, this should be well-planned, organized and controlled – then it brings results.”

Should online interaction be read and shared in class?

  • Q: Do you find it useful and interesting when we talk about the exchange in class? 
  • A: I think it might be necessary, just to keep it going. But on the other hand it seems uncomfortable to me that I would actually like to discuss (up to a certain degree) rather “private”, or non-superficial subjects, but my e-mails have to be forwarded to at least two people. And the content might be topic of our next meeting...
  • But: „Zensur und Internet wollen nicht zueinander passen, aber E-mail Projekte sind keine Privatangelegenheit von Schülern, sondern Teil schulischer Arbeit (Donath, 1997:264).“

How should the Exchange Activity be Assessed?

  • What do we want to assess?
    • Participation?
    • Development in the L2?
    • Electronic Literacies?
    • Intercultural Competence (skills, attitudes, cultural awareness)?
  • How should it be assessed?
    • Proof of participation
    • Products of interaction (essays, blogs, websites)
    • Reflection on learning (portfolios, diaries)

One Critical Perspective

  • “…[L]ook at the widespread practice of linking participation to assessment. ‘You must contribute at least 5 messages in order to pass the course.’ Why would we need to say this, if we had an engaging and effective tool for interaction to offer them? (Goodfellow, 2007:NP)”

Evaluating ‘Affective’ or ‘Sociable’ Online Behaviour

  • “I look for to see if they have demonstrated social or intercultural competence, responding to people thoughtfully, expressing interesting ideas…”
  • “How much did they exchange and how well they do it . Did they push the envelope or did they stay with the tried and true (and trite)? Did someone share a personal experience (not touchy feely, but ‘this happened to me when I was in a foreign country’…)

Problems Evaluating Intercultural Competence

  • An interview with Michael Byram:
  • “Although I have written about assessment for the reasons that we all know, i.e. that what isn’t tested isn’t taught, nonetheless there are problematic aspects of assessment and we can’t be sure what the answers are. Particularly about attitude. Assessing skills is OK, assessing knowledge is OK, assessing the ability to evaluate is OK, but not assessing values or attitudes. That’s where there are problems of a moral nature, as well as a technical nature.”

What are the ‘new literacies’ which learners need in this learning context?

  • Task: The students from Spain should find a Spanish advertisement on youtube and publish it in their exchange blog. They should then develop an adaptation of the advert for the American market. You can change the content as well as the linguistic register so that the ad is appropriate for the other culture. The American partners should comment on the language, style, and cultural appropriateness of the new version and suggest changes. Both groups should agree on a final version of the adaptation which is agreeable to all group members.

Electronic Literacy? Task: Present a representative picture of young Spaniards’ lives to a group of American students of Spanish.

Our work together

  • During our time together I propose that we aim to:
    • Examine a categorisation of telecollaborative tasks (O’Dowd & Ware, in press) and develop a set of tasks which are specifically suited to your VOLL contexts.
    • Review existing models of 'new online literacies' for foreign language learners and draw up a list of literacies which reflect the needs and future aims and working contexts of VOLL students.
    • Develop assessment rubrics and portfolio guidelines for online interaction and telecollaborative activity - taking into account intercultural and multimodal characteristics of these learning activities.

Thank You!

  • This presentation will be available at:

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