Editor’s Note: This is a thoughtful, interesting, evocative, and cautionary guide to use of blended learning for English as a Foreign Language.
Interaction in Blended EFL Learning:
Principles and Practice.
Mei-Ya Liang and Curtis J. Bonk
Taiwan / USA
The trend of acquiring English as a foreign language (EFL) through blended learning (BL) has prompted teachers to develop strategic plans and directions for its onsite implementation and evaluation. This paper applies the concept of interaction to the challenge of creating a BL curriculum for an EFL class. General principles of interaction based on three dimensions of interaction—textual, social, and technological interaction—are presented and then applied specifically to EFL classes at a Taiwanese university by adopting the following practical steps: (1) setting course objectives; (2) formulating techniques and strategies; (3) selecting media and tools; (4) organizing activities and technologies; and (5) evaluating student learning. Students’ reactions to and comments on six BL curriculum units indicate that various combinations of BL based on level and dimension of interaction are well adapted to the specific university EFL class. Our findings suggest that the interaction-driven approach should be the focal point for future development and implementation of BL in EFL classes.
Keywords: blended learning; blogging; chat; English as a Foreign Language; language learning; web-based learning; sociocultural theory; online news media; online pedagogy; instructional strategies.
Current trends of acquiring English as a foreign language (EFL) through blended learning (BL) have led to the fundamental questions of why blend, what to blend, and how to blend. Over the past decades, a wide variety of technologies have been incorporated in computer-assisted language learning (CALL) classes for different purposes, including self-paced skills practice, collaboration and communication, project-based learning, content-based learning, and other academic or specific purposes (Egbert, 2005). Paralleling the emergence of the Web as a learning environment, CALL, which is traditionally defined as language learning in a computer laboratory or a classroom aided by various media and methods, is now oriented towards BL--a blend of both face-to-face (FTF) experiences and online interactive activities outside the classroom-- in order to increase the level of active learning strategies and access to learning (Graham, 2006; Whitelock & Jelf, 2003). Regarding BL in certain EFL contexts, there is a pressing need to rethink issues such as why blend Web-based interaction into FTF classroom-based learning, what is added to the experience that could not be obtained in the traditional classroom, and how to blend Web-based interaction into FTF learning effectively.
To design thoughtful pedagogies that create meaningful interaction with technology, instructors need to reflect upon contextual aspects of how technologies might be used across settings and how language learners might respond to them (Bax, 2003; Beatty & Nunan, 2004; Brandl, 2002; Leakey & Ranchoux, 2006; Oliver & Trigwell, 2005; Stracke, 2007). In particular, BL researchers (e.g., Stracke, 2007; Murday, Ushida, & Chenoweth, 2008) have pointed out the importance of connections between learners’ FTF experiences and CALL components by means of social support and training, as well as interaction with reading and writing materials for effective BL experiences. Despite increasing attention paid to different dimensions of interaction in BL, for the most part, research results have yet to find their way into practice.
In this paper, the authors report on an action research project related to the development of BL pedagogical approaches at a university EFL class in Taiwan. We are interested in designing BL activities for EFL students and identifying critical aspects of the activities. By examining the concept of interaction, we elaborate guiding principles and instructional steps that are critical to an effective BL environment. In the following sessions, practical applications to the EFL course curriculum are explicated and students’ reaction to techniques, activities, and tools in the pedagogy are presented. Finally, implications are offered that can inform the future design and use of BL in EFL classes.
Principles of interaction
The concept of interaction is an essential ingredient in both online and FTF education. Specifically, different types of interaction have been widely discussed: learner-content, learner-learner, learner-instructor, learner-self, and learner-interface interaction (Bude, Bonk, Magjuka, Liu, & Lee, 2005). In the following sessions, the authors put forward three principles of interaction by defining the scope and boundary of three dimensions of interaction--: (1) textual interaction, (2) social interaction, and (3) technological interaction—that have been incorporated in the design of a BL pedagogy for a specific EFL context
Textual interaction is often viewed as a process of readers’ interaction with reading and writing materials. Reading for comprehension or main ideas is a major goal of EFL learning (Grabe, 2002). Studies on second language learning (L2) reading processes and instruction (e.g., Alderson, 2000; Bernhardt, 1991; 2003; Carrell, 1988; Chun, 2001) have found that a learner’s comprehension of an L2 text requires an interactive combination involving simultaneously processing of lower-level linguistic knowledge (i.e., vocabulary and sentence structures) and higher-level background knowledge (i.e., metacognition, strategies, and perception). These studies suggest that L2 readers depend on their own motivation, attitudes, interest, reading purposes, and background knowledge as well as on vocabulary and structural knowledge. Online environments also afford hypertext with linked text and multimedia annotations for comprehension and meaning construction (Chun, 2001). L2 students must determine their reading purposes (e.g., scanning for information, skimming for main ideas, interacting with multimedia for pleasure, or learning new words) in order to deal with the structural and motivational (e.g., difficult and unfamiliar) elements embedded in the authentic online materials. Therefore, blended EFL curricula should include different combinations of linguistic activities and reading materials that will facilitate meaning construction and content engagement in textual interaction (Principle 1).
Social interaction involves L2 learners’ interaction with others in social learning environments. Inspired by the concept of the zone of proximal development--i.e., context of assisted learning and development (Vygotsky 1978), various forms of instructional techniques have been proposed to assist learners in performing complex tasks and adjusting their responses based on their experiences and knowledge. In particular, Collins, Brown, and Newman (1989) introduced cognitive apprenticeship with six key levels of strategy training: (1) modeling, (2) coaching, (3) scaffolding, (4) articulation, (5) exploration, and (6) reflection. These strategies demonstrate expert thinking and a transfer of assistance to peers and learners themselves as learners become more proficient in applying the strategies on their own. These strategies might help adult students take responsibility of their own learning.
A similar technique applied in reading groups is reciprocal teaching (Brown & Palincsar, 1989; Palincsar & Brown, 1984) through which students practice strategies, such as questioning, clarifying, summarizing, and predicting. These apprenticeship techniques have been effectively applied to L2 classes (Klingner & Vaughn, 2000) and computer-supported collaboration (Angeli, Valanides, & Bonk, 2003; Liu, 2005) to engage students in social interaction and active learning. In fact, opportunities for social interaction have exploded with the emergence of Web-based learning technologies and activities. Therefore, blended EFL curricula should include different forms of instructional techniques and organizational structures that will facilitate strategy use and active participation in social interaction (Principle 2).
Technological interaction relates to learners’ interaction with or through technologies. As indicated, with the emergence of the Web, and now the Web 2,0, there are a plethora of ways to integrate technology in the curriculum. Despite the technological innovation, thoughtful design is key. In terms of pedagogical design, several approaches have been identified in the field of CALL and Web-based language learning. For example, Bax (2003) observed three approaches for CALL, (1) restricted, (2) open, and (3) integrated CALL. Restricted CALL refers to restricted interaction with CALL lessons in the forms of closed drills and quizzes. Open CALL includes games, simulations, computer-mediated communication (CMC) lessons for genuine communication. In Integrated CALL, CMC technology and activities are “normalized” or fully integrated in everyday practice as appropriate to learners’ needs and contexts.
Similarly, Brandl (2002) described three approaches: (1) teacher-determined lessons with pre-selected online materials and comprehension activities; (2) teacher-facilitated lessons with given tasks, topics and learning goals; (3) learner-determined lessons with teacher support and guidance throughout the learning process as necessary. While the effectiveness of CALL and Web-based language learning is inconclusive, these researchers have underscored the importance of technological integration and pedagogical considerations, such as task and feedback types, teacher’s roles, and student attitudes. Obviously blended pedagogies and technology may also place new demands on EFL learning.
As specified in the textual and social interaction sections, there are common techniques and activities applicable to both settings, but online technological tools also afford interactive tasks, which often entail diverse interaction sequences and communicative strategies unique to the medium. For example, text chat shares the task element of real-time negotiations across FTF and online settings, but contains specific features of delayed discourse and alternative turn-taking organizations (Blake, 2000; Negretti, 1999; Savignon & Roithmeier, 2004; Smith, 2003). Moreover, certain technological tools afford rich multimedia for learners of diverse learning styles and abilities, but individual learners with their unique experiences and preferences might react differently to various multimedia tools and resources (Chun, 2001). With such a blend, learners are exposed to new and multiple interactive practices to share feelings, establish communication, and maintain social connection across different settings. At the same time, such combinations present a diverse array of opportunities to instructors that can overwhelm and frustrate them as well as offer new possibilities for success. Therefore, blended EFL curricula should provide different options of rich media and supporting technologies that will facilitate flexible learning and interactive experiences within technological interaction (Principle 3).
In general, the three principles of interaction aim to solve the problem of designing BL activities for EFL students by asking the fundamental questions: (1) What materials and activities will promote comprehension and learning? (2) What techniques and strategies will facilitate active participation? and (3) What media and technologies will bring interactive experiences? To make certain decisions for a specific EFL learning situation, we also need to understand the context (e.g., who the target students are and what their learning goals are).
Action research methodology
This particular study aims to investigate the above concrete and practical issues. It is part of a larger action research program that features exploratory methods and allows for taking interpretations in new directions (Burns, 2003). It is an action research project which occurred in a Freshman English class at a well-known university in northern Taiwan. As a required course, Freshman English at the university (as well as at many other universities in Taiwan) had an imposed curriculum with uniform materials, course objectives, and midterm and final exams. In addition to FTF instructions on textbook content, a course-level blend also included a website with supplementary readings, language exercises, and writing topics and prompts to help students review and practice textbook content outside the classroom. The goal was to prepare non-English majors for academic reading, writing, and communications, so that their English proficiency would reach the upper-intermediate level of a nationwide general English proficiency test—the GEPT test.
Thirty-five engineering majors (27 males and 8 females) took the class with the first author. The class, which met for 18 weeks, consisted of four-hours of FTF class attendance on a weekly basis. At the beginning of the semester, students took the GEPT and filled out a questionnaire about their online and EFL learning experiences. The test results indicated that the students’ English ability was at an intermediate or upper-intermediate level. The results from the questionnaire were interesting. First, all students but one began studying English in junior high school at the age of 12 or 13. Second, all students were skillful at Microsoft Word and multimedia devices (e.g., Media Player, Quick Time, Real Player, etc). Third, more than half could use Web editing tools (e.g., Front Page and Dream Weaver); Fourth, about two-thirds of the students used the Internet 15 hours a week or more. Finally, the most frequent reason for students to access Internet sites was for email and Internet messaging. Suffice to say, students were fairly adept with Web technology.
The outcomes of the questionnaire show that CMC technology and activities, such as email and chat, are widely adopted in students’ everyday lives, but that the traditional blend within the imposed curriculum offered extremely restricted interaction with CALL lessons in the forms of closed drills and quizzes. This fairly traditional curriculum limited students’ opportunities and choices for social interactions even with an additional modality. A radical transformation of the pedagogy might not be practical or effective in this situation. However, small, fresh changes to the online pedagogy can motivate students. To do so, the new blend includes the following five steps or parts: (1) setting course objectives; (2) selecting media and tools; (3) formulating techniques and strategies; (4) organizing activities and technologies; and (5) evaluating student learning. Each of these is explored in the following sections.
1. Setting course objectives
Considering the engineering students’ work and study needs, the course objectives were reformulated as follows: (1) to improve L2 ability through uses of online tools and resources, (2) to improve strategy use by communicating in different formats of L2 texts with peers online; and (3) to improve text comprehension and production by constructing online content.
2. Selecting media and tools
One reason for the use of technology was it offers various multimedia tools and materials, which could promote L2 ability, strategy use, and text comprehension and production. In this study, three media—i.e., online news sites, text chat rooms, and weblogs (or blogs)—were selected. We outline their potential benefits as follows.
Online news sites
Both instructional and commercial news sites were used. CNN Interactive (http://literacynet.org/cnnsf/), for example, is an online instructional news site for ESL learners. The website includes pre-selected news stories and interactive activities (e.g., vocabulary exercises, comprehension questions, story outlines, and selected links) for guiding language learning and comprehension. Commercial news sites, such as The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/) and MSNBC Headline News (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/), afford updated news with multiple channels of information (auditory and visual) for exploration.
Text chat rooms
Text chat rooms in Tapped In Community Center (http://ti2.sri.com/tappedin/index.jsp) were used to facilitate participants’ communication and collaboration. The free synchronous conferencing tool is offered through Stanford Research Institute. It includes the graphics area with personal tools (e.g., the whiteboard, the room map, and notes), and the text input area with action and command menus. In addition, automatic transcripts of discussions could be saved and discussed in later FTF class meetings as well as reflected upon in students’ blogs. While other commercial sites have more graphics and tools, Tapped In gains online support and interaction opportunities from the Help Desk staff and volunteers when they log on to the website.
Free blogging software (i.e., Blogger.com) was used for constructing and publishing content. The instructor used the blog to provide timely coaching and scaffolding of student language learning. Students were also asked to: (1) log online learning materials and resources, (2) post links to news articles they read, (3) outline key points of reading texts, (4) write thoughts and reflections, (5) record the results of group learning activities in news sites and text chat rooms, and (6) provide peer comments on blog summary posts.
3. Formulating techniques and strategies
Aimed at the three objectives—guided language practice, collaborative strategy use, and exploratory text production--instructional techniques and strategies were employed to blend online components into FTF learning. The instructors used them to communicate task priority.
Guided language practice
In FTF meetings, the instructor introduced writing conventions and models summarizing and paraphrasing skills. In online learning, different online tools and resources (e.g., online dictionaries, multimedia annotations, and instructional sites) were also added to model expert thinking and coach students’ online reading, writing, and study skills. Special attention was paid to encourage students to solve their linguistic problems by using appropriate tools and resources.
Collaborative strategy use
Using the reciprocal teaching technique, the instructor assisted students in FTF discussions. After class, students practiced strategies through online interaction. Additional study guides for online discourse facilitated their paired or small group discussions. Emphasis was put on explaining tasks, questioning peers, offering suggestions, encouraging articulation, pushing learning, and fostering reflection. As indicated earlier, such activities are key components of an effective cognitive apprenticeship.
Exploratory text production
The last part focused on reviewing and exploring myriad texts, tools, resources for online publishing. In FTF settings, peer response groups provided oral reviews for student work. In synchronous and asynchronous CMC activities, students: (1) shared and gave feedback to peers; (2) collaboratively revised texts and made responses to other groups, and (3) evaluated the effectiveness of individual and group work.
4. Organizing activities and technologies
Different learning activities and supporting technologies were organized into a sequence of three phrases, each of which included two learning units to illustrate possible progression in the course of study (For details, see Appendix A). When combined, the online text-based activities, social interaction, and learning technologies were intended to scaffold and apprentice student second language learning.
Level 1 interaction
The first phrase involved student interaction with somewhat familiar and relatively easy to use technologies (e.g., news sites and blogs) under teacher guidance. Students chose topics, texts, and exercises and activities to practice L2 skills in the assigned news sites.
Level 2 interaction
The next level of interaction incorporated more elements of social and technological interactions. Emphasis was put on student participation in collaborative activities with peers in both FTF and online interactions. At the end of the second stage, students were expected to take a more active role by articulating their thoughts and communicating with group members.
Level 3 interaction
In the last stage, various networked activities and media types were integrated in BL. Students presented their work and reflected on their own online learning experiences or further explore their collaborative work.
5. Evaluating student learning
Formative evaluation was used to understand students’ perceived learning and affective outcomes. For each of the learning unit, we gathered students’ opinions about whether they agreed or disagreed with two statements: (1) I enjoy activities in this unit; (2) I learn well from this unit for each of the learning unit.
Twenty-six students provided their opinions and comments in the forms of learning logs. Table 1 shows the number of the respondents in each of the response level, and Figure 1 illustrates the average level of agreement (series 1 for the first statement and series 2 for the second). The results revealed that the class had more positive attitudes toward these two statements across the six learning units. Of all the six units, the highest average level of agreement on both statements was at Unit 5 “Full Coverage,” and the lowest was at Unit 6 “Hot Off the Press.” In other words, most of the respondents enjoyed group discussion in the chat room and felt that they learned well from it. However, respondents had more diverse attitudes toward peer editing for publishing.
Students’ comments were further analyzed based on dimensions and levels of interaction.
The first unit--“To Gloss or Not to Gloss?”-- asked participants to search and read online news by using online dictionaries and writing summaries in blogs. Before the course began, eleven students had never read online English news, and only eight had owned blogs. As indicated by the quotes below, students who had prior online searching and reading experiences found the task “fun,” “meaningful,” and “interesting.”
Student attitudes towards six learning units
I enjoy activities in this unit.
Unit 1: “To Gloss or Not to Gloss?”
Unit 2: “Inquiring Minds Want to Know!”
Unit 3: “Scavenger Hunt!”
Unit 4:“Multimedia Treasure Hunt!”
Unit 5: “Full Coverage!”
Unit 6: “Hot Off the Press!”
I learn well from this unit.
Unit 1: “To Gloss or Not to Gloss?”
Unit 2: “Inquiring Minds Want to Know!”
Unit 3: “Scavenger Hunt!”
Unit 4:“Multimedia Treasure Hunt!”
Unit 5: “Full Coverage!”
Unit 6: “Hot Off the Press!”
Note. SA=strongly agree; A=agree; U=undecided; D=disagree; SD=strongly disagree
Figure 1. Average levels of agreement to statements
for six learning units
Before I take this course, I surfed on the web for movies, comics, and NBA. It’s my first time using the Internet to search English news. It is fun.
When you search news on CNN’s web, you can find many interesting and deeply meaningful articles to read.
By contrast, students who focused on new words considered the same task boring or difficult:
Too many new words! And the article is a little serious and boring.
It is difficult to get the whole meaning of the article because of a lot of new words…
Why I cannot find some new words in the dictionary?! Where were these words created?
In Unit 2—“Inquiring Minds Want to Know!”--individuals searched and read texts by asking “WH” types of questions. While many students linked this question-and-answer activity to their prior test experiences and learned how to use questions to aid comprehension, several respondents thought this task made searching and locating information easier and more difficult at the same time. Here is one,
I am a curious student and always try to find some interesting things! …It is difficult to answer my questions because my odd questions could not be found in the articles. ..I have learned how to have a full understanding of the article by asking questions. It’s like asking questions in a test.
Level 2 Interaction: Collaborative strategy use
The unit--“Scavenger Hunt!”--asked students to read news articles out loud with their partners and record their reading processes. This activity helped students identify reading strategies and problems by communicating with peers in an L2 and most of the students enjoyed the social process:
I browsed the article and tried to find important points. Reading an article out loud helps me concentrate on this article…I said many wrong sentences in 20 minutes….
Although my partner and I speak poor English, we can understand each other. It makes us happy.
Despite the affective support, several student pairs still suffered from reading problems and incompatible thoughts: “My partner cannot help with my reading problems and right ways to read;” “The hardest part is to solve the situation when we have different thoughts.”
In Unit 4--“Multimedia Treasure Hunt!” students read news media with partners. Most students reported that their self-selected visual and audio aids made news reading and writing easier, more interesting, and more enjoyable to them. One participant, for example, recounted her online actions and details:
When I saw the introduction about “Chicken Little,” I really felt funny. His action and expression were vivid. The picture above the news was so cute. It was really unforgettable…Looking at the pictures and writing down the ideas about it were more easier. Because I liked this movie, so I could write down my opinions.
However, several students discovered that certain multimedia features, such as the presentation style, speed, and length, did not fulfill their reading and learning needs:
The page only has characters’ pictures and introduction. If it can offer some animations, I think it will be better…The characters’ names are not easy to remember, because they are always too long and I don’t know how to pronounce it.
I can’t hear what the roles in the video say clearly. Sometimes it was a little fast.
Although videos, movies, comics, and games on the Web might not have strong multimedia qualities to result in substantial reading or learning benefits, several participants sought ways of using interactive and multimedia features to attract audiences.
Unit 5--“Full Coverage!”--involved students in news sharing through peer response groups in text chat rooms. Most participants enjoyed the social nature of chatting, but they also encountered not only the often-cited challenges, such as overlapping turn-taking and peers’ lurking behaviors, but also ineffective communication due to their limited L2 ability:
I felt sad when others did not respond to my ideas. I thought that they felt bored.
Sometimes maybe our communication ability is not very good, so we can’t understand each other. And it would waste a lot of time. It’s a big problem for me.
The communication strategies of many participants wrote included using simple sentences, ignoring grammar, reading news before chatting, and thinking (or translating) before typing. Such strategies helped them deal with the fast pace of textual interaction, avoid linguistic problems, and generally facilitate their communication in English. One student reported the following,
The English chat is not easy. You have to think before you say anything and have to think when everybody is speaking, You have to keep on thinking and translating…Sometimes I use “mmm..” or “well…” to express that I am thinking when chatting. Thinking avoids grammatical problems.
While some less experienced students had problems executing commands (e.g., changing the font size and scrolling text) or accessing the new Web environment, others viewed English use in unfamiliar Web environments as a barrier. One student, in fact, noted:
I use MSN. Not until my English ability is better will I go to the website [Tapped In] to chat with people around the world.
In the final unit--“Hot Off the Press!”--students edited and published group news summaries through blogs. More than half of the participants felt bored or confused about peer feedback. One student stated,
I learn how to accept others’ comments and make my work better. Maybe there still are some errors in my article after everyone gave me a comment…I don’t understand whether others’ comments will make my article better or worse.
Nevertheless, the participants became able to express themselves with more skillful interactions with technology. “Publishing our selected news summaries on the blog is much easier. We could design the patterns and make them more like a newspaper,” one student stated.
This particular study brings textual, social, and technological interactions together and provides six BL scenarios, in which we learn how the choice of online activities serves its specific purpose of connecting and sharing interactive English learning experiences across various language learning settings.
Unique contribution of interaction to BL
On the Web, English could be learned and used in myriad ways. Our research in general supports previous studies on BL pedagogy (e.g., Leakey & Ranchoux, 2006) that practical applications that accommodate diverse needs and learning styles will engage a wide range of students across a great number of language skills to perform at a high level. Even though students’ perceived learning performance and preference shown in this study may not be a direct result of BL, students’ positive comments suggested that the blended EFL curriculum successfully communicated certain aspects of the interactive design principles.
This initial implementation of online components in EFL classes might bring either “novelty effects” (e.g., Oliver & Trigwell, 2005) or “appropriate redundancy” (Stracke, 2007) to many students. Instructional activities, such as online news searching and reading, blogging, and glossing, were aimed at students’ search and comprehension of information. Whereas pre-determined texts with immediate access to glosses were used in FTF classes to facilitate students’ reading and learning processes, the online curriculum units that were structured around lower levels of interaction featuring self-selected content and deliberate access to a wide variety of online tools (e.g., online dictionaries and multimedia narrations). Such enhanced learning ownership and opportunity enabled most of the students to experience novelty, choice, and flexibility or to practice newly learned strategies and develop reading and writing skills, such as paraphrasing, summarizing, and manipulating multimedia texts.
As students proceeded to a higher level of interaction, they were also expected to take responsibility to maintain group cohesion or social connection in online written discourse. To participate in online communication, many students in this study reported that they negotiated meaning by using an assortment of new strategies (e.g., thinking and typing, negotiating for lexical assistance), which have been identified in previous studies as important contributions of text-based CMC (e.g., Blake, 2000; Negretti 1999; Savignon & Roithmeier, 2004; Smith, 2003).
In the end, as one major reason for using BL (Graham, 2006), increased access to learning by getting familiar with interactive technologies (e.g., blogs, chats, and interactive news media) engaged students in collaborative text construction through embellished and revised texts online. In sum, any thoughtful integration of an array of planned BL activities based on the concepts of interaction has made the EFL engineering students as characterized by a higher level of academic achievement become aware of the benefits and problems of online reading, writing, and communication.
Challenges to BL and their implications
Concerning different blends of interaction implemented in the curriculum units, students showed varying degrees of perceived learning and enjoyment. From students’ reported frustrations and difficulties, several challenges to BL and their practical implications are discussed below.
The first challenge concerns discourse quality. Several students expressed their disappointment about ineffective communication in collaborative activities, such as group discussion and peer revision activities. As researchers (e.g., Angeli et al., 2003; Murday et al., 2008) have pointed out, students often failed to sustain interest or engage in critical discourse, even though instructional guidelines and discourse strategies in general involve certain expert thinking and group procedures. In particular, students who lacked communicative goals and skills were easily lost and drifted off from social learning. In order to help students express themselves more clearly and maintain effective peer interaction, timely communication of online learning strategies as well as follow-up class discussions and evaluation of skills and strategy use are important.
The second challenge deals with task priority. Certain students felt it boring or difficult, if not impossible, to look up multimedia glosses or online dictionaries, while attempting to engage in other aspects of textual interaction, such as deriving meanings, synthesizing multiple presentations of information, and evaluating the usefulness of multimedia reading strategies. Besides limited English knowledge, we also notice “the pedagogical problem of choice” (Beatty & Nunan, 2004), resulting from multiple pathways to learning. In effect, not only are language instructors sometimes overwhelmed with the instructional opportunities that Web-based learning technologies offer, but so too are those whom they are attempting to teach. To support effective pedagogy, teachers’ reviews and students’ reflections on task priority are necessary. Additional job aids, guidelines, think sheets, examples, and other learning scaffolds might also prove beneficial.
The third challenge is about orientation to BL media and technologies. In our study, less experienced Web users could not decide how to react or even how to join the activities in Web environments. This finding is not dissimilar to previous hypertext studies that students who lacked exposure to Web environments faced orientation and navigation difficulties (e.g., Chun, 2001). In addition to orientation time outside the classroom and practice sessions in CALL laboratories, teachers might also demonstrate certain tools and commands in FTF classes to help students become more accommodated.
This paper suggests general principles of interaction and pedagogical practices of blends augmented by EFL university students’ perspectives. A series of BL scenarios in this paper would help us take advantages of BL and learn from its challenges. There are few existing studies which attempt to combine these three features using emerging technologies. The BL curriculum reported here provides a concrete example of the development of instructional strategies, training plans, and evaluation schemes for EFL students. Although this framework is context-specific, it is our hope that other teachers can use this interaction-driven approach to experiment with BL.
CALL researchers have called for a pragmatic and integrative pedagogy (e.g., Bax, 2003; Beatty & Nunan, 2004; Brandl, 2002; Leakey & Ranchoux, 2006; Stracke, 2007). We believe that this is not attainable without a scholarly and practical look at different blends of text-based, social-based, and Web-based learning in BL contexts. Without a doubt, BL is a complex phenomenon that will take many years of research to better understand and take advantage of. There are multiple levels and dimensions of interaction to consider and monitor. These choices can lead to confusion and frustration as well as enriching online experiences of novelty, flexibility, and personalized learning rich with choice. Language instructors benefit from a wealth of learning and communication strategies added to their arsenal. Their students benefit from a more personally empowering and scaffolded learning curriculum. Perhaps someday online learning technologies offering text-based and social-based interaction will be more familiar and expected within language instruction. Our experimentations here shed some light on what is possible today to empower student online language learning.
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About the Authors
Mei-Ya Liang is an associate professor in the Department of English at National Central University, Taiwan. Her current research focuses on the use of technology in the teaching of English.
Curtis J. Bonk is Professor of Instructional Systems Technology in the School of Education at Indiana University and adjunct in the School of Informatics. He is author of the Handbook of Blended Learning: Global Perspectives, Local Designs (2006) and Empowering Online Learning: 100+ Activities for Reading, Reflecting, Displaying, and Doing (2008).