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Learning English Using Technology On Web-Based Environments

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With the introduction of personal computers comes along the transition to the Digital Age providing the ability to transfer information freely and quickly. This paves the way to a number of studies conducted by various researchers like Linda Bradley, Carol Chapelle and Mallory Leigh Dalton about the correlation of technology with language use. The web, being one of the specific aspects of technology which has been central to the development of the Information Age has been the primary focus in the studies conducted by Bradley.

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Bradley (2013) argued that the impact of the web as a communicative arena, based on the use of social software, has changed conditions for communication on all levels of society; privately at work and in education. One study found that “by means of interacting with others, the web-based environments offer opportunities to develop discursive competences in language learning and communication, and critical cultural awareness”. Moreover, in a related research conducted by Dalton (2011), he used Skype™ as a medium to determine whether interactions considered to be most helpful in L2 development are more readily incited between two English nonnative speakers (NNS – NNS) or between a nonnative speaker and a native speaker (NNS – NS).

Dalton (2011) noted that the research potential and language learning possibilities explored in his study hinge entirely upon the advancement of technology and without the proliferation of the Internet and the subsequent synchronous computer mediated communication tools, language learners could not so effortlessly engage in valuable interaction in the target language with native speakers and fellow learners alike. This article reviews four case studies conducted by Linda Bradley where students from both Sweden and the United States participated, and the study of

Mallory Leigh Dalton on the social interaction between nonnative and native speakers via Skype™. The ideas, theories and methodologies used in these works will be combined and will serve as bases to the functionalities which will be implemented in the online classroom to be developed for English language learning. Hopefully, the case studies of Dalton and Bradley would show the significance of creating the web-based application (online classroom) with combined features deemed important in the two researchers’ case studies and communicative competence in language learning which is produced dynamically between information technology and the world in which we live.

Summary of the Empirical Studies

Bradley (2013) aimed to contribute to the understanding of how web-based environments can change the conditions for language learning. The subjects of Bradley’s case studies are mostly 3rd year software engineering students from Sweden and master’s students from the United States. He implemented a non-probabilistic purposive sampling in his studies. The four case studies in his thesis are performed in non-experimental, natural settings, where the use of the web-based environment is part of meeting spaces offered for the students within their ESP courses.

By choosing a case study approach, Bradley wanted to get an in-depth investigation of student activities of web-based tools from different points of view. Bradley (2013) stated that investigating web-based environments implies attempting to frame a field in constant change in which approaching these empirical data where users contribute to join production of content on web-based technologies, such as blogs and wikis, is challenging. Godwin-Jones’ study (as cited in Bradley, 2013) emphasized the fact that web-based technologies affect what written language looks like, with alternative ways of writing, unlike traditional un-digital ways of producing text.

Another methodological aspect taken into consideration is how to capture the production or interaction as it happens. Bradley (2013) added that given a flexible online environment offered by the web, framing the moment when and where participants are productive online seems elusive and if the deadlines for elaboration of content stretch over long time periods, it is not feasible or possible to catch participant production in the making. However, there is this concept of “CMC residua”, i. e. on-screen or printed out log files that can be “scrutinized and reflected upon by researchers and participants and can help to locate specific developmental episodes” as Thorne calls it. Due to the advanced algorithms deployed in web-based technologies, logs of chats and other written records can now be saved to a database, preserving the content in the order in which it was saved.

In a similar study by Barton, he noted that with information technology, using interactive web-sites gives researchers the ability to develop constantly and push the edges of research methods. The concept of design-oriented research has developed to become a recurrent theme brought up in connection with CALL or Computer Assisted Language Learning studies. Design is used to describe many forms and levels of work, from single exercises to entire computer-based learning environments.

This concept by Levy and Stockwell is used by Bradley (2013) in his case studies. The Design-Based Research (DBR) concerns examining human interaction mediated by technology and studying learning in context through the systematic design and study of instructional strategies and tools. However, Bradley (2013) argued that what distinguishes the design of the case study from DBR is the fact that DBR aims at validating educational settings with a specific design grounded in theory. The case studies, however, do not focus on validation in that sense and the interventions are not grounded in theories per se.

In Bradley’s case study approach, he implemented different case studies so as to have multiple bases, because such a setting has the potential to strengthen his research findings in providing different angles of data. As cited by Bradley, Bryman (2001) stated that the incentive for performing case studies is to provide detailed and intensive analysis of single cases, but also to contribute knowledge within a specific field. Bradley (2013) decided to implement four case studies in his thesis to explore student activities in web-based environments. The main research question is how web-based language learning activities contribute to the development of language competences.

Based on the pedagogical designs of the four studies Bradley (2013) provided, Study I included 3rd year software engineering undergraduate students from Swedish technical university where some of the students knew each other very well since they were third year students who had participated in many courses together. There were exactly 31 students who participated, and they were divided into 14 groups with 2-3 students each. The data consisted of student activities on the wiki related to course assignments and how the students made use of the wiki. The activities were in the form of text contributions by the students on the wiki pages as well as adding postings in the blog tool on the wiki.

15 July 2020

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