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Terantino, Joseph M.
Transformational processes and learner outcomes for online learning :
b an activity theory case study of Spanish students
h [electronic resource] /
by Joseph M. Terantino.
[Tampa, Fla] :
University of South Florida,
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 277 pages.
Dissertation (Ph.D.)--University of South Florida, 2009.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic dissertation) in PDF format.
ABSTRACT: The purpose of this exploratory study was to examine the actions of online language learners from an activity theoretical perspective. It also attempted to explain how the students' learning outcomes evolved from their online learning experiences. This explanation placed an emphasis on the learners' previous experiences, defining their activity systems, the use of mediational tools, and the resolution of contradictions. Within this activity theoretical case study a background survey, four interviews, and three field observations were conducted with seven foreign language students of an online Spanish course. The students' on-screen actions were recorded and subsequently documented in a video episode log. This log, the background survey, and the interview transcripts were coded for the a priori categories established in the research questions and for emergent themes. Seven mediational tools were identified, including a widespread use of online dictionaries and translators. The students attempted to use the mediational tools to gain control over their online language learning; however, as exhibited by the students' varying levels of regulation, some students were unable to reach or maintain self-regulation while using computer-based tools. In addition, the nature of the mediational tool use appeared to be influenced by the variety of linguistic backgrounds. Three levels of contradictions were identified including: conflicting-object contradictions, inter-activity contradictions, and technology-related contradictions. The findings of this study indicated that contradictions may be invisible to the subject of the activity. Furthermore, it was noted in this research that some students may have the capacity to identify the contradiction, yet they may not have the desire or motivation required to make the necessary change to further learning and development within the activity. Thus, contradictions may not always be resolved even when they are visible.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Co-advisor: Marcela van Olphen, Ph.D.
Co-advisor: Wei Zhu, Ph.D.
Online language learning
x Secondary Education
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
Transformational Processes and Learne r Outcomes for Online Learning: An Activity Theory Case Study of Spanish Students By Joseph M. Terantino A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Department of Secondary Education College of Education Department of World Language Education College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Co-Major Professor: Marcela van Olphen, Ph.D. Co-Major Professor: Wei Zhu, Ph.D. James King, Ph.D. James White, Ph.D. Date of Approval: March 11, 2009 Keywords: Online language learning, Sociocu ltural Theory, Contradictions, Mediational tools Copyright 2009, Joseph M. Terantino
Dedication As this dissertation represents the culmination of my life events to this point, I would like to dedicate it to my family who has been there for every step along the way. I dedicate it to my parents who instilled in me a great appreciation for the value of education. They also convinced me at a very ea rly age that if I put my mind to it, I could do anything. As such, this dissertation is further evidence of their good parenting and never ending love and support. I dedicate it to my wife, Denise, who mo tivated and inspired me in more ways than I can describe in words. When a wife truly loves and supports her husband as Denise has me, an accomplishment such as this seems to belong to both of us. Thus, although I put the words to paper to complete this disserta tion, I feel as if my wife deserves a degree as well. Last, I dedicate this dissertation to my two-year old daughter, Abigail, who is the reason for most things that I do in life. At countless times throughout the writing of this dissertation, she offered to help with Â“DaddyÂ’ s workÂ”. If only I had paid attention to writing on the manuscript as much as she had, I may have completed the dissertation sooner.
Acknowledgements First and foremost, I would like to thank my major professors Drs. Marcela van Olphen and Wei Zhu. If I were to describe my dissertation proce ss as a walk through a tunnel, Drs. Van Olphen and Zhu would be th e light at the end b eckoning me to come closer. Dr. van Olphen provided pleasant c onversation, emotional support, and guidance throughout the dissertation proce ss. I am very thankful to her for her encouragement and for focusing my attention on my post-disserta tion life. Dr. Zhu provi ded infinite wisdom and valuable feedback. Her cl ass and professionalism are paralleled by few others. My other committee members, Drs. James King a nd James White, also pr ovided insightful and valuable comments and suggestions, which ha ve helped only to improve this work. I would like to thank my colleagues in the College of Education and the Department of World Language Education. In particular, I would like to thank Maritza Chinea-Thornberry, who has been my supervisor and a dear friend. Much like my family she has been a source of constant support. In addition, I have formed many other friendships with faculty and fellow doc toral students. Thes e bonds led to many conversations, both academic and personal, all of which helped to further my progress. Last, I would like to thank my family me mbers for their love and support. Their support came in many forms: checking on progr ess, offering the distraction of passing time together, and helping to fill the voids in life that are often left when attempting to complete a dissertation. Above all else, I want to thank my wife Denise for patiently bearing with me as I traveled along this serpentine path.
i Table of Contents List of Tables v List of Figures vi Abstract vii Chapter One Purpose and Statement of the Problem 1 Introduction 1 Theoretical Background 3 How the Study Originated 4 Rationale and Need for the Study 5 Purpose of the Study 8 Research Questions 9 Delimitations and Limitations of the Study 10 Definition of Terms 12 Organization of Remaining Chapters 17 Chapter Two CALL and Activity Theory: A Review of the Related Literature 19 Introduction 19 Defining Online Language Learning 19 Placing OLL in Socio-historical Context 20 Online Learning 24 Current Online Tools 28 Section Summary 33 Past and Future Directions for CALL Research 34 Distinguishing CALL Research from Evaluation Studies 35 Historical Overview of CALL 37 Behavioristic vs. Communicative CALL 38 Current Status of CALL 41 Section Summary 45 Research in Online Language Learning 47 Design and Evaluation 47 Learner Characteristics and Learner Autonomy 49 Section Summary 52 Providing Theoretical Framework in CALL 52 Historical Overview of SCT 53 Sociocultural vs. C ognitive View of SLA 54 Theoretical Overview of SCT 56 Genetic domains of analysis 57
ii Social origin of individual development 58 Mediation 59 SCT Research in SLA 61 Scaffolding and the zone of proximal development 61 Mediation and regulation 62 Section Summary 64 Activity Theory 65 Comparing and Contrasting AT with SCT 65 Theoretical Overview of AT 69 Contradictions and Transformations 72 AT Research in SLA 73 Section Summary 75 AT Research in CALL 76 Section Summary 80 Conclusion to the Literature Review 81 Chapter Three Methods 83 Research Questions 83 Case Study Research 87 Activity Theoretical Case Study 89 Applying the Theoretical Fram ework to the Present Study 92 Role of the Researcher 94 A Description of the Setting 97 A Description of the Participants 98 Organization of the Course 99 A Description of the Online Courseware Â“EN LNEAÂ” 103 Participant Selection 108 Procedures for Data Collection 110 Instruments 112 Background Survey 113 Interviews 114 Observations 117 Review of Supplementary Materials 119 Researcher Journal 119 Piloted Instruments 120 Data Analysis 121 General Data Analysis Procedures 122 Analysis of interview transcripts 124 Coding of data 125 Analysis of Observation Data 127 Answering the Research Questions 129 Trustworthiness 135 Chapter Four Results 136
iii The Data 137 Background Survey 138 Personal History Interview 141 Field Observations and Individual Interviews 144 Researcher Journal 144 Review of Supplementary Materials 145 Introduction to the Case Profiles 145 The Research Questions 150 Research Question 1: Linguist ic and Technology Experiences 151 Linguistic experiences 152 Technology experiences 155 Perceived effects of previous experiences 159 Research Question 2: ParticipantsÂ’ Activity Systems 163 Activity Systems: Beginning of the Course 165 Changes in the Activity Systems 172 Change in the use of a mediational tool 174 Change in object 176 Introduction of new interacting activity systems 178 Research Question 3: Mediational Tools 179 Physical Tool Use: Computer-Based Tools 181 ELD: EN LNEA dictionary 182 ELTXT: EN LNEA textbook pages 185 ELTTL: EN LNEA animated tutorials 186 ELATB: EN LNEA accent tool bar 188 Physical Tool Use: N on EN LNEA -Based Tools 189 NELD: Non EN LNEA dictionary 189 NELT: Non EN LNEA translator 190 Physical Tool Use: Non Computer-Based Resources (NCBR) 191 Research Question 4: Contra dictions and Disturbances 194 Types of Contradicti ons and Disturbances 196 Conflicting-object contradictions 196 Inter-activity contradictions 198 Technology-related contradictions 200 Resolution of Contradictions 202 Successful resolution of contradictions 203 Unresolved contradictions and disturbances 206 Summary of Results 207 Chapter Five Discussion 208 Discussion of Findings for Question #1 208 Discussion of Findings for Question #2 211 Discussion of Findings for Question #3 214 Discussion of Findings for Question #4 219 Linking the Findings 221
iv Theoretical Implications 222 Sociocultural Theory and Activity Theory 222 Second Language Acquisition 224 Online Language Learning 225 Methodological Implications 226 Practical Implications 228 Directions for Future Research 229 Conclusion 231 References 233 Appendices 244 Appendix A: Spanish I Syllabus 245 Appendix B: Overview of Techni cal Requirements for EN LNEA 251 Appendix C: EN LNEA Lesson 1 Outline of Activities 253 Appendix D: Background Survey 255 Appendix E: Sample Interview Questions 258 Appendix F: Field Notes Template 265 Appendix G: Rubric for Identifying Contradictions and Disturbances 266 Appendix H: Rubric for Identifyi ng Activity System Components 267 Appendix I: Rubric for Descri bing Mediational Tool Use 268 Appendix J: Review of Course Syllabus 269 Appendix K: Review of Permit Request Form 270 Appendix L: Review of Fore ign Language Requirement 271 Appendix M: Review of How to Join EN LNEA Instructions 272 Appendix N: Review of Text book Purchasing Instructions 273 Appendix O: Review of Tec hnical Requirements Document 274 Appendix P: Review of Department of World Language Education Website 275 Appendix Q: Review of EN LNEA Website 276 About the Author End Page
v List of Tables Table 1. Description of online courses.........................................................................27 Table 2. Classification of online learning tools............................................................30 Table 3. Overview of course schedule........................................................................100 Table 4. Overview of data collec tion procedures for spring 2008..............................108 Table 5. Overview of re search instruments................................................................110 Table 6. Overview of data analysis methods..............................................................122 Table 7. Overview of data collected...........................................................................133 Table 8. Summary of linguistic and technology backgrounds....................................135 Table 9. Summary of participantsÂ’ background..........................................................135 Table 10. Personal history interview data...................................................................136 Table 11. Overview of the coding scheme for changes in activity systems...............168 Table 12. Overview of the coding sc heme for physical tool use................................176
vi List of Figures Figure 1. Graphic model for VygotskyÂ’s mediated action............................................60 Figure 2. Updated graphic model for mediated action.................................................66 Figure 3. EngestrmÂ’s model for an activity system....................................................67 Figure 4. EngestrmÂ’s model for in teracting activity systems.....................................68 Figure 5. Structure of an activity system......................................................................69 Figure 6. Introduction page for EN LNEA lesson.....................................................103 Figure 7. Audio-recording tool in EN LNEA............................................................105 Figure 8. Animated tutorial.........................................................................................106 Figure 9. Electronic verb wheel in EN LNEA...........................................................106 Figure 10. Student activity systems............................................................................160 Figure 11. Overview of intera cting activity systems..................................................166 Figure 12. Changes in student activity systems..........................................................167 Figure 13. StudentsÂ’ interact ing activity systems.......................................................173 Figure 14. Toggling between open windows..............................................................178 Figure 15. EN LNEA accent tool bar........................................................................182 Figure 16. Online dictionary screen shot....................................................................183 Figure 17. Online translator screen shot.....................................................................185
vii Transformational Processes and Learner Ou tcomes for Online Learning: An Activity Theory Case Study of Spanish Students Joseph M. Terantino ABSTRACT The purpose of this exploratory study was to examine the actions of online language learners from an activ ity theoretical perspective. It also attempted to explain how the studentsÂ’ learning outcomes evolved from their online learning experiences. This explanation placed an emphasis on the learne rsÂ’ previous experiences, defining their activity systems, the use of mediational tools, and the resolution of contradictions. Within this activity theoretical case study a background survey, four interviews, and three field observations were conducted with seven fore ign language students of an online Spanish course. The studentsÂ’ on-screen actions were recorded and su bsequently documented in a video episode log. This log, the background su rvey, and the interview transcripts were coded for the a priori categories established in the research questions and for emergent themes. Seven mediational tools were identified, including a widespread use of online dictionaries and translators. The students attempted to use the mediational tools to gain control over their online langua ge learning; however, as exhibited by the studentsÂ’ varying levels of regulation, some students were unable to reach or maintain selfregulation while using compute r-based tools. In addition, th e nature of the mediational tool use appeared to be influenced by the variety of linguistic backgrounds.
viii Three levels of contradictions were identified including: conflicting-object contradictions, inter-activity contradictions and technology-related contradictions. The findings of this study indicated that contradictions may be i nvisible to the subject of the activity. Furthermore, it was noted in this rese arch that some students may have the capacity to identify the contradiction, yet th ey may not have the desire or motivation required to make the necessary change to further learning and de velopment within the activity. Thus, contradictions may not always be resolved even when they are visible.
1 Chapter One Purpose and Statement of the Problem Introduction Over the past few decades there has been an explosion in the amount of technologies created and used for language instruction, including various options for distance learning courses. A lthough much of past Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) has consisted of drill and practice act ivities, which support classroom learning of vocabulary and grammatical structures, ther e is now wide scale use of ComputerMediated Communication (CMC), course ma nagement systems such as WebCT and Blackboard, and other Internet-based technolog ies. For the most part, these technologies have been used as supplements to tradit ional classrooms; however, they have also modernized the field of dist ance learning in foreign language education as it has evolved from the early days of distance learning vi a mail correspondence, and radio and television broadcasts. This modernization has introduced a variety of distan ce education options, which utilize computer-based technologies a nd the Internet to offer blended learning courses and online learning courses. As a result of these technological developments and the flexibility that they enable, colleges and universities have be gun offering more distance learning language courses as an alternative to traditional f ace-to-face language courses. Reporting on data collected from the academic year 2000-2001, Allen and Seaman (2003) found that 81% of all institutions of higher education offer at least one online or blended learning course, and among public institutions 97% offer at leas t one online or blende d course. This wide
2 scale use of distance education, and in particular online course s, directly reflects the 21st century pattern for information on demand. The Internet and computer-based technologies now allow people to access a plet hora of information at anytime and from almost anywhere. More specifically, online language courseware, such as EN LNEA developed by Vista Higher Learning and Quia, now allows st udents to participate in language courses completely online while using the Internet and computer-based technolo gies. This type of courseware is becoming increasingly more in teractive, and it has begun to replace some of the traditional foreign langua ge courses at the college le vel. As the number of these online language courses increases, it become s essential that language researchers and instructors examine the learning processes that take place in these environments, as well as to investigate how these processes transf orm into learning outcomes for the students. The general purpose of this case study research was to describe how the language learners reached their learning outcomes in an online learning environment, whether they were positive or negative. This included the course learning objectives and the studentsÂ’ desired outcomes, which the students identified for themselves. To accurately describe this transformational process that the student s underwent in the onlin e environment, four underlying foci were adopted. First, the study investigated the studentsÂ’ prior language learning and technological experiences to provid e socio-historical context for their online language learning. Second, the researcher id entified the learnersÂ’ activity systems and tracked changes that occurre d in these systems throughout the course. Third, the study identified the mediational tools used by the learners, instruments used to guide their
3 learning. Fourth, it identified any contradictions and disturbances that arose in online language learning and determined how and if they were resolved by the learners. Theoretical Background The foci implied by the studyÂ’s overall pu rpose and specific research questions were guided chiefly by an activity theore tical (AT) background. Understanding online language learning from an AT perspective meant understanding the use of mediational tools within the activity of online learning. The tools availa ble in online learning allowed the students the opportunity to exert control over thei r environment and ultimately transform it and themselves as individuals. In this manner the online tools mediated the human activity involved in online learning. This idea of mediated human activity, and ul timately AT, is attributed largely to the foundational work of Lev Semyonovi ch VygotskyÂ’s Sociocultural Theory. Specifically, Vygotsky introduced the idea of tools in mediated action, which lead to changes in objects (1978). Now, according to AT the structure of an activity system includes the subject, the object and related out comes, mediational tools and artifacts, the community or communities, the division of labor, and rules (Engestrm, 1993), thus making it a more complex system of analysis. As such, AT provides an analytical model for investigating human behaviors and ps ychological development by focusing on the object-oriented, toolmediated activity as its unit of analysis. Activity is Â“any (activity) carried out by a subject includes goals, means, the process of molding the object, and the results. In fulfilling the activity, the subj ects also change and develop themselvesÂ” (Davydov, 1999, p. 39). This transformation is aide d by the mediational tools available in
4 the social environment of the learner. Enge strm and Miettienen (1999) also describe Â“internal tensionsÂ” and Â“contradictionsÂ” as the motivating forces behind these changes and personal development (p. 8). This line of thinking anticipates and even values the problematic occurrences that likely accompa ny learning. A more in depth discussion of AT will be provided in chapter 2. How the Study Originated This dissertation research draws from my lifeÂ’s events and some of the resulting questions that I have asked myself along the way, including those just described about the problematic occurrences in onlin e learning. Initially, I was driv en to the field of foreign language education by a strong appreciation fo r languages and educati on, and their power to uplift people. This initial appreciation wa s then magnified with a growing fascination for instructional technology which has evolve d with my pursuit of higher education. In 2002, after completing a B.A. in Spanish and Secondary Education, a M.A. in Spanish, and three years of teaching high school Sp anish, I came to the University of South Florida to begin doctoral studies in Se cond Language Acquisition & Instructional Technology. At this time I began teaching co llege level Spanish courses in traditional, classroom settings, including Spanish I thr ough Spanish IV. In the fall of 2004, I began working as the coordinator for the university Â’s distance learning program for Spanish, the Destinos telecourse. This course was ultimatel y replaced by the online courseware EN LNEA in spring 2005. At the time of the st udy I will have taught the EN LNEA courses for the past six semesters.
5 Along this serpentine path of taking gr aduate level courses in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and Compute r-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) and teaching the online Spanish courses I found an increasi ng appreciation for the larger scope and potential of CALL. This overall interest led me to investigate CALL literature further. Meanwhile, in the online Spanish courses I be gan to notice particul ar student behaviors and resulting conflicts which they encounter ed as they progressed through the course. Frequently, I was asked to help in reso lving these problems, both linguistic and technological in nature, but I also began to wonder how the students who did not contact me were going about resolving similar conflic ts. This initial query became the foundation for this research project. Rationale and Need for the Study Building on my personal account of why this research is necessary, the general purpose of the study also draws from the larger context of academic research in online language learning. Within the socio-historic al context of dist ance learning, online learning is now replacing many traditional a nd blended learning courses. While collecting data for the fall 2005 semester, Allen and Seaman (2006) found that nearly 3.2 million students in the United States t ook at least one online course, which was an increase from the 2.3 million reported in the previous fall seme ster. The current trend is for students to take many courses online in place of regular classes because they offer more flexible schedules. Through personal experience teachi ng online language courses, I would surmise that this trend appears to be coupl ed by the general per ception, or misperception, that distance learning courses are somehow eas ier or less demanding than the traditional,
6 classroom-based counterparts. From the in stitutional perspective, 57% of academic leaders indicated that they believe the Â“learning outcomes for online education are equal to or superior to those of face-to-face instructionÂ” (Alle n & Seaman, 2003, p. 3). Several years later, 62% rated learning outcomes in on line education as the same or superior to face-to-face instruction (Allen & Seaman, 2006) The growing availability of online courses and these perceived differences in their outcomes makes it essential that researchers and educational professionals examine how students are participating, learning, and ultimately transforming in these courses. Thus far, within the corpus of resear ch conducted with online language learning the primary focus has been on the use of Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC). From this type of research, it is now genera lly accepted that there are many benefits of CALL (Chapelle, 2001; LeLoup & Ponterio, 200 3; Liu, Moore, Graham, & Lee, 2003); however, little is known about the studen t learning processes associated with participating in an online language course. In addition, most investigations of online language learning have been conducted with blended learning courses or technologyenhanced courses, not complete online courses. This research is intended to investigate the language learning that takes place princi pally online through the use of an online courseware. Past research associated specifically w ith complete online language learning has been scarce and the scope of such research has been limited, focusing primarily on the design of online learning ac tivities (Du, 2002; Sawatpanit, Suthers, & Fleming, 2003; Strambi & Bouvet, 2003) and individual le arner differences (Hobrom, 2004; Murday,
7 2004). Little research has been conducte d which provides information about how language learners utilize and participate in online language courses. Furthermore, research has not addressed the individual le arnerÂ’s use of electr onic tools, which are available in online courses. Unlike other resear ch this study did not attempt to investigate a single tool. Rather, it investigated the le arning processes of the students as a whole including their usage of the multiple tools available to them in the online learning environment. Investigating the use of these tools provided a clearer picture of how the students arrived at their outcomes through medi ational means. This type of in depth investigation of online language learning had the potential to explain how the students participated in these courses and what was advantageous and disa dvantageous to their learning. This research also di stinguished between potential be nefits and actual learning processes. Ultimately, by describing the actual process of resolving tensions in online language learning the results of this study may also be applied to increase student learning and create higher performance levels. Last, this research also differs from the bulk of previous investigations of online learning because it investigated online le arning processes as opposed to isolated outcomes. The use of AT as a theoretical fr amework promoted this focus by guiding the data collection and data analys is processes. AT has provide d a conceptual framework for describing human activity with a focus on bot h individual and social levels, and it allowed for including computer-based technolog ies as a member of the activity system. Although the language learners may complete the same tasks, each student that participates in online lan guage learning may also under go a unique transformational
8 process which is guided by soci o-historical experiences a nd their use of mediational tools. Defining this process through AT a llows for understanding their online language learning in full context. In conclusion, this study has the poten tial to advance the development of online language learning in several wa ys. First and foremost, within the scope of investigating learner processes in online language lear ning, this study placed a large emphasis on the learnersÂ’ social contexts and uses of media tional tools. Second, it offered a principled investigation into the rela tively new phenomenon of online language learning, and it distinguished complete online language learning from other forms of blended learning formats. Last, it put forth a solid argument for an activity theore tical case study for the purpose of investigating online learning, wh ich was ultimately deemed appropriate, practical, and efficient. Purpose of the Study The purpose of this study was to exam ine how the actions of online foreign language learners transform into learning a nd personal development through the use of available tools. First, the study attempted to identify and describe the nature of the studentsÂ’ previous experiences, their activity systems, the use of mediational tools, and the resolution of contradictions and distur bances that occurred in the online language learning environment. It also attempted to explain how the learning outcomes of the studentsÂ’ actions evolved from their activ ities involved in their online learning experiences, placing an emphasis on the learners Â’ prior experiences, changes within their activity systems, use of mediational tools, contradicti ons, and disturbances. By defining
9 the activity systems of the learners this st udy explains how individualsÂ’ past experiences influence online learning. In a ddition, the study explains what types of mediational tools were used by the learners and what types of conflicts these learners faced in the online language course. The participants of this study were seve n foreign language students of an online Spanish course at a large southeastern uni versity. The research was conducted as an activity theoretical case study, which em ployed a background survey, interviews, observations, a researcher journa l, and a review of supplementa ry course materials. These helped to provide insight to the learners Â’ transformations involved in the processes related to their onlin e language learning. The data was analyzed for emerging themes using the constant comparison method. Socioc ultural Theory and Activity Theory were used to establish a theoretical framework for the research and to gui de the data analysis. Research Questions Throughout this case study research the re searcher paid special attention to the nature of the transformational process wh ich the students underwent in the online language learning environment in order to reach their outcomes. With this overall focus and the activity theore tical framework in mind, four major questions with sub-questions were adopted for this study: 1. How do the language learners perceive th eir previous experiences with technology and language learning? a. What is the nature of the language learnersÂ’ personal expe riences with technology and language learning prior to taki ng the online Spanish course?
10 b. How do the students perceive the effects of their previous ex periences on their current online language learning? 2. What is the nature of the online la nguage learnersÂ’ activity systems? a. What is the nature of the online la nguage learnersÂ’ activity systems at the beginning of the course? b. What changes, if any, occur in th e learnersÂ’ activity systems throughout the duration of the course? 3. What is the nature of the mediati onal tools used by the learners? a. What types of mediational tools are used by the online language learners? b. How are these mediational tools used to enable online learning? 4. What is the nature of the contradictions a nd disturbances that arise in online language learning? a. What types of contradictions and disturbances arise in online language learning? b. If possible, how are the lear ners able to resolve these contradictions as they occur? Delimitations and Limita tions of the Study This study was conducted using an online Span ish I course at a large, southeastern university. The course is generally a large section with approxim ately 100-150 students, and it is the second of two consecutive cour ses, which many undergraduate students must take to fulfill the univers ity foreign language requiremen t for graduation. The students participating in this research had to be en rolled in the online Spanish I course at the
11 university. The students were notif ied of the study after they be gan the course, and at this time the participants were selected for recruitment. As the participants were selected in part according to ease of access, this reduced the generalizability of the fi ndings. Because the study examined seven cases, the findings are not readily generalizable. Although the results of this research are not readily generalizable, they do provide a rich and va luable description of online learning for foreign language students. In addition, as several case study researchers note (Stake, 1995; Yin, 2003), generalizability is not the goal of case stud y research. This type of research has the potential to offer a new perspective of an uninvestigated field by providing thick descriptions, and it serves as a starting point for future research. Much of the data was collected from th e participants themselves through selfreport. Although this offered the potential to gather rich info rmation related to the cases being studied, it also provided an opportuni ty for unreliable information in which the students unknowingly or inten tionally misrepresented themselves. For example, some participants may have offered what they deemed as socially desirable information in their responses. My plan to address this include d taking caution in inte rpreting self -reported responses and confirming se lf-reported information thr ough observation. The same can be said of researcher bias in the collection and the analysis of the data. It was important in this research to recognize that as the instru ctor of the course and the researcher I began the study with a priori beliefs related to online language learning and these beliefs were at the crux of the purpose be hind this investigation. Havi ng said this, it was also important to address this bias by thoroughly reviewing each stage of data collection and
12 subsequent analysis, and to document any noteworthy occurrences in the researcher journal. Definition of Terms 1. Action: An action is a specifi c behavior directed toward s a goal. Actions are best understood in their full context, and they ar e subordinate to the larger activity. 2. Activity: An activity is a system of hu man behaviors aimed at obtaining a desired outcome. To accomplish this, the individual may us e available tools to ai d in the activity. 3. Activity Theory (AT): Activity Theory relates directly to the structure of an activity, mediation, interaction method, and internalization. It focuses on tools and objects in the development of human conscious ness. The activity is considered to be doing something that is motivated by a biological or cultural need. 4. Appropriation: Appropriation is the pro cess by which a person assimilates a new idea or object into his or he r existing mental framework. This allows the person to have a conceptual understanding as well as the abil ity to operationalize the idea in future use. 5. Blended learning: Blended learning uses distance education and face-to-face instruction together. Many ble nded learning courses use online learning with face-to-face class meetings. This is also referred to as hybrid or web-enhanced learning and instruction. 6. Computer-assisted language learning (CALL) : This is a type of learning and an approach to teaching languages, which utiliz es computer-based technologies to deliver instruction, to provide arenas for the learners to rehearse their la nguage learning, and to provide means of communication and interaction between the instructor and the learner
13 and the learner and other learners. Ultimately, CALL is the use of computer-based technologies to assist learners with their language learning. Th is is also referred to as technology-enhanced language learning (TELL). 7. Computer-mediated communication (CMC): This is a means of communication by which two or more people, in the context of education the students and the learners or the learners and other learners are able to communicate or Â“c hatÂ” with teach other using the assistance of a computer and often the In ternet or local area network. This type of Â“chatÂ” can occur synchronously or asynchronous ly. Examples of CMC include email, newsgroups, web pages, blogs, bulletin boards, etc. In CMC the two people are not able to see each other as they interact. 8. Condition: This is a related contextual f actor which affects an activity. When the conditions of an activity are foreign or unexpected, the individual then has to adapt. 9. Contradictions: In Activity Theory contradictions are tensions that arise between elements of an activity system, between mu ltiple activity systems, between different activities, or between phases of a single activity. These c ontradictions are viewed as problems, ruptures, breakdowns, or clashes. Contradictions are viewed as a source of development, and they are also referred to as disturbances, tensions and conflicts. These terms will be used interchangeably hereon after. 10. Course management system: A course management system is a computer-based system or tool that manages and organizes course materials via the Internet. These systems, often used online, allow the instruct ors and the students to gather and collect information, communicate synchronously and asynchronously, and keep track of course
14 progress. Blackboard and WebCT are examples of two widely used course management systems. For the sake of this research, course management systems have been differentiated from online courseware. 11. Distance learning: Distance le arning is an educational process that takes place with a separation of place and/or time betw een the instructor(s) and the learner(s). Varying types of interaction occur between the instructor and the lear ner, the learner and other learners, and the learner and the course materials. Dist ance learning courses of the past have utilized mail correspondence, radio broadcasting, video broadcasting, teleconferencing, etc. The curren t trend in distance learning is an increasing amount of computer-based technologies a nd the Internet used for onlin e learning. The term distance education is also used to refer to the same field; however this term places more of an emphasis on the delivery of instruction. 12. Disturbance: These are deviations from th e normal flow of work. They can be tied to underlying contradictions of the activ ity systems. Often they are the visible manifestations of contradictions (Capper & Williams, 2004), which occur between people and their instruments or between two or more people. 13. Goal: This is the object of an individual ac tion. It is the desired result of an action. 14. Internalization: Internaliza tion is the process of learni ng something, an idea or a skill, from the social environment, and inco rporating it within yourself and your existing mental framework and being able to use this new information in the future.
15 15. Mediation: This is the idea that all huma n activity is affected or controlled by artifacts which are used as tools in the activit y. Mediation serves to assist the individual in the completion of the proposed activity by enabling control over the world and the self. 16. Mediational tools: These t ools or artifacts are used by an individual to control human activities. They can be physical (i.e. pencil or computer) or psychological (i.e. language, or diagrams). 17. Motive: This is the motivation for a sp ecific action. Motive is what drives a particular action in the activity. This is diffe rent from the object, which is the motivation for the larger activity. It is an object that satisfies a need. 18. Multimedia: Multimedia is a combination of several types of media in the same document, program, software, web page, etc. which include the use of text, audio, images, animation, video, and graphics. 19. Object: This is the motivation for achievi ng a desired outcome for an activity. It drives the activity. 20. Online courseware: Online courseware is computer-based software used for instruction in distance learning environments For the sake of this research, online courseware has been differentiated from course management systems. Also, the courseware investigated in th is research, EN LNEA, may be considered a stand alone courseware offered via the Internet, meaning the students may participate in the course completely at a distance. 21. Online learning: This is learning that take s place in an Internet-based environment using computer-based technologies for in teraction, instruction, and communication.
16 Generally, in this type of l earning there are no class meetings with the instructor. Online learning is also referred to as e-learning or online education. 22. Operation: These are actions that have become automatic procedures. Operations are performed without conscious attention. 23. Private speech: This is a udible speech that an indivi dual directs to himself to regulate his behaviors. It is not meant as a form of communication with others. 24. Regulation: This is the idea that individua ls or learners will attempt to control their learning through various means. The learner is said to be self-regu lated if he is able to accomplish a task under his own guidance. He is said to be ot her-regulated if he depends on the assistance of another person. Last he is said to be object-regulated if he depends on the use of an object or a tool. 25. Scaffolding: Scaffolding is a form of support offered by teachers or more capable peers to another student for the purpose of he lping the student learn the intended material (Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976). Several form s of scaffolding include: modeling, repetition, and feedback. 26. Sociocultural theory (SCT): According to this theory of learning, development is viewed as originating in the social environment and through the use of tools and social interaction it is appropriated a nd internalized by the learner. 27. Zone of proximal development: The zone of proximal development is the distance between what the learner can do alone and what he or she can do with assistance (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86). This concept is used to describe the difference between what a child can achieve independently and what th e child can achieve with assistance from
17 another person. Its focus is on the individualÂ’ s potential level of development with the appropriate assistance. Organization of Remaining Chapters This study is organized in five chapters Chapter 1briefly describes the state of foreign language distance learning as it is affected by the growth of computer-based technologies. It also presents an overvie w of the study including its rationale and purpose, which lead to the research questi ons. These research questions are answered using the data collected in the research pro cess. The last section of chapter 1 contains operational definitions of terms, which are frequently used in the study. Chapter 2 contains an over view of how the study origin ated empirically, including a clear distinction between ev aluation and research in CALL contexts, a description of the evolution of distance lear ning and the major factors suppor ting its use, an overview of the current state of online la nguage learning and online tools, and a perspective of CALL research which informs foreign language educ ation. It also elabor ates on Sociocultural Theory and Activity Theory research in th e field of Second Langua ge Acquisition to aid in establishing a theoretical framework for online language learning and to develop an empirical base for this research project. Chapter 3 will contain an overview of an activity theoretical case study approach to qualitative research with the purpose of providing a syst ematic explanation of the studyÂ’s details. This chapter describes the re search procedures, incl uding data collection and data analysis. It will also explain the role of Sociocultura l Theory and Activity
18 Theory in establishing the theoretical framew ork for the study and their role in guiding the research questions and subsequent data analysis. Chapter 4 describes the data collected in an effort to answer the studyÂ’s research questions as described previ ously. This description begins by presenting a general outline of the data collected in the study. Then, the data will be used to formulate answers to the research questions posit ed in this study. Chapter 5 discusses the findings for the rese arch questions as presented in chapter four. This discussion provides theoretical, me thodological, and practic al implications in relation to Sociocultural Th eory, Activity Theory, Second Language Acquisition, and Online Language Learning. Last, there will be a discussion of recommendations for future research.
19 Chapter Two CALL and Activity Theory: A Review of the Related Literature Introduction As has been described previously in more detail, the purpose of this multiple case study research was to investig ate how language learners re ached their outcomes in an online learning environment with a focus on the learnersÂ’ previous e xperiences, defining their activity systems, mediati onal tools, and the re solution of contradictions which occur in the learning process. The following literature review attempts to de scribe the historical development and the current state of rese arch findings, theoretical framework, and research methods that guided th is research. In this manner, it addresses overall trends in what has been published about online language learning and identify any perceived gaps that exist. This literature review encompasses the fields of research most relevant to this study including that of: online learning and di stance learning, computer-assisted language learning (CALL), Sociocultural Theory, and Activity Theory as it relates to Second Language Acquisition. Defining Online Language Learning The current state of online learning, based largely on com puter-based and Internet technologies, represents the culmination of a field, distance education, which has evolved drastically over several ce nturies. The online learning tools, which are available presently, have transformed distance lear ning by affording learners an increased opportunity for instantaneous communicati on, interaction, and co llaboration. In the following sections, I will define online learning as it relates to the scope of this research.
20 To do so I will place online learning in its so cio-historical context and emphasize the key, overlapping characteristics of distance learning and online le arning. Then, I continue with a discussion of the varying degrees of on line learning to clarify what is meant by online language learning (OLL) hereafter. Last, I will offer a description and analysis of the online learning tools, which are currently ava ilable, and I will discuss how they have aided in transforming distance learning. Placing OLL in Socio-historical Context The purpose of this section is to place th e scope of this research, online language learning, within the broader historical and e ducational context. This discussion begins with distance education, also referred to as distance learning. Keeg an (1996) describes distance learning as containing five principal components: the separa tion of the learners and the instructor, the influen ce of an education organization, the use of media to unite the learners and the instru ctor, the capability for tw o-way communication, and the potential for meetings (p. 50). As will be discussed here, these basic principles have remained constant throughout the evolution of the field. Distance learning, or distance education, can be traced back to England in the 1840s when Isaac Pitman began teaching shorthand. His pupils learned shorthand by copying Bible passages and submitting their work via the national mail system. The majority of the initial group of distance learning students were women who were unable to enroll at other gender-restricted schools, people with physical disabilities, people who had time conflicts related to their regular jobs, and people who lived too far from any potential school sites (Keegan, 1996). At the time the mail system was the only available
21 innovation which allowed the instructor and his or her students to inte ract at a distance. The mail system has served educational purpos es quite well by affording the underserved and underprivileged populations of impoverished and isolated regions the opportunity to access education where there were no opportun ities for education previously. Similarly, in more recent times, audiotapes and lessons sent through the mail have been used in correspondence courses to teach fore ign languages (Criscito, 2002, p. 2). During the 1920s radio was invented, and si nce then it has served as a valuable means of communication for distance learni ng. Unlike the early co rrespondence courses, radio provided the first m eans of delivering instruction synchronously, albeit one-way. Related specifically to la nguage learning, the British Br oadcasting Corporation began broadcasting modern language courses via ra dio as early as 1929 (Teaster & Blieszner, 1999). The advent of the televisi on in the 1940s diminished th e overall interest in radio, because television allowed di stance learning courses to combine audio with video capabilities. Broadcasting educational programs via television has provided the opportunity to reach a larger amount of pot ential students while using a more dynamic means of instruction at a distance. For example, the educational telenovela Destinos, which was created in 1992 by a broad casting company WGBH Boston and the Annenberg/CPB Project, is still widely used in the field of foreign language education to offer Spanish courses via distance education. At the university in which this case study will be conducted, Destinos was the predecesso r distance language course offered before being replaced by the EN LNEA courseware.
22 During the 1950s and 1960s, teachers further adapted their use of television for distance learning when they began broadcasting live instruction to their students (Scatori, 1941). Since then live broadcas ts and videotaped lectures have become a standard in university and professional courses (Cambr e, 1991). Throughout the late 1980s and the 1990s, teleconferencing and videoconferenc ing technologies transformed distance learning to include more synchronous means of communication and direct instruction. This synchronous mode of delivery helped to eliminate the delay in student-teacher and student-student exchanges. The 1980s was an important era in the e volution of distance education, because it marked the beginning of the rapid expansion in computer-based t echnologies. Examples of these technologies developed since the 1980s include: computer conferencing, Internet, World Wide Web, digital video discs, fiber optics, portals, simulations, virtual reality, video-conferencing, compact discs, electronic mail, LCD projectors, search engines, mobile phones, wireless networks, e-Portfolios, and expert systems (Bates, 2005, p. 43). These innovative technologies, especially multimed ia, the Internet, and internetbased technologies, offer a variety of options for collaboration and interaction, and they have revolutionized what is now called online learning by allowing more flexibility without spatial and time restraints. Now in the 21st Century, for universities and sc hools across the United States and many other countries, computer-based dist ance learning has become a more widely accepted alternative to face-to-face foreign language courses. The National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education conducted a study in spring of
23 2002 using academic institutions previously recruited for other studies. Questionnaires were mailed to 1600 institutions of which 1504 responded, a response rate of 94% (Waits & Lewis, 2003) By projecting the responses received for the whole natio n, they estimate that for the 2000-2001 academic year, 56% of all 2 year and 4 year degree-granting institutions offered distance education courses. They also project an estimated 3,077,000 students enrolled in distance education course s. Of the institutions that reported using distance education, 90% reporte d using asynchronous comput er-based instruction, 43% use synchronous computer-based instruc tion, 51% use two-way video with two-way audio, 41% use one-way prerecorded vi deo, 29% use CD-ROM, and 19% use multimode packages (ibid). This demonstrates how pervasive distance education has been, and it also highlights the emergent prevalence of computer-based t echnologies in this field. With such wide spread use of distance learning courses in higher education, the next logical question is why are so many students attracte d to distance learning? The simple answer is that distance learning courses and blended l earning courses grant students more flexibility. For example, a key characteristic of online courses that have replaced face-to-face courses is Â“a reduction in class-meeting time, replacing face-to-face time with online, interactiv e learning activities for stude ntsÂ” (Twigg, 2003, p. 32). This allows students with families jobs, and other time constraint s to participate in language courses while juggling other responsibili ties simultaneously. From the institutionsÂ’ perspective online courses allow them to satis fy multiple objectives including: increasing student access, reducing time constraints, re ducing institution costs, increasing new student audiences, increasing student enrollments, and m eeting the needs of local
24 employers (Waits & Lewis, 2003, p. 15). As can be seen from this description, online learning serves to benefit students and the inst itutions at which they are enrolled. Again, this is accomplished primarily because dist ance learning allows universities to offer meaningful and flexible instruction. Online Learning Building on the discussion of distan ce learning, I will now shift my focus exclusively to online learning. Here, I will a ttempt to demonstrate how pervasive online learning has become, and I will distinguish online learning from other forms of learning which utilize the Internet and computer-based technologies. Reporting on the Current Population Survey data from the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau, Newburger (2001) indicates that 54 million households or 51% of all househ olds had a computer, an increase from 42% in 1998. He also states that 44 million hous eholds or 42% of all households used the Internet in their home (pp. 1-2). More recently Internet World Stats reports that as of September 18, 2006, 1.09 billion people are using the Internet ("Internet World Stats: Usage and Population Statistics, "). It can be safely assumed that all of this reported Internet usage in the United States is not fo r the sole purpose of education; however, we cannot deny that the Internet serves an e ssential role for educational purposes. For educational purposes online learni ng is a process by which individuals acquire knowledge by studying, personal experien ces, or direct instruction, which takes place in an Internet-based environment using computer-based technologies for interaction, instruction, and communication. On line learning is also referred to as
25 e-learning or online education. Before consid ering online language le arning specifically, it is important to understand how wide spread online learning has become in the broader field of general education. With the advent of the Internet and multimedia, and especially increased capabilities of the microcomputer online learning at th e college level has grown tremendously. Two insightful studies have been conducted which collected information for online learning at higher e ducation institutions, Allen & Seaman (2006) and Allen & Seaman (2003). The first, (Allen & Seaman, 2006), reports on a survey-based study designed to collect information regarding online learning from higher education institutions across the United States. The study sampled 4491 institutions of which 2472 responded, resulting in a 55% response rate. They repor t that 3.2 million students took at least one online course in fall 2005 term, an increase from 2.3 million in the previous year. In the 2006 study, they also found that large public institutions offe r more online courses than other institutions and that on line students tend to be older, hold employment, and have increased family responsibilities (ibid). This is especially relevant to the current study which will take place at a large univers ity that has a variety of students. The second study, (Allen & Seaman, 2003) reports on a similar internet-based survey, which was distributed vial email to th e Academic Officers or the President of the institutions across the United States. 3,033 su rveys were sent and 994 were returned, a response rate of 32.8%. They re port that 81% of a ll institutions of higher education offer at least one fully online or blended course and among public institutions more than 90% offer at least one online or blended cour se (ibid). Combined these two studies
26 demonstrate how deeply imbedded online learni ng has become in higher education of the United States. From these two studies it is apparent that online learning is wi despread, but they also demonstrate that online learning exists in a variety of formats. In Table 1, Allen and Seaman (2003) define the various forms of online learning by breaking them down into separate categories: traditional, web-facilitated, blended or hybrid, and online. Bates (2005, p. 9) presents a similar definition, but he uses the phrase Â“fully onlineÂ” learning, and with respect to CALL, Felix (2003) refe rs to Â“stand-alone on line coursesÂ” and Â“addon activitiesÂ” (p. 8) which u tilize computer-based technol ogies. In most cases CALL activities are used to enhance traditional cla sses. Most relevant to the present study, the EN LNEA Spanish courseware will be consid ered as an Â“onlineÂ”, Â“fully onlineÂ”, or a Â“stand-alone onlineÂ” course because the vast ma jority, more than 80%, of the interactions take place online. Online learning is the pr imary means of instruction and learning.
27 Table 1 Description of online courses. A dapted from Allen and Seaman (2003) Proportion of content delivered online Type of course Typical description 0% Traditional Course with no online technology used content is delivered in writing or orally. 1 to 29% Web Facilitated Course which uses web-based technology to facilitate what is essentially a face-to-face course. Uses a course management system (CMS) or web pages to post the syllabus and assignments, for example. 30 to 79% Blended/ Hybrid Course that blends online and face-toface delivery. Substantial proportion of the content is delivered online, typically uses online discussions, and typically has some face-to-face meetings. 80+% Online A course where most or all of the content is delivered online. Typically have no face-to-face meetings. Building on the previous discussion, which attempted to define online learning in general, I will now expand this argument to in clude the field of SLA. In the field of SLA the phrase Â“online learningÂ” has been used in a variety of contexts to refer to divergent forms of learning. For example, in a genera l introduction to the th eory and practice of network-based language teaching Kern and Warschauer (2000) define online language teaching or learning as a process which Â“invol ves the use of computers connected to one another in either local or global networks" (p. 1). Although I have no major concerns with this definition as a starting point, this research will further distinguish Â“online learningÂ”, as operationalized by Allen and S eaman (2003), to refer solely to language
28 courses which take place with the use of computer-based technologies, the use of the Internet, and of which at least 80% of th e course interactions are conducted online. Having made this distinction between online language learning courses and other courses which use a blended approach to distance le arning, it is now possi ble to move forward with this research related solely to online learning using the EN LNEA online courseware. Current Online Tools After seeing how pervasive online learning has become in the United States, it is important to note that online lear ning appears to have been wi dely accepted in large part because of the flexibility and convenience a fforded by a wide range of technology-based tools. To continue with a di scussion of online learning I wi ll now provide an overview of the innovative tools available, and often implemented, in th e field of online learning. A more in depth discussion of these tec hnologies, as they relate to CALL and CALL research, comes later in the literature review. Fi rst, it is essential to make note that amidst the array of state-of-the-art technologies there is a plethora of available online learning tools, which make self-directed l earning and interaction possible. There is such a variety of available on line tools, and new t ools are created so rapidly, that at times it becomes difficult to k eep up with these cutti ng-edge technologies. Having said this, it does prove beneficial to attempt to cate gorize online learning tools so that instructors and learners may better understand their use. This categorization will also aid in this research by providing an overal l framework for describing the technologies according to the impact that they have on the learning process. Currently, there are
29 several existing frameworks which attempt to accomplish this. Pool e, Sky-McIlvain, and Jackson (2004) use five categorizes to descri be this potential impact: skill reinforcement, human interaction, assessment, research a nd resources, knowledge c onstruction (p. 247). Likewise, in 2007 the International Soci ety for Technology in Education (ISTE) published a new set of National Educ ational Technology Standards, which identified creativity and innovation, communication and collaboration, research and information fluency, critical thinking, problem-solving, a nd decision-making, digi tal citizenship, and technology concepts and operations as themes for categorizing computer-based tools (Education, 2007; The National Educational Technology Standards for Students: The Next Generation 2007). When attempting to categorize online learning tools according to the frameworks established by Poole, et al. (2004) and ISTE ( The National Educational Technology Standards for Students: The Next Generation 2007), it becomes obvious that each tool may serve multiple purposes. For example, a we b site may be used as a resource for more information or it may be the final product of a studentÂ’s learning, which is then published online. This can be seen in Table 2, which was created by combining these two classification systems and drawing from the information about computer-based technologies provided in Barr on, Ivers, Lilavois, and We lls (2006), Bates (2005), and Godwin-Jones (2000). Table 2 is intended to organize the availabl e online tools into functional categories. This classification will enable referring to these tools more easily later in this study.
30 Table 2 Classification of online lear ning tools. Adapted from P oole, et al. (2004), ISTE ( The National Educational Technology Standards for Students: The Next Generation 2007), Barron et al. (2006), Bates ( 2005), and Godwin-Jones (2000). I believe that the tools for human inte raction are perhaps the most profound and the most useful for online language learning. These are communication-based technologies, which are frequently se parated into synchronous and asynchronous mediums (Barron et al., 2006; Bates, 2005). Agai n, it is important to note that innovative, state-of-the-art technologies do not ensure quality learni ng experiences; however, as Thorne and Payne (2005) descri be, the innovation of these types of tool s moves online learning Â“far beyond the computer aloneÂ”. Th ey further expand the possibilities for communication and pedagogical opportunities. Each of these innovative technologies encourage collaboration by allowing the users, online learners, to establish connections with people that otherwise were not reachable. Skill reinforcement Human interaction and communication Productivity Assessment Research and resources Simulations Virtual reality Software CD-ROMs Email Listserv Synchronous chat Bulletin board Desktop conferencing Mobile phones PDAs MP3 files Blogs Wikis Web sites PPT Word Excel Digital camera Scanner E-Portfolios World Wide Web sites CD-ROMs Scanner Software MP3 files Movies Internet Digital camera Search engines Digital video
31 The next two technologies described, learning management systems (LMS) and online courseware, vary from the more succin ct categories establis hed previously. Both utilize computer-based technologi es and the Internet to offe r an alternativ e delivery of instruction, but they also contain many of the technologies described previously. A learning management system (LMS) is a soft ware application or Web-based technology used to organize instructiona l materials, deliver instruc tion, keep track of student participation, and manage student grades. Many learning management systems, such as Blackboard and WebCT, also pr ovide students with the ability to interact via threaded discussion boards, computer-media ted chat, and video conferencing. In the context of the present study, Blackboard is used for orga nizing and maintaining student grades and course information. Like LMSs, online coursewares are educational software that deliver instruction and course materials, and offer resources vi a computer-based technologies and in most cases via the Internet. A major distinction be tween LMSs and online courseware is that LMSs provide more opportunities for instructor s to create their own materials; whereas, online courseware is generally complete d products produced by content specific publishing companies. The EN LNEA program is an example of such online courseware. Created by Vista Higher Learning, it enables st udents to study and learn Spanish at a distance. In essence, EN LNEA is a sort of learning management system designed specifically for Spanish courses, but it also o ffers more than the typical LMS. The content and instructional materials are predetermi ned much like a textbook, and in many cases there is little opportunity for instructors to create and a dd their own materials to the
32 courseware. It is important to note that le arning management systems are not designed specifically for language courses, and as a result they do not contain several key components, which are beneficial to language learners such as online dictionaries, tutorials, verb conjugation resources, etc. Levy (Levy, 1997, p. 181) identifies the functionalities provided by courseware as data handling, linguistic tools, multimedia, didactic tools, administrative tools, a nd networking tools. EN LNEA, the online language courseware which is the focus of th e present study, contains most of the tools described previously. A more in depth descri ption of EN LNEA is provided in chapter 3. Before the emergence of these compute r-based technologies and the Internet, distance education was utilized primarily fo r student populations which were limited in their access to education based on gender, disabilities, time conflicts, and location. In addition, such distance learning opportunities represented a relati vely small percentage of university course offerings. However, now in the 21st Century, for universities and schools across the United States and ma ny other countries, distance learning via computer-based technologies and the Inte rnet has become a more widely accepted alternative to face-to -face courses, including traditiona l foreign language courses. As described here, distance education and the ar ray of ever-changing technologies have steadily revolutionized how colleges and uni versities offer courses by affording the students greater opportunities for self-direc ted learning, collaborat ion, and interaction (Levy, 1997). Rapid development and implementation of technology, including the development of new online tools, makes it very difficult for SLA researchers and educational professionals to keep up. This pr esents a challenge to maintain a current and
33 quality body of research which reflects th e most recently created technologies. The present study attempts to meet this cha llenge by investigating an online courseware which has not been researched formerly. Section Summary In summary, this discussion has placed online learning in a broader, sociohistorical context, drawing from the fields of general education and distance learning. Initially, distance learning was conceptualized and developed to ai d in alleviating the restrictions caused by time and space. This fiel d of education has offered and continues to offer educational possibilities for a larger a udience that may not have had the opportunity for education previously. More specifically, online learni ng has evolved gradually as computer-based technologies have been developed. The discussion of online learning has dis tinguished online learning from blended learning and other forms of technology-enhan ced courses. Moving forward with a clear definition for online learning also allows the re searcher to distinguish this research from other research conducted previously with varying forms of technology-enhanced learning. The popularity of all computer-based technologies is based largely on the flexibility and potential for interaction at a distance that is provided by the array of technology-based tools. Online learning tools allow stude nts to access a plethora of information on demand. In an online learning envi ronment the learners have the ability to learn individually and collabora tively. The tools described, such as email, bulletin boards, and chat, afford students opportunities to connect with others synchronously and asynchronously. Online learning environments also provide arenas for course content to
34 be structured effectively and made available in a variety of formats. For example, text, audio, and video materials can be inte grated easily in this environment. Last, highlighting these key characteristic s of online learning and online tools has aided in establishing the gene ral context for the present st udy. This discussion is also meant as a beginning reference point for co mputer assisted language learning (CALL). As will be described next, the field of CALL relates directly to la nguage learning and the use of technologies. Past and Future Directions for CALL Research Within the broader context of distance learning and online learning, there is a smaller and less developed field of research, CALL, which relates directly to computerbased technologies and language learning. This field, computer-assisted language learning (CALL), is a type of learning and an approach to teac hing languages, which utilizes computer-based tec hnologies to deliver instructi on, to provide arenas for the learners to rehearse their language learning, and to provide means of communication and interaction between the instructor and the learner and the learner and other learners. Simply put, CALL is the use of computer-based technologies to assi st individuals with their language learning. This is also referred to as technology-enha nced language learning (TELL). In the subsequent sections I w ill attempt to provide a discussion that distinguishes CALL research from evaluation studies, overviews the brief history of CALL, and draws some implications from CALL research for future studies.
35 Distinguishing CALL Research from Evaluation Studies As previously described in chapter 1, the purpose of the study is to investigate the learning processes of online language students with a focus on their use of mediational tools and resolution of contra dictions. To further clarify the scope of this study, this section of the literature review aims to elucidate the differenc e between the defining characteristics of this research study in comparison with traditional, CALL evaluation studies. Within the field of CALL, evaluation st udies are geared towards providing the appropriate information for which to base a decision about adopting a particular program or product for educational purposes. This type of evaluation has also been called software or product evaluation. For example, Chapelle (2001) describes six cr iteria for evaluating CALL: language learning poten tial, learner fit, meaning focus, authenticity, positive impact, and practicality. These descriptors fo r evaluation focus on the potential benefits that CALL demonstrates for language l earning. Burston (2003) also offers a comprehensive description of CALL eval uation. He claims that before any CALL software can be purchased, it mu st meet the first two of th e following requirements and a combination of the last three descriptors: 1. Pedagogical validity 2. Curriculum adaptability 3. Efficiency 4. Effectiveness 5. Pedagogical innovation Based on the keywords of these requirem ents, and much like ChappelleÂ’s (2001) descriptors for CALL evaluation, it becomes a pparent that these requirements further
36 exemplify how CALL evaluation is more in tended to note potential benefits of a particular program or software. The present study is markedly different from these ideas of evaluation, because this study is intended to investigate actual learner processes. After discussing CALL evaluation, it is al so important to further distinguish between evaluation and research to complete the shift fr om evaluating a product to looking at student learning. For example, Johnson (1992) makes a clear distinction between research and evaluation studies, Â“The purpose of an evaluation study is to assess the quality, effectiveness or general value of a program or other entity. The purpose of research is to contribute to the body of scholar ly knowledge about a topic or to contribute to theoryÂ” (p. 192). Based on these definitions, the current study adheres principally to research. It does not attempt to evaluate the value or effectiveness of the CALL materials provided in EN LNEA. This research is not intended to answer th e question; does EN LNEA work to aid in learning Spanish? It is intended to gather information which will provide a description of how th e learners interact with the courseware in the process of reaching their outcomes. In addition, whereas the use of a strong theoretical b ackground is necessary in research, the use of a particular theory in evaluation is not as important. Saba (2000) echoes this, Â“Research questions are rarely pos ed within a theoretical framework or based on its fundamental concepts and constructs.Â” Most evaluative a nd comparative studies have not included a discussion of theory in their research. This is also apparent in ChapelleÂ’s (2001) six descriptors for evalua tion. No particular theory drives these categories. Last, none of the de scriptors allow for examining the interactions that take
37 place between the individual lear ner and his social environmen t. In the current study this interplay between the individual and th e social environment is paramount. The aim of this research was to contri bute to theory and practice in SLA and CALL. I wanted to describe how the learners interacted with the courseware, to see what types of disturbances they encountered as th ey attempted to learn, and to see how they resolved these to reach their learning outcomes. In this manner this research distinguishes between the potential effectiv eness of EN LNEA based on it s technological capabilities and what learning processes actually occurr ed through the technology-based tools. This marks the essential shift from evaluating CALL products to looking at actual student learning in CALL. Historical Overview of CALL CALL as a field of instruction and research is said to have or iginated in the 1950s under the name of computer-assisted language instruction (CALI). The original CALI programs were developed for mainframe co mputers, and they primarily supported individual tutorials. This is the paramount disparity between the original CALI programs and what is known as CALL today. In th e 1980s, many people began using the name computer-assisted language learning (CALL) and although other names have been used such as technology-enhanced language le arning (TELL), CALL remains to be the predominantly used. Throughout the history of CALL its deve lopment has directly reflected the accepted learning theories of the time peri od and the capabilities of the computer. Warschauer (1996) and Warschauer & Healey (1998) have categorized this development
38 into three phases, which they call beha vioristic CALL, communicative CALL, and integrative CALL. Although some have criticized this designation of phases in CALL, questioning the nomenclature used and whether th e phases refer to historical time periods or categorical perspectives (B ax, 2003), they have been widely used in the field (Felix, 2003; Lee, 2000; O'Bryan & Hegelheimer, 2007), and this organization will be used here to describe the historical deve lopment of CALL and its researc h. It is important to note, however, that as Bax (2003) i ndicates these stages have now come to coexist in some instances. For this reason I have attempted to isolate the major CALL research projects according to their most congruent stage, but it is understood that so me projects could be attributed to more than one phase base d on their defining characteristics. Behavioristic vs. Communicative CALL This discussion of CALL research begins with the juxtaposition that exists between two schools of thought in the initia l stages of language learning, behaviorism and communicative-based learni ng. Behavioristic CALL dates back to the 1950s and was fully developed in the 1960s and 1970s. It wa s based on behaviorist theories of learning, which placed an emphasis on grammar rehearsa l through Â“drill and practiceÂ” or Â“drill and killÂ” (Hart, 1981). Under this approach learning was rega rded primarily as habit formation in response to repetition, and it was exemplified by the use of the language laboratory. Language students were expected to learn primarily through constant repeating and practicing. During the two decades in which behavioristic CALL was prevalent there were two projects which we re integral in its early development and implementation, PLATO and TICCIT.
39 Under the guise of behavioristic CALL the project for Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations (PLATO) was designed at the University of Illinois in 1960 for the purpose of providing self-paced inst ruction for a group of students. In its original from it focused on vocabulary and grammar drill exercises, and it allowed only one classroom to connect at the same time. Gradually the number of students that the mainframe computer system could support began to grow exponentially. Research conducted with PLATO focused primarily on the Â“drill and practi ceÂ” nature of the technology. Although this environment allowed th e teachers to make better use of class time, no distinct advantages were associated with PLATO versus the classroom environment (Atkinson, 1972; Hart, 1981). Roughly a decade later the project for Time-Shared, Interactive, Computer Controlled Information Television (TICCIT) was designed and implemented at Brigham Young University in 1971. It combined the us e of television-based and computer-based technologies to offer instruction for a college-l evel English course vi a an interactive cable television system. Merrill (1980) noted that the system allowed the students a great amount of control over their learning. In a ddition, Alderman (1978) found that there was no significant difference in the performance leve ls of students in face -to-face, traditional classes versus the students using TICCIT. The limited body of research generated from the PLATO and TICCIT programs has served as the foundation to behavioristic CALL and the point of reference for the future ge nerations of CALL. Behavioristic CALL, as described here, dominated the SLA field unt il the end of the 1970s. By this time the
40 behavioristic learning theories were gradually replaced by an array of cognitive and humanistic learning theories, which served as the impetus for the next phase of CALL. In the 1970s and 1980s communicative CALL spread in large part due to the prevailing influence of the communicative approach and the development of the microcomputer. John Underwood was a major proponent of the communicative approach, and he is also the author of a widely used CALL textbook Linguistics, computers and the language teacher (1984). In this text Underwood highlig hted the major contentions of the communicative approach among which include encouraging a focus on communication in the target language rather than learning and teac hing grammar implicitly. These principles were also adopted for communicativ e CALL. In this phase of CALL usage, the computer was viewed as a tuto r, stimulus, or tool such as word processors, spell and grammar checks, and publishing programs. Th e defining characteristic of communicative CALL was the effort to provide the lear ners with opportunities for authentic communication. At the time this new empha sis on meaningful communication was in direct contrast to the Â“drill and practiceÂ” of behavioristic CALL. Utilizing the communicative approach, th e Athena Language Learning Project (ALLP) was created at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1983. This project included communication materials for Spanish, French, German, Russian, and English as a Second Language courses. It cr eated a computer-based environment, or Â“network-based distributed computing se rvicesÂ”, which supported 10,000 users (Arfman & Roden, 1992). In this environment the studen ts were able to access the files posted in the system from any workstation within the ne twork. Published research related to ALLP
41 was scarce, but Arfman and Roden (ibid) re port that as a result of using Athena the faculty Â“changed their teaching methods, ma king their face-to-face contact with the students more productive, and helping them de velop intuitive learni ng in their studentsÂ” (p. 551). In addition, Lampe (1988) reports that a major contri bution of the project is the beginning traces of multimedia for language learning. Combined, behavioristic and communicativ e CALL have served as the foundation to a field that has continued to evolve over its brief history. Resear ch conducted in these two phases of CALL has demonstrated that technology-enhanced learning can be comparable to face-to-face learning. In addi tion, this form of learning and teaching through technologies is both enabled and limited by the power and capacity of the technologies themselves. Current Status of CALL Towards the end of the communicative CA LL phase, as labeled by Warschauer (1996) and Warschauer & Healey (1998) many researchers and e ducational professionals began to question the viability of CALL. This led to a desire for a more integrative approach to utilizing CALL, in which its us e was not isolated to a specific realm of language learning, but rather it w ould become integrated fully into the language learning experience. From the 1990s and into the present th e focus of CALL has been implementing CALL where its usage has been thoughtfully in tegrated, or meaningfully inserted, to create an optimal learning experience, but also that the use of the technology flows naturally and meaningfully with the context of the material learned. This focus has been
42 greatly enabled by the vast development of mu ltimedia and the Internet, which has served to simultaneously solidify the role of CA LL in language learning and instruction and revolutionize the field of CALL. The early stages of CALL, behavioristic and communicative, were not accepted completely because computer functions were rudimentary in comparison. However, in the 1980s and the 1990s graphical user interfaces and integrated media were develope d, which caused a resurgence of interest in CALL (Pusack & Otto, 1997) and ultimately creat ed more avenues for the integration of CALL in language learning. Liu et al. (2003) also acknowledges this shift in focus on the acceptance of technology to the idea of how to effectively integrate technology. My view on integrative CALL is that the fi eld will likely remain here indefinitely, or at least until computer-based technologies are fully integrated and accepted in language teaching and learning. Bax (2003) described the process of normalization in which CALL is truly integrated. He claims that normalization occurs when technology becomes invisible like a textbook. As such Bax (ibid) describes the end goal of CALL as reaching normalization in which the technol ogy seemingly fits in without a second thought. For example, he describes how college students do not think twice about the idea of having to use textbooks for their courses. Technology, on th e other hand, is just now reaching a sort of Â“normalizationÂ” in some fields and institutions, but I could not say outright that CALL has been comp letely normalized in the co ntext of language learning. Having said this, in the present study it can be argued that the EN LNEA courseware does represent this form of normalization beca use it is the main medium of instruction and learning.
43 Continuing with this discussion, I wi ll now offer a brief explanation for multimedia and the Internet which are the staple com ponents of integrative CALL. Pusack & Otto (1997) d efine multimedia as the Â“capaci ty to access and control via computer a full range of familiar media: text, motion video, photo images, sound, and graphics.Â” On the other hand, the Internet is an electronic network of computers across the world which is connected by a comm on system or systems of communication. These developments together have allowed more au thentic materials and interaction, which are easily integrated into the overall structure of the courses, and more student control over accessing the materials and ultimately their learning. Integrative CALL research concerning th e Internet and multimedia has been exemplified by the work conducted with the Daedalus Integrated Writing Environment (DIWE) (Beauvois, 1992; Chun, 1994; Kelm, 1992; R. Kern, 1995). The research conducted with InterChange of Daedalus, a synchronous form of CMC, which was developed by Fred Kemp at the University of Texas in the 19 80Â’s for the purpose of developing writing, has demonstrat ed several of the benefits commonly associated with CMC: leisurely paced, less threatening, high amount of writing, more turns and messages, more learner control, planning a nd editing, lots of comprehensible input, reading and writing practice, and motivation (Ortega, 1997). Other research within the integrative CALL phase has focused primarily on textbased computer-mediated communication, synchronous and asynchronous, and results have shown a variety of benefits (Chapelle, 2001; LeLoup & Ponteri o, 2003; Liu et al., 2003; Ortega, 1997). After examining the transcri pts of these types of interactions, the
44 results from previous studie s have indicated that while using CMC there is increased student communication and more equal pa rticipation among the students (Beauvois, 1992; Blake, 2000; Kelm, 1992; R. Kern, 1995; Warschauer, 1997). There has also been empirical support that indicates that the linguistic output from a CMC-based environment resembles that of oral output (Beauvo is, 1992; Chun, 1994; Kelm, 1992). In addition, other studies have indicated a positive eff ect on the learnersÂ’ motivation (Stepp-Greany, 2002; Warschauer, 1997). Next, to continue with a fr uitful discussion of CALL, we must then consider the necessary components which make CALL us age a worthwhile experience for the language learners. Pusack and Otto (1997) de scribe three necessary characteristics for CALL and technology integration: the combin ation of multiple media (multimedia), increased learner control, and interactivity. Also, if CALL is integrated into the language learning experience, as a result it provid es the opportunity for collaborative work, exploratory learning, access to more authenti c materials, more interaction, and higher motivation (Egbert & Hanson-Smith, 1999; Egbert, Paulus, & Nakamichi, 2002; Warschauer & Healey, 1998). In an attempt to further define the key characteristics of CALL and CALL research, Leloup and Ponterio (2003) conducted an insightful review of CALL research published in major research journals. They repor t that most of the CALL research utilizes an interactionist theore tical framework, which emphasizes input, intake, output, negotiation of meaning, and attention to form and meaning. The authors cite only two cases (Appel & Lantolf, 1994; Warschauer 1997), which have investigated CALL
45 employing a sociocultural persp ective, and these studies focused on the learnersÂ’ social and cultural surroundings and conditions. These general findings imply that CALL research has been somewhat limited in focus, and that the field could benefit from a new slant on future research. To accomplish this Ortega (1997) suggests that researchers combine quantitative and qualitative analyses and that researchers stray from comparing face-to-face and electronic envi ronments. Ortega (ibid) also calls for more qualitative research of CALL to include observation, questionnaires, thinkaloud protocols, and computer-collected data. CALL research shoul d take a change to include factors other than linguistic output. Similarly, Liu et al. (2003) reports on a review of re search conducted with CALL from 1990 to 2000. The authors claim that 13 of the 33 studies reviewed have minimal theoretical underpinnings, while 20 have su fficient theoretical background. Only 5 were purely qualitative while 65 were experimental or mixed methods studies. They also indicate that the qualitative studies focused primarily on studentsÂ’ perceptions and experiences with technology. In closing, Liu et al. (ibid) also calls for the incorporation of learning theory with CALL research. Section Summary From the previous description of CALL, it is evident that computer-based technologies have the potential to serve ma ny purposes in language learning. Likewise, past CALL research leads to several implicati ons for future CALL research, including the present study. Specifically, the discussion here has highlight ed the distinction between
46 evaluation and research, the ove r emphasis of CMC research, and the need for adequate theoretical framework and va ried research methods. First and foremost, a clear distinction was established between research and evaluation. Again, this study does not intend to evaluate the EN LNEA courseware. Furthermore, whereas CALL evaluation and much of the previous research has investigated the role of CMC, this st udy will focus on online language learning as operationalized previously. The present study will draw from past research, noting the perceived pedagogical benefits including the capacity for interaction and collaboration via computer-based technologies ; however, it will also take a broader view of online learning in context with the goal of not fo cusing too narrowly on one particular online tool. Also, the research base diverging from evaluation studies and building on CMC investigations serves to highlight the key ch aracteristics of the present study including a strong theoretical framework a nd the use of varied research methods. My argument here is that online learning, and in particular online language learning, is too complex of a process to minimize the discussion to isolat ed variables. Online language learning can only be completely understood in its full context, and to accomplish this, a strong theoretical background and the us e of more qualitative resear ch methods is necessary. In conclusion, the present study will attempt to fill some of the gaps as indicated in this discussion of CALL and CALL research.
47 Research in Online Language Learning The previous discussion of CALL was in tentionally limited to isolated CALL tools like CMC, which is used vastly for add-on tasks in face-to-face courses. Here, online language learning research will be treated as an extension of CALL. In this section I will offer a critical analysis of the res earch conducted with online language learning. This analysis will also describe the contributions and shortcomings of the research as they apply to the current study. Thus far, research in online language l earning has covered a variety of topics. Only a few of these topics have been sele cted for discussion here including: evaluation and design of online learning, and learner characteristics and learner autonomy. These topics have been selected because they are indicative of the field of research in online language learning. This discussi on of research is not inte nded to be all inclusive; however, the intent is to illustrate the major assertions relevant to the present study. For a more thorough review of onlin e language learning, refer to Felix (2003), Egbert & Hanson-Smith (1999), and Kern & Warschauer (2000). Design and Evaluation Design of online learning is an appropr iate topic of investigation in online language learning research because it propos es to examine the processes by which activities are designed to produ ce the most beneficial learni ng results. In this manner decisions about instructional design in onlin e language learning ar e based on perceived pedagogical benefits and learning theories. In addition, much of online language learning research focusing on design also cont ains a component of evaluation.
48 For example, Sawatpanit et al. (2003) describes an evaluation of BRIX, an environment used for the development of on line language courses. It was created by the National Foreign Language Resource Center (NFLRC) at the University of Hawaii for use in online courses to focus on reading, wr iting, and listening activities. The study presents a comparative evaluation of a Chin ese course in BRIX with a hand-crafted online Chinese course. It evaluated the usef ulness and effectiveness of the tools by measuring studentsÂ’ use of these tools. The data sources included an opinion survey and measures for the frequency of tool use as recorded in server files. There were 54 participants from the handcrafted course and 21 part icipants from the BRIX environment. Results from the study showed that BRIX students re visited the Language Bank 72% more often than the other student s, and that their participation in the discussion forum was higher. Drawing from th is information, the authors conclude that collaborative learning and self study shoul d be supported in online learning through the courseware technologies. Although this appe ars to be an acceptable assertion, it is problematic that their main results ar e based on percentages of usage. Another study related to de sign of online learning (Str ambi & Bouvet, 2003), like the majority of research related to online language learning, inves tigates a Â“mixed-mode environmentÂ”, or a blended learning envi ronment. Although this type of learning environment is not directly representativ e of the online learning courseware being researched here, the results and conclusions of this research do yield fruitful and relevant information. The study reports on the design and development of an Italian course and a French course in Australia. During the i nvestigation the researchers encountered two
49 major challenges for design of the mixed-mode environment, sufficient flexibility and authenticity and interactivity. They conclude th at learners are often at different levels of language proficiency, and that flexibility a nd interactivity will a llow each learner to account for these differences at th eir own pace and by their own means. Judging from these two studies cond ucted with a focus on design, and subsequently evaluation, OLL should provide opportunities for coll aborative learning, self-study, flexibility, and inter action. These assertions also appear to support the general findings of the CALL research previously described. Learner Characteristics and Learner Autonomy As just noted opportunities for collabor ative learning, self-s tudy, flexibility, and interaction are important for online language learning, and they are so because many learners begin online courses with varying ch aracteristics, including different levels of learner autonomy. It is importa nt to note that learner autono my is considered to be a significant strand of research in online language learni ng primarily because this environment is also consider ed highly learner-centered. With this in mind, Hobrom (2004) investigates learner au tonomy by viewing the learner, teacher, instructional materials, and the context. He poses the questions: what are the learnersÂ’ perceptions as autonomous learners what is the value of online resources in aiding learner autonomy, and what features of online resources aid learner autonomy? In short, the study investigated online studentsÂ’ self-perceptions as autonomous learners. The study lacked sufficient description of the setting for the course in which the study was conducted. Also, because it refers to onlin e resources it is assumed that the resources
50 were used in conjunction with or as an a dd-on to an existing faceto-face course. Data was collected in regards to fi ve students of Arabic in the United States. Data collection included interviews (students and instructor), journals, and a review of the syllabi. Aside from the syllabi review, all of the data collect ed was self-reported by the students. This in itself is problematic because it places t oo much authority and significance on selfreported data. Other sources of data from diff erent perspectives would be beneficial for accurately and completely portraying the studentsÂ’ use of online resources. The results indicate that the students pe rceived themselves as being autonomous. They noted taking more responsibility, bei ng more motivated, improvement in language skills, and being able to self-evaluate throughout the course because of the online environment and available multimedia materials. They appreciated being able to practice on their own without embarrassment in front of teacher and other students, and they felt that the multimedia made online learning interesting and engaging. The most problematic component of this research is that it has a very loose theoretical framework. It uses what the author calls a Â“conceptual frameworkÂ”, being that of learner autonomy. This is more of a con cept or a tool for describing one aspect of learning, not a theoretical framework for wh ich to base an inve stigation of online learning. I feel that a stronger theoretical background is needed to fully explain the learning processes described in the study. Ther e is also a heavy re liance on self-reported data. The author cites this as one of the limita tions of the study. He also states that his dissertation committee persuaded him not to co nduct field observations as a means of data collection even though it wa s a part of the original desi gn for the research. He then
51 explains, Â“Because the participants were going to talk and write about their online activity in the interviews and journals anyway, there was no point in observing them actually work on their assignments onlineÂ” (ibi d, p.94). This statement is the epitome of over reliance on self-reported da ta. Observations of actual learning processes would aid in verifying self-reported perceptions, and they would offer the researcher first hand knowledge of what is being described by the pa rticipants. As such, it is understandable to accept that the learners perceived themselves to be autonomous, but is difficult to accept the results that the students were auto nomous in the online environment. A second study, Murday (2004), was conducte d to investigate individual learner differences and how the students adapt in on line learning environments. This research was conducted in stark comparison to the re liance on self-reporte d data in Hobrom (2004) as just described. This study aims to establish stude ntsÂ’ actual behaviors through observation, self-report, outcome measures incl uding review of exams, orals, grades, and student satisfaction, and a review of lear nersÂ’ language and te chnology backgrounds. The researcher focuses primarily on learning styl es, learning strategies, motivation, anxiety, and studentsÂ’ beliefs. I feel that this limits the scope of the research. It also has the potential to artificially narro w what is observed. Specifically, the researcher asks, can the difference between online language learners and regular students be attributed to their individual characteristics? Again, th is appears to be a broad question. To answer this question, the researcher fo llows four learners over one semester in a blended learning course incl uding synchronous chat, email, bulletin boards, and testing by course management software WebCT. There are also weekly face-to-face class
52 meetings and meetings with instructor. Re sults of the study indicate that two of the students adapted well, and the other two did not. The author concludes that the studentsÂ’ behaviors and characteristics are important in onl ine language learning, yet no particular characteristic seems to imply success or failure This finding seems to be somewhat broad and even contradictory. Havi ng said this, the author does conclude with insightful recommendations for future research. He hi ghlights the need for direct observation of student behaviors to avoid assuming that technology produces improved outcomes for language learners. Section Summary My research varied from the research described here principally because it investigated online language learning with limited face-to-face meetings. The course under investigation only had four required mee tings for exams and four optional meetings for exam reviews. This was in comparison with weekly meetings as described in several of the studies here. Also, this research did not rely exclusively on self-reported data, and it placed an emphasis on visualiz ing the learnersÂ’ behaviors in online learning in addition to other sources of data. Last, this study applied a thorough theoretical background, which guided all facets of the research. Providing Theoretical Framework in CALL Sociocultural Theory (SCT) is addressed he re because it provides the impetus for the theoretical framework which was implemente d in this study to address the use of the computer as a tool and to situate learners a nd computers in the larger context of learning.
53 It helps to bridge some of the gaps identifie d in previous section including the perceived lack of theory in online learning research. It also serves as the foundation for Activity Theory which will also be explicated in subs equent sections. This description of SCT will begin with a historical and theoretical ove rview, which juxtaposes sociocultural and cognitive views of SLA. Then, a description of the empirical research related to SLA and SCT will be provided to offer empirical evid ence and theoretical background to support the benefits of using SCT in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and ComputerAssisted Language Learning (CALL) re search. This support is the underlying justification for utilizing SC T as the theoretical background for this study. Last, related specifically to the focus of this study, I will discuss mediation and mediational tools. This review of SCT is not intended as an all-enco mpassing description; however its purpose is to offer an overview of SCT and its development in SLA research. Historical Overview of SCT To begin a discussion of Sociocultural Theo ry one must first c onsider its creator, Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934). Vygotsky obtained a law degree in Moscow but preferred working in psychology. He lived during the Russian Revolution in 1917 and StalinÂ’s Marxist revolution in 1920s and 1930s Russia. His principal goal as a researcher and a theorist was to develop a psychological th eory based on the Marxist philosophy, which explained that the structure a nd practices of socially organi zed labor provide the context for how people act and think. Marxism was developed by Karl Marx in the 1800s and was the theoretical foundation fo r the struggle of the working cl ass to attain a higher form of human society, also known as socialism. It is important to note that Vygotsky was a
54 contemporary of Piaget, but he di d not agree with PiagetÂ’s theory of learning or the stages of cognitive development. He contested the dua lisms inherent in psychological theories of his time and offered an alternative means to think about the mind and development. As such the primary concept of VygotskyÂ’s Sociocu ltural Theory is that the mind is socially mediated and all human development is socially derived. When Vygotsky died in 1934 he left behind several pr ominent students including Alexander Romanovich Luria and Alexei Nikolaevich LeontÂ’ev who continued developing VygotskyÂ’s research and theories. VygotskyÂ’s work was banned for 20 years after his death and it did not become avai lable in the United States until 1962 when Thought and Language was translated into English. In 1978 a translation of VygotskyÂ’s Mind in Society: Development of Higher Psychological Processes appeared as well. From this point, in the United States SCT has been applied in various fiel ds including education and industrial work. Sociocultural vs. Cognitive View of SLA Before considering the application of SCT in SLA, it is important to review its evolution from the body of traditional SLA re search. The empirical history of SLA can be categorized into two research paradigms: behaviorist and cognitive. First, the behaviorist paradigm focuses on the learner's external environment and is exemplified by research conducted with Contrastive Anal ysis. The Contrastive Analysis hypothesis stated that researchers can predict language difficulties by systematically comparing the two languages and cultures (Lado, 1957). Under this approach to re search learning was regarded as habit formation, and the research subjects were treated like lab experiments
55 for the purpose of eliciting responses. Behavi orism dominated the field of SLA until the end of the 1960s. In 1959 Chomsky began his criticism of the behaviorist paradigm with his review of B.F. SkinnerÂ’s Verbal Behavior (1959), and in 1967 Corder first described error analysis. First, Chomsky called for a more na turalistic approach to language learning and he criticized the rigid structure of behavi orism. Second, error analysis distinguished between mistakes and errors, errors not bei ng recognizable to the le arner (Corder, 1967). These two events had a detrimental effect on the behaviorist paradigm in SLA research. The morpheme order studies conducted by Brown (1973) and Dulay and Burt (1974) marked the end of behaviorism and Contrast ive Analysis in SLA and began the cognitive approach. The research conducted under the cognitive paradigm has focused on the individual's internal processes as the sour ce of cognitive development. This type of research has dominated the field of SLA over the past 45 years. The cognitive tradition in SLA is based on Cartesian philosophy. Â“I think, therefore I amÂ”. According to Descartes, a separation exists between the mind and th e body (1966). Within the cognitive tradition researchers have emphasized: generalizability, uniformity of human mental processes, universality of rule-governed mental beha viors, one reality, a complex information processor, a stressed importance on internal processes rather than external, an innate predisposition to evolve cognitively, the exte rnal world as a trigger, and quantitative studies. As a response to the dominance of the cognitive tradition in SLA research, researchers have questioned the unproblematized constructs in SLA: starting with Numa
56 Markee (1994) who called for nomothetic research and Firth and Wagner (1997) who questioned such constructs as Â‘native speak erÂ’. Johnson (2004), among others, questioned the conduit metaphor and introduced the idea of the participation metaphor. It proposes a new tradition, dialogical, whic h considers the learners' exte rnal and internal processes involved in cognition. It account s for individuality and sociocultural and historical contexts, and interaction is viewed as a soci al function (ibid). SCT helps to explain the language learning process by eliminating th e boundary between learnersÂ’ mental and social processes. Thus, mental and social processes merge together in a dialectic relationship (ibid). This is in direct contrast to the cogniti ve paradigm as exemplified by LongÂ’s (1997) response to Firth and Wagner (1997), Â“Â…most SLA researchers view the object of inquiry an internal mental processÂ” (p. 319). From LongÂ’s description of SLA, the social factors involved in language learning are secondary to mental processes and of relatively minor importance. In hopes of expanding the conceptual scope of SLA research, SCT researchers have attempted to include an examination of the learner and his or her social environmen t in the learning process. Theoretical Overview of SCT Vygotskian Sociocultural Theory prov ides a theoretical framework for investigating the processes of development and the mediated mind. The basic tenets of SCT were originally stated in Thought and Language (Vygotsky, 1962) and Mind and Society: The Development of Higher Mental Processes (Vygotsky, 1978). The three most prominent concepts include the genetic domai ns of analysis, the social origin of development, and mediation.
57 Genetic domains of analysis Vygotsky claimed that researchers must use genetic analysis to better understand individual development by examining the social and cultural history of the developmental processes and the individual. He stated very sp ecifically that researchers do not have to concentrate Â“on the product of development but on the very process by which higher forms are establishedÂ” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 64). Th is shift in focus from the product of learning to a new focus on the Â“process of changeÂ” epitomizes the approach of SCT research. The four genetic domains of analysis described by Vygotsky include: microgenesis (focusing on development in a short period of time), ontogenesis (focusing on development of the individual as he/she matures over time), sociocultural history (focusing on how tools have been develope d throughout the history of a human culture and passed down from generation to generation), and phylogenesis (focusing on the development of humans throughout evolution in comparison to other species) (Vygotsky, 1962, 1978). Of the four genetic dom ains ontogenesis has been the most commonly used in research. Within ontogenetic analysis as described by V ygotsky the preferred unit of analysis is Â“wordÂ” and its use as a mediationa l tool. Using Â“wordÂ” as the unit of analysis has been contested by several scholars who ha ve utilized the Â“activityÂ” as the unit of analysis in SLA research (Appel & Lantolf, 1994; Lantolf & Pavlenko, 2001). This shift in the unit of analysis will be discussed furt her in the section desc ribing Activity Theory.
58 Social origin of individual development SCT theorizes that the social environm ent is the most important factor in individual transformation. This is to say that transforma tion is inevitable, a drastic distinction from the Piagetian view of de velopment. Thus, higher mental functioning begins in the social world, and social f actors can override biol ogical factors in the development of higher mental consciousness. Vygotsky explicates this component of SCT by describing how each developmental func tion appears twice; Â“first in the social, later in the psychological, first in relations between people as an interpsychological category, afterwards within the child as an intrapsychological categ oryÂ” (Valsiner, 1987, p. 67). He goes on to explain that Â“all higher psychological functions are internalized relationships of the social kindÂ” (ibid). As such indivi dual development is reliant upon the assistance of others through social interaction. Vygotsky best explained the role of this assistance with his definition of the z one of proximal development He defined the zone of proxima l development as Â“the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under the adult guidance of an adult or in collaboration w ith more capable peersÂ” (1978, p. 86). This definition highlights the difference between ac tual and potential development. The actual development is what the individual ca n do independently without assistance. Scaffolding originally discussed by Bruner and Sher wood (1975), Wood, Bruner, and Ross (1976), and Bruner (1980, 1983) is this form of assistance which aids in creating and maintaining the ZPD. Scaffolding is genera lly defined as a strategy by which one person
59 provides support to another person in order to reach a higher level of understanding. Examples of scaffolding include: instruct ion, modeling, questioning, and feedback. As such acting in the ZPD is not a passive pro cess; rather the individual learners are coconstructing knowledge. As a result of scaffo lding and acting in the ZPD the less capable learner should gain more autonomy in his or her learning as he or she becomes less dependent on the other person. Mediation The overall framework of SCT depends greatly on the fundamental concept of mediation According to Vygotskyan SCT, learni ng and development are not the same; development of the human mind depends on the mediated function of tools and sign systems. These tools are cultural artifacts passed down from generation to generation, which have been developed to accomplish hi gher levels of mental activity. Vygotsky states that: The toolÂ’s function is to serve as the conductor of human influence on the object of activity; it is externally oriented; it must lead to changes in objects. It is a means by which human extern al activity is aimed at mastering, and triumphing, over nature (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 55). Tools are typically cultural artifacts, such as paper, writing utensils, phones, and computers, which humans use to interact in the world and to achieve higher level thinking. Furthermore, signs are symbolic tools such as language, numbers, and diagrams, which also aid in establishing connections and problem solving. As such,
60 individuals cannot act directly on the world without the use of these mediational tools to mediate and regulate their interactions with the social world. Thus, the principal goal (R) of an individualÂ’s (S) human ac tivity is to control his or her social environment and his or her own mental processes through the use of me diational tools (X). This relationship is presented graphically in Figure 1. Figure 1. Graphic model for VygotskyÂ’s mediated action In this manner, language serves to regulat e and facilitate lear ning and it is the mediator between the individualÂ’s two psychological planes: social plane (interpsychological) and then the ps ychological plane (intrapsychological). Regulation originates outside of the i ndividual and moves inside ( internalization) and is directed by language, objects, others, and the self. As such individual lear ning progresses through the stages of regulation: object-regulation, ot her-regulation, and ultimately self-regulation. During this process from the outer to the inner, egocentric or private speech serves as the organizer of private mental functioning, and private speech becomes inner speech when the intrapsychological plane is reached. As described language, the primary focus of Sociocultural Theory research in SLA, a ffords the individual the ability to control thought processes.
61 SCT Research in SLA Lantolf and Frawley (1984) pr ovides the first real introdu ction of SCT to the field of SLA. Building on this in troduction many studies were conducted throughout the 1990Â’s and into the 21st century, which have examined aspects of SLA with concepts derived from SCT. The following descrip tion of SCT research has been narrowed intentionally to the topics mo st relevant to the current study, which intends to examine the use of mediational tools. These SCT con cepts include scaffolding and the zone of proximal development, and mediation and regul ation. This descripti on is not intended to be a head-to-toe analysis of SCT res earch conducted with SCT framework. For a thorough review of such research and theory refer to Appel & La ntolf (1994), Lantolf (2000), Johnson (2004), and Lantol f & Thorne (2006). In texts su ch as these, and others, researchers have applied SCT to SLA research and they ha ve challenged what has been deemed traditional SLA research by investiga ting the sociocultural context of language learning. Scaffolding and the zone of proximal development One of the first and most advanced studies with SCT in SLA was conducted by Aljaafreh and Lantolf (1994). This study app lied the construct of zone of proximal development in investigating error correcti on in teaching L2 writing skills. They found that negative feedback between learners need s to be collaborativ e, negotiated between novice and expert, graduated, and contingent. Similarly, Donato (1994) found that learners at the same level of development ar e capable of scaffolding each other in the zone of proximal development. His study underm ined the traditional vi ew of interaction
62 by calling for a reevaluation of input, interact ion, and negotiation of meaning. It was also one of the first studies to indi cate that scaffolding does not ha ve to be provided by a more capable person. Together, these two studies served to reinforce the importance of scaffolding, the zone of proximal development, and collaboration in language learning, and they established a foundation for future SCT research. In the year 2000, three othe r studies continued with this line of research and introduced the idea of mutual or collective scaffolding. First, de Guerrero & Villamil (2000) observed the interaction between two ESL students that were working collaboratively to revise a na rrative text. They found that the learners reached mutual scaffolding even though both learners were novi ce writers. This introduced the idea that scaffolding is not just Â“unidirectionalÂ”. Li kewise, Swain (2000) found that peers are able to support each other through a process of co-construction of meaning within the activity. Last, Ohta (2000) observed Japanese learners in a collaborative interaction. The study showed that the learners requested and provided help in a Â“predictable and developmentally sensitive mannerÂ”. This finding implies that individuals have a natural inclination to provide the appropriate form of scaffolding in collaborative activities. The studies presented here have formed a starting point for investigating peer scaffolding as it relates to establishing the zone of pr oximal development in language learning. Mediation and regulation Whereas the discussion of scaffolding and the zone of proximal development highlights the collective actions learners, SCT research relate d to mediation and regulation in SLA has focused primarily on th e mediational properties of language as it
63 relates to learning a second language. This stra nd of research has targ eted private speech and inner speech, but it has also evol ved to include cultural gestures. Using a picture narration task of a monkey and hat seller, McCafferty (1992) investigates culturally diverse learners and their private spee ch. Data collected in this study shows that private speech increases with task difficulty and that private speech and the process of self-regulati on varies cross-culturally in the narration task. Later, McCafferty (1998) used the same picture na rration task, and he examined the relation between the use of private speech and L2 proficiency. The results show that low intermediates produced twice as many private speech forms as the advanced students. This provides evidence for applying VygotskyÂ’ s ideas regarding medi ational function of egocentric speech to L2 learning. Simila rly, de Guerrrero (1994) observed language learners to investigate in ner speech. This study showed that many of the studyÂ’s participants experienced inner speech in the L2. Also, L2 inner speech was vocalized and the structure depended on the language profic iency of the learners. Sensibly, as L2 proficiency increased the length and complex ity of L2 inner speech increased also. Building on these findings, Antn and Di Camilla (1998) examined social and cognitive functions of L1 use in collaborative speech of L2 learners in writing tasks. The study showed that the use of L1 in private speech was used as a tool to direct the learnerÂ’s own thinking during a difficult task. DiCam illa and Antn (2004) also showed that private speech enabled the participants to co ncentrate on the task at crucial moments and to distance themselves from the problems th ey encountered. It helped them to gain control over the performance of the task. Thes e studies of private speech demonstrate the
64 mediational properties of language, which learne rs use to exhibit se lf-regulation in their learning contexts. Related more specifically to mediation, de Guerrero & Villamil (1994) analyzed interactions during peer re vision in a L2 writing classr oom. The results show that students displayed continuous access to se lf, other and object regulation. Thus, no individual is always self-regulated. This supports the notion of continuous access in which an individual may have a constant fluc tuation between the le vels of regulation. Section Summary As described SCT provides a basic fram ework for investigating and explaining human development as it occurs in the social environment through soci al interactions and the use of mediational tools, especially language. This research also highlights the importance of scaffolding in language le arning, including collective scaffolding in collaborative interactions. Future research like the present stu dy should expand on this further to include an examination of scaffold ing, interactions, and the use of mediational tools in online environments. Furthermore, CALL research would benefit greatly by expanding the scope of mediational tool re search to focus more on technology-based tools. The present study attempts to a ccomplish this by using SCTÂ’s fundamental concepts of mediation and regul ation to transform the research process. They also serve as the foundation for the studyÂ’s theore tical background Activity Theory.
65 Activity Theory Â“Broadly defined, activity theory is a philosophical and cross-disciplinary framework for studying different forms of hu man practices as development processes, with both individual and social levels in terlinked at the same timeÂ” (Kuuti, 1996). Simply put, Activity Theory (AT) provides a sc hema of conceptual and practical tools for describing human activity, which relates directly to both the actions of the individual and his or her surrounding environment. This de scription provides a brief introduction to Activity Theory as a means of analyzing huma n activity in its full context. It is this schema that will be applied in the pres ent study to investigate the actions and developmental processes of online language learners. This section of the literatur e review continues with a more in depth introduction to AT as developed primarily by Vygotsky, Le ontev, and Engestrm, but also including the work of countless other sc holars. The discussion includes a historical and theoretical overview, a review of AT research in th e field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA), and some concluding remarks on the implicatio ns of AT on this research project and future SLA research. Comparing and Contrasting AT with SCT Building on and diverging from SCT, AT has been conceptualized in and has continued to evolve through th ree distinct stages: the firs t relating to the work of Vygotsky (1978), the second re lating primarily to the wo rk of LeontÂ’ev (1981) and Engestrm (1987), and the third stage relating to the additional con cept of interacting activity systems, which is a field still currently devel oping (Engestrm, 2001). From a
66 historical perspective AT is considered a de rivative of Vygotskyan Sociocultural Theory and it is attributed in larg e part to the foundational work of Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky and to two of his students, Alexander Romanovich Loria and Alexei Nikolaevich LeontÂ’ev. Specifically, Vygotsky (1978) introduced th e idea of cultural tools in mediated action, which lead to changes in objects. V ygotskyÂ’s model for medi ated action (ibid) demonstrates the principle that the human subj ect cannot act directly on the object. He or she needs the mediational tools to accomplis h the feat. This concept, mediation, is considered to be the foundational prin ciple for SCT and AT. Vygotsky proposed word or language as the unit of analysis for research related to mediation and cultural tools. After Vygotsky died in 1934, one of hi s students, Leont'ev, expanded on the notion of mediation to devel op activity theory by adopting activity as the unit of analysis. He argued that people perform actions that contribute toward s the satisfaction of a particular need. In many cases these actions must be viewed in their social context to be completely understood. In this manner LeontÂ’ev made a distinction between activities which satisfy a need, and the actions that constitute the activities (Leont'ev, 1981). The second generation of activity theory derived its inspiration largely from Leont'ev's work. His commonly used example of the "primeva l collective hunt" Leont'ev (ibid, p. 210-213) solidified the difference between individua l actions and collective activity. This completed the shift from word as the unit of analysis to using activity and it is also the principal difference between SCT and AT. LeontÂ’evÂ’s model for AT, depicted in Figure 2, emphasized the interaction of the individual and the objec t (ibid). This description
67 placed more value on investigating the entirety of the activity as opposed to isolating the individualÂ’s use of language. Figure 2. Updated graphic model for mediated action Continuing with the second developmenta l stage of AT, Engestrm (1987, p. 78) expanded the original conceptual framew ork of AT, as described by Vygotsky and LeontÂ’ev, to include more attention on communities and rules. EngestrmÂ’s widely used model of an activity, see Figure 3, inse rts several new conceptual tools: community rules and division of labor Figure 3. EngestrmÂ’s (1987) model for an activity system Transformation process Division of labour Subject Tools Object Rules Community Outcome
68 Within this AT model community refers to multiple individuals or groups who share the same object. Rules serve to mediate between the subj ect and his or her community, and division of labor serves to mediate between the object and the community In this manner AT proposes that activity is carried out within a specific social context or environment, the community Thus, the community and the activity are then governed by the rules and division of labor Engestrm (2001) explains that in the th ird stage of AT the basic model for an activity system is expanded to include at least two interacting activity systems (See Figure 4). The two systems function in the same manner, however it is possible that they interact with each other and potentially share an object, such as completing a collaborative task. Engestrm offers an exampl e of a patient seeking medical attention to further explicate the idea of interacting system s. The patient seeks medical attention with the goal of getting help and ultimately feeling better (object). Once the patient has reached the doctorÂ’s office his or her activity system then begins to interact with the activity system of the doctor a nd his or her office. The patient Â’s original object, seeking help and feeling better, then shifts to inte ract with the doctor and the staff. The new, shared object may become the collection of the patientÂ’s medical history. EngestrmÂ’s concluding point is that Â“the object of activity is a movi ng target, not reducible to conscious short-term goalsÂ” (p. 135). This example also emphasizes the ability of two related activity systems to interact with potentially shared objects.
69 Figure 4. EngestrmÂ’s model for interacting activity systems. Theoretical Overview of AT A theoretical discussion of AT must in clude a description of its five major components: the activity system as the un it of analysis, multi-voicedness, historicity, contradictions, and expansive cycles (Engestrm, 2001). Describing these major components will offer a thorough explanation of how an activity system is formed and ultimately how it can be used to investigate learnersÂ’ activities. Â“The concept of activity Â…includes an intricate set of c onceptual tools that help to interpret human behavior and cognition and make possible a differentiated theoretical analysis of social practice appropria te for both explaining and evoking human developmental processesÂ” (Lantolf & Thorne 2006, p. 209). Within this overall structure of the activity system the Â“conceptual tool sÂ” are the subject, instruments (tools and artifacts), object and outco mes, community, division of labor, and rules (Engestrm, 1987, 2001; Engestrm & Mittienen, 1999), as depicted in Figure 3. The subject in many cases is the focus of the analysis within the context of the activity system. He or she may be one person or a group of people. The object is the subjectÂ’s motivation for an achieving an outcome or result for an activity. Â“It is precisely
70 an activityÂ’s object that gives it a specific di rectionÂ”, or its object-orientedness (Leont'ev, 1981, p. 59). The object can be differentiated from a motive, which is the motivation for a specific action (Lantolf & Thorne, 2006, p. 218). Instruments are the tools used that mediate the activity and aid the subject in achieving the outcome. These tools can be cultural, mediational, or psychological. Â“The (reciprocal) relationship between the subject and the object of activity is me diated by a tool, into which th e historical development of the relationship between subjec t and object thus far is c ondensedÂ” (Kuuti, 1996, p. 27). A tool may be a physical object or a thinking t ool. In this manner a mediational tool may be a physical computer or ot her instrument, or a mental plan of action. AT further argues that subjects are grouped into communities, with rules mediating between subject and community and a division of labor mediating between object and community Community consists of the participants in an activity that share the same object. This refers in part to what Engestrm (2001) calls multi-voicedness He explains that Â“an activity system is alwa ys a community of multiple points of view, traditions, and interestsÂ” (p. 136). A subject may be part of several communities and a community, itself, may be part of other communities, but multiple points of view are always present. Kuutti asserts that rules or regulational norms Â“c over both explicit and implicit norms, conventions, and social re lations within a co mmunity: (1996, p. 28). These rules provide guidelines for what may a nd may not happen within an activity system. Â“Division of labor refers to th e explicit and implicit organization of the community as related to the transformation pr ocess of the object into the outcomeÂ” (ibid,
71 p. 28 ). Later, this description of an activity system will be applied to the context of the present study. The conceptual framework provided by AT can also be characterized as a hierarchical structure of activity. This hierarchy, as described by LeontÂ’ev (1981, pp. 6465), contains three levels: activity action and o peration An activity is a system of human "doing" whereby a subject works on an object in order to obtain a desired outcome. The structure of an activity system was described previously. Briefly, under AT the unit of analysis can be defined as an activity aimed at achieving the object, which in turn motivates the completion of the activity Thus, these activities can be further divided into actions which are geared towards achieving a specific goal, aimed at satisfying the overall object of the activity (Lantolf & Thorne, 2006, p. 218). Last, actions are considered to be the basic components that translate activities into reality. Actions are subordinated to the idea of achieving a result (Leont'ev, 1981, pp. 59-60). As a result actions are performed cons ciously and they are implemented through automatic procedures called operations LeontÂ’ev describes an ope ration as Â“the result of the transformation of an actionÂ” (19 81, p. 64). This implies that as the action was internalized by the subject, it became an automatic operation Kuutti (1996, p. 31) portrays operations related to driving a manua l-shifting car. In short, the automatized operations of driving a car may include br eaking and accelerating, because they have become natural functions of driving and a lthough they are intended to fulfill a purpose, they do not directly achieve the outcome of the activity.
72 Contradictions and transformations Lantolf and Thorne (2006) describe activity as Â“a unit of analysis for understanding and illuminating the historical, mediated, and emergent qualities of human changeÂ” (p.233). With the end goal of de scribing changes, transformations or development, AT calls for investigating indi viduals within the context of their activity system. As such development proceeds as the subject or subjects resolve contradictions Using the concept of contradictions for analyzing development in activity systems originated with Evald Il'enkov (1977) and his work with dialectics. More recently, Nardi (1996) offers the following explanation of contradictions: Activity theory uses the term contradiction to indicate a misfit within elements, between them, between different activitie s, or between different developmental phases of a single activity. Contradictions manifest themselves as problems, ruptures, breakdowns, clashes. Activity theo ry sees contradictions as sources of development; activities are virtually alwa ys in the process of working through contradictions (p. 34). As such contradictions are tensions within or between activity systems. They are seen as sources of development; however, Enge strm (2001) clarifies that they are not the same as problems or conflicts. He also explai ns that Â“activity systems take shape and get transformed over lengthy periods of time. Their problems and potentials can only be understood against their ow n historyÂ” (ibid, p. 136) Last, it is this history of contradictions and resulti ng changes that lead to transformation :
73 An expansive transformation is accomplished when the object and motive of the activity are reconceptualized to embrace a radically wider horizon of possibilities than in the previous mode of the activit y. A full cycle of expansive transformation may be understood as a collective jour ney through the zone of proximal development of the act ivityÂ” (ibid, p. 137). In the end it is the transformati on or outcome of an activity sy stem or interacting activity systems which serves as a major focal point of analysis. The outcome is the end product of the activity system, but it mu st be analyzed in the context of the activity system. With this conceptualization of contradict ions and transformation, four levels have been established. Primary contradictions ar e those which occur in capitalist societies between the use and exchange value of co mmodities. Secondary contradictions are considered internal. They exist between elements of an activity system, and they occur as a result of new elements entering the syst em. Tertiary contradictions occur when a culturally more advanced object and motiv e are introduced into the activity. Last, quaternary contradictions are considered ex ternal, and they emerge between a changing activity and other connected ac tivities ("Center for Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research,"). AT Research in SLA Although AT has been used in other fields of research incl uding education and work psychology, when used in SLA research, it aids in portraying the interplay between the individual and the social aspects of language learning. Th is type of research opposed
74 isolating variables. Its main focus became the learnerÂ’s context and distinguishing the learnerÂ’s activity from the task pres ented in the learning environment. The initial surge of AT research in SL A did not begin until the 1990Â’s. At this time researchers began implementing the theore tical concepts of AT to further examine SLA processes. A series of studies were conducte d that demonstrate how important context and defining the activity are in SL A research. Gillette (1994) conducted a longitudinal study, which examined effective a nd ineffective language learners through a student diary. By examining the learners Â’ personal thoughts and how they position themselves strategically to complete an ac tivity, the researcher concludes that although outcomes of a particular activity may be si milar, the motives behind the activity are different. Thus, the learning outcomes are different also. This highlights a difference between the intended goals of a particular ta sk and how that task actually takes place in the form of an activity, as defined by AT Each individual lear ner brings different experiences, motives, etc. to the task; ther efore, how the task is completed and its resulting outcomes will be viewed differently. Coughlan and Duff (1994) and Roebuck ( 2000) also demonstrate the difference between task (blueprint to el icit linguistic behaviors) a nd activity (behavior that is produced in a task, process, and outcome in so ciocultural context) in AT. First, Coughlan and Duff (1994) observed students in a narrativ e recall task. The researchers note that the actual recall narratives differ am ong the participants, and they c onclude that th is results in different activities, which may be due to indi vidual learner differen ces. They also note that the participants co-construct the activ ity through their intera ctions. Secondly, the
75 results of another text reca ll task, Roebuck (2000), simila rly show that task does not equal activity. The participants of this study repositioned themselves in a text recall task according to their sociocultural backgrounds. Thus, this again demonstrates that individuals will behave differently in the sa me task because they enter the task with unique backgrounds, which ultimately frames thei r participation in completing the task. Likewise, Lantolf and Pavlenko (2001) f ound that, cognitively, learners are not all engaged in the same activity. They indicate that learners have differe nt motives for taking classes and learning languages. Some are fulf illing requirements, while others truly want to gain the linguistic skills necessary to pa rticipate in communic ation. The researchers attribute this to the learners Â’ varying histories. These a ssertions are also important because they further demonstrate that each st udent does not operate in the same manner. In this manner, each individualÂ’s activity is framed by their experiences and histories, and ultimately, this activity is what leads their learning and development in the completion of any task. Collectively, the AT studies describe d her serve to highlight the importance of tracking individual learning pr ocesses and development. Researchers and educational professionals cannot assume that all learners will complete the same activity in a similar manner. Doing so isolates the sociocultura l and contextual make-up of the individual learners. Section Summary As just described, AT provides a theoreti cal framework for investigating learning processes. This framework is based chiefly on the activity system, which emphasizes actions of the individual and the context of learning. The activity is also the primary unit
76 of analysis for AT research. Defining the sy stem in language learni ng allows researchers to organize their descriptions more systemati cally. It also highlights the interplay between the individual and the social environment. Within AT research there is a focus on contradictions that occur in learning proce sses and how they are resolved. The resolution of contradictions is seen as the primar y source of personal development (Lantolf & Thorne, 2006, p. 226). AT informs this research process at all levels including the theoretical and empirical background, the data collection pro cedures, and most importantly the data analysis procedures. As such, this study w ill define online language learnersÂ’ activity systems using the conceptual tools provided by AT. Special attention will be paid to the learnersÂ’ use of mediational tools and their resolution of contradict ions, which occur in their online learning. AT Research in CALL With a focus on defining activity system s and the social context in mind, AT researchers have begun to investigate language learning, which takes place with the use of computer-based technologies. This is an emerging strand of research, and like most AT research in SLA, studies with this focu s have been conducted since the late 1990Â’s. AT research in CALL aims to address how th e students are learning with the mediational assistance provided by technology-based tools. Likewise, the present study aims to accomplish this specifically for online langua ge learning. Taking this approach enables viewing the computer as a Â“toolÂ” within the context of language learning. As an
77 integrated tool technology becomes an importa nt part of language learning rather than a separate entity. This reconceptualization of technology and language learning can expand the conceptual understanding of CALL and mediated learning. For example, in Computers as Tools for Sociocollabor ative Language Learning Meskill (1999) explains that computers work in conjunction with the task and the lear ners to create the le arning environment. In this manner computers mediate the learning of the individual instead of being merely an electronic resource. Thus, the technology becomes a participant in the language learnerÂ’s activity system. This asserti on has become a constant theme in AT research conducted with CALL. Thorne (2003) explains that medi ational artifacts, such as the computer, may help reveal dynamics of human activity, but they may also complicate the activity as well. In this case the computer becomes the object of the learnerÂ’s actions. By reviewing research with this focus, it will become apparent that AT research in CALL has demonstrated how technology aids in establis hing collaboration and self-regulation, but also, that it may serve as an additional source of tension in language learning. One of the first studies to incorporate AT in CALL research was that of Thorne (1999). In this study, Thorne exam ined electronic discourse in French classes to highlight interactional patterns and social contexts. Specifically, he asked how personal histories affect computer-assisted classroom discus sion (CACD). By observing 45 minute CACD sessions of university French II courses, he was able to define the studentsÂ’ activity systems via observation notes and chat transc riptions. Thorne found that the learners were relating their use of CACD to simila r technologies used by the students when
78 outside of class. This is to say that each student will rely on his or her past experiences with a particular technology to determine how best to utilize it in the foreign language context. He concludes by recommending that researchers understand CACD in institutional and social contexts, because the way the students conceptualize their use of CMC is directly related to their person al histories with these technologies. Continuing with a focus on AT in CALL, Siekmann (2004) investigates how the computer as a mediational tool affects co llaborative reading online. This case study research focused on mediational tool use in three collaborative web quests in a German foreign language class. It emphasizes that Â“learning is a process not an outcomeÂ” (p.67). Thus, the study attempted to look at how me diational tools are used to accomplish problem-solving tasks. The researcher intende d to find out what me diational tools are used, how the students use them to regulat e the activity, and how development occurs. Data collection involved interviews, a b ackground questionnaire a personal history interview, recordings of on-sc reen computer actions, and reco rdings of verbal interaction for six dyads. The researcher claims to use a microgentic case study design, which calls for the study of a naturalistic setting; how ever, the research procedures describe artificially placing the student dyads in the instructorÂ’s office for the sake of having access to the computer. This appears to be incongruent. The results of this study i ndicated that computer management related to 31% of the off-task actions, indicating that internal tensions arose as the computer became a member of the activity system. Thus, the co mputer was a mediational tool used for furthering learning and development, and it wa s also a source of conflict in the activity
79 system. The researcher determines that the computer seems to change the learnersÂ’ activity. It caused technical pr oblems that had to be resolv ed before continuing with the task. Although the researcher identifies that th e computer served as a source of conflict, she does not describe how the learners were able or not able to resolve these tensions to complete the task at hand. Related to intercultural communication, Belz (2002) demonstrates how the role of context and institutional setting in AT re search of CALL may also cause unexpected tensions with computer-based technologies. In a situated activity of transatlantic email correspondence between 16 American students and 20 German students, Belz (ibid) investigates the social dimensions that exis t in telecollaborative foreign language study with an emphasis on intercultural comm unication. Based on a technological survey, interviews, participant observ ation, email and chat transcripts, and student-produced course portfolios, Belz determines that there are incongruent histories for language valuation, different status of the language in each country, and different levels of proficiency. Furthermore, she adds that, Â“T he differences in foreign language exposure may have significant influence on learning expectations and perceived learning outcomes in telecollaborationÂ” (p. 66). She also id entifies technological access and know-how as having an effect on learner outcomes. This st udy serves to reinforce the role of social factors, which play an important role in ai ding or impeding learner processes with CALL. Although Blin (2005) describes research sim ilar to the studies just described, it is one of the few studies conducted with AT in CALL that describes how contradictions or tensions are actually resolved by the learners. This unpublishe d dissertation investigates
80 the role of CALL in aiding the development of learner autonomy in students that are taking French as a foreign language. The study uses AT as a conceptual framework with a focus on systemic tensions that occur as the activity unfolds in the process of online language learning. Data was co llected via personal interv iews, a review of student journals discussing their progre ss, their assignments, and a revi ew of the course syllabi. Blin found that CALL tools enable new l earning practices and social autonomy, but they may also cause conflict in the form of lack of expertise. This form of tension hinders transformation, and if left unresolved, they will lead to prolonged frustration and prevent learner autonomy. Where other studies have neglected to describe the processes by which students resolve contradictions in CALL, Blin explains how the students propose new class rules and orga nization of division of labor to overcome conflicts in the course. He also explains that the less autonomous learners were fixated on original role of technology, and that the more aut onomous learners were able to realloca te their uses and resolve contradictions. The author concludes that by allowing different paths to be taken to achieve a goal, learners become more inde pendent. This independe nce is thus aided by the mediational propertie s of the technologies. Section Summary From the previous description of AT re search in CALL, it can be seen that Â“technology is just a tool, but, like all tools, it mediates and transforms human activityÂ” (Warschauer, 2005, p. 48). With this in mind, it is important to note that, Â“Human beings usually use computers not because they want to interact with them but because they want
81 to reach their goals beyond the situati on of the Â“dialogueÂ” with the computerÂ” (Kaptelinin, 1996, p. 49). This is the crux of AT research in CALL. In addition to this basic contention, AT research discusses how tools may aid learning at some levels, yet cause tensions at other leve ls. A key component of the present research, which has not been addressed thoroughly in AT, is that it will attempt to describe how online language lear ners resolve contradictions or tensions as they confront them. The present study will also build on the idea of computers as a participant in a language learning activity by further defi ning its role in the activity system. As just described, the bulk of AT res earch in CALL has related specifically to collaboration and collaborative activities. It is important to note that collaboration is not a primary focus of this research. This is base d solely on the logistical constraints of the course. Although there is a course requirement related to collaborat ive activities, many students choose not to complete the exercises. In addition, student attrition is also a factor that impacts the viability of tracking student dyads thr oughout the course. Having said this, collaboration will be adopted as a seconda ry focus as it arises within the concepts described in the research ques tions including regulative behavi ors, mediational tools, and the resolution of contradicti ons. In addition, whereas interc ultural collaboration is an emerging strand of AT research in CALL, th is study will not adopt this focus based on the heterogeneous make-up of the course. Conclusion to the Literature Review When considering the corpus of literature described here in th e literature review, it is important to offer some concluding remarks to aid in synthesizing the major
82 assertions of this research. To do so, one mu st consider how the present study draws from existing literature, how it avoids the trends established, and how it attempts to fill in the gaps. First, this study is intended to draw from the broader, socio-historical context of distance learning and especia lly online learning. From these fields the study gains working knowledge of the key concepts and the current online tool s associated with online language learning. Aside from online language learni ng, the study draws strongly from AT and AT research. As such, AT will inform this research process at all levels. Specifically, it suggests focusing on the computer as a participant in the activity system and as a means of resolving contradictions. Second, the study will attempt to avoid perceived trends in what has been published about online language learning. This means working with a clear definition of online language learning, which is viewed differently than blended learning and other forms of technology-enhanced courses. This also means avoiding an emphasis on CMC research, which is often a focal point in CALL research. Third, the present research will attempt to distinguish itself from previous research, and it will attempt to fill in the perceived gaps that exist. These distinctions include a particular focus on contributing to research, not evaluation. As such, this research will consist of a strong theoretic al framework and varied research methods, which do not rely too heavily on self-repor ted data. Combined, this will allow understanding online language learning in its full context. In context, the focus will be on actual learning processes and not the pe rceived benefits of online learning.
83 Chapter Three Methods As will be described in this chapter, th e research methodology is directly linked to gathering the necessary data to answer the research questions. Drawing from the theoretical framework provided by SCT and AT, as described in chapter 2, the case study methodology was deemed most appropriate for this study. Combined, the case study approach and the theoretical framework provide a means of systematically investigating the complex processes involved in onlin e language learning, including the use of mediational tools and the reso lution of contradictions. The purpose of this chapter is to provid e specific details about the study design, the student participants and th eir social contexts, and the me thods for data collection and data analysis. As the research questions were the driving force behind this study, the purpose was to examine how the actions of on line foreign language learners transform into learning and personal development through the use of available tools. The study also attempted to explain how the final outcomes of the studentsÂ’ activit ies evolve from the learning processes involved in their online learning experiences, placing an emphasis on the learnersÂ’ use of mediationa l tools, changes in activity systems, contradictions, and transformations. This information was addressed by a series of sub-questions, which will be explained here. Research Questions The focus of this study was to describe th e nature of the transformational process which students underwent in the online language learning environment. The series of four questions with sub-questions will be described here:
84 1. How do the language learnersÂ’ perceive their previous experiences with technology and language learning? Question #1 focused on gathering information re garding the learnersÂ’ past experiences. This focus was designed to depict the learners in their socio-historical context, and to see to what extent the learnersÂ’ past experiences played a role in their present online language learning. Within AT socio-histor ical context is seen as play ing a major role in shaping a personÂ’s present actions. a. What is the nature of the langua ge learnersÂ’ personal experiences with technology and language le arning prior to taking the online Spanish course? This sub-question to question #1 aimed to de pict the learnersÂ’ e xperiences through thick, narrative description. The intent was to describe the lear nersÂ’ background as fully as possible to establish each individualÂ’s starting point for online language learning. b. How do the students perceive th e effects of their previous experiences on their current online language learning? This sub-question to question #1 aimed to describe how the lear nersÂ’ perceived the potential effects of their previous exposur e to language learning and technology. The goal of this question was to determine if the learners came into the online language learning experience with histories or ski lls that they perceived as be ing potentially beneficial or detrimental to their progress. This question also aided in establishing multi-voicedness in the research process by includi ng the studentsÂ’ perspective. 2. What is the nature of the online la nguage learnersÂ’ activity systems?
85 Question #2 focused on defining the learnersÂ’ acti vity systems as they were formed in the online language learning environment. To de fine these systems the research focused on identifying the components of each learnerÂ’s acti vity system: subject, instruments, rules, community, division of labor, object, and outcome a. What is the nature of the online language learnersÂ’ activity systems at the beginning of the course? This sub-question to question #2 was desi gned to describe the components of the learnersÂ’ activity systems. Specifically, th is question sought to establish a beginning activity system as the learners began the course so that changes in the activity systems could later be compared to these originals. b. What changes, if any, occur in the learnersÂ’ activity systems throughout the duration of the course? This sub-question to question #2 was designed to define and describe any changes in the learnersÂ’ activity systems as they progre ssed in the online language course. These changes were identified by comparing and c ontrasting the learnersÂ’ activity systems at three points in the semester long course. 3. What is the nature of the mediati onal tools used by the learners? Question #3 focused on the mediational propertie s of the online tools available in the EN LNEA courseware environment. Within the framework provided by SCT and AT, all actions are mediated by tools whether they were psychological, such as language, or physical, as in the computer.
86 a. What types of mediational tool s are used by the online language learners? This sub-question to question #3 aimed to desc ribe the tools used by the online learners. This included a focus on the tools intended func tion and the learnersÂ’ adaptations to their use in online language learning. b. How are these tools used to en able online language learning? This sub-question to question #3 aimed to describe how the use of a particular mediational tool online aided the learners in attempting to control th eir learning process. Within SCT this is referred to as regulation and it is considered to be essential in reaching higher level thinking skills. The question was also intended to determine how the use of a particular mediational tool aided the lear nersÂ’ progress towards reaching the learning outcome desired. 4. What is the nature of the contradict ions and disturbances that arise in online language learning? Question #4 focused on the tensions that the online language l earners encountered. Within AT contradictions and disturbances ar e viewed as essential to lead learning and personal development. a. What types of contradictions a nd disturbances arise in online language learning? This sub-question to question #4 was intended to determine what types of contradictions occurred in the activity systems. By de fining each learnerÂ’s activity system and
87 describing the tensions as they occurred, it became evident how they related to the components of the system. b. If possible, how are the lear ners able to resolve these contradictions as they occur? This sub-question to question #4 was designed to describe whet her the learners were able to resolve the contradictions facing them in online language learning. If the learners were able to resolve the tensions, this question sought to describe how this was accomplished. In the event the learne rs were not able to resolve the contradiction, it was important to note whether they were able to pr ogress in their overall activity. Case Study Research The researcher and this study assumed the epistemological viewpoint that knowledge is socially construc ted, and that knowledge mainly exists in relation to oneÂ’s cultural and social environment. In this manner knowledge is constructed and it depends greatly on oneÂ’s perception and social experience s. To gather the necessary data to depict the studentsÂ’ online language learning expe riences, or formation of knowledge through their social experiences, the re search paradigm for this study was qualitative, utilizing the case study method. The qualitative paradigm was chosen for th is research for two principal reasons. First, this form of qualitative research is intended to preserve the context of the participants, which was essential for the pr imary purpose of this study. Second, the case study approach was suitable for this research because it is intended to form an in-depth understanding of the case being investigat ed. Yin (2003) states that a case study
88 Â“investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context, especially when the boundaries between phenomenon and cont ext are not clearly evidentÂ” (p. 13). Observing the participants in a situated social context was essential for this research. In this study the researcher attempted to describe the case, analyze the themes present in the description, and ultimately make some inte rpretations from the data. This process allowed the researcher to de pict the process of online la nguage learning. The case study approach was suitable for thor oughly examining the tool-med iated, goal-oriented activity of several learners as they developed skills with technology an d the language being studied, because it allowed for viewing the learners from a broader perspective as opposed to artificially isolating and controlli ng them individually. For a more detailed definition of a case study, cons ider the following explanation: The basic idea is that one case (or perh aps a small number of cases) will be studied in detail, using whatever methods seem appropriate. While there may be a variety of specific purposes and research questions, the gene ral objective is to develop as full an understanding of th at case as possible (Punch, 1998, p. 150). In this particular study, the appropriate methods were varied, including a background survey, a series of interviews and observations a review of supplementary materials, and a researcher journal. By incorporating data from these multiple sources, the object was to reach a Â“fullÂ” understanding of the learnersÂ’ mental and so cial processes involved with learning language in an online environment. In this manner the learner(s) was the case under examination. Gillham (2000) describe s a case as Â“a unit of human activity embedded in the real world; which can only be studied or underst ood in context; which
89 exists in the here and now; th at merges in with its context so that precise boundaries are difficult to drawÂ” (p. 1). Therefore, to reach the Â“fullÂ” understandi ng of the case, it was imperative to consider the individuals as well as the social environment that contained their actions. Rightfully so it was the combina tion of the cases and their social context that created the particular Â“uniqueness of the cases examinedÂ”. By capturing this Â“uniquenessÂ” (Stake, 1995) the researcher exp ected to gain valuable insight to aid in answering the research questions. Activity Theoretical Case Study The purpose of this section is to link the activity theoretical perspective with the qualitative method, specifically with th e case study methodology. I will attempt to demonstrate that the theoretical framework provided by SCT and AT is congruent with and appropriate for the research framewor k provided by the case study approach. These congruencies contribute to the ju stification of this study to employ an activity theoretical case study. Within AT research, such as this study, th e unit of analysis is the activity system comprised of the subject, object, rules, comm unity, instruments, division of labor, and the outcome. For this research the activity system re fers to that of each student participant in the online language course. Each student partic ipant was the primary actor of at least one activity system and potentially one or more interacting activity systems. Kaptelinin (1996, p. 58) explains how computer-based activity can be analyzed with Activity Theory, Â“finding the motive, goals, and conditi ons of the activity; id entifying structural components of the subjectÂ’s in teraction with reality (indivi dual activities, actions, and
90 operations) as well as tools mediating activity ; and tracing developmental changes of the activity.Â” This explanat ion briefly discusses the role of the structural components as defined in AT; however, Lantol f and Thorne (2006) highlight the importance of viewing the activity systems as a whole: Â“ItÂ’s critical to acknowledge that it is not, per se, the in dividual elements of the system (subject, object, rules, community, etc.) that help analysts account for human functioning and development; rather it is the relations between these elements that form the analysis a nd support intervention and transformation. These relationships are really processes Â—operations and actions that occur in and across time periodsÂ” (p. 225). The purpose of investigating the learners of this study and their use of mediational tools is to examine them as they interact. For th is purpose of this st udy, the researcher will attempt to portray the learne rsÂ’ activity systems by descri bing their learning phenomenon within the conceptual framework provided by AT. Although this process in itself can potentially alter the ev ents, this research has deemed this appropriate. Even though the parts of the activity system ma y be described individually at times, as always within AT it is necessary to remember that these parts do not exist without their full context. Â“Language learning is a multifaceted soci al and cultural phenomenon, even more so when it involves new technologies that prom ote a variety of social interactionsÂ” (Kern & Warschauer, 2000). This holds especially true when considering foreign language learning in Internet-based environments. Adop ting this line of th inking, the theoretical
91 background for this study comes from Vygotsk ian SCT and AT. Utilizing this approach provided a framework for critically viewi ng and understanding the cases which were being examined in the study. It serves as a basis for how to organize what is unknown about the behaviors observed and it also s uggests concepts that can be applied to analyzing the case (Silverman, 2000). The use of AT and SCT has led to several significant contributi ons in the field of SLA including an increased focus on the indivi dualÂ’s environment, or context, and its role in learning processes. Specifically, AT rela tes directly to the structure of an activity, mediation, interaction method, and internalizatio n. It focuses on tools and objects of labor in the development of human consciousness. The activity is considered to be doing something that is motivated by a biological or cultural need. The motives of these needs are realized in goal-directed actions, spat ial and temporal cond itions (operations) and mediational means (Wertsch, 1985). Nardi (1996, p. 76) explains that Â“the activity itself is the contextÂ”, and it is this context wh ich will be under examination in the present study. Nardi also outlines several methodologi cal implications of Activity Theory: 1. A research time frame long enough to understand usersÂ’ objects including, where appropriate changes in objects of tim e and their relation to the object of others in the setting studied. 2. Attention to broad patterns of activity rather than narrow episodic fragments that fail to reveal the overall di rection and import of an activity.
92 3. The use of a varied set of data collection techniques including interviews, observations, video, and historical mate rials, without undue reliance on any one method. 4. A commitment to understanding things from usersÂ’ points of view (pp. 94-95). These implications served as a majo r driving force behind the methodological organization of this study, and they integr ated well to case study method. By combining elements of case study research with Activity Th eory, it allowed this research to evolve as a longitudinal process. This research took place over a 17 week semester. Because of this time period, the research was able to focus on learning as a process of gradual transformation, not merely an isolated out come. In addition, the length of the study provided the opportunity to inte grate several methods of da ta collection, including data which focused on investigating the stude ntsÂ’ perspective of their learning. Applying the Theoretical Framework to the Present Study To continue to put the conceptual fram ework of AT into th e context of this research, I would like to further define the potential activity systems for online language learners in this research context based on th e data collected in the pilot study and several general assumptions about online learning. This model attempts to transform the understanding of online language learning fr om an activity theoretical framework including two important concepts, mediated-a ction and cultural tool s. Thus, viewing and understanding language learning becomes a different activity when it takes place primarily online via computer-b ased technologies and the Inte rnet. For the purpose of this research, AT was applied to an educationa l context in which collegiate students were
93 taking an online Spanish course. Figure 5 depi cts the components of the activity system: subject, instruments, object, division of labor, rules, and outcome. In addition, Figure 5 attempts to define these components in the context of online language learning by combining the data collected from the two participants in the pilot study and several hypothetical assumptions. However, in the ac tual study this information came directly from interactions with and observations of the student cases under examination. Figure 5. Possible activity system for an online language learner First, the activity system under investigat ion in this research is that of online language learning, and the subjec t is the individual online la nguage learner. Second, the activity of online language learning is mediated by tools and artifacts th at are available to the student including language and, in the cont ext of this study in particular, online,
94 technology-based tools. Third, the learnerÂ’s actions are directed towards a goal. For example, students enrolled in a beginni ng level foreign language course may be motivated by graduation, passing the course, maintaining a certain grade point average, or learning the language for personal, communi cative use. Likewise, the learnerÂ’s actions are also mediated by the studentÂ’s particip ation in communities including that of the university, of the online course, of his or her home, etc. Fourth, within these communities, especially those of the univers ity and the class, there are particular guidelines, including what AT calls the ru les and the division of labor. These rules generally dictate how student work should be completed and submitted, due dates, and procedures for exams and assigning grades. Si milarly, the division of labor includes who is responsible for what in th e activity. In an online langua ge learning course, generally the students are responsible for completi ng assignments and taking exams, while the teaching assistants and the instructor are re sponsible for grading assignments and exams and offering feedback to the students. Role of the Researcher It is important to note that as the primary researcher in this study I also served as the main instructor for the online course unde r examination. Because of my role as the instructor I came into the study with ex isting relationships with the university, supervising officials of the department, and the course ma terials. These relationships facilitated the study by providing ease of access a nd a familiarity with the inner workings of the department and the Span ish distance learning program.
95 It is also essential that, as the researcher I was able to recognize and disclose how my previous experiences in the distance learni ng program influenced me with regards to a priori beliefs throughout this res earch project. Having said th is, these particular beliefs and experiences are what initiated and led th is study throughout. In addition to beginning with a priori beliefs, as the instructor and the researcher, I was axiomatically in role conflict, because ultimately I played a role in shaping the conditions under which the students participated in the research proce ss and the online course. Thus, I attempted to minimize any undue pressure on the student participants by esta blishing comfortable relationships and acknowledging my role in data collection and analysis. Morse and Richards (2002) refer to this as awareness of self. Throughout this research process I felt it was important to recognize my role in creating and interpreting data; however, it was equally important to disclose this role throughout the research process. As the research er I served as the f acilitator of the study, the data collector, and an observing participan t. Where appropriate in this manuscript I have attempted to describe my specific ro le in collecting, analyzing, and creating the data. In qualitative research it is common fo r the researcher to serve simultaneously as the primary instrument for data collection (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Some have criticized the role of the researcher in qualitative research as being too involved and thus contaminating the research. In response to this argument, Smagor insky (1995) discusses the inappropriateness of the Â“purity of da taÂ” metaphor commonly cited in empirical research. He states that Â“our effort should not be to avoid participat ing in the construction of data, but to recognize and account for the wa ys in which we inevitably contribute to
96 the shape our data takeÂ” (p. 208). He goes on to explain that Â“d ata are social constructs developed through the relationshi p of researcher, research pa rticipants, research context (including its historical antecedents), and th e means of data collectionÂ” (ibid). Wertsch (1998) provides a classic exampl e of how data are socially constructed. He explains how three individuals formed differe nt impressions of an elepha nt. One would think that each person would have the same interpretation. As in the case with the three blind men with different images of the elephant, none of these ideas about human nature is simply or completely false. Instead, each provides a partial picture, but one that remains unconnected with others. Furthermore, and more problematic in the long run, each provides an image of human nature that seems to be incommensurable and hence not just unconn ected but unconnectable with the others. The story of the three blind men ends with each insisting that his was the true account of the elephant. In the social sciences, th ere is a tendency for each of many traditions to argue that its idea of human nature is the true one. In all instances, this contributes to the predicament of having no way to conne ct the various partial images together into a more complete and adequate account. (p. 4) This view of knowledge demonstrates how knowledge is constructed based on individualsÂ’ social experiences This argument is relevant for education research as a whole, and also for this research project. It was my intention to portray the participants and their learning contexts as I came to know them through my interactions with the learners. In this manner I participated in the act of Â“making dataÂ” as a collaborative process of negotiation between the researcher and the participants (Morse & Richards,
97 2002, p. 87). Likewise, when presenting the fi ndings I attempted to portray the data utilizing the participantsÂ’ own words as mu ch as possible, thus minimizing my voice. This allows readers to see my interpretations presented in this manuscript; however, it also allows them the opportunity to form their own judgments. Last, in true Vygotskian fashion I used Activity Theory and Sociocultural Theory as I had come to understand them through pe rsonal use of mediati onal tools such as courses taken, books, journals a nd articles, conversations with peers and professors, etc. These experiences combined with the processe s related to the study itself allowed me to participate in the Â“social practice of knowledge constructionÂ” (Smagorinsky, 1995), which was required of me for the comp letion of this research project. A Description of the Setting The setting of this study was the Modern Languages Department at a large, southeastern university. The World Language E ducation Department at the University of South Florida originated in 1965 when the university was founded. Its Â“mission includes providing language instruction to the community as well as undergraduate and graduate students attending the univers ity.Â” The department philosophy was to teach using the communicative approach to language learni ng. Spanish is the predominant language taught by the department, French is the s econd most commonly taught language, and other languages taught include: Italian, German, Arabic, Russ ian, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, and others as available. The vast ma jority of the language courses were taught in traditional, classroom settings. The firs t exception to this was the adoption of the Destinos program in 1993.
98 Destinos is a video-based, beginning Span ish program distributed by McGrawHill. It is based on 26 hours of a video drama se ries that utilizes interactive dialogue in the Spanish-speaking world. This was the fi rst distance learning program for language instruction to be used by the university. At the university the pr ogram consisted of a telenovela video series accompanied by written ho mework that was submitted in person or via fax. The Destinos courses were taught primarily at a distance. As the program evolved, it became a sort of blended learning program with optional face-to-face reviews. In Fall 2005, after a presenta tion by Vista Higher Learning, th e department adopted the EN LNEA courseware to replace Destinos as the means of provi ding Spanish courses at a distance. EN LNEA was first trialed with a section of 25 students to ensure that the online courseware would be an appropriate c hoice for the departmentÂ’s overall goals of offering distance learning and reducing depart ment costs. It is currently the only webbased distance learning opportuni ty at the university for foreign language students. Typical class sizes for these Spanis h courses are 150 to 200 students. A Description of the Participants The specific population for this resear ch contained approximately 250 online, foreign language students per semester with Spanish I and Spanish II combined. For the two classes there was one main instructor a nd two teaching assistants who assisted with the grading and proctori ng of exams. The instructor was ultimately the person responsible for carrying out the course, including assigning the studentsÂ’ final grades. The researcher, also the instructor for the online courses, had been teaching Spanish for nine years and he
99 had been the Spanish distance learning coordi nator and the lead instructor for the online courses for three years or nine semesters. The student participants fo r this study were seven college level foreign language students that were participating in the on line, introductory Span ish course at the university. Typical classes in the past had consisted of so mewhat heterogeneous student makeup. Most students began with little to no background in Spanish. Those with experience had a two years in high school. From my personal experiences with the course, the vast majority of the students ta ke Spanish to fulfill their foreign language requirement, which requires that the students earn a C or better in a level two language course. Few students take the introductory Spanish courses un less it is a required course for their degree. Generally these non-requireme nt students intend to major in Spanish or they want to learn the language for personal, communicative reasons. The majority of the students are Caucasians in their 20s; however there are usually several African-American students and other minority groups are represen ted sparingly. Typically there is a balance of males and females. It is also important to note that a sub-se ction of the students consists of middle-aged, working adults w ho take the online courses for convenience of scheduling. Organization of the Course This study examined the students while they were participating in an online Spanish course. It is important to mention that the course form s a bounded context that lends itself to examination as a discrete item. This online Spanish I course was offered via the web using an online courseware called EN LNEA, which will be described later
100 in more depth. The course was open to be ginners and students with little or no background in Spanish, who sought to impr ove their knowledge of the language and culture. The course was not available to nati ve or near-native speakers. Before students were permitted to register for the online cour ses they were alerted that the course would require self-discipline and commitment, and they were encouraged to assume the responsibility of tracking their learning a nd progress throughout the course. In this manner the students were required to check EN LNEA, USF email, and Blackboard (an online course management system utilized by th e university) to stay abreast of the course material and any possible changes. The student s were also encouraged to take advantage of the instructorÂ’s office hours for hel p. The course used the following textbook: Vistas: Introduccin a la lengua espaola. (Second Edition) by Jos A. Blanco and Philip Redwine Donley. The textbook accompanied an online book code, which granted the students access to EN LNEA. The students co uld not participate in the course without the online access code. Before registering for the course all the students solic ited an instructor permit, which allowed them to register. To recei ve this permit the students completed a background questionnaire that was designed to collect information regarding the studentsÂ’ linguistic and technological experi ences. Permit solicitati on and the registration process took place at the end of the previous semester and continued through the first week of the new semester. After the regi stration process the course began with a mandatory orientation, which took place face-to-f ace at the university. In this session the instructor presented an overview of the cour se, its requirements, pol icies, and procedures,
101 and how to operate and navigate EN LNEA. Aside from the initial orientation, there were four optional review sessions, and four required examinations that also took place face-to-face. The reviews were offered on Wednesday evenings and the exams were offered twice in the same week to allow for some flexibility, Thursday evening and Saturday morning. A detailed schedule was provi ded at the orientati on session and it was available in Blackboard throughout the course. Table 3 provides a brief overview of this course schedule. The exams were based on the linguistic content and weekly homework activities from the EN LNEA courseware. Th ey included sections that cover vocabulary, writing short responses, verb conjugation, cu ltural information, question and answers, etc.
102 Table 3 Overview of course schedule Week Monday Tuesday Wednesday Saturday 1 Course begins on Monday Mandatory orientation 2 3 Lesson #1 due 4 Lesson #2 due Exam Review #1 Exam #1 Exam #1 5 6 Lesson #3 due 7 Lesson #4 due Exam Review #2 Exam #2 Exam #2 8 9 Lesson #5 due 10 Lesson #6 due 11 Exam Review #3 Exam #3 Exam #3 12 13 Lesson #7 due 14 Lesson #8 due 15 Lesson #9 due 16 Exam Review #4 Exam #4 Exam #4 17 The optional review sessions were offere d to help students with preparing for exams and answering their indi vidual questions. Students that could not attend the review sessions were encouraged to call the inst ructor during office hours or send an email requesting help. In addition, exam revi ew outlines were posted electronically in Blackboard, which highlighted specific mate rial covered on the exams. The students always had the option of coming to the instru ctorÂ’s office for assistance or individual tutoring. The students were advised that they should anticipate spending an average of 10-20 hours a week completing their homework online. For each lessonÂ’s assignments the students had two attempts to subm it the exercises. The second attempt was
103 automatically graded regardless of the sc ore. For more information regarding the structure of the course a copy of the syllabus is provided in Appendix A. A Description of the Online Courseware Â“EN LNEAÂ” EN LNEA is the product of a joint effo rt between Vista Higher Learning and Quia.com. According to the publisherÂ’s webs ite, it is Â“a complete standalone online introductory Spanish course, specially desi gned for online courses and distance learning applications.Â” The course is intended for beginning Spanish students with little or no experience, but it could also se rve as an elementary review for heritage Spanish speakers. The online course access (EN LNEA Â– VHL Spanish eCourse) can be accompanied by a hard copy of the textbook (VISTAS 2e St udent Edition). The necessary online access code is priced reasonably, comparable if not cheaper than a regul ar textbook package. Students can purchase the material s directly from the publisher, ( http://www.vistah igherlearning.com/ ) or in many cases from their institutionÂ’s bookstore. The online access codes are valid fo r 18 months, which is generally sufficient for students to complete Spanish I and II with the same code if they enroll for the courses consecutively. As minimum requirements students need a computer and internet access to operate EN LNEA. Broadband or high-speed Internet service is recommended for optimal operation and navigation of the onlin e courseware. EN LNEA is designed to function best with Microsoft Windows and the most recent version of Internet Explorer. Vista Higher Learning does offer technical support directly to both students and instructors. This support is provided via email ( email@example.com ) and
104 phone at Vista Higher Learning Tech Suppor t (800) 248-2813. Through personal use, it should be noted that EN LNEA students do so licit a variety of t echnical explanations specifically related to the c ourseware. Although the publisher provides technical support, out of convenience to both th e instructor and the student s the instructor should be technology literate as well. La st, in addition to the aforementioned basic requirements, there are several slightly more advanced technical requirements including playing and recording sound capabilities and several required plug-ins: Sh ockwave, Flash Player, and Adobe Acrobat. For more information rega rding the technical requirements for EN LNEA please refer to the Vistas Higher Learning document provided in Appendix B. The online courseware is divided into 18 Lecciones and the sections of each lesson remain constant (See Figure 6): Contextos Fotonovela Pronunciacin Estructura (Grammar), Adelante (Reading, Writing, and Listening Practice), Panorama (Culture), Vocabulario and Prueba (Testing). This structure can be seen in Figure 6. In addition, Appendix C is an outline of the lesson one mate rials included in EN LNEA. It is meant to provide a general idea of the types of tasks that ar e performed in each lesson. Figure 6. Overview of lesson in EN LNEA
105 The consistency of structure for each lesson enables the students to better navigate the courseware while fulfilling the objectives of the course. The activities within each Leccin address listening, speaking, reading, an d writing skills through a variety of formats including: fill in the blanks, audi o recording, simulations games, cultural and linguistic videos, authentic materials, etc. Throughout the lessons the students receive authentic audio and video footage. In addition, culture is both explic itly addressed in the Panorama section and implicitly addressed throughout each Leccin Vista Higher Learning claims that EN L NEA Â“delivers classroom-proven content and pedagogy in a ground-breaki ng, highly interactive online environment.Â” The first part of this statement is based on the sales su ccess for VISTAS, Second Edition, on which EN LNEA is based. It could be argued that popularity and profita ble sales are not accurate measures of effective content and pedagogy. Ho wever, it appears that VISTAS does offer some sound content and pedagogy based on the fa ct that education professionals have continued to select the text for their courses. As time passes and research is conducted with EN LNEA, we will be able to tell if this preference is based solely on the novelty factor created by a unique online courseware In terms of provid ing Â“a ground-breaking, highly interactive online envir onmentÂ”, this appears to be an accurate description. EN LNEA is an online courseware product for Sp anish that is currently not matched by any other publisher. I conducted a search of major research journals and major publisher websites, and I could not find another online courseware which allowed for the majority of interactions to take place online. The companyÂ’s claim to be Â“highly interactiveÂ” as
106 opposed to interactive may be a point of c ontention for some, but the program does offer several avenues for student-stude nt, student-instructor, and stud ent-computer interactions. The potential student-student and studen t-instructor interactions are based on computer-mediated communication functions including tools for synchronous and asynchronous audio-based (See Figure 7) and text-based chat. Through these tools EN LNEA enables partner activities in which th e students record and submit communicative activities together. The course ware also provides opportuniti es for learners to record other exercises individually and for the instru ctor to record feedback for each student. Figure 7. Audio-recording tool in EN LNEA. Other tools that provide opportunities for student-computer interactions include electronic resources such as World Wide Web links, an El ectronic Verb Wheel, and an Electronic Dictionary. Last, one of the more interesting student-computer interactions is created through Tutorials which take the form of animated instruction. Here Profesor Pedro Gmez Laserna a cartoon character, walks the st udents through each point of instruction for grammar and vocabulary (See Figure 8).
107 Through personal use it is apparent that EN LNEA is well organized, and the continuity of its layout makes the courseware navigation easy to handle. The courseware is highly functional and the site experiences minimal downtime, if any. In terms of instructor benefits, the overriding factor has to be the coursewareÂ’s ability to manage a high number of students, multiple courses, sepa rate classes within courses, and a large amount of content material. The course mana gement tools allow instructors to access individual assignments for separate student s, review their work, assign grades, and provide individualized feedback (text or audio) with the clic k of a button. In addition, automatic grading is available for online assignments that do not require instructor review. Figure 8. Animated tutorial. From the learnersÂ’ perspective the most prominent benefit of EN LNEA is the ability to access the materials at any time a nd any place. This freedom gives the students
108 finger tip access to multiple resources and authentic language sources. Moreover, the students are able to receive immediate comput er-generated feedback for most activities and they can access their grades through EN L NEA at any time. It is important to note that the EN LNEA coursewa re does require high levels of learner autonomy, selfefficacy, and self-regulation. Thus learners must be intrinsically motivated and able to follow along with the online instruction and complete the required activities with minimal assistance depending on the format of course distance learning versus blending learning, size, and proximity. Participant Selection Prospective participants for this study we re identified using purposive sampling in which the subjects were selected because of pa rticular characteristics indicated in their background survey. This study also integr ated convenience and criterion sampling methods (Patton, 1990). First and foremost, the students were selected to maximize their availability and accessibility (Stake, 1995). This type of convenience sampling allowed the researcher to save time and effort in ma king contact with the participants on a regular basis. Although convenience sampling may not be the most credible form of sampling, it was an essential part of this research for logistical and practical reasons. If the prospective participants did not appear to be accessible, they were ruled out at the onset of their background survey review. Beyond availability and accessibility, each par ticipant had to demonstrate two of the three following characteristics: a uni que social context, a unique linguistic experience, or a unique technol ogical experience. Again, this form of criterion sampling
109 was used to select participants according to the information gathered by the background survey. For sampling purposes, unique was used to refer to specific experiences that are not typical of the average college student. It is understood that th ese students entered the course with distinct social c ontexts. Of particular interest to this study were students who were working full time in addition to taking un iversity courses. It was also understood that the students would enter with varying le vels of technological a nd language skills and university experiences. For the purposes of this study, the res earcher attempted to recruit participants with previous language learning experience, wh ether it is with Spanish or another language. Table 4 is a graphic represen tation for the participant selection process. This form of participant selection was c onsistent with the theoretical framework provided by AT and the general framework of case study research. More importantly, this form of purposive sampling was essential to answer the studyÂ’s research questions, because it provided a method for selecting meaningful cases to extract rich and meaningful data. In the event that a potential participant was unwilling to participate, the researcher contacted another student. As a result of the participant selection pr ocess, data was coll ected in regards to seven students that were enrolled in an on line Spanish course for beginners. Seven cases provided an adequate opportunity to research and portray se veral unique cases. In this manner the researcher selected the cases for th is study so that the pot ential for meaningful data can be maximized. It was understood that these students entered the courses with varying levels of technologi cal and language skills and university experiences. Seven students were selected because it was felt that this number of part icipants would provide
110 an adequate opportunity to investigate multip le backgrounds and distinct cases and still produce a manageable amount of data considering the time frame and scope of this research project. Participants signed informed consent before beginning their participation. Likewise, the researcher cont acted the department chair for permission to conduct the research, and all Institutional Review Board requirements were satisfied. Table 4 Participant selection matrix Participant name Characteristic present in participant Accessibility Unique social context Unique linguistic experience Unique technological experience Yes No Procedures for Data Collection For this case study data were collected throughout the 17 week spring semester of 2008. At the beginning of the semester inform ed consent was obtained from the students who wished to participate in the study. The data were collected through an initial background survey, a series of three interviews, three observa tions, a researcher journal, and a review of the course materials to gath er the data needed to answer the research questions. As several case study researcher s have stated (Gillham, 2000; Stake, 1995; Yin, 2003), it is very important to have multiple sources of evidence in case study research. In this manner a combination of da ta sources provide a cl earer description of the cases being examined.
111 The background survey, administered duri ng the registration process, gathered information for the purpose of selecting particip ants and it also served as a starting point for the series of interviews and observa tions. The personal history interview was conducted individually with the participants, starting the s econd week of the semester. After the personal history interview a series of three observations and three interviews were conducted to gather information rega rding the learnersÂ’ online experiences. The researcher journal and the review of course materials took place throughout and after the duration of the course. An overview of the data collection timeline is depicted in Table 5. Table 5 Overview of data collection procedures for Spring 2008 Week Course schedule Data collection schedule 1 Mandatory orientation Background survey 2 3 Lesson #1 due 4 Lesson #2 due, Exam #1 5 Participant selection and Personal history interviews 6 Lesson #3 due 7 Lesson #4 due, Exam #2 Observation #1 8 Interview #1 9 Lesson #5 due 10 Lesson #6 due 11 Exam #3 Observation #2 12 Interview #2 13 Lesson #7 due 14 Lesson #8 due Observation #3 15 Lesson #9 due Interview #3 16 Exam #4 17 Finish any uncompleted interviews and observations
112 It is important to note that the st udy posed no serious ethical problems or detrimental effects to the participants. As th e researcher I took measures to minimize the possible effect of my own authority and bi ases throughout the study. To accomplish this all student participantsÂ’ homework and exams were graded by one of the TAs and not by the main instructor who was also the prim ary researcher for this study. In addition, student participation in the study was complete ly voluntary and the participants were free to withdraw from the study at any time thr oughout the semester without repercussions in the course. Furthermore, the in formation collected was not rev ealed to other parties, and all published materials will not be linked with the individualsÂ’ names. The studentsÂ’ identities have been kept anonymous at al l times throughout the research process. Instruments As indicated the participants of this st udy were seven foreign language students of an online Spanish course at th e University of South Florid a. The research was conducted as a case study, which employed an initial background survey, interv iews, observations, a researcher journal, and a review of suppl ementary course materials. These provided insight to the learnersÂ’ transf ormations involved in the pro cesses related to their online language learning. See Table 6 for an overvie w of the instruments and their method of data collection and data collected. Throughout the data collection process the researcher served as the primary instrument. Eisner ( 1998) refers to this as the Â“self as an instrumentÂ” in qualitative rese arch. However, data was also collected by student selfreporting and the videotaping and observations of the studentsÂ’ onl ine learning in EN
113 LNEA. In the subsequent sections there is a more in depth description of the individual instruments implemented by the researcher. Table 6 Overview of research instruments Instrument Method of data collection Data collected Background survey Paper and pencil survey Demographic information Personal experiences Personal interview Digital audio recording Interview transcripts Student reported information and clarification of personal experiences Researcher observation Video recording Video transcripts Event log Use of mediational tools, regulative behaviors, contradictions and disturbances Review of supplementary course materials Paper and electronic documents View of community, rules, and division of labor Researcher journal Paper and electronic documents View of community, rules, and division of labor ResearcherÂ’s thoughts Background Survey The initial background survey was co mpleted by the st udents during the registration process, and the re searcher saved an el ectronic copy of each survey for future use. The survey was presented electronically via the language departmentÂ’s web site. Each student wishing to enroll in the on line Spanish courses was required to submit a
114 completed survey. The survey used for the permit process was developed by the department to gather personal information about the students to determine if they are well-suited to take the online Spanish course. The survey was geared towards collec ting specific demographic information, personal experiences with language and technol ogy, and other relevant themes related to learnersÂ’ use and knowledge of technology and university courses. The background survey is available in Appendix D. It gathered information regarding the flexibility of the studentsÂ’ schedules, the primary location in which the student completed online course materials, and other information concerning thei r time constraints in the course. This data was intended to help in answering research question #1, what is the nature of the language learnersÂ’ personal experiences w ith technology and language learning prior to taking the online Spanish course? This informa tion also aided the res earcher in selecting the most flexible and accessible cases for i nvestigation and in recruiting unique cases to ensure adequate participant diversity. For participant selection it was important that the student participantsÂ’ schedules coincided with that of the primary researcher. Of the students who filled out the survey seven were se lected to participate in the remainder of the research process. Interviews Building on the information collected by the background survey, interviews were conducted to gather data from the student sÂ’ point of view. According to Stake interviewing allows discovery and portrayi ng multiple realities (1995). These multiple realities aided in avoiding rese archer bias and in clarifying aspects of the data analysis
115 phase. In addition, they a ssisted in establishing multivoicedness and historicity (Engestrm, 2001) as conceptuali zed within AT. In this manner it was essential that this research investigated the cultural and historic al context of each pa rticipant including their personal experiences with language le arning, technology, and other university encounters. Interviews in this study were open-ended and semi-structured in nature (Rubin & Rubin, 2005). The researcher was structured en ough to lead the inte rview by preparing a set of questions beforehand; however, he also provided ample opportunity for the participants to discuss th eir unrestricted thoughts and feelings. In this manner the researcher was also able to pose spontane ous follow-up questions as were deemed appropriate in the natural flow of the interv iew. Each student received the same set of questions initially, however further questions varied according to the nature of the observations and the participan tsÂ’ responses in th e interviews. The researcher attempted to establish a bond with the participants that would encourage openness throughout the interviews. Interviews lasted 45 to 60 minutes depending on the overall pace and outcomes of the interview process. Three to fi ve interviews were used per participant. The interviews took place approximately one per every two to three weeks over the 17 week semester. Refer to Table 5 for the interview schedule. The interviews will be conducted on a one-to-one basis and they will be scheduled as is most convenient with the students. In cases where it became difficult to schedule face-to-face interviews, telephone interviews were employed for c onvenience to the part icipants and the
116 researcher. These were recorded digitally by connecting a digital voi ce recorder to the handset of the telephone used by the researcher. The first interview, the personal history interview, was conducte d within the first two weeks of the semester and it focused on th e cultural and historical experiences of the students which are relevant to online langua ge learning. Combined with the background survey, the personal history interview attempte d to establish a baseline of information about each participant. Again, this data was intended to answer research question #1. Subsequent interviews were based on the overall status of the learner and his or her development towards learning the language and utilizing the on line courseware and its tools as relevant to the overall resear ch questions. These interviews contained predetermined questions targeting previous experiences, mediational tools, components of the learnersÂ’ activity systems, and cont radictions and disturbances within online language learning. These t opics directly relate to the rese arch questions. They also built on the observation conducted prior to each interview and attempted to confirm data collected, thus creating a cyclical process of observations and interviews. This also afforded the researcher the opportunity to tria ngulate data sources for the purpose of data confirmation, and it allowed the researcher to understand what happened from the view point of the partic ipant. Appendix E contains the completed sets of interview questions. It is important to note that many of the subse quent interview questions were created after the preceding field observation. Interviews were used to collect information about the studentsÂ’ participation in th e online learning environment. They were also used to stimulate participantsÂ’ reflection of particular events identified by the researcher. Before
117 the actual data collection, the interview que stions were reviewed, discussed, and amended where deemed necessary by the researcher and the dissertation committee. Observations As noted previously the interviews and obs ervations combined to form a cycle of data collection. After the init ial background survey and the personal history interview, the researcher conducted the first field obs ervation, which was followed by another interview. Observations were related to the learnersÂ’ use of the online courseware and its tools to further their language learning. A cycle of three field observations and three interviews were conducted for each online la nguage learner. Refer to Table 5 for the observation schedule. These observations took place in the studentsÂ’ natural environment for participating in the online course. A c onscious decision was made by the researcher not to force the student participants to comp lete their online work in a more controlled setting such as a prescribed computer lab or personal office. It was felt that doing so would artificially eliminate part of the cont ext of the studentsÂ’ participation in online language learning. As such, the participants Â’ natural setting varied from a campus computer lab to the studentsÂ’ personal dwelli ng, but this was entirely their preference. During the observations field notes were taken and the sess ions were video recorded. The students on-screen and off-scr een actions were video recorded and saved electronically. The observations were used to collect data that provi ded examples of the participantsÂ’ online learning, and they also instigated thought-provoki ng questions for the subsequent interviews. The primary focus of the observations was the use of mediational tools and the occurrence of contradictions in online learning. This decision was based
118 principally on the nature of the study a nd the conceptual framework provided by AT. This research did not intend to focus pr imarily on collaborative activity, which was different from most AT resear ch in CALL. This decision wa s based on logistical issues related to the course structure, which pr evented adequate and consistent grouping of students online. In addition, the tasks complete d in the observations varied from student to student depending on the individualÂ’s prog ress in the assigned lesson. Again, this decision was due to the general rules of the course, which assigned a due date but did not mandate when and in what order each exerci se had to be completed. Furthermore, the researcher deemed it more appr opriate to observe th e learners in their natural progression of the course, as opposed to artificially di ctating which exercise should be completed during a given observation. During the field observations, on-screen act ion recordings were taken to further document the participantsÂ’ use of mediational tools. Furthermore, charting matrices were used to document the occurrences of mediationa l tool use, and the researcher kept a log of notes for further examination. After each field observation the researcher began the process of preliminary data analysis by re viewing the video tapes and the field notes. Data collected via observation and video were intended to answer research questions #2, #3, and #4. Important preliminary findings were then inserted into the content of the subsequent interview with the participant as a form of stimulated recall. Also following each observation the researcher made an entr y in the researcher journal to aid in clarifying and recording informa tion while it was still fresh.
119 Review of Supplementary Materials A review of supplementary materials was conducted to gather data related to the inner workings of the course as framed by AT, including the commun ity, course rules and policies, and division of labor. This review included a content analysis (Krippendorff, 2004) of the course syllabus and other documents posted in Blackboard, course instructions given via Blackboard. The review of supplementary course materials was used to elucidate the sociocultural context of the online course. This review also aided in establishing the rules, divisi on of labor, etc. in the ove rall activity system. This information was used to answer research questions #2 and #4. Researcher Journal In this study a researcher journal was kept for the pur pose of tracking the general proceedings of the study, the decision maki ng processes related to data collection and data analysis, and the forming of preliminar y conclusions during the process. Lincoln and Guba (1985, p. 328) discuss how the resear cher journal aids in establishing trustworthiness of potential results. They al so recommend that the researcher maintain a journal for the purpose of creating a calendar to identify pertinent events, keeping track of the researcherÂ’s reflections, and noti ng methodological decisions. Although the format of the researcher journal for this research did not contain these th ree pieces exclusively, they were major focal points in the entries. As such, the researcher made weekly entries, which included entries after each inte rview and observation conducted with the participants. These contained reflective comm ents about the data collection process and
120 preliminary identification of important themes Collectively, this information was used to answer each of the research questions. Piloted Instruments Before the actual data collection pe riod commenced, several data collection techniques were piloted on two students who had previ ously completed the online Spanish course. The collection techniques pi loted included the interview questions and the rubrics used for field observations and subsequent coding of data. The purpose of piloting these techniques and instruments was to determine whether the interview questions elicited the kind of data required for answering the research questions and to test the ability of the a priori rubrics to elicit and organi ze the data as collected in interviews and field observations. Through conducting the pilot interviews, severa l useful insights were revealed that subsequently altered the data collection proce dures utilized for the actual study. First, the two participants of th e pilot study experienced trouble in understanding several of the key AT concepts presented in the interview questions, such as contradictions and disturbances. Thus, these terms were ultimately replaced by more simplistic nomenclature, such as problems or tensi ons. Second, due to the nature of distance learning students and their varying schedules it became apparent that meeting face-toface for all interviews was difficult to accomp lish. As a result of this conflict, the researcher ultimately employed telephone-based interviews, which were digitally recorded.
121 With regard to testing the rubrics utili zed in the data collection procedures, two key insights were revealed. Fi rst, the rubric used for fiel d observations began with four predetermined categories based on the research questions: previous experiences, activity systems, mediational tools, and contradicti ons. Based on the pilot it was determined that the initial, categorical scheme placed pressure on the researcher to observe, record, and classify data immediately duri ng the field observation. This wa s not deemed beneficial to the overall purpose of the research project. To allow for more focused observation of the studentsÂ’ online learning, the rubric was ultimately simplified to two basic categories: notes for observations of the studentsÂ’ physic al actions and the re searcherÂ’s thoughts. Second, the rubric used for organizing data related to th e learnersÂ’ use of mediational tools was also modified after be ing piloted. The original form provided for documenting and organizing the participantsÂ’ us e of computer-based tools; however, after working with the data collected with the two participants, it was apparent that they used many non computer-based tools in addition to the computer. As a result of this observation, the mediational tool rubric was modified to include a category for nonelectronic tools. Data Analysis AT, as described in chapter 2, was adopted for the theoretical framework of the study, and thus it guides the data analysis phase of the study. AT provided an existing framework for examining and describing the processes involved in learning and development, which enabled documenting the co mplex nature of the online environment, its available tools, and the variety of comm unities that existed in the course. Thus, the
122 research began with an a priori framework intended to guide data collection and subsequent data analysis. This framework was used as a lens for viewing and analyzing the data of this study. It can be argued that academic research is la rgely symbolic because it reduces the elements of the study to a fin ite research article or in this case a dissertation. Lantolf and Thorne (2006) make this point: Academic production involves es sentialization as written description and analyses are necessarily a reduced symbolic repr esentation of the phenomena under study. We make the argument that activity theo ry offers a descriptive and analytic framework that problematizes some of the reifications that occlude more holistic approaches to SLA research and praxis (p. 229). As described, AT enables researchers to concretely represent learning. It provides conceptual tools which enable researchers to describe and portray learnersÂ’ actions in online learning. Using these conceptual tools, specific data analysis procedures were taken for each research question. The following sections are intended to de lineate these procedures. First, the general data analysis proce dures are explained. Second, st ep by step data analysis procedures are explicated for a thorough unde rstanding of how the data collected were used to answer each research question. General Data Analysis Procedures As discussed previously in this chapter, the primary uni t of analysis for this study was the individual learnerÂ’s activity syst em, with a secondary focus on interacting activity systems where deemed appropriate in the context of the research. In this manner
123 the data analysis process of this research drew heavily from the work of Miles and Huberman (1994, pp. 10-12), which describes qual itative data analysis in three phases: data reduction, data display, and conclusion dr awing and verification. It is important to note that these phases were considered to be cyclical processes that occurred throughout the duration of the research project. They di d not occur only once, and at times the steps overlapped. First, data reduction is the process of condens ing obtained data through summarizing, coding, finding themes, and clus tering themes. This process allowed the researcher to systematically code the data and discard any irreleva nt data. Data reduction allowed data collection and analysis to become more manageable for the researcher. This study began data reduction with the initial background survey and the selection of participants, and it continued through each interview and observation process. All data gathered were reviewed and coded by number according to their relevancy to the research questions. In addition, the data were coded to define the learnersÂ’ activity system including the predetermined AT categories: s ubject, community, division of labor, rules, instruments, and outcome. Other codes were es tablished as new themes emerge from the data collected. To accomplish this, the consta nt comparison method was used to identify emerging themes (Glaser & Strau ss, 1967; Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Second, data display is the process by which the reduced data is portrayed through summaries, vignettes, diagrams, matrices, et c. Once the researcher had identified all emerging themes and categories from the data, this data was used to create further diagrams and matrices. These data displays aided in further data reduction and viewing
124 the data in a more organized manner, which also enabled drawing conclusions from the research process. Third, conclusion drawing and verification is when the researcher interprets the data to build connections and to further explain conclusions. Li ncoln and Guba (1985) indicate that this proces s involves clustering, counting, comparing and contrasting, triangulation, finding negative cases, and me mber checking when applicable. This process drew from the previous two steps of da ta analysis. In partic ular, by using the data displays the researcher was able to ap ply knowledge taken from the theoretical framework and the review of current literatur e to draw conclusions about online language learning. Last, these findings were confirmed by member checking, and triangulation was established through comparing and contrasting mu ltiple data sources to make a particular knowledge claim. Analysis of interview transcripts The data collected through the interviews were digitally recorded, transcribed, and coded. The coded data were analyzed for em erging themes using the constant comparison method (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). For the pur pose of data analysis the interview transcripts were labeled by nu mber and participant identifyi ng information. The transcript lines were numbered starting with 1 and proceeding through the number of applicable lines. Each subsequent transcript began at line 1. A color coding system was used to distinguish between English a nd Spanish utterances where a pplicable. Black was used to identify English, and green identified Spanish.
125 Data analysis was primarily exploratory in nature. Although th e research applied an a priori theoretical framework established by AT the overall intent was to explore and confirm emergent themes that became relevant throughout the study with the a priori categories of sociohistorical experiences, activity systems, mediational tools, and contradictions. For this purpose the research er used member checking, data saturation, and data triangulation as means of verifyi ng data and findings. Pa ttern coding (Miles & Huberman, 1994) and constant comparison analys is (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) were used to identify themes, using literature based themes and emergent themes. Using AT and SCT as guidelines it was the researcherÂ’s re sponsibility for creati ng new categories that emerge from the data. The set of categories were established from the data provided by the participants or from existing literature where relevant. Names for categories came directly from the data provided by the partic ipants, from existing literature, or were named as deemed appropriate by the research er and colleagues. Ca tegories as defined by AT were specified a priori however all other categories we re specified iteratively. In addition, this research did not attempt to establish grounded theory because the research relied heavily on Activity Theory. Coding of Data Coding of data for this research was conduc ted in a two-part process in which the data were reduced and analyzed by means of thematic codes. The initial stage of the coding process allowed the resear cher to identify episodic c hunks of the data, which were best suited to answer the research questions With this in mind, the initial coding process was designed to identify the following themes as expressed in th e research questions:
126 previous experiences (PE), the activity system s and their defining parts (AS), mediational tools (MT), and contradictions and disturbances (CD). Duri ng the initial coding process the researcher applied the rubrics as described in Appendices G-I. Subsequently, the second phase of coding included using the constant comparative method (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) in which segments of the interview transcripts and researcher fiel d notes were reviewed to dete rmine what emergent themes became apparent within the a priori categories. As individual codes emerged from the data, they were constantly compared to all other codes to identify similarities, differences, and general patterns. As thematic codes were revealed in this process, they were named, in part by using key concep ts as presented in AT, and as deemed appropriate by the lead researcher and the co-rater. To increase the validity of the coding pr ocess, a second rater also participated in the coding process. This co-rater was a clinical psychologist who was also familiar with Vygotskian SCT and AT prior to the research. To ensure that he would be able to relate these theoretical frameworks to online language learning, the lead researcher presented him an overview of the theories and related re search as discussed previously in chapter 2. After this initial introduction, th e co-rater then had an opportunity to practice coding with data taken from the pilot study. At this point it was deemed that the co-rater had sufficient ability to serve as a rater. Subse quently, in the actual research the interrater coded a sample of the transcribed data to id entify relevant themes. To calculate interrater reliability the percent agreement method was used as presented in Miles & Huberman (1994, p. 64). This process resulted in an inte rrater reliability of 85% agreement. Then,
127 where there were conflicting themes identified in the data, both raters discussed these discrepancies, and it was decided mutually th at the same chunks of data could contain multiple themes. After this discussion of multiple themes being present, the raters reexamined a second sample of the transcribed data and an interrater reliability of 100% agreement was reached. Thus, it is important to note that se veral portions of the text-based data were coded for multiple themes using multiple rubrics. This was expected as there was an overlap in some of the concepts presented in the research questions. For the cases where there was an overlap, the same data were us ed to answer all the relevant research questions. The themes revealed in this coding process gradually emerged as the researcher became intimate with the data. Then, asso ciations were made with the interview questions and overall research questions. It was also important to consider these emergent themes in relation to the majo r trends and gaps in the lite rature base as presented in chapter 2. Last, throughout the co ding of the data an effort was made to establish these themes by rooting them in the evidence provided by the data. Ultimately, these emerging themes, as based on the data and presented in the conceptual framework of AT, became the major findings of my study. Analysis of Observation Data Data gathered from the field observations consisted of the off-screen recordings, on-screen recordings, and the researcherÂ’s fiel d notes. First, the off-screen recordings were transcribed to include the participants Â’ physical movements and verbal interactions
128 where applicable. These transcripts were la beled by number and pa rticipant identifying information. The transcript lines were numb ered starting with 1 and proceeding through the number of applicable lines. Each subsequent transcript began at line 1. A color coding system was used to distinguish between Eng lish and Spanish utterances where applicable. Black was used to identify English, a nd green identified Sp anish. All physical movements were noted in the margins where relevant. Second, on-screen recordings were made using a digital video camera. One major difficulty with transcribing video data was that there was not a pletho ra of verbal data; therefore, it was important to portray this data in a manner that allows readers to get an accurate depiction of what ac tually occurred. For this purpose on-screen actions were categorized by episode, and a click-by-click de scription was not deemed necessary. After watching and listening to the video recordings of the studentsÂ’ onlin e language learning, the researcher identified episodes based on th e studentsÂ’ actions and relative location in EN LNEA. For example, a student completing a particular section wi thin the courseware was labeled as an episode, and actions perf ormed within the section were labeled as subcomponents, such as utilizing an online dictionary or referr ing to the physical textbook. These episodes were listed in the researcherÂ’s event log as described in (Bodker, 1996, p. 163), Â“an event log of the video record provided a description and chronological index of observed events. The analysis then proceeded with an identification and careful transc ription of sequences of activit y of particular interest.Â” Bodker (1996) goes on to explain how these ep isodes can be mapped for detailed analysis Â“mapping consisted of listing in one dimens ion the objects that the user focused on
129 during the session and in the other the narr ative of the situati on, supplemented with annotations of the userÂ’s physical actingÂ” ( p. 163). This manner of mapping the computer based activity to reconstruct computer usage allowed for Â“an adequa te understanding of human-computer interacti onÂ” (Kaptelinin, 1996). Where necessary, red was used to iden tify any pertinent on-screen actions. Transcripts of observations included on-screen actions and any verbal and physical actions that occurred off-screen. These transcri ptions were displayed side by side with the off-screen actions paired correspondingly with on-screen actions. On-screen action recordings were used to discu ss the participantsÂ’ use of mediational tools. Last, interrater reliability was established by verifying a sample portion of the data. Answering the Research Questions With these general data analysis proce dures in mind, the researcher also applied more specific steps for answering the individua l research questions. Table 7 describes the data analysis procedures briefly, and these st eps are described more specifically in the subsequent sections.
130 Table 7 Overview of data analysis methods Research questions Data collected Data analysis methods 1. Nature of the previous linguistic and technology experiences Demographic information and personal experiences collected via survey and interview AT analysis Constant comparison method Video episode analysis 2. Changes in the learnersÂ’ activity systems Descriptions of activity system components collected via background survey, interviews, video data, and observations AT analysis Constant comparison method Video episode analysis Content analysis 3. Nature of the use of mediational tools Descriptions of the use of mediational tools via interviews, video data, and observations AT analysis Constant comparison method Video episode analysis 4. Contradictions and disturbances in online language learning View of community, rules, and division of labor collected via observations, interviews, and review of supplementary materials AT analysis Constant comparison method Video episode analysis Content analysis 1. How do the language learners perceive th eir previous experiences with technology and language learning? a. What is the nature of the language lear nersÂ’ personal experi ences with technology and language learning prior to taki ng the online Spanish course? b. How do the students perceive the effects of their previous ex periences on their current online language learning?
131 To answer research question #1, the re searcher analyzed data from the background survey, the personal history in terview, subsequent observations and interviews, and the researcher journal. First, the researcher conducted a content analysis of the background survey and the personal history interview to identify each studentÂ’s unique personal experiences with technology an d language learning. Cont ent analysis is a process for organizing information so that a researcher can make inferences about the characteristics and meaning of unorganized da ta. This involves organizing the content into themes (Berelson, 1952; Holsti, 1952). He re, the themes were based on the varying levels of technology and language learning expertise. These st eps allowed the researcher to define the participantÂ’s socio-historic al background with technologies and language learning, thus answering question #1a. Second, to answer question #1b the research er conducted a complete review of all interview transcripts to find statements rela ted to the studentsÂ’ perceptions of these experiences. This was done electronically by searching for keywords in the text documents such as Â“I thinkÂ” or Â“I feelÂ”. Here, the intent was to find any descriptions of how the studentsÂ’ perceived the influence of their previous experiences on their current online language learning. After each step of the review had been taken, the researcher clearly identified the perceived themes that were present. 2. What is the nature of the online lang uage learnersÂ’ activity systems? a. What is the nature of the online language learnersÂ’ activity systems at the beginning of the course?
132 b. What changes, if any, occur in th e learnersÂ’ activity systems throughout the duration of the course? To answer question #2, the researcher analyzed data collected from the background survey and the personal history interv iew. First, the researcher attempted to identify the components of the learnersÂ’ activ ity systems at the beginning of the semester, the focus of question #2a. To accomplish this, the researcher used the coding rubric in Appendix H. This rubric allowed the rese archer to focus on and isolate specific characteristics related to the stud ent participantsÂ’ learning context. Second, to answer question #2b the res earcher identified components of the learnersÂ’ activity systems at multiple points throughout the semester by examining the series of interviews and observations. T hus, activity systems were created for each participant at the beginning of the semester, six weeks into the semester, and again at twelve weeks. Then, these three activity syst ems were compared and contrasted using the constant comparison method, and any change s in the systems were identified. 3. What is the nature of the mediati onal tools used by the learners? a. What types of mediational tools are used by the online language learners? b. How are the mediational tools used to enable online learning? To answer question #3, the researcher analy zed data collected from the series of observations and interviews, the field notes, and the researcher journal. First, to answer question #3a the researcher attempted to iden tify the types of mediational tools used by the online language learners. To accomplish this the researcher reviewed all video logs
133 created from video data. Again, the focus here was on visualized behaviors. This review focused on describing the use of mediationa l tools. A similar process was undertaken electronically for the field notes and the resear cher journal. The researcher searched for keywords in the text documents, which he lped to describe the learnersÂ’ use of mediational tools. After this had been done, th e researcher clearly id entified the perceived themes that were present rela ted to mediational tools. Second, to answer question #3b the research er conducted a complete review of all interview transcripts, the fiel d notes, and the researcher jour nal to find statements related to the learnersÂ’ use of speci fic tools. This was done elec tronically by searching for keywords in the text documents. Question #3b was intended to describe the process of mediation in relation to the use of a particular electronic tool The next step for research question #3b was to make determinations about how these mediational tools were used in the process of online language learning to determine the nature of their influence on reaching the learnersÂ’ outcomes for the course. 4. What is the nature of the contradictions a nd disturbances that arise in online language learning? a. What types of contradictions and disturbances arise in online language learning? b. If possible, how are the lear ners able to resolve these contradictions as they occur? To answer question #4, the researcher considered data collected from the background survey, the personal history inte rview, the series of observations and interviews, the researcher journal, field not es, and the review of supplementary course
134 materials. First, to answer research question #4a the researcher attempted to identify any contradictions which occurred in the online language learni ng process by reviewing the video logs, the interview transc ripts, field notes, and the rese archer journal. This review focused on describing the contradictions as th ey occurred. The researcher searched for keywords in the text documents related to conflict that the students encountered in the online courseware. After this had been done the researcher clearly identified the perceived themes that were present related to contradictions and attempted to describe any contributing factors. In pa rticular, a content analysis wa s conducted for the review of supplementary course materials in an attemp t to identify how the course and university procedures and other activity systems may ha ve contributed in creating tensions. This information also aided in establishing the cour se rules, university rules, division of labor, community, course goals, course recommenda tions, and the role of instructors. Second, to answer question #4b the research er conducted a complete review of all video logs, interview transcri pts, the field notes, and the researcher journal to find statements related to the learnersÂ’ use of specific tools. This wa s done electronically by searching for keywords in the text docume nts. Whereas question #4a was intended to describe the contradictions, question #4b was in tended to describe how the learners went about resolving the conflicts as they occurred. The next st ep for research question #4b was to make determinations about how the learners moved beyond a particular conflict. However, in some cases the participants may not have been able to successfully resolve the tension. This information was also deemed valuable. It was also important to note that this question had the potential to overl ap with the previous questions.
135 Trustworthiness To ensure that qualitative re search is considered to ha ve the same Â“rigorÂ” that quantitative research is perc eived to have, many researcher s call for trustworthiness and credibility (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Case study researchers (Stake, 1995; Yin, 2003) claim that multiple data sources aid in establishing trustworthiness and credibility for research findings. For this study the findings were validated by: triangulation, checks for alternative explanations and ne gative evidence, and discussion of findings with research peers and the participants of the study. These methods coupled with a thorough research design and review of the literature helped ensure the validity and reliability of the conclusions (Morse & Richards 2002). Also, as part of the research process, the researcher journal served as a sort of aud it trail, which documented the procedures for each form of data collection and the resulting data analysis procedures. Data gathered in the researcher journal consiste d of the researcherÂ’s personal thoughts. These were used to document researcher bias, and they allowe d for ongoing and informal data analysis throughout the research procedures.
136 Chapter Four Results Chapter 4 provides an overview of the da ta collected with respect to the studyÂ’s research questions described previously. This overview begins with a brief delineation of the data collected in the study. Then, the data collected throu ghout the research process will be used to formulate answers to the re search questions posited in this study. 1. How do the language learners perceive th eir previous experiences with technology and language learning? a. What is the nature of the language learnersÂ’ personal expe riences with technology and language learning prior to taki ng the online Spanish course? b. How do the students perceive the effects of their previous ex periences on their current online language learning? 2. What is the nature of the online la nguage learnersÂ’ activity systems? a. What is the nature of the online la nguage learnersÂ’ activity systems at the beginning of the course? b. What changes, if any, occur in th e learnersÂ’ activity systems throughout the duration of the course? 3. What is the nature of the mediati onal tools used by the learners? a. What types of mediational tools are used by the online language learners? b. How are these mediational tools used to enable online learning? 4. What is the nature of the contradictions a nd disturbances that arise in online language learning?
137 a. What types of contradictions and disturbances arise in online language learning? b. If possible, how are the lear ners able to resolve these contradictions as they occur? Based on the fluid nature of Sociocultural Theory and Activity Theory the information contained in and sought after by these research questions ov erlapped in many instances. Having said this, each question has been addressed individuall y, and there is an explanation offered where any overlap occurred. The Data As described previously in chapter 3, th e data for this study were collected via a background survey, a personal history interview, a cycle of three obs ervations and three individual interviews, the rese archer journal, and the review of supplementary materials. Table 8 provides an overview of the data collect ed with respect to each participant. From the 212 students enrolled in the online course, seven were selected and solicited for participation in this study. As seen in Tabl e 8, one participant subs equently dropped out of the study, and at this time another student was selected for participation. As described in chapter 3, these participants were selected based on convenience and criterion sampling, which included exhibiting unique charact eristics with respect to social context, linguistic experience, or technolog ical experience. It is importa nt to note that not all of the students selected for the study participat ed in all facets of the data collection. However, these incomplete data sets have been included in the da ta analysis and the results sections of this study.
138 Table 8 Overview of data collected Background Survey The background survey was designed pr incipally to gather information regarding the participantsÂ’ linguistic and technology e xperience. Based on this information five of the seven participants bega n the course with little previous experience with Spanish based entirely on high school coursework. Two began the course with intermediate to advanced experience, a nd one participant began with no previous experience. Determining how much linguist ic and technology-based experience the students possessed upon beginning the course allowed for es tablishing a ba se line of information for each participant. From an ac tivity theoretical perspective, this also afforded the opportunity for tracking indivi dual development with regards to these characteristics. Likewise, the survey collected information related to the participantsÂ’ reasons for taking the online Spanish course For example, one of the participants of the study, JP, chose to take the online Spanish course to refr esh herself for a summer trip to Costa Rica. Student Back. survey PHI Observ. #1 Interv. #1 Observ. #2 Interv. #2 Observ. #3 Interv. #3 JA Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes No Yes RA Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes BD Yes No No No No No No No TD Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes MD Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes KG Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes JP Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes SS Yes Yes No Yes No Yes No No
139 Several of the other participants were taki ng the course solely to fulfill the language requirement and to graduate. Based on these stated reasons and others, which will be described in more depth, the participants we re likely to perform differently and with distinct goals and motives in the online cour se. In addition to reco rding the participantsÂ’ linguistic experiences, the surv ey was intended to note th eir technology experience. In this regard it became apparent that all of the students were beginning with similar selfperceptions of their skills and experiences based on thei r academic careers in high school and college. All the participan ts began with confidence in th eir technology-b ased skills. Only one participant, KG, was unique in this regard, because she did not begin using technology more extensively until she returned to college in her late forties. Tables 9 and 10 provide an overview of the data collected via the background survey.
140 Table 9 Summary of linguistic a nd technology backgrounds Participant Gender Age Li nguistic experience Technology experience Placement exam JA F 21 Mexican family, English and Spanish spoken in household, no formal classes Very comfortable, favorable opinion Yes, placed into Spanish I RA F 24 2 high school Spanish courses, Father is Puerto Rican, limited Spanish growing up Very comfortable, favorable opinion No TD F 20 No experience Very comfortable, favorable opinion No MD F 23 2 high school Spanish courses, native speaker of Portuguese Very comfortable, favorable opinion No KG F 49 1 high school Spanish course 30 years ago, traveled to Spain for pleasure Very comfortable, favorable opinion, began using technology later in life No JP F 21 5 years of Spanish courses in middle and high school, took AP exam Very comfortable, favorable opinion Yes, placed into Spanish I SS F 24 2 high school Spanish courses, 1 medical Spanish course for work Very comfortable, favorable opinion No
141 Table 10 Summary of participantsÂ’ backgrounds Participant Major Reason for taking the course Fulfilling language requirement Goals for the course JA Political Science Learn to read and write Spanish Yes Learn proper Spanish, learn to read and write RA Chemical Engineering To be full time student, personal benefit for work No Learn to form Spanish sentences for personal use TD Political Science Fulfill requirement Yes Obtain a passing grade MD Political Science Fulfill requirement Yes Learn more Spanish and grow as a person KG Creative Writing To master the Spanish language Yes Obtain the highest level of proficiency possible JP International Studies For graduate school No Obtain fluency SS American Studies Fulfill requirement Yes To graduate Personal History Interview The personal history interview elaborated on some of the information collected in the background survey. Specifically, the inte rview recorded the pa rticipantsÂ’ personal history with Spanish and technology. Also, it gathered information related to the
142 studentsÂ’ environment, schedules, etc. to es tablish more context and to aid in creating each participantÂ’s activity system as desc ribed in the theoretical framework, Activity Theory, and the research questions of this study. Table 11 provides an overview of the data collected in this interview.
143 Table 11 Personal history interview data Participant Work Family life Why online? Previous online course? Where will you work? When? JA Full time (M-F) senior secretary for law firm Lived in Lakeland with fiance (40 mins.) Worked full time, needed flexible schedule with few class meetings Elementary literature, lesson or paper due each week with weekly quiz At home, will work on weekends RA Not working Single mother lived with parents (1 hr.) Caring for 2-year old son, flexible work schedule Engineering management, video fed lecture, written assignments At home, will work primarily FridaySunday TD Not working Lived in apartment near campus with roommate Heavy course load, no time to go to class meetings Art, online book and assignments, weekly quiz At home or library, will work only on weekends MD Full time (M-F) legal assistant for law firm Lived in house with fiance and his mother (40 mins.) Registered late, needed flexible schedule Sociology and archaeology, assignments through Blackboard At home, will work steadily throughout the week KG Part time transcriptionist for church, flexible schedule Lived near campus with boyfriend Wanted flexible schedule to work at own pace Online training materials for previous job, no formal classes At library or home, will work steadily throughout the week JP Full time at Edible Arrangements Lived on campus with boyfriend and 3 roommates Registered late, regular courses were full Geography, archaeology, and music, music files and writing, videos At library or at home, will work only on Sundays SS Full time (M-F) secretary for medical office Lived in Atlanta home with fiance Needed accommodations for distance, needed flexible schedule Nutrition and Issues in Sports, reading and writing, discussion At home, will work primarily on weekends
144 Field Observations and Individual Interviews The field observations and individual interv iews in this study combined to form a cycle of data collection. Each observation initiated the cycle and it was immediately followed by an individual interview with the sa me participant. Field observations covered one hour each in the studentsÂ’ natural envir onment for completing the online work. These environments varied from personal homes to the campus library to the Starbucks caf located on campus. There were 15 one-hour fi eld observations resulting in roughly 15 hours of video recorded data. In addition, th ere were 20 individual interviews with the participants, which varied in length, result ing in nearly 500 minutes of audio-recorded data. Researcher Journal The researcher journal was used primarily to record the researchersÂ’ thoughts throughout the research process with respect to the data co llection and data analysis procedures. The journal afforded the opportuni ty for ongoing and informal data analysis, which was subsequently used to guide the resear ch procedures. It also served to establish an audit trail of these research procedures and to document major decisions related to methodology. Entries were made after each in terview and observation conducted with the participants and at other times to discuss prominent themes in the data. The final journal consisted of 44 entries and nearly 10,000 total words.
145 Review of Supplementary Materials The review of supplementary materials conducted in this re search included a review of relevant documents and web sites re lated to the online Spanish courses. These documents included the course syllabus, th e permit request form, and the course documents related to technical requirement s, how to join EN LNEA, and how to purchase the EN LNEA materials. Furtherm ore, the web sites re viewed included the foreign language requirement site, the Depa rtment of World Language Education site, and the EN LNEA site. Specifically, these materials were reviewed in this study to aid in establishing the following components of th e learnersÂ’ activity systems: rules, division of labor, and community. To identify these components, a modified version of content analysis (Krippendorff, 2004) using the theoretical fr amework provided by Activity Theory was used to document and record the salient f eatures of each supplementary material. The goal of the review was to categorize and cl assify the components of the materials according to the themes established in the theoretical framework: rules, division of labor, and community. Appendices J-Q provide an overview of the data collected in this process. Introduction to the Case Profiles Before reviewing the results of this study, it is important to consider the individual cases investigated. The followi ng section presents an introduction to the individual case profiles in a narrativ e format. Although some of the information presented in these initial profiles is discusse d later in regards to answering the research
146 questions, the purpose here is to acquaint the readers with each participantÂ’s personal story. These descriptions may afford the re aders more depth in their understanding of each participant and their online language learning. Case #1 JA JA was a 21 year old female. She was an undergraduate student who was studying political science at the univ ersity. She lived in Lakeland, Florida approximately 20-30 minutes from the university. JA was a sec ond generation Mexican-American. Her native language was English; however, English and Spanish were spoken in her household as a child. She had never taken any formal Spanis h classes; however, she did speak limited Spanish. She did not take the placement exam at the university prior to registering for this course. She claimed to have working knowledge in listening and speaking, but no knowledge of reading and writing in Spanish. With regards to technology, JA began the course having previously taken online courses at the university. She indicated that she felt being capable and comfortable with most t echnologies. She anticipated completing the online assignments primarily at night during the week or during lunch breaks at work, and during the mornings on the weekends. He r participation in the course depended greatly on her full time work schedule as a le gal assistant to a law firm. She participated mainly from home using a personal computer. Case #2 TD TD was a 20 year old female. She was an undergraduate studying political science at the university. She lived in Miami, Florid a. Her native language was English, and she had never taken a Spanish course previously. She stated that she was taking this course to
147 fulfill the language requirement. She hoped to achieve a passing grade and to be able to have basic Spanish speaking skills. With re gards to technology, TD began the course having previously taken online courses at the university. She indicated that she felt being capable and comfortable with most technol ogies; however, she also expressed some uncertainty about using computers for learni ng Spanish in this course. She anticipated completing the online assignments primarily on the weekends, Friday through Sunday. This was based on her class schedule and fu ll time work schedule. She worked primarily from home using a laptop computer. Case #3 MD MD was a 23 year old female. She was an undergraduate studying political science at the university. She was born in Rhode Island, but throughout the course she lived in Riverview, Florida w ith her fiance and mother in law. This was approximately 35 minutes from the campus. She grew up speaking English and Portuguese. She had previously taken two Spanish courses in high school, which were 5 years ago. MD claimed to remember very little from these previous courses. With regards to technology, MD began the course having previously ta ken online courses at the university. She indicated that she felt being capable and comfortable with mo st technologies, and that she frequently used computers at work. She an ticipated completing the online assignments primarily on the weekends, Friday through Sunday. This was based on her full time work schedule as a legal assistant to a law firm. She worked primarily from home on a personal computer.
148 Case #4 KG KG was a 49 year old female. She was an undergraduate studying creative writing at the university. She was born in Tenness ee, and throughout the course she lived in Tampa, Florida with her boyfriend. She was a native speaker of English and knew no other languages. She had previously taken one Spanish course about 30 years ago in high school. She described this experience in terms of Â“textbook homeworkÂ” and Â“limited speaking of the language in classÂ”. She clai med to have limited knowledge of speaking, listening, reading, and writing in Spanish. Sh e was taking the course to master the Spanish language and to fulfill the foreign language requirement. With regards to technology, KG began the course having prev iously taken online courses at the university. She indicated that she felt be ing capable and comfortable with most technologies. Unlike the other student partic ipants, she began using computers later in life after she returned to college. She antic ipated completing the assignments for this course during the day from home or a com puter lab on campus including the library. Case #5 JP JP was a 21 year old female. She was an undergraduate studying international studies at the university. She wa s born in New York. She was a native speaker of English; however, Italian was also spoken in he r household as a child. Beginning in 7th grade she took Spanish courses for 5 years, through 11th grade. She also took the A.P. exam for Spanish but did not pass. She attributed this to the speaking portion of the exam. Her last Spanish class was 5 years ago. At the univers ity she also took the placement exam, and she was placed into Spanish 1. She claimed to have working knowledge of listening and
149 reading skills and basic knowledge of speaki ng and writing skills. She was taking this course as an elective to refresh her existing Spanish skills to prepare for traveling to Costa Rica this coming summer. With regard s to technology, JP bega n the course having previously taken online courses at the university. Like severa l of the other participants, she indicated that she felt being capable a nd comfortable with most technologies. She anticipated working all days of the week to complete the assignments, and she worked from a variety of places including home, co mputer labs, on campus residence, and at work. Factors that affected her schedule ar e work, other coursework, and convenience. Case #6 SS SS was a 24 year old female. She was an undergraduate studying American studies at the university. She was born in Florida and she lived in Atlanta, GA throughout the course. As a child English was the onl y language spoken in her household. She had previously taken 2 Spanish courses in hi gh school and a Spanish course for medical professionals through her workplace. She cl aimed to have basic knowledge of listening, speaking, reading, and writing Spanish. She was taking this course as a requirement to graduate. With regards to technology, SS be gan the course having previously taken online courses at the university. She indicated that she felt being cap able and comfortable with most technologies, and she also stated that she used computers on a daily basis at work. She anticipated working online from home on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. She also commuted between Atlanta and Florida for the purpose of completing this course. It is important to note that SS and I were unable to work out a system to conduct the observations being that she lives and works full time in Atlanta.
150 This participant ultimately droppe d the course and she did not pa rticipate in all facets of the data collection for this study. Case #7 RA RA was a year old female. She was an undergraduate studying chemical engineering at the university. She was bor n in and she lived in Tarpon Springs, FL throughout the course. RA was a single mother of a two-year old son, and she lived with her parents. Growing up her na tive language was English; however, she was exposed to her parents speaking some Spanish and Ta galong. She had previously taken Spanish courses in high school. She was taking this cour se as an elective course and to refresh her abilities in Spanish. With regards to tec hnology, RA began the cour se having previously taken online courses at the university. She also indicated that she felt being capable and comfortable with most technologies. RA anticipated completing the online work primarily at home during the night when her son had gone to sleep. The Research Questions With an initial understanding of the case pr ofiles investigated in this research, it is now possible to begin answer ing the research questions. Because this study and its research questions were guided chiefly by the tenets of Activ ity Theory, it was difficult to answer these questions independently without regard to their overlapping nature. For example, a student may have encountered a contradiction in thei r online learning, which was driven principally by prev ious linguistic experiences that were interfering with the current learning process. Having said this, the research questions will be presented here individually with an explanation of overlapping results where necessary.
151 Research Question 1: Linguistic and Technology Experiences How do the language learners perceive thei r previous experiences with technology and language learning? a. What is the nature of the language learnersÂ’ personal experiences with technology and language learning prior to taking the online Spanish course? b. How do the students perceive the effects of their previous ex periences on their current online language learning? This question focused on the learnersÂ’ past experiences to establish their sociohistorical context and their perceptions of their current online learning to aid in establishing their current context. It was al so intended to determ ine how the learners perceived the effects of these past experiences on their present onlin e language learning. To answer this question the data derived pr incipally from the background survey and the personal history interview; however, it was also necessary to review the researcher field notes and the transcripts for the observations and interviews to answer the sub questions. Inherent to Sociocultural Theory and Ac tivity Theory is the idea that learners come into the learning context with unique a nd meaningful socio-historical experiences. These experiences play an important role in the present and future development of the individual. They aid in shapi ng how the individual views and perceives his or her present context and the available mediational tool s, including language and technology-based tools. For the purpose of this research an emphasis was placed on the learnersÂ’ previous linguistic and technology experiences as they relate to the studentsÂ’ current online language learning context. Thes e linguistic and technology ex periences will be discussed
152 in the following section, which is followed by a discussion of how the students perceived the impact of these previ ous experiences on their curre nt online language learning. Linguistic experiences Of the students that participated in this research four of the seven began the course with little previous experience w ith Spanish. Like many other college level students, this previous exposure to Sp anish was based entirely on high school coursework. Although these four students had slightly different high school experiences with Spanish, MDÂ’s case, as presented in Excerpt 1, appeared to reflect the general experiences of each. Excerpt 1. PHI_MD Could you describe your previous experiences with learning Spanish? I took Spanish I and Spanish II in when I was a junior in high school. I believe that took a full year. I did fairly well. I did very well. Actually it came easily to me at that point. I am not really sure if it was because of the material, the professor, or what have you. You know I did well. From what I retained from that, not so much. Just little things. How would you describe your cu rrent abilities in Spanish? Fairly minimal, just kind of the basic things that you maybe even hear, just like hmm, I donÂ’t know, like Â“qu pasa?Â” Things that everyone knows what it means, but at work sometimes people look at me and I am Portuguese so they assume I know Spanish and they will start speaking and boy do they speak fast so I canÂ’t understand anything that they are saying. MDÂ’s case represented a student who had take n Spanish previously in high school, yet she claimed not to remember that much of the material learned. To further support this, MD did take the departmentÂ’s Spanish pl acement exam prior to registration and she scored in the Spanish I level. Another st udent, TD, began the course with no prior exposure to Spanish. When asked about her pr evious experiences w ith learning Spanish,
153 she responded, Â“I have actually never take n a Spanish course.Â” Therefore, unlike the previously mentioned participants she bega n the course with minimal knowledge of Spanish. Last, the two remaining participants, JA and JP, began the course with intermediate to advanced e xperience; however, their prio r experiences with Spanish varied immensely. First, JA was the daught er of a Mexican fa ther and a MexicanAmerican mother. She grew up speaking Spanish, yet she never received formal instruction. As a result she entered the cour se with limited knowledge of reading, writing, and grammar skills. In Excerpt 2 she identi fied her knowledge of Spanish as being the slang version. Excerpt 2. PHI_JA Could you describe your previous ex periences with learning Spanish? I grew up speaking Spanish in the household but I have never actually learned how to read or write it or the correct. I kind of learned the slang of it. My dad was from a ranch in Mexico and my mom was born in Texas. The second participant with in termediate to advanced expe rience with Spanish, JP, did receive 6 years of formal instruction prior to beginni ng the online course at the university. She even took the Advanced Placement exam for Spanish, but she did not pass. Before registering for the online Spanis h I course, she also took the departmentÂ’s placement exam, and she placed into Spanish I. In addition to prior Spanish courses, JP started the class with 4 previous college level courses in Ital ian. In Excerpt 3 JP discussed her previous experiences.
154 Excerpt 3. PHI_JP Could you describe your previous ex periences with learning Spanish? Um, I first started taking Span ish classes in sixth grade. Um, in New York, that is where I am from. And the curriculum up th ere, they want kids to learn Spanish right away. So I started taki ng classes in sixth grade, and I took Spanish in sixth, seven, and eighth grade. And then I took Spanish in high school for ninth and tenth grade, and I did really well so I was in AP Spanish, but I only got a 2 on the exam. So I didnÂ’t get credit for it, but I was actually the first non-Spanish person in my high school to take the AP Sp anish course. I mean my school was predominantly Spanish anyway. But, I didnÂ’ t pass it so I had to take a foreign language when I got to college So thatÂ’s pretty much, and this is my first Spanish class in college, because I fulfilled my fo reign language requirement with Italian my first year. So you have taken 2 college level Italian courses? I have taken 4 college level Italian courses. Ok, could you tell me a little about those courses? They werenÂ’t online. They were classroom settings, very small groups, like 22 kids. I took 2 classes in New York and 2 classes here. They were both very similar, they were both classroom settings Nothing really onlin e at all except for our lab. We had a little bit of lab work to do online. Just a little bit though. And when you were doing the labs onlin e, did you have any conflicts with that? No, not at all. Ok, do you currently speak or know any other languages? No. How would you describe your curr ent abilities in Italian? I look at it like this. I only took 2 full year s of Italian, but I ha ve taken like 6 years of Spanish in total in my life, maybe about, yeah maybe a little more. My mom, my whole family speaks Italian. If they try to speak to me, I can only respond in Spanish. So, I feel like, my theory is that because I started taking Spanish so young, I retained it better. But I took 2 years of intense Italian at the college level and I can just barely keep a conversa tion, but in Spanish I can respond much better. ItÂ’s not really good, I guess you could say. From the descriptions of these studentsÂ’ li nguistic experiences prio r to taking the online Spanish I course described in this study, it can be seen th at students began the course with varying experiences. These cases demonstrated the extremes possible with regards to beginning a Spanish I course at the unive rsity level: no experience, little experience, and intermediate to advanced experience. JAÂ’s case was unique in of itself, because she
155 was a heritage Spanish speaker. The cases also demonstrated that college students may enter a Spanish course having previously studied other langua ges. For example, MD was a native speaker of Portuguese and JP had previo usly studied Italian at the college level. These were the types of linguistic experiences that helped shape the studentsÂ’ current activities in the online la nguage learning setting. Technology experiences It is also important to consider the stude ntsÂ’ previous experien ces as they related to technology. All of the students that participated in the research began with similar skills, experiences, and confid ence levels with respect to technology. In each case these previous experiences were based almost entirely on academic schoolwork stemming from high school and prior college leve l courses. Only one particip ant, KG, was unique in this regard, because she did not begin using techno logy more extensively until she returned to college in her late forties. There were no real variations in the type s of technologies used previously and the levels of expertise with these technologies In addition, there were no major differences in the types of technologies that were reported as being used commonly by the participants. For example, MD consider ed herself to be capable with computers, because she worked with computers on a daily basis. In Excerpt 4 she also described the variety of programs and applications that she was most familiar with based on her daily needs for school and work. Like most of the students she was most familiar with Microsoft Office applications such as Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. She discussed this in Excerpt 4.
156 Excerpt 4. MD_PHI Do you consider yourself capable when it comes to using computers? Yes, I do. What makes you say that? I just feel that they come easily to me. I work in front of a computer all day long, and I, just being in front of it all day. It comes pretty easily. Could you describe your previous ex perience with using computers? For example, what types of things can you do using computers? Hmm, as far as like Microsoft, PowerPoi nt, Excel, all those programs, I am very familiar with, because of work, first of all. As far as the ins and outs of computers I couldnÂ’t take it apar t and put it back together agai n or anything. But as far as Internet Explorer, or scanning and faxing or anything like that, I just do very well because of my job. Building on this description of the participan tsÂ’ general knowledge of computers, it was also found that all of the participants reported using computers mostly for word processing, emailing, and searching the web for information. KGÂ’s description of Internet searching accounted for this in Excerpt 5. Excerpt 5. KG_PHI What types of things do you ty pically do on the Internet? Mainly when I go on the Internet I do rese arch. If there is something that I have a question about. It could be anything from the title of a movie, the title of a book, the history of someone, some questions that I might have. I think that recently I was looking something up on Nostradamus. I couldnÂ’t remember whether he was Spanish or French. I had a book, I had a hardcopy of Nostradamus and some of the facts that they had mentioned in there. I went online to see if I could find more detail. I use it for shopping. I love to go shopping online. I love getting things delivered right to my door, especially with my schedule the way that it is. Another theme that became apparent in the data was that of students using and learning how to use computers and specific prog rams at work. Like MD, SS also reported using computers while at work. Through th e personal history interviews with the students, it also became apparent that none of th e students felt that th ey were experts with
157 technology, and none felt comfortable with the inner workings of computers or computer programming and such. SS discussed this in Excerpt 6. Excerpt 6. PHI_SS What types of things can you do usin g computers? What types of programs are you capable of using? I am really good with Microsoft Word. I am really good with data entry on Excel and some spreadsheet creations. I am good with different software programs, because I do use them at work. Our patient charts are electronic. My job is 100% computerized. I am not very good with hooking computers up, like the wiring and stuff, because I just donÂ’t do it very often. SSÂ’s description of her limitations with computers was indicative of all of the participants. It demonstrated that the st udents began the online course with existing knowledge of computers and computer-based technologies; however, it also indicated that they still had limitations and that they may have needed assistance with certain aspects of technology. The only real variations in the students Â’ reported technology e xperiences came in relation to their previous on line courses. These reportings served as the foundation for their knowledge of and experiences related to online courses. For example, in Excerpt 7 JA described a geography course that she ha d previously taken online in which there were weekly assignments and no real face-to-face class meetings. Excerpt 7. PHI_JA Have you ever taken another online cour se? Could you describe this course? I have had elementary literature, and I ha ve had research skills and development, and I have had a geography class, and thatÂ’s it. Were these complete online courses? Yes, all three of them were complete online. Did you have any face-to-face meetings?
158 No, other than the orientations, no. And, could you tell me a little bit abou t how the course was structured, how the instruction was delivered online? You would have, you purchase the book, and ea ch week a lesson or a paper would be due by that week. You could upload it or email it to the professor. And your tests were online at a certain day and tim e. You had a certain day, from 12am in the morning to 12am the following morni ng to complete the test. And you could take the test any time between that day you could take the test. It would be time, and the computer visually timed it for you and there was a clock that let you know how much time was left. And thatÂ’s how we would take the test. Everything else was just assignments that were due on a weekly basis. In Excerpt 7 JA described online tests and weekly assignments that were submitted and managed by the computer system. Similar to JAÂ’s description of her previous online course, in Excerpt 8 RA described an engi neering management course that she took online. Her course included a live video feed of the course lecture and the ability for the instructor to interact with the students in real time. Excerpt 8. PHI_RA Have you ever taken another online course? Yes, I have. Could you describe this course? I took an engineering management cour se, a very dry course, engineering management. How was the material structured online? There was a video feed. They had the cla ss at school and I could have gone any time if I wanted to, but I didnÂ’t have time so I didnÂ’t. There was a video you could watch it in real time or you could wa tch it later on. And then if you wanted to talk, if you are watching it in real time, you would just hit a button and converse with the class. And then it was ba sically just a dry lecture and he would say what do you want to write a pa per about and do a presentation on. From these two brief descriptions of the stude ntsÂ’ previous online courses, one can see that the students had been exposed previ ously to online courses and a variety of technologies to accomplish online learning and in struction. It is also important to note
159 that although all of the stude nts reported taking online cour ses previously, none of the students reported using technology in their pr evious language courses. Again, these types of experiences in previous online courses and even the lack of experience with technology for foreign languages helped to shap e the studentsÂ’ percep tion of the current online course. The online course experiences combined with their existing knowledge of computers and relevant tools ultimately aff ected the manner in which the students will participated in the current activ ity of online language learning. From the data collected in regards to th e studentsÂ’ prior tec hnology experiences it appeared that each began the online course with existing skills and knowledge. There were limitations to their knowledge and skills; however, it did appear that the students were aware of them. Based on the descriptions of the participantÂ’s previous online learning experiences, none were as interactiv e as the online Spanish course investigated in this study. In addition, none appeared to be as diverse in types of activities used for the purpose of learning and knowledge rehearsal. Specifically, these pr evious experiences aided in molding the studentsÂ’ use and choice of mediational tools, which will be discussed in greater detail in the section for question three. Perceived effects of previous experiences Although the participants of this study had never taken a Spanish course online, their previous exposure to Sp anish and the use of technology did appear to shape the studentsÂ’ perceptions of the current online course. The participants indicated that they perceived some effects of these previous experiences including those negative and positive. For example, beginning the online Spanis h course with varying ability levels in
160 Spanish appeared to cause different per ceptions of the current language learning experience and the impact of these previous ex periences. JA, the heritage speaker, began the course with intermediate to advanced abilities in Spanish, ye t she still perceived several potential hindrances caused by her expe rience. She discussed this in Excerpt 9. Excerpt 9. PHI_JA Do you think that your previous experi ences will help or hinder your success in this course? What makes you say that? I think a little bit of both, because I ha ve learned some, on the speaking it and the form of speaking, the format, the verb and then the noun or the noun and then the verb. I can probably, I know how to speak it in order, but I think it will kind of hurt me too because I have learned some words that are not the proper way of speaking it. JAÂ’s initial perception of her previous linguistic experience was both positive and negative. These perceptions were described pr ior to beginning the online assignments in the Spanish class. After several weeks in the online Spanish course JA repeated the same impressions. These perceptions are cont ained in the Excerpt 10 below. Excerpt 10. INT1_JA How has your previous exposure to Spani sh helped or hindered you in this course? It helps me with the pronunciation because I have heard my family say things. I can basically pronounce the words correctly, bu t it didnÂ’t help me at all with the grammar or spelling or accent marks, only with the pronunciation. Here, JA reinforced her initial perception after actually experiencing the negative and positive effects of her previous linguistic experiences. Also, JAÂ’s perception of her previous Spanish experience was typical of a heritage speaker who had never received formal language instruction. Similar to JA, JP began the course with intermediate to
161 advanced experience in Spanish; however, she perceived her experiences as being solely beneficial to her current online learning c ontext. She, however, commented only on how her existing knowledge of Spanish would give her an advantage over other students in the course who were just begi nning to learn the language. Later in the semester she confirmed this perception, in Excerpt 11, wh en she described how her prior knowledge had allowed her to move more quickly through the assignments and even to the point of not having to view the instructional tutori als when presented with new information. Excerpt 11. PHI_JP Do you think that your previous experi ences will help or hinder your success in this course? Help me definitely. What makes you say that? Because, I mean, I mean it wouldnÂ’t hurt me. I mean I know what I know because of the other classes. I mean it is comi ng back to me when I am sitting and doing the other assignments. Like, sometimes I donÂ’t have time to read through the entire tutorial and to do like everything that I am supposed to do online so I will like go to the assignments firs t. Most of the time I can ju st do it by myself without actually having to read the chapter. Like, I can just remember it from previous classes. Do you think that your previous classe s in Italian will help or hinder you? Hinder me. They are so similar. My whol e family tells me all the time that my biggest mistake was that I did take Italia n. I should have just stuck with Spanish through college as my foreign language re quirement. I should have just kept up with the Spanish, because I was pretty good in high school. You know, I was able to carry on a conversation and all that st uff. I should have just kept going, but I took Italian. And sometimes I feel like so metimes I mix the languages up because they are so similar. Or I will say some thing and I will be like wait, is that. Especially like numbers and stuff, because numbers are pretty simple whether I say it in Italian or Spanish, that Spanis h or Italian person will still understand what I am saying. But, still I mixed things like that up pretty easily. By comparing the previous linguistic experience s of JA and JP, it appe ared that, at least by their reported percep tions, JP felt more confident in her Spanish abiliti es based on her
162 past formal instruction. Although, JA had gr own up speaking Spanish at home, she still perceived this experience to have potential di sadvantages. In contrast in JPÂ’s description of Spanish, she also described the potentia l for negative influen ce stemming from her experience in Italian. She expressed the idea of mixing the two languages. In addition, by comparing the studentsÂ’ initial perceptions wi th their perceptions later in the semester, this research found that the participants repo rted consisting feelings in this regard. With respect to technology, being that mo st of the students began with similar experiences, there were no major variations in the perceived effects of these experiences. In addition, there were no major issues w ith technology throughout th e research process. Only TD reported some reservation about using technology for the purpose of online language learning. TD had used computers since elementary school, and she reported being generally aware of most technologies. She had a favorable opinion of technology, but she stated in the background survey that it was Â“too early to judgeÂ” about the use of technology in this online class. She felt that she was capable with co mputers, but she was undecided about Â“anticipating having a littl e trouble with tec hnology in this online course.Â” From these two statements, it a ppeared that the student was aware of technologies, but also non-committal. In regards to specific onli ne learning experiences seve ral of the students reported being familiar with and comfortable using onl ine technologies to receive instruction and submit electronic assignments. In Excerpt 12 JA described how being familiar with Blackboard had the potential to he lp her in the online Spanish class, because it could help her to submit assignments without any trouble.
163 Excerpt 12. PHI_JA Do you think that your previous experi ences will help or hinder your success in this course? What makes you say that? They definitely will help me, because I know how to use the tools in Blackboard to get to certain things that I need to turn things in to the class. I am very familiar with Blackboard. From this description of JAÂ’s perceived be nefits from past online courses, which was quite similar to the other participants, one can see that the student participants perceived their past online course experiences to be solely beneficial to their current learning situation. None of the students reported any ne gative perceptions in re lation to the impact of their previous online courses. In conclusion, the data collected in this investigation indicated that the students began the online Spanish course with varying pe rceptions of the impact of their previous experiences. This finding appeared appropriate because the students came into the course with unique backgrounds and social contex ts. One would expect each individual to perceive these experiences and the influence of these experiences in diverging manners. It is important to note, however, that there we re greater variations in their perceptions in relation to linguistic experien ces as opposed to technology. This form of normalization with regard to technology did not appear to exist in relation to the participantsÂ’ prior linguistic abilities with Spanish. Research Question 2: Par ticipantsÂ’ Activity Systems What is the nature of the online la nguage learnersÂ’ activity systems? a. What is the nature of the online lang uage learnersÂ’ activity systems at the beginning of the course?
164 b. What changes, if any, occur in the learnersÂ’ activity systems throughout the duration of the course? This question focused on the online language le arnersÂ’ activity systems as they were defined after reviewing the data collected. Th e sub questions were intended to aid in establishing historicity in the research pro cess, and they also focused on whether the studentsÂ’ activity systems changed throughout th e duration of the course. To answer this question the data derived from the background survey, the personal history interview, the series of interviews and observations, th e researcher journal, and the review of supplementary materials. Within Activity Theory the activity system is the primary unit of analysis because it enables portraying, discussing, and interpre ting human action. For the purpose of this research the central ac tivity systems under investigation we re those related to the studentspecific activity of taking an online Spanis h course at the university. These activity systems included the subject, the object and related outcomes, mediational tools and artifacts, the community or communities, the division of labor, and rules. Discussing the participantsÂ’ activity systems and their components aids in understanding the intended activity, online language learning, and how each co mponent played a role in this activity. In the following section, the participantsÂ’ activity systems will be discussed in general, and then differences and similarities among th e participantsÂ’ systems will be highlighted. Last, this discussion will carry over to tracking changes in the activity systems over the period of the course.
165 Activity systems: Begi nning of the course Defining the participantsÂ’ activity systems at the beginning of the course allowed for tracking the students throughout the research. To establish the studentsÂ’ initial activity systems the rubric contained in Appendix H was applied to the pa rticipantsÂ’ background survey and personal history interview. This rubric allowed for identifying the components of the activity system by answering specific que stions designed to highlight their defining characteristics. When the online Spanish cour se began, most of the participants began with similar activity systems. These initial activity systems appeared to be typical of college level students in an online Spanish c ourse. For example, each studentÂ’s activity system began with the same subject (the st udent participant), comm unity (the university and course environment), divi sion of labor (between the in structors and the students, established by the course procedures), a nd rules (established by the university, the language department, and the course procedures ). Figure 9 is a graphi c representation of two of the studentsÂ’ init ial activity systems.
166 Figure 9. Overview of studentsÂ’ initial activity systems Within these activity systems the rules and policies most related to the course and student participation were uncovered in the review of supplementary materials. In general, the rules and polic ies outlined in the course syllabus governed homework deadlines and submission procedures, the taki ng of exams, etc. For a more in depth description of these rules, see Appendices J-Q. Although the majority of these rules and procedures were also discussed previously in chapter 3, these appendices highlighted and categorized them according to where they were presented with regards to course
167 documents and websites. These rules and polic ies were found to be consistent for each student. The only exception to this was JPÂ’s ca se. JP registered for the course under the S/U option, which established a different grading scale for her overall grade in comparison with the other participants who we re registered under the traditional grading scale. Ultimately, JP had to earn a grade of 70% or better to pass th e course even though she would not receive credit for taking the cour se. Ultimately, this subtle change in the rules that applied to her lear ning context played an important role in shaping her learning process. This impact will be evidenced in the following sections. The division of labor for the course was consistent for all of the student participants, and it was clearly defined for each student in the course syllabus. For more details refer to Appendix J. In short, the students were responsible for submitting online homework assignments, preparing for exams, and taking the exams as scheduled. On the other hand, the teaching assistants and the lead instructor for the course were primarily responsible for grading the online homework submissions and the student exams. See Appendices J-Q for a further de scription of how the division of labor for the course was outlined in related course documents. Similarly, all of the participants bega n the course with access to the same mediational tools. Each student had equal access to EN LNEA and its available tools, as well as other Internet-based t ools and resources. One variati on to the studentsÂ’ beginning mediational tools was that some of the partic ipants had varying ability levels in Spanish prior to taking the online cour se. For example, JP and JA began with intermediate to advanced abilities in Spanish. Others bega n with minimal experience and one student
168 began with no prior exposure. These different, linguistic ability levels modified the type of mediational tool that Spanish was in the activity of online language learning. For students with more experience, they were able to refer more to existing knowledge while others with less experience relied more on othe r mediational tools to learn and search for information. Perhaps the largest variations in the student participantsÂ’ beginning activity systems came from the learnersÂ’ objects and desired outcomes, which were expressed prior to beginning the coursewor k. Several of the participants expressed their desire to fulfill the foreign language requirement and to ultimately graduate. In fact, the majority of the students who enroll in the beginning Spanish I online course do so to fulfill this requirement. However, this object did not apply to all of the student participants in this study. For example, JP, who was discussed prev iously in regards to registering under the S/U option, desired to rehearse her existing k nowledge of Spanish for a vacation trip to Costa Rica in the following months. Excerpt 13 contains a descrip tion of JPÂ’s thought process behind taking the online Spanish course. Excerpt 13. PHI_JP What are your goals for this course? Well, it is, I am taking it S/U, so my goal is obviously to get the S. So, I am doing much better than that though. Again, this is kind of a review for me. I needed to get back into the language, because I have taken Spanish since 5 or 6 years ago. So I only knew the basics, but I wanted to learn more obviously because I am going to a Spanish country in the summer, so thatÂ’s why I am taking it. Now that I am into it, it is a lot easier. I mean I am getting like 95 for all of the assignments, and I am not even doing every one of the assignments. I mean I am doing pretty well. I think it is because I remember some things and stuff like that. Ok, but you would say that you are taking this course primarily to refreshÂ…? As a refresher primarily.
169 As one can see from her description, JP did not need to receive credit for the course to fulfill the foreign language requirement a nd ultimately graduate. Likewise, in Excerpt 14 RA described how she chose to take the course to build on existing knowledge from high school courses, not to fu lfill the foreign language requirement. She also felt that learning Spanish may be a benefit in her future career. Excerpt 14. PHI_JA What are your goals for this course? I want to be able to get to a point where I can actually hold like a minor conversation, like the how do you do and in troductions. I want to go to Puerto Rico because I have family there. My dad is thinking of dumping us there for like a month so we can learn the language, but I donÂ’t think if I donÂ’t have the background I wonÂ’t be able to do that well enough and they will just laugh at me. Are you taking this course to fulfill the foreign language requirement? No. I am just taking it to lear n it. I think that it may help me later in life, in my job. These variations in learner objects ultimately helped shape the learnersÂ’ activities by changing the manner in which the students wo rked online, their mo tivation levels, and goals for the course. This important finding will be discussed in more depth in the findings sections for research questions three and four. Likewise, throughout the research process it became apparent that the students entered the course with varying social cont exts. Although it was not a primary focus of this research to investigate the learners Â’ interacting activity systems within online language learning, it is important to note these factors, which ultimately aided in shaping the online language learning experiences of the participants. For exam ple, several of the students described work contexts, which impact ed their participation in the online course.
170 In Excerpt 15 SS, who commuted from Atlanta, GA to Tampa, FL for the purpose of the course, described her work context. Excerpt 15. PHI_SS Are you currently working in addition to taking classes? Yes. Could you describe your weekly schedule? I work full time. I work the front desk fo r a cardiologistÂ’s prac tice. ItÂ’s a really large practice. I work from 8:30-5pm ev ery day. I have a ha lf hour lunch break. And, I am pretty much nonstop answering phones, checking people in, making appointments, that type of stuff. Several of the student participants described situations similar to SS, in which they worked full time Monday through Friday in addi tion to taking college courses. Based on this type of work schedule many of the partic ipants chose to work online primarily on the weekends, as JA in Excerpt 16. Excerpt 16. PHI_JA Where will you complete the online materials? I usually do it at home. Why have you chosen to work there? Because I really canÂ’t do it at work becau se of the fact that I am working. And I would rather come home and do it then going to the school because I have my own computer at home. And itÂ’s just conve nient, a more relaxed environment. When will you complete the online materials? I will work mostly on the weekends, hopefully Saturday night and/or Sunday in the afternoon. Why have you chosen to work on that day(s) at that time(s) of day? Mostly because I work full time during th e week and I have other responsibilities then also. So you will be working primarily on the weekends? Yes, on the weekends. Why have you chosen to work on this schedule? Due to my schedule. Related to work and your other classes? Yes.
171 Students with this type of work schedule ma de a conscious decision to work primarily on the weekends, when work would not be a di straction. Thus, they became somewhat of a weekend participant in the online language course. Aside from unique work contexts, one student in particular, RA, came into the course with a unique home setting. Being a sing le parent and living in her parentsÂ’ house while taking the course, she relied heavily on the assistance of her parents in caring for her son while completing coursework. In Excer pt 17 RA described how this affected her schedule for completing the online coursework. Excerpt 17. PHI_RA Where will you complete the online materials? IÂ’ll probably complete it at home. Why have you chosen to work there? Because I can watch my son and play with him and do my homework at the same time as doing my work. So if he needs me to run up to the bathroom, I can do that and then come back to the computer. You said that you will typically do most of the homework on the weekends? Yeah, I try to get some of it done at night. It Â’s usually very late at night. If itÂ’s the weekdays, itÂ’s more towards Thursd ay or Friday. Sometimes I work on Wednesday. I do the partner assignments on Thursday or Friday, night or late afternoon. And then I finish up any of the other sections that I couldnÂ’t get to during the week. ItÂ’s all dur ing the weekend. My weekend is usually covered with Spanish. Why have you chosen to work on that type of schedule? Basically, who is around the house. If no one is home, it is a litt le bit harder for me to concentrate with my son around becau se he wants me to play with him all the time. If no one is at home at all, then I have to wait until when he gets to bed, then I can go work on it. I basically wa it until he goes to bed. But then on the weekends when more people are home, I can bounce between letting him play with the family and playing with me. So I have more time to sit down and concentrate on what I am doing. So, it works out. In this manner, the idea of interacting activity systems also presented itself in the activity of online language learning. Figure 12 illust rates how multiple subjects from separate
172 activities may collaborate towards achieving a potentially shared object. In this research shared objects among student pa rticipants and other students and student participants and their surrounding activities we re that of successful comp letion of the online Spanish class, graduation, good grades, pr osperous home life, etc. However, by interacting with other subjects and their activity systems, the learners also experienced changes in schedules and personal priorities. Thus, it was found that the students experienced interactivity between multiple activities from outside and inside the central activity system, that of the course itself. Figure 10. Overview of interacting activity systems Changes in activity systems Beginning activity systems, as just disc ussed served as the starting point for tracking the subsequent changes where releva nt. To track changes in the participantsÂ’ activity systems, all of the data collected were reviewed in order to ga in insight into each studentÂ’s path through the course. First, the personal history interviews and the background surveys were reviewed to establish the participantsÂ’ base line activity system prior to beginning the course. Then, during th e sixth week of data collection the data collected were reviewed in order to establ ish the second set of activity systems. Upon
173 completion of the twelfth week of the data collection process a third set of activity systems was created. In this manner, snapshots were used to create an analytic structure using time intervals to segment the overall activity. Here, these sets of activity systems will be discussed in relation to noted changes, and in the following sections these changes will be discussed in relation to the studentsÂ’ contradictions and overall development. To establish the coding scheme for changes in the participantsÂ’ activity systems, the sets of activity systems were coded in their entirety for two participants, one beginning level student and one intermediate level student. This allowed the coding scheme to emerge from the data rather th an imposing an existing coding scheme to the data, which may prevent unveiling new potential themes. From this, the lead researcher and the co-rater established 3 codes for representing the t ypes of changes noted. Table 12 provides an overview of these codes. Subse quently, these codes are explained in more detail with examples from the data. Table 12 Overview of the Coding Scheme for Changes in Activity Systems Code used Description Change exhibited CMEDT Student changed manner in which a mediational tool was used for online learning Change in use of mediational tool COBJ StudentÂ’s overall purpose or goal for the course changed Change in object INAS A separate activity system was introduced into the studentÂ’s activity sy stem for online language learning Introduction of new interacting activity systems
174 As the course and the research process progressed noticeable differences between the participantsÂ’ activ ity systems began to emerge. It is understood that many changes occurred as the components of the activity evolved; however, the purpose here is to address the most significant changes in the st udentsÂ’ activity systems: the participantsÂ’ use of certain mediational tools, the activ ityÂ’s object, and the introduction of new interacting activity systems. In the following sections these changes will be discussed; however, it is also important to note compone nts of the student pa rticipants Â’ activity systems that did not change throughout the course. To substantiate that there were components of the studentsÂ’ activity systems that remain ed constant throughout the course, each activity system established for the participants, three per student at 3 distinct points in time, was compared and contrast ed. Whereas this process of constant comparison allowed for identifying the changes, it also highlighted the constancies. In the following sections, where appropriate, these c onstancies in the studentsÂ’ activity systems will be discussed to provide counterexamples to the observed changes in otherÂ’ activity systems. Change in the use of a mediational tool Students who exhibited a change in the us e of a mediational tool demonstrated varying actions with the same tool th roughout the research process. The most predominant change in the use of a mediati onal tool came in relation to using an online translator. Several students, like MD, used an online translator to assist with finding the meaning of words or phrases while working through the online exercises. In the first interview MD described her use of online tran slators as being Â“conve nientÂ”. Later in the
175 research process, during the second interview, she discusse d the online translators again. Excerpt 18 contains her description. Excerpt 18. INT2_MD Are there any online tools that you use frequently? Why do you use these more? Not frequently, no. Like I said before, there have been some English-Spanish translators. But I have gotten some fee dback about that before. Like the first couple of lessons that it is totally differ ent. So I just stick with the online book. I only used them for the first two lessons. I wanted to just double check myself, but the TA said that she could tell that I had us ed a translator. She said itÂ’s just not the same. As described, one of the teaching assistants advised her that some of her writing submissions contained very literal translations instead of meaningful phrases. It was at this moment in her online language learning that she decided to cease using the online translator. It was as if she recognized that she was relying too heavily on the translator to comprehend words and phrases. Thus, with th e influence of a teaching assistant, a community influence, she was able to adjust her mediational tool use in the activity of online language learning. As she came to this realization and made the change deemed necessary, there was also a subtle impact on th e rest of her activity system. For example, her interaction with the t eaching assistant ceased and sh e expressed feeling more confident about trusting hers elf in the process of comp leting the work. Last, when considering MDÂ’s decision to change her use of the online translators, it is important to remember her desired outcome of learning Spanis h for the potential of using it in a future workplace. Thus, there was interactivity betw een her use of mediational tools and her expressed desired outcome fo r the course as well.
176 A counter example to this type of change in the use of a mediat ional tool occurred with TD. She also admitted to using and was observed using online translators while completing the online exercises. However, TD consistently used the online translators throughout the course, even t hough she described its potential for decreasing her overall abilities with the language, Â“It is probably an easier way out, but I do it to get the work done. I know it hurts me on the exams because I donÂ’t have the translator then. I just blank out.Â” This over reliance on the online tran slators ultimately changed the activity for her by preventing knowledge retention for the exam s. In this case TDÂ’s desire to simply pass the course and fulfill the requirement app eared to cause tension with the division of labor component and mediational tools within the activity system. This apparent conflict in the decision making process of TD will also be discussed later in relation to contradictions and disturbances in th e results section for question four. Change in object Students who exhibited a cha nge in object also demonstr ated varying motivations for completing the activity of online language learning. The most a pparent change in object came in relation to JPÂ’s change in attitude towards the course and her overall goals. Thus, she exhibited a noticeable ch ange in desired outcome and object. For example, as discussed previously JP began the course desiring to refresh her existing abilities in Spanish to prepare for a summer trip to Costa Rica. However, as the course progressed her attitude shifted towards simply wanting to complete the course having earned the minimum grade required to receiv e the (S) or the satis factory mark. Figure 11 contains an example activity system crea ted from the data collected. As Figure 11
177 displays, there was a marked change in JPÂ’s overall object for the course from week one to week twelve of the research process. This was also evidenced in Excerpt 19. Excerpt 19. INT3_JP Have you gained confidence in your Spanish abilities? Kind of, it has shown me that I do remember a lot of my Spanish. Do you feel that you accomplished what you set out to do in this course? I donÂ’t know. I did review a b it, but most of the time I felt like I was wasting my time. I probably would say that I regret ta king this course, because it was more of a hassle than anything. Towards the end I didnÂ’t even care about learning or reviewing Spanish, I just wanted to finish the assignments and be done. JPÂ’s work changed so drastically throughout the course that at one point she did not submit a weekÂ’s lesson and then she did not appe ar to take the exam, resulting in a loss of 22% points for the overall grade in the course. However, as discussed previously this was more acceptable to her than other students ba sed on her S/U status for the course. Thus, she had more flexibility in her grade scale. Figure 11. Overview of change of object in studentÂ’s activity system
178 JPÂ’s manner of working was in direct c ontrast of KG who spent a considerable amount of time on each task for every portion of the course. JP, most likely due to her prior knowledge of Spanish, understood most of the material without reviewing the tutorials and she progressed quickly through each lesson. On the other hand, KG was very detail-oriented and she displayed meticulous review before submitting each assignment online. KGÂ’s object did not change throughout the duration of the course. She desired to learn Spanish and to fulfill th e language requirement. Thus, her method of completing and submitting the coursework did not change either. Introduction of new interacting activity systems There were several student participants who introduced new interacting activity systems into their activity of online language learning. As discussed previously, several students began the online Spanish course w ith existing, interacti ng activity systems, which ultimately impacted their online language learning. These included that of their work and social contexts. The introducti on of new interacting activity systems was accomplished primarily by soliciting the help of a family member or classmate. For example, JA admitted to soliciting the he lp of her fiance to complete the online exercises, a native speaker of Spanish. Thus, th e studentsÂ’ interacting activity systems of academic coursework and home life began to interact in the process of completing the online language course. This also resulted in several shared objects between JA and her fiance, that of successfully completing the online work, learning Spanish, and maintaining a happy relati onship and home life.
179 Likewise, two students in the online cour se, KG and RA, began working together to complete assignments. They collaborated pr imarily to complete online recordings and collaborative dialogues. It did alter the division of la bor between the two student participants as they completed online exer cises together. When asked about this KG discussed equally dividing the assigned work for such sections. This description is contained in Excerpt 20. Excerpt 20. INT2_KG How do you select a partner to work with for recordings? How do you then decide when to work together? I have the same partner all the time. We prearranged that way back with chapter two. We had to get a schedule that worked for both of us. This way we know when we meet and we just divide up th e work and combine it together when we are done. And if either of us have any que stions we could just ask each other. Her description also referred to the additiona l resource afforded by working with another classmate collaboratively. Thus by introducing an interacting activity system, in this case one that shares the same object of successf ully completing the task and learning Spanish, the students also gained access to another me diational resource. La st, these two students began working in the online course confined in the immediate context of their individual activity systems; however, after deciding to wo rk collaboratively with a fellow classmate each merged her respective system with the otherÂ’s system. Research Question 3: Mediational Tools What is the nature of the mediati onal tools used by the learners? a. What types of mediational tools are used by the online language learners? b. How are these mediational tools used to enable online learning?
180 This question focused on the types of medi ational tools used in the online Spanish course. Although mediational tools include th e psychological, such as language, and the physical, such as textbooks, the focus for th is research was on physical mediational artifacts, in particular the technology-based artifacts such as the computer. It was also intended to determine how the tools are us ed towards reaching the learning outcome desired. To answer this question the data de rived principally from the observations and the individual interviews. Within Sociocultural Theory and Activity Theory mediation and mediational tools are principal concepts. Mediation presents the idea that all human activity is affected or controlled by artifacts or tools, which are used for completing the activity. Furthermore, mediational tools enable the in dividual to exhibit control ove r the activity, the world as a whole, and the self. These tools can be psyc hological, as in language or diagrams, or physical, as in books or computers. With resp ect to online language learning, the students are attempting to learn to communicate in a second language while simultaneously attempting to acquire a new mediational tool the second language itself. Yet, in the online setting, the computer and its related t ools are equally as important, if not more important considering the lack of th e instructorÂ’s physical presence. For the purpose of this study, which was embedded in the broader field of online language learning, the focus was solely on the ph ysical tool use, especially the computer. This limitation was not intended to undere stimate the relevanc e or importance of language and other psychological tools in online language learning. However, it was intended to aid in revealing the role of the computer in online language learning and
181 avoid the duality of language as tool and la nguage as context. This focus on the computer as a mediational artifact allowed the research er to investigate how the activity of online language learning was changed by the role of the computer. The use of these computerbased tools will be discussed in the followi ng section, which is followed by a discussion of the mediational tools used not related to computers. Physical tool use: Computer-based tools To establish the coding scheme for mediat ional tool use in th is study, two sets of the data were coded in their entirety. Th e two sets chosen were selected to be representative of a beginning level student and an intermediate level student. As mentioned previously, Strauss & Corbin (1998) describe how this allows themes to emerge from the data rather than imposing an existing coding scheme to the data. From this, the lead researcher and the co-rater established 7 codes for physical tools. Table 13 provides an overview of these codes. Subse quently, these codes are explained in more detail with examples from the data.
182 Table 13 Overview of the coding sche me for physical tool use Code used Description Behavior exhibited ELD EN LNEA Dictionary Students referred to dictiona ry to find meaning for Spanish words or phrases. ELTXT EN LNEA Textbook Pages Students referred to textbook pages to review information presented. ELTTL EN LNEA Animated Tutorial Students viewed the animated tutorial as a means of learning and reviewing information. ELATB EN LNEA Accent Tool Bar Students used accent tool bar to type text. NELD Non EN LNEA Dictionary Students referred to dictiona ry to find meaning for Spanish words or phrases. NELT Non EN LNEA Translator Students referred to online tran slator to find meaning for Spanish words or phrases and to translate SpanishEnglish/English-Spanish words or phrases. NCBR Non ComputerBased Resource Students referred to other reso urces to gather, store, and review information. ELD: EN LNEA dictionary Students referred to the dictionary built into the EN LNEA courseware to find the meanings of unknown or unfamiliar words or phrases. All of the students that participated in the research referred to the EN LNEA dictionary at multiple points in the process of their onlin e language learning. There were, how ever, variations in the manner by which the students used the dictionary. So me students used it sparingly. In Excerpt 21, MD described her thought process behind deciding to use the online dictionary.
183 Excerpt 21. INT1_MD During the observation I noticed that you use the EN LNEA dictionary to look up words. Could you explain this process? Some times when I am working on somethi ng that I have never seen before and obviously this is one of those things. I will read over something and unless I am like studying it, it kind of just leaves my head. So when I get to certain parts of the lesson that I know I have seen before but I donÂ’t remember what it means the dictionary helps me a lot. And I use it to remind myself oh that is what it means. From MDÂ’s description one can see that she elected to use the dictionary when word meanings escaped her. Others used the EN LNEA dictionary ex tensively throughout the online learning process. For example, when as ked about useful online tools in the first interview, SS reported Â“I use the dictionary a lot.Â” During the second interview she was asked about finding the meaning of words or phrases that are difficult to understand and she indicated, Â“I mean I used the dictionary and translator a lot. I wished that I didnÂ’t have to so much, but I had to.Â” From these two examples, it can be seen th at the students used the dictionary to enable them to move past their lack of knowle dge for a particular word or phrase. In this manner, throughout the research process it b ecame evident that some students exhibited an over reliance on the dictionary to comp lete many of the online assignments. For example, at one point MD was reading through an assignment when she came across the Spanish word Â“ideaÂ”. She struggled with the meaning of this word and then decided to look it up in the EN LNEA dictionary. Excer pt 22 contains her e xplanation for this occurrence.
184 Excerpt 22. INT1_MD During the observation I noticed that you looked up Â“ideaÂ” in the dictionary, and then you said, Â“Sometimes I am ju st like oh!Â” Could you describe your thought process behind this event? Like I said before, sometimes I am just like ok fine. Then 15 minutes later I will forget. But like that I looked it up and I ha d just seen the word, and I was just like oh duh. That was just dumb. A nd there was no accent mark? No. I was definitely over thinking it I gue ss. Maybe I was trying too hard. In this example it appeared that MD relied too heavily on the dictionary, rather than thinking through the sentence and deciphering th e meaning of a word that should have relayed its meaning rather easily. Although th e dictionary did seem to enable MDÂ’s progress in relation to this word, having obtained the necessa ry meaning, the availability of the dictionary also seemed to impede the flow of her work. This potential for conflict will be discussed later in the results section for question #4. Another pattern that became apparent in the studentsÂ’ behavior related to the EN LNEA dictionary was toggling back and forth between open windows on the computer screen. While working online in a particular act ivity several of the students chose to have multiple windows open simultaneously so that they could access the online resources in EN LNEA while completing the exercises. This use of multiple windows seemed to allow the students to multitask, using the refe rence materials to assist in completing the assignments. Figure 15 is a screen shot take n from RAÂ’s field observation#1. In this screen shot, RA was reading through the exer cise questions. When she came to number 8 she did not recognize or remember the word sobrinos so she referred to the EN LNEA dictionary by clicking on the dictionary tab at the top of her screen. She then maintained
185 both windows open to enable finding the meaning of the word and applying this information directly to th e opened exercise window. Figure 12. Toggling between open windows Because this form of toggling back a nd forth between multiple open windows was employed frequently by several of the student participants and with a variety of the electronic tools available in EN LNEA and onlin e, this discussion will not be repeated in the subsequent sections of this chapter. It is understood that the be havior was similar in each case and with the multiple electronic tools available. ELTXT: EN LNEA textbook pages Students referred to the online textb ook pages presented in the EN LNEA courseware. All of the students that participated in the res earch reviewed the EN LNEA textbook pages at multiple points in the proc ess of their online language learning. Many reviewed the pages during the initial stages of each less on as a form of learning the
186 material in addition to viewi ng the online tutorials. Other st udents described the use of the online textbook pages as a quick resource for reviewing key grammatical information while completing the online exercises. These de scriptions demonstrat ed that the students referred to the online textbook pages as a le arning resource and al so as a source for immediate access to reference information. ELTTL: EN LNEA animated tutorials Students referred to the animated tutorial s in the EN LNEA courseware primarily to learn new information in each chapter. These tutorials appeared to serve as the main source of learning new information in lieu of not having an instructor who would normally teach new material to the class. Wit hout the presence of a more capable peer to scaffold learning, which would be the normal case in a face-to-face setting, the students referred to electronic resources to make up fo r this variation. All of the students that participated in the research reviewed the tutorials at the onset of beginning each lesson. For example, Excerpt 23 contains SSÂ’s descript ion of her decision to review the animated tutorials. Excerpt 23. INT1_S: Do you feel that you tried to learn the material before starting an exercise or do you start the exercise and then lear n the material as you go to complete the sections? Why did you choose to work in this manner? I donÂ’t know if I learned the ma terial first, but I always watched the Tutorials and did the practice exercises before star ting the homework sections. I figured you had to at least look at these before tr ying the work. I canÂ’t imagine starting the real work without trying to know some thing first, unless you already know Spanish, but then why would you be in this class anyways?
187 From SSÂ’s description, one can see that for a student who had limited knowledge of Spanish, reviewing the tutorials is essent ial for learning new information prior to completing the coursework. However, for students who may have had some existing knowledge, it was possible to advance to comp leting the exercises wi thout reviewing the tutorials. Thus, as referenced previously in the findings section for question one, the studentsÂ’ previous experiences framed their subsequent selection of mediational tool usage. For example, in Excerpt 24 MD descri bed completing exercises by memory if she did not have sufficient time to review all of the animated tutorials. Excerpt 24. INT1_MD Do you feel that you try to learn the ma terial before starting an exercise or do you start the exercise and then lear n the material as you go to complete the sections? Why have you chosen to work in this manner? Hmm, to be completely honest, when I first start working on the lessons I will start listening to the tuto rials, I will copy down the vo cabulary, and I will really try to retain the stuff before I start working on the exercise. If I am on a time constraint then I will just open the exercise and I will try to do it by memory. ThatÂ’s the only time I will do that is if I am on a time c onstraint. I will just do the exercise and skip the tutorials. Both examples here demonstrated how the st udents utilized the tutorials to assist in learning new information at th e beginning of each lesson. The last pattern observed in relation to the participantsÂ’ use of the animated tutorials was that of reverting back to the tutorials while completing individual exercises online. This was done to clarify certain gram matical and vocabulary related issues. It was also done to review and re inforce knowledge while working in the exercises. RA described this, Â“I do all the tuto rials first. I look at them to get the gist of whatÂ’s going on. Then I start. If I donÂ’t get it then I will go back to the tutorial.Â”
188 ELATB: EN LNEA accent tool bar Students reported using and were observed using the accent tool bar, which is located in the EN LNEA courseware, to enter accent marks in their responses to the lessonsÂ’ exercises. The accent tool bar in EN LNEA, see Figure 13, floated on screen as the students progressed down each activity page All of the students th at participated in the research used this tool to mediate thei r foreign language writing. Although there were other options for inserting accent marks in th e text required for the lessons, such as Ctrl+Alt commands, none of the students used an alternative method of inserting accents. This was most likely due to the accessible placement and convenience. When asked about using the accent tool bar, RA replied, Â“It helps a lot. I always click on that.Â” Similarly, JA described its convenience, Â“It works really good. It was very useful I didnÂ’t have to figure out how to make the accents on the keyb oard. You just click on it and it just pops up automatically.Â” From these descriptions it became apparent that the students used the accent tool bar for easy access to insert accents. In this ma nner the tool bar allowed the students to type special characters without disrupting the flow of working online. Figure 13. EN LNEA Accent Tool Bar
189 Physical Tool Use: Non EN LNEA -Based Tools NELD: Non EN LNEA dictionary Several of the participants used an electronic dictionary that was not related to the EN LNEA courseware. It appear ed that the students chose to use an outside dictionary resource based on their perception of the EN LNEA dictionary as having limited vocabulary. At several points in the research process it was noted that the students were unable to find particular word meanings in the EN LNEA dictionar y, and as a result they referred to external, online dictionaries su ch as WordReference.com (See Figure 14). For example, at one point SS looked in the EN LNEA dictionary for Â“surfingÂ” and did not find the meaning. She then looked in an onlin e dictionary and found the meaning. In this manner the external, online dic tionaries allowed the students to progress in their online work by providing the meanings for difficult wo rds or phrases. However, it also appeared to make up for perceived deficiencies in the existing, EN LNEA dictionary, which primarily contained words and phrases pr esented in the EN LNEA materials. Figure 14. Online dictionary screen shot
190 NELT: Non EN LNEA translator Several of the participants us ed an online translator that was not related to the EN LNEA courseware. The online translators, similar to online dictionaries, provided meanings for words and phrases. However, translators also had the capability of translating complete blocks of text from English to Spanish and Spanish to English. Only two participants of this st udy reported using online translators, MD and TD. MD reported using an online translator; however, she wa s never observed doing so. On the other hand, TD used an online translator extensively while completing the online assignments, and she was observed doing so numerous times. TD was the only participant who was observed using an online translator to assi st in completing the exercises. Excerpt 25 contains her description of using the online translator, FreeTranslation.com, when asked after a field observation. Excerpt 25. INT1_TD During the first observation I noticed that you use the Using FreeTranslation.com site, could you describe your thought process behind this? Hmm, I believe that I couldnÂ’t actually unde rstand the questions so I just put the words into the translator. It makes it more clear to me. I can actually put in the sentences and it gives me the Englis h. I cut and paste the sentences. How do you think that using the tr anslator affects how you learn the material? It is probably an easier way out, but I do it to get the work done. I know it hurts me on the exams because I donÂ’t have the translator then. I just blank out. In this Excerpt TD described how using the online translator made completing the exercises easier by clarifying the directions and questions of pa rticular exercises. In line# she described how she cut and pasted sentence s into the translator; however, in the field observations she was observed cutting and pasting entire sections into the translator,
191 including her English responses, and then cutting and pasting the subsequent translations as her ultimate submissions. Ironically, she ad mitted that this may be an easy way out, and that it had the potential to impede her l earning for the purpose of the exams, yet she continued to rely heavily on the translators for the purpose of completing the online exercises. Figure 15 is a screen shot of one of the online translators commonly used by TD. Figure 15. Online translator screen shot Physical tool use: Non com puter-based resources (NCBR) Throughout the completion of the online course, the students used several mediational tools, which were not associated with EN LNE A or computers in general. This section will describe these non compute r-based resources and their relevancy to online language learning. The tools discusse d here include physical textbooks and dictionaries, flashcards, note books, and even another person.
192 First, although the coursework and materi als for the online course were available and presented entirely online, the students also had the option of purchasing a companion textbook. Many of the students chose to purchase this textbook to use it as a reference much like the online materials. For example, in Excerpt 26 RA discussed how she used the textbook while simultaneously co mpleting the online exercises. Excerpt 26. INT1_RA When you are working online how do you decide between using the physical text or an electronic resource online? I usually just like use whatever is convenie nt. If itÂ’s easy to just shift the pages online, I will do that. Some times it is eas ier to just look in the book and keep the same window open. Similarly, some of the students worked online wi th a textbook in their lap or at their side on the computer desk. This appeared to help them maintain their place online without having to worry about accidentally shutting an open window. Likewise, several students utilized a physical dictionary. KG described this in Excerpt 27. Excerpt 27. INT2_KG Do you feel that you are capable of fi nding the meanings of words or phrases that are difficult? What makes you say that? How do you go about doing this? I do think I am capable. I have a dictionar y. Normally the first thing that I do is look at the words and toy with the way it should read in English. Then I will just go look it up to see what it mean s. I usually use a dictionary. In this example KG referred to using a phys ical dictionary, even though there was an online dictionary available in EN LNEA and ot her Internet-based dictionaries available.
193 Aside from textbooks and dictionaries, one student consistently used a notebook to record and rehearse information from th e online lessons. In Excerpt 28 JP described how using a notebook made accessing recorded information easier later in the lesson. Excerpt 28. INT1_JP During the first observation I noticed that you had a notebook with you? Could you describe how you use this while completing the online work? Some times if I think something is impor tant to remember I will write it down. I like to write it so I remember it better. Then I donÂ’t have to go looking for it later. In this manner JP used the notebook to record salient pieces of information, which she deemed important and potentially useful for her work to come. Likewise, MD described using flash cards to accomplish a similar pur pose; however, she also described how this made her learning more portable, Â“Yeah, it is mainly for vocabulary. And then when I go out I just bring the cards with me and if I have to wait some where I will use them.Â” It seemed that by creating flash cards, which can be taken away from the computer, MD was then able to rehearse learning in othe r environments. As a result she was no longer restricted to sitting at the computer in order to learn and practice Spanish. The last non computer-based resource used as a mediational tool in this investigation was that of a more capable pe er. In Excerpt 29 JA de scribed that she had her fiance, who is a native speaker, to refer to for help with completing the lessons. Excerpt 29. INT1_JA Have you felt that the material in this course has been too easy? No, I think that it is teaching me a lot, because I donÂ’t really know the grammar. It is actually pretty hard for me, and again I have my fiance who helps me so it must be hard for other student s. I have a lot to learn.
194 Throughout the research process it was noted that JA used her fiance for partnered recordings and as a resource for information much like othe rs would refer to the online materials and tools for assistance. Here, it is also important to note that none of the student participants initiated contact with the in structor during the cour se. It is difficult to determine if this was a side effect of the research process or if it was simply a natural occurrence for the course. Individual face-to-f ace contact between the instructor and a student is typically infreque nt in this online course. In conclusion, throughout the course and the completion of the online exercises many of the students referred to both computer-based and non computer-based resources tools. The EN LNEA and online tools a ppeared to provide immediate access to information that was necessary for the completion of the online coursework. Where the EN LNEA tools seemed inadequate to the st udents, they searched online for other tools such as online dictionaries and translators. However, not all of the studentsÂ’ needs were met by the technology-based tools. Thus, many of the students used physical tools other than computer-based. These tools such as te xtbooks, flashcards and notebooks afforded the students resources for off line practice a nd study away from computer. This form of portability was deemed important by seve ral of the student participants. Research Question 4: Contradictions and Disturbances What is the nature of the contradictions a nd disturbances that arise in online language learning? a. What types of contradictions and disturbances arise in online language learning?
195 b. If possible, how are the lear ners able to resolve these contradictions as they occur? This question focused on the types of cont radictions and disturbances encountered by the students in their on line language learning. It was also intended to determine whether the students were able to resolve th ese contradictions as they occurred and how this shaped their future development. To answ er this question the data derived principally from the observations and the individual in terviews; however, all data collected were considered for the purpose of descri bing the studentsÂ’ activity systems. Within Activity Theory contradictions are considered the driving force behind human development. Contradict ions are considered long term internal tensions, which exist within the elements of each individual activity (subject, instruments, object, division of labor, community, and rules), between these elements, and between surrounding activity systems. These contradictions were identified by applying the rubric contained in Appendix G, see p. 259, which was designed to unveil the defining characteristics based on descriptions of tendencies leading to c ontradictions and disturbances. There is, however, an important difference between cont radictions and distur bances. Disturbances are generally considered as deviations from th e normal flow of work and they can be tied to underlying contradictions of the activity sy stems. They are the visible manifestations of contradictions (Capper & Williams, 2004) Disturbances occur between people and their instruments or between two or more pe ople. In the following sections there is a discussion of the contradicti ons and disturbances, which were encountered in this
196 research process. This is followed by a desc ription of how these contradictions were resolved when possible. Types of contradictions and disturbances This study found three salient levels of contradictions. For the purpose of this research, the levels of contradi ctions observed and identified in the data were classified as conflicting-object contradicti ons, inter-activity contradict ions, and technology-related contradictions. Although these contradictions coincided with the trad itional categories of contradictions within Activity Theory (primar y, secondary, etc.), it was deemed useful to further classify the contradictions accordi ng to their immediate impact in the activity system. These more specific descriptions also allow the reader to see and understand the type of contradiction more readily. Thus, th e following sections will discuss these three levels of contradictions and the related dist urbances, which contribu ted to their formation in the semester long activity of online language learning. Conflicting-object contradictions Conflicting-object contradicti ons refer to tensions which emerged as clashes of interest between two or mo re objects within the same activity. In Activity Theory terminology these are referred to as tertiary co ntradictions. Tertiary contradictions take place only at the object node of the activity system when a more advanced activity, or a more advanced form of the same activity, intr oduces a new object into the central activity system. Then, this new object may create disa greement and clashes of interest, which is the result of tertiary contradictions. Throughout this research process one conflictingobject contradiction was identified.
197 As noted in the discussion section for question two, through the data collected it became apparent that JP experienced a change in object. Before this change was actually made, a contradiction steadily emerged in her online language learning. It is important to remember that originally JP wanted to take the course to rehear se her existing knowledge of Spanish to prepare for a trip to Costa Rica. Based on her previous experience with Spanish, one would expect her to begin at a higher level than Spanish I; however, she took the departmentÂ’s placement exam and pl aced into Spanish I. Upon discussing her decision to enroll in the course, the instructor notified her that based on her experience she had to take the course under the S/U gradi ng option. This allowed JP to enroll in the course, yet she did not receive academic cr edit for the course or receive GPA points based on her final grade. She would simply pass (S) or fail (U) the course depending on her performance. After several weeks in the c ourse, JP felt as if it were taking too long to complete the online exercises. In several interview que stions she described how she felt rushed to complete the assignments, because she was fr ustrated about Â“the amount of time that it takes to complete the work online.Â” She even st ated that she Â“(I) shouldnÂ’t have taken this course because it is more work for me.Â” As a result of this frustrat ion she began to take shortcuts to complete them. For example, she did not review the tutorials which presented the information pertinent to the lesson, and she submitted many of the assignments only once, regardless of the grade she earned in the initial subm ission. Later in the semester she chose not to submit a lessonÂ’s work and she also chose not to attend one of the exams. However, through these disturbances in her coursework a contradiction became
198 apparent between her desire to rehearse existing Spanish and the division of labor requirements established by the rule s and procedures of the course. By the end of the semester she was no ticeably conflicted be tween two or more different goals related to the same activit y of online language learning. Her first goal, which was explicitly stated by JP, was to re view her existing Spanish. The second goal, which only became apparent through subseque nt interviews and observations with JP, was to spend a relatively small amount of time participating in the actual course. These two objects ultimately created tension and they resulted in a conflicting-object contradiction. This type of c ontradiction served to highlight the fact that students may have multiple objects or motivating forces behind participating in an online language learning course, and at times these obj ects may conflict w ith each other. Inter-activity contradictions Inter-activity contradictions, known as quaternary contradictions in Activity Theory, refer to tensions which emerge be tween the central activity and any surrounding activity. This type of contradiction may o ccur as a problem, a rupture of communication, or an obstacle that in terrupts the fluent flow of work. These obstacles are the result of quaternary contradictions. Throughout this research process two inter-activity contradictions were identified. First, it is important to remember that any one subject can be a participant in multiple activities simultaneously, both insi de and outside the online structures. The focus here is on contradictions between the cen tral activity and outside activities. In this study it was noted that several students had to balance academic, home, and work lives at
199 the same time. Through the data collected it became apparent that different students engaged in the activity of online language le arning and other miscellaneous activities at distinct levels, and that the activity of focus, online language learning, did not progress as well as some had hoped due to tensions betw een the course and other various activity systems. For example, RA and SS experienced this type of cont radiction. The premise behind their contradictions was that each wa s a participant of multiple activity systems simultaneously, which were forced to inter act with one another based on overlapping responsibilities. Thus, these two students in particular experienced contradictions triggered by the interplay betw een their academic activity of online language learning and their home and work related activity systems. First, RA described encountering constant in terference from her family, which stalled her completion of the online course work. Subsequently, she was observed at several points in the field observations wh en her son distracted her while she was completing the online exercises. This left her with a dilemma with regards to when to complete the online exercises and, when doing so, how to simultaneously meet the home and work responsibilities required of her. When asked what was most challenging about the course, she replied that Â“it was difficult to balance everything in my life. I took the course online to have more freedom, but some times I just canÂ’t be mom and get my work done at the same time.Â” This tension indicated a contradiction between the multiple activities in which RA was participating while taking the online Spanish course. Second, SS encountered similar problems of interference caused by her home life and work responsibilities. While taking the online Spanish course she was also working
200 full time, planning a wedding, and commuting fr om Atlanta, GA to Tampa, FL for the purpose of taking the course. When asked how her job affects her participation in the course, she replied that Â“it aff ects it a lot, especially because I live in Atlanta. I work full time so the course is not really my main priority, even though I need it to graduate.Â” Per her account of work and home life, she had t oo much to do outside of the Spanish course. This ultimately made preparing for the c ourse and completing the online assignment less of a priority. Even though successfully comp leting the course was a requirement for her graduation, the other responsibilities gradua lly consumed the time that was normally spent preparing for the course. In conclusion, these two inter-activity cont radictions served to highlight the fact that the online language learners were partic ipating simultaneously in several activities. As a result of multiple ongoing activities within and outside of the course there is always a potential for conflict between them. In these cases the studentsÂ’ addi tional activities had a direct impact on the cent ral activity of online language learning. This further demonstrated that learners do not act in is olation as they attemp t to learn languages, whether it be in the traditi onal classroom or online. Outsid e activities have the potential to interact and interfere with the cent ral activity of onlin e language learning. Technology-related contradictions Technology-related contradictions refer to tensions that emerged as a result of using a particular technology in the process of completing th e activity. In Activity Theory this type of contradiction is referred to as a primary contradiction, one that occurs within any of the six elements of the activity, or a secondary c ontradiction, one that occurs
201 between the six elements of the activity. Throughout th is research process two technology-related contradict ions and several disturbances caused by non-working technologies were identified. Through the data collected it became appa rent that MD and TD experienced technology-related contradictions In both cases the students a ppeared to display an over reliance on the use of online translator s while completing the online exercises. They each used an online translator to come up with and determine the meaning of unknown words and phrases. In Excerpt 30 TD described he r thought process behind using the online translators. Excerpt 30. INT1_TD During the first observation I noticed that you use the Using FreeTranslation.com site, could you describe your thought process behind this? Hmm, I believe that I couldnÂ’t actually unde rstand the questions so I just put the words into the translator. It makes it more clear to me. I can actually put in the sentences and it gives me the Englis h. I cut and paste the sentences. As described TD cut and pasted entire sent ences into the online translators to get an immediate translation. In addi tion, in the field observations TD was observed using the online translators to translat e her writing assignments from English to Spanish before submitting them online. Although this type of shortcut in the work process may be viewed as a productive method in terms of TDÂ’s object for the cour se, fulfilling the langua ge requirement, it became apparent that TD and other students co uld not distinguish between beneficial use of the translators and over reliance on the tr anslators. This type of technology-related
202 contradiction served to indi cate that technology within the activity system may serve as an obstacle to language learning. For these students it was about de termining sufficient and appropriate levels of usage for the on line translator, learni ng how to maximize the benefit of its use while still enabling successful learning and retention of the information. In addition to these contradictions, th e most commonplace disturbances observed in the activity of online language learning of this research process were caused by nonworking technologies. At various points in completing the online coursework, several students encountered problems with the tec hnology-based tools. JP first described a problem that she had continuously with the EN LNEA dictionary, Â“Well sometimes the EN LNEA dictionary doesnÂ’t open for me, a nd that is a real pain.Â” Similarly, JA encountered a problem with accessing the anim ated tutorials at the beginning of the lessons. This appeared to stall or prevent he r progress in that part icular lesson. She was essentially unable to proceed in the lesson until she rectified the problem. Thus, although these electronic tools had the potential to serve as powerful, me diational tools as described previously, they also had the poten tial to create additi onal obstacles in the process of online language learning. E xperiencing problems with non-working technologies is especially problematic in an online course in wh ich the students depend on these technologies for su ccessful participation. Resolution of contradictions As contradictions are considered the driving force behind development, the resolution of such contradicti ons is equally important. Howe ver, before considering the resolution of the contradictions, as just defined in the previous section, it is important to
203 highlight the studentsÂ’ desire d outcomes for the online Spanish course. These desired outcomes varied for the students based on thei r attitudes and motivation towards course and their overall goals. It is important to remember that the outcome is the result actually obtained upon completion. This outcome is not predetermined, and it is the transformational process, which includes the handling of contradictions, which enables turning the object into the desired outcome. Some students in this research were successful in achieving th is, others were not. In this research whether the student b ecame aware of the contradiction and how this impacted their behavior was an integr al part of determining their ability to successfully resolve the contra dictions encountered. Having said this, in several cases even possessing the ability to recognize the c ontradictions that exis ted was not sufficient for resolving conflicts. With this in mind the following sections discuss the findings related to the studentsÂ’ resolution of cont radictions, keeping in mind their desired outcomes for the course. Successful resolution of contradictions MD resolved her technol ogy-related contradiction w ith online translator by stopping its use. She was able to resolve th e contradiction after one of the teaching assistants brought her reliance on the online tran slators to her attenti on. At this time she made a conscious decision to shift the nature of her mediational tool use. Subsequently, by no longer using the online translators, she increased her motivation to actually learn Spanish by applying herself differently. Excerpt 31 contains her description of this process.
204 Excerpt 31. INT2_MD Could you describe why you stopped us ing the online translators that you were using previously? Yes, well actually one of the TAs to ld me that it was causing a lot of miscommunications in my writing. When I ta lked to her I deci ded just to start doing more on my own. Actually, I like it be tter that way and I feel that I have learned more because of it. I actually want to understand it better now, whereas before I used the translator so much that I didnÂ’t even think about Spanish. I just wanted to plug it in and get an answer back. Thus, although MD became aware of the contra diction that she was experiencing with the help of another person, she was able to succes sfully resolve the contradiction on her own. As a result she was also able to achieve her desired outcome for the online language learning process, Â“building a foundation in Spanish to work towards becoming bilingualÂ”. It is worth mentioning that MD passed the course with a high B, and she chose to continue in the Spanish II online course. Similarly, RA was able to resolve her contradiction related two interacting activity systems. As a single mother and a university student, she experienced several moments of conflicting responsib ilities, especially with respect to caring for her son. Ultimately, she was able to resolve this conf lict by adjusting her actions in both activities. Thus, she renegotiated her academic and home life responsibilities with her family, and as a result she was able to continue successf ully in the online cour se. Subsequently, the initial distraction did not appear to thwart RA Â’s effort to succeed in the course and meet her goals. She earned an A in the course a nd she graduated from the university in the same semester. JP was another example of a student w ho was able to resolve a contradiction encountered in the online c ourse. She experienced conflic ting objects for the same
205 activity of online language lear ning. She wanted to refresh her Spanish, yet she did not want to spend the time required of the st udents in the online co urse. Initially this contradiction led to the incompletion of work and missing an exam. It was evidenced that JP was aware of this contradiction when she was asked about her normal process for working online. A description of th is is contained in Excerpt 32. Excerpt 32. INT1_JP Before the first observation you asked me Â“Should I do what I normally do? Or do you want me to work through everything the way you are supposed to? Will this affect my grade or is it just for your research?Â” Could you describe why you asked these questions? I didnÂ’t know if you were goi ng to think that I was lik e cheating or something. I already know most of this stuff. I just di dnÂ’t want to get in tr ouble or have you be upset about it. In this description JP acknowledged that he r means of completing the exercises hastily and relying on the computer-generated feedb ack for answers was problematic. However, after several weeks of strugg ling with the contradiction, she resolved the problem by shifting her initial object to that of simply finishing the course and earning the required (S)atisfactory grade. Thus, JP remodeled the fo rm of her activity to take into account her new motive for the course, finishing the wo rk and earning the minimum grade required. By shifting her overall goal from refreshing her existing Spanish to simply completing the course, it then justified her change in the means of completing the work online. She did complete the course earning an Â“SÂ” grad e. When she was asked specifically about meeting her goals for the course, she responde d Â“I donÂ’t know. I did review a bit, but most of the time I felt like I was wasting my time. I probably would say that I regret taking this course, because it was more of a hassle than anything.Â”
206 Unresolved contradictions and disturbances SS was unable to resolve the contradicti on that existed between her work and home life and the need to complete online coursework. She was aware of the contradiction as she indicated, Â“I work full ti me so the course is not really my main priority, even though I need it to graduate.Â” However, not being able to resolve the contradiction ultimately led her to drop the c ourse. In addition, she did not meet her goals for the course, passing and continuing on to Spanish. Thus, her desired outcome of passing the course, fulfilli ng the graduation requirement and graduating was not achieved. Likewise, TD was not able to resolve he r contradiction relate d to over reliance on online translators. Her consistent over reliance on the tool to translate entire blocks of text ultimately led to poor performance on coursework and exams. She earned a D in the course. This did meet her stated goal for th e course, passing and continuing on to Spanish II which was a requirement for graduation. Howeve r, it became apparent that she did not retain a lot of the information learned or in tended for this course and to continue on to Spanish II. This was evidenced by her low ex am scores in the c ourse. Another unique characteristic with regards to TDÂ’s contradi ction was that she was genuinely aware of the contradiction. In Excerpt 33 she described this awareness. Excerpt 33. INT1_TD Before the first observation you asked Â“should I do what I do or..?Â”. What did you mean by this? Does this imply that there are several ways of completing the homework? How do you normally work? Some people may consider me using the tr anslator as cheating, so I wanted to know if you wanted me to do that. I didnÂ’t know if you think it is appropriate. It is an outside source. As long as I donÂ’t use it on the test, I donÂ’t care. ItÂ’s fine with
207 me. It helps me get it done faster. Some one could easily have another person who speaks Spanish helping th em with the work. How do you think that using the tr anslator affects how you learn the material? It is probably an easier way out, but I do it to get the work done. I know it hurts me on the exams because I donÂ’t have the translator then. I just blank out. This description was offered very early in the semester, yet no changes were made in TDÂ’s activity as a resu lt of this ability to recognize the contra diction. She preferred completing the online assignments relatively easily instead of learning the material, which would have helped her performance on the exams. Again, although TD was aware of this contradiction in her activity and she consciously chose not to make any changes, she still accomplished her imme diate goal of simply passing the course and continuing to Spanish II which she also took online. Summary of Results This chapter has served to describe the da ta collected in the research process. It also discussed the data to form answers to the research questions posited in this study. The seven cases examined in the research pr ocess exhibited a myriad of characteristics and behaviors relevant to the topics focu sed on in the research questions: previous linguistic and technology experiences, medi ational tools, activity systems, and contradictions and disturbances. In the next chapter there will be a discu ssion of these findings in relation to the theoretical frameworks, which guided this re search, Sociocultural Theory and Activity Theory, and in relation to the overarching fields of Second Language Acquisition and online language learning.
208 Chapter Five: Discussion This case study research, which focused on beginning online Spanish students, was driven and informed by several fram eworks including: So ciocultural Theory, Activity Theory, Second Language Acquisi tion, and Online Language Learning. The study collected data over a semester long course to examine four research questions. The purpose of this chapter is to discuss the fi ndings for these research questions, then to synthesize the results described previously in chapter 4 in order to provide theoretical, methodological, and practical implications in relation to the aforementioned frameworks. Last, there will be a discussion of recommendations for future research. Discussion of Findings for Question #1 This question focused on the learnersÂ’ past experiences to establish their sociohistorical context and their perceptions of their current online learning. The discussion here will now address how the studentsÂ’ pr evious experiences and their perceptions thereof aided in framing the studentsÂ’ engagement in online language learning. First, it is important to recognize that the subjects in the activity systems Â“carry their own diverse historiesÂ” (Engestrom, 2001, p.136), which they brought into the activity of online language learning. This wa s clearly evidenced in this study. The language learnersÂ’ personal e xperiences with language lear ning and technology prior to taking the online Spanish course were va ried and unique. For example, several participants entered with be ginning level Spanish skills and two began the course with intermediate Spanish skills. These prior experiences also framed how the students approached completing online exercises. Sim ilar to Belz (2002) this study found that
209 differences in previous lingui stic experiences influenced the studentsÂ’ desired outcomes for the course. However, this study also found that these differences may influence the nature of mediational tool use in online language learning. For exam ple, some students, who had limited knowledge of Spanish, referred frequently to using the computer-based tools available in EN LNEA and outside of the program. On the other hand, the two students with intermediate Spanish skills di d not rely as extensively on technology-based tools, because they had access to more Span ish knowledge to mediate their learning. In this manner the learnersÂ’ previous linguistic experiences appeared to frame the studentsÂ’ selection and subsequent use of mediational tools as they co mpleted the online exercises. This discussion will be continued in more depth in the discussion section for question three, which relates specifically to mediational tools. In regards to technology, the students did not di splay widely divergent experiences or technological know -how. It is fair to state th at the students entered the course with greater confiden ce in their technol ogy skills than lingui stic skills. For example, each student began the course with prior experience in using computers, the Internet, and taking other online courses. This evidenced a sort of technological normalization, as discussed in Bax (2003). Bax describes how a technology becomes normalized when students come to expect to use it just as they would expect to use a textbook in any college level course. With re gards to university students using computerbased technologies, the participants of this study expected to use the computer for language learning, and they felt confiden t about doing so. Although the student participants had technologi cal experiences, none had been exposed to using these
210 technologies specifically for la nguage learning. In this manner the nature of the studentsÂ’ history of mediational tool us e had to evolve in the pro cess of completing the present activity. Thus, in this instance the nature of the mediational tool usage was altered by the activity (Wertsch, 1985). Last, with regards to the studentsÂ’ percep tions of the impact of their previous experiences on their current online language lear ning, there appeared to be a difference in their perceptions based on the depth and na ture of their previous experiences. For example, these varying perceptions were expr essed indirectly in the studentsÂ’ course expectations and desired outcomes for the course. Those who possessed more linguistic experiences also expressed more advanced expectations and desired outcomes for the course, such as refreshing existing lingui stic skills. On the other hand, those who possessed minimal Spanish skills expressed a desire simply to fulfill the language requirement by passing the course. This fi nding directly supports Belz (2002), as described previously, which maintains that a studentÂ’s existing linguistic skills may influence the studentÂ’s desired outcomes. More specifically, the stude ntsÂ’ perceptions of the influence of their past experiences on th eir current online langua ge learning were both positive and negative. This also demonstrated that the learners carried their sociohistorical context and experiences into the current learning environment. In addition, the studentsÂ’ pe rceptions of their previous technological and linguistic experiences appeared to express a certain leve l of self-consciousness with regards to their ability levels and expected difficulties or lack thereof in the current online language learning context. In this manne r the studentsÂ’ ability to rec ognize contradictions allowed
211 them to begin participating in the course with a general underst anding of anticipated linguistic problems, and it afforded them the opp ortunity to avoid expected pitfalls. Thus, to a certain degree the student sÂ’ preliminary perceptions act ed as mediational tools by aiding in shaping the nature of the current activity, and they impacted the nature of usage of L2 and computer-based technologies as medi ational tools. In regards to the studentsÂ’ perceptions of their technologi cal experiences, there were no variations in the perceived effects on their online la nguage learning. All of the students felt that they would be able to draw on their existing schema of comput er use, which afforded them an increased understanding of the mediational to ols in online language learning. In conclusion, the findings for question one aided in establishing the participantsÂ’ sociohistorical context and they highlighted the importance of considering studentsÂ’ prior history of language learning and computer usage when examining online language learning. This type of information serves as the foundation to an in depth investigation. This research also demonstrated how the lear nersÂ’ previous experien ces interacted with their desired outcomes and mediational tool usage in online language learning. Within the AT framework this form of interactivity highlights the importance of examining the activity in its entirety. Discussion of Findings for Question #2 This question focused on defining the onlin e language learnersÂ’ activity systems and tracking changes in the activity system s throughout the duration of the course. The present study specified and tracked three consecutive activity systems pertaining to online language learning for seven student pa rticipants. The discussion here will now
212 address how these activity systems, and especially changes in the systems, were used to delineate the studentsÂ’ contex tual engagements in the overall activity of online language learning. First, by investigating and defining the activity systems, one can see the dynamics of online language learning from multiple vant age points, not just th e learner in isolation. In this study multiple facets of online langua ge learning were revealed including the roles of the students, their environments, their use of computer-based tools, course policies and procedures, and their interac tions with other students and family members. Second, similar to the discussion of findings for quest ion one, it is important to note that this research established historicity as a critical feature. Historicity is relevant in this case because it helps in understanding problems as they develop. Â“Parts of older phases of activities stay often embedded in them as they developÂ” (Kuutti, 1996, p.26), and thus, sources of tension may be revealed by examin ing these consecutive activity systems. As such, the foundation of any given activity is based on the previous activities, which have led up to the current activity. Often these previous forms of the same activity are unexamined. However, by examining these multiple layers of the same activity system (Engestrom, 2001, p.136), this research was ab le to identify several key changes in regards to their components. The most prominent changes were observed in relation to changes in the object, changes in the use of mediational tools, a nd the introduction of ne w interacting activity systems. For example, JPÂ’s change in th e activityÂ’s object cha nged her overall purpose for the activity, shifting from desiring to re fresh her Spanish to merely completing the
213 course. Subsequently, this affected other as pects of the activity in cluding the manner in which she used the EN LNEA courseware. In addition, it further demonstrated that Â“the object of activity is a moving target, not reducible to conscious short-term goalsÂ” Engestrom (2001, p. 135). In regards to the changes observed in the use of a mediational tool, these ultimately changed the studentsÂ’ engagements with activity by altering the manner in which the task was completed. For example, a noteworthy observance was made in relation to the studentsÂ’ over reliance on particular tools. S ubsequently, when the students were able to reduce over relian ce on a particular tool, the acti vity itself changed. L1 and L2 became more significant mediational tools. This finding was congruent with similar research conducted in SLA using activity theo ry, which indicated th at the tool has the potential to alter the activity (Wertsch, 1985) In addition, this finding supports the work of Coughlan and Duff (1994) and Roebuck ( 2000), which demonstr ate the difference between task and activity. Although the studen ts were faced with the same task or assignments online, their task, each student shaped their individual activity as they progressed in the course. Shaping their activ ity was accomplished in part by adopting and adapting a unique form of use for a partic ular set of mediational tools, which the individual student selected. Last, the introduction of a ne w interacting activity system added to the context in which online language learning took place. Wh en the subjects introduced other subjects into the activity of online langua ge learning directly, these indi viduals also had an effect on the processes related to the language learni ng. For example, several of the new activity
214 systems introduced or that became relevant late r in the course served as distractions to online language learning. As a re sult the students had to adju st their means of completing the online assignments to account for these new disturbances. In conclusion, defining the participants Â’ activity systems served to define participantsÂ’ overall context. These systems highlighted how the participants interacted with their environment to participate in on line language learning. They also demonstrated that the activity itself was dynamic. It changed constantly as the students progressed throughout the semester. In most cases each of these changes was driven by an underlying contradiction. Although, these change s are addressed preliminarily here, they will also be discussed later in the discussion section for question four, because they are a principal factor in di scussing contradictions. Discussion of Findings for Question #3 This question focused on the t ypes of mediational tools us ed in the Spanish course to complete the online exercises. Although me diational tools include the psychological, such as languages, the focus for this resear ch was on physical mediational artifacts, in particular technology-based artifacts such as the computer and related tools. The discussion here will begin by addressing how the physical tools framed the studentsÂ’ engagement in online language learning. Throughout the activity of online language learning, the computer and computerbased tools worked in conjunction with the university and depart mental policies, the course syllabus, the instructor, other classmates and of course the st udent participant, to shape the overall learning experience. Thus the computer-based tools, utilized by the
215 students, framed their engagement in the ac tivity of online language learning in several aspects. First, utilizing the computer fo r online learning removed the students from traditional, classroom-based language courses. By placing the students into a new learning environment with a va riety of computer-based tool s and an increased spatial distance, some experienced a less familia r and possibly less comfortable learning environment. As a result, the mediational tool s, combined with the learner and the tasks included in online language learning activities, played a role in forming the new learning environment for the online language course. Second, several of the students encountered difficulties based solely on the computer and its related tools, which stalled or prevented them from successfully completing their assi gnments and achieving their overall goals. These were difficulties that would not have been a concern if it were not for the use of the technologies. For example, several stude nts encountered non-working technologies. Third, because online language learning combined the use of the computer and ultimately the target language, the students were also accountable for entering the appropriate international characters, of the Spanish langua ge in this case. Based on the use of an accent tool bar within the EN LNEA program or the use of CTR+ALT commands, this process was more difficult for some student s than it would have been otherwise. In addition, because several of the st udents began the course with limited linguistic experience, typically they also had poor control over the linguistic abilities necessary to complete the on line exercises, such as gram matical and lexical knowledge. Thus, the studentsÂ’ prior knowledge of Span ish was not a sufficient mediational tool within itself. Despite this apparent lack of proficiency in the L2, these same university
216 level students entered the online Spanish course as experienced learners with regards to college level courses, online courses, and using specific computer-based tools. These experiences and the studentsÂ’ subsequent use of computers as media tional tools are what allowed the students to progre ss successfully in the online language course without the physical presence of an instructor. To achieve this success the students relied on one of the computer-based mediational tools, or a comb ination of two or more tool s, to solve the immediate linguistic problem and to accomplish the overall task. Based on the limited proficiency of many of the beginning level studen ts, it was rare that a student was able to complete the online exercises without the use of a compute r-based tool. Having said this, two of the more experienced students, JP and JA, were exceptions to this generalization. Because they both began the course with existing knowledge of Spanish, which would classify them at the intermediate level, they relied less extensively on the av ailable tools and more on their existing knowledge. For example, it was common for these students to completely skip over parts of the lesson, which were deemed essential by all other participants, including the in itial review of the tutori als to learn new linguistic information. This demonstrated ThorneÂ’s (2003) idea that the same task may be completed differently by learners in unique socio-cult ural contexts and in this case with unique socio-historical experien ces and existing knowledge. In this research, it resulted in the use of different tools and different forms of use for each tool to accomplish the same set of tasks. This also coincided with the findings of Wertsch (1985) which reported that the tool may alter the shape of the activity and the tool may be altered by the activity.
217 Having established the general role of the computer in framing the studentsÂ’ engagement in online language learning, the discussion now shifts towards examining the connection between the use of these mediationa l tools and the studentsÂ’ subsequent levels of regulation. The computer-bas ed tools made solving some linguistic problems possible that would not have been possible otherwis e, much like using a calculator to solve a difficult math problem. Similarly, by helpi ng the students understand difficult material, increasing their comprehension, and providi ng information on demand, the mediational properties of the computer allowed students to gain control over their learning and resulting performance. This was similar to the findings of DiCamilla and Anton (2004), in which they describe how learners use priv ate speech as a mediational tool to aid in concentrating on the task at hand. This form of gaining control is precisely what Aljaafreh and Lantolf (1994) describe as th e progression from object-regulation or otherregulation to self -regulation (p.470). For example, some students were successf ul at understanding Spanish text only through Spanish to English translation. To acco mplish this, the students read through text materials and when they encountered words or phrases that were difficult to understand, they referred to online dictionaries and translators and L1 to understand the Spanish phrases. Initially, several of the less experien ced students relied extensively on the online dictionaries and translators to find the meanings of almost every word encountered in the exercises. This form of over reliance on a medi ational tool is a key factor indicating their object-regulation.
218 As the students progressed in the course they became more familiar with the Spanish language and the use of the online di ctionaries and transl ators as mediational tools. This allowed the students to internali ze the use of these tool s so that their use became more automatic. As a result the studentsÂ’ over reliance on the online dictionaries and translators lessened as well. Thus, the students progressed from their initial objectregulation, over relying on the tools, to se lf-regulation in which th e use of these tools became a more natural and inte rnalized process. In additi on, several students displayed forms of continuous access (Gue rrero & Villamil, 1994) in which they transitioned back and forth between object-regulation to self-re gulation and vice versa. This further demonstrates that self-regulation is not necessarily a permanent state. In conclusion, the findings of this study demonstrated that the use of computers and computer-based tools as mediational tool s within online language learning is a multifaceted and complex issue. The computer-bas ed tools used varied immensely in their functions and subsequent forms of use. They varied according to the usersÂ’, or the online language studentsÂ’, socio-historical experi ences, knowledge, and abil ities. Ultimately, the computer and its related tools become a part of the activity by bei ng an obstacle or a useful tool, and in part it wa s the interactivity between the use of these me diational tools and the other components of the activity syst em, which formed the resulting activity for each student. The following discussion sect ion pertaining to contradictions and disturbances will further delineate the concept of the computer as an additional source of tension within the activity.
219 Discussion of Findings for Question #4 This question focused on the types of cont radictions and disturbances encountered by the students in their on line language learning. It was also intended to determine whether the students were able to resolve th ese contradictions as they occurred and how this shaped their development. This study iden tified three major levels of contradictions conflicting-object contradicti ons, inter-activity contradict ions, and technology-related contradictions. The following discussion of these contradictions will highlight the significance of the student sÂ’ ability to recognize contradict ions, their ability to make the necessary shifts to overcome th em, and the relevance of realizing their desired outcomes. First, it is important to note that contra dictions occur as Â“historically accumulating structural tensions within and between act ivity systemsÂ” (Engestrom, 2001, p. 137). Thus, these tensions development and change as the activity progresses. The specific contradictions discovered in the data collected for this research demonstrated that the task of online language learning may be the same for each student, yet their resulting activity or the path taken to accomplish the task may be different. Thus, as each student progressed in the course their paths taken we re divergent and the tensions encountered were different as well. As a result, a variety of contradict ions were uncovered in this research. This study found that one of the keys to a successful resolution of contradictions is the studentsÂ’ ability to recognize thease emerging tensions in their learning process. The findings of this study support (Capper & Williams, 2004), which indicated that contradictions may be invisible to the subject of the activity. In this research, one student
220 did not have the ability or know how to id entify the contradiction. Furthermore, it was noted in this research that some stude nts may have the capacity to identify the contradiction, yet they may not have the motivation required to make the necessary change to further learning and development within the activity. Thus, contradictions may not always be resolved even when they are visible. As other researchers discuss (Peruski 2003; Russell & Schneiderhenize, 2005; Blin, 2005), these types of unresol ved contradictions typically do not lead to change. As a result the activity, in this cas e language learning, may become stagnant or it may continue in a more stymied state. On the other hand, in cases where the students were able to identify the contradiction and make the nece ssary changes, they were also able to continue successfully in the overall activity. Us eful insights were ga ined from monitoring the studentsÂ’ changes, because it afforded a vi ew of how they adjusted their actions in the activity according to the tensions confron ting them. For example, JP resolved her conflicting-object contradicti on by adopting a new object for the online Spanish course. She redefined the activity midstream. This furt her demonstrated that the activity of online language learning is not merely a static proc ess of knowledge transmission in which the learner receives knowledge. Learners have the ab ility to alter the activ ity as it progresses. Likewise, MD resolved her contradiction by adapting the manner in which she used the online translators, and RA resolved her in ter-activity contradiction by renegotiating a plan for balancing home and university life.
221 Linking the Findings Having already discussed the research findi ngs as they relate to the research questions, the purpose of this se ction is to discuss how thes e findings may relate to each other. By linking the findings in this manne r, it may be possible to establish connections that would not otherwise have been discusse d. The following section at tempts to establish two connections: linking the changes in the st udentsÂ’ activity systems with their attempts to resolve contradictions and linking th e mediational tools with the studentsÂ’ contradictions. First, the changes in the activity system s, as presented in the discussion of findings for question two, directly related to the contradictions encountered in the activities. In several cases these changes were the studentsÂ’ attempt at resolving the contradiction. For example, JP shifted the object of her activity to ac count for her conflict of interest between wanting to rehearse her existing Spanish and wanting to spend as little time possible in doing it. Like wise, MD modified the manner in which she used online translators to overcome her struggle with over relying on them to translate Spanish words and phrases. In both of these cases, the stude nts initiated explicit changes in their activities which were a direct attempt to overcome the contradictions facing them. Successful personal development in the activity depended on these changes. Second, in one sense it was the use of the computer and online tools, which enabled the students to take th e online Spanish course; however, in another regard these same mediational tools also pl ayed a role in causing technolo gy-related contradictions for the students. Thus, the technology, which was es sential for online learning, also became a source of conflict in th e activity. Furthermore, for severa l students the same technologies
222 served as a means of resolving other cont radictions encountered in online language learning. In this manner it became evident in th is research that computer-based tools have the potential to serve both as mediational to ols and as a source of conflict in online language learning. Theoretical Implications In this section implications from the findings in this study will be presented and applied to the theoretical fram eworks that informed all face ts of the research. First, implications from the findings will be a pplied to Sociocultural Theory and Activity Theory. Then, they will be applied to Second Language Acquisition and Online Language Learning. Sociocultural Theory and Activity Theory Congruent with previous SCT research in SLA (Warschauer, 2005; Meskill, 1999), the research presented here found evid ence which supports the notion of the computer being used as a mediational tool. This research identified several computerbased technologies, which were used as me diational tools in th e process of online language learning. These computer-based te chnologies were used to control thought processes and manage incomprehensible phr ases when confronted in online learning. This usage was also linked indirectly to the studentsÂ’ levels of previous linguistic experiences. In addition, this study supports findings of Aljaafreh and Lantolf (1998), which described various levels of developm ent progressing from other regulation to selfregulation. However, the presen t study discussed this with regards to online language learning and the use of computer-based tools as mediational tools. In this case, once the
223 students became more familiar with particular technology-based tools, they were able to internalize their use. Thus, automaticity in using these tools became more commonplace. Last, the online students displayed forms of continuous access, which was previously described by Guerrero & Villamil (1994). This demonstrated that the learners did not remain in self-regulation once it had been re ached. Depending on the particular task at hand, the learner reverted back to object-regu lation and other-regulation when necessary. By extending this discussion to include the theoretical framework of Activity Theory, this research was also able to dem onstrate how different st udents may engage in a unique activity while completing the same task of online language learning. Even though the participants of this study had equa l access to the same tools, each student displayed unique behaviors with regards to their usage of the computer and computerbased tools in the process of online langua ge learning. This finding further supports previous research distinguish ing between the intended linguistic task and the resulting activity (Coughlan & Duff, 1998; Swain & La pkin, 1998), which is based more on the individualÂ’s needs and preferences. Likewise the studentsÂ’ previous experiences are carried with them into the pr esent activity, and they aid in shaping the activity through their influence on mediational tool use and the formation of desired outcomes In addition, from the description of the com puter and related tool s in this research, it is apparent that the computer may beco me a member of the activity (Siekmann, 2004; Thorne, 2003). As a member of the activity it interacts with the other components including the subject. In this manner it may serve as a valuable tool or it may be an obstacle preventing learning itsel f. This study also illustrated how the activity systems
224 evolve and have the potential to interact w ith other systems. Last, by examining multiple layers of the same activity, one can see learner development through the handling of contradictions. This type of examination also allows tracking learner resolution of these contradictions and their resu lting outcomes in relation to their desired outcomes. Second Language Acquisition While SCT and Activity Theory may be used to inform several fields of second language acquisition, the findings of this re search, guided by SCT and AT, are most relevant to the role of the learner and his or her sociohistorical contex t and the role of the computer as a mediational tool used in the process of language learning. These aspects of second language acquisition will be addr essed in the subsequent sections. As was discussed previously in chapter 2, SCT and Activity Theory diverge from traditional and commonly more acce pted cognitive approaches to SLA. These differences are based principally on the social nature of language learning perceived as both an external and internal process. The findings of this research provided evidence that supports that even though online language le arners are not participating in traditional classrooms, they do not act in isolation. They still act in a social environment, and they still bring previous knowledge and experi ences into language learning. Thus, their learning process cannot be viewed as an is olated outcome. These outcomes should only be viewed in relation to the overall process of language le arning, including the learnersÂ’ treatment of contradictions encountered along the way. This research also demonstrates how language learners use computer-based technologies as mediational tools to gain control over their own learning processes.
225 Computer-based tools, such as online dictionari es and translators, allowed the students to reach an understanding of words and phrases that they would have struggled with otherwise. This further demonstrates how the learnerÂ’s environment, including mediational tools, has the potential to influence learning and development. Online language learners do not act in isolation without respect to th e mediational tools afforded to them in the online environment. Online Language Learning Within the general field of SLA, SC T and Activity Theory have important implications specifically for online language learning. The findings presented in this study demonstrate that online language learni ng takes place and can be examined in sociohistorical context. Furthermore, with in this context the students must actively engage in online language learning by u tilizing computers and computer-based technologies as mediational tools. This coincides with the sh ift from viewing the computer as merely an electronic resource or a means of word processing. In online language learning it is only through the successf ul use of the computer-based tools that the learners will be able to acquire the language. Thus, the technology provides the opportunity for distance lear ning, and it also contribute s to student success. The findings of this study have also pr ovided some valuable insights into new directions for online language learning rese arch. They have demonstrated that online students are able to progress towards self-regu lation without the physical presence of an instructor through the us e of mediational tools, and that they can be successful in the
226 resolution of contradictions. Future research could integrate SCT and AT online language learning research to uncover more in relation to these socially driven learning processes. Last, investigating online language learning from a so ciocultural or activity theoretical perspective is a relatively new strand of research; however, it has been demonstrated by the present study and othe r research that online language learning should be further investigated as a social phenomenon incl uding an exploration of the learnerÂ’s socio-historical c ontext. In addition, the theore tical frameworks provided by SCT and AT provide an appropr iate means of investigating, discussing, and analyzing the transformational processes related to online language learning. With this in mind, the discussion will now shift towards the relevant methodological implications noted as a result of the current research process. Methodological Implications In regards to methodological implications, this study has demonstrated several key points which may be relayed for use in fu ture research of on line language learning. These points, which will be discussed be low, were observed in relation to the effectiveness of the Activity Theoretical cas e study approach, the efficiency of employing video recordings for data co llection, and the importance of recognizing the duality of the researcher serving simultaneously as the instructor within the research context. First and foremost, this study has demons trated the appropria teness of utilizing the case study approach to research driven by the tenets of Activity Theory. As described more concretely in chapter 3, AT case st udy employs various methods that enable tracking the socio-historical development of learners engaged in online language
227 learning. This also aids in rese arching this type of learning as it occurs naturally, which is consistent with YinÂ’s description of case st udy research being used for investigating Â“a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life contextÂ” (Yin, 2003, p14). Last, utilizing an AT case study in this manner avoids isolati ng learning to an isolated event represented only by the outcome. Second, this study has also highlighted th e usefulness of video-based recordings in capturing the multiple levels and varyi ng components of online language learning. In this study, video recording equipment was utiliz ed in the studentsÂ’ s ituated environments to document their online language learning. Th e researcher transported and set up the equipment at each location before data coll ection commenced. Screen recording software may be used to accomplish the same feat; howev er, in this case video recording was more practical, being both more cost and time effective. One of the main issues with utilizing screen recording software is that it has to be licensed for individual use before installation. Then, if using an environment selected by the learner, which typically includes the studentsÂ’ personal computers a nd laptops, each student has to allow the software installation. Researcher s could artificially place stud ents in a more controlled environment by placing them into a computer lab for observation; however, this would likely reduce the level of the naturalistic set tings from which the students participate. Perhaps, the most efficient strategy for data collection may be to combine video recording and screen recording software wh ere the overall cost is manageable. This would afford the opportunity to simultaneously record studentsÂ’ on screen actions as well as their off screen actions. This combined a pproach would also coincide with the general
228 AT case study method. In addition, by utiliz ing multiple methods for data collection, researchers would not rely too h eavily on any one source of data. Third, if the researcher serves as the in structor for the context under investigation, it is important to recognize that there may be competing interests. For example, as an instructor one may view the st udentsÂ’ shortcuts as described in this research as being detrimental to the overall learning process. However, from a purely research-based standpoint these same shortcuts should be described in the context of the students satisfying their overall purpos e for the activity of online la nguage learning. Thus, what may be detrimental to their learning process ma y reflect a studentÂ’s co nscious decision to only pass a course or fulfill a requirement by means of acquiring points as easily as possible. Practical Implications In regards to practical im plications, this study sheds light on several needs which should be addressed for the betterment of on line foreign language learning and teaching. This section will address these implications in regards to the role of the computer as a mediational tool. Online instructors and learners need to r ecognize that the role of the computer and its related tools should be valued as mediati onal tools within online language learning. It is only through successful use of these mediational tools that learners will be able to develop self-regulation over their online language learning processes. Thus, when learners are unable to successfully use these co mputer-based tools, the result is typically some type of conflict which may prevent thei r learning progress. In these instances online
229 language instructors need to be aware of th e studentsÂ’ behaviors, and they should be concerned with identifying problematic behaviors as they occur. In turn, this would allow instructors to help students become more aw are of contradictions and disturbances which afflict their online language learning, such as over reliance on computer-based tools as evidenced in this study. To accomplish this on line instructors must thoughtfully review studentsÂ’ online submissions and subsequently ad dress them with the students to consider the process and the use of tools. Another method of raising student awaren ess in regards to the role of the computer would be for instructors to offer a pre-course computer tr aining session. In this manner online students could be exposed to some of these computer-based tools prior to beginning online language learning. This would ensure that some of the less technology savvy students would begin the course with some existing knowledge of the available tools. In addition, a training se ssion related to the availabil ity and proper use of electronic tools could also be used to raise awaren ess of potential proble matic behaviors. By exposing the students to the technologies and raising their awareness of potential problems, they may have a better opportuni ty for successfully participating in online language learning and achieving their overall goals. As a result the students will have more options, enabling them to take divergent paths in the activity and ultimately strive for their desired outcomes. Directions for Future Research Based on the discussion in the previous sect ions of this chapter, one can easily see that this research has generated significant and interesting findings. It is also this
230 discussion, which leads to an assortment of possibilities for future research. These possibilities will be discussed in the following section. Future research needs to focus more on specific mediational tools used for online language learning. For example, researcher s should isolate an d focus on specific computer-based tools such as online dicti onaries or online translators which were pervasive in this study. This type of resear ch could further determine how students use these tools to gain and maintain self-re gulation within online learning. In addition, researchers should focus on the mediational us e of the target language, or L2, in the processes related to online language learning. On e of the ways to impl ement this type of research would be to conduct audio and on screen recordings. Then, the subsequent transcripts should be analyzed to note the mediational properties of L2 and its development. Future research should also investigate th e role of the instructor. To accomplish this, researchers could similarly track instruct orsÂ’ activity systems as they form in the process of participating in on line language courses. This ty pe of research could address how the role of the online in structor changes from tradit ional, face-to-face language courses, and how instructors initially work through these changes. It could also incorporate the instructorsÂ’ pe rceptions of studentsÂ’ behavior s and performance in online language learning. This type of research could further expa nd the base of knowledge in both online language learning and teaching a nd possibly the relate d field of foreign language teacher education.
231 Future research should focus on collabor ative pairings and groups in online language learning. This type of research would further develop EngestromÂ’s (2001) concept of interacting activity systems. This was not an intended focus of this research; however, at several points in th e data collection and subsequent data analysis procedures it became evident that there were several under lying sets of interacting activity systems that could be further investigated. This type of research would also aid in exposing other potential contradictions and di sturbances which may occur in online language learning. Last, throughout this resear ch process it became evident that the students began the course with varying contexts and they made specific decisions, which ultimately shaped the path taken in their central activities. It may be us eful in future research to implement an additional analytic structure, such as rhizomatic analysis (Deleuze & Guattari, 1980), which is better suited to track these types of paths. Such a form of path analysis, if integrated well with the interactive structure of Activity Theory, may aid in discovering and representing th is type of path-based development in online language learning. Conclusion By observing seven unique cases over the span of a semester long, online Spanish course this study was able to answer the four proposed research questions. This was aided in large part by the richness and variety of the data collected, which have provided an interesting look at the complex processes associated with online language learning. However, in the process of portraying these unique cases and disc ussing the results of this study, new and equally intriguing questi ons have been generated. The formation of
232 such new questions should not diminish the value of the present study and its results; however, it is more representativ e of the inherent, cyclical na ture of inquiry and research itself. Thus, this research proj ect will be deemed successful if its readers are subsequently capable of positing new questions by combining knowledge gained from this investigation with existing know ledge. Doing so can only promote further progress in the fields of Sociocultural Theory, Activity Theory, Second Language Acquisition, and online language learning. Last, it is important to re cognize that the cases presente d in this study may or may not be representative of othe r online language learners. Ea ch case and learning context investigated comes with unique social and cultural characteristics, which may not be common to other learning and academic contexts. This research does offer information regarding the potential range of issues that may be encountered in online language learning; however, discretion should be us ed if extending and applying the information directly to other teaching and learning contexts.
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245 Appendix A Spanish I Syllabus En Lnea Spanish I (SPN 1120) USF /World Language Education 4202 E. Fowler Ave., CPR 408 Tampa, FL 33620 Office: Cooper Hall 408 (in World Langua ge Education Office CPR419) Office Hours: 9am-4pm (Monday through Thursday) (813) 974-3969 Fax: (813) 974-1718 Instructor: Joe Terantino Email: firstname.lastname@example.org TA: Axel Presas TA : Alicia Mercado All students registered in SPN 1120, Ref#10716, must also be registered in the following lab: Ref# /10718 MLL SPN 1120L-501 Beginning Spanish I Lab Failure to register for the corre ct lab will result in a U grade. Welcome to En Lnea! This course is an online course open to beginners and students with no or little background in Spanish who would like to improve their knowledge of the language and culture. This co urse is not available to native or nearnative speakers. Native and n ear-native speakers should take the Spanish for Native Speakers course. If the instructor determin es that you are a native speaker you will be dropped from the course. The level of proficiency you attain will depend on you as the student. This course will require self-discipline and time As with any distance learning course, 99% of the responsibility of learning and keeping track of progress falls on the student. If you feel you lack the self-discipline and time to be su ccessful in this course, you may want to consider the classroom setting. The amount of time and effort you put into the course will directly affect your performance and your satisfaction. We encourage you to take advantage of the instructorÂ’s office hours as well as the review sessions. Keep up with the pace of the course and ask for help as soon as you feel you need it. You may elect to take this course with the S/U (pass/fail) option. S/U grades do not impact a studentÂ’s grade point average. If you choose this option, you may fill out an S/U agreement prior to the end of the fourth week of classes. You cannot choose this option if you need to satisfy the foreign language requirement. To continue to Spanish II you must earn a Â“DÂ” or better in Spanish I, however, most students that earn a Â“DÂ” in Spanish I will continue to struggle in Spanis h II because they lack a solid foundation for the language. To fulfill the foreign language requirement you must pass Spanish II with a C or better.
246 Appendix A (Continued) You must attend one of the following orientation meetings or you will be dropped: Saturday January 6, 2006, 9:00-10:30am in CPR 103 Wednesday January 10, 2006, 6:00-7:30pm in ENA 105 TEXT AND MATERIALS Vistas: Introduccin a la lengua espaola. (Second Edition). By Jos A. Blanco and Philip Redwine Donley. Textbook package must include online book code. See pages attached for online purchase. YOU WILL ALSO NEED A MICROPHONE to complete audio recordings to be submitted online. Optional: workbooks, CD-ROMs, etc. Computer Labs: CPR 119 (Please call for hours. 974-3748) REVIEWS There will be a mandatory initial orientation meeting four optional review sessions, and four required examinations. Pl ease refer to calendar for dates, times and places. The optional review sessions will be scheduled to answer questions and to help students with problems. If you cannot atte nd, but need assistance, please call the instructor during office hours or leave a message to be calle d back. We encourage you to call immediately when you have a question, no matter what time, and leave a message in our voice mail with a telephone number where we can call you the next working day. This will prevent you from forgetting the ques tion. We will call you with an answer the next working day. It is important to unde rstand a concept before you can successfully move on, since the homework exercises build on one another. You can access En Lnea/Blackboard for your homework and exam grades. You will also have access to an outline of the points discussed in the reviews. EXAMS The exams will be given according to the calendar at the designated time and place. You must bring a picture I.D. to ever y exam and to pick up grades. We offer the exam twice in the same week to allow for some flexibility with your schedule and we provide you with a detailed schedule so th at you can make arrangements to attend the exams. We will not administer make-ups If, however, due to an emergency you cannot attend an exam, call the office before the exam. You will need to provide written documentation that supports your absence as soon as possible Exams will be based on the exercises and activities from the wor kbook and textbook that you have been working on in your weekly assignments. If you have a scheduling conflict for any of the exams you must notify the instructor within the firs t 2 weeks of the semester. Alternative exams will not be offered later in the semester.
247 Appendix A (Continued) We strongly encourage you to get in the habit of checking EN LNEA and your e-mail account Things can and do change during th e course of a semester and we will use your e-mail accounts to inform you of any changes in the course plans (room changes, reminders, announcements, etc.) It is your responsibility to check blackboard and your e-mail account incase of possible changes. HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENTS You should expect to spend and average of 10-20 hours a week completing your homework, so plan ahead. Do ing it the night before will prove to be counterproductive and very di fficult to finish. Please re fer to the schedule provided below. Also assignment due dates are posted in En Lnea. Click on the Assignments tab at the top left of En Lnea for a display of the assigned sections and the due date. The blue diamonds indicate the assigned exercises. For each lessonÂ’s assignments you will have two attempts to submit the exercises. The second attempt is automatically graded regardless of the score. Note: Homework assignments are due before midnight. We will not accept assignments after the due date re gardless of the circumstances Late homework (even if it is 1 minute after midnight) will result in an automatic 0 for that assignment. Note that En Lnea automatically date and time stamps your assignments and is set to not grade late assignments. In the event that you do miss a deadline, you should still complete the assignments as they will help you with exams. Also, in the event that your final grade is borderline any completed exercises that were not graded will be c onsidered provided that there is a documented excuse, which the instructor was made aw are of at the time it happened. GRADING There will be no curving of scores. Keep in mind that the tests will be kept at the office (CPR 408). You should come to our office to review your exams. The grading will be done on a decimal scale 100-90= A, 89-80=B, and so on. Your grade will be calculated according to the following formula. Online Assignments (includes lab) 40% Exam #1 (Lessons 1-2) 10% Exam #2 (Lessons 3-4) 15% Exam #3 (Lessons 5-6) 15% Exam #4 (Lessons 7-9) 20% Total 100%
248 Appendix A (Continued) Please notice that your homework consists of 40% of your grade. This implies that missing an assignment can lower your final score even more than missing an exam. Exams are still an important part of your grade, but doing your assignments will give you the practice you need to do well on the exams as well as the weight to bring up your grade. If possible, attend all revi ew sessions. Try to study and practice with someone from the class. Also, call or e-mail the in structor imedialty when you come up with a question or problem. There is no such thi ng as a silly question. You may need to understand a concept before you can move on to the next. In addition, office appointments can be arranged to help you if the office hours conflict with your schedule. Note : Memorizing lists of words does not constitute learning a language. Understanding the grammar and the VERBS is what will allow you to create with the new language. Avoid translating word for word as single words may have multiple meanings. Look for the meaning of the word or phr ase and translate the concept in the new language. INCOMPLETES Students will qualify for an Â“ I Â” grade (Incomplete) only if they satisfy the following: Must have completed at le ast of the course work. *Must have a passing grade. *Must have documentation supporting any exte nuating circumstance which prevents the student from finishing the course. *Remember that an I has to be removed the following semester or it becomes an F. *If you have any questions about in completes, please refer to the Undergraduate Catalog. LANGUAGE LEARNING TIPS/ FOOD FOR THOUGHT 1. Be tolerant to not understanding all of what you are hearing. Be comfortable listening selectively. 2. Use trial and error Â…for practice Language is more skill than knowledge. 3. Spanish is not English Be prepared to look at ev erything differently Â– not only words and phrases, but also complete ideas. 4. Listen and speak at every opportunity 5. Lose your fear of making mistakes 6.
249 Appendix A (Continued) 7. Language is not grammar Grammar simply help s learners understand how things go together. 8. The most commonly asked questionÂ… When will I be fluent? Depending on the difficulty of the la nguage, experts suggest 1000-2000 hours to get ready to take academic c ourses in that language in a country where the language is spoken. By the end of this semester, you will have completed between 50-100 hours of homework and study. Even with that, you have at most, completed 10% of the journey to fluency. Keep in mind that the goal of cla ssroom instruction Â“is not to produce native speakers or even error-free second language performance. It is, rather, to develop intermediate second language competence, to bring the student to th e point where he can begin to understand the language he hears a nd reads outside the class and thus improve on his ownÂ” (Krashen, 1981). EN LNEA I enero de 2007 D L M Mi J V S 1 2 3 4 5 6 Orientation 9-10:30am 7 8 9 10 Orientation 6-7:30pm 11 12 13 14 15 MLK 16 17 18 19 20 21 Due L.#1 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 Due L.#2 29 30 31 Review 6pm febrero de 200 1 Exam #1 6pm 2 3 Exam #1 9am 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Due L.#3 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Due L.#4 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 Review 6pm
250 Appendix A (Continued) marzo de 2007 1 Exam #2 6pm 2 3 Exam #2 9am 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Spring Break 13 Spring Break 14 Spring Break 15 Spring Break 16 Spring Break 17 18 Due L.#5 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 Due L.#6 26 27 28 Review 6pm 29 Exam #3 6pm 30 31 Exam #3 9am abril de 2007 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Due L.#7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Due L.#8 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 Due L.#9 23 24 25 Review 6pm 26 Exam #4 6pm 27 Last Day of Class 28 Exam #4 9am 29 30 **Please note that all assignment due dat es are also indicated in the En Lnea program.
251 Appendix B Overview of Technical Requirements for EN LNEA WHAT IS EN LNEA: VHL Spanish eCourse ? EN LNEA is a complete standalone online introductory Spanish course, suitable for online courses and distance learning applications or as a textbook alternative. EN LNEA is based on the classroom-proven content of Vista Higher LearningÂ’s best-selling introductory Spanish program, VISTAS, Second Edition Your students can access specially designed step-by-step vocabulary and grammar tutorials, reference resources like an electronic verb w heel and interactive dictionary, do written and oral practice activities, complete tests, and communicate with you and their e-partners. You also have access to powerful electronic gradebook and classroom management tools for tracking students' perform ance and administering tests. ACCESSING EN LNEA To access EN LNEA you will first need either to create a personal instructor account or to log onto an existing account. Then, use the book key to add EN LNEA to your instructor account. 1. Visit http://www.vistahigherlearning.com/login/ 2. If you already have an account please log in to your account using your existing username and password. 3. If you do not already have an account a. Click on Instructor Workstation b. Click on Create a New Account c. Fill out and submit the online form. NOTE : KEEP your username and password. 4. Now that you are logged onto your accoun t, you will see a text box in the upper right corner of the Instructor Workstation labeled Â“ Adopt a new book: Enter book key Â”. 5. In this box, enter the book key for EN LNEA (shown below). Then, click GO 6. Click Continue to return to the Instructor Workstation and begin using EN LNEA 7. In the Instructor Workstation EN LNEA will appear listed under My Courses 8. Under My Courses click on Preview to access the version of the course that your students will see, or click on the course name ( EN LNEA ) to access Grading & Management Tools. 9. Your course will be identified with a course code It will be displayed in a box at the top right corner of the courseÂ’s main page. NOTE: Your students need a course code to register for your course and the class. 10. Click printable registration instructions under the Roster menu to view and print the student registration instructions for your class. ===== Instructor Access Key ====== Your personal Instructor book key for EN LNEA : ENLN3RNH4FGB8C6RDJ4
253 Appendix C EN LNEA Lesson 1 Outline of Activities I. Beginning page for lessonoverviews the lessonÂ’s contents II. Contextospresents and reviews communicative based materials a. Overview of communicative goals b. Tutorials-presentation of new information c. Practice exercises based on listeni ng comprehension, reading, and fill in the blank d. Collaborative record ed conversations e. Quiz for post activities review III. Fotonovela a. Video episodes integrat ing lessonÂ’s vocabulary b. Comprehension questions IV. Pronunciacin a. Presentation of sounds b. Practice exercise c. Individual recording V. Culturaa. Readings/video presentation of new information b. Practice exercises c. Collaborative role playing recorded activity
254 Appendix C (Continued) VI. Estructurapresents and rehearse s important grammar structures a. Tutorials/text pages-presen tation of new information b. Practice exercises based on fill in the blank, writing, grammar c. Collaborative record ed conversations d. Quiz-like review VII. Adelanterehearses reading, wr iting, and listening skills a. Presents strategies for comprehension, b. Pre activity warm-up exercises c. Post activity comprehension exercises VIII. Vocabularioreviews impor tant vocabulary words a. Vocabulary lists b. Audio pronunciation of words
255 Appendix D Background Survey Personal Information 1. Name: Date: 2. USF ID (not a social security number): U 3. Age __ Gender __ M __ F 4. Phone Number: ( ) Email address: 5. Student Status __ Undergra duate __ Graduate __ Other 6. Birthplace 7. Where did you grow up as a child? 8. What is your native language? 9. Which languages were spoken in your home as a child? 10. What other langu ages do you speak? Personal History with Spanish 1. Years of studying Spanish? How many courses taken? 2. Number of years since la st Spanish class? At what college or high school did you last take a Spanish course? 3. Have you taken the placement test at USF? __Yes __ No SPN ____1 ____2 ____3 ____4 4. How would you rate your listening, speaking, reading, and writing abilities in Spanish? Basic Working Knowledge Fluent Listening Speaking Reading Writing
256 Appendix D (Continued) 4. Course requesting? EN LNEA Spanish ____1 ____2 Semester and Year ______________ 5. Why are you taking this course? 6. What do you want to achieve in this course? What are yo ur language goals? 7. What, if anything, restricts you from studying the language? 8. Did you take EN LNEA I? _____Yes _____No When? Where? Who was your instructor? 9. Are you a native speaker of Spanish? _____ Yes _____ No Is your family of Hispanic origin? _____ Yes _____ No Do you already speak Spanish? _____ Yes _____ Personal History with Technology Please check ALL that apply: 1. ____ I used computers in __ elementary, __ junior high/middle, __ high school ____ I use a computer at home ____ I presently have ready access (from work or home) to the Internet ____ I presently use computers only on campus (mainly where on campus? ____________________) 2. I have used computers to ____ play games ____ do homework/word processing ____ browse the World-Wide Web ____ write computer programs ____ send E-mail messages ____ write in HTML for my own home page ____ other uses:________________________
257 Appendix D (Continued) 3. From the following list, mark all the situations in which you have used the Internet: ____ to read a bulletin board or news group ____ to transfer files ____ to write and send correspondence ____ to download files or graphic images ____ to participate in online discussion groups ____ to browse the World Wide Web (WWW) ____ to create and use my own 'home page' ____ other (please specify) _____________________________ 4. Mark all of the expressions which, at this point, best desc ribe your feelings about the use of electronic technology in this online class: Expected frustrated uncertain impersonal intrusive excited no big deal open-minded enthusiastic time saving inconvenienced love it time consuming potentially addictive participatory challenging overwhelmed useful skill distracted waste of time expensive inappropriate too early to judge 5. Please indicate to what extent you agree or disagree with the following statements: (SA=strongly agree, A=agree, U=undecided/ unsure, D=disagree, SD=strongly disagree) ____I used technology of ten during high school. ____I use technology on a daily basis. ____I connect to the Internet on a daily basis. ____I consider myself capable when it comes to using technology. ____I consider myself capable when it comes to solving technology problems. ____I find using computers and the Internet to be helpful and useful for different aspects of my life. 6. What day(s) and time(s) do you think you will most likely work online for this course? ____Mon ____Tues ____Wed ____Thur ____Fri ____Sat ____Sun 7. Where do you think you will most likely work online for this course? ____At home ____ Computer lab on cam pus ____ On campus residence ____At work ____Other, where? ________________
258 Appendix E Interview Questions Personal History Interview In this interview I will ask you a few ques tions about your student status and personal experiences with language learning and tec hnology prior to taking this online Spanish course. Please respond with as much detail as makes you feel comfortable. If necessary, I will follow up with more questions for clarific ation. If at any time you feel uncomfortable answering a particular question, you may choose not to do so. Also, you have the right to end the interview at any time if you wish. Does that sound ok? 1. Could you describe yourself as a student? What is your major? Do you have a minor? What you do want to do with your degree? a. Are you currently working in addition to taking classes? b. Could you describe your weekly schedule? c. Could you describe your living situation? 2. Could you describe your previous ex periences with learning Spanish? a. Have you ever used technology to learn Spanish? 3. What are your goals for this course? a. Are you taking this course to fulfill the foreign language requirement? b. Do you think that your previous expe riences will help or hinder your success in this course? Wh at makes you say that? c. Why did you choose Spanish as your foreign language? d. Why did you choose an online Spanish course and not a regular course? 4. Do you consider yourself capable when it comes to using computers? a. What makes you say that? b. What types of things can you do using computers?
259 Appendix E (Continued) c. What types of programs are you capable of using? d. Do you ever experience any type of conflict when using computers? e. How were you able to overcome this problem(s)? 5. Please describe your experien ce with using the Internet. a. What types of things do you typically do on the Internet? b. Where do you feel most comfortable using computers? c. What do you think is unique about this environment? d. Do you ever experience any type of conflict when using the Internet? 6. Have you ever taken another online course? a. Could you describe this course? b. Were these complete online courses? c. Did you have any face-to-face meetings? d. Could you tell me a little bit about how the course was structured? e. Did you experience any conflicts in this situation? f. Do you think that your previous expe riences will help or hinder your success in this course? Wh at makes you say that? 7. Do you foresee having any tr ouble in this course? a. Where will you complete the online materials? b. Why have you chosen to work there? c. When will you complete the online materials? d. Why have you chosen to work on that day(s) at that time(s) of day?
260 Appendix E (Continued) e. Why have you chosen to work on this schedule? 8. Is there anything else that you would like to add? Interview #1 Personal Experiences 1. How does your job affect your part icipation in this course? 2. How does taking this course affect your job? 3. How has your course load affected your participation in this course? 4. How has the work load for this c ourse affected your other course? 5. Has your working environment at home a nd in the library been adequate for completing the online exercises? Is there an ything in particular that enables your completion of the work in these envi ronments? Is there anything in these environments that makes it difficult to complete the online materials? 6. Would you normally work in the library to complete the online homework? 7. Could you describe your vacations/going out of town during the semester? How have they impacted your part icipation in the course? Mediational Tools 1. What materials did you choose to buy for this course? Why did you choose these? 2. When you are working online how do you decide between using the physical text or an electronic resource online? 3. How many times do you do each section to complete the exercise? How long does it take you normally to complete the entire lesson each week?
261 Appendix E (Continued) 4. How would you describe your use of the Accent tool bar? Do you use it frequently? 5. Are there any online tools that you use frequently? Why do you use these more? 6. Are there any online tools th at you feel are not very helpful? What makes you say that? 7. If you could make changes to EN LNEA, what would they be? What makes you say that? 8. Do you use the automated feedback screens to help you complete the exercises? 9. Do you ever review instructor feedback after the lessons have been graded? Regulative Behaviors 1. Would you say that my observation of you working online was an accurate depiction of what you would do normally? 2. How do you decide to redo i ndividual exercises? When do you typically complete the second attempt? 3. How do you decide what sections to work on and in what order? 4. Do you feel that you try to learn the materi al before starting an exercise or do you start the exercise and then learn the mate rial as you go to complete the sections? Why have you chosen to work in this manner? 5. While working online do you frequently t oggle back and fort h between screens? Why do you do this?
262 Appendix E (Continued) 6. How do you select a partner to work with for recordings? How do you then decide when to work together? Contradictions 1. Have you felt that the material in this course has been too easy? 2. How has your previous exposure to Span ish helped or hindered you in this course? 3. During the observation I noticed that you left out a few accents where needed, what do you think is the cause of this? Student Perceptions 1. How do you feel that the ability to submit a second attempt affects the manner in which you complete the homework? 2. Do you feel that the tasks you complete onl ine are relevant to real life needs in Spanish? 3. Do you feel that you are capable of finding the meanings of words or phrases that are difficult? What makes you say that? How do you go about doing this? 4. How would you describe yourself as an i ndependent learner? What makes you say that? 5. Has anything frustrated you in the online co urse? Could you describe it in detail? Interview #2 1. Where do you live in rela tion to the university? 2. How does that distance affect your participation in the course?
263 Appendix E (Continued) 3. Did the distance impact your decisi on to take the course online? 4. Is there anything that restrict s your access to the Internet? 5. How would you describe the instru ctorsÂ’ role in this course? 6. Do you feel that the instructors interact with you in a manner which facilitated your learning in this cour se? What makes you say that? Interview #3 1. Do you feel that you accomplished what you set out to do in this course? 2. What has been the most difficult challenge for you in this course? 3. Is there anything that you would change about the overall course? What makes you say that? 4. Have you gained confidence in your Spanish abilities? 5. Have you gained confidence in your abil ity to use technology successfully? 6. Do you feel that you have gained technol ogy skills as a result of this course? Could you describe these skills? 7. Do you feel that you put more time into pr eparing for this course than you would have if you took a regular Spanish course? 8. Do you feel that your listen ing skills have improved as a result of the online activities? 9. Do you feel that your writing skills have improved as a result of the online activities?
264 Appendix E (Continued) 10. Do you feel that your knowledge of Hispan ic culture has impr oved as a result of the online activities? 11. Do you feel that your knowledge of gr ammar and vocabulary has improved as a result of the online activities? 12. Would you take another Spanish course online? What makes you say that?
265 Appendix F Field Notes Template Field Notes Protocol Participant: Setting: Date: Time: Researcher Notes Physical and Verbal Behaviors Use of Mediational Tools Contradictions and Disturbances
266 Appendix G Rubric for Identifying Contradictions and Disturbances Activity system components affected (Rules, Subject(s), Community, Division of Labor, Object, Instruments, Outcome Questions used to identify contradictions and disturbances: Description and classification of the contradiction or disturbance Are there any disagreements between components of the activity system? Are there any clashes of interest between components of the activity system? Are there any errors, problems, conflicts, difficulties, failures, or disruptions? Are there any mi sunderstandings? Are there any breakdowns in communication? Are there any deviations from the normal flow of work? Are there any obstacles that interrupt the flow of work? Are there any unexpected innovations made by the students or instructors?
267 Appendix H Rubric for Identifying Activity System Components Activity System Component Questions used to identify the activity system components:Activity system components created from background survey and personal history interview. Activity system components created from first interview and observation. Activity system components created from the last interview and observation. ACTIVITY What sort of activity am I interested in? Online language learning Online language learning Online language learning OBJECT Why is the activity taking place? SUBJECT(S) Who is involved in carrying out this activity? INSTRUMENTS By what means are the subjects performing this activity? RULES Are there any cultural norms, rules or regulations governing the performance of this activity? DIVISION OF LABOR Who is responsible for what, when carrying out this activity and how are the roles organized? COMMUNITY What is the environment in which this activity is carried out? OUTCOME What is the desired Outcome for the activity?
268 Appendix I Rubric for Describing Mediational Tool Use Participant Physical mediational tool used (not electronic) Physical mediational tool used (electronic) Description of tool usagehow was the tool used? What did it accomplish?
269 Appendix J Review of Course Syllabus Material reviewed Rules (guidelines for what may or may not happen) Division of Labor (organization of the community and its processes) Community (individuals or groups, the social context or environment) Course syllabus -Students must register for course and lab -Course is only open to beginners -Students must earn a D or higher to take Spanish II -Students must attend orientation and 4 exams -Students must purchase materials -Students must submit homework by due dates -Incompletes (I) are only given for appropriate situations -Dates and locations for homework, exam reviews, and exams -Instructor and TAs hold office hours -Instructor and TAs deliver exam review and administer exams -Instructor and TAs grade homework submissions and exams -Students contact instructor or TAs with questions or problems via email or phone -Instructor and TAs respond to student emails and phone messages -University students -Department of World Language Education -EN LNEA instructor and TAs -Vista Higher Learning publishing company
270 Appendix K Review of Permit Request Form Material reviewed Rules (guidelines for what may or may not happen) Division of Labor (organization of the community and its processes) Community (individuals or groups, the social context or environment) Permit request form -University students must explain personal experiences with knowing/learning Spanish -Students must attend orientation -Students cannot take EN LNEA II without taking EN LNEA I first -Students must adhere to the university Academic Dishonesty Policy -Students complete and submit permit request forms -EN LNEA instructor receives forms and administers permits -University students -EN LNEA instructor
271 Appendix L Review of Foreign Language Requirement Material reviewed Rules (guidelines for what may or may not happen) Division of Labor (organization of the community and its processes) Community (individuals or groups, the social context or environment) Foreign language requirement -2 semesters of a beginning collegelevel foreign language or one semester of a higher-level course, earn a "C" (no "S" grades) or above or demonstrate equivalent competency by passing an examination, must be an approved language -Students with 2 or more years of study in a foreign language in high school, or with postsecondary course(s) in foreign language, or with experiential learning of a foreign language must take the placement exam -World Languages department administers the placement exams -University students -Department of World Language Education
272 Appendix M Review of How to Join EN LNEA Instructions Material reviewed Rules (guidelines for what may or may not happen) Division of Labor (organization of the community and its processes) Community (individuals or groups, the social context or environment) How to join EN LNEA instructions -None described -University students create Quia account, log into account, purchase book key, enter book key, and enter course code -EN LNEA instructor provides the course code -Vista Higher Learning and Quia.com maintain site and sales for materials -University students -EN LNEA instructor -Vista Higher Learning publishing company -Quia.com
273 Appendix N Review of Textbook Pu rchasing Instructions Material reviewed Rules (guidelines for what may or may not happen) Division of Labor (organization of the community and its processes) Community (individuals or groups, the social context or environment) Textbook purchasing instructions -All major credit cards accepted -Package includes looseleaf VISTAS 3rd student edition and EN LNEA eCourse 2.0 Shipping options include UPS ground or USPS priority mail Florida sales tax apply on orders Limit of one package per student Returns within 30 days if package seal is unbroken, the book key has not been redeemed, and the package is in salable condition -University students purchase materials -Vista Higher Learning manages site, sales, delivery of materials, and returns -University students -Vista Higher Learning publishing company
274 Appendix O Review of Technical Requirements Document Material reviewed Rules (guidelines for what may or may not happen) Division of Labor (organization of the community and its processes) Community (individuals or groups, the social context or environment) Technical requirements document -EN LNEA works best with: Microsoft Windows, Internet Explorer, cookies accepted, Macromedia Flash Player, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Shockwave Player, -Students must have audio and video capabilities -Students must have speakers and microphone -High-speed internet connection is recommended -Students ensure that computer meets technical requirements -Vista Higher Learning provides technical support via phone and email -University support staff assists students with university computers -University students -Vista Higher Learning publishing company -University technical support staff
275 Appendix P Review of Department of Wo rld Language Education Website Material reviewed Rules (guidelines for what may or may not happen) Division of Labor (organization of the community and its processes) Community (individuals or groups, the social context or environment) Department of World Language Education website -None described -Department provides instruction, research, study abroad opportunities, and outreach programs -Faculty and staff deliver instruction and serve as contact persons -University students -Department of World Language Education -Department faculty and staff
276 Appendix Q Review of EN LNEA Website Material reviewed Rules (guidelines for what may or may not happen) Division of Labor (organization of the community and its processes) Community (individuals or groups, the social context or environment) EN LNEA website -Taking EN LNEA Spanish II is restricted to students who have completed EN LNEA I -The EN LNEA courses require 5 campus visits -University students apply for permit to register -EN LNEA instructor is contact person -Vista Higher Learning developed and maintains EN LNEA -Department offers the web courses -University students -Communities served by USF -Department of World Language Education -EN LNEA instructor -Vista Higher Learning publishing company
277 About the Author Joe Terantino completed a BachelorÂ’s de gree in Spanish and Secondary Education at Winthrop University. Upon completion of this degree he began teaching high school Spanish in South Carolina. Through his experience in teaching Spanish, he began to develop an interest in the use of compute r-based technologies for language teaching and learning. Ultimately, this growing interest led him to the doctoral program for Second Language Acquisition & Instructi onal Technology at the Univer sity of South Florida. While studying in the doctoral program Jo e taught a variety of courses in foreign language education, TESOL, and Spanish. He se rved as the universityÂ’s coordinator for the distance learning Spanish program, and he initiated the online delivery for the programÂ’s courses. In addition, he served as a university supervisor for foreign language teaching interns. Last, he has presented pape rs and instructional workshops at regional and national conferences.