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Expedition aux terres Australes: a web-based online role-play simulation : the enhancement of language acquisition through social interaction

Hartley, Andree Vanda Barbara (2004) Expedition aux terres Australes: a web-based online role-play simulation : the enhancement of language acquisition through social interaction. Masters by Research thesis, Murdoch University.

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      Abstract

      This research project investigates to what extent a social constructivist approach to teaching and learning online can enhance the use of language acquisition for learners of foreign languages. I designed an online role-play simulation in which the students sailed on the expedition of Nicolas Baudin to Australia and took different authentic roles on a simulated voyage. All communication was conducted in the French language, thus enabling the students to interact in realistic conversations, relevant to this historic event. Being in a third year TAFE French class, the students had already been exposed to sound grounding in grammar, relevant vocabulary, and use of colloquial and idiomatic expressions, and thus they had acquired a reasonably high level of proficiency in the language.

      The study was conducted over a four-week period in which I examined the intense interaction between the participants, while fulfilling the role of facilitator/moderator. In this role, I gave clear guidelines as to what was expected from the participants; provided the students with their identity which was unknown to the other participants during the simulation; created incidents through a weekly 'Course of Events' announcement; answered all questions within 12 - 24 hours; encouraged engagement within the learning community; made occasional suggestions if the characters seemed uncertain of what to do next; and, above all, endeavoured to create a non-threatening, friendly online environment for the students.

      After the four-week online role-play simulation, the participants met for a debriefing session in which they revealed their identities and discussed any issues, in particular technical issues, that had emerged. This provided an opportunity for the participants to disengage from the virtual world in which they have been immersed for four weeks as well as an opportunity to reflect upon their personal learning. A qualitative methodology, drawing on interpretive research, was employed to analyse the data. Student pre- and post-questionnaires, online contributions by the students and the debriefing discussion were used as the major sources of data collection.

      Most of the students took up the challenge of interacting online through asynchronous and synchronous communication. The study focused on how the use of a social constructivist epistemology could enhance language acquisition for learners of foreign languages and also analysed to what extent did the students' participation in a webbased online role-play simulation affect their communication skills and fluency in the second language.

      The findings provided me with guidance for future implementation of online role-play simulations in which I would ensure that all students have the basic computer skills and necessary access to internet in order to participate fully in the simulation. Nevertheless, this study demonstrated many benefits to the language enhancement of the participants and will become a regular activity as it permits students to use their conversational skills in a 'real-life' virtual learning community.

      Publication Type: Thesis (Masters by Research)
      Murdoch Affiliation: School of Education
      Supervisor: Maor, Dorit
      URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/96
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