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Task-based authentic learning activities in computer assisted foreign language learning

Ozverir, Ildeniz (2015) Task-based authentic learning activities in computer assisted foreign language learning. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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One of the challenges that English as a Foreign Language (EFL) learners experience is the lack of authentic use of the language. In most cases they are confined to the activities conducted in classrooms and lack opportunities to use and practice the target language outside the school in genuine settings. However, the activities done in class are generally decontextualized and lack real world relevance. As a result of this, while learners may have extensive knowledge about the target language—which is referred to as know what—they can scarcely use it for communication in real life—which is referred to as know how.

This study suggests that with the advances in pedagogical theory, authentic learning has much to offer in order to situate learning tasks in contexts that close the gap between the classrooms and real life. In so doing, the aim of this research is to provide learners with opportunities to use the target language in the kinds of purposeful and complex ways that it is used in real life.

In order to achieve this aim, characteristics of authentic learning environments were used as guidelines to design an e-learning environment which was based on real world activities. The study sought to investigate: how students engage with and respond to a computer-assisted language learning environment designed to incorporate characteristics of authentic activities in foreign language education; how students and teachers view the importance of each of the characteristics of authentic activities; how teachers support and scaffold student learning in a computer-assisted language learning environment designed to incorporate characteristics of authentic activities; and the ways in which students achieve foreign language competency through the use of computer assisted task-based authentic activities.

The research was conducted in North Cyprus with pre-university level EFL learners over a period of two semesters. Three teachers and 12 students participated in the study. A design-based research approach was employed in two iterative cycles in the form of an interpretive, qualitative study. The activity that learners were required to complete was based on a fictitious scenario set in a newspaper office. In this scenario learners assumed the roles of members of the editorial board, and the teachers were the editors of a newsletter. Learners researched topics that were socially important to them and produced articles for the newsletter, with all products written, and all communication spoken in the target language. Later, the two newsletters were published and distributed at Eastern Mediterranean University (EMU).

Design-based research was employed in two cycles over two semesters. Data was collected through observations, interviews (both individual and group), work samples and video recordings. Later interviews and videotapes were transcribed for in-depth analysis. Cross-case data analysis was used in order to be able to draw conclusions in terms of the applicability of the findings to other similar settings.

The results indicated that despite the lack of learners’ experience in using computers as part of their formal education, they found it motivating and educational. Basing the learning environment and activity on the characteristics of authentic activities have provided a real purpose to complete the activity, and many opportunities to use the target language in context, as well as to develop relevant skills. Teachers supported and scaffolded learners to direct their attention to the different resources available and to the different components of their articles. This process has provided the opportunity to focus on the author, content, language, audience and process, and thus enabled learners to develop authorship skills, to develop the content of their product, to correct and improve linguistic errors, to address the needs of the audience, and to develop problem solving skills.

A key outcome of the research was the development of a framework for the design of authentic learning environments to be used in the teaching of foreign languages, in the form of 11 design principles. These principles contribute both theoretically and practically to understanding of how students learn languages in authentic and meaningful contexts.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
Supervisor(s): Herrington, Jan and Osam, Ulker Vanci
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