Learning Together: Holes in the wall: benefits of computer mediated communication for international language learning. -- 151 -- Short (oral) Paper
Virtual learning environments are compared to walled gardens, access rights governed by institutional databases. Languages@Warwick addresses a departmental need to support non specialist students on an institution-wide language programme. Access was controlled at a departmental level allowing the creation of external users to share our courses. Conceived to offer global interaction (Cummins and Sayers, 1995) using instant voice messaging takes us beyond the Cultura project, emphasising telecollaboration (O'Rourke, 2005) autonomy, creativity and reflection, transferring control to learners. This student-centred Moodle launched a virtual exchange with a French university and an accredited reflective e-portfolio. Now 10 times the size of the original pilot it includes over 2,000 users.
Mixed methods research activity is ongoing, analysing quantitative trends, online student questionnaires and a corpus of language learning histories written by students of the virtual exchange. Data show networked learning within and beyond the portal. This is still a work in progress but the presentation will showcase student activity and conclusions to date.
Students have embraced the opportunities for creativity and interaction offered to them and have been positive about their experiences. This counters the expectation that engagement requires a good deal of tutor impetus and extrinsic motivation. In short, the holes in our walls have facilitated the fertilisation of our garden. For tutors there are significant opportunities to learn from their students’ use of social networking tools such as instant messaging. As Blake points out, “using technology to help people carry out conversational exchanges is a good fit” (2008, p242). The potential of this project to influence the way we teach those learning languages is long awaited.