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The use of asynchronous online discussion groups to promote reading, writing and interaction in foreign language learning

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  1. 1. The use of asynchronous online discussionThe use of asynchronous online discussion groups to promote reading, writing andgroups to promote reading, writing and interaction in foreign language learninginteraction in foreign language learning Teadira PérezTeadira Pérez University of Los AndesUniversity of Los Andes Faculty of Humanities andFaculty of Humanities and EducationEducation School of Modern LanguagesSchool of Modern Languages Mérida- VenezuelaMérida- Venezuela
  2. 2. The purpose of this presentation is to demonstrate how a tutor-made Webquest and an asynchronous online discussion group can be integrated to a course titled Reading and Writing in English - Level II for undergraduate students. Purpose
  3. 3. Throughout this talk I will offer you a description of how the We bq ue st and the asynchronous online discussion group were integrated in order to support students' reading comprehension and written productions. To achieve this, I will show: a) the procedures for integrating the We bq ue st and the online discussion group with a Reading and Writing course; b) students' comments and opinions while interacting with their peers through the e-group discussions; c) students' perceptions of combining e-group discussion with a Reading and Writing class; and, d) the pedagogical challenges of integrating e- group discussion in a Venezuelan language
  4. 4. The integration of asynchronous technological tools, such as e-discussion groups, can promote communication and interaction among learners (Weasenforth, et al. 2002). Asynchronous tools promote interaction among learners by using strategies which are paramount to develop critical thinking: reflection, evaluation, solving problems or simply exchanging ideas (DeWert et al., 2003). But these e- tools also provide learners, future teachers, researchers or translators, with the opportunity of experimenting with new technologies which contribute to their professional development. Learners, then, can have the opportunity of experiencing technology from the users´perspectives and be able to evaluate the benefits of incorporating
  5. 5. Apart from helping learners develop their computer literacy, the e-discussion group encourages learners to construct knowledge by interacting socially and learning collaboratively (Vygotsky, 1998; Donato, 1996). When learners scaffold each other, their knowledge is built through the context of threaded e-discussions. Discussions, when threaded, become particularly significant to learners because of their active participation in meaningful and authentic contexts. Threaded discussions involve users responding to one another's comments directly. These comments or postings are the thre ads that emerged from the main discussion: students respond directly to a comment related to the main topic, and another student replies to this response, and so a thre ad is formed
  6. 6. The introduction of We bq ue sts and e-group discussions in the EFL classroom, in this particular case, considered the five step model suggested by Salmon (2000). This model provided the basis for designing the e-activities students needed to motivate and actively encouraging students for participating in the e-group discussions. This model comprises five stages: a) access and motivation; b) socialization; c) Information exchange; d) knowledge construction; and, e) development. These stages for designing e- activities will be explained later on to illustrate how Webquests and e-group discussions were integrated into a Reading and Writing subject at university level. Procedures forintegrating the Webquest and the online discussion group with a Reading and Writing course
  7. 7. Stage 1 - Access & MotivationStage 1 - Access & Motivation The Re adwrite inte ract project consisted of e- tasks to encourage students to read, write and interact both on-line and off-line. We were three tutors carrying out this project simultaneously. I am going to report, in this talk, only my own experience. The purpose of this stage was to provide students with induction sessions in order to familiarize them with: a) the Webquest content and tasks; b) the e-group discussion tool; and c) the way how these e-tools were incorporated to the Reading and Writing II subject by integrating them to a classroomproject called Readwriteinteract.
  8. 8. InitialInitial stagestage During this initial stage, students were given clear guidelines to start participating in the Re adwrite inte ract project. Students were asked to read a fiction booked titled HOLES by Louis Sachar to develop their reading comprehension and written productions. Then, students were asked to answer the guided questions, provided by the tutor, to ensure comprehension of the book content. These questions were first published in a tutor-made WebQuest.
  9. 9. InductionInduction sessionssessions These sections were focused on demonstrating students the purpose of the Webquest. Additionally, students were told how to use the information published on the Webquest and how to start using the e-discussion group. This information was presented using PowerPoint in order to offer students not only the content of the Webquest, but also technical support to create their e- mail accounts, to join the e-group, to log in, and to start posting and replying messages.
  10. 10. Description of the Webquest and theDescription of the Webquest and the e- discussion groupe- discussion group A Webquest is an inquiry-oriented activity in which most or all of the information used by students is online. By providing certain links necessary to complete the quest, the student is able to focus on the material rather than to spend time looking for it. This is the Readwriteinteract Webquest:This is the Readwriteinteract Webquest: The five-part WebQuest (Introduction, Task, Resources, Process, Evaluation, and Conclusion) promotes critical thinking at the levels of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
  11. 11. Introduction: This section explains the purpose of the task –reading a fiction book–and of the Webquest. Task: This part contains all the tasks students need to undertake during the semester in relation to the Webquest and the e-discussion group. Process: This part includes all the questions that will guide students´ e-discussions. Evaluation: This section presents the guidelines for evaluating students when interacting with their peers, using the e-discussion group. Conclusion: This final part encourages students to reflect upon what they have learned after undertaking all the tasks assigned. Resources: This section offers students links that will expand their knowledge of the book content, the author, themes, and how to take part in the e-discussion group.
  12. 12. Description of the e-groupDescription of the e-group discussiondiscussion The e-group discussion provided students with an open space for exchanging information, contributing to knowledge construction and engaging students in authentic and meaningful discussions to complement classroom tasks. Students could read, post and reply messages. Additionally, students and tutors could add files, links and pictures which contributed to the discussion and the classroom project such as a hando ut abo ut pre se ntatio n skills . Students could also post messages and questions related to their
  13. 13. Apart from using the e-group discussion, two chat sessions were organised using Webheads, in groups of five, in order to answer questions and clarify doubts related to the identification of themes and the final semester tasks: book presentation and final paper. This is the Readwriteinteract e-groupThis is the Readwriteinteract e-group discussion:discussion:
  14. 14. Stage 2 - SocializationStage 2 - Socialization At the socialisation stage, students were encouraged to start posting and replying messages to get to know each other and to familiarise themselves with the e-tool. The messages, presented below, show an example of the socialization stage – students were posting messages to introduce themselves and to invite their peers to start the e-group discussions. Hello hi everybody, my name is Andreina, i would li ke to know if there's any peer that would love to work with me in the discussion please write soon... bye Andreina... alina_nina9 Hello Andreina, Hello!!! My name is Margerit, and I would like to discuss about "Holes" the first ten chapters. bye  margeritmont...
  15. 15. Stage 3 - InformationStage 3 - Information ExchangeExchange During the information exchange stage, students were asked to post their comments and opinions based on what they thought the most salient “themes” of each chapter were.
  16. 16. Send at least one message during the weeks, assigned by the tutor, to show full understanding of book content. A weekly scheduled of the project is presented below: Week0: (Induction and socialisation) Week1: (Part I -- Chapters 1 – 10) online discussions started Week2: Class discussions Week3: (Part II -- Chapters 11 – 20) Week4: Class discussions Week5: (Part III -- Chapters 21 – 30) Week6: Class discussions Week7: (Part IV -- Chapters 31 – 40) Week8: Class discussions Week9: (Part V -- Chapters 41 – 50) online discussions finished Week10: Class discussions Week11: Book presentations Week12: Final paper Add relevant opinions and comments. Relate messages to previous information. Refer to other students’ posting appropriately. Provide new insights. Students neededStudents needed to:to:
  17. 17. Although, students´comments had to be related to most salient themes, their postings, during their first on-line encounters, were descriptive and they did not call for discussion. One of the students mentioned that: At the be g inning Ihad so m e pro ble m s to participate , but the n Ico uld discuss with m y classm ate s.
  18. 18. After these initial on-line discussions, I decided to analyze with students the nature of their comments by offering examples – shown in transparencies - and asking them for their opinion using incomplete statements such as: The purpo se o f this e -g ro up discussio n is… The num be r o f chapte rs Ihave to re ad be fo re taking part in the e -g ro up discussio n is… Me ssag e s have to be ce ntre d o n…
  19. 19. The following messages illustrate theThe following messages illustrate the descriptive nature of the first e-groupdescriptive nature of the first e-group discussions:discussions: 8 First Chapter THERE ISN'T LAKE AT CAMP GREEN LAKE. in this chapter describes the scene of the tragedy Camp Green Lake is set. It is a desert, dry. The town shrivelled and... margeritmont... Offline Send Email Oct 25, 2006 6:29 pm 12 Re: First chapter I agree with you the first chapter only says about of the description of the place. Well, in the first chapter I found a lot of vocabulary that is good for us... alina_nina9  Offline  Send Email Oct 26, 2006 1:24 pm
  20. 20. Apart from showing students the purpose and nature of the e-group discussions, I also provided e-feedback by clarifying their doubts, when necessary. The example below shows how I was explaining the concept of the m e s in order to make them focus on the task. 18 Hello everybody, Remember you have to focus your discussions on the most salient themes of each chapter. A reminder: A theme is a broad idea in a story, or a message conveyed by a work. This message is usually about life, society or human nature. Themes are usually implied rather than explicitly stated. If you need more information, please click on: y)y) readwriteint...  Offline  Send Email Thu Oct 26, 20 06 10:38 pm
  21. 21. During the second week, the most salient themes, students′ opinions and connections to their own experiences began to emerge in their postings, as presented below: 25 Re:Themes I think in this story there are several important themes. One of them is "curse"  that Stanley' grandfather suffered because he had stolen a pig from an Egyptian woman, and his descendants are suffering now. I would like to know: Is it possible that Stanley's father is alive? This is just a doubt! I could notice that in several chapters our main character remembered or mentioned the follow: “It was all because of his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing- great-great-grandfather!". In other words, Stanley always put the blame on his grandfather for all problems he was suffering. I think that we should not accuse someone ofI think that we should not accuse someone of our own troubles. I think every one has a destiny, inour own troubles. I think every one has a destiny, in simpler terms, destiny is written for every one.simpler terms, destiny is written for every one.   angolmoq  Offline  Send Email Mon Oct  30, 2006 10:38 p m Most salient theme Most salient theme Learners´ opinions and connections to their own experiences Learners´ opinions and connections to theirown experiences
  22. 22. 28 Re:Themes AuthorityAuthority is the main theme even in the following chapters, I mean, chapter #15;16;17.In chapter #14 we can notice how The Warden exerted her authority over the guys even she exerted pressure over Mr. Pendanski and Mr.Sir. I would like to know what you think. Do you agree? alina_nina9  Offline  Send Email Nov 06, 2006 1:24 pm Apart from reflecting upon the most salient themes of the book, students started creating subtopics which emerged from their responses to these themes, for instance, the theme having g o als discussed in message # 45 was related to the concept of intrinsic m o tivatio n in message # 48, as presented below: 45 Re: We only have one life, so we should try to make the mostRe: We only have one life, so we should try to make the most of it!of it! The salient theme in this chapter is to have goals in our life and do not quit to it, be perseverance. About Zero’s goal, he has expended a lot of time in... b_oreany Offline Send Email Nov 8,  2006 12:36 p m 48 Re: We only have one life, so we should try to make the mostRe: We only have one life, so we should try to make the most of it!of it! Ok. Definitely, intrinsic motivation - Zero’s inner want is a paramount element when setting up goals. Remember that "Believing in yourself is the key to... angolmoq  Offline  Send   Email Nov 9,  2006 1:00 pm Most salient theme Most salient theme Most salient themes Most salient themes Learners´ reflections Learners´ reflections
  23. 23. Stage 4 - KnowledgeStage 4 - Knowledge ConstructionConstruction Students were constructing knowledge through their e-group discussions and the themes that emerged as they tried to respond to their peers´comments. Students were threading their messages, mostly concentrating on the assigned tasks, but significantly, relating their constructed knowledge to their own experiences.
  24. 24. Class discussionsClass discussions The e-group discussions were also integrated to classroom activities as a way to cater for different students. Student-provided prompts, which derived from students’ comprehension of the content of the book and the inference of themes, initiated the group discussion. The tutor moderated the discussions and provided support and guidance. The tutor-made questions were answered by students both written and orally. Students discussed and shared their answers with their peers and they also reflected on the themes posted in the e-group.
  25. 25. Book presentations/ finalBook presentations/ final paperpaper At the end of the semester, students needed to select one character or episode from the text in order to present it to the class and to write a final reaction paper. This off-line activity gave students the opportunity of sharing their constructed knowledge from the text and to share their presentations - dramatization, short films, PowerPoint presentations, among others - and written
  26. 26. Students, as mentioned above, needed to read the assigned chapters and identify the most salient themes of each chapter before starting the e-group discussion. Students were mostly motivated to discuss about the most salient themes of each chapter. The most salient themes students identified were related to: perseverance, friendship, cruelty, authority, racism, among others. There were some themes that emerged in the discussion that showed that learners were reflecting upon the messages posted by their peers and making connections to the text content and the target language culture: “bullying” and
  27. 27. Stage 5 – DevelopmentStage 5 – Development The e -discussio n g ro up was a way to e xpre ss yo ur o pinio n abo ut “Ho le s”. Ie njo ye d it a lo t be cause I co uld write what I tho ug ht abo ut “Ho le s”. This so rt o f activity was use ful be cause it he lpe d m e clarify m y ide as be fo re writing . Ithink the o nline discussio n was an am using way to discuss abo ut the bo o k, just m aking co m m e nts abo ut it was re fre shing fo r e ve ryo ne , Ig ue ss. During this stage students reflect upon their own learning experiences by using the e-group discussion. Students′ perceptions on how the integration of e-group discussions with their reading and writing about “Holes” help them improve their writing were diverse. Three of the students, highlighted the fact that the e-group discussion represented a gateway to : a) write about their opinions about the book, and b) organise their ideas, as presented below:
  28. 28. The integration of e-group discussions, in a Venezuelan language teaching context, implied tutors facing a number of challenges. The first one, computer facilities, represented one of the challenges I had to face  when integrating e-group discussions into the EFL classroom. I felt the need to bridge the dig ital divide by bringing my own laptop in order to give students extra training when required. Internet connection was not available in classrooms and computer labs did not have enough computers to accommodate all students in one induction section. Class time restrictions made it also quite difficult to schedule students, consequently, one-to-one sessions in my office was, sometimes, the one off solution. Pedagogical challenges of integrating e-group discussions in a Venezuelan language teaching context
  29. 29. Students´computer literacy was another challenge since I had to bear in mind that most students were not familiar with the e-group tool. Induction sessions were, therefore, important and they involved guiding students in creating e -m ail acco unts, jo ining , sig ning in, po sting /re plying m e ssag e s, and adding file s when participating in the e-discussions issues. At the beginning of the course, students′ frustration was related to the fact that most of them were taking part of this kind of activity for the first time and they needed training to participate in e-group discussions successfully. Additionally, students were lacking technical skills to efficiently po st and re ply messages. Another drawback, was related to the fact that most students did not have access to the Internet at home, and they needed to go to Cyber Cafés in order to post and reply messages which, in some cases, caused delay in their responses.
  30. 30. Another challenge faced by both the tutor and the students was related to the asynchronous feature of the e- group discussion. Though communicating no-simultaneously has the advantage of making tutors and students work at their own pace; peers′ and tutors′ responses when not provided promptly, demotivated students by reducing e-group interaction and exchanges. When responses were delayed, students lost the need to follow threaded comments.
  31. 31. Recommendations for tutors This blended learning experience – the integration of the tutor-made Webquest and the e-group discussion to the Reading and Writing II subject – provided an insight into the understanding of how these e-tasks demand both tutors′ and students′ active roles in the construction of meaning when reading and writing. Based on this experience, I would recommend tutors, to successfully implement these e-tools to their classroom, to:a) hold on-line and off-line training sessions in order to help learners use information and to monitor their language learning; b) encourage group work considering classroom dynamics for interaction; c) integrate e-tasks with classroom activities and/or classroom projects;
  32. 32. d)do not delay responses and try to encourage students to participate within scheduled weeks to avoid frustrations and to keep them motivated. e)ensure classroom dynamics by motivating students to discuss online: make sure students understand that participating in online discussions is essential and that you expect them to get involved in the e-tasks. f) offer feedback and support when students are using WBSALL material on their own, and; g)provide before, whilst, and after use guidance to students in order to determine students’ IT and language needs, to monitor students’ e- groups use, and to evaluate the benefits students are gaining from using the material.
  33. 33. To sum up, in e-group discussions students get hands-on experiences in communicating and interacting with their peers and tutors, via technology, and develop their reading and writing through meaningful, contextualized and authentic contexts. As technology is changing the way in which people communicate, new teaching practices need to be introduced in the teaching and learning of English as a foreign language, most importantly, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) need to be embedded within the EFL classroom curriculum and activities. It is important to consider, then, not ‘what te chno lo g y can do fo r the stude nts’, but ‘what the stude nt can do with te chno lo g y’ (Felix,
  34. 34. Thanks!