EUROCALL 2014

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Fostering collaboration in CALL: Benefits and challenges of using virtual language resource centers

This qualitative study presents the main findings of a collaborative CALL design and implementation project carried out with two groups of teacher trainees in a Master’s program at a private university in Latin America. Nine virtual language resource centers (VLRC) for higher, secondary, and elementary education levels (from both private and state-school sectors) were designed and piloted for an academic year with the intention of developing the communicative skills of nine different groups of language learners. This project was conceived with the collaborative nature of online environments (Ragoonaden & Bordeleau, 2000; Beatty & Nunan, 2003) and the design principles of Paquette (2000) in mind, seeking novel opportunities to engage learners in collaborative learning practices mediated through technology (being this a core professional development component for the target graduate program). Data collected included questionnaires, surveys, and protocols used to examine all activity generated in the online resource centers. The data analysis yielded important information regarding the benefits, needs, challenges, and possibilities for improvement regarding the use of VLRCs at different educational levels.

Firstly, the data revealed that both the teacher trainees and their language learners conceived VLRCs as support sources that foster the development of learner autonomy through different means and procedures: the use of Web 2.0 technologies, the presence of various scaffolding agents (e.g. peers, instructors, learning objects), and instruction in the effective use of learner strategies. Additionally, the design of the VLRCs facilitated the accomplishment of learning objectives (both at the linguistic and personal level) such that language learners were able to engage in collaborative projects related to their contexts and needs. They were also able to select and adjust the centers’ resources to personalize and gradually develop their language learning experience as they also gained and/or strengthened their digital literacy competences. However, the study also revealed some challenges. For example, some learners reported technology-generated anxiety behaviors, which resulted in more limited usage of the VRLCs and their web 2.0 tools, as well as lack of engagement and achievement in the collaborative activities planned. Some teacher trainees, who also acted as designers, reported a degree of technostress (Rosen & Michelle, 1997) stemming from a lack of expertise in the use and administration of the learning management systems and the design of the learning objects. Finally, possibilities for improvements to the VLRCs, such as inclusion of ICT training tutorials and activities that cater to a broader variety of learning styles and language skills, were also revealed.
This session highlights the value of VLRCs as part of a support strategy in language learning settings, either as outreach mechanisms or as complements to face-to face instruction. It also analyzes the implications derived from the design and implementation of collaborative learning initiatives at the graduate education level and the benefits of certain Web 2.0 tools used in the VLRCs.

Author(s):

Liliana Cuesta Medina    
Department of Foreign Languages and Cultures
Universidad de La Sabana
Colombia

Liliana Cuesta Medina is a teacher trainer, lecturer, researcher, academic coordinator and master’s thesis director in the Master’s programs for in-service English teachers at the Department of Languages & Cultures, Universidad de La Sabana (Chía, Colombia). She holds a B.A. in English and Spanish from Universidad Pedagógica Nacional and a Specialization in Applied Linguistics to the Teaching of English from Universidad La Gran Colombia (Bogotá, Colombia). Liliana also studied American Literature in Lynchburg College and in Central Virginia Community College (VA, USA). This year, she finalized the writing of her doctoral thesis (English Philology-UNED, Spain) in which she examined university learners' self-regulation and scaffolding processes held in English blended learning environments. Liliana has been involved in local and international teacher development programs (mainly in EFL, E-learning and E-tutoring). Her research interests are online course design and learners’ self-regulation in blended/virtual learning environments, areas in which she has published academic articles.

Patricia Alvarez Ayure    
Department of Foreign Languages and Cultures
Universidad de La Sabana
Colombia

Patricia Alvarez Ayure holds a B.A. in Spanish and Modern Languages from Universidad Pedagógica Nacional and a MA in Applied Linguistics to Teaching English as Foreign from Universidad Distrital (Bogotá, Colombia). She currently works as a lecturer and researcher in the Department of Languages & Cultures at University de La Sabana in Chía, Colombia, where she teaches and tutors for the Master's programmes in English Language Teaching–Autonomous Learning Environments and -Self-Directed Learning. She also serves as an ICELT tutor, a Cambridge ESOL certificate for English language teachers and a cross curricular component of one of the master programmes. Her experience at the graduate level the design and coordination of a teacher training program for public school teachers, the design and teaching of subjects like Setting up and Optimizing Language Resource Centers I and II and the teaching of other modules such Autonomy and Learning Environments, Reflective Teaching and Learning and Language Knowledge and awareness. This experience has also included the direction of various thesis and research projects. Her principal research interests are e-learning, virtual learning environments and teacher training.

 

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