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From theory to practice : a 3 year longitudinal study of students' representations of a task-based blended learning programme

This paper is based on a large-scale research project concerning a task-based blended language learning programme for Business English undergraduate students in a university in France. The programme combines two hours of face-to-face teaching with 2-3 hours of autonomous group work and asynchronous computer-mediated communication. The design of the programme was grounded in a socio-constructivist and cognitivist approach to language learning and based on a number of guiding TBLT principles. Accordingly, the programme proposes complex social tasks which foster student interaction and collaboration and a shift from traditional teacher-directed instruction to autonomous student-centred learning.

After briefly outlining the theoretical underpinnings of the programme, this paper will present and discuss the results of a three year evaluation examining how these principles translated into practice for the students. User acceptance and adoption of the programme were deemed critical to its successful implementation. Our study, therefore, investigated students' representations relating to the underlying principles and assumptions of the blended language learning programme including the role of the teacher, second language acquisition, the role of technology in language learning, autonomy and group work. It is held that these representations will greatly impact students' actions and behaviour, and consequently their use of the blended learning system. Since representations can evolve over time, we conducted a longitudinal study following students from their first year of study and engagement in the programme in 2010 to their third and final year in the programme in 2012 in order to understand how attitudes to these factors evolved.

The paper draws on qualitative data derived from recorded and transcribed interviews with 11 students involved in the blended learning programme, as well as quantitative data collected from questionnaires administered to students in the first year of the programme in 2010 (n=300) and then again to the same students in 2012 (n=125).

Results indicate that students' representations of autonomy, the role of the teacher and group work and its associated workload are key factors affecting their adoption of the task-based blended learning system. Significantly, we found a correlation (p < 0.05) between the importance students attribute to group work and their overall satisfaction with the system. Analysis of the data shows that while students' attitudes to autonomy change over the 3 year period from negative to positive, attitudes to group work, however, continue to prove an obstacle to acceptance of the system. In this context, students highlighted difficulties associated with group work in terms of the heterogeneity of students' language, engagement, and motivation levels, but also inter-personal and organisational issues. This finding has led us to rethink the design of the system in order to better foster and support group work.

Selected bibliography
Bygate, M., Skehan, P., & Swain, M. (Eds). (2001). Researching pedagogic tasks: Second language learning, teaching and testing. Harlow: Longman.
Chapelle, C.A. (2003). English language learning and technology. Philadelphia : John Benjamins.
Lantolf, J. (2000). Sociocultural theory and second language learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Robinson, P. (Ed) (2001). Cognition and second language instruction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Author(s):

Julie McAllister    
Applied Languages Department (LEA)
University of Nantes, France
France

Julie McAllister has a PhD in Language Teaching Methodology and Didactics from the University of Nantes, France (2013), where she teaches in the Applied Languages Department. Her research interests include technology-mediated language learning and evaluation, Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Learning and Teaching. Her publications include a co-authored chapter on language teachers' perceptions of a task-based learning programme in A. Shehadeh & C.A. Coombe's edited book entitled Task-Based Language Teaching in Foreign Language Contexts: Research and Implementation (2012, John Benjamins).

 

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