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Evaluation of a web conferencing tool and collaborative tasks in an online Chinese course

Recently, the number of Chinese learners has grown dramatically, not only in traditional face-to-face (FTF) classes, but also in distance learning environments. Today, the increased robustness of web conferencing tools enables language educators to interact with distance learners orally and visually, which helps to fill the geographic gap. Previous studies have shown that interaction and negotiation of meaning play a key role in learners’ second language acquisition (SLA) in FTF mode. Studies of task-based language teaching (TBLT) have reported that the use of task has strong potential in stimulating learner interaction and negotiation of meaning. Therefore, it can facilitate learners’ SLA. From a sociocultural perspective, social context and peer-peer interaction can contribute to scaffolding and collaborative learning. However, there is a paucity of studies investigating the effect of the implementation of TBLT in web conferencing-based environments to facilitate learners’ collaborative language learning.

This study aims to explore best practice of applying TBLT via the web conferencing tool Blackboard Collaborate in a beginners’ online Chinese course by evaluating the technical capacity of the software and the pedagogical values and limitations of the tasks designed.

In this paper, Chapelle’s (2001) criteria for CALL task appropriateness are adopted and adapted to evaluate five tasks designed for an online environment in terms of practicality, language learning potential, learner fit, authenticity and positive impact. On the other hand, Varonis and Gass’s (1985) model of modified interaction will be applied in this study to examine the negotiation of meaning between peers which takes place in the online environment.

In the second semester, 2013, 16 BA on-campus students who enrolled in CHN105 Introductory Chinese 2 agreed to participant in this project. Five fortnightly one-hour online sessions were conducted, which included two jigsaw tasks, two decision-making tasks and one information-gap task. Learners’ interaction in the online sessions has been recorded and transcribed to take a deep investigation on leaners’ negotiation actions in peer-peer interaction. Their experiences of using Blackboard Collaborate and tasks were collected by in-depth interviews and pre &post-session questionnaires.

The preliminary results show that the web-conferencing tool used has great potential in stimulating negotiation of meaning and form in collaborative learning, which in turn, facilitates learners’ SLA.


Sijia Guo    
International Studies
Macquarie University

Sijia Guo is a PhD candidate and an Associate Lecturer in the Department of International Studies at Macquarie University. She received a BA in Education, a MA in Curriculum and Teaching Methodology (Teaching Chinese as a foreign language). Her research interests focus on Task-based Chinese language learning and teaching via web-conferencing systems. Her thesis title is “Interaction and task design in a collaborative learning environment: A case study of web conferencing in an Introductory Chinese course”.


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