Scholarly article on topic 'Task-based Teaching Approaches of Chinese as a Foreign Language in Second Life through Teachers’ Perspectives'

Task-based Teaching Approaches of Chinese as a Foreign Language in Second Life through Teachers’ Perspectives Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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Procedia Technology
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Keywords
{"3D MUVEs" / "task-based language teaching" / "Chinese as a foreign language" / "Second Life"}

Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Tsun-Ju Lin, Szu-Yun Wang, Scott Grant, Ching-Ling Chien, Yu-Ju Lan

Abstract The purpose of this paper is to describe the integration of two task-based language teaching (TBLT) approaches in the 3D multi- user virtual environment (MUVE) Second Life and to discuss the benefits and challenges from the perspectives of an expert user in Australia and three novice users in Taiwan. A qualitative research methodology was conducted as the research design in the study. Participants included the four instructors from two countries and 144 Chinese language undergraduate students at a major Australian university. Three activity units based on information gap and reasoning gap teaching tasks were created. It was found that conducing TBLT in Second Life can help instructors provide opportunities for the students to set clear goals, ensure student- centred and authentic approaches to learning, and provide multiple opportunities for input, production, and feedback. Furthermore, the lesson configuration (with the expert taking care of technical issues in the physical classroom and the content instructors focusing on teaching virtually) helped reduce common technical issues in Second Life and thus promote a comfortable learning environment for both the instructors and students to solely focus on the learning content of the language class.

Academic research paper on topic "Task-based Teaching Approaches of Chinese as a Foreign Language in Second Life through Teachers’ Perspectives"

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Procedia Technology 13 (2014) 16 - 22

SLACTIONS 2013: Research conference on virtual worlds - Learning with simulations

Task-based teaching approaches of Chinese as a foreign language in Second Life through teachers' perspectives

Tsun-Ju Lina *, Szu-Yun Wangb' Scott Grantc, Ching-Ling Chienb, Yu-Ju Lanb

aKainan University, No.1, Kainan Road, Luchu, Taoyuan County 33857, Taiwan bNational Taiwan Normal University, No.162, Heping East Road Section 1, Taipei 106, Taiwan cMonash University, Wellington Road, Clayton Victoria, Melbourne 3800, Australia

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to describe the integration of two task-based language teaching (TBLT) approaches in the 3D multiuser virtual environment (MUVE) Second Life and to discuss the benefits and challenges from the perspectives of an expert user in Australia and three novice users in Taiwan. A qualitative research methodology was conducted as the research design in the study. Participants included the four instructors from two countries and 144 Chinese language undergraduate students at a major Australian university. Three activity units based on information gap and reasoning gap teaching tasks were created. It was found that conducing TBLT in Second Life can help instructors provide opportunities for the students to set clear goals, ensure student-centred and authentic approaches to learning, and provide multiple opportunities for input, production, and feedback. Furthermore, the lesson configuration (with the expert taking care of technical issues in the physical classroom and the content instructors focusing on teaching virtually) helped reduce common technical issues in Second Life and thus promote a comfortable learning environment for both the instructors and students to solely focus on the learning content of the language class.

© 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the University of Tras-os- Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD) Keywrords: 3D MUVEs; task-based language teaching; Chinese as a foreign language; Second Life

* Corresponding author. Tel.: Tel: 03-341-2500, Ext.6034. E-mail address: tsunjulin@mail.knu.edu.tw

2212-0173 © 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the University of Tras-os- Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD) doi: 10. 1016/j .protcy .2014.02.004

1. Introduction

The educational use of 3D MUVEs has received considerable attention in the past five years [4]. Evidence focusing on student learning has shown that such virtual learning environments can effectively increase learning engagement and motivation, reduce learner anxiety, support the development of learner autonomy, and promote interactive and creative ways of teaching and learning [2,3,5,9,10,11]. In such studies, the limitations or restrictions of using specific virtual worlds have been noted, but possible solutions rarely discussed. Peterson [7,8] utilized a range of different communicative teaching methods/task types, such as jigsaw, information gap, opinion-exchange, and decision-making, to investigate foreign language learner interaction in virtual worlds. Peterson's findings show that TBLT approaches, a branch of communicative language teaching, have the potential to make good use of the affordances of 3D MUVEs to engage foreign language learners (e.g., promoting depth of cognitive processing, ensuring student-centred and authentic approaches to learning, etc.). Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to share our hands-on experience of teaching beginning-level Chinese as a foreign language (CFL) courses in Second Life from the perspective of an expert virtual world user and three novice users. This paper discusses the utilisation of two types of TBLT tasks, information gap and reasoning gap, to provide an insight into how we dealt with challenges that arose while implementing the learning tasks. It is hoped that the insights gained might be of help to other language educators and practitioners, providing them with ideas about how to successfully implement language classes in a 3D MUVE such as Second Life. According to the research purpose, two research questions were formed: What are the benefits and challenges of implementing two task-based language teaching approaches in Second Life? How does instructional awareness through reflective practice in-world change the unit design during the development and implementation process?

2. Methodology

An exploratory qualitative methodology was used as the research design. Participants included four instructors from two countries and 144 CFL undergraduate students at a major Australian university. Of the four instructors, one was an expert user of Second Life at the Australian university who has 5-6 years of in-world teaching experience and three were novice users in Taiwan who had never taught courses in Second Life before. The expert user is the coordinator of the undergraduate 6 point credit course Chinese Introductory 1 that runs for a duration of 12 weeks every year in Australia. The three novice instructors are all CFL researchers at a major Taiwanese university. The in-world lessons were scheduled as two-hour long, three-times a semester computer lab classes. The students and the Australian instructor were all physically located in the same real world computer laboratory in Australia. The three Taiwanese instructors were all physically located in Taiwan.

The first hour of each class was taught by the instructor in Australia. In this hour learners mobilized language learned in the foreign language classroom during the semester to carry out authentic communicative tasks that simulate real life scenarios, engaging in Chinese character-based text chat with highly interactive non-player character (NPC) interlocutors. The second hour was taught by the instructors in Taiwan with the instructor in Australia providing technical support to assist with any technical issues that occurred during the lessons. For this second hour, three activity units and 25 sessions of one hour each were conducted over the span of one semester. The purpose of the lessons in the second hour was to provide additional authentic learning opportunities for the CFL learners to practice what they had learned in the classroom by having them interact in the Second Life environment in voice mode with target language native speaking (NS) instructors located in the native speaking environment of Taiwan, so that more authentic oral output could be generated. This paper will focus on the lessons conducted in the second hour.

2.1. Instruments

As mentioned above, the 3D MUVE Second Life was used to simulate real life scenarios to engage learners in authentic and meaningful spoken interaction. Two TBLT approaches - information gap and reasoning gap - were selected to design teaching activities in Second Life. The teaching activities were designed by one of the instructors

in Taiwan and then discussed with the instructor in Australia to make any necessary changes in order to effectively use the affordances of the virtual environment.

Fig. 1. Pair the Friends

Fig. 2. Family Day

Fig. 3. Clues in the Maze

Three activity units were created: "Unit 1: Pair the Friends", "Unit 2: Family Day," and "Unit 3: Clues in the Maze" (see Fig. 1, 2 and 3 for the sample activities). Since two TBLT approaches were involved, six different tasks were designed in total. It is important to note here that these activities were customized to meet the students' actual language proficiency progression and tailored to cohere with lessons taught in their classroom-based course.

2.2. Procedure

Before conducting the TBLT tasks, the instructors in Taiwan familiarized themselves with the virtual world of Second Life by participating in three in-world training sessions (2-3 hours each) (see Fig. 4 for the task creation

Fig. 4. Task creation process

process). While designing each task or activity, these instructors constantly discussed the design process and resulting contents with the instructor in Australia through email and Second Life, modifying the design where needed to better meet students' needs (e.g., time availability, maximum amount of output, content already covered in the classroom, etc.). Before each new unit started, a teaching rehearsal was implemented to refine and optimize the use of Second Life and the purpose-designed teaching materials and scenario environments. After each session or unit was completed, instructors in both Australia and Taiwan got together to reflect on the lessons in order to modify the current task and improve the next ones to come.

2.3. Data Collection and Analysis

Three types of data were collected for the study, including teaching journals, observational data, and artefact analysis. Teaching journals, incorporating teaching logs and reflections, were written by the three instructors in Taiwan to record the teaching-learning processes. Audio-visual observational data was collected through a video recording program Fraps to record the in-world lessons. Artefacts included documents, such as lesson plans and email exchanges among the instructors, which provided additional insights into the process of task design throughout the whole process.

3. Findings and Discussion

To answer the research questions, Lin's [6] model of online dynamic engagement systems was used to discuss the benefits and challenges of implementing the two TBLT approaches in Second Life, and how the reflective practice in-world had changed the unit design.

3.1. Provide opportunities to set clear goals

When creating a TBLT lesson three stages are usually involved: pre-task, task, and review & feedback [14]. Since the core of the activity or project is having the students achieve a specific outcome, meta-instructions about each unit of activity (e.g., explaining what the students had to do, assigning each person's role in the activity, and providing modelling and instruction check questions) became the first essential stage for the instructors to help the CFL learners set up clear goals for the target activity. According to post-lesson analysis of the data collected, "effective instructor communication with students" emerged as one of the keys to achieve the transmission of meta -instructions. Due to the lack of gestures and body language in Second Life that in real life would facilitate the transmission of lesson instructions, the data showed that the instructors in Taiwan would confirm the names of the students/avatars that they would respond to at the beginning of each session and then use the student/avatar names to make clear who was being addressed during the activity. In a real classroom the names of students are less important in the sense that, while a teacher should always try to know the names of their students, gaining the attention of students does not solely rely on using their names (since non-verbal communication can be easily established and received). Regarding the effectiveness of communication during the lessons, the instructors in Taiwan consistently reported in the Unit 1 activity that "I have re-explained [orally] in English what they [the students] have to do for the activity, but they seemed confused." To solve the issue, Unit 2 and Unit 3 activities were carefully designed to provide step-by-step oral instructions with a text version of the instructions, such as in a notecard or on a media board, to enable the students to receive the course instructions in multiple ways. Based on the adaptations and modifications of the unit activities, it was interesting to see how the instructors utilised existing tools and quickly adapted their teaching materials and strategies to keep student's learning on track in-world. This shows that clear instructions and effective communication are the keys to engaging students to get them to set up, sustain, and continue to develop goals throughout the whole learning process and for effectively conducting TBLT approaches in any 3D MUVE.

3.2. Ensuring student-centred and authentic approaches to learning

The combination of the 3D MUVE and TBLT, without a doubt, enabled the successful integration of student-centred and authentic learning approaches into the CFL lesson environment. As mentioned in the methodology section, the usage of Second Life was to provide an environment that simulated real world conditions and to enable the use of the spatial nature of that environment to facilitate student interaction with native speakers of Mandarin on the other side of the world, thus adding authenticity to the communicative aspects of the CFL course in Australia. Usage of the TBLT approaches was designed to help students to generate more meaningful oral communication. To be effective, the task design had to be carefully planned on the basis of a clear understanding of learner needs [1] with an awareness of the advantages and challenges of the teaching environment. Interestingly, the data shows a progression in terms of how the instructors modified their task design to effectively combine the TBLT approaches with the affordances of the 3D MUVE. For example, two of the Taiwanese instructors agreed Unit 3 was the best designed activity because "it effectively uses the strengths of Second Life by having students practice giving directions and physically turn left/right or go straight ahead in the maze" and "there was sufficient time for the students to complete the assigned task." The third instructor in Taiwan reported Unit 2 as her favourite activity because "the activity uses multi-channel communication tools (such virtual objects that generate explanatory audio and text when clicked) that allow students to quickly catch up when they can't remember how to say certain vocabulary needed to complete the task. In other words, a maximum amount of practice can be done in a short period of time!" The data showed that these instructors progressively changed their traditional teaching mindset in order to effectively design student-centred and authentic TBLT tasks in the 3D MUVE environment. As a result, it is clear that the affordances of 3D MUVEs challenge instructors to create new and innovative teaching models and that more pre- and in-service language teachers need to be trained in the use of 3D MUVEs, so that the power of these environments in language teaching and learning can become more widespread.

3.3. Providing multiple opportunities for input, production, and feedback

According to the collected data, all the instructors seemed to agree that multiple opportunities for input and production can be easily and quickly generated through the creative use of in-world objects that can be quickly modified as the need arises. For instance, after the Unit 1 activity the instructors in Australia and Taiwan realized that more audio inputs were needed. As a result, in Unit 2 artefacts representing the target learning vocabulary (e.g., map, computer, coke, rice, etc.) had both text and audio scripts added to them, so additional immediate and unlimited listening and speaking practice could be put in place in a short period of time. Another example was modification of the spatial environment to create more opportunities for the students to orally practice giving directions in the Unit 3 activity. During the course of the task rehearsal, the instructors decided to add several road blocks and several signs with new words on them in both characters and Pinyin (the Romanised spelling of Chinese characters) to the maze, to stimulate more oral discussion in Chinese between the students. As one of the instructors commented "... like moving about the maze - it's relatively easy to adapt and modify the environment to suit a particular lesson design and to create teaching / learning opportunities that might otherwise not be available in the RL (real world) classroom (e.g. shops, restaurants, the mazes, etc.)."

While remarking that the 3D MUVE provided multiple formats for exposure to inputs and for production (e.g., texts, audios, videos, visual aids, etc.), two of the instructors noted "the lack of student facial expression and body language in Second Life." Since some methods of communication (e.g., eye contact, gestures, facial expression, head motion, etc.) used to identify students with learning and technical difficulties were missing, they reported that "it was sometimes difficult to give proper feedback." Analysis of the data reveals, however, that a number of strategies were used by the instructors in Australia and Taiwan to overcome the lack of non-verbal communication. First of all, a gesture HUD (heads-up display) was used by the instructors to provide more visual gesture feedback for students, such as waving, clapping, nodding, etc. Second, the instructors would ask each student carefully targeted concept questions in order to identify any learning difficulties they were having. If individual issues (e.g., no response from one of the students) occurred, the instructors would quickly use private instant message (IM) to identify the problems of the individual concerned or have their peers check with them in the real world computer laboratory. During the Unit 1 activity it was found that the students would often help their peers report technical

(e.g., "Her microphone is not working," "(the expert) is help him (to solve the microphone issue)," etc.) or learning issues (i.e., "He is thinking," "She forgot how to say the word," etc.) their peers were experiencing without waiting for a request from the instructors for help. Moreover, the instructors in Taiwan also found that some students would self-report their own learning/ technical issues through private IM or open audio/text chat to seek help, so that the lesson was not disrupted. More interestingly, the data indicated that expert users among the students were identified to act as proxy technical experts. Some students pick up on how to solve these problems very quickly and so can help other peers when they have problems.

3.4. Promote a comfortable learning environment

According to Lin [6], a comfortable learning environment needs to provide some level of optimal eustress (which is a facilitating stress or anxiety) to arouse a flow experience. While teaching and learning in online environments, frequently technical issues have become one of the main factors that reduce student and teacher motivation [12]. To minimize the impact of technical issues, the Australian instructor has over a period of years consistently implemented a systematic, structured and incremental way of providing step-by-step Second Life training for his students. As mentioned in discussion of the task creation process, continuous teacher training in Second Life provided by the expert instructor also helped to consolidate and build the in-world teaching skills of the Taiwanese instructors throughout the whole process. Task rehearsal and reflection among all the instructors also played an important role in improving their in-world teaching skills and resolving any potential issues. Furthermore, the lesson configuration in this study was crucial to lessons running smoothly in Second Life. With an expert user taking care of technical issues in the physical classroom, the content instructors only had to focus on teaching virtually. The expert instructor also acted as a temporary backup instructor when unexpected technical issues (e.g., microphone issues, internet connection problems, etc.) arose for the main instructors. This configuration helped reduce the disruption caused by common technical issues in Second Life, thus making the virtual lessons run more smoothly.

Conducting the TBLT tasks with a very large cohort of students (N=144) as part of a regular formal undergraduate university curriculum was also reported as challenging. Indicative of this was feedback from the Taiwanese instructors such as "difficulty in keeping track of students' learning moment-to-moment status where larger groups (more than seven in each task session) are involved," "...when I had to divide student into more than three sub-groups, the tasks were difficult to implement due to oral interference among the sub-groups," "handling multiple tasks at the same time, including explaining the lesson instruction, modelling activities, solving technical issues though private IM and oral chat, etc., was hard especially when I got more than six students in each task session." To solve these issues, some teaching strategies were established by these instructors. First, the Taiwanese instructors used the warm-up activity at the beginning of each unit to quickly identify each student's Chinese oral proficiency, learning attitude (e.g., active or passive) and interaction between their peers, and then arrange a balanced team for each sub-group. In other words, each sub-group would have a mixture of CFL learners that were both more active and more passive and/or with higher/lower levels of proficiency. The purpose was to ensure the successful implementation of the student-centred activities by having the students cooperate with each other to complete the tasks, so the instructors could play the role of facilitators to monitor the students' learning process. During the wrap-up activities for each lesson the instructors would offer more opportunities for the students who talked less during the lesson to participate (e.g., organizing learned sentences by manoeuvring and arranging labelled blocks, inviting students to share some learned cues, rephrasing learned sentences, etc.), so these students could have equal opportunities to speak in class. In order to solve the problem of too many voices speaking at once among the sub-groups, analysis of the data shows that the Taiwanese instructors used an inherent spatial characteristic of nearby-chat in-world (depending on the distance between the speakers, the sound volume will become louder or quieter) to divide up the students to complete the assigned task in different corners of the activity location. In response to the need to handle multiple tasks, from Unit 2 on the instructors gave brief instructions both orally and written on a notecard. When some students had technical issues during the explanation of instructions, they could be incorporated back into the lesson smoothly once the problem has been solved by referring to the notecard. In this way, they could ensure that the student does not miss out on anything in the lesson due to technical difficulties. Accordingly, the lesson configuration and adopted teaching strategies helped create a comfortable teaching and learning environment for both the instructors and students.

4. Conclusion

The experiences of the four instructors teaching 144 CFL students in Australia provide an understanding of how the three main instructors cooperating with the expert gradually changed their mindset regarding the design of TBLT tasks in order to provide opportunities for their students to set clear goals, ensure student-centred and authentic approaches to learning, and provide multiple opportunities for input, production, and feedback in the 3D virtual world. The unit activities based on TBLT approaches have enriched our knowledge of adapting teaching strategies to ensure student engagement in 3D MUVEs. Additionally, the lesson configuration (instructors from two different countries with advanced and novice second Life teaching experiences) has also shed some light on not only how to effectively offer 3D virtual language learning courses for a large cohort of students, but also how to minimize the impact of common technical issues in 3D MUVEs.

As more educational institutions and communities manifest their interest in exploring language teaching and learning in virtual worlds, there is clearly a need for further research into the conditions which allow more innovative language teaching formats, methods and strategies to enhance the benefits of language learning in the 3D MUVEs. For example, what other TBLT approaches can be adopted to enable language instructors to effectively use the affordances of the particular 3D MUVE being use? How do teaching methods and strategies need to be modified depending on the language teaching formats (e.g., Tandem language, EFL, ESL, and English-as-a-lingua-franca learning)? What learning activities in virtual worlds are most effective for different language teaching formats? What are the possible benefits and challenges of learning different languages in virtual worlds? Certainly, there is a need to get more practitioners, educators and researchers involved, so that the functions of the 3D MUVEs can keep being developed and improved to better fit educational purposes, so that more language learners can benefit from learning language in the MUVEs.

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the National Science Council of the Republic of China, Taiwan, for financially supporting this research under Contract Nos. NSC102-2911-I-003-301, 101WFA0300229, and NSC97-2631-S-003-002. The authors also want to thank the Ministry of Education of the Republic of China, Taiwan, for financially supporting this research under Aim for the Top University Plan."

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