Insights into the web based English learning projects

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №9 - 2017

Authors:
Frolova Natalia, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Russia
Frolov Evgeniy, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Russia

1. INTRODUCTION

Implementation of various information communication technologies into educational process is complex and challenging thought it is very beneficial. When integrated into the learning process web tools are becoming essential modern professionals’ learning tools. They assist traditional education, accelerate exchange of urgent information and provide free flow of feedback. However there are some issues that are controversial and slow down their use in teaching practice.

The main purpose of this article is to offer the way to enhance the process of Academic English language learning by implementing Web 2.0 tools which will allow blended learning in peer to peer or teacher to student collaboration. Improving the writing skills and acquiring English in the experimental groups the students are to use LMS, Wiki and SNS as means to prove the following hypothesis. Hypothesis: if the project of Web based learning is a success it will result in closer teacher-to student and peer-to peer cooperation, better AE results. In order to achieve the purpose the set of goals was set:

1. To create a platform for cooperation on the basis of LMS, wiki site and SNS.

2. To provide the theoretical and empirical analysis of the project proposal.

3. To use the qualitative and quantitative methods of approving of the hypothesis.

4. To provide students’ and teachers’ feedback on this innovative cooperation.

5. To single out advantages and pitfalls if any.

While creating the web based Academic English Writing project, the possibility for massive education across borders and time zones has been taken into account when the students have the opportunity to share educational and cultural information and work under the project simultaneously via wiki, LMS and SNS tools, which have a clear and user-friendly interface and free of charge use.

In general, it is promising as having the great potential as educational and peer to peer collaboration incentives. The leaders of the project accomplishing the role of a moderator will assign responsibilities among the participants of a project team, appoint the students’ responsibilities, and monitor the implementation of the project and meeting the deadlines.

2. BLENDED LEARNING IMPLEMENTATION IN NRU HSE

Once the educational information is transferred by means of information communication technologies we may come across electronic learning. E-learning makes use of various electronic technologies, forms and components as its primary means of learning and teaching (Rosen-berg, 2001; Swan, Bowman & Holmes, 2003). Currently, educators across all fields use online training to teach in every sphere of competence forming and leading universities incorporate ICT into teaching process in higher education.

The National Research University Higher School of Economics (NRU HSE) along with solid Russian universities has launched the pilot project of the Open University has various information and communication technologies in use by means of wiki sites, e-learning environment (LMS), and learners’ groups in social networks, webinars, gamification, MOOCs etc.

According to classification of e-learning based on the amount of time the students spend on line (in percentage) for educational purposes (Smith & Kurthen, 2007)   Web Technology (only fragmentary), Blended learning ( 45% of e-learning and 55% of face to face one), Hybrid learning (45-80% on line) and E-learning (more than 80% in real time on the network) we are inclined to think that the authority of HSE follows the blended learning strategy mostly.

ICT provides several advantages from the point of view of a teacher. In other words ICT encourages socialization, sharing, creativity, authenticity and collaboration (Peachey, 2014). Arranging teacher-student collaboration by means of ICT is fruitful.

It helps deliver information and flip the class providing an easy access to the materials and possibility to store them. Provided the permition is given anyone may share the plans, slides, e-versions of elaborations.

3. METHODOLOGY

While caring out this project fourth generation evaluation principles were used (Mason, J., 2002). The semi-structured techniques and methods including focus groups (groups of students of various ages and teaching staff discussions), individual interviews were held and opinion polls were carried out to assess the common trends and views on the use of web tools in teaching practice.

Along with qualitative some techniques of quantitative research of collecting numerical data to can be transformed into usable statistics were put into practice. It was used to quantify attitudes and project participants’ opinions to uncover general patterns, which can be relevant to efficiency of web tools use in teaching Academic English for writing purposes. Quantitative data collection methods included various forms of surveys – on-line surveys, paper surveys, face-to-face interviews; Google forms polls and systematic observations.

4. TEACHING ACADEMIC ENGLISH WRINING BY WEB 2.0 TOOLS

4.1 LMS projects

In order to arrange effective teacher-student collaboration outside the classrooms LMS platform was used to implement common projects aiming at helping students in foreign language learning activities. To master the technique the students will have to acquire team work skills.

While creating a new group project no matter whether it is a scientific or business project students have the opportunity to share information on the project through internal program’s functions. They can fix tasks for the participants monitor the stages of performing operations keep the deadlines with the final stages. Such programs of project management as Project Management, Smart Extranet, Live Project, Work section etc. have a clear and easy-to-use interface, free of charge use, broad functionality. In general, they are promising as they have a great potential as a tool for simulating of project management. These programs allow the administrator to assign responsibilities among the participants of a project team, to appoint the persons responsible for certain operations, monitor the implementation of the project.

An innovative teaching English language as a foreign language technique under the title of Smart Project Learning was launched in the National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE) via learning management system (LMS). It was carried out in a form of blended teaching of Business English subject (10804-BE 3rd year) and was divided into 4 subprojects.

The first one took the period from September to November 2013. It was devoted to academic writing. The students were taught to deal with paragraphing. They practiced writing abstracts starting with a definite topic sentence or finishing up with the one. They had drills on finding sequences of thoughts and logic. They tried their hand in making introduction, main body and the conclusion. It may seem simple but turned up to be the great challenge.

The second subproject was to provide incentives to use critical thinking. It lasted from November to December 2013. The students were given the list of the famous people’s quotations and the task was to speculate upon it. The challenge was to express the opinion via LMS using evidence and both for and against arguments.

The third subproject (from January to February 2014) was devoted to joint projects of the students. Referring to the abstract written by the previous student the assignment was to enlarge piece of writing and incorporate the passage of your own. It involved creativity and knowledge of academic writing issues. The special concern was to maintain the appropriate register.

The fourth subproject dealt with making students’ presentations. It began in April and finished in May 2014. The students used visual aid to make the presentations vivid and impressive.

Project learning is a way to achieve a didactic purpose through detailed development of a problem, which should be completed by a real, tangible practical result, drawn up in accordance with the rules of an academic writing.

Smart project learning is a form of active learning. The heading of the project has symbolic meaning. It combines active learning concept and computer assisted learning. It is smart due to the use of ICT in education and project learning in its essence. The substantial novelty consists in conjunction of blended and project learning techniques.

4.2 Wiki project

Writing projects in English develops students’ research and exploratory skills inspired by cognitive motives and interests. The task of a teacher is to form the environment which will provide necessary conditions for creativity. The issue that requires to be considered in project learning is the development of critical thinking. Students are given the ability to enquire knowledge in order to navigate in the educational space independently.

In 2016 in order to support the Academic English, writing for the fourth year students in particular, an educational site, which contains several pages on project proposals, on peer reviews, on presentations and manuals and tutorials on successful writing production, was created which both students and teachers could use at convenient time for educational information search or peer assessment (https: // sites.google.com/ site/ academic writingprojectproposal)

The exam results of the groups taking part in the experiment have justified the hypnoses that web tools can optimize the process of education and that Wiki enables project-based learning in real time, when all participants distantly can cooperate in teamwork. Wiki spaces allow both formal and informal communication in different role models and dimensions like (a student- a student, a student -a teacher, a teacher- student groups).

Project based learning via wiki sites highlights the idea of students’ collaboration and cooperation during the learning process. It creates favourable environment for the development of their various qualities. Necessary autonomy and initiative in education is evoked. It motivates to develop personality and the ability of team work along with responsibility for the group.

4.3 Education while collaborating via Social net sites

The term "social network" used to denote a web of relationships or social interaction in small groups by social philosophers of XIX-XX centuries (Moreno, 1932; Radcliffe-Browne, 1952). After many decades a new understanding of social networks appeared. Nowadays it is perceived as a communication via social network sites (SNS).

Social networks (“Facebook”, “Linkedin” and others) are so popular among teenagers and youngsters that they are threatening to replace real communication for many children and adults because of the enormous user friendliness and availability. Moreover, it provides a number of advantages over personal contact.

The findings of the survey conducted among the students of the 1-4 courses of the department of mathematics and soft engineering.

The respondents including 120 people have given the priority to the national social net site VKontakte. The most popular social nets among the students of the observed group are VKontakte (75%), Facebook (15%), Instagram and reddit.com per (2,5%), Twitter (1%), Googlet (1%), Prinstagram (1%), Imessage (1%) Researchgate (1%).

As we can see from the results of the survey the widest used sns are international such as Facebook or Instagram. But there are Russian ones such as VKontakte, Odnoklassniki, Moj mir etc.

The bigger part of the respondents (75%) is symbolized by the lower level, the second level is occupied by 20% of the respondents meaning that they spend 10 hours and less on social networking, the upper level belongs to 5% who are most passionate and durable users of SNS.

Thus, the statistics show that SNS are very popular among the students of Russian university. They use social networking in daily activity. The purpose can be private or educational. While socializing with a teacher in SNS students are more open-minded and relaxed. SNS creates positive educational environment and inspires more than traditional command and control link with a teacher in the classroom.

5. CONCLUSION AND THE FINDINGS OF THE RESEARCH

According to the conducted analyses of the results of using LMS, Wiki site and SNS in teaching Academic Writing to university students the hypothesis of the efficiency of web tools support of the English course has been proven. Thought there was some criticism in the respondents’ answers showing that not all professional teachers are very optimistic about web tools and implementation of blended-learning, primarily elderly ones usually resist to create web based English courses, usually due to the lack of ICT knowledge or computer skills, considering the whole idea of distant education unreasonable and impractical. The comment by a 61 year old English teacher «What is the use of these technologies? I can do without them, by means of face to face session and working at the blackboard». 

Coming to the students’ feedback one focuses on benefits mostly such as the following:

• blended – learning proves to be more individualized letting use the appropriate pace and time frames;

• cost - effective  and time saving as it allows to reduce or eliminate travel costs and commuting time;

• unlike classroom training, which requires the presence of trainers each and every time the course is supposed to be delivered;

• web platform on the basis of wiki or LMS can be developed once and used multiple times for the training requirements of various audiences

• easy access to all the materials which are open to various groups of English language learners due the advent of authoring tools;

• universal coverage and possibility to be applicable worldwide.

In this way web based learning is significantly advantageous compared to the classroom Academic English learning only. The table given below provides official statistical prove for the efficiency of teacher-student collaboration outside the classroom by means of web tools in particular. (Official statistics from the NRU HSE site on Dr Frolova’s work with students https: // www. hse.ru/user/#tab-main)

Table 1. The students’ feedback on rating of teacher-student extracurricular collaboration and personal relations

Thus, the statistics has proven the positive students’ feedback on incorporation of web based course of Academic English for writing purposes, which led to creation of a platform for teacher-to students and peer to peer cooperation on the basis of LMS, wiki site and SNS groups. As the result, the efficiency of the given project has been approved by both the theoretical and empirical data collected by means of the qualitative and quantitative methods of collecting students’ and teachers’ feedback on this innovative cooperation. Consequently, it is a promising area of research and calls for further surveys to be done.

REFERENCES

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Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №9 - 2017

  
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