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«Item type text; Electronic Dissertation Authors Goertler, Senta Publisher The University of Arizona. Rights Copyright © is held by the author. ...»

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In the beginning of the semester, 25 students were enrolled in the class, but only 20 remained by the end of the semester. Of these 20, 16 completed all data and were included in this study. The 16 participants included 11 women and 5 men ranging in age from 18 to 40 with an average age of 21.06 and a median age of 20. Except for the one 40-year old student, all others were between the ages of 18 and 22 (3 students 18, three students 19, six students 20, and three students 22). All students indicated English as their native language, however, one student indicated Farsi as an additional first language. The participants had also learned other languages such as German (15), Spanish (7), French (3), and Korean (1). Again, one student did not identify German as a second language.

MorningTeacher described this class as more likeable than the NSC. The class atmosphere and the implementation of the chat was similar to the NSC, although the students seemed to interact a little more with each other in the physical space. In a more detailed look at the chat situations in the two classes, one may find a difference due to the teacher’s preference of classes.

3.5.4 Expert-Support Class The ESC, also named for the technological support available, was taught by EveningTeacher in the evenings. In this class, the Lab Assistant was also the software developer. Knowing the program as well as he does, he was able to immediately catch instructor or student errors in using the program, and was able to take appropriate measures to fix problems. Furthermore, the teacher put the Lab Assistant in charge of administering the chat session, i.e.,, he assigned groups and instructed students on the login and logout procedures during the observed chat session. These instructions were given in English as the Lab Assistant does not speak German. The activities were introduced by the teacher, explaining all necessary vocabulary. The teacher was also clearly comfortable with using the technology. Technological problems were less frequent in this class than in any other class.

In the beginning of the semester, 26 students were enrolled in the class, with 22 remaining at the end. Of the students enrolled, 18 completed all necessary assignments and were considered as part of this study. They ranged in age from 18 to 46 with an average age of 24.67 and a median age of 21. As can be expected, there were more older students in this evening class than in regular daytime courses since it was an evening classes. Only three students were between 18 and 20, six students were 21, five students were between 23 and 27, three students between 30 and 32, and one student was 46. This class also included several graduate students. Only 14 of the 18 participants indicated English as the first language, while the other four indicated either Spanish, Turkish, Chinese, or Navajo. Only 10 of the 18 students indicated German as a second language.

Other languages reported included French (3), American Sign Language (1), English (4), and Spanish (1).

The atmosphere in this class was very different from the other two classes. In each observed class period, there was a lot of laughter, yelling across the room, and talking in the physical space. The teacher often yelled things into the room as well.

Students looked over each other’s shoulders to read the parts where the neighbor laughed.

However, there was one pod in the middle that was clearly quieter and less active. The teacher often played German music during the chat sessions. Chatting was usually done in the last twenty minutes of class, with the teacher introducing all unknown words and setting a context for the activities, though that context was not always identical to that intended by the materials developer and researcher.

3.6 Student Participants’ Background Students in third-semester German classes can usually be divided into three categories: (1) students who took the second-semester German class at the University of Arizona or its equivalent at another recognized institution, (2) students who placed into third semester German using the computer-adaptive placement examination (CAPE) developed by Brigham Young University, and (3) students who self-selected the course.

Most students are enrolled to fulfill the fourth semester language ability requirement for BA degrees from the University of Arizona. Typically, the minority of students have selected German as their major or minor. Students in the German classes have often intentionally selected German as the language to fulfill the language requirement specifically to be different from the masses taking Spanish, due to German family heritage, or because of an interest in German history, culture, and/or language as expressed in at the beginning of the semester surveys. Third-semester students typically are able to have some simple conversations using simple sentences, often relying on learned chunks. In the pre- and post-surveys, students described their German language ability as weak, limited or okay. Several students commented that they could write and speak simple German, but were lacking more complex language.

Typically, in the University’s German language courses, error correction is limited and presented in the form of implicit corrective feedback, suggested by the teaching approach of the selected textbook. Most students reported having received corrective feedback from their previous teachers (for an over view see table 3.2.). When asked about corrective feedback of spoken language, 50% of the NSC class reported having received feedback from previous teachers, while 33.3% reported that they received none. Of the SSC students, 50% reported having received feedback, while 0% reported having received none. Of the ESC students, 88.9% had received feedback on spoken errors, and 5.56% had not. Similar reports were given for corrective feedback by previous teachers in response to written errors. In response to having received corrective feedback in the past, 66.7% of the NSC students, 87.5% of the SSC students, and 94.4% of the responded positively, while only 16.7% of NSC students and none of the SSC or ESC reported having received no feedback at all. Since not all students had previously taken German classes, the percentages reported do not add up to 100%. Of the few students who had previously used chat, about half reported that they did and half reported they did not receive feedback in the chat context.

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Most of the students had not had prior experience with chatting in the classroom.

Two of the participants, one from SSC and one from ESC, had chatted in their first semester course as part of the study conducted by Ene et al. The majority of students had previously used messaging software (see 3.3) to communicate with friends (88.3% in the NSC, 87.5% in the SSC, 77.5% in the ESC). However, fewer students had previously used messaging software for academic or professional purposes (50% in NSC and SSC, and only 38.9% in ESC). The percentage of students who had previously used chatting in a foreign language classroom was lower yet (0% in NSC, 18.8% in SSC, and 16.7% in ESC).

Table 3.3 Previous Messaging Experience

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Overall, students described their language skills as limited, thought that their teachers always corrected mistakes, and reported approval of teacher correction. Students generally had some experience with CMC tools, but only limited experience with using such tools in the classroom. The general consensus of the use of technology in the classroom was positive.

3.7 Tasks This study was intended to have students participate in 20-minute chat sessions per week with their instructor. The activities (see Appendix 6) were information-gap, role-plays, web quests, and guided discussions I developed. All activities were intended to be 20 minutes long, and focused on the structures and vocabulary presented in relevant chapters of the textbook. Most activities were adapted from activities presented in the book, allowing the teacher to skip those activities and instead use the chat version. All activities were labeled in the same fashion as the sections they resembled in the textbook.

The activities were available to the instructor in hard copy in the Instructor Manual and also in soft copy on the course management web site. All activities were piloted and revised in a class at the same level the semester prior to the actual study. All activities are listed in Appendix 6.

During third-semester German, chapters 9 through 12 in the Kontakte textbook are discussed. Usually, about four weeks of the semester are spent with one chapter, each concluding with a chapter exam. Since all exams were scheduled for the day after lab day, one lab session every four weeks was dedicated to reviewing for the test and usually did not include a chat session. EveningTeacher, who had the lab facility available for all of her class sessions, sometimes compensated by having the students chat on another day.

This option was not available to MorningTeacher. There were 17 chat activities developed, although it was estimated that teachers would only hold a maximum of 13 chat sessions. Therefore, teachers were to choose an appropriate activity that fit the rest of that week’s materials. Both teachers were instructed to introduce the activities and present any unknown words (see Instructor Manual in Appendix 5).

All activity descriptions were labeled with the corresponding section number in the textbook. In the Instructor’s Manual (Appendix 5), the labeling also included the activity type, the ideal group size, and the structures under investigation. Both teachers chose the online version for task selection. All activities included a picture for schema activation, and the online version of the activities included links to the chat server tutorial. While this was intended to help the students, it actually appeared to confuse them, since many of them initially interpreted the instructions to mean that they had to complete the tutorial, rather than that they could complete the tutorial if they needed additional assistance with the software as was observed in the first month.

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As listed in the chart above (table 3.4), the activities covered the following topics:

childhood, youth, school, travel, directions, beach vacation, pets, history, sickness, body hygiene, hospital, accidents, family, multicultural Germany, and art and literature.

Als/wenn/wann-clauses, simple past tense, prepositions, imperative, subjunctive, passive, reflexive pronouns, indirect questions, word order in dependent and independent clauses, causal connectors, and cases were the structures practiced in the activities. The 17 activities consisted of three information-gap activities, nine role-plays (three of them with assigned roles), one web quest, and four guided discussion. The intended group size was two for five activities, two to three for 11 activities, and three to five for one activity.

3.8 Procedures Prior to the main study, a sample set of teachers’ chat transcripts (see Appendix 2) was analyzed to determine their participation and corrective feedback styles. No research could be found about typical feedback and participation styles during chatting, making this portion of the study necessary in order to place the two participating teachers in a larger context. During the background study, I found that often the teachers did not participate in chat at all. When they did participate, each used a variety of corrective feedback strategies and participation styles, although individual teachers had strong tendencies towards either a conversational participation style, using implicit corrective feedback, or an authoritarian participation style, using explicit corrective feedback. From the transcripts, samples were taken to give the two teachers involved in the study an idea of how to communicate with their students during chat (see Instructor Manual in Appendix 5). However, the examples were not labeled or introduced in any form. When the teacher asked how to participate, they were instructed that they should interact with the students however they felt was best suited. It was more important to witness the choices they as experienced teachers made without specific instructions, since each may have different ideas than the teachers in the background study, and because there are no best-practice recommendations available yet.

The teachers were assigned to the classes by the Director of Basic Languages based on departmental needs. Knowing the TAs well, I had made recommendations for the ideal teachers for my study. However due to many other constraints these recommendations could not be accommodated. Once the Director of Basic Languages shared his decision on teaching assignments with me, the teachers had been recruited four months prior to the start of the study. They were told that the study was investigating student-teacher interactions and given an overview of the time commitment required by the class for the study. Once the teachers agreed to participate, the chatting became a required part of their syllabi. During the department’s general in-service training, a special session was reserved for the two instructors involved in this study. They met with me and could ask any questions they still had, to take care of all logistical issues, and to receive the Instructor’s Manual. The Instructor’s Manual (see Appendix 5) included the above discussed sample interactions, all of the above discussed activities, a tutorial for the chat program, a set of trouble-shooting guidelines for the chat program, their consent form, a copy of each instrument used, a tutorial for the course-management site, and a sheet with daily procedural instructions. During the first chat session in each class, I was in attendance to help with the set-up of the program.

In the first week of the semester, the pre-survey (Appendix 4) and the pre-test (Appendix 3) were administered. In the last full week, the post-survey (Appendix 7) and post-test (Appendix 6) were administered. After each chat session, the students completed a self-report form (see Appendix 9) indicating the interruptions and problems that had occurred and the resources they had consulted. Throughout the semester and during the data analysis phase, informal conversations were conducted with the teachers involved in the study to better understand their motivation behind their teaching choices and their level of awareness of some of their decisions.

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