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In addition, students considered chatting both fun and beneficial and technology in general was seen as a positive addition to the classroom. The limitations that were expressed by students were that it requires computer literacy and that technology can be a “hassle.” Donaldson and Kötter (1999) came to a similar conclusion.
Students preferred a teacher who actively participated in chat and corrected their mistakes, which is in contrast to Donaldson and Kötter’s findings. While students reported that they were able to identify their own and others’ errors, only about half of them reported correcting their peers. Most students reported that they felt that all or most of their errors were corrected, which is in agreement with their preference. However, as has been discussed previously, the vast majority of errors did not receive corrective feedback as evidenced in the transcripts, either from teachers or peers. As mentioned in chapter four, other-initiated corrective feedback ranged from 1.30% to 12.50% with a total of other-initiated feedback rate of 5.45%.
5.6. Implications for Teaching From the research findings of this study, several recommendations can be made for the use of chat activities in the foreign language classroom. One should keep in mind, however, that teaching philosophies differ and that recommendations made have to be evaluated from the perspective of one’s own teaching philosophy.
A controversial issue in the relation to the findings of this study is the issue of a focus on accuracy in foreign language classrooms. This expansive discussion will only be summarized here. Long and Robinson (1998) discuss three models: a focus on forms, a focus on meaning, and a focus on form. The focus on forms is a traditional approach that puts accuracy and the teaching of grammar in the foreground, whereas a focus on meaning puts communicative competence and fluency in the foreground. Focus on form in their definition is a hybrid form, in which a focus on accuracy is implemented during times of communication breakdown or in response to repeated errors made by several students. Structures are practiced through communicative activities that require the use of these structures.
The literature has discussed many advantages and disadvantages of a focus on accuracy that can only be summarized here briefly (for a more thorough discussion see Doughty & Williams, 1998; Hinkel & Fotos, 2002). It has been argued that a critical period for naturalistic language acquisition may make it necessary for adult learners, who are beyond the critical period, to receive feedback and focus on accuracy. If not necessary, it had been argued that a focus on accuracy will increase the rate of acquisition for adults. Furthermore, the context of learning or the learning goals may also necessitate a focus on accuracy. As discussed earlier, learners expect a focus on accuracy and hence this focus in the classroom may have affective consequences, or simply produce a placebo effect. In addition, a focus on accuracy increases the explicit knowledge of the language, which may make acquisition easier.
On the other hand, a focus on accuracy may not be beneficial for spontaneous language use. Furthermore, it may even have negative affective results. Some argue that it can only be effective at later stages of language learning. It has been argued that students need to be ready for a structure before a focus on accuracy for that structure can be beneficial to them. Since the context and timing of a focus on accuracy have been controversial issues in the field of SLA, the decision is ultimately the teacher’s as to how and when to implement such a focus on accuracy. In this study, some more thoughts to take into consideration in regards to these controversial issues have been presented.
The main finding of this study was that the rate of corrective feedback was low.
However, neither positive nor negative consequences of such a paucity of feedback could be determined in this study. If corrective feedback is important to one’s teaching philosophy, several recommendations can be made here. One recommendation made by one of the students was to use the transcripts for corrective feedback. This would allow the teacher to connect the chat sessions to the regular classroom instruction and provide a focus on accuracy. Since students have a clear pattern of self-correction, utilizing their preferred form (marked partial repetitions with correction) may make it easier for the students to recognize that they are being corrected. Furthermore, at the beginning of the semester, the teacher could spend a session on teaching students how to provide recognizable peer feedback during chatting, and how to recognize the teacher’s feedback.
One of the findings of this study was that there is a positive correlation between teacher feedback and student self-correction. Therefore, in order to increase students’ focus on accuracy, the teacher could increase teacher feedback.
Another major finding of this study is that despite significant differences between the teachers, there were only very few differences between the groups of students. Hence, differences in teacher implementation of activities may not be as influential as initially thought, as long as the same general materials are used. Even technological challenges did not appear to have a major effect on students’ language learning and use, experience, or attitude, except for the amount of teacher output they were exposed to.
In regards to language learning, the rate of correction uptake was low in this study, which may again suggest that the focus on accuracy could be implemented by using the transcripts after chatting. Furthermore, error uptake was rare in chatting also, which may suggest that the low frequency of feedback does not lead to more error uptake. In fact, no correlation was found between amount of teacher feedback and error uptake. Additionally, the high level of target language use (over 90% in all cases) by both teachers and students is encouraging. However, since teacher target language use may influence student target language use, teachers need to match their TL use their expectations of the students’ target language use.
From the students’ perspective, students reported chatting as an enjoyable and beneficial learning activity in their surveys. Considering that previous research has also found chatting to be beneficial for learning (Beauvois, 1992; Chun, 1994; Kelm, 1992;
Kern, 1995; Warchauer, 1996), and that students in this study reported it as beneficial and fun, chat activities indeed augment regular classroom activities for some portion of the curriculum.
However, when implementing chatting in the classroom, grouping and group assignment has to be considered carefully. This study can only conclude that partner assignments were an important issue reported by the students. More research needs to be done to establish best practices for constellations of partner assignment for optimal learning results using SCMC.
Furthermore, to avoid confusion for the students, and in alingnment with best practices for classroom teaching, the teacher should introduce the activities well, and connect them to the materials talked about during regular classtime. Additionally, the teacher may want to avoid using the “to all” function unless something has to be communicated to all students such as “class is over now.” Teachers also need to be aware that during in-class chat activities in the same physical space, they have a role in both the physical and the virtual space.
While most transcripts looked at in the background study did not have any teacher participation at all, students report that they prefer an active teacher. A teacher who wants to accommodate students’ desires needs to provide feedback and actively participate during chatting. Other considerations for matching these desires should be the research results discussed in chapter two, suggesting the benefits of the negotiation of meaning, the importance of input, especially target-like input, and the potential necessity for a focus on accuracy for adult learners.
5.7. Implications for Program Administrators Some of the recommendations made in the previous section will be discussed again from the perspective of a program administrator. First of all, based on the students’ feedback and the comprehensibility of the students’ transcripts, it can be recommended that using chat during second-year German is appropriate.
Second, since significant teacher differences were discovered in this study, a program administrator may want to set up clear guidelines for the chat sessions. Such guidelines can include but are not limited to the following: (1) desired level of target language use, (2) desired feedback rate and form, (3) guidelines for implementation and introduction of activities, (4) acceptable (for example asking additional related questions) and unacceptable (for example commenting on one’s personal life) teacher and student moves, (5) acceptable (for example German music) and unacceptable (for example making a personal phone call) concurrent activities, (6) acceptable (for example the class textbook) and unacceptable (for example an internet translator) resources, and (7) the role assignment for the technological support staff and the teacher (for example: who assigns groups; who assists with computer problems).
Third, technological support staff’s availability and knowledge had an impact on this study. The most significant impact that the absence or lack of expertise of the technological staff had was that the teacher experienced frustration. To ease the comfort level of teachers who might be hesitant to include SCMC as a regular part of their class activities, qualified personnel should be present, so that the teacher can concentrate on teaching. Furthermore, though this was not a concern at all in this study, in other courses at other institutions I have experienced more difficulties related to hardware failures or equipment problems. The constant monitoring and upkeep of the equipment and software by the College of Humanities Instructional Computing staff were necessary for the technological successes of implementing chatting here, and similar standards should be maintained whenever possible.
The fourth point that may be helpful for program administrators stems from input offered by the MorningTeacher. As mentioned before, she experienced many problems due to mistakes in login and logout procedures which in the absence of an expert Lab Assistant often could not be prevented or fixed. As a result of the challenges she had been very resistant to using computers in her teaching. However, after the semester was over, she told me that she would be using the same chat activities again in future semesters, for she found the chatting and the activities effective. Having taught in the program for five years, she has seen different implementations of the regularly scheduled lab day. She reported that from her experience, students usually did not like lab day and saw no connection to the regular class, as they reported in the university-wide teacher evaluation forms. However, in the semester when the study was conducted, she experienced very different reports from the students, and therefore wanted to use chatting again in the future. I interpret the teacher’s change in attitude, despite all her challenges, as an indicator that once teachers receive both some support and encouraging feedback from students, they are willing to see the positive in SCMC.
However, as always, there are problems with the implementation of chat activities. The most important issue is the availability and the quality of computer equipment and technological support staff. Therefore, research question 5 addressed the issue of moving chat activities from the same physical location to a distance learning environment. In such circumstances, I would like to make the following recommendations, even though they have not yet been the focus of SLA research: a glossary of task descriptions, the availability of a whisper function to teachers so that they can work with students individually as needed, training sessions for teachers and students, procedural guidelines, a back-up communication channel (e.g., second server or using email), a listing of computer requirements, accessibility of computers, a list of resources for teachers and students, a messaging component to enhance interpersonal bonding, and focused efforts toward establishing community.
In summary, SCMC activities can be implemented in intermediate foreign language classrooms successfully, but the implementation hinges on availability of equipment and personnel, and the provision of guidelines and training.
5.8. Implications for Teacher Training As mentioned above, teacher training is a crucial component of the implementation of chat activities in the foreign language classroom. Teachers need training on the equipment to be used, with some instructions on trouble-shooting.
Furthermore, teachers need to know the available human resources in case of problems and need to be encouraged to use them. As an example mentioned before, MorningTeacher had the phone number of the Program Developer to call for help, but she never did. Teachers are well acquainted and comfortable with the role of “being in charge” of a class, and hesitate and fail to even think about calling for help during class activities. In a SCMC context, though, interdepence with technologically helpful human resources is a key to successful implementation.
Preparing teachers for the use of chat activities in the foreign language classroom goes beyond training on the technological knowledge. Much of the training needs to address the medium-specific issues and the consequential decisions teachers have to make for daily pedagogical implementation.
From my experience and based on the initial reported feelings of MorningTeacher, teachers new to the implementation of chatting in the classroom are often nervous about implementing CMC, doubting its value in relation to the learning curve. Besides the already existing research on CMC’s benefits that teachers can be referred to (for a good summary see Ortega, 1997), this study also confirms that the students in this study liked chat and saw benefits in using it. Furthermore, comprehensibility of transcripts and target language use were generally high, which offers evidence to alleviate some of the concerns I have encountered in teacher training in regards to CMC.