Teaching Language with Technology
University ESL Instructor Attitudes toward Online ESL Classes
The research topic I would like to cover begins with an experience I had with my colleagues. I introduced the idea of an online class to my college ESL department and did not receive the response I would have preferred. My intention for bringing this idea up was to brainstorm the possibilities with my colleagues. I think they thought I was proposing we create one. I was not. So they asked me questions I was not prepared to answer, and I ended up just defending myself instead of fleshing out this idea like I thought was going to happen. Outside of the discussion during the meeting, they made it very clear they were not optimistic about the effectiveness of an online ESL class. “Skeptical” was the word one instructor used.
This was extremely discouraging. After having done many synchronous labs — which I thought were successful — I had no reason to think a whole class wouldn’t work. I had assumed my department was being negative to be negative, so that is why I thought looking into attitudes of ESL instructors to online classes would be ideal. I would hopefully get to dispel some misconceptions, and also, defend my beliefs about the likely success of online classes in ESL teaching.
So far, I’ve been able to find lots of information about teacher attitudes regarding technology integration. However, I think, though I’m not sure, that my colleagues’ skepticism is about fully online classes rather than technology use in general. There are seven of us in our department and a few whose technology skills are comparable to mine and couple whose skills are more basic. Generally speaking, we are a tech savvy ESL department. That is why I think the negativity toward online use is about classes and not general technology use. Because of that I would like to see more research specifically about online classes, and this leads right into my area of research.
The current research has extensively addressed the attitudes and perceptions that higher education instructional professionals hold in regards to technology integration in various disciplines. Myers et. al (2004) addressed why some instructors resist integrating online learning environments (OLE) into their teaching and why some embrace it. Their results indicate that understanding the motivation behind the enthusiasm, or resistance, is essential to understanding this complex dynamic. The motivating reasons for utilizing online teaching included updating teaching skills and vita. Also, older and more experienced teachers were less likely to embrace online learning environments than the faculty that are younger and less experienced.
Although this study looks at OLEs, the participants are faculty from all subject areas, and technology integration is addressed generally rather than focusing on online classes. For the purposes of this study, further narrowing the technology focus and the subject matter to language learning is necessary.
Technology Integration in the Field of Language Learning
Although some special populations have had attention in this area, little time has been spent looking at online teaching in the field of either English as a Second (ESL) or Foreign Language (EFL). One of the few studies includes the perceptions of multiple types of technology integration (e-learning) by both students and faculty in Saudi Arabian universities by Al-Dorsari (2011). Within this study, the results show that teaching with technology has benefits above and beyond classes that are exclusively face-to-face, and this research can be used to support the implementation of future ESL classes that are supplemented with technology. As useful as this study was, it focused on Saudi Arabian students in Saudi Arabia and not ESL students in the United States, or online classes in particular. To further focus the review of relevant literature a closer look at online ESL classes is helpful.
Another ESL related study was done by Leyva (2005) who looked at the perceptions of both students and instructors of online classes in the Latina population at community colleges. Although the option of online classes was considered valid by the students, cultural influences affected the student preference of face-to-face classes. However, the belief by the instructional faculty that there was a lack of available classes for low-level ESL students was attributed to the limited knowledge of the faculty, and the absence of technology needed for this type of teaching. Because this study focused on a particular population, and because that population had cultural aspects that interfered with the effectiveness of online classes, even more focused research is required.
In the study by Peng (2010) there is information taken specifically from research based on university ESL online classes. He finds that several things affected teacher positive attitudes. First, teachers needed incentives like the desire to fulfill student needs. These incentives included wanting to increase enrollment and having many course offerings played an important role in attitudes. More significantly, teacher attitudes about online technology directly related to implementation of technology or a lack of implementation. In this case, peer attitudes affected enthusiasm as well as conference attendance. And a final aspect that affects teacher attitudes positively is “pressure from administration” in addition to the school policies regarding technology integration. (p. 114)
The elements that Peng cites that affect resistance to the use of technology are multifold. First, students still want face-to-face instruction. Second, “teacher abilities, availability, experience, knowledge and physical health” prevent the utilization of technology. (p. 142) Third, program directors that have a more conservative approach hinder the implementation process. Also, technology itself can hamper easy integration. The time taken to address student technical problems can prevent an instructor from teaching the actual class in which the technology is placed. And lastly, the question of quality can inhibit technology integration.
Peng suggests that further research could involve understanding why the decision to implement technology is slow to take place. He also suggests that finding ways to remove these obstacles would be constructive. However, the piece that is missing here is whether there is something specific to ESL teaching that prevents instructors from fully embracing online classes. I hypothesize that this specific element will be the mode of communication. As a communicative subject, ESL is the method of transmitting the subject and the subject itself. The use of the transmission method — reading, writing, speaking, listening — actually strengthens learning these skills and is the method of learning itself. The question then is: is there an obstacle that communication through the Internet presents for ESL that it would not for another subject area?
Technology Integration Theories
This issue is pressing because technology is blending into the university landscape, and online classes have become a necessary part of higher education. In this respect, ESL has been somewhat behind the times and how these interrelated subjects it interact with each other need to be explored.
First, a background in common theories is required for a complete understanding of how attitude affects the use of technology. As Intharaksa (2010) indicates, the reason online classes have not been explored, even more than they have, is because of resistance from instructors. The process used in this particular investigation is the diffusion of innovation theory (Rogers, 1995), which addressed different factors that affect an individual’s rate of technology integration. Diffusion of innovation theory states that there are five elements that affect the implementation of an innovation. These elements are: relative advantages, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability. An understating of, and working relationship with, these aspects have an effect on whether online classes are embraced or discarded.
Another theory that reveals more information about the process of taking on innovation is the disruptive innovation theory. In regards to this theory, Christianson et al. (2008) states that, “in the business world, companies whose failure is imminent see their future even while continuing to strive for improvement.” This theory is then expanded to education. “Demand will require more online classes; those institutions that resist this have uncertain futures.” (p. 47)
Ely (1999) identified eight elements that affect the implementation of technology in education. These include: dissatisfaction with the status quo, existence of knowledge and skills, availability of resources, availability of time, rewards or incentives existence, participation, commitment, leadership. All of these theories, among others, give us a solid foundation in understanding how technology, and specifically online class implementation, is used in education.
Another study that supports understanding in this area focused on the attitudes of university human resource professionals toward teaching online classes and was undertaken by Chen & Chen (2006). In this instance, the theory of reasoned action (TRA) is utilized to explain these attitudes. Ajzen and Fishbein (1975, 1980) combines behavioral intention, attitude and subjective norm to create a framework for how decisions are translated into action. Evidence indicates the TRA is an effective tool for understanding underlying beliefs related to engagement in online teaching, and evidence indicates that this is one schema would be effective to use in further research in this area.
An adapted model of TRA is the technology acceptance model (TAM). With the added ease of use, and usefulness, a new framework for studying integration of technology is created by Bagozzi, Davis & Warshaw (1992). These changes add elements that make a fuller and more complete understanding of the underlying motivations more clear.
Although there has been a broad — and recently a more focused — exploration of instructor attitudes to online classes, the picture is not complete. General attitudes to online classes have been studied and attitudes toward online ESL classes have been addressed, but the piece that is missing is whether there is something specific to ESL teaching that prevents instructors from fully embracing online classes. I hypothesize that this specific element will be the mode of communication of online classes.
This proposal will use quantitative methods to uncover the attitudes ESL instructors have regarding the effectiveness of online classes, particularly focusing on the communication aspect of ESL teaching. A survey will be given to gather the general biases instructors have of online ESL classes. This framework has been used previously by Peng, “to help educators understand why online ESL education is not yet widespread.” (p. 68) In addition to quantitative methods being used previously for similar studies, Leedy and Ormrod (2005) “suggest it is effective to use for unknown variables and perspectives.” (as cited in Peng, 2010, p.4)
Because in ESL communication is both the method of transmitting the subject and the subject itself, it is a unique academic subject with a distinctive teaching method. Brown states that, “Students in a communicative class ultimately have to use the language, productively and receptively.” (p.43) The question to consider is this: is communication through the Internet the obstacle that ESL instructors see as preventing an effective learning environment that it would not for another subject area? I will use TAM to examine these questions:
1. What is the obstacle that ESL instructors have about the effectiveness of online classes?
2. If the transmission method (computers and the Internet) is the specific obstacle that prevents teachers from fully embracing online instruction, why is this so?
Carefully choosing the correct survey will produce a large data set and will facilitate the research process as a whole and the data collection in particular. The site that will be used to create the survey, recruit participants and collect data will be Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. The site uses crowdsourcing to gather information and make data collection an effective step in the research process. This site is becoming indispensable to researchers as it speeds up and streamlines the process of data collection. Mason and Suri (2011) note the advantages of using Mechanical Turk, which include, “easy access to a large, stable, and diverse subject pool, the low cost of doing experiments, and faster iteration between developing theory and executing experiments.” (p. 3) For these reasons Mechanical Turk seems like an ideal delivery method for the current research survey.
The survey will be created from a template on Mechanical Turk, which uses Amazon’s servers and can be created using simple HTML. This survey created is called a Human Intelligence Task (HIT), as all assignments on Mechanical Turk are called. Once created and posted participants (workers) can accept an assignment. Finished assignments are eventually reviewed by the conductor of the study (the requester), is approved or rejected and payment for the worker goes through the Amazon system.
The survey will begin with multiple-choice questions that will gather background information about age, education level, length of teaching, etc. The other questions will open-ended and will elicit responses about attitudes toward online ESL classes. These will be gathered and common responses will be noted. Fifty cents will be offered to any participant completing the survey and, to limit the expense, the number of participants will be capped at fifty. A time limit of two months will be given, however, that can be extended if there are not enough volunteers.
There are several aspects to the survey that will be examined.
Learner Background. Questions 1 and 2 will elicit general background information about age and education.
Teaching Background. Questions 3 and 4 will gather more information on length and type of teaching experience.
Attitudes and Perceptions. Question 5 through 28 will explore attitudes instructors have toward online ESL classes. Questions will be 7 point scale where 1 = strongly disagree and 7 = strongly agree.
Additional Information. Question 29 allows the subject to add any additional information that was not included in the previous questions.
Participants will both personal acquaintances who are ESL instructors or from the TESOL mailing list. They can be anyone who has taught, or is teaching, an adult ESL class. Because it’s important to minimize the variables, the survey is directed at participants with adult teaching experience. These can be professionals or volunteers, any age or gender. It is important to maintain only ESL teachers rather than EFL teachers because the dynamic of communication changes significantly if a language is taught in the target culture or not so that variable should remain consistent.
For question #1, How is the bias that ESL instructors have toward online classes affected by the communicative style of learning that is the basis for ESL teaching?, I expect to find the following attitudes. First, I expect instructors to say that language learning is a unique type of activity different from other subjects. Additionally, I expect the instructors to say that ESL language learning is based on interaction and collaboration — the communicative style.
For questions #2, If the transmission method (computers and the Internet) is the specific obstacle that prevents teachers from fully embracing online instruction, why is this so?, I expect to receive responses that indicate the following opinion. I think instructors will say that face-to-face interaction is necessary to language learning, is the basis for instruction and can not be replaced with other modes of instruction.
Appendix 1: Teacher Survey
1. What is your age? Options are: 20 — 29, 30 — 39, 40 — 49, 50 — 59, 60 and up
2. What is your educational background? Options are: Some college, an undergraduate degree, a graduate degree or above
3. How long have you been teaching? Options are: 1 — 3, 4 — 6, 7 — 10, 11 — 15, 16 or above
4. What types of ESL classes have you taught? Options are: face-to-face, blended or online?
5. Teaching an online class improves (would improve) the quality of the work I do.
6. Teaching an online class gives (would give me) me greater control over my work.
7. Teaching an online class enables me (would enable me) to accomplish tasks more quickly.
8. Teaching an online class supports (would support) critical aspects of my job.
9. Teaching an online class increases (would increase) my productivity.
10. Teaching an online class improves (would improve) my job performance.
11. Teaching an online class allows me (would allow me) to accomplish more work than would otherwise be possible.
12. Teaching an online class enhances (would enhance) my effectiveness on the job.
13. Teaching an online class makes (would make) it easier to do my job.
14. Overall, I find (would find) teaching an online class useful in my job.
15. I often become (would become) confused when I instruct in an online class.
16. I make (would make) errors frequently when instructing in an online class.
17. Interacting with the technology of an online class is (would be) often frustrating.
18. I need to (would need to) consult with technical support often when instructing an online class.
19. Interacting with the technology of an online class requires (would require) a lot of my mental energy.
20. I find it easy (would find it easy) to recover from errors encountered while using the technology of an online class.
21. An online class is (would be) ridged and inflexible to interact with.
22. I find (would find) it easy to get an online class to do what I want.
23. The technology of online class often behaves (would behave) in unexpected ways.
24. I find (would find) it cumbersome to use the technology for an online class.
25. My interaction with the technology of an online class is (would be) easy for me to understand.
26. It is (would be) easy for me to remember how to perform tasks using the technology of an online class.
27. The technology of an online class provides (would provide) helpful guidance in performing tasks.
28. Overall, I find (would find) the technology of an online class easy to use.
29. Anything to add?
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