Telecollaboration: Project Activities in the Secondary Language Classroom

Students in the Secondary Language Classroom

My Proposed Masters Project Activities
Project structure: Five 1 hour classes per week for 4 weeks

WEEK 1: Introduction Phase
Introduction to TC>pre-activity survey>speaking test

WEEK 2: Getting to know you Phase
Information exchange task 1> Self-Introduction
Information exchange task 2> Respond to your partner’s self-introduction
Information exchange task 3> Describe/introduce a digital tool to your partner
Information exchange task 4> Use a digital tool introduced by your partner

WEEK 3: Compare Culture Phase
Compare and analysis task 1> Describe/discuss culturally related images with your partner
Compare and analysis task 2> Watch/discuss culturally related short film clip(s) with your partner
Compare and analysis task 3> Watch/discuss culturally related short film clip(s) with your partner
Compare and analysis task 4> Students translate a text from their L1 to L2 (partners help to refine and correct the translation)

WEEK 4: Production Phase
Collaborative task 1> Partners share and compare information in order to complete an information task
Collaborative task 2/3/4> Partners work together to produce a document or multimedia product that summarises their learning journey (language, culture, technology used)

Reflections on a Reading

I thought it would be quite useful to make some quick notes and reflections from this reading – Telecollaboration in the secondary language classroom case study of adolescent interaction and pedagogical integration by Ware & Kessler (2016) – as I start fleshing out my Masters project activities.

Young people and technology
The paper begins by discussing young people’s use of technology. Indeed, we only need to look around to see youngsters multi-tasking online, participating in multiple discussions, taking and posting pictures and updating statuses. In terms of social networking they are highly accomplished. And yet they are less adept at harnessing these digital skills for educational purposes. Can telecollaboration in the language classroom be one way of helping students to nurture and develop online communication skills? That’s my plan!

Similarities with my proposed project
This project of a 15-week classroom-based TC is particularly relevant to me because it focuses on secondary level aged students, adolescents, who are participants of a telecollaboration between English language learners and native English speakers. I note there were 5 activity prompts, lasting 3 weeks for each, so 15 in total. The basic structure is very similar to the project I hope to launch, as it will be with adolescents. However, mine is only due to run for 4 weeks, and I plan to match native Chinese speakers who are learning English, with native English speakers who are learning Chinese. The CH<>EN match is somewhat ambitious as learning Mandarin is not standard across most national curriculums. Fingers crossed on finding a suitable partner school!

Considering Task Types
O’Dowd (2003) found that the most competent communicators were those who built personal relationships, responded in greater depth, and remained sensitive to their partners’ understandings. So it makes sense to give students the opportunity to do this by designing activities that put an emphasis on students getting to know each other. This is evident in the second and third weeks of my project  where Information Exchange and Comparison & Analysis tasks dominate. That said, I’m unsure how to handle the final Collaborative tasks. Indeed, Guth and Helm (2010) speculate that educators avoid productive collaboration tasks because “…their complexity…requires teamwork, reciprocity among learners, a balanced workload, and mutual respect of deadlines.” So as I lay out my series of activity above, I immediately wonder how realistic it is that my young students will be able to complete the collaborative tasks at the end.

Other Useful Stuff from this reading
> I found Ware & Kessler’s (2016) procedures very helpful – the talk of a research team (the primary researcher and two teachers), and the choice of pairing students up with a peer and then again with a pair of students at the partner school. My first partner school in Beijing is likely to only have 4-6 students available for this project. Nevertheless, I will discuss with the PBL Teacher there whether pairing will be possible and useful.

> A blog served as a place to collect and monitor student interactions in this study. I would like to support students in creating their own e-portfolio, that is,  self-selected samples of their best work. Would a blog be too much work for my young students?

> Finally, the Data collection and analysis section is useful for me. The students online discursive choices were recorded, grouped, coded, and analysed. As my project revolves around speaking skills, I think I will follow a similar format.

Final Thoughts
Fostering relationship building connectivity and interactivity among learners makes certain partnerships successful (Ware & Kessler, 2016). The authors make some suggestions about the discursive choices the more successful online partnerships made: displays of openness as keyed through question types, emotive markers, attention to detail, informality, and affirmations. This is a great starting point for lesson content in the introductory week to help set students up in the best way possible.

Thanks to technological advances, bringing authentic language situations into the classroom is very achievable. And in terms of online communication skills, I am cheered on by the authors call to “…focus on students’ potential display of these practices in particular situations, rather than on students’ possession, or even the development, of these practices in the classroom.”

Reference

Guth, S., & Helm, F. (Eds.). (2010). Telecollaboration 2.0: Language, literacies, and intercultural learning in the 21st century. Bern: Peter Lang.

O’Dowd, R. (2003). Understanding the “other side”: Intercultural learning in a Spanish-English e-mail exchange. Language Learning & Technology, 7(2), 118 144.

Ware, P.  & Kessler, G. (2016) Telecollaboration in the secondary language classroom: case study of adolescent interaction and pedagogical integration, Computer Assisted Language Learning, 29:3, 427-450.

Image Source

Virginia Department of Education,. English As A Second Language Students. Web. 15 Aug. 2016.

http://www.doe.virginia.gov/instruction/esl/

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