Wissenschaftlicher Sammelband, herausgegeben von Thomas Tinnefeld - unter Mitarbeit von Matthias Ballod, Jan Engberg, Katja Lochtman, Günter Schmale, Veronica Smith. Saarbrücken: htw saar 2016. ISBN 978-3-942949-11-8

Blending Online Technology with Classroom Teaching:

Results from a Case Study




Hela Ajmi (Tunis, Tunisia)




Abstract (English)

Despite the existence of a variety of linguistic approaches to foreign language teaching, learners still face the challenge of not having an approach at their disposal that fully satisfies their needs. Added to that phenomenon, previous approaches in the field seem to lose popularity at the Internet age. The challenge to answer the needs of this new generation of learners has raised a fundamental question: How to make adequate learning possible? In response to such a question, the present paper adopts a blended-learning approach to classroom teaching. In 2013, a blended learning course was delivered at tertiary level in Tunisia to verify its applicability in developing countries. The course consisted of one single session of 60 minutes, focusing on teaching English language skills (especially speaking and writing). On the one hand, the toolbox TodaysMeet.co was used to help embrace the backchannel and connect with students in real-time. On the other hand, Penzu.com was additionally used to accomplish a writing task. More­over, a questionnaire was employed in order to account for the description and explanation of findings. The results showed that implementing a blended learning approach to classroom teaching proved to be advantageous. Firstly, blended learning offered a wide range of choices for content delivery. Secondly, it proved to be pedagogically effective, offering learners up-to-date strategies for addressing challenges in a technology-based learning context. Thirdly, it had the typical characteristic of increasing the level of peer-group interaction, especially with shy learners. Lastly, it offered an inclusive environment with the instructor.

Keywords: Foreign language teaching, blended learning, TodaysMeet.com and Penzu.com




Abstract (Deutsch)

Trotz zahlreicher existierender Ansätze zur Fremdsprachenvermittlung sehen sich Lerner immer noch mit der Situation konfrontiert, dass keiner dieser Ansätze ihren Bedürfnissen wirklich entspricht. Hinzu kommt, dass bestehende Ansätze im Internet-Zeitalter an Beliebtheit zu verlieren scheinen. Das Bestreben, den Bedürfnissen dieser neuen Lernergeneration zu ent­sprechen, hat erneut die grundlegende Frage nach adäquaten Lernmethoden aufgeworfen. Bei dem Versuch, auf diese Frage eine konstruktive Antwort zu finden, wird in dem vorl­iegenden Beitrag ein Ansatz des blended learning vorgestellt, der an die realen Bedürfnisse eines Unterrichts im Klassenverband angepasst wurde. Beschrieben wird ein im Jahre 2013 in Tunesien durchgeführter blended learning-Kurs, wobei nicht zuletzt die Frage beantwortet werden soll, ob ein solcher Kurs in einem Entwicklungsland wie Tunesien realisierbar ist. Dieser Kurs zur Vermittlung des Englischen bestand aus einer 60-minütigen Unterrichtsstunde und hob insbesondere auf die Sprech- und die Schreibfertigkeit ab. Dabei wurde die Toolbox TodaysMeet.com genutzt, die der Realisierung digitaler Klassenräume dient und mit der ein direkter Kontakt zu den Lernern in Echtzeit hergestellt werden kann. Zusätzlich wurde Penzu.com für die Durchführung einer Schreibaufgabe verwendet. In der Untersuchung wurde ebenso ein Fragebogen zum Zwecke der Beschreibung und Erklärung der Ergebnisse benutzt. Diese Ergebnisse deuten auf vielfältige Vorteile des blended learning hin. Zum einen bietet dieser Ansatz zahlreiche Möglichkeiten der Wissensvermittlung, zum anderen ist er pädago­gisch effizient, da er den Lernern in einem technikbasierten Umfeld funktionale Strategien anbietet. Zudem ermöglicht er eine verstärkte Interaktion innerhalb der Lerngruppe, besonders mit Blick auf zurückhaltende Lerner. Schließlich steht er – auch wenn ihre Rolle im Rahmen des blended learning eine andere ist – für eine Integration der Lehrperson in das Lehr- und Lernumfeld.

Stichwörter: Fremdsprachenvermittlung, blended learning, TodaysMeet.com, Penzu.com





1 Introduction


Despite the fact that a chronological perspective on approaches and methods in language teaching allows for a clear description of what has influenced teaching / learning processes since the twentieth century (see Richards & Rodgers (2007) for more clarification), pedagogical and educational values do not seem to be fully explored. Consequently, the need to develop innovative and more effective ways in foreign language teaching methodology has come into existence, namely with the emergence of a new generation of learners in the technology-based learning context. Six 'common' methods have been steadily cited: the Audio-Lingual Method, Community Language Learning, the Compre­hension Approach, Suggestopedia, Silent Way and the Communicative Approach (Richards & Rodgers 2007). There is no doubt that each of these influenced foreign language teaching / learning in one way or another. Never­theless, none of these approaches can be regarded as perfect. Richards & Rodgers (2007) themselves admit that in order to gain better insights, there is still a lot to achieve in terms of usefulness and appropriateness.

Remarkably, the existing approaches and methods of language learning, which have influenced mainstream language teaching and its materials, have not completely answered learners’ needs or satisfied teachers' expectations. It is noteworthy, then, to look for new ways of teaching, such as the implementation of the hybrid teaching method. Blended learning can be regarded as an impor­tant approach within this teaching method.


2 Rationale


Being one of the most flexible means to cope with the ever-changing needs of learners today, blended learning seems to be promising, offering advantages commonly associated with high flexibility and performance (Gould 2003: 54). Indeed, as Garnham & Kaleta (2002: 2) report, the approach is effective in coping with the requirements of both learners and instructors. Moreover, it is widely believed among academies that learners in a blended-learning environ­ment are most likely to perform much better than in traditional class sessions. In fact, there is a growing need for this approach to language teaching which has already gained popularity with educators worldwide. In Tunisia, the approach has been gaining ground over the last several years at tertiary level. It is partly due to an increase in the use of computers which in turn affected almost every aspect of the educational setting.
Generally speaking, the need to develop innovative and more effective ways in foreign language teaching methodology has become a necessity, especially with the emergence of a new generation of learners in the technology-based learning context. Against this background the following hypotheses can be made:
  • Blended learning, unlike traditional approaches to language teaching, can be useful and appropriate for the new generation of learners.
  • Blended learning can answer the needs of learners and satisfy teachers' expectations if well-implemented.
In response to the research hypotheses, the present paper opts to clarify the usefulness of implementing a blended learning for teaching students attending an English course at the Faculty of Human and Social Sciences of Tunis University. These students were enrolled in the Department of Arabic Language and Literature. They were juggling multiple responsibilities outside of their department. Their need for using the new technologies in their educational setting could not be denied (see the results from the questionnaire in the post-session evaluation), namely that one of the most challenging goals of higher education institutions in Tunisia has been recognized at the level of coping with technology-based material for educational purposes.


3 Methodology

3.1 Course Objectives and Processes

Inspired by Benjamin Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (1956), the course objectives were based on what Bloom (1956: 201-207) describes as cognitive processes (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, syn­thesis, and evaluation). Although Bloom's taxonomy is rather dated, it is still used for the design of educational, training and learning processes.

Bloom reports that these processes offer a practical framework for identifying the observable and measurable skills that instructors would like their students to learn. Promoting higher forms of thinking in education (e.g. analysis and evalua­tion), Bloom (1956) links these processes to representative skills as listed in the table below:

            Table 1: Benjamin Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (1956: 201)
Taking into consideration principles from the blended learning, the study design was based on the idea that the instructor should play various roles such as advisor / or facilitator. He or she should also introduce effective techno­logical tools, including access to online resources while boosting confidence in students. To implement a blended learning course, the following steps were taken:
  • Collecting information about students' educational background and class profile.
  • Determining course goals and course content associated with the skills students would gain in this course in relation to other courses namely the (Information Technology) (IT) course.
  • Developing effective teaching tools.

3.2 Challenges

Designing the course was rather challenging for it required continuous planning for improvement. In addition to that, the majority of students could not afford to be equipped with computers and / or get free access to the Internet. However, collaboration with other IT teachers helped to solve the problem of equipment and to develop exciting ideas about which best teaching strategies one could resort to in achieving course goals successfully. More specifically, the planning of the course was formed on the basis of some guidelines and principles.



3.3 The Model Adopted

In preparing the course plan, some aspects were taken into consideration, namely that blended learning can be implemented in a variety of ways (see Appendix Two for the components of the lesson plan that best met the objec­tives of the course). For practical reasons, the blended-learning model adopted in this study can generally be defined as the teaching practice that combines teaching methods from both face-to-face and online learning in a single course (Chen & Jones 2007: 1-15). Hence, a careful selection of teaching materials and a set of user-friendly online resources were employed to deliver an English language (more specifically, speaking and writing) for 60 minutes (see the links to the online resources in Appendix Three).

It is noteworthy to show the fine line between face-to-face components and on­line elements. Both complemented each other. Consequently, these comple­mentary roles contributed to the achievement of the overall learning goals in terms of effective teaching / learning, leading to a very high level of flexibility, pedagogical effectiveness and students' interaction. On the one hand, for class management, the instructor used TodaysMeet in order to help embrace the backchannel and connect with students in real time. This was motivating and user-friendly. In a similar way, the instructor’s presence in the room helped to create an inclusive atmosphere of solidarity and enthusiasm for students to practice their language skills. On the other hand, for the accomplishment of a writing task, the instructor introduced Penzu, which is a free online diary and personal journal. The instructor's role was to act as an advisor who gave classroom instructions, using printed materials and showing visuals while helping students to write their own online diaries with limited intervention in their own online learning space. Students were free to write their own paragraphs in privacy. It was an exciting and new experience for them to keep a secret diary or a private journal on the Web. Even shy students were shown how to display a higher level of interaction than had ever been witnessed in their traditional class sessions.

4 Post-Session Evaluation

In the post-session evaluation, suggestions for improvements and modifications were made in light of:
  • an educational perspective and
  • assessment, in relation with the findings from a questionnaire which was administered to students before the delivery of the blended-learning course (see Appendix Four for the statement of the questionnaire).
Both perspectives addressed a range of instructional needs in new and highly productive ways that suited the Tunisian context: learners and instructors alike were given the opportunity to move their learning experience forward in new ways, on condition that blended learning was implemented effectively.
 
To begin with, this case study shows that students who took the course display­ed a much better performance than they did in their traditional class sessions. The major achievement was students' ability to control their own learning envir­onment and build social relationships, using online tools. According to the questionnaire, students' expectations and answers proved to go hand in hand with the course objectives as a whole, which were met at the end of the course. This is shown in Table 2 and in the diagrammatic representation of the data (Fig.1).

The twenty questions in the questionnaire revolve around two major topics. One refers to introducing new technology into classroom teaching, the other to using blended learning. The aim was to collect information on students' accessibility to the technology used in their institute, their technological background and their expectation towards the implementation of a blended-learning approach to classroom teaching. When asked what kind of technology their institution provided them with, 80% of the students responded it was the computer, 20% said it was the Internet and none of the students hinted to interactive boards. Moreover, the technology within the institution itself was mostly reported to be for the exclusive use of the administrative and teaching staff Despite this limited access to technology in the institution, 60% of the students expected technology to help them complete hard tasks while only 22% of them confessed their use of online resources for checking the spelling of a word, and 6% responded they could accomplish the task both online and with the help of a dictionary. Strikingly, the majority (72%) still showed inclination to using written materials i.e. the dictionary.






Question

Answers


A

B

C

D

1
80.00%
20.00%
0.00%
0.00%
2
20.00%
25.00%
55.00%
0.00%
3
8.00%
32.00%
60.00%
0.00%
4
22.00%
72.00%
6.00%
0.00%
5
38.00%
28.00%
34.00%
0.00%
6
25.00%
45.00%
30.00%
0.00%
7
55.00%
25.00%
20.00%
0.00%
8
40.00%
12.00%
48.00%
0.00%
9
20.00%
22.00%
58.00%
0.00%
10
34.00%
32.00%
32.00%
0.00%
11
59.00%
24.00%
17.00%
0.00%
12
34.00%
33.00%
33.00%
0.00%
13
58.00%
24.00%
18.00%
0.00%
14
68.00%
12.00%
20.00%
0.00%
15
28.00%
33.00%
39.00%
0.00%
16
21.00%
30.00%
49.00%
0.00%
17
25.00%
20.00%
55.00%
0.00%
18
33.00%
34.00%
33.00%
0.00%
19
35.00%
47.00%
18.00%
0.00%
20
16.00%
64.00%
20.00%
0.00%

Table 2: Overall findings from students' responses to the questionnaire

When asked how technology could help to create an effective teaching strategy, 38% of the students responded that it offered instructors multiple means to communicate with learners, in spite of individual variation. 45% of the students stated that the essence of the instructors' need to integrate technology into the curriculum was its ability to help shy learners overcome their shyness – rea­ching a relatively high level of interaction. Using online resources was explained by the majority of the students as a means to familiarise them with online tools. In addition, the majority (58%) revealed their preference to websites that not only enrich their domain of knowledge but also come up with a funny design and interesting visual features (40%).

 Figure 1: Diagrammatic representation of the overall findings from students'
responses to the questionnaire


Although these students have never experienced a blended-learning course in their lives, 58% of them preferred to learn about a subject through blended-learning strategies. One reason for this attitude was their belief that the online component in the course had the unique ability to provide learners with excel­lent learning experiences and further extend learning beyond the university context. Moreover, 59% of the students expected educators to believe in the ability of online learning devices to help learners to control their own learning space.

Students were asked which type of blended learning fitted their learning envi­ronment best. The majority agreed to one point: the growing need for blended learning reflects the further development of language methodology, in the framework of which instructors act as mentors for learners. As far as blended learning is presented as an alternative to traditional class instruction for group work, the majority stated that it was more motivating and less boring than the former. In addition, students justified the importance of the approach as a problem-solving strategy to reduce behavioral problems in the classroom. 55% of the students agreed that one of the greatest benefits of blended learning was its ability to engage learners with a sense of fun. What is more, the biggest benefit of a well-designed blended learning course was seen in its ability to help learners personalize their learning experiences (34%), to provide them with more interesting, diverse, and current learning materials (33%) and to help them build social relationships (33%). Finally, the majority of students preferred an instructor who encouraged them to find and evaluate online information. Conse­quently, as prospective teachers, they stated that they would like to implement blended learning courses in their future classroom teaching.



5 Conclusions, Implications and Suggestions

The present case study demonstrates that blended learning can address the needs of the new generation of learners and meet teachers' expectations. Thus its implementation can make adequate teaching / learning possible. Some advantages associated with this are flexibility, pedagogical effective­ness, and learners' interaction. 
 
Firstly, as Stewart (2008) and others stated, flexibility is a frequently noted ad­vantage of blended learning, offering a wide range of choices for the delivery of content. More importantly, it is proved to be more effective than teaching methods that tend to engage students in exclusive online activities or exclusive classroom-based instruction (Singh's 2003: 51-54). 
 
Secondly, blended learning is shown to be pedagogically effective to a certain extent, offering learners up-to-date strategies for addressing challenges in the technology-based learning context. In the same vein, both Young (2002) and Stewart (2008) suggest that in order to enhance students' engagement and motivation, instructors are recommended "to offer learning activities that will appeal to the widest variety of learning styles possible" (Stewart 2008: 371). 
 
Thirdly, blended learning offers the advantage of increasing the level of peer-group interaction, especially with less extrovert learners (Gould 2003). Students being offered various modalities for communication, they are most likely to develop a positive attitude towards their peer group, their instructor, and the content taught.

Finally, it offers a learning environment that includes the instructor (Young 2002).

However, challenging situations emerged: some students were found to resist 'computer-related phobia' (Saade & Kira 2009: 177-190) such as frustration and anxiety of using and / of interacting with the computer. This in turn, as Saade & Kira (2009) report, may have a negative effect on their productivity. In light of the aforementioned findings, some improvements and modifications are sug­gested. If the goal of instructors is to meet the ever-changing needs of learners, further consideration should be given to blended learning. Moreover, instructors need to raise awareness that students do not share the same degree of technological expertise. As such, special support should be given to students with a low degree of technological expertise.



References

Bloom, Benjamin (ed.) (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. In: Cognitive Domain (1). New York: McKay.

Chen, Clement C. & Keith T Jones (2007). Blended learning versus traditional class­room settings: Assessing effectiveness and student perceptions in an MBA accounting course. In: The Journal of Educators Online 4 (1), 1-15.

Garnham, Carla & Robert Kaleta (2002). Introduction to Hybrid Courses. In: Teaching with Technology Today (8) 6. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. (http://www.uwsa.edu/ttt/articles/garnham.htm; 22.09.2009).

Gould, Tim (2003). Hybrid classes: Maximizing institutional resources and student learning. Proceedings of the 2003 ASCUE Conference. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. (http://www.ascue.org/files/proceedings/2003/p54.pdf; 08.02.2010).

Larsen-Freeman, Diane (1986). Techniques and principles in language teaching. New York: Oxford University Press.

Richards, Jack C. & Theodore S. Rodgers (2007). Approaches and Methods in Lan­guage Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Saade, Raafat George & Dennis Kira (2009). Computer anxiety in e-learning: The effect of computer self-efficacy. In: Journal of Information Technology Educa­tion (8), 177-190.


Singh, Harvey (2003). Building effective blended learning programs. In: Educational Technology (43): 6, 51-54.

Stewart, Don (2008). Classroom management in the online environment. In: Journal of Online Learning and Teaching (4) 3, 371-374.

Young, Jeffrey (2002). Hybrid teaching seeks to end divide between traditional and online instruction. In: The Chronicle of Higher Education 48 (28), 33-34.



Appendices


Appendix 1: Class Profile

Class profile for Second-Year Students (Department of Arabic Language and Litera­ture):


Class size
18
Average age
22
Women
14
Man
4
Nationality
Tunisians
Short term needs
Get good grades
Long term needs
Get promotion at work
Level
Intermediate students and above
Social life
Some of them are married
Low socio-economic class / part-time workers





Appendix 2: Course Plan for the Face-to-Face Components

Place: Faculty of Human and Social Sciences of Tunis, Tunisia (IT room 221)

Components of the course plan for Second-Year Students (Department of Arabic Language and Literature)

Appendix 3: Links to the Online Resources

TodaysMeet available at: http://todaysmeet.com/

Penzu available at: http://penzu.com



Appendix 4: Statement of the Questionnaire

Questionnaire for Second-Year Students

Department of Arabic language and literature

Hela Ajmi

Faculty of Human and Social Sciences of Tunis

Please provide us with your full name and signature.

Full Name

Signature


For each of the 20 questions below, choose only one answer that best explains your preference and tick the box next to it. If more than one answer seems to apply to you, choose the one that applies more frequently.

  1. What kind of technology does your institution provide you with most?

computers

the Internet

interactive boards

other:

Specify: ……………………………………………………………………………



  1. Does the technology within the institution itself exist for?

developing language skills

research projects

restricted use to the administrative and teaching staff only

other:

Specify: ………………………………………………………………………………



  1. Do you expect technology to:

be an intrinsic part of your life

help you control your learning environment

help you complete hard tasks

other:

Specify: …………………………………………………………………………….



  1. If you would like to check the spelling of any word, would you look it up:

online

in a dictionary

both

other:

Specify: ……………………………………………………………………………



  1. How could technology help to create an effective teaching strategy?

It offers instructors multiple means to communicate with learners in spite of indi­vidual variation.

It enhances an inclusive relationship between instructors and learners.

It helps instructors grow into the role of advisor / facilitator.

other:

Specify: ………………………………………………………………………………



  1. Why do instructors need to integrate technology into the curriculum?

It helps learners acquire the skills they need to cope with the new, highly technological knowledge-based era.

It helps shy learners overcome their shyness.

It offers learners strategic ways to sort out difficult tasks.

other:

Specify: ………………………………………………………………………………



  1. Using online resources helps:

familiarise students with online tools.

give learners comfort level with online tools.

save time and energy in research projects.

other:

Specify: ………………………………………………………………………………



  1. Do you like websites that:

have a funny design and interesting visual features

come up with interesting descriptions, lists and explanations

enrich your knowledge

other:

Specify: ………………………………………………………………………………



  1. Do you prefer to learn through:

written materials

online resources

both

other:

Specify: ……………………………………………………………………………



  1. Educators support online learning because of its unique ability to:

provide learners with excellent learning experiences

extend learning beyond the university context

build up a data bank of digital resources

other:

Specify: …………………………………………………………………………



  1. Educators believe that online learning:

helps learners to control their own learning processes

allows learners to be intellectually challenged

decreases learners' computer phobia

other:

Specify: ………………………………………………………………………………



  1. Which one is the definition of blended learning that fits your learning environment best?

the combination of face-to-face and online learning activities within a single course

the combination of multiple approaches to learning

the online delivery of a course with time specified face-to-face interaction

other:

Specify: ………………………………………………………………………………



  1. The growing need for blended learning reflects the:

further development of language methodology in the framework of which in­structors' act as the learners’ mentors

new role of instructors as advisors / facilitators

quality of blended learning as an approach to support a wider range of instruc­tional programs

other:

Specify: …………………………………………………………………………



  1. Adopting a blended-learning approach to group work is:

more motivating and less boring than traditional class instruction

less confusing than traditional class instruction

more efficient than traditional class instruction

other:

Specify: ………………………………………………………………………………



  1. Blended Learning that integrates face-to-face and online learning helps:

manage time

reduce overcrowded classrooms

reduce students’ behavioral problems in the classroom

other:

Specify: ……………………………………………………………………………



  1. One of the greatest benefits of blended learning is its ability to:

help learners share their knowledge

help learners improve their learning experience

engage learners

other:

Specify: ……………………………………………………………………………



  1. Blended Learning is perceived as:

a flexible means of teaching

an intellectually challenging opportunity

fun

other:

Specify: ……………………………………………………………………………



  1. The biggest benefit to a well-designed blended-learning course is seen in its ability to:

provide learners with more interesting, diverse, and current learning materials

help learners personalize their educational experiences

help learners build social relationships

other:

Specify: ………………………………………………………………………………



  1. Do you prefer an instructor who:

uses demonstrations

encourages students to find, process, and synthesize information they could find online

uses handouts

other:

Specify: ………………………………………………………………………………



  1. As future teachers, would you like to implement (…) to classroom teaching?

traditional classroom instruction

blended-learning courses

online courses

other

Specify: ………………………………………………………………………………