MEETING THE NEEDS OF OLDER ENGLISH LANGUAGE

LEARNERS IN SCHOOLS USING BLENDED AND SOCIAL
LEARNING: EXPERIENCES TO DATE
Hazel Owen
Ethos Consultancy NZ (NEW ZEALAND)
info@ethosconsultancynz.com

Abstract
English language learners in years 7 to 13 in New Zealand schools need to access English both for
social situations, including interacting in the classroom (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) and
for curriculum access (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency). It is particularly important that
goals set for these learners are age appropriate and that they are enabled to work towards that same
objectives as their peers, with adequate levels of support.
A team in New Zealand has been working with the Ministry of Education to trial a blended learning
solution that accelerates students’ foundation learning so that the they can make this successful
transition to mainstream classes, better prepared for the language, content and social demands,
especially in schools where there is little or no specialist ESOL (English for Speakers of Other
Languages) support.
The staff on the design team work collaboratively, enabling a cross functional, multi-skilled team
environment, sharing an online project team working space and collaborative documents. An ICT
Enhanced Learning and Teaching (ICTELT) blended design has been developed for this pilot
intervention, initially through the use of the ICTELT model and suite of tools (e.g. process model,
framework, and mindmap). The main focus is to offer personalised learning in an environment with
students engaged in activities where they are able to generate and co-construct knowledge through
their interactions with other learners and teachers and with the activities and opportunities provided.
The underpinning design places great importance on the students' background, culture and learning
preferences.
Learners are supported by an eTutor in face-to-face and/or asynchronous modes, as well as with a
designated off-site eTeacher who acts as a learning coach that guides and collaborates, partly through
facilitating weekly webinar sessions with geographically diverse students. The programme of learning
is mainly hosted in a Learning Management System (Moodle) site that functions as the formal hub for
learning activities and resources. Asynchronous communication with peers, reflective activities, social
interaction and learning, and communication with the eTeacher is hosted in a social networking space
(ELGG). Assessment (both formative and summative) is embedded within the programme, and
includes peer-feedback and self-assessment.
The project, having completed a trial in 2010, is currently in the pilot phase. Evaluation was collected
from the students, eTutors, eTeachers, and support staff who were involved in the trial, and, this has
been fed into the build and facilitation of the pilot programme. The pilot includes a formal research
study that is being conducted to measure whether the ICTELT blended design approach assists
second language acquisition, as well as its effects on affective factors such as motivation.
This paper will describe the design and development phases that led to the trial, as well as describing
the programme, and the results of the evaluation. A brief overview of changes that have been
implemented in the pilot will be given, along with broader recommendations for other organisations
who may be considering this approach.
Keywords: ESOL, EAL, blended learning, e-learning, communities of learning, e-learning design, ICT
enhanced learning and teaching.

1 INTRODUCTION
English language learners in years 7 to 13 in New Zealand schools need to access English both for
social situations, including interacting in the classroom (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) and
for curriculum access (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency). It is particularly important that
Proceedings of EDULEARN11 Conference.
4-6 July 2011, Barcelona, Spain.
ISBN:978-84-615-0441-1
000454
goals set for these learners are age appropriate and that they are enabled to work towards that same
objectives as their peers, with adequate levels of support.
A team in New Zealand has been working with the Ministry of Education (MoE) to trial a blended
learning solution – English Language Learners in New Zealand (ELLINZ) - that accelerates students’
foundation learning so that the they can make the transition to mainstream classes, better prepared for
language, content and social demands, especially in schools where there is little or no specialist ESOL
(English for Speakers of Other Languages) support.
The project, having completed a trial in 2010, is currently in the pilot phase. Evaluation was collected
from the students, eTutors, eTeachers, and support staff who were involved in the trial, and, this has
been fed into the build and facilitation of the pilot programme. The pilot includes a formal research
study that is being conducted to measure whether the ICTELT blended design approach assists
second language acquisition, as well as its effects on affective factors such as motivation.
This paper will briefly describe the design and development phases that led to the trial of ELLINZ, as
well as describing the programme, and the results of the evaluation. A brief overview of changes that
have been implemented in the pilot will be given, along with broader recommendations for other
organisations who may be considering this approach.

2 THEORETICAL BACKGROUND
While recognising the importance of key factors such as design, facilitation, assessment and
evaluation in education, it is worth remembering the fundamental axiom that ‘what the students do is
actually more important in determining what is learned than what the teacher does’ ([1] p. 429).
Nevertheless, education approach can fundamentally influence a learner's motivation and
engagement (Bennett et al, 2008). One often discussed aspect of this is the assertion that education
technology can effect learning - especially for those students termed as 'digital natives' - to the extent
exhorted by some education practitioners and researchers ([2], [3]). Recent research into the effective
use of social software to support student learning and engagement, [4] suggests that many learners
born in the 1990s have been immersed in sophisticated technologies and this has resulted in a ‘tech
savvy’ tendency. Such learners, it is suggested, are unafraid of experimenting with these technologies,
but may be naïve in their awareness of the social profile they create, and have undeveloped ICT
literacy skills. They operate with a strong sense of community and group identity, which is created in
virtual spaces (such as blogs and social networking and gaming sites), and involves a high level of
sharing and participation. Such learners are also more likely to wish to bring their personal
technologies into the study environment, to communicate and collaborate beyond the physical
classroom, and to be able to personalise their learning space. Benkler [5] also identifies the
democratisation of knowledge production to be a central factor. Learners are now able to imaginatively
and creatively repurpose existing artefacts, thereby challenging established notions of plagiarism,
authorship, collaboration, ownership and provenance. However, caution should be applied to avoid
creating generalised assumptions around the experience, attitudes and expectations of how students
wish to learn [6] and a consequent random incorporation of ICT into learning and teaching.
While an ongoing debate around the phenomenon of digital natives continues to rage, there is growing
agreement around the need an alternative to the 'industrial model' of education found in many
education institutions [7]. One suggested model includes harnessing the potential for creativity and
flexibility through an “increasingly fluent use of media and communications methods and novel
distributions of collaborative activity and relationships” ([8] p. 83). In this model learning is
personalised, customised, and enabled at any time and in any place [9]. The suggestion is therefore to
build on learners’ tendencies toward experimentation and collaboration, by redesigning curricula to
include authentic activities which encourage formal and informal collaboration in discovery-orientated
tasks [10], while also providing scaffolding in areas such as critical thinking and information literacy
skills. Such programmes would include:
• Choice around modes of study (i.e. blended, distance, block, and/or with work-placement).
• Opportunities to learn and experience ways of working collaboratively, and co-creating
meaning.
• Dynamics that aid building rapport and trust which can result in robust communities of
inquiry/learning.
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• Flexibility of choice, which empower students to select interactions and
assignment/assessment types that suit their learning and cultural preferences, and which
recognise literacy and language challenges.
• Personalisable spaces for planning and reflection.
• Timely, relevant feedback.
• Active learning through engagement with authentic tasks.
• Opportunities for immersion in scenarios.
• Design that enables students who have specific learning needs and disabilities (for example,
dyslexia).
(Adapted from [11] p. 8)

The shift to ICTELT is not a simple process and requires wider understandings around “how to design
and support learning involving technology” ([12] p. 6), as well as discussions as to how education
institutions are going to support practitioners who wish to embrace ICTELT.
The question might justifiably be asked as to whether ICTELT can improve student achievement of
learning outcomes. Several meta-analyses of research projects have been conducted to consider the
efficacy of ICTELT; for example, Means et al [13] who analysed forty-six studies for variations in
online, individual and group design, and for synchronous and asynchronous activities accessed via a
variety of technologies. Their findings demonstrated that ‘in recent applications, online learning has
been modestly more effective, on average, than the traditional face-to-face instruction with which it
has been compared’ (p. 71). They also found the incorporation of ‘mechanisms that promote student
reflection on their level of understanding….[offer] advantages over online learning that did not provide
the trigger for reflection’ (p. 68) and the ‘individualizing [of] online learning by dynamically generating
learning content based on the student’s responses was found to be effective’ (p. 68).

3 DESCRIPTION OF THE ELLINZ PROGRAMME
The ELLINZ project team worked with the Ministry of Education New Zealand (who is also funding the
project) to find a blended learning solution that will assist students learning English as another
language before they move into mainstream classes, especially in schools where there is little or no
specialist ESOL support. The members of the design team worked collaboratively, enabling a cross
functional, multi-skilled environment, sharing an online project working space and collaborative
documents. An ICTELT blended design was developed for the trial stage, initially through the use of
the ICTELT model and suite of tools (e.g. process model, framework, and mindmap). The main focii
(illustrated in Fig 1) was to offer personalised learning in an environment where students engaged in
activities where they were able to generate and co-construct knowledge through their interactions with
other learners and teachers, as well as through the activities and opportunities provided. The
underpinning approach placed great importance on the students' community, background, culture and
learning preferences, and employed principles, underpinned by a socio constructivist paradigm, which
empowered learners to collaborate fruitfully in using new information and ideas to build on what they
already know. It was not assumed, however, that all students would enjoy working in groups, rather it
was more that, working collaboratively, a student's idea can be questioned, extended and enhanced
by ideas contributed by other students. This can be taken forward until the first idea is enriched way
beyond the point the initial person conceived of it alone. It can also help with understanding, concept
checking and reflection.

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Fig. 1. The concept model for the ICTELT Blended Programme for ESOL learners in secondary
schools
There was also realisation that many students were likely to have experienced a more teacher-centred
learning environment. As such, the ELLINZ programme was developed to be facilitated over a year,
and move along a continuum from a relatively teacher-led approach, to a more student-led approach.
The modular format, with topics directly related to the New Zealand Curriculum, principles, and values,
was felt to assist the process, whereby each module had less scaffolding and more choice. Students
were also to be supported while exploring cooperative group roles, initially, and then guided toward
collaborative learning roles (see Fig 2). Scenarios have been developed to indicate how Cantana (a
hypothetical Foundation Stage A learner - click HERE to access this scenario) and Nadif (a
hypothetical Stage B learner - click HERE to access this document) might work through the ELLINZ
programme.

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Fig. 2. Framework illustrating the shift from teacher-led to student-ed learning (click here to see full
size)

In the ELLINZ programme learners are supported by an eTutor in face-to-face and/or asynchronous
modes, as well as with a designated off-site eTeacher who acts as a learning coach that guides and
collaborates, partly through facilitating weekly webinar sessions (see Fig 3), with geographically
diverse students. The programme of learning is mainly hosted in a Learning Management System
(Moodle) (see Fig 4 for an illustration of the look and feel) that functions as the formal hub for learning
activities and resources. Asynchronous communication with peers, reflective activities, social
interaction and learning, and communication with the eTeacher is hosted in a social networking space
(ELGG). Assessment (both formative and summative) is embedded within the programme, and
includes peer-feedback and self-assessment.

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Fig. 3. Example of a synchronous Adobe Connect Webinar session in ELLINZ


Fig. 4. Example of a synchronous Adobe Connect Webinar session in ELLINZ
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The design, facilitation approach and content were trialled from February to April 2010. During the trial,
the ELLINZ blended learning programme was delivered to eight students at two schools, five students
at one school and three at the other. Students ranged from Year 7 to Year 11 (12 years old to 17 years
old), and had been in New Zealand from between less than one year to up to four years. The two
schools were chosen following consultation with the NZ MoE, and advice from School Support
Services. The teacher participants included: an 1) eTeacher (who facilitated blended, multi-modal
classes each week, using both face-to-face and ICTELT approaches); 2) three eTutors (who worked
with a small group of learners in a school on supported learning activities and interacted with the
eTeacher), and 3) a liaison teacher (who oversaw activities, assessments, content, providing support
for the eTutor ), as well as 4) IT coordinators from both schools.

4 EVALUATION
Throughout the trial phase of the ELLINZ programme an action research approach was used because
it is is responsive to the situation and "emergent....As understanding increases, methods and plans of
action are improved" ([14] p. 400). This action research approach was embedded into a modified
grounded theory approach [15] at the level of data analysis. Throughout the trial, initiatives were
planned, data were gathered and read and used to inform the next steps of the project development.
In terms of the whole trial, a process of constant comparison was used to analyse the data. The
evaluation did not attempt to measure improvements in language proficiency during the trial stage, but
will do so in the pilot (2011-2012).
The data collection aimed to generate a rich, examinable body of data, and attempted to “discover
how things work in a particular learning context, using a mixture of qualitative and quantitative sources
of data” ([16] p. 2), whereby the "quantitative and qualitative inquiry ...support and inform each other "
([17] p. 396).
The study collected mainly qualitative data from a wide range of sources and the data was used to
evaluate the effectiveness of the ELLINZ blended learning programme. Sample size was not a factor
as all participants in the trial were able to participate in the evaluation. The qualitative and quantitative
data collection tools included: online surveys with quantitative and qualitative questions, feedback
from the Online Advisory Group; blog postings, semi-structured interviews, discussion forum postings,
chat history, recordings of the synchronous sessions in Adobe Connect, and associated documents
such as programme design documents and emails. A comprehensive online questionnaire using a
Likert scale, one for the students and one the eTutors, was used towards the end of the trial.
4.1 Quantitative
The Likert scale questionnaire responses were added up and the range and mean established.
4.2 Qualitative
The data were read in an ongoing manner and discussed by all team members. In analysing the data
recurring words were noted as possible codes. Comparative methods of analysis were used during
coding as in grounded theory [18] and memos were written. Research theory was searched and
applied to the data to help formulate a theoretical background informing the analysis.

5 FINDINGS
The data collected during the trial were extensive. The section below reports findings that are related
to student and eTeacher / eTutor satisfaction, as well as the design and facilitation of the programme
only.
5.1 Practicality, engagement, and language and social benefits
During the trial it was observed that:
• Students used blogs to respond to specific questions asked by the eTeacher in order to trial
using blogs as a reflective journal. Scaffolding was provided where needed.
• Discussion forums were used for students to introduce themselves, to share ideas and to seek
specific feedback.
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• Students used chat freely in both the Adobe sessions and in the online classroom to
communicate with each other and the eTeacher.
• Email was used effectively by the eTeacher to communicate with individuals and by the
students to ask questions of the eTeacher.
The results from the quantitative element of the student questionnaire responses indicate that
students were positively motivated by the activities in the Orientation module. It was interesting to note
that students rated activities with immediate feedback, extremely highly. However, this may indicate
that students enjoyed the interactivity rather than suggesting depth of learning and engagement.
Breda's Classroom, where students were encouraged to engage in a wider range of language
production and communication was responded to slightly less positively by the students, and this may
be due to the greater cognitive demand of the tasks. However students engaged positively in written
work in Google Docs where there was immediate and specific feedback from the eTeacher. The
eTutors gave Breda's Classroom, the Online Live Sessions and the Orientation Module the top rating.
The eTutors wrote full comments in the open-ended sections of the questionnaire. They were without
exception clear that the affective factors were all positive. One eTutor pointed out that the programme
was engaging, even for a previously off-task student - “It has helped and enthused the students a
great deal even one with behavioural issues has become more involved with schooling since starting
this programme”. The two eTutors both chose the highest possible rating when asked whether the
programme format and content were engaging for the students. They also talked of 'loving' the
resources themselves: "We love the resources and we (staff) love cruising around the site ourselves.
The students really enjoy the sessions and would happily come out of other classes to work on the
ELLINZ material!".
Other comments from eTutors covered a range of categories:
1. Programme being personalised - "focus for students on their own personalised documents";
"the students...can each work at their own level";
2. Opportunities for talk in target language with other students in the online community - "ability
to interact with other language learners through chat";
3. Feedback - "students could see immediate feedback";
4. Progress visible to students - "students could see progress"; and
5. Flexibility - "online resources were a focus for offline sessions".
The students were able to choose one of four ratings when asked how much they had learned. All
aspects were rated by the students as 'I learned a lot' (the top rating) or 'I learned some things' (the
second to top rating) except for 2 items that were given a rating of "I learned a little bit" (the third
rating). Voice Thread, Reading Links and Vocabulary Tests were all given the top rating by all the
participants. The social online space, Our cultural village, and Maths Links were given the top rating
by all but one participant who chose the second or third rating. Students were also asked about their
perceptions around the difficulty of the activities, and could choose from four ratings, ranging from 'it
was very easy' to 'it was very hard'. No one chose 'it was very hard' for any of the items, and the
average rating ranged from 3.17 to 3.83. This quantitative result would benefit from further exploration
as the scaffolding provided by the teacher may have been what made the task appear ‘easy’. Most
responses were either ‘easy’ or ‘very easy’. One student commented: "Somethings was very hard but I
liked to tried it" (quoted as in the original).
The eTutors commented that the students were drawn into the lesson by colourful messages, pictures,
graphics and things to do, the PowerPoint presentations describing new activities, the novelty of
having an online teacher, and the ability to interact with students online. For the students, working with
the chat function in Adobe Connect seemed to be second-nature. However, there was some concern
from eTutors around navigation across and within platforms, and the occasionally over-complex
design.
Engagement was reported as extremely high. The following comments, emailed from the liaison
teacher, highlight the impact of a programme that has been built with engaging, language-focused
resources and a project team that is responsive to student needs.

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The students that we have are totally engrossed with it. We have a two-hour session every
school morning. They’re all always there, bright and early and can’t wait to log in and see what
comments are there and where to go next. They get engrossed with what the project team are
doing and I found it tough to get them out. The kids in the trial are the envy of the others.
Our Foundation level, special needs, student who has a long history of truanting is always the
first at the door in the morning because he is so keen to log in. His homeroom teacher has
reported back that this student is now focussed for the rest of the day in class. Also, the
student is attempting work and his behaviour is greatly improved. Fantastic!
5.2 Access and support
Both eTutors commented on the need for ongoing regular support from the eTutor in this sort of
blended learning environment, although they acknowledged that if the trial had been conducted over a
longer period of time the students would develop more independent learning skills and have become
more familiar with the online environment and the related expectations, so that the need for eTutor
support would diminish. One eTutor did comment that she felt "the younger ones will always need to
be encouraged to stay on track". Of course, the students' level of English language is another key
variable in this context.
Malfunctions within the online environment were sometimes an issue. For example, sound would not
play in quizzes at one school because of the set up that they had on their desktop computers. As
such, it was commented that occasionally the system failures were disappointing: "I'm sure the
students would have gained more from the trial if our school systems were stable and trustworthy. For
staff it was very frustrating". The eTutors and the ELLINZ eTeacher also commented Internet
bandwidth was sometimes and issue, resulting in poor audio and/or time lag between things being
said and heard.
Finding a suitable site within the schools was important, although sometimes a challenge: "Finding the
right place in the school to hold the classes was slightly problematic - we have a number of computer
suites but they are booked for larger classes, we used our Learning Support Centre where other
groups of students were also working. Most times worked well, sometimes there were distractions".
The schools in the trial commented that they would like online lessons to happen during timetabled
ESOL options, and this worked well at one of the schools where this was possible. At the other school
however, the students came out of an option line which was not ideal: "The students missed some of
their regular classes. I think the timetabling would need to be worked out with the individual schools
before starting the programme so as to fit with the more important of the students other classes".

6 CONCLUSION AND DISCUSSION
Through this trial, the ELLINZ project team has succeeded in developing a clear and comprehensive
understanding of the benefits and challenges of delivering a blended learning programme to new
learners of English in years 7-13 and this has informed the build of the pilot ELLINZ programme. The
major findings are that such a programme is welcomed enthusiastically by both students and their
teachers. However, in order to sustain such development schools must be well prepared. The design
that initially focuses on task-based learning and gradually increases to self-directed learning, appears
to offer a good balance of flexibility, challenge and choice, especially for students with more developed
English language skills.
The trial and consequent evaluation have informed decisions within the team to affect several changes
to the design of the ELLINZ blended learning programme. In particular, feedback around navigation,
logical flow, and ease of access to resources has resulted in extensive reformulation of how each of
the elements of the programme mesh together (including the underlying platforms and tools).
The findings suggest that with a design such as that used in the ELLINZ programme, the role of the
teacher begins to shift to facilitator. Virtual and physical sessions become more student-led, especially
when the formation of a community of learning is actively encouraged. In turn, rapport and trust can be
fostered to cultivate an environment for scaffolded risk taking, and frequent, flexible opportunities
provided for formal and informal communication. Students are supported and scaffolded to make their
own meaning through active engagement in tasks and to grow awareness of meta-skills.
To date, the ELLINZ programme appears to offer an effective solution to schools in NZ with no
specialist ESOL support. There are, nevertheless issues to be addressed around sustainability and
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scalability, especially as the ELLINZ model is a cross-school approach which makes ongoing funding
problematic. In addition, there is a requirement for further evaluation of the modified model, and
exploration or whether students' language proficiency is positively affected by being engaged in the
programme.
The ELLINZ programme is dynamic and therefore improvement and development are an ongoing
process. The easily adaptable format means, however, also means that the design has the flexibility to
be used in the variety of educational settings, possibly anywhere in the world with access to
connectivity, and computers or wireless mobile devices.

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