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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
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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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