Student Autonomy and Satisfaction in a Web-Based Foreign Language Distance Learning Classroom

By Kostina, Marina | Distance Learning, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview
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Student Autonomy and Satisfaction in a Web-Based Foreign Language Distance Learning Classroom


Kostina, Marina, Distance Learning


Introduction

The purpose of this article is to explore the relationship between student satisfaction within a webbased distance Russian language course and learner autonomy. This article will present the rationale and theoretical background of this research, its research questions, methods of the study, results, contributions to the field of distance learning, and limitations.

RATIONALE OF THE STUDY

Web-based distance learning (DL) has gained popularity in the last few years and is expecting tremendous growth in the near future (Pisel, 2008). Despite its numerous benefits web-based DL is far from being a perfect educational environment. While high-tech developments bring attractive and glamorous features to the DL environment, these very same technological advancements have been criticized for dehumanizing the educational process and have posed several challenges that are specific to this learning environment. One of the challenges of the DL context is that there is still no unified theory developed to account for this educational setting (Gokool-Ramdoo, 2008). Moreover, the foreign language (FL) context brings its own unique difficulties that must be taken into account in DL (White, 2009). In addition, technological innovations may create obstacles in the learning process and demand constant growth and expansion of learner autonomy. Students need to exhibit and develop new skills, motivation, and commitment (Rogers & Wolff, 2000). They also need to know how to use these hightech tools to build their language competence and to navigate in a complex, interconnected, and constantly evolving community of peers through discussion forums, chats, blogs, teleconferencing, and other types of interactive activities that were not previously available (White, 2009). Therefore research on student autonomy in the FL DL field is crucial.

Studying students' perceptions is also important as it may provide understanding for distance instructors on how to adapt course structures and match the appropriate level of interactive dialog with the specific abilities and needs of individual students. Nonetheless, student satisfaction has not been given the proper attention in the DL environment (Biner, Dean, & Mellinger, 1994). It is, therefore, important to conduct more research that examines the teaching and learning process from the student's viewpoint (Areti, 2006; Biggs, 2006; Clayton, 2004; Thiagarajan & Jacobs, 2001; Trinidad & Pearson, 2004). Student satisfaction can be defined as "the student's emotional reactions to college" (Reed et al., 1984, p. 68) and the student's favorable evaluation of the outcomes and experiences associated with his/ her educational experience (Astin, 1993; Olivera DeSarbo, 1988). The research that has been conducted in a classroom-based environment has shown that there is a high correlation between student satisfaction and retention (Astin, 1993; Edwards & Waters, 1982). Studies in DL (Bailey et al., 1998; Northrup, 2002; Omoregie, 1997) and FL (Horwitz, 1990; Kern, 1995) demonstrate similar results. Satisfaction is seen as an important intermediate outcome (Astin, 1993, p. 278) because it does not directly affect student academic success but is indirectly connected with it (Moore & Kearsley, 1996). Student satisfaction is linked with the student's level of motivation (Chute, Thompson, & Hancock, 1999; Donohue & Wong, 1997), which, in turn, is important for successful foreign language learning (Dörnyei, 2003, 2005; Gardner & Lambert, 1959).

THEORETICAL BACKGROUND

The complexity of the constructs of student autonomy and satisfaction in a DL FL classroom puts extra demands on any researcher's choice of an appropriate theory that would provide a solid framework for the analysis of these concepts. Consequently, much of the research and practical work in the field have been carried out in an atheoretical manner (Gibson, 2003), which may create a situation where technology supersedes pedagogy and sacrifices the latter in the process (Gokool-Ramdoo, 2008).

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