Academic journal article Babel

Collaborative Learning and Mixed-Level Classes: A Case Study in French

Academic journal article Babel

Collaborative Learning and Mixed-Level Classes: A Case Study in French

Article excerpt

IN 2003 THE FACULTY OF ARTS, HUMANITIES, AND SOCIAL SCIENCES AT THE UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA (UWA) UNDERWENT A MAJOR RESTRUCTURE INVOLVING THE MOVE FROM EIGHT-POINT UNITS TO SIX-POINT OR TWELVE-POINT UNITS. FOR THE DISCIPLINE GROUP OF EUROPEAN LANGUAGES AND STUDIES THIS REDISTRIBUTION OF POINTS RESULTED IN THE CREATION OF A NEW SERIES OF ELECTIVE UNITS BASED ON LITERATURE OR CULTURAL STUDIES. IN FRENCH STUDIES, STUDENTS MUST TAKE AT LEAST TWO OF THESE UNITS OVER TWO YEARS IN ORDER TO COMPLETE A MAJOR IN FRENCH. A DISTINGUISHING FEATURE OF THESE ELECTIVES IS THAT THEY ARE MIXED LEVEL AND MAY INCLUDE STUDENTS WHO HAVE COMPLETED ONLY ONE YEAR OF FRENCH AT TERTIARY LEVEL (REFERRED TO IN THIS PAPER AS 'EX-BEGINNERS') AND OTHERS WHO ARE NATIVE SPEAKERS. ONE CLASS MAY CONTAIN UP TO FIVE DIFFERENT LANGUAGE LEVELS. THE VAST DISPARITY IN STUDENTS' COMMAND OF FRENCH HAS PROVIDED CHALLENGES FOR BOTH THE LECTURERS AND THE STUDENTS. THIS PAPER EXPLORES A RECENT INNOVATION IN COMPUTER-ASSISTED COLLABORATIVE LEARNING CALLED IDEANET AS ONE STRATEGY TO MANAGE MIXED-LEVEL CLASSES. A CASE STUDY OF A 2005 ELECTIVE UNIT ON FRANCOPHONE AFRICAN LITERATURE AT UWA FORMS THE BACKDROP OF THE PAPER.

IdeaNet

Developed by the Arts Multimedia Centre at UWA, IdeaNet is a Web-based application that allows students to work collaboratively in an asynchronous environment to build up resources and commentaries on set texts in a unit. One of IdeaNet's functions is to allow students to create comprehensive conceptual groupings of references and notes about those references, thereby building up a database of primary and secondary sources relevant to the course. This database can be consulted by students enrolled in the unit, but also remains as a resource for future students, who can use the work of their predecessors and add their own contributions. IdeaNet is specifically tailored to each unit's needs by staff from the Multimedia Centre, who set up the system before the semester began. Instructors can therefore emphasise the functions of IdeaNet that are most applicable to their topic of study. For some lecturers, IdeaNet offers a way to create an ever-expanding database so that students can share their resources about a unit's reading materials. For others, the interactive aspect of reading and commenting on each other's work is the most important. For the francophone African literature unit that is the focus of this paper, IdeaNet was adapted to create a collaborative learning environment centred on three novels and a select number of secondary resources. This particular use of IdeaNet could be replicated through a commercially available platform such as WebCT or a blog, although some features would be lost, such as the instructor's ability to provide online feedback to an individual student or the group, assess online, and build up a permanent database of resources.

PROGRAM DESIGN

In the second semester in 2005 an elective unit on francophone African literature at UWA was selected as a focus unit for issues relating to mixed-level learning groups. Three people were involved in administering the unit: the unit coordinator who wrote and conducted lectures and tutorials, prepared the questions that formed the basis of the IdeaNet postings, and assessed everything but the IdeaNet component; a lecturer who monitored and assessed IdeaNet activities; and a mature-age native speaker enrolled in the unit who acted as a language moderator for ex-beginners.

The moderator was given a special program with different assessment criteria in order for him to fulfil his role as a mentor for these students--a step seen as beneficial for all involved. The language moderator was assessed first of all on his understanding of the unit's content, evident in the depth of his responses to the students' postings. He was also evaluated on his ability to provide constructive criticism on the students' grammatical errors; for example, he was required to offer pointers on how students could locate and correct their own mistakes. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.