This paper presents the results of a case study that was conducted to investigate the perceived effectiveness of a blended (online and face-to-face) Latin American Civilization Spanish class offered at a mid-sized Midwestern university. Students (N=23) completed pre and post-course surveys in which they indicated their perceived comfort levels associated with their own Spanish skills as well as taking online courses. Students also responded to open-ended questions assessing their feelings about the blended format. Results show that students' comfort levels significantly increased in two areas: writing in Spanish and taking online Spanish courses. In addition, students indicated that they enjoyed the online format and believed their language skills improved as a result.
Keywords: foreign language instruction, Spanish instruction, online education, foreign language writing skills
Online education enrollment continues to grow and gain popularity as students are now able take a variety of courses in many programs ranging from an associate's degree to doctoral programs. In fact, Allen and Seaman (2010) report that during the past six years in the United States, online enrollment has grown at a faster rate than that of traditional, face-to-face (F2F) enrollment and that more than one in four college students takes at least one online course (p.1).
Despite the increased growth in online education, there are still barriers that prevent all subject areas from going online, or even experimenting with a blended model. One area of study in need of attention--with respect to online instruction--is foreign language. With the increased developments and use in technology, the world is literally becoming smaller, thus underscoring the need for people to become bilingual. According to a report released by the United States Census Bureau (Shin & Bruno, 2003), nearly 1 in 5 Americans--age five or older--speak a language other than English in their homes. Of these roughly 47 million people, over half (28.1 million) speak Spanish. Therefore, it would be reasonable to expect online course offerings in foreign languages to grow as the need to become bilingual is ever-present.
While the literature does present studies aimed at analyzing the effectiveness and benefits of online and blended foreign language instruction (Meskill & Anthony, 2005; Tseng & Liou, 2006; Blake, Wilson, Cetto, & Pardo-Ballester, 2008), there is still apprehension among foreign language instructors that the online environment is not able to present students with the same interactive experiences (found in the F2F class) that are thought to be necessary for the development of the four major areas of reading, writing, listening and speaking.
Apprehension among faculty members about the effectiveness of online instruction is not limited to the field of foreign language. The Sloan Consortium's report of online education in the United States for the year 2009 (Allen & Seaman, 2010) shows that, among the surveyed institutions' chief academic officers, slightly over 30 percent agree that faculty acceptance of online instruction has increased--as compared with a reported acceptance rate of 27.6% during 2002 (p. 12). However, this same report (Allen & Seaman, 2010) reveals that, among public universities, there is agreement (73.6%) that online education is a critical component to the institutions' long-term strategy (p. 10). Online course offerings not only present a modern approach to teaching but can also enable students from virtually anywhere in the world to attend the campus of their choice. Despite the perceptions of faculty acceptance, it is imperative that all university departments critically analyze the value and benefits of placing their courses online.
Therefore, the purpose of this paper will be to present a case study of a blended Spanish course offered at a mid-sized,Midwestern public university that was developed in order to: (1) foster the development of students' language skills--especially writing (2) examine students' perceptions about the effectiveness of the online instructional environment and (3) present a model of online foreign language instruction that encourages other foreign language faculty members and their departments to develop online courses. …