Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Using Online EFL Interaction to Increase Confidence, Motivation, and Ability

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Using Online EFL Interaction to Increase Confidence, Motivation, and Ability

Article excerpt

Introduction

Immediacy of communication is one of the hallmarks of the global society of the 21st century. Business, politics, and the media all demand and expect seamless international exchange of information and ideas, and English is often the language of international interaction (Su, 2006). When two people interact who are not native speakers of the same language, they are likely to find common ground in English. The result is that instruction of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) is now a global priority for economic development, science, and interaction among governments. But in spite of the emphasis in many countries on producing college graduates with English skills, instructional methodologies have not always kept pace with the requirements of the marketplace. In countries where there is not a surrounding population using English actively, the language is still often taught as a traditional classroom subject, with students rarely interacting with anyone except their teachers and classmates--far from an authentic learning environment. Today, however, technology provides a global infrastructure serving business, political, social, and entertainment endeavors. This provides many new potential channels for interaction among people who speak different languages, live in different countries, and reside in different cultures; however educators must be willing to take advantage of the potential to use such interaction as a learning tool.

In Taiwan, the setting of this study, most people have minimal need to speak English on a daily basis, so English is instructed as a foreign language (EFL) and learning happens without any immediate opportunity to use English for actual communicative functions (Lan, 2005). In addition, EFL teachers in Taiwan often continue to use outdated lecture/memorization methodologies. These environments rarely include meaningful interaction with native speakers of English or authentic materials that relate to the target culture (Su, 2008; You, 2003). The result is that students are often not internally, integratively, motivated to pursue their study of English, resulting in lower proficiency.

However, there are demonstrated benefits to be gained from authentic experiences related to the target language, especially conversation with native speakers (Fujii & Mackey, 2009; Gilmore, 2007). Creative teachers attempt to replicate the target language's environment, usually through bilingual curricula, technology-assisted teaching, and immersion programs, thus injecting authenticity and shifting the focus of the classroom from lecture and memorization to active learning. Savignon (1998) pointed out years ago that the classroom context is always different from a natural learning environment, but also concluded that teaching for communicative competence should be the guiding principle of English pedagogy where learners expect and value communicative skills (Savignon & Wang, 2003). Reliance by instructors on lecture and rote memorization makes this goal difficult to achieve. Institutional culture, technology choices, characteristics of teachers and students, instructional design, and pedagogic criteria can all affect the success of such efforts to foster active learning via authentic experiences, including those available via technology (Fresen, 2007).

Study framework

This paper reports on a project that used student-centered, active learning, and instructional materials that students viewed as highly authentic, including live online interaction with a native English speaker on topics of American culture. The American researcher spoke repeatedly via Internet videoconference to English conversation classes taught by the Taiwanese researcher. After short presentations by the American, the students each talked briefly with the American to ask questions or make comments about the subject of the presentation. This project was based on an extensive review of the relevant academic literature on the learning dimensions of motivation, confidence, and ability. …

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