Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Using Tangible Companions for Enhancing Learning English Conversation

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Using Tangible Companions for Enhancing Learning English Conversation

Article excerpt


English has been an important learning subject in formal education in Taiwan. However, some issues have been observed in English learning and teaching contexts. For example, while students generally are good at reading they do not feel comfortable with speaking. The beginning English learners in specific often feel shy and embarrassed practicing English conversation with a teacher or peer learners because of the fear of making mistakes (Pan, 2001). Furthermore, some learners, particularly the low-achievement ones, often feel uncomfortable speaking English in front of other students or teachers due to the fear of making mistakes. In the long run, they might lose the interest and confidence in learning English. Additionally, it is difficult for teachers to provide every student with equal opportunity of practicing English conversation in the regular classroom and it is also difficult for learners to find partners to practice English speaking together at home due to many newlyweds in Taiwan prefer to have one child only (Chen, 2011). However, the advantages of the developing learning technology could help instructors solve the problems that students meet. Educational learning companions have attracted a great deal of attention in the field of technology enhanced learning. The human-like characteristics enhance students' attention and confidence in learning subjects (Chen, Liao, Chien, Chan, 2011). Nevertheless, most of the existing learning companions are presented in the web-based environment which could only interact with learners on the flat screen. Few studies have been conducted with a focus on physical and tangible companions, particularly those designed to integrate learning companions into the formal English language settings.

On the other hand, the applications of portable robots, physical and tangible learning companions are the interesting topics which catch researchers' interests in recent decades. The characteristics of multiple learning interactions through both visual stimulation and tangible sense benefits learners especially for young children (Xu, Read, Sim & McManus, 2009). Hence, with the idea of combining the learning companions with tangible technology in mind, the researchers extended the concept of learning companions (Chan & Bsdkin, 1988) from virtual world to real world and started from the viewpoint of bettering language learning. Therefore, both the Learning Technology Lab and Multimedia Information Retrieval Lab at National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan, have made a joint effort in associating instructional technology with the advanced speech recognition techniques to develop innovative tangible learning companions in the appearances of popular cartoon characters, which could play the role as the interactive English learning partners in English classrooms.

The study proposes the pedagogical activities and implements the tangible learning companions in the English class settings using the state-of-the-art technology, speech recognition technology, to help improve the practices of learning English conversations. We aim to investigate the pedagogical strategies of using learning companions in classroom settings and evaluate elementary students' learning motivation, performance and perception toward the uses of learning companions.

Research questions

The research questions of this study are as follows:

1. What were the students and instructor's feedback and perception toward applying the learning companions in English classes?

2. How did students' learning process, attitude, effectiveness changed and enhanced with the uses of learning companions in English class? What role would the tangible learning companions play in learning English? Would the tangible learning companions make the classroom atmosphere differently?

3. What learning methods did learners use when they practiced English conversation with the tangible learning companions in groups? …

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