This article attempts to verify the feasibility of action research (AR) to sustain online activities and gauge the effectiveness of an international collaborative online class designed to engage Asian students in practicing English as a foreign language (EFL). The authors hypothesized that adopting an AR approach might be a promising way of maximizing the benefits of using Internet-based interactive learning for process-oriented writing classes. This hypothesis is based on four assumptions informed by previous findings. The participants of this AR were 55 university students, 152 high school students, 4 English teachers, and 5 researchers from Japan and Korea. From September 2007 to January 2008, the students exchanged their opinions on a joint discussion site of a bulletin board system (BBS) covering nine topics presented on video by Japanese university students. Data were collected from pre and post writing tests, interviews, a questionnaire, online class observation, and teachers' retrospective journals. The analysis of the data indicated positive developments in the following areas: (1) vocabulary richness; (2) students' language awareness; (3) the presence of scaffolding; and (4) the allowance for teachers to become reflective about their own teaching, which provided implications for teaching and teacher education in Internet-based language learning environments.
Since 2003, the authors from Japan and Korea have consecutively conducted a joint class for university students between Nagasaki Junshin Catholic University (NJCU) and Hannam University (HU) using a bulletin board system (BBS) found on the Junshin Online Academia (JOA) website, in which the participating students practiced written communication in English, their target language, on various discussion topics varying across 45 global issues such as 'natural disasters', 'Internet addiction', 'children and crimes', and 'friendship between Japan and Korea'. On the whole, the joint project has been verified to be effective in attaining the authors' original goals of fostering Asian university students' 'global mind', 'critical thinking', and 'communicative competence in English'. It has also been proved particularly beneficial for the process-oriented writing class (Suzuki, Jung, Watanabe, Yoshihara & Chang, 2008). The authors, however, have admitted that there is a need for implementing a measure to sustain the development of online activities and to develop students' language skills thereby enhancing participating teachers' perspectives on internet-based collaborative learning in order to maximize the benefits of using information and communication technology (ICT) for the process-oriented writing class (Suzuki, Watanabe, Yoshihara, Jung & Min, 2006). This article attempts to respond to this need by looking at the feasibility of action research (AR) in online environments, and by gauging the effectiveness of an international collaborative online class designed to engage Asian students in practicing English as a foreign language (EFL).
Action Research for Sustaining Internet-Based Learning
AR in the field of education can be defined as a collaborative process in which participants examine their own educational practice systematically and carefully while searching for solutions to everyday, real problems experienced in schools, or looking for ways to improve instruction (Ferrance, 2000; Kemmis & MaTaggart, 1988; O'Hanlon, 1996). As Ferrance (2000) points out, it is a reflective process that allows for inquiry and discussion as components of the research. AR in its nature allows practitioners to address those concerns over which they can exhibit some influence and make changes. It is carried out within the context, that is, at the school in which the teacher works. AR will not provide all the answers to questions about how students learn or what educators can do to improve practice. However, it has been argued that AR happens at the place where these questions arise; it happens where the real action is taking place; and it allows for immediate actions (Ferrance, 2000; Watts, 1985). …