International ESL Graduate Student Perceptions of Online Learning in the Context of Second Language Acquisition and Culturally Responsive Facilitation

By Tan, Fujuan; Nabb, Lee et al. | Adult Learning, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

International ESL Graduate Student Perceptions of Online Learning in the Context of Second Language Acquisition and Culturally Responsive Facilitation


Tan, Fujuan, Nabb, Lee, Aagard, Steven, Kim, Kioh, Adult Learning


Advancing technology in distance learning has allowed education to transcend the boundaries of brick and mortar schools and classrooms. Virtual learning environments enable students and teachers to share knowledge and information with colleagues around the globe (Roblyer, 2006). As distance learning technologies improve, online learning experiences are becoming ever more popular across the United States (Thompson & Ku, 2005). According to Merriam & Caffarella (1999), as the use of technology has increased in the delivery of learning programs, learning in formal settings has expanded dramatically. Indeed, the development of technology has made adult and higher education learning opportunities increasingly more accessible to a growing number of people. With the number of courses steadily increasing to meet students' needs and demands, and because programs are likewise changing to incorporate more online learning opportunities, international, English as Second Language (ESL) students are more frequently encouraged or required to take online courses to complete their programs of study at U.S. colleges and universities. Despite popular clamor for more diversity and diversity sensitivity in the classroom, little research exists regarding how cultural differences and student perceptions affect online learning (Wang, 2007), particularly with respect to ESL students. Research in this area could inform the production of cultural awareness and culturally responsive education and thus promote more effective educational practice. In the interest of such results, this study collected and examined ESL graduate student perspectives concerning online learning experiences and how such experiences affect the development of English language skills.

Background

Advancing technology is changing the way courses are developed and delivered around the world, particularly in higher education (Hicks, Reid, & George, 2001). Increasing computer (including web and communication) technology has globalized learning through the development of online delivery vehicles; and institutions of higher education are hastening to keep up with demand and competition by developing online courses and programs to meet the needs of the growing population of students interested in obtaining education by these means (Liu, 2007). Growth in online programs is predicted to continue and even accelerate (Edelson & Pittman, 2001; Liu, 2007; Salmon, 2000) as ever more postsecondary educators and students obtain the necessary hardware and software (Cifuentes & Shih, 2001) to "use e-learning to minimize the costs of educational learning" (Partow & Slusky, 2001) and web delivery becomes the dominant instruction mode (Edelson & Pittman, 2001). Moreover, as colleges, universities and other educational institutions adopt online learning to increase access to learning, "cater for emerging patterns of educational involvement which facilitate lifelong learning" (Hicks, Reid, & George, 2001), and reach larger numbers of worldwide and nontraditional students (Eberle & Childress, 2007), online classrooms are becoming more diverse and "continually changing with the dynamic student body from all over the world" (Liu, 2007).

Notwithstanding, technology adds complexity to education, particularly in distance learning situations (Bates, 1997). Despite offering the capability of reaching myriad students, technology is only an educational tool that can either enhance (Liu, 2007; Thompson & Ku, 2005) or hinder (Smith & Ayers, 2006) learning and understanding. In other words, the quality of learning depends on how technology is used (Hicks, Reid, & George, 2001). As with face-to-face courses, in online environments, teaching involves process as much as content (Hicks, Reid, & George, 2001; Ramsden, 1992). Online teaching is not an easy task (Cifuentes & Shih, 2001); to perform it at least adequately involves not only knowledge of subject matter, but of cultural awareness and a positive attitude toward diversity in the (virtual) classroom (Eberle & Childress, 2007). …

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