Many language teachers, students, and institutions of virtual learning environments are well acquainted with the feelings of loneliness and frustration that many students experience due to the fact that many virtual language courses base their methodology on simply uploading the material into the virtual classroom. Teachers should be aware of the learning process itself; that is, they shouldn’t talk only about new learning technologies for second language acquisition but also of new methodologies. In this chapter, we present some methodological actions that should be avoided in the virtual language classroom and try to suggest ways to improve teachers’ online practices. In order to collect data from some students enrolled in English language subjects in their degree course (English Philology and Mechanical Engineering at University Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona, Spain), a questionnaire was created. This chapter is part of the project PID08-PROFID, which receives financial support from the Institut de Ciències de l’Educació (URV).
As is well known, e-learning or online instruction can be defined as learning using a computer that is connected to a network. According to students’ opinions, online instruction can be a very exciting experience or an incredible nightmare. It all depends on the methodological aspects of the course. This study concentrates on a particular sort of e-learning enabled by free Internet technology: the Open Source software package Moodle. It tries to identify and define some bad practices found in some virtual language courses that may be the cause of considerable frustration and stress to second-language students. To do so, this chapter has been organized into three main parts:
The first part introduces the topic and then briefly defines and describes what some authors believe to be the characteristics of a good virtual course.
The second part is divided into two sections.
The first section describes the problems that students may find in a virtual language course.
In the second section, a questionnaire is presented. This questionnaire was answered by two groups of university students who were enrolled in two different English Language subjects at University Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona. The purpose of this questionnaire was for the students to reflect on what they considered to be bad practices in their virtual language courses.
Finally, a section with the conclusion.
Moodle was designed on the basis of various pedagogical principles (“social constructionist pedagogy”) to help educators create effective online learning communities (http://moodle.org); it is a course management system, or learning management system, designed to help teachers create online courses. This new type of learning management has allowed many universities to implement e-learning in their PhD and master’s degree courses. It has also fostered lifelong learning for those students who, for personal reasons, are not able to study for a degree at a university. Many studies of these students (see www.uoc.edu) show that their main reason for not being able to study for a degree is lack of time. The use of e-learning in university (and other) environments provides students with a 24-hour learning system, seven days a week.
Nowadays, the number of distance courses is growing, and consequently, distance education is being discussed at various educational levels (see the enormous number of discussion lists on e-learning on the Internet). Most of these debates coincide with the idea that distance education, generally speaking, seems to improve our learning experience. In the specific field of language acquisition, the virtual learning experience has broadened in many different ways, and has opened new fields of experimentation, research, and study. Nevertheless, as teachers and users of these technologies, we must accept that it is still in the first stages of development, implementation, and above all, use, so it still has great potential for transforming the teaching and learning methodology that we know nowadays. Nevertheless, because it is still in its early stages, it also has many negative points.
In his article Bases pedagógicas del e-learning, Cabero (2006) summarizes in Table 1 the main advantages and disadvantages of e-learning.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Learning Object: Any entity, digital or nondigital, that may be used for learning, education, or training.
E-Learning: Can be defined in many ways. In its simplest form, it is individual or group use of electronic media that provide access to online learning tools and resources. These dynamic media offer shared community spaces, support digital communication and collaboration, and link to information sources such as streamed video, podcasts, Webcasts, digital libraries, Web pages, and videoconferencing.
Moodle: A course management system (CMS); a free Open Source software package designed using sound pedagogical principles to help educators create effective online learning communities.
Link: A logical connection between discrete units of data, or a hypertext connection between Web pages.
Blended Learning: The combination of multiple approaches to learning. Blended learning can be accomplished through the use of “blended” virtual and physical resources. A typical example of this would be a combination of technology-based materials and face-to-face sessions used together to deliver instruction. In the strictest sense, blended learning is anytime an instructor combines two methods of delivery of instruction.
Discussion List: A type of electronic mailing list. On a discussion list, a subscriber uses the mailing list to send messages to all the other subscribers, who may answer in a similar fashion. Thus, actual discussion and information exchanges can happen. Mailing lists of this type are usually topic-oriented (e.g., politics, scientific discussion, joke contests), and the topic can range from extremely narrow to “whatever you think might interest us.”
Virtual Learning Environment (VLE): A software system designed to facilitate teachers in the management of educational courses for their students, especially by helping teachers and learners with course administration.