Online Synchronous English Learning from Activity Theory Perspectives

Online Synchronous English Learning from Activity Theory Perspectives

Lorna Uden (Staffordshire University, UK), Nian-Shing Chen (National Sun Yat-Sen University, Taiwan), Chun-Wang Wei (Far East University, Taiwan) and Jui-Chu Fan (National Sun Yat-Sen University, Taiwan)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-166-7.ch001
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The implementation of Online Synchronous Learning (OSL) poses many challenges to existing instruction technology theory because of the complexity of the digital age. Although many studies have been carried out for an OSL, there is little evidence of OSL for teaching language learning. This is especially so when it involves multiple cultural perspectives. This chapter describes the implementation of OSL for teaching English to foreign students from different cultures. The authors believe that the cultural historical Activity Theory is ideal for understanding OSL and its pedagogy. Through the lens of Activity Theory, this study takes close look at OSL courses and examines the socio-cultural factors affecting the success of the course as well as their complex relationships. Applying Activity Theory to analyze data collected over three years we have developed a framework to help educators who intend to implement OSL from multiple cultural perspectives.
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For students in Taiwan, learning English as a second language is not trivial. It is very difficult to have students exposed to environments where they can learn the language. Ideally it would be great if students have the chance to go overseas to spend time in an English speaking country such as the UK. However, for most it is too costly and involves the students leaving the country. Getting hold of good native English-speaking tutors is not easy in Taiwan. To overcome the problems, we have opted for online learning to teach English as a second language to our students at National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan. The Business and Communication course was born as a result of this, using Online Synchronous Learning (OSL).

There are several advantages of online learning of English as a second language for students. The main benefits are the removal of barriers of students traveling to another country, as well as cost saving by not having to seek native English speakers from overseas.

Although there are studies of online language courses for second language in English, as far as we know, there has been little work done on the use of synchronous learning with tutors from different cultural backgrounds.

One of the problems concerning the design of effective learning applications is that instructional designers have often overlooked the cultural and historical aspects of education, focusing instead on individual learners encountering the machine interface (Blunden, 2007; Lewis, 1997; Roth, 2007). Human learning, unlike much animal learning is not the simple result of stimuli, or inborn cognitive structures, but rather a complex result of our interactions with others mediated by tools in the culture, including language (Vygotsky 1978).

According to Russell (2002), Activity Theory understands learning not as the internalization of discrete information or skills by individuals, but rather as expanding involvement over time, social as well as intellectual, with some other people and the tools available in their culture. The question of individual learning now becomes the question of how that which is inside a person might change over time as a consequence of repeated social interactions with other people and their tools, including the very powerful tools of words, images, and gestures (Hutchins, 1995, p. 290). Because learning with computers is profoundly social and cultural, it is important that when designing constructivist learning, we understand how people use cultural tools to teach and learn, to change and be changed, through our interactions with others.

From an Activity Theory perspective, learning activities cannot be fully understood without understanding the social or institutional contexts for learning (Engeström, 2008). Activity Theory suggests studying human practice in a social and historical context and emphasizes the interaction of human, social, technological and organizational behavior of human practice (Daniels, 2007; Lecusay, Rossen, & Cole, 2008; McMurtry, 2006). In Activity Theory, activities are mediated by social and cultural forces, including rules and division of labour among communities, and the artifacts that carry and transmit these forces.

Activity Theory originated from the cultural-historical tradition of Soviet psychology. Its development is credited largely to Alexei N. Leont’ev (1978, 1981). Activity Theory is concerned with the process of mediation: how practical activity shapes and is shaped by cognitive functioning. Since then it has been used in many different areas of research such as education (Lim & Chai, 2008; Stevenson, 2008; Zurita & Nussbaum, 2007), human-computer interaction (Barr, Noble, & Biddle, 2007; Diaper, 2008; Diaper & Lindgaard, 2008) and psychology (Ratner, 2006). Within library and information science, the theory is gaining significant attention, having been applied to subject representation (Hjorland, 1997), digital library evaluation (Spasser, 2002), knowledge management (Liaw, Chen, & Huang, 2008), constructivist learning (Jonassen & Rohrer-Murphy, 1999) and requirement engineering (Uden, Kumaresan, & Salmenjoki, 2007).

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Chao-Han Liu
Chapter 1
Lorna Uden, Nian-Shing Chen, Chun-Wang Wei, Jui-Chu Fan
The implementation of Online Synchronous Learning (OSL) poses many challenges to existing instruction technology theory because of the complexity of... Sample PDF
Online Synchronous English Learning from Activity Theory Perspectives
Chapter 2
Eva Lindgren, Kirk P.H. Sullivan, Mats Deutschmann, Anders Steinvall
In a case study a University class undertook a translation from Swedish to English in a keystroke logging environment and then replayed their... Sample PDF
Supporting Learner Reflection in the Language Translation Class
Chapter 3
Katsunori Kotani, Takehiko Yoshimi, Takeshi Kutsumi, Ichiko Sata, Hitoshi Isahara
In this chapter, the authors examined reading evaluation methods for foreign language learners based on learners’ reading processes. The goal of... Sample PDF
A Reading Evaluation Method for English as a Foreign Language Learners Based on Reading Performances
Chapter 4
Robert Ariew, Jeremy Palmer
Enrollments in Arabic language programs are rapidly growing throughout the United States. Until recently, Arabic has received minimal attention in... Sample PDF
Developing Hypertext Reading Materials for the Teaching of Arabic
Chapter 5
Bolanle A. Olaniran
This chapter explores computer-mediated communication (CMC) and information communication technology (ICT) use in language learning. More... Sample PDF
Culture and Language Learning in Computer-Enhanced or Assisted Language Learning
Chapter 6
Indi Marie Williams, Heather N. Warren, Bolanle A. Olaniran
Within a globalized society, foreign language acquisition is essential to promote intercultural global communication. For many, the use of... Sample PDF
Achieving Cultural Acquiescence Through Foreign Language E-Learning
Chapter 7
Eleonora Pantano, Assunta Tavernise
This chapter aims at illustrating how Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) could be used to exploit and disseminate Cultural Heritage... Sample PDF
Learning Cultural Heritage Through Information and Communication Technologies: A Case Study
Chapter 8
Wei-Peng Lien, Rita Kuo, Maiga Chang
This project aimed to construct a Blended Learning model with a lecture-review Web site, which would support students’ self-learning at home or in... Sample PDF
Using Blended Learning to Teach Foreign Brides Chinese
Chapter 9
Terence Murphy
One central task faced by those interested in the corpus analysis of second language writing is how to measure ESL textual sophistication. While... Sample PDF
Exploring the Concept of Emergent Coherence in a Corpus of Korean EFL Texts
Chapter 10
Giuseppe Conti, Raffaele De Amicis, Gabrio Girardi, Michele Andreolli, Stefano Piffer
In the past years the adoption of computer graphics to improve learning experience has seen a rising success. The wide availability of dedicated... Sample PDF
The Role of Interactive Computer Graphics to Augment the Learning Experience of Cultural Heritage Within Museums and Expositions
Chapter 11
Yue Ming, Zhenjiang Miao
This chapter was inspired by the work of the designers of a Mandarin language e-learning as they attempted to find the best solution to deal with... Sample PDF
A Mandarin E-Learning System in Pervasive Environment
Chapter 12
Jiyou Jia
Computer Simulation in Educational Communication (CSIEC), is not only an intelligent Web-based human-computer dialogue system with natural language... Sample PDF
An Intelligent Web-Based Human-Computer Interaction System with Natural Language CSIEC and its Integration into English Instruction
Chapter 13
Hamdi Erkunt
Can a traditional college course be enhanced with online collaborative learning, with similar attributes to knowledge work in the modern world? Can... Sample PDF
Developing Electronic Portfolios in a Computer Supported Collaborative Learning Environment
Chapter 14
Min Kang
The goal of this chapter is to explain several experiments carried out by our research group to explore whether synthetic speech can be currently... Sample PDF
Synthetic Speech in Computer-Enhanced Foreign Language Learning
Chapter 15
Niki Lambropoulos, Martha Christopoulou, Kosmas Vlachos
This chapter presents culture-based language-learning objects (CLLOs) in computer-assisted language learning (CALL), supported by user-centered... Sample PDF
Culture-Based Language Learning Objects: A CALL Approach for a Ubiquitous World
Chapter 16
Nektaria Palaiologou
Nowadays, it is a common ascertainment that information and communication technologies (ICTs) and networked learning are not easy to access for many... Sample PDF
Intercultural Dimensions in the Information Society: Reflections on Designing and Developing Culturally Oriented Learning
Chapter 17
Karen L. Murphy, Yakut Gazi, Lauren Cifuentes
This chapter addresses the question, “How can we overcome potential cultural discontinuities in online collaborative project-based learning... Sample PDF
Intercultural Collaborative Project-Based Learning in Online Environments
Chapter 18
Diane Boehm, Lilianna Aniola-Jedrzejek
This chapter presents seven principles of good practice for conducting virtual international collaborations with students. The authors have... Sample PDF
Seven Principles of Good Practice for Virtual International Collaboration
Chapter 19
Rita Zaltsman
The present chapter assesses the key questions of communication barriers in distance learning virtual communities. To examine their cultural... Sample PDF
Communication Barriers and Conflicts in Cross-Cultural E-Learning
About the Contributors