The research we report is a pilot study carried to test English as a Foreign Language (EFL) students’ reception of an electronic foreign language teaching (FLT) task. In doing so, our aim was to collect information that can allow us to refine our own e-skills model, a model that adapts to the specific learning context of our students by focusing on the objectives, competence, and learning activities that our students engage in, in their everyday learning experience. In this way, our e-skills model is field-specific and context-survey-driven. The factor analysis results suggest that, although our four-factor solution explains much of the variance, the original dimensions of e-skills in our FLT context should be reformulated and further adjusted.
Introduction: Putting E-Skills In The Broad Picture
Within the context of the European Union (EU), e-skills have become one of the main areas of discussion of the so-called ICT Task Force, which was created in June 2006 to foster a debate on the use of information and communication technologies in all major types of activities across the EU. In the words of the European Commission, the ICT Task Force is “one of several actions undertaken to create a more favorable EU business environment under the Growth and Jobs initiative proposals for specific actions, such as designing a long-term e-skills strategy and promoting interoperability.”1 A report produced by this group in October 2006 stated that a “steadily growing demand for people with ‘e-skills’ (ICT skills) is a long-run trend for business of all sizes and sectors [where] non-ICT related professions will increasingly require at least basic user e-skills.”2 There is, therefore, a strong link between a “knowledge-based economy which has made education and training a lifelong process rather than a one-off activity”3 and “technology-enabled learning (e-learning) [which] can significantly contribute to lifelong learning and make it a reality.”4
Although e-skills have been successfully implemented in other professional and academic areas, it remains to be seen what the potential for foreign language teaching (FLT) is. In 2003, the European e-Skills Forum was established by the European Commission to promote the effective use of ICT and its successful introduction in all major areas of human activity, especially in the business and industrial sectors. As the focus is the promotion of enhanced labor policies, education and training are key factors in this process. In the European E-Skills 2004 Conference5 held in Thessalonica, Greece, e-skills were defined as encompassing a wide range of capabilities (knowledge, skills, and competences) whose dimensions span a number of economic and social areas. However, the ways individuals interact with ICT vary considerably, depending on the work organization and context of a particular employer, or home environment, as the Synthesis Report of the E-Skills Forum reckons. This notion of variation will precisely be of great interest in the following paragraphs as we want to shed some light on adjacent or related terms by surveying the FLT and CALL literature that has dealt with them. Moreover, we want to create our own model of e-skills, a model that adapts to the specific learning context of our students by focusing on the objectives, competence, and learning activities our students engage in, in their everyday learning experience. In this way, our e-skills model is field-specific and context-survey-driven.
One of the major challenges of our research is to try and narrow down the usefulness and epistemology of the e-skills term in our field by: (1) analyzing existing work, (2) submitting our e-skill frame proposal to the learners’ evaluation, and thus (3) in the future, building a data-driven construct that can serve as a starting point for future research. Concerning the first area, once we have discussed mainstream FLT practices, we want to make an effort to outline a notion of e-skill in FLT on three different well-defined areas: (a) new curricular needs and the transformation process (Timuçin, 2006), (b) the well-known normalization issue first introduced by Bax (2003), and (c) the new model for communicative competence (Kenning, 2006) and the need to establish a social context for the adaptation of ICT skills to continuous change. This component of our research is distinctively part of a theory-informed process which seeks to define problems explicitly (Widdowson, 2003).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Skill: A complex term whose scope spans different domains. Within the field of FLT, skill refers to the four basic abilities students must develop to achieve a good command of the language. From a more general perspective, skill refers to any ability acquired by training or practice, allowing individuals to perform well in multifarious types of tasks. In this context, a skill is an ability that is acquired through practice and by using declarative knowledge.
Normalization: Based on Bax (2003), a future vision of future development of CALL in FLT.
Factor Analysis: Data-reduction technique used to interpret underlying dimensions in a construct.
E-Task: A task designed to be performed on a computer. These types of tasks appear in special formats, such as hypertext formats. The process of e-task solving is closely related to the use of electronic resources, as students can turn to this type of resource to overcome possible difficulties they might find during the completion of the task.
E-Skill: The group of abilities that encompass both top-down as well as bottom-up language processing in a digital learning environment and which are instrumental in the process of FL task resolution.
Computer Expertise: Refers to the mastering of the use of computers. In the context of CALL, this term is tightly connected to the abilities the students need to have in order to be able to work efficiently with a computer in the process of language learning. Among these abilities, taking the NETS project’s division, we can mention those related to the management of basic software, the use of computers in the personal and professional contexts, and the capability of using computers in instruction-related contexts.
Strategy: A plan designed to achieve a goal. Thus, in the context of second language learning, we can take the term strategy as a plan the students devise to solve the tasks and challenges they are presented in the process of language learning.