Cultural and Contextual Affordances in Language MOOCs: Student Perspectives

Cultural and Contextual Affordances in Language MOOCs: Student Perspectives

Carolin Fuchs (Northeastern University, Boston, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/IJOPCD.2020040104
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This case study explores cultural and contextual affordances in language massive open online courses (LMOOCs), especially the extent to which an LMOOC effectively promotes optimal language learning. Participants included 15 language student teachers of English as a second or foreign language in a spring technology elective course at a private university on the East Coast. Student teachers enrolled in language MOOCs and tracked and evaluated their learning process and progress through weekly logs and surveys. Data was collected from weekly reflection logs and pre- and post-surveys. Results indicate that the cultural affordances were more salient in the advanced Spanish MOOC and the Hindi MOOC, while in the beginning-level LMOOCs, contextual factors were lacking overall.
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In her seminal work “Context and Culture in Language Teaching,” Claire Kramsch put forth the notion of language as social practice and has argued that cultural awareness should enable language proficiency as much as it should be the outcome of reflection on language proficiency (1993). With the advent of digital media and technologies, the notion of language learning as social practice has expanded to an ever-increasing online audience. One example of these new forms of social language practice are massive open online courses (MOOCs). Language MOOCs, or ‘LMOOCs,’ have been around for a few years now (e.g., Beaven, Hauck, Comas-Quinn, Lewis, & de los Arcos, 2014; Dixon & Thomas, 2015; Fuchs, 2016; 2017; Martín-Monje, Ealorza, & Garcia Riaza, 2016; Martín-Monje & Bárcena, 2014). There are two types of MOOCs, ‘cMOOCs’ and ‘xMOOCs.’ The ‘cMOOCs’ traditionally focus on connectivism and on socially constructed goals, knowledge, and community creation; discussions are more integral. Characteristically, however, most LMOOCs tend to be content-based MOOCs or ‘xMOOCs’, which means that they focus on materials acquisition, and they tend to be instructivist in approach. Yet, they still make up a developing field with a great deal of experimentation. Because of the unlimited (‘massive’) number of students that can enroll in a MOOC, many questions are still in search of an answer. This holds true especially with regard to participant perspectives because users may drop a course at any time. Participants’ satisfaction, learning support, technological environment, and the quality of the learning experience, and variables that can predict student drop-out rates still need to be more fully addressed (e.g., Boyer & Veeramachaneni, 2015; Daniel, 2012; Holton, 2012; Kop, Fournier & Mak, 2011). It is thus important to look at how different MOOC formats afford culture and context from the learner’s perspective.

While the point has been made that MOOCs are non-formal online learning experiences and are therefore rather different from typical formal educational offerings (Teixeira & Mota, 2014), principles of pedagogy and learning remain largely the same. For example, facilitating language learning conditions such as authentic interaction and tasks, enough time and feedback, negotiation of meaning, meaningful guidance to the learning process, and exposure to and encouragement to produce creative language (Egbert, Hanson-Smith, & Chao, 2007) apply regardless of instructional format.

In addition to student engagement, community, membership, communication and creativity as key features for effective LMOOCs (e.g., Bárcena & Martín-Monje, 2014; Sokolik, 2014), presentation of content is important in order to maximize student interest and engagement. A comparative study of achievement in Spanish across online, blended, and MOOC environments found that higher levels of any type of interaction (learner-content, learner-learner, learner-instructor) directly correlated with higher grades (Rubio, 2015). Another recent study concluded that teacher scaffolding through modeling and timely feedback were decisive factors in learners’ self-regulation in two online elementary Spanish classes (Lee, 2016).

In light of the geographical distance and separation of participants and instructors in online interaction (Shearer, Gregg, Joo, & Graham, 2014; see also Moore, 1993), beginning learners in particular depend on the quality of the content-learner interaction in order to build up the communicative repertoire needed to engage fully with other speakers of the target language. Yet, little empirical research seems to exist on how cultural and contextual factors have been afforded in LMOOCs – especially in lower-proficiency courses where interaction among learners may be limited.

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