Exploring Learners' and Teacher's Participation in Online Non-Formal Project-Based Language Learning

Exploring Learners' and Teacher's Participation in Online Non-Formal Project-Based Language Learning

Jessica Sampurna (The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK), Agnes Kukulska-Hulme (Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK) and Ursula Stickler (The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/IJCALLT.2018070104
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This article reports on the implementation of online project-based language learning in a non-formal educational context. Project-based learning may enable additional out-of-class language practice and digital technologies can support this activity, but little is known about whether learners will participate. Twenty-one tertiary learners from across Indonesia used multiple Web 2.0 tools to collaboratively create English learning materials for children as a project over the course of four weeks. Online data, learners' reflections, and interviews were analysed using content analysis. The study explores participation levels among learners and their teacher. Findings suggest that while learners' participation varied considerably, the teacher's participation was consistently the highest in all platforms except Google Docs. Learners had different attitudes towards their own and their peers' contribution, but generally valued the teacher's participation.
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A well-known problem in classroom-based language education is the limited amount of time available for practice using the target language. This can be compensated by various non-formal activities outside of class. Online project-based learning (PBL) facilitated by digital technologies is one such option. PBL has been widely explored in second language education. It allows students to practise and develop language skills (Dooly & Masats, 2011). It has also been shown to promote the development of non-linguistic skills, such as collaborative skills (Elam & Nesbit, 2012) and technology skills (Chang, 2014).

The study reported in this paper was conducted among EFL (English as a Foreign Language) learners in Indonesia. Compared to ESL (English as a Second Language) learners elsewhere, Indonesian learners have fewer opportunities to use the English language meaningfully. Furthermore, cultural influences mean that learners who are keen to use English may be worried that their peers would accuse them of ‘showing off or trying to be a westerner’ (Lamb, 2011:11). At schools, teachers often teach to the test as they feel responsible to help students pass high-stakes national exams presented in a predominantly multiple-choice format (Furaidah, Saukah, & Widiati, 2015). This leaves little room for interactions, which are considered crucial for language learning (Ellis, 2012).

Indonesians’ enthusiasm for the internet may provide an opportunity to alleviate some of the aforementioned problems. In 2017, Indonesia had 143.2 million Internet users, amounting to 54.7% of its total population (APJII, 2017). The most popular Internet-supported activity in Indonesia is the use of social media, with Facebook having the greatest number of users (APJII, 2016). Facebook has been used to create communities for language learning worldwide (Adi Kasuma & Wray, 2015; Leier, 2017; Lin, Kang, Liu, & Lin, 2016). The current project originally set out to examine the use of Facebook to facilitate the development of a non-formal English learning community in Indonesia. During the study, additional Web 2.0 tools were introduced, as will be explained later in Project Implementation.

Web 2.0 tools offer affordances applicable in educational settings (Koehler, Newby, & Ertmer, 2017); however, to ensure learners successfully engage in online interactions it is of central importance that appropriate learning tasks are implemented (Hampel, 2006). Project-based learning (PBL), defined as ‘tasks and activities that segue into a main output and which help the students work on different competences simultaneously’ (Barba, 2016, p. 60) is a promising pedagogy. It is a student-centred, collaborative form of learning in which all students are expected to contribute to the shared outcome, while the teacher’s roles are to provide scaffolding, motivation, support and guidance (Kokotsaki, Menzies, & Wiggins, 2016).

In PBL, students’ work during the project (process) is more important than their final product (Debski, 2006). Process can be assessed by examining students’ participation, which is also an indicator of their ability to handle independent learning (Clark, 2017). Clark (2017) assessed participation through teacher observation, class observation and asking students to rate their own and peers’ participation, which then made up the students’ participation grade. Such a system may be subjective; for example, ratings could be affected by students’ friendships. Nevertheless, Clark found that assigning grades to participation accounted for higher levels of participation in her PBL class.

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