Online Tools for Feedback Engagement in Second Language Learning

Online Tools for Feedback Engagement in Second Language Learning

Marinella Caruso (The University of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia), Nicola Fraschini (The University of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia) and Sabine Kuuse (The University of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/IJCALLT.2019010104

Abstract

Feedback is one of the most important influences on second language learning. While much research has been undertaken in the field of corrective feedback, the study of student engagement with feedback in languages remains understudied. This article addresses the need for more interactive, effective and time-saving feedback, achieving more student engagement and ultimately enhancing their learning experience. Considering that engagement with feedback goes hand-in-hand with both awareness of the learning process and literacy about the feedback process itself, a range of interactive materials was developed embracing technology as a useful partner: three short videos to support feedback and language literacy, an online coversheet to establish a dialogical relation between student and instructor and an online data-bank of feedback comments. The students' evaluation of the materials support the conclusion that this communicative feedback lead to students feeling more aware and engaged with the feedback, thus becoming more responsible and active participants in their own language learning.
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1. Introduction

The role of feedback in second language learning research now has a longstanding tradition (see the recent volume by Nassaji & Kartchava, 2017), and in recent years, new and evolving perspectives have been applied to feedback as a result of technological advances. These advances have revolutionized the ways in which language learning is delivered, assessment is carried out and feedback is offered (see for example Akbari et al., 2017; Chapelle & Sauro, 2017). In the conclusions of her article on the history and developments of CALL, Butler-Pascoe (2011) states “it is incumbent upon today’s second language teachers (…) to keep abreast of and critically evaluate the new and ever-changing technologies, and enlist technology as a partner to provide the most effective pedagogy and learning environments for language learners” (p. 29). Embracing technology as a useful partner, this article aims to bridge the gap between research and pedagogy by discussing the implementation of innovative online feedback tools for second language courses at university.

With regards to whether corrective feedback contributes to language learning, a large body of research confirms such a position, particularly in instructed second language learning (Bitchener & Ferris, 2012; Ellis et al., 2006; Ferris, 2010; Kang & Han, 2015; Rummel & Bitchener, 2015). Feedback represents an important opportunity for reflection and therefore a cue for improvement and progress, because it draws the learner’s attention to identify the gap between their interlanguage and the target language. In relation to recasting (a reformulation, without errors, of what the learner has previously said), Nassaji (2017) states that it helps “learners recognize their errors and increase their accuracy in the use of the target form” (p. 362). Similarly, in L2 writing, Dlaska & Krekeler (2017) conclude that a focused approach to error correction (where only selected errors are shown) is more effective than an unfocused approach because “it directs learners’ attention to specific errors and does not constrain processing capacity” (p. 186).

Having conceptualized feedback as formative assessment (Bruno & Santos, 2010; Ramaprasad, 1983), and following an interactionist approach to language learning that emphasizes the importance of becoming aware of errors, the main purpose of our research is not to investigate whether error correction is conducive to learning, but rather how feedback should be provided so that students can benefit from it, and how technology can contribute to the feedback process. One of the major challenges faced in higher education is in the area of engagement (Bloxam & Campbell, 2010), and the concern of language educators about whether students actually use the feedback received. Our approach to feedback draws particularly on suggestions that engagement with feedback goes hand-in-hand with awareness of the learning process and literacy about the feedback process itself (Nunan, 1997; Price et al., 2010). With this in mind we have devised and evaluated new online tools to engage language learners in the feedback process, while emphasizing its dialogical nature. As proposed by Nicol (2010) feedback is not a monologue or a delivered product, but is dialogical, a “two-way process that involves coordinated teacher–student (…) interaction” (p. 503).

We have directed our attention to written feedback because of its extensive use in higher education (Bitchener & Ferris, 2012; Ferris, 2010; Hyland & Hyland, 2003; Kang & Han, 2015), and to ways in which we could offer effective explicit feedback so that students could improve formal aspects of language (morphology and syntax, but also vocabulary, spelling, textual cohesion, etc.). This was achieved via a project that resulted in the following materials: three instructional videos, an online interactive coversheet and a data-bank of feedback comments provided to students online via Turnitin.

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