TBLT in Business English Communication: An Approach for Evaluating Adobe Connect and Second Life in a Blended Language Learning Format

TBLT in Business English Communication: An Approach for Evaluating Adobe Connect and Second Life in a Blended Language Learning Format

Michael Thomas (School of Languages and International Studies, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, Lancashire, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/ijcallt.2013010105

Abstract

Research on the use of task-based language teaching (TBLT) with digital technologies has increased over the last few years but few studies have focused specifically on its use with blended learning involving international undergraduate learners studying in a UK higher education context. This paper explores the role of a task-based approach with international students learning business communication in English with a focus on the use of two collaborative digital technologies to aid blended learning: the video conferencing software Adobe Connect and the virtual world of Second Life. The study was guided by two research questions: What are the strengths and challenges presented by each application in terms of aiding authentic task completion? How can the applications be used to support task-based learning in a blended format? A year-long study with students at a UK university utilised semi-structured interviews, observations and in-world ethnography. The research highlights the importance of a number of design principles necessary for effective task-based learning in a blended approach and calls for more research on the type of support required by international undergraduates to aid them fulfil their potential in foreign language environments.
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Introduction

International students are a key part of UK higher education institutions (HEIs) and account for an increasing percentage of total revenues across the sector as a whole (Barron, Gourlay & Gannon-Leary, 2010). Given this importance guaranteeing that international students fulfil their potential is a major concern of all HEIs (Morrison, Merrick, Higgs & Le Métais, 2005). The most common challenges faced by international students concern their English language skills, their ability to deal with higher order critical thinking skills and their willingness to participate in new social and academic discourse communities (Kingston & Forland, 2008). As a result of many of these challenges, students may experience heightened learner anxiety in face-to-face learning environments such as lectures or seminars, particularly when confronted by oral communication tasks in a foreign language (Yeh & Inose, 2003). They may also be disengaged if the pedagogical approach is more ‘form’ rather than ‘meaning’ focused (Carless, 2012). Through advances in digital technologies, research suggests that applications offering video conferencing and virtual worlds can provide flexible and interactive forms of course delivery that allow learners to engage with meaningful tasks in authentic environments (Hew & Cheung, 2012). Questions remain, however, about how these technologies can be used effectively with second language learners from diverse cultures in blended modes of delivery.

This article reports on a study with a group of final year international undergraduates studying business communication in English at a UK HEI in which both academic content and English communication skills were central parts of the syllabus. A task-based language teaching (TBLT) approach was used as part of a blended mode of delivery to promote both authentic and flexible learning. The research is significant in that it a) addresses the role of blended TBLT with undergraduate international students attending a UK university for a period of one year, and b) compares the use of two applications—Adobe Connect (AC) and Second Life (SL)—with the same learners. The research was concerned with the following research questions: What are the strengths and challenges presented by each application in terms of aiding authentic task completion? How can the applications be used to support task-based learning in a blended format? Due to length limitations the paper will focus on the technologies involved in the task-based blended learning context and a later paper will examine the language learning potential in more detail focusing on learner transcripts.

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