A Proposal of Evaluation Criteria for the Quality of ESL/EFL Websites for Autonomous Learning

A Proposal of Evaluation Criteria for the Quality of ESL/EFL Websites for Autonomous Learning

Natividad Aguayo-Arrabal (Universidad Pablo de Olavide, Sevilla, Spain) and Cristina de las Montañas Ramírez-Delgado (Universidad Pablo de Olavide, Sevilla, Spain)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1219-7.ch007

Abstract

In the current digital era, autonomous learning outside formal education has become a significant context for languages. In view of the huge number of websites for the study of foreign languages and their popularity due to the advantages of autonomous online learning, the authors' main goal is to evaluate the technical quality of a free online resource for the self-study of English: ESOL courses. For this purpose, this chapter presents the design of the evaluation tool: a checklist through which aspects concerning functionality and usability have been analyzed as essential characteristics of the technical dimension of a website, based on an extensive literature review and the initial technical analysis within LinguApp. The results show that non-compliance with the evaluated items leads to a deficient experience for independent users, unable to exploit all possibilities of the website due to the technical limitations they may encounter.
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The Evaluation Of The Quality Of Websites

Web genres are essentially composed of three elements interrelated: content, form and functionality (Shepherd & Watters, 1998), the latter being an inherent property of these genres (Jiménez-Crespo, 2013). Web functionality is based, in turn, on the technology that supports web design and architecture, and that gives web content its own characteristics, such as the absence of linearity or multimodality.

The many existing studies and methods that address the evaluation of website quality and that are cited throughout this study, despite presenting differences in the design of assessment instruments, provide an insight into a series of common dimensions or criteria that coincide or can be related to the three components already mentioned: content, form (appearance, design) and functionality (technology, site functioning). In general, functionality is defined as a set of physical and mechanical characteristics that a product needs to fulfil its purpose. Web functionality is related to site technology and functioning and, therefore, it is necessary for users to be able to access the content and use the website (Sawasdichai, 2009, p. 94).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Usability: Feature or characteristic present in any technology-based product related to the ease of use of such product and how much effort the user must employ to use it.

Independent User: Self-learner, user of a website or web-based system for a specific purpose, i.e. the autonomous learning of a language.

Operability: Subcharacteristic of web usability related to the extent to which a website can be easily operated by the user. Commands, buttons and functions which facilitate navigation through the site and interaction, are important elements for the evaluation of this feature.

Autonomous Language Learning: Modality of language learning which has emerged and develop with the evolution of new technologies in combination with the internet technologies. This form of language learning is based on online resources hosted in websites or web-based systems which allow the user, by interacting with them, to select, review and learn the contents they want at their own pace and guide them in the process. The main characteristics of these resources are: they are normally organized by language proficiency levels and skills within the hierarchical structure of the website or web-based system; learning contents and activities are based on texts, audios and videos on various subjects; depending on the website or system, users can record their tasks, get assessment or feedback, and track their learning progress.

Ease of Use: Subcharacteristic of web usability related to the extent to which a website or web-based system can be used or learned (understood and operated) by the users without much effort in order to achieve their purposes.

Functionality: Feature or characteristic present in any technology-based product related to the level of technology or the technologies used to develop and build such product, which defines its technical functioning and behavior.

Web Genre: Textual genre conceived and presented exclusively in the web medium, which is mainly characterized, by opposition to traditional genres, by functionality and hypertextuality.

Web Quality: Ability of any web-based product (website, platform, etc.) to fulfill the purpose for which it was created and to satisfy the users’ expectations.

Navigation: Act of moving through the hierarchical hypertextual structure of a website or web-based system, this is, between the different web pages that compose it, or up and down around the content or parts of an individual web page. This subcharacteristic of web quality is an essential aspect on the evaluation of both functionality and usability.

Interactivity: Feature that allows the website or web-based system to communicate, interact with the user and vice versa. It is crucial in the development of an interactive process like learning and even more in the autonomous or self-learning, where the website or web-based system serves as the “teaching part”. This subcharacteristic of web quality is an essential aspect on the evaluation of both functionality and usability.

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