Designing a Distance Language Learning Environment: An Engineering Perspective

Designing a Distance Language Learning Environment: An Engineering Perspective

Jean-Claude Bertin (University of Havre, France) and Patrick Gravé (University of Havre, France)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-707-7.ch010
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Abstract

The principles introduced in chapter 8 represent a number of guidelines to operate the didactic ergonomics model in specific contexts, which the present chapter will now develop. The didactic ergonomics model outlines the complexity of the (distance) computer-mediated language learning situation affecting the three dimensions of mediation (pedagogic, technological, distance). This complexity makes it even more necessary to organize the reflection on the design and implementation of such environments. A methodology based on engineering seems to us the most appropriate one to operate our model. The first part of this chapter will introduce the four main phases of the engineering approach. It is sometimes perceived as too procedural and disincarnate. To alleviate this criticism, in the second part focusing on its implementation, we will suggest a complementary action-research-training program which can offer a reasoned and operational means to support the introduction of innovation in
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Objectives Of The Chapter

This chapter will try to answer the following questions:

  • How can the didactic ergonomics model be operated?

  • What are the basic principles of an engineering approach?

  • How can the innovation process be supported?

The principles introduced in chapter 8 represent a number of guidelines to operate the didactic ergonomics model in specific contexts, which the present chapter will now develop. The didactic ergonomics model outlines the complexity of the (distance) computer-mediated language learning situation affecting the three dimensions of mediation (pedagogic, technological, distance). This complexity makes it even more necessary to organize the reflection on the design and implementation of such environments. A methodology based on engineering seems to us the most appropriate one to operate our model.

The first part of this chapter will introduce the four main phases of the engineering approach. It is sometimes perceived as too procedural and disincarnate. To alleviate this criticism, in the second part focusing on its implementation, we will suggest a complementary action-research-training program which can offer a reasoned and operational means to support the introduction of innovation in a specific context.

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The Engineering Perspective: A Methodology

Our presentation of the engineering perspective for language learning environments design and development will be mainly based on T. Ardouin’s description (Ardouin, 2003). He defines training engineering as a perspective in which the course designer must use appropriate methods to analyze, design, implement and evaluate actions or learning environments, taking into account the context and the actors involved (Ardouin, 2003).

To this definition we will add… ‘and ensure the effectiveness and reliability of this environment’.

Three levels of engineering are commonly distinguished, which we will consider in the following pages in relation to computer-mediated distance learning environments.

The ‘political level’ is where strategy and decisions are formed and where educational policy is defined. The governing body places the order with a contractor, based on requirements to be formalized or on a project to be defined with experts.

The ‘training engineering’ level is the organizational level. It structures the project into environment and actions taking into account the political objectives, the context and its constraints. The contractor is fully or partly in charge of the development. He defines its overall architecture and the various stages of its implementation according to specifications. Needs analyses, definition of actions and environments, planning, management plan, logistics, coordination, and evaluation are all operated at this level.

The ‘pedagogical engineering’ level is the pedagogic, didactic and operational level, where prerequisites for the course, tests at entry, etc…, are defined. Progress, teaching and learning methods are also identified in relation to the constraints which have been identified and the specifications. Specifications will concern content, support and materials design as well as evaluation and validation methods.

Training engineering is therefore situated at the interface between political engineering (strategic and decision-making level) and pedagogical engineering (pedagogic level). The main goal of engineering is to optimize investment and to enhance efficiency: training engineering is the means to reach this goal. It makes it possible to design the ‘training architecture’ as well as to make teaching more meaningful by situating it within its larger socio-professional context.

Four main phases of engineering are generally distinguished:

  • 1.

    course needs analysis;

  • 2.

    learning environment design;

  • 3.

    implementation;

  • 4.

    assessment.

As this book focuses on the theory and principles of distance learning environments design, we will mainly develop the first two phases.

Four general principles guide the engineering perspective:

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