“GETTING REAL” WITH ACTION RESEARCH IN TECHNOLOGY-MEDIATED TASK-BASED LANGUAGE TEACHING (TBLT): A PROPOSITION, A MAP AND THREE CASE STUDIES

J. Lievens

KU Leuven (BELGIUM)
Since the turn of the century, the field of (first and second) language teaching has witnessed the steady rise to prominence of “task-based language teaching” (TBLT) as a pedagogic framework for the acquisition of linguistic competencies. TBLT is a Dewey-inspired experiential learning approach, in which learners engage in a meaningful, primarily non-linguistic activity – a task – “in order to attain an objective, and which necessitates the use of language” (Van den Branden 2006, p. 4). In recent years, TBLT has attracted increasing attention from educators exploring the use of technology to enhance the learning process. According to González-Lloret, for instance, “TBLT presents an ideal platform for informing and fully realizing the potential of technological innovations for language learning” (2017, p. 193). Technology-mediated or technology-enhanced TBLT creates a surplus learning outcome, as not only linguistic/communicative but also technological/digital competencies are necessary to attain the task objective (Gonzalez-Lloret 2014).

There is a danger, however, that the TBLT approach is reduced to “a point where almost anything related to educational activity can (…) be called a ‘task’” (Van den Branden 2006, p. 3). In response, practitioners of technology-mediated TBLT (e.g. González-Lloret 2014; Lopes 2017) defined several criteria for tasks, such as authenticity, motivation, meaning, purpose, process/outcome and social interaction - all of which, at their core, presuppose “a ‘real-world relationship’” (González-Lloret 2014, p. 6). Strikingly, this insistence on authenticity and real-world experience can be perceived to exist at odds with the interest that many researchers of technology-mediated TBLT entertain for synthetic immersive environments (SIEs) such as online multiplayer games, digital augmented reality games and virtual environments (deFreitas 2006; Sykes 2014; Gánem-Gutiérrez 2014).

The central proposition of this paper is that the methodological framework of Action Research (AR) provides a pathway towards integrating technology into TBLT while guaranteeing an indubitably authentic, real-world task design. AR, after all, “takes place in real-world situations, and aims to solve real problems” (McIntyre et al. 2015, p. 193), unlike the “quests” performed in SIEs. I argue that AR provides as much of “an ideal platform for (…) fully realizing the potential of technological innovation” as TBLT does, as all of the stages of AR, from gathering and processing data to reporting results and taking informed action, benefit greatly from the introduction of technological tools. I also argue that AR not only integrates linguistic and digital learning outcomes, like technology-mediated TBLT, but also develops learners’ research competencies.

To support the argument, this paper provides a mapping of useful technological tools onto a structured overview of the stages in AR. Moreover, the paper discusses empirical evidence provided by three case studies in which technological tools enable an AR project with a strong real-world relationship and with valuable learning outcomes in the fields of language acquisition, digital literacy and research skills. I performed these case studies at:
a) the Faculty of Industrial Engineering Sciences (KU Leuven & UHasselt, Campus Diepenbeek),
b) the Department of Teacher Training (UC Leuven Limburg)
c) the Department of Applied Psychology (UC Thomas More Antwerp).