White Rose Language School (SPAIN)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2012 Proceedings
Publication year: 2012
Pages: 5346-5350
ISBN: 978-84-616-0763-1
ISSN: 2340-1095
Conference name: 5th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 19-21 November, 2012
Location: Madrid, Spain
The use of computer-mediated communication has become widespread in language teaching and learning today. As a result, online forums have become more involved in language classes to foster student critical thinking and knowledge construction. Online forums are also known as discussion boards or message boards. The asynchronous nature of the electronic discussion board appears to provide students with the opportunity to use the target language to exchange their views on different subjects, thereby enhancing their language skills and augmenting discussion in face-to-face classes. The purpose of this study was to examine the benefits of online forums in language learning, particularly from the students’ perceptions, and to explore whether a blended approach comprising students’ interaction on the discussion boards followed by face-to-face discussion classes can assist in the improvement of learners’ oral skills.

The project was task-based and lasted from January 2012 to the beginning of June 2012. The participants, with varying speaking levels, were preparing for the C1 and C2 (Common European Framework of Reference) level ESOL examinations organised by the University of Cambridge. An online forum was created only for those participating in the out-of-class project. Their tasks consisted of reading selected topical articles and answering the questions that follow in order to prompt a discussion among the students. They were also required to comment on each other’s views so that they became fully acquainted with the vocabulary and grammatical structures that emerged in the threaded discussions. After thorough engagement in the online discussion of each article, which lasted for two weeks, a face-to-face discussion class was organised in order that the participants could exchange their views orally and put into practice the language they were acquiring in the online discussions.

A qualitative approach was adopted and data were gathered from the online discussion scripts, the face-to-face discussions, the two questionnaires (to discover the students’ expectations and perceptions of and their contributions to the project) which were administered at the beginning and end of the project and the interviews conducted individually at the end of the project to elicit students’ views of and attitude towards the project. Finally, a survey by means of a questionnaire consisting of fourteen statements was completed by the participants. A five-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (1= strongly disagree) to 5 (5= strongly agree) was used to gauge the participants’ reactions to the online and face-to-face discussions project. In addition, three speaking tests based on the assessment scales for the C1 and C2 level speaking tests for the Cambridge ESOL examinations were administered at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the project to perceive the progress made by the students.

The findings revealed that the majority of the students adopted a positive attitude towards the use of online forums combined with face-to-face classes and claimed that they had enhanced their language acquisition, developed more confidence in speaking and lost their fear of speaking in public. Furthermore, they reported that they had improved both their reading and writing skills.
On-line forums, discussion boards, face-to-face classes, asynchronous.