Sharing systems, sharing language: designing and working in a virtual department
McAvinia, Claire and Hughes, Jane (2004) Sharing systems, sharing language: designing and working in a virtual department. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 16 (5). pp. 445-468.
Less widely taught languages present special problems. Often students may be ab initio learners who must progress very rapidly from beginner to highly competent. Appropriate learning materials are scarce. Small student numbers restrict the range of learner tasks. To address these problems, and drawing on research methods from both CALL and Computer Science domains, we investigated the use of a virtual learning environment (WebCT) as a tool for collaborative language teaching and learning. A web-based virtual department was created, bringing students and tutors from different institutions together to practise the target language (students) and share the development of quality resources (teachers). The Virtual Department links three UK Danish departments. This environment provides shared working areas for students and teachers. Teachers design and use resource materials and students complete tasks. Learner task design was driven by pedagogical needs but the technology also offered opportunities which shaped the learning tasks to some extent. A key feature of the system is its range of communication tools, around which some collaborative tasks have been designed and on which students across the country can work together. The system enables teachers to create a wider variety of authentic tasks and exercises for students than previously. The paper presents the results of evaluating the virtual department in use over one academic year with first, second and fourth year students, and their teachers.
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