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Abstract

This poster presentation describes an ongoing research project investigating the use of digital tools by university students in Qatar. The study also explores the effectiveness of having students inform each other of the usefulness of self-selected digital tools for English language learning. Rationale Mitra and colleagues (Dolan et al., 2013; Mitra, Leat, Dolan, & Crawley, 2010) suggest that self-organized groups of learners sharing a common technological tool (traditionally a computer) offers a self-empowered and socially supported avenue of effective learning outside the classroom. Interest in digital tools facilitating self-directed learning has only increased with the development of the power and complexity of the World Wide Web (Blake, 2013; Saxena, 2013). Important reported benefits include greater learner motivation (Saxena, 2013) and the development of learning communities outside the traditional educational setting (Lord & Lomicka, 2011). For language learners, the Web 2.0 has often been used to provide added opportunities to practice or use language outside of the classroom (Blake, 2013; Borau, Ullrich, Feng, & Shen, 2009). Examples include the numerous grammar explanations and exercises, and the use of microblogs for language learning (Antenos-Conforti, 2009; Castrillo De Larreta-Azelain, 2013; Lord & Lomicka, 2011; Wang & Vásquez, 2012). Digital English language product revenues in the Middle East will exceed $215 million by 2018 (Global Educational Supplies and Solutions, 2014). However, little is known about how language learners in the region exploit these resources for self-directed independent language learning, and what resources they find helpful. An initial database search identified only one study addressing this issue. In this study, an online survey at Qatar University identified 18 educational uses to which students put their smartphones, including: accessing the university's online learning management system, discussing classes with classmates, and practicing online quizzes (Fayed, Yacoub, & Hussein, 2013). In addition to exploring the ways in which students use digital tools and the perceived effectiveness of these tools for English language learning, our study investigated the efficacy of having students, rather than instructors, find, vet, and recommend digital tools for classmates. If successful, such an approach could alleviate English instructor concerns about being able to judge the appropriateness of digital tools for their students’ unique linguistic needs, learning preferences, and cultural sensitivities. This research is expected to contribute to the development of best practices in education in culturally diverse learning environments such as the transnational university campuses in Qatar. Research Questions and Objectives The research questions guiding this study are: What are the online practices of tertiary education students in an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) program in the Qatar? How are EAP students’ independent learning practices influenced by participating in a course that requires them to use digital tools to develop their English skills? The objectives of this research are: 1. to establish baseline attitudes and behaviours regarding digital tool use for language learning amongst English Language Learners (ELLs) in an EAP program in Qatar 2. to examine the effectiveness of the pedagogical approach of requiring participants to seek out, trial, and report to peers on their use of digital tools for language learning. This will be done by testing for a significant: i. within group effect ii. between group effect (treatment versus control groups) 3. to identify more details regarding participants’ motivations, experiences, and views related to digital tool use for language learning, along with their insights regarding the pedagogical approach used in the treatment. 4. to disseminate findings, methodology and recommendations to other institutions in Qatar, the Middle East, and abroad. Methodology This study employed a quasi-experimental, mixed methods approach, collecting both quantitative and qualitative data. The use of a control group and multiple measurement instances allowed testing for significant effects of the pedagogical treatment between groups (treatment versus control differences) and across time (pre- versus post-treatment results versus one-semester post-treatment). Students in the treatment group, as part of their coursework, were asked to set an individual language goal for the upcoming two weeks. Based on this goal, they were required to seek out and trial a digital tool. At the end of each two-week period, each student posted a report on their experiences with the tool to the course's online discussion page. Reports focused on the benefits and limitations of their selected tool and how it contributed to their goal. Students also read and replied to each other's posts. These two-week cycles were completed 5 times. Students in the control group completed their course, in the same EAP program as the treatment students, without the independent digital tool use component described above. At the beginning of the semester, the end of the semester, and the end of the following semester, students in the treatment and control groups completed quantitative questionnaires intended to assess various aspects of their attitudes and experience with using digital tools for language learning purposes. The questionnaires provided direction for focus group interviews conducted with treatment group students at the end of the semester, and one semester post-treatment. The focus group interviews provided more depth and clarity about students’ experiences and perspectives regarding digital tool use for language learning, and about the utility of having students find and share their experiences with digital tools. Results The preliminary results and analysis described in this poster presentation includes a comparison of the quantitative data of control and treatment groups at pre- and post-treatment. Qualitative data of the first focused group interviews is also presented. Conclusion While 96.7% of Qatar's population are internet users (Central Intelligence Agency, 2016.), little is known regarding its use as an educational tool. A better understanding of how language learners in this context use digital tools, and how digital tools could appropriately be used to improve language skills, would be of great importance to students and educators in the region. References Antenos-Conforti, E. (2009). Microblogging on Twitter: social networking in intermediate Italian classes. In L. Lomicka & G. Lord (Eds.). The next generation: Social networking and online collaboration in foreign language learning, Calico Monograph Series, No. 9. (pp. 59–90). San Marcos, TX: CALICO Publications. Blake, R. J. (2013). Brave new digital classroom: Technology and foreign language learning. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press. Borau, K., Ullrich, C., Feng, J., & Shen, R. (2009). Microblogging for language learning: Using twitter to train communicative and cultural competence. In M. Spaniol, Q. Li, Klamma, R., & Lau, R. W. H. (Eds.), Advances in web based learning–ICWL 2009 (pp. 78-87). Berlin, Germany: Springer. Castrillo De Larreta-Azelain, M. D. (2013). Learners’ attitude toward collaborative writing in e-language learning classes: A twitter project for German as a foreign language. Revista Española De Lingüística Aplicada, 26, 127-138. Central Intelligence Agency. (2016). The world factbook: Middle East: Qatar. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/qa.html Dolan, P., Leat, D., Mazzoli Smith, L., Mitra, S., Todd, L., & Wall, K. (2013). Self-organised learning environments (SOLEs) in an English school: An example of transformative pedagogy? Online Education Research Journal, 3(11). Retrieved from http://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/15077/1/SOLEs_-_Transformative_Pedagogy.pdf Fayed, I., Yacoub, A., & Hussein, A. (2013). Exploring the impact of using tablet devices in enhancing students listening and speaking skills in tertiary education. QScience Proceedings: Vol. 2013, 12th World Conference on Mobile and Contextual Learning (mLearn 2013). Retrieved from http://www.qscience.com/doi/pdf/10.5339/qproc.2013.mlearn.1 Global Educational Supplies and Solutions. (2014, December). Digital language learning market to double in the Middle East by 2018. Retrieved from http://www.gessdubai.com/news-center/press-releases/digital-language-learning-market-double-middle-east-2018 Lord, G., & Lomicka, L. (2011). Calling on educators: Paving the way for the future of technology and CALL. In N. Arnold & L. Ducate (Eds.), Present and future promises of CALL: From theory and research to new directions in language teaching (2nd ed., pp. 441-469). San Marcos, TX: The Computer Assisted Language Instruction Consortium. Mitra, S., Leat, D., Dolan, P., & Crawley, E. (2010). The self organised learning environment (SOLE) school support pack. ALT Open Access Repository. Retrieved from http://repository.alt.ac.uk/2208/1/SOLE_School_Support_Pack_-_final-1.pdf Saxena, S. (2013, June). How technology supports self-directed learning. Ed Tech Review. Retrieved from http://edtechreview.in/news/824-how-technology-supports-self-directed-learning Wang, S., & Vásquez, C. (2012). Web 2.0 and second language learning: What does the research tell us? Calico Journal, 29(3), 412-430.

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2018-03-15
2019-11-15
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