Investigating Student Readiness For Computer Assisted Language Learning Biology Essay

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Abstract: Computerized learning form novelty has become an everyday issue for Bulgarian university education. This paper tackles an urgent pedagogical aspect: student preparedness for it in the case with computer assisted language learning (CALL). The study took place at the end of the first semester of a two-semester foreign language (FL) course and is based on the comparison between the quality of students' performance (as a measure of their development towards the goals of the FL course) and the perceived level of satisfaction with the course (as a subjective measure of their accepting the CALL). Conclusions on the importance of the teachers' role were drawn and future settings discussed in view of the results.

Key words: Computer Systems and Technologies, Model, Microprogramming Unit for Operation Control.

INTRODUCTION

When discussing the worldwide tendency for employing computers in each aspect of language learning, the emphasis is usually on different curricula, materials and course design. There are some investigations on the pedagogical issues, such as student attitude towards CALL in Bulgaria [1], however little is known about whether students are ready to study in a virtual environment.

This study aims at comparing student attitudes toward a web based course to their performance by investigating a FL classes, designed with common goals and materials, but taking place in different environments: traditional (a seminar room) and web based (blended learning). The case of distance learning is not an issue of this study. The results proved that young adults at the age of 19 in Bulgaria are ready for learning in a virtual environment in terms of computer literacy and enhanced performance. However, there is a strong tendency for not taking their study seriously which may lead to lower performance instead of enhanced one.

The study was held as a continuing feedback on the course, taking part at the end of the first semester of two-semester course in English for Specific Purposes (ESP) at Sofia University, Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics. As there was no standardized tool in use in Bulgarian universities to research on student attitudes, a course evaluating questionnaire used in previous research [] was adapted to provide data on students' actual experiences of the course [5]. It consisted of five graded (Likert scale [6]) questions to measure the interest, difficulty and usefulness of the course elements; and an open question to elicit suggestions for improvements. The approach used for developing the instrument was practical: questions were formulated in order to evaluate student perceived development of the different language skills as a result of the course. The key skills were identified according to the descriptors of Language Portfolio for Vocational Purposes (validation N 48.2003) and the data were processed statistically.

Teaching situation

8 groups first year students of Informatics for the academic year 2007/2008 (n=82), which comprised 66% of all first year students in that specialty. 67% of the class were male and 33% are female. The distribution according to age was as follows: about 95% of the respondents were 19 years old. Most of them (51%) defined their level of proficiency in English as Intermediate (corresponding to the B2 level according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages), and 33% chose Advanced (C1).

As there was a significant difference in class attendance at group level, the students were asked to range their average attendance in order to provide information on whether this is a factor of successful web-based learning. The results showed that of 12 weeks, 70% of the students claimed to have come to more than half of the classes. When calculated by groups (Table 1), it became evident that the average attendance varied widely. This suggested dividing the students having classes in computer labs into two groups: A - groups 1,2, 5 and 7 (37 respondents), having more than 8.5 classes; and B, groups 3 and 4, where the participation was in about half of the classes. the answers were roughly divided into 3 on the basis of administrative groups: groups in comp labs with average participation of half and more classes: group A (37 respondents, 4 groups); group B contains groups in comp labs with average participation of less than half classes (23 respondents, 2 groups), and the control group of students in seminar rooms (22respondents, 2 groups), group C. The reason for this grouping is the presumption that students who have not had experience with the course in person cannot adequately assess it, yet they have to cover the same standard by the end of the course.

The control group C (seminar classes) consisted of groups 6 and 8, with attendance of 9 to 10 classes.

Table 1. Class attendance of ESP of the Informatics students in FMI, first year:

Administrative group/

type of room for the classes

Average attendance

Equals average classes (of 12)

Grouping by attendance

1 comp lab

2

8.5

A

2 comp lab

1.9

8.85

3 comp lab

2.2

7.9

B

4 comp lab

2.7

6.05

5 comp lab

1.2

11.35

A

6 seminar

1.8

9.25

C

7 comp lab

1.5

10.25

A

8 seminar

1.6

10

C

more than 10

between 7 and 10

between 4 and 6

less than 4

haven't attended

Student opinion

Students were asked to evaluate the different aspects of the course in terms of: interest, usefulness and difficulty and the answers were compared on the basis of the groups defined above.

The first of the questions concerned with the contents addressed the extent to which the course succeeded in introducing specific vocabulary; grammar and general vocabulary were included as traditional parts of a course contents. It is evident (table 2) that the first two components (grammar and general vocabulary) were perceived as having been improved 'a little'. Students' answers to the question whether the course helped them to develop their specialized vocabulary, however, were with 75% case at 4 (helped much) and mean case at 3.3 (above 'helped'). Even more extreme was the case with writing assignments (academic texts) which was rated with 75% of the cases at the highest point of 5. These results were in agreement with the course design goals to enrich specific vocabulary and increase student ability to cope with academic assignments.

Table 2. Class attendance of ESP of the Informatics students in FMI, first year:

Do you use the virtual classroom for:Q5

B

C

Mean (1)

4,3

4,1

3,2

3,5

1,8

3,2

1,7

3,5

3,6

2,9

3,2

2,6

3

1,4

3,6

3,4

3

2,9

1,9

1,9

1,4

Median (2)

5

4

3

4

1

3

1

3

4

3

3

2

3

1

4

3

3

3

2

2

1

25th% (3)

4

3

2

3

1

2

1

3

3

2

2

2

2

1

3

3

2

2

1

1

1

75th% (4))

5

5

4

4

2

4

2

4

4

4

4

3

4

2

5

5

4

4

3

3

2

The first of the questions concerned with the contents addressed the extent to which the course succeeded in introducing specific vocabulary; grammar and general vocabulary were included as traditional parts of a course contents. It is evident (table 2) that the first two components (grammar and general vocabulary) were perceived as having been improved 'a little'. Students' answers to the question whether the course helped them to develop their specialized vocabulary, however, were with 75% case at 4 (helped much) and mean case at 3.3 (above 'helped'). Even more extreme was the case with writing assignments (academic texts) which was rated with 75% of the cases at the highest point of 5. These results were in agreement with the course design goals to enrich specific vocabulary and increase student ability to cope with academic assignments.

Q6 - A

B

C

(1)

4,5

3,7

4,2

3,3

2,7

3,1

4

3,2

3,7

(2)

5

3

5

3

3

3

4

3

4

(3)

4

3

4

3

1

2

4

3

4

(4)

5

4

5

4

4

5

5

4

4

Q7

B

C

(1)

2,1

2,7

3,4

3,8

1,7

2

2,6

2,9

1,8

2,9

3,5

3,5

(2)

2

3

3

4

1

2

3

3

2

3

4

3

(3)

1

2

3

3

1

1

2

2

1

2

3

3

(4)

3

3

4

5

2

2

3

4

2

3

4

4

Q8-A

*B

*C

Mean

3,2

2,6

2,9

3,3

3,9

2,5

1,7

2,1

2,6

2,6

2,7

2,7

3

2,7

3,6

Median

3

3

3

3

4

2

1

2

3

3

3

3

3

3

4

25th% case

2

2

2

3

3

2

1

1

2

1

2

2

2

2

3

75th% case

4

4

3

4

5

3

2

3

3

4

3

3

4

3

4

Q9-A

Mean

3,3

3,2

1,8

3,6

3,1

2,1

3,3

3,2

1,8

3,2

3,2

1,8

3,6

3,5

2,4

3,9

3,3

2,8

3,2

3,6

1,6

Median

3

3

2

4

3

2

3

3

2

3

3

2

4

4

3

4

4

3

3

4

2

25th% case

3

3

1

3

2

2

3

2

1

3

2

1

3

3

2

3

3

2

3

3

1

75th% case

4

4

2

4

4

3

4

4

2

4

4

2

5

4

3

5

4

4

4

4

2

Q9-B

Mean

2,4

2,4

2,3

2,8

2,5

2,5

2,9

2,5

1,8

2,8

2,5

1,9

3

2,9

2,4

3,1

2,7

2,9

2,7

2,6

1,9

2,8

2,8

2,2

Median

2

2

2

3

2

2

3

3

2

3

3

2

3

3

3

3

3

3

3

3

2

3

3

2

25th% case

1

1

1

2

1

2

2

1

1

2

1

1

2

2

1

3

1

1

1

1

1

1

2

1

75th% case

3

4

3

4

3

3

4

3

2

3

3

2

4

4

3

4

4

4

4

3

3

4

4

3

Q9-C

Mean

3

3,1

2,1

3,1

3,5

2,4

3,1

3,5

2

3,3

3,5

2

3,4

3,7

2,4

3,5

3,5

2,7

3,4

3,5

1,8

3,2

3,6

2

Median

3

3

2

4

4

2,5

3

4

2

4

4

2

4

4

2,5

4

4

3

4

4

2

4

4

2

25th% case

3

3

1

3

3

2

3

3

2

3

3

1

3

4

2

3

3

2

3

3

1

2

3

1

75th% case

4

4

3

4

4

3

4

4

3

4

4

3

4

4

3

5

4

4

4

4

3

4

4

3

Q10-A

B

Mean

3,5

3,3

2,3

3,8

3,1

2,6

3,9

3,1

2,8

3,6

3,5

2,1

2,9

2,6

2,6

2,9

2,5

2,9

3,1

2,7

3

2,7

2,6

2,3

Median

4

4

2

4

3

3

4

3

3

4

4

2

3

3

3

3

2

3

4

3

3

3

3

2

25th% case

3

2

2

3

2

2

3

2

2

3

3

1

2

2

2

2

1

2

2

1

2

2

2

2

75th% case

5

4

3

5

4

3

5

4

4

4

4

3

4

3

3

4

4

4

4

4

4

3

3

3

Q10-C

Mean

4

3,6

2,5

4

3,4

2,6

3,5

2,95

2,7

3,7

3,5

2,1

Median

4

4

2

4

4

3

4

3

2,5

4

4

2

25th% case

4

3

2

4

3

2

3

2

2

4

3

2

75th% case

5

4

3

5

4

3

4

4

4

5

4

3

Q11-A

Mean

4

4,1

4,1

3,7

3,6

3,9

3,9

4,3

3,8

3,7

3,7

3,9

3,6

3,9

3,8

Median

4

4

4

4

4

4

4

4

4

4

4

4

4

4

4

25th% case

4

4

4

3

3

3

4

4

4

3

3

3

3

3

3

75th% case

5

5

5

5

5

5

5

5

5

5

5

5

5

5

5

Q11-B

Mean

3,3

3,3

3,3

3

3

2,5

3

3

3,3

2,2

2,2

2,3

2,4

2,3

2,4

Median

3

3

3

3

3

3

3

3

3

3

2

3

3

3

3

25th% case

3

3

2

1

1

1

2

2

3

1

1

1

1

1

1

75th% case

4

4

4

4

4

4

4

4

4

3

3

3

3

3

3

Q11-C

Mean

3,7

3,4

3,5

3,2

3,3

3

3,5

3,2

3,4

3,2

3,1

3,2

3,2

3,2

3,2

Median

4

4

4

4

4

3

4

3,5

4

3,5

3

3,5

3,5

3

3

25th% case

4

3

3

2

3

3

3

3

3

3

3

3

3

3

3

75th% case

4

4

5

4

4

4

4

4

5

4

4

4

4

5

4

Student performance

Student performance is measured by marks from 2 to 6, where the "pass" threshold is 3. Fig. 2 makes it obvious that there is a clear tendency for these, who attended the classes more regularly (closer to 1 values) to do better at the performance with average marks more than 5 (of 6); and vice versa, the students who attended less than half of the classes (closer to 3 values) scored much worse with marks between 3 and 4 (of 6). The 8 administrative groups were arranged here by attendance.

Analysis and comparison

At first sight it appears that there is no significant difference between the values of the average scores students received: the average mark for the web-based version of the course was which leads to the conclusion that the environment does not have much influence on the resulting knowledge. However, if we compare the results between the groups, where the average participation is 75% of the classes, the picture becomes quite different (fig. 4). A conclusion can be made that the web based classes are much more efficient that the regular ones only when the students took actual part in them.

The range of attitudes seems to follow the same dependence on participation, with the presumption that students who have not had experience with the course in person cannot adequately assess it, yet they have to cover the same standard by the end of the course.

The open question gave the students the means to express their attitudes and suggestions freely. More than half of the respondents (49 of 84) made their suggestions, which can be viewed as both interest in web-based learning and imperfection of the course. On the whole, the students are aware of their low experience with web based learning environments and most would like to improve their results as they see the chance for personal development, flexibility and potential of this type of learning. This is evident by the number of suggestions to improve the learning environment (), to make the contents and tasks more varied (). However, there are students who would rather feel more secure within traditional classroom (9 students) and with course books (5), instead of web-based instructions and contents. This can be due to the fact that web based training increased their anxiety and thus hinders their performance. Notably these suggestions came from the groups with lowest attendance; the latter might be the cause of the perceived difficulty with appreciating the VLE. Other suggestions may be classified as administrative: the groups to be divided by level (11), to increase the number of classes (9), as well as 9 suggestions to have CALL (by students of the control groups).

CONCLUSION AND FUTURE WORK

If we take into consideration the setting, that students at the age of 19 were examined, who are with high rate of computer literacy and with interests in the field of Informatics, there could be concluded that the university students are ready for web based learning. Therefore the most important conclusion of this study is that adequate guidance is a must and attendance is of extreme importance, which puts a great emphasis on the role of the teacher as a manager and guide. Apparently with the groups discussed so far the case with blended learning is a better solution due to the age group (young adults, teenagers) and the lack of preparedness for autonomous learning from school. A summative course evaluation will be performed in order to ensure a positive affect of the changes made as a result of the investigation discussed here.

Reflection on this conclusion will lead to the suggestion that, for one, distance courses are possible, however in order to be ascertained their efficiency they must be very well designed with regards to the participants needs, computer literacy, readiness and willingness to study independently and autonomously. Second comes the need for a highly performing teachers/lecturers, who are sensitive to student needs, flexible and supportive as well as equally knowledgeable in CALL strategies and course design, and in the FL taught.

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