Interaction Key to Learning a Foreign Language in an Online Environment

Online learning has emerged recently as a particularly appealing and popular method of pedagogy. Despite this, effective online instruction has remained a complex and unresolved issue for instructors. Foreign language instruction may be a particularly difficult subject for the online environment, as the online setting precludes many of the pedagogical devices accepted for effective teaching in traditional, face-to-face environments. That the predominant demographic of online course participants consists of part-time students may further exacerbate the difficulties of foreign language pedagogy. Thus, there is a clear need to develop a deployable pedagogical framework that can meet these challenges. We hypothesized that an online environment constructed specifically to demand and foster robust interactions between and amongst students can increase the effectiveness of foreign language instruction, specifically in the context of introductory Mandarin for part-time, English-speaking students. To do this, we implemented a wide range of online learning tools, including those using built-in course management system (CMS) software, as well as innovative assignments. The effectiveness and impact of these strategies over eight semesters were evaluated from detailed student feedback. Over 90% of students from 15 different sections perceived a positive effect of these strategies on their participation, interaction with peers, learning, and mastery of the language. The results of this study provide blueprints for web-based learning modules, which we show significantly enhance the effectiveness of online foreign language pedagogy.

Online Learning, Foreign Languages, Student-student Interactions, Distance Education, Virutal Classroom

Technologies in Learning

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

  • Weihsun Mao
    • Ohlone College, United States California, United States
    • Dr. Weihsun Mao has been teaching Mandarin Chinese in the United States for over 30 years, including 21 years at Ohlone College in California. She received her bachelor's degree from Beijing Foreign Studies University, her master's from University of Denver, and her Ph.D. from Stanford Univresity, where she wrote her dissertation on Mainland Chinese and Taiwanese social studies textbook contents. She has presented her work at various international conferences, including the 11th New Directions in the Humanities, the 15th Online Teaching of California Community Colleges, the 22nd on Learning, the 11th on Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, and the 18th Knowledge, Culture, and Change in Organization. Some of this work is forthcoming in the Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice 19(3). Dr. Mao is deeply interested in formulating curricula that can relate to and draw on diverse learners' backgrounds and experiences, all of which are nevertheless tied together by our common global environment. She is developing ways to improve foreign language pedagogy by introducing superficially orthogonal content to the classroom, and she is exploring what topics and disciplines that may not seem obvious in language classrooms are crucial to the use of a foreign language. Reforming the basic structure and content of foreign language education is her passion, so as to empower her students to reach higher standard of proficiency. Dr. Mao is a mother of three sons and lives with her husband in California.