Use of Online Chat by Heritage Learners in a Blended Chinese Class

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1 1 20th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning click here -> Use of Online Chat by Heritage Learners in a Blended Class De Zhang Doctoral Student in Curriculum & Instructional Technology Department of Curriculum & Instruction Iowa State University This paper briefly reports an interpretative case study investigating the use of online chat by heritage learners in an experimental course blending online learning and face-to-face instruction offered in the fall semester of at a Midwest university. At the college level in the U.S., heritage language learners, because of their family backgrounds, are typically students who have previously acquired certain listening and speaking skills, but their reading and writings skills remain underdeveloped. The goal of the study was to identify the affordances of online chat perceived by heritage learners. The major research question was: what are the affordances online chat provides to heritage learners of as a foreign language? I aimed to fill in the following gaps in the existing research literature: previous research showed a strong preference to quantitative research methods; the existing literature has almost exclusively focused on the issues of second language acquisition and applied linguistics, no study was found addressing the use of online chat by heritage learners of any language; no study investigated the use of online chat by language learners This blended course was taught in a technology-rich environment. WebCT was used to support the online learning environment, and the conventional face-to-face instruction took place in a digitally-enhanced classroom. The facility contains 23 student computer workstations and one instructor workstation hooked to the Internet, a SMART board, and an Internet-based video conferencing system (Polycom). The version of the WebCT used in the class did not support in the Chat room, the students chatted in Pinyin symbols. Later, at the students request, online chat was done in in an online chat room outside the WebCT environment. Pinyin forms the sound/phonetics system. The pinyin symbols are the same as English letters although the actual sounds that pinyin symbols represent can be very different from their English counterparts. In this technology integrated language class, without learning to write by hand but on the computer, the students used the word-processing software ( pinyin input system) to write the through the following two steps: (a) inputting on regular keyboard the romanized letters (Pinyin symbols) representing the sound of a character; (b) choosing the intended character from among a small group of different with the same sound ( Thus, Pinyin has been the first and the most important step in writing on the computer screen through the Pinyin input system. Participants Methodology The 12 students in this class were from seven countries. Nine of them were heritage learners. I used a criterion type of sampling. That is, all the participants met some criterion, and this type of sampling is useful for quality assurance (Miles & Huberman, 1994, p. 28). Four heritage learners met all the criteria and were chosen as participants in the case study. They were representatives of typical heritage learners at the U.S. colleges. Table 1 illustrated the participants demographic information. What I wanted to add is these four students were originally enrolled in 101 for the beginning level students but transferred to this experimental course for heritage learners after they heard about this new course. The Indonesian girl was the only student in the class who did not come to the face-to-face

2 2 20th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning click here -> instruction sessions at all due to a class time conflict. Online chats were the only opportunities that she could interact with her classmates. All the names in this paper are pseudonyms. Table 1. Profiles of the 4 Participants Tom Dell Ryan Lyn Gender Male Male Male Female Age Citizenship Previous learning experiences conversational skills (*) reading and writing skill level Data Collection American (born in Taiwan, immigrated to the U.S. when almost 8 years old) Went to second grade in Taiwan Intermediate -High Read and write some traditional * American (born in. P. R. China, immigrated to the U.S. when 7 years old) No informal or formal instruction received American (American born ) No informal or formal instruction received Indonesian (born in and grew up in Indonesia) One year private tutoring at the age of 13 Intermediate-Mid Intermediate-Low Intermediate- Low Almost zero Almost zero Read very limited simplified Document, interview and observation are important data sources in qualitative research (Merriam et al, 2002). In this study, the documents included students reflective journals, written assignments, and chat logs (automatically recorded by the chat tools), all available in the online learning environment. Observation was done both during the chat sessions and in the face-to-face meeting classroom. I worked as a co-designer and technical support for this class. The students had considered me a part of the class and were comfortable with my presence. I interviewed the 4 participants in. Interviews were about 40-minutes long and tape-recorded. Tapes were transcribed and translated word to word from into English. During my research, I kept personal reflective journals/field notes. I am not using my journals/notes as a significant source of the data, but they definitely provide insights into my interpretation of my data. Data Analysis Major steps included in the process of data analysis were: Transcribe and translated taped interviews (mostly in ) Get a consensus opinion from the instructor of the course about the translated transcriptions of the interviews Review data (transcripts, journals, chat logs, etc) and search for patterns Code and organize data according to patterns and categories Seek linkage between different sources of information through comparison and contrasts Exam the participants chat logs and the other written assignments to confirm their responses concerning their progress and enhanced learning outcomes Make interpretation and description of the emerging themes Member check in English with participants for the tentative interpretation of the data Examine major themes in light of related literature

3 3 20th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning click here -> Major Findings Several themes emerged from the data analysis and answered the research question this study aimed to address: 1. Online chat accelerates the heritage learners learning process First, chat in Pinyin helped the learners acquire Pinyin, which is the fundamental step in producing on the computer. Chatting in Pinyin helped the heritage learners identify their weakness in the knowledge of Pinyin immediately, as Ryan wrote in his journal that the online chat is a great help towards my pinyin which is another major weakness I have. I felt that I have improved a lot on my Pinyin on the one chat alone (October 5,, Journal 2). Second, Pinyin is very useful scaffolding in learning In the interviews, all the heritage learners indicated that chatting in was more helpful than chatting in Pinyin, but the latter was a necessary preparation step for chatting in, because the reproduction of [on a computer] requires precise character recognition; for the precise character to appear requires the accurate knowledge of Pinyin; and accurate knowledge of Pinyin requires correct pronunciation. (Mu & Zhang, 2004, p. 4000). Third, online chat significantly helped the students learn. By providing a list of with the same sound and with either the same or different tones, the Pinyin input system enables the learners to get exposure to more when they input the Pinyin symbols for a character Very naturally, the students get the opportunity to learn more. Other opportunities exist when the more advanced students used new vocabulary and the lower level students got to learn them. Following table illustrates the students enhanced learning outcomes. Table 2. Greatest Length of the Participants Writing Assignments Name Ryan Tom Lydia Dell Length Assignment Debriefing journal on first chat in Date submitted November 15, Reflective journal 4 November 11, Reflective journal 4 Debriefing journal on first chat in December 6, November 14, 2. Chatting brings fun to the class and enhances the students motivation and interest in learning Online chats provided opportunities for the students to interact socially. The students positive responses were consistent with the literature suggesting when there is friendly and open exchanges among students and instructor, a distance learning environment is likely to be more productive than an environment in which exchanges are formal and circumscribed (Zhang & Fulford, 1994; Wolcott, 1996; Gilbert & Moore, 1998).

4 4 20th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning click here -> Conclusion This study investigated the use of online chats, a text-based virtual conversation, by four heritage learners of in a blended course of as a foreign language at a Mid-west university. My findings indicated that online chat was a very effective and powerful learning strategy to help heritage learners learn pinyin and ; and chatting with peers was very positive in many ways. The students written assignments and chat logs demonstrated the students enhanced learning outcomes largely due to the use of the chats as they reported. This study provides pedagogical implications for language education and further research. It is crucial to make use of heritage learners previous knowledge of the language and culture which may provide scaffoldings to students further learning of the language and culture. The emerging Internet and communication technologies are providing endless affordances and possibilities to language learners. Further research on the affordances and possibilities provided by technologies should be conducted. References Gilbert, L., & Moore, D. R. (1998). Building interactivity into Web courses: Tools for social and instructional interaction. Educational Technology 38(3), Merriam, S. B., et al. (2002). Qualitative research in practice: Examples for discussion and analysis. John Wiley & Sons. Miles, M.B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook (2 nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Mu, A., & Zhang, D. (2004). Technology accelerates learning! Evidences from a blended as a foreign language course for heritage learners. Conference proceedings of Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE), March, 2004, Atlanta, Georgia Penless language learning: A computer-assisted approach: A project funded by FIPSE, Department of Education. Retrieved May 26, 2004, from Wolcott. L. L. (1996). Distant, but not distanced: A learner-centered approach to distance education. Techtrends 41(4), Zhang, S., & Fulford. C. P. (1994). Are interaction time and psychological interactivity the same thing in the distance learning television classroom? Educational Technology, 34(6), Biographical Sketch De Zhang is a doctoral student in Curriculum & Instructional Technology and an instructor of as a foreign language at Iowa State University. She holds an M.A. degree in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL)/Applied Linguistics and an M.S. degree in curriculum and instructional technology. Her current research interests include online learning, optimization of language learning environment, and heritage language education.

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