August 2021
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PERCEPTIONS OF ONLINE L2 LEARNING EXPERIENCES: AN EXPLORATION AMONG SRI LANKAN UNDERGRADUATES
Buddhima Karunarathna, University of Vocational Technology, Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia, Sri Lanka

Introduction

Amidst neo-normalcy situation that occurred with COVID-19 pandemic, to continue tertiary education in best possible way, online teaching is the only way to reach the students. Some researchers find the neo-normalcy situation in the field of education as remote teaching while some researchers find it as emergency online teaching. Whatever the term may it be, almost all the teachers from primary to postgraduate levels had to switch to online modes with available facilities to make the process of formal education happen, although with many lapses.

Practicing teaching L2 through online modes effectively has become a necessity when the students and the teachers are compelled to engage in the teaching learning process while practicing social distancing. Thus, the necessity of related research in this field of teaching L2 through online modes has become a timely upliftment. Qi (2019) notes that prior studies report numerous benefits gained by L2 learners in learning a L2 through using technology; that L2 learners’ language skills (i.e., speaking, listening, reading, and writing) can be developed through the use of technology.

In summarizing L2 learning tasks and involved technological tools in learners’ perceptions-oriented studies, Qi (2019) notes three task types: presentational, interpretive and interpersonal. Further Qi (2019) summarizes that each task type has several tasks as “recording oral assignments” and “online collaborative writing” for the presentational tasks; “exploring topic-oriented information”, “watching pedagogically supported authentic L2 video clips”, and “using electronic language dictionaries” for interpretive tasks; and “text-based online topic oriented discussion with native speakers” and “oral communication with native speakers” as interpersonal tasks. Several technological tools (e.g., chat and Google Docs) discussed by Qi (2019) in perceptions-oriented studies were used in this study as well. Moreover, some other teaching resources provided insights to organize other tasks innovatively such as breakout rooms in Zoom.

The objectives of the study were: (1) What are the L2 learners’ experiences in learning listening and speaking through online modes? And (2) What are the L2 learners’ experiences in learning reading and writing through online modes?

Participants and Study Site

This study reveals an exploration of online L2 learning experiences among six first year undergraduates of a bachelor of technology degree program in a vocational technical university in Sri Lanka. The students were of below average level English language competency.

The students have completed the module “Communication Skills in English I” in their Semester I, in face to face interactions, whereas the students had to complete the module “Communication Skills in English II” in their Semester II, through online modes, i.e. through the Learning Management System (LMS) of the University and through Zoom.

Data Collection and Analysis

From the sample mentioned above, each selected participant then individually completed a 15-minute semi-structured interviews that asked participants about their learning experiences through online modes in their first year second semester. Data was analyzed thematically based on the responses provided by the participants.

Limitations

There were a few limitations of this study. For example, only six participants were selected from one particular bachelor of technology degree program. Moreover, the semi-structured interviews were conducted by the English language lecturer of the participants, so it may have influenced participants’ responses.

Findings

Findings can be presented under two major themes as listening and speaking skills in L2, and reading and writing skills in L2. In the interviews, most of the participants have unintentionally compared their face to face learning experience they had in Semester I and the learning experience they had in Semester II through the online mode.

All the participants were on the view that their listening skills were improved and two of them have mentioned that they were able to listen and watch how native speakers use the language with voice projection and gestures. Three of the participants mentioned that since they could revisit the lecture and watch the uploaded video several times, they felt comfortable through online modes since they could reach the listening materials any time they wanted to revisit.

In practicing activities to improve speaking, first, the students were asked to record their voice and upload it. Second, the students were asked to record their video and upload it, and finally they were asked to make presentations or speak at the online session via Zoom. Five participants have mentioned that, this step by step approach made them comfortable in speaking in L2 and with the recordings of their own voices in English, they had mentioned that they were able to reflect more on their speaking. Two of the students have mentioned that though they were anxious about the accuracy of the language when they were speaking at the beginning, but later they were able to focus on their voice projection and pitch in oral presentations. However, one participant revealed that he found it uncomfortable when he had to make presentations by switching on his video, since he did not like others to see his physical background. All the participants mentioned that listening to audio books enabled them to improve their reading skills as well.

Regarding reading and writing, four participants found the reading and writing activities are interesting than they expected through online modes. They found that providing reading materials beforehand and discussions on the chat forums regarding the read materials enabled them to focus on the text effectively than they thought. Regarding writing, the participants revealed that they enjoyed collaborative writing activities a lot through shared documents. Four participants were on the view that, they prefer to write using a pen and paper than typing on the computer, and sometimes online platforms do not allow them to do so. The participants have provided several reasons for that. They are not familiar with typing using the computer keyboard since they have only the smart phones to access the activity. They think that practicing writing using a pen and paper will be more effective in their in-class writing performance when the university starts physically. Four participants mentioned that, in providing feedback for writing activities, they prefer the handwritten comments, other than the typed comments. The participants were on the view that they feel their learning experience in listening and speaking through online modes is more effective than that of reading and writing.

Other than the four language skills, the participants revealed that they could interact more with their colleagues and the lecturer. They had enjoyed the breakout rooms in Zoom a lot, in group activities and the chat forums. Three participants were on the view that the creative language production activities provided to them, with the intention of avoiding plagiarism, enabled them to think more creatively. Moreover, the participants have mentioned that, even though the lecturer was strict in conducting lectures physically, they feel that through online modes, the lecturer has become more flexible and friendly. One of the learning experiences that all the participants have mentioned was that, when the lectures were conducted physically, if they do not participate in the lecture, they did not have the opportunity to listen to it again. Through online modes, even though they have connectivity problems at the time of the lecture, they are able to revisit the lecture when they can gain access, and it made them more comfortable in learning the language skills.

Conclusions

The results revealed that all the participants hold positive attitudes on developing the four language skills through online modes. Yet, it could be noted that the participants’ attitudes regarding developing listening and speaking skills through online modes is more effective and more motivating than that of reading and writing. Furthermore, the participants have observed that, in learning English through online modes, they could develop more student – student interactions and student – teacher interactions than they had expected. Moreover, they have noticed that online L2 teaching provided them opportunities to be more creative and more flexible.

References

Qi, R. (2019). An exploration of L2 Chinese learners’ perceptions of interacting with recap. In Belda, A.A.P., Galbraith, H., Josephs, K., Pinto, A. P., Pulkowski, E., Walker-Cecil, K., Wuxiha. C. (Eds.). (2019). Research approaches to second language acquisition: Proceedings of the 2018 second language acquisition graduate student symposium (CARLA Working Paper Series). University of Minnesota, The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition.


Buddhima Karunarathna grounds her research in the perception of online L2 learning experiences among Sri Lankan undergraduates. Her research interests are applied linguistic and semiotics. had been teaching English for primary grades for 2 years, teaching English and English literature for secondary grades for 4 years and teaching English language for undergraduates and as a ELT educator at the tertiary level for 7 years in Sri Lanka. Currently she is teaching as a senior lecturer in English at the Department of Language Studies, University of Vocational Technology, Sri Lanka.
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