blending learning in a web 2.0 world

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  • International Journal of Emerging Technologies & Society Vol. 7, No. 2, 2009, pp: 83 96

    Blending Learning in a Web 2.0 World Gary Motteram and Pete Sharma. Gary Motteram is a Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Manchester in the UK. Pete Sharma is an Associate Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University, UK.

    Abstract This article explores the role that Web 2.0 technologies can play in enhancing language learning development in a blended world. It will argue that technologies are not enough on their own to make a difference, but that teachers bring a particular understanding of language and the needs of their learners to the creation of suitable activities. It will show that the use of technologies is also changing our understanding of the profession of language education and that sociocultural theory can help us understand why this is occurring. Blended learning as a type of classroom activity will be explored showing how different definitions may be interpreted in the classroom context. The types of blended activities that can be used are illustrated through three vignettes.

    Keywords: Blended learning Web 2.0 sociocultural theory teacher decision-making

    International Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society 2009 ISSN 1835-8780

  • iJETS, Vol. 7, No. 2, 2009, pp: 83 96

    Blending Learning in a Web 2.0 World

    Introduction This paper will explore what language educators need to know in order to make effective use of learning technologies, specifically Web 2.0 technologies. It will suggest that in the current stage of educational technology development that blended learning is the most appropriate solution for many teachers working in traditional classrooms who want to make use of digital technologies as an aspect of their practice. It will argue, as do Bayne and Ross (2007), against the claim that teachers are unable to effectively engage their learners because they are digital immigrants and therefore incapable of using new technologies in their classrooms because even if they try to use technologies teachers are hampered by their non-digital cultural heritage (Prensky 2001). It will further argue that while technological artefacts can make a difference, there are other important mediating artefacts that need to be taken into account: an understanding of general learning theory and of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) make teachers ideally placed to blend practices, processes and technologies in the crafting of effective lessons for the learners in their charge. Our understanding of SLA has developed considerably in the last four decades and there is now a clear set of well-defined and stable perspectives that teachers can refer to. General learning theory also has a lot to offer as will be seen later. Three vignettes of classroom practice are offered at the end of this article to show how this theory works in practice (Lewin 1952: 169).

    At the same time it does appear to be the case that at least some learners are excited by finding technologies in their classrooms (Pereira 2009) and considerable investments have been made by governments to make sure that the latest information and communication technologies (ICTs) are available for both teachers and learners to make use of (Twining 2002). In many countries access to the Internet is seen as a right on campus and, of course, many learners have access to the Internet at home, too. Where the Internet is not readily available in peoples houses, or places of work, it can usually be found in Internet cafs and on mobile phones.

    Mediating artefacts have been a fact of life in language and other classes for many years as Salaberry (2001) and Bates (2005) convincingly demonstrate, but with the advent of Web 2.0 we have seen a massive increase in the availability of tools that can potentially be used in a variety of different ways to blend regular classroom practice. These tools are argued to be much easier to implement than older Web 1.0 technologies. The growing range of technologies that we have available to us is aptly illustrated by the Web Trends Map (2009). This map, which makes use of the Tokyo underground as a framing tool, shows the relative merits and values of a range of technologies and technological providers with all, for example, of the key publishers appearing on one track with the most well known situated in the centre. Large technology corporations are to be found on another track, again with the ones seen as being most influential towards the middle and linked more comprehensively to other aspects of the digital world. The map gives a quick overview about what is popular at any given time. These are the most well-known and commonly used tools and companies, but, of course, these only represent a small fraction of what is available when it comes to what teachers might find access to.

    Teachers need to make reasoned choices, not only about technology and language teaching methodology, but also to show awareness in their practice of insights into SLA and general





  • Motteram & Sharma: Blending Learning in a Web 2.0 World

    learning theory. They also need to take into account the needs and desires of the future learner.

    The Language Learner of the Future Four articles that appeared in The Guardian Weekly in 2006 considered what impact technology would have on the language learner of the future. Warschauer (2006) focuses on three divides and how these are breaking down. He argues that the notions of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) and English as a Second Language (ESL) are already becoming less relevant. He describes the way that learners in what have traditionally been termed EFL countries, who in the past would have had little or no access to the target language, now have the potential of considerable access, mediated by various Web-based technologies. This has been as a result of the growth of Web 2.0 technologies like blogs and wikis. In the article Warschauer tells the story of a group of Iranian medical students who discovered Warschauers personal blog about his son. The Iranian students then contacted Warschauer to discuss his sons condition with him. They were able to make contact with someone in another country and have a real dialogue about a topic that was of interest to them in English. The notion that only ESL learners, that is, those studying within a target culture, can get regular access to target language is therefore questioned; the boundaries between EFL and ESL appear to be breaking down. The Internet, of course, continues to develop and with the advent of 3D virtual worlds like Second Life, for example, there is even more chance to participate in an international language community that resembles real world experiences without leaving your own home or classroom.

    The next divide is between the digital haves and the have-nots. Warschauer suggests that although the Iranian medics who accessed his blog do not have personal access to the Internet, they all have a shared access of some kind either through work, or the extended family and he argues that this is true of many communities. In Africa farmers are now using mobile phones to access information about the value of their crops and before this had been able to access the Web in the local town to do similar research. There is also the offer of the $100 laptop for the developing world, which is fast becoming a reality (One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) 2009).

    Warschauers third divide is that of language and technology in the classroom. Increasingly, Warschauer argues, it is difficult to separate the teaching of language from technology. If we want to write a paper, we inevitably make use of a computer; if we want to track down a reference we make use of the Internet. We also use tools like Skype to interview participants in research projects. The students need the kind of digital literacy skills that help them make effective use of these tools and that language on its own is no longer the object of study (Lankshear & Knobel 2003). Warschauer describes a student of his whose motivation for learning English is to make use of the Internet rather than an interest in language per se.

    Motterams (2006) contribution to this debate is focused on the way that technologies enable the traditional classroom to be connected to the real world. This is similar to Warschauers points about EFL, but extends it to include genuine activity. This is then related to learner motivation and the fact that with Web 2.0 learners can increasingly choose what they can focus on in class. It also considers our increasing understanding of distributed learning reinforcing how we learn by engaging with others, either face-to-face or via digital artefacts (Dede 2006).

    Graddol (2006) takes a much less sanguine view arguing that Web 1.0 failed to deliver much other than exercises where the instructions are often more complex linguistically than the

    International Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society 2009 85








  • iJETS, Vol. 7, No. 2, 2009, pp: 83 96

    materials themselves and suggests that Web 2.0 might be more of the same. Graddol argues that a lot of time and investment was put into the development of software that was supposed to make a difference in the language classroom, but in many cases all that was created was a similar set of classroom exercises on a computer, little really new was being offered. Bax (2006), in the final article of the series, re-invokes the idea of the normalisation of technologies (Bax 2003). He points out that we do not tal