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«Student Learning in Hybrid French and Spanish Courses: An Overview of Language Online1 N. ANN CHENOWETH University of Texas-Pan American EIKO USHIDA ...»

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N. Ann Chenoweth, Eiko Ushida, and Kimmaree Murday

Student Learning in Hybrid French and

Spanish Courses: An Overview

of Language Online1


University of Texas-Pan American


University of California, San Diego


Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis


This paper summarizes the assessment results of the Language Online project at Carnegie Mellon University. The study investigated the effectiveness of online language courses for students’ learning outcomes in four hybrid online language courses (elementary and intermediate levels) and their counterpart conventional (offline) courses from Spring 2000 through Spring 2002. Eleven teachers and 354 students were involved in this study, which included five semesters and 34 sections (13 online and 21 offline). Multiple measurements were used to compare learning between online and offline students in oral production, written production, reading comprehension, listening comprehension, grammar knowledge, and vocabulary. Student and teacher feedback, reflecting attitudes and experiences with the online courses, were used to better understand the comparative results.

The results from this study indicate that the hybrid online language courses have been reasonably successful: the students in most online courses made progress in their L2 performance similar to that of the students in the equivalent offline courses. Statistical analyses identified two online courses in which the offline students outperformed the online students on several of the learning measures.

The qualitative data suggest that students need instructor guidance and that both students and instructors need ongoing technical support for the successful implementation of online language courses.


Online Courses, Computer-assisted Language Instruction, Computer-mediated Communication, Assessment, Online Learning


Over the past 10 years, the Internet has been transforming the nature of educational delivery as well as the expectations of education—how, when, where, CALICO Journal, 24 (1), p-p 115-145. © 2006 CALICO Journal 116 CALICO Journal, Vol. 24, No. 1 and in what form we expect to access opportunities for learning (Eseryel, 2002).

It is has been claimed that 84% of K-12 classrooms today are connected to the Internet and that more than 90% of K-12 teachers use the Internet in their teaching (reported in Bush & Browne, 2004). In particular, higher education has been moving into the “digital age” (Harley, 2001, p.10) to respond to societal change while confronting an uncertain future. Online learning activities such as email, bulletin boards, database access, and the web are becoming common components in higher education (Kearsley, Lynch, & Wizer, 1995). For example, a special issue of the CALICO Journal in spring 2005 was devoted to computer-mediated communication (CMC) and included reports on a number of CMC-based activities and projects. According to the survey reported in Bush and Browne), 94% of the colleges surveyed use a web-based course management system such as Blackboard or WebCT. As a natural consequence, faculty interest in online teaching is also increasing (e.g., see Monaghan & Santiago, 2001). A number of universities have recently developed online courses and online degrees (for a partial list of these universities, see Appendix A). As we can see from the spring 2006 special issue of the CALICO Journal, devoted to online teaching and learning, we are still in search of an online pedagogy.


Some of the potential benefits of the use of the Internet in education reported in the US include increased student motivation, enhanced cooperation and collaboration among students, more balanced distribution of power between teachers and students, and increased attention to instruction which caters to individual students’ needs (Bowers, 2001; Carnevale, 2002; McGrath, 1998).

The biggest inherent drawback of online courses is reported to be less interaction between teachers and students (Trotter, 2002). Unlike traditional classes in which teachers use various teaching strategies to engage their students in learning subject matter, online course structures seem to limit the use of such teaching strategies. They rely instead on students’ self-discipline and responsibility (Gilbert, 2001). That is, it is the students who determine how to study, what to study, and how much time to spend on studying, among other things that they may decide to do (Carnevale, 2002). As a result, students who do not possess, or have not developed sufficient self-discipline or self-regulation in general, do not always take full advantage of participating in online courses. Therefore, the importance of human interaction has been repeatedly emphasized for successful online course delivery regardless of the subject (Gilbert, 2001; Hiss, 2000, Lewis, 2000; White, 2000). An interesting consensus of more experienced online course designers and teachers is that “properly designed” hybrid courses consisting of both in-class time and online time provide the most beneficial results (Presby,

2001) by combining the advantages of both types of instructional delivery. Such hybrids of online and traditional in-class instruction have become common in university-level online classes such as the Language Online courses investigated in this study. Hybrid courses are believed to be more effective than completely N. Ann Chenoweth, Eiko Ushida, and Kimmaree Murday online courses by providing more guidance and helping students stay focused on their learning, rather than depending entirely on students’ self-regulation.


Online and hybrid language courses have become increasingly common as language educators have integrated the various online learning opportunities into their courses. Chenoweth and Murday (2003) describe the characteristics of the online language courses as a unique combination of CALL, CMC, and distance learning environments.

Students use the computer to learn course content, as in CALL; communicate with one another and with the instructor both asynchronously and synchronously—[using] a wide range of CMC activities; and participate from independent locations, as in distance learning environments. All three elements must be considered to get a full and accurate view of the process of learning that takes place. (p. 291) The following section reviews literature on the development and evaluation of various online language courses.

One of the earliest studies (Cahill & Catanzaro, 1997) evaluated the online language course developed at Christopher Newport University. They reported that the students who took the first-year online Spanish course outperformed the students in traditional Spanish courses on writing essays.

Flinders University in Australia has offered beginning levels of Italian and French courses online since 2000 (Strambi & Bouvet, 2003). These online courses used both CD-ROM and web-based materials to meet two major challenges associated with distance language learning: “(a) sustaining learners’ positive attitudes and motivation despite the many difficulties they face and (b) maintaining high levels of interaction in the learning environment despite the limited personal contact” (p. 85). Despite encountering some technical difficulties, students’ comments were positive about the use of the online courses. The authors intend to incorporate lessons learned from the pilot implementation into the future development and to conduct further research on students’ learning outcomes.

Blake (2004) described the first implementation of Spanish Without Walls, a first-year Spanish distance-learning course offered through the Extension office at the University of California, Davis. The course uses a combination of materials such as multimedia CD-ROMs, content-based web readings, and an audio chat tool. Blake reported in the results of the preliminary evaluation that students in the distance Spanish course performed similarly to those in traditional Spanish classrooms on grammar tests.

The development of Unicode which supports non-Roman scripts for multiple platforms has motivated scholars who teach less commonly taught languages to explore online delivery. The National Foreign Language Resource Center (NFLRC) at the University of Hawaii has been conducting distance education and distributed-learning projects since 1995, offering advanced web-based distance courses in East Asian Languages (i.e., Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) not only for students 118 CALICO Journal, Vol. 24, No. 1 but also for other individuals, institutions, and businesses. The NFLRC’s initial projects attracted professional attention because they offered a prototype for developing similar courses for other less commonly taught language courses. The NFLRC’s courses target advanced-level instruction thus far, focusing on skills other than speaking due to technological limitations. However, the development of beginning-level courses has been under consideration with the hope that more advanced technology could offer “live” distance instruction. The NFLRC continues the development of online language courses and has disseminated information about online projects (see http://nflrc.hawaii.edu/NetWorks/NW44/e).

In a similar vein, the special issue of the CALICO Journal in spring, 2004—devoted to Hebrew and Arabic—included six out of seven articles on the development of web-based CALL (Bush & Browne, 2004; Corda & Stel, 2004; Foster, Harrell, & Raizen, 2004; Hopp & Hopp, 2004; Nissim, 2004; Pintel, Raizen, Shemer, & Strassberg, 2004). Bush and Browne (2004) described in detail how recent advances in online technology have helped CALL developers to solve various problems such as choices in hardware (PC vs. Macintosh), particularly in dealing with non-Roman scripts like Arabic. The authors emphasized the importance of integrating what we have learned in the past about CALL and pedagogical considerations for instructional material development for web-based CALL development.

Zhang (2002) discussed the development of a Business Chinese online course at the University of Illinois. As Zhang pointed out, the advantages of web-based instruction for a course on language for specific purposes (LSP) include the fact that materials can be updated regularly using many different resources in response to constant changes in socioeconomic life. In addition, these courses can be offered to other institutions that wish to have a LSP course to supplement their regular language courses.

As the NFLRC predicted, the technological advances have made “live” online instruction a reality. For instance, Wang (2004) found the use of NetMeeting to be the most appropriate tool for interactive language learning in distance mode.

She pointed out that “sufficient interaction” (p. 375) was what has been missing in distance language learning, exploring the issue of oral-visual interaction in distance language education with a creation of a new taxonomy of interaction in CMC. Wang did not mention the pedagogical issues concerning how the NetMeeting tool should be incorporated into the curriculum to create an optimal language-learning environment but instead concluded that “whether and how to take advantage of these tools will be largely determined by the requirements of teachers and learners” (p. 392).

The implementation of a similar tool in an online language course was reported by Hampel and Hauck (2004). The Open University, UK, began implementation of Lyceum, the internet-based audiographic conferencing system for an online German course in 2002 in order to increase opportunities for more flexible speaking practice. After the first implementation, they concluded that the remaining major challenges were on the technical side of online teaching and learning, such as the improvement of audio quality and requirements for computer equipment.

N. Ann Chenoweth, Eiko Ushida, and Kimmaree Murday In his preliminary meta-analysis of CALL literature, Zhao (2003) found some empirical evidence that modern technology can help enhance the quality of input and the authenticity of communication and can help provide more relevant and useful feedback. While he found that the current uses of technology in language education are rather fragmented and isolated, implementing online language courses entails a comprehensive and systematic development of curriculum and content to serve the whole course. During the development process, online course designers determine which technologies are more suitable than others for each learning task for the target learners. Zhao emphasized the need for research concerning appropriate uses of technology. Lastly, he pointed out a lack of systematic empirical evaluation efforts to assess the effectiveness of large-scale, comprehensive uses of technology to support language learning, concluding that “we cannot ignore the practical question of how and in what ways technology uses are effective in improving language learning” (p. 23).

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