This large OIE began as a pilot in 2011 as a result of the two lead tutors chance meeting through an e-learning blog. The concept of a virtual exchange was elaborated and approximately 300 students from each partner institution were brought together through a moodle course, EWC.
Students in both institutions study a foreign language but none are taking specialised foreign language degrees. In France students study sports sciences with English, while the students in England are taking various undergraduate degrees (in, for example, maths, management, history, politics and economics) which include an optional module in French or another foreign language of their choice.
Both educators were interested in exploring whether they could set up a stable exchange network for a large number of students with relatively little staff direction and assessment. Teresa explains: ” Our arrangements were possibly unconventional. We looked to open the student’ s network to include peer support chosen by the individual from native speakers and encouraged awareness of the advantages and disadvantages this can bring. Increasing the choice and making it as easy as possible to find people who share your interests for social as well as academic reasons seems important.”
The objectives included:
- Development of written and oral communication skills
- Development of metacognitive skills (learning to learn)
- Development of a personal learning network (PLN)
- Tutor research into social networks/online learning environments for language learning
Dominant form of language production:
Online Communication Skills
How long did the project last?
How was the project organized?
- This exchange is characterised by the high degree of freedom and initiative which is allowed to the students. This is clear from the wide variety of online tools made available to students and from the open nature of the tasks which the students can carry out together online.
- At the beginning of the exchange, Warwick Language Centre provides a Moodle platform for the exchange where students from both universities are asked to upload their profiles and to look for partners in the partner university. Students are not matched by their teachers with partners in the partner institution. Instead, they are encouraged to explore the student profiles on the Moodle course and then contact those with whom they wish to work. During the second term, the coordinators at both universities circulate a research consent form and ask students for their permission to investigate their activity in order to better understand the online interaction which was taking place. They also assign a new, randomly chosen partner to work together on their ” language learning history” . This text has to be written in the target language with the assistance of their telecollaborative partner. They then submit their story online via the Moodle platform.
Students are not obliged to use any particular tool to communicate with their partners but an instant messaging tool BBIM is provided as a free download in the Moodle platform. The exchange portal also provides an RSS feed for the exchange’ s French and English twitter accounts. Students can also enter into contact together using their own Facebook pages and Skype as well as the chat tool in Moodle.
Students worked together on their " language learning history" .
Students were encouraged to take their connections beyond the confines of the VLE and they connected through twitter (#warcler, #clerwar), youtube, a student-created facebook page and lastfm. Some challenged each other to games of Angry Birds, finding social spaces to continue their communication.
How were the students assessed?
As regards assessment, Teresa, coordinator at Warwick University, says students do not usually receive specific academic credit for their online activities: ” …it is an enrichment activity to support their language learning as they only get two hours a week contact time” . However, she also points out that an e-portfolio (Mahara) has recently been introduced for student reflection on their language learning experience and those students who are working at an advanced level can include data from their virtual exchange (i.e. chat logs etc.) as evidence of learning. This e-portfolio carries 20% of the total mark in their language course.
In France too, students are not formally assessed for their participation in the exchange. However, they do have the option to add extracts from their online exchange to their language English portfolios.
Website with info about the Clavier Project
What worked well?
A group of graphic design students in France took part in a competition to create a logo for the research project, Clavier. The activity was not assessed but those students who were completing a reflective e-portfolio for credit (100 post A level students) were able to use their experiences as evidence of their autonomous learning (appendix 4).
An exciting recent development also sees elements of this activity to be extended to a global audience through the aggregation of some public content. Interested partners include Polish and Indian teacher trainers. Further portal developments will increase the potential for video and photo sharing.
What did students think of the project?
An online survey sent to both cohorts was completed by 168 students towards the end of the year. These revealed several findings worthy of note. Firstly, that the students were already using a range of technologies to connect with friends and to support their language learning and were clearly comfortable with their use. Tools of choice included instant messaging and social networking tools, with email providing a familiar and reliable tool for 65% of respondents. They felt, furthermore, that their endeavours in language acquisition were important should they spend time abroad (58%) and should be accredited (66%).
What challenges did you face?
Due to the relatively informal and ‘ class-independent’ nature of this exchange, the Clavier Project team has avoided many of the problems which telecollaborative teachers often encounter. The exchange does not intend to be an integrated, assessed part of the foreign language programme and therefore does not encounter challenges related to coordinating class timetables in both institutions, academic recognition of activity etc. It does, however, rely on the motivation of the organising teachers and of the students themselves who have to use the platform and tools to find a particular partner and develop their own discussion topics and schedule outside of a class structure.
The challenge of organising and running such an exchange can obviously be difficult for the teachers involved. Teresa explains that ” …as we have many part time staff, a lot of this type of work is carried out by full time contracted staff. We were fortunate with our model as it was based around facilitating student interaction and therefore mostly in their [the students’ ] hands.”
What did the teachers think of the project?
In order for such exchanges to work, Teresa believes that each institution needs ” …at least one champion or project leader on the team to get the ball rolling and share good ideas to inspire others” . She suggests successful exchanges require finding partner-teachers who ” …understand each other, even if they have slightly different expectations. Allowing sufficient time for staff to engage with student queries is also important” . She also believes that the Clavier exchange will become more successful as time goes by as it becomes more embedded in the students’ approach to language learning at both universities.
Two staff visits were made by Simon Ensor (French co-ordinator) to Warwick during the year to discuss the project and, thanks to Erasmus funding, two members of Warwick staff were able to make a return visit on a teacher exchange in June meeting with the French tutors, presenting the project and connecting with a wider teaching body. This resulted in the development of a set of tasks to be embedded in lesson planning for the academic year 2012-13.
The project was reviewed and evaluated to be a successful model to be further refined and developed through an agreement at institutional level.
What kind of institutional support did you receive?
As regards institutional recognition and integration, Teresa reports that in Warwick ” …we did get clearance for a press release and our Institute of Advanced Teaching and Learning have been supportive” . A recent institutional teaching and learning review also praised the initiative and proposed the project’ s application to other languages. The document states:
” The Review Group commends the Language Centre’ s development of the virtual exchange between Warwick students and students at UniversitéBlaisePascalin Clermont-Ferrand. The Review Group advises that the Language Centre should continue to develop similar virtual exchange programmesand take a more active role in seeking international placements and links with overseas institutions, including the University’ s core partners, noting that the Centre is in a position to share best practice and advise other departments in this regard.”
In the future, the institutions involved will be looking at how projects such as this one can strengthen the links between virtual and physical mobility between institutions. Clermont Ferrand, for example, is hoping to formalise a three year link with students of French at Warwick which will mean financial support to facilitate staff visits as well as providing higher visibility for the online initiative. Furthermore, Evan Stewart, director of the Language Centre at Warwick, recognises the possible link from virtual mobility projects such as Clavier and physical mobility: ” Warwick already has one of the best records in of UK universities in terms of outgoing student mobility. This [project] supports mobility with less outlay on the part of students who may be deterred from physical mobility for financial reasons.”