Online tutoring for foreign languages learing - Part 3

Chủ nhật - 27/07/2014 22:53
The objectives of online tutors are not only help learners to grasp learning contents but also support them emotionally (motivation) to develop learners’ autonomy. In the process, the role of transferring knowledge is not as significant as the main role of following and giving instruction to learners. Ideally, online tutors are able to understand individual learners’ needs and learning routes, analyze learning progress and have in-time support to learners (Vulbeau, 2007). Based on these objectives, online tutors’ activities include 3 roles and 6 functions.

3.1. Three roles of online tutors
Develotte and Mangenot (2004), Guillemet and Pelletier (2005) indicated that online tutors have three main roles: professional, pedagogical and communicative ones.
In terms of professional competence, if instructors were in the past or are currently directly teaching the same courses as they are delivering online, it is more likely that they will be able to support more effectively as they can better grasp the learning contents and have trust by learners.

Pedagogically, online tutoring differs f-rom direct teaching in front of classroom; however, if online instructors can manage the tools, they can quickly adapt to the working environment and effectively manage the classroom. Instead of lecturing, the principal pedagogy is organizing activities following task-based learning including: task initiation, problem-solving tasks, time management, follow up and support, and provision of supplementary materials.

For communicative role, online tutors must be capable of giving encouragement, inspiring learners and connect them within the group or among groups in the course. The allocation of time to work with the whole group or smaller groups must also be considered. There is likely to have two types of instructors of two extremes. On one extreme, online tutors are not enthusiastic enough to respond to learners leading to learners’ frustration and d-rop outs. In contrast, online instructors may spend too much time on checking assignments, responding to questions, instructing learners in group work etc. which may affect other jobs in case they have to take other responsibilities as well. For teachers who have to plan their online lessons and simultaneously deliver face-to-face lessons, the investment of time into online teaching is a sacrifice because most of their income does not adequate to their effort. F-rom the experience by Develotte et Mangenot (2004) in the Canufle program[1], online tutors should work with learners once a week, 3-4 hours each time. Gazaille (2010) suggested that tutors can meet individual learners once a week and 30 minutes each time.

3.2. Six functions of online tutors
When giving instruction online, online tutors are responsible for assisting learners to achieve their personal objectives. Therefore, the main functions of online tutors involve (1) welcoming learners and introducing the course, (2) giving professional instruction, (3) guiding learning methods, (4) guiding to self-adjust and apply metacognitive strategies, (5) evaluating and assessing, (6) providing supplementary materials.

Welcoming learners and introducing the course is an important initial activities for familiarization because besides understanding the contents of the course, and how the learning activities and assessment are organized, learners have to be instructed how to use technical tools for their study available in the system such as chat, forum, receiving-sending assignment etc. For foreign languages softwares, learners may have to learn how to use other softwares such as voice recording, taking snapshot and copy the screen. Besides, learners also need to manage effectively basic computer softwares such as document composing (including drawing or in-serting images) and certain Internet skills like composing and sending email, searching for information and downloading files in different formats (.doc, .pdf, .jpg, .mp3, .mp4 etc.). The experience in training teachers to enhance their foreign languages capabilities within the National Foreign Languages Project 2020 in Vietnam has shown that many teachers are not proficient in typing documents, searching online information or have no email addresses. Therefore, the orientation about the course and e-learning softwares must be directly delivered in the multimedia labs for at least 10 hours to familiarize learners to the functions of softawres. For the massive distance learning programs such as Tele-university of Quebec (Canada), online tutors are responsible for administrative instructions to learners (Guillet and Pelletier, 2005).

Professional guide is one of the main activities of online tutors. As aforementioned, online instructors are often not the ones to design teaching contents. Hence, tutors themselves have to prepare carefully to grasp contents of the lectures before giving instruction to learners through two activities: proactive and reactive. For example, in proactive activities, tutors can ask prompting questions for learners to brainstorm about the learning contents. These are popular activities in foreign languages training. The examples can be guessing context basing on given pictures before listening to a conversation; observing and describing the format of a sample letter before writing similar one etc. If the activities are readily provided in the software, online tutors do not have to prepare for them; or else, they can design and distribute to learners before the lesson. In reactive activities, online tutors can answer questions raised by learners, summarize discussing ideas in the forum or provide supplementary materials to clarify certain learning contents which have not been clear to learners. Responding to questions may first take much time; however, they can be reused and shared in forums because the same things are likely to be asked by participants.

Guide to learning contents can be implemented simultaneously or at different time with individual learners, groups or whole group depending on the activities and tutors’ time availability in the course. In e-learning foreign languages, receptive skills like Listening and Reading or Grammar, Vocabulary and Pronunciation can be done through individual practices of multiple choice questions with automatic answers. Tutors need to support learners with necessary theories. However, for productive skills like Writing or Speaking, tutors need to check learners’ products because learning foreign language requires frequent practice; learners only make progress when they themselves actively speak or write. In case that tutors cannot manage to frequently check individual assignments, they can organize peer or group writing or group discussions. In writing, it is useful to use wiki tool[2] to follow individual contribution in the essays. If the software has not been supported by this tool, track change function can also be used in document composing software such as Microsoft Word.

Guide to learning methods can be understood as learning strategies. In the case of learning foreign languages, they are strategies in each of the skills including Listening, Reading, Speaking and Writing in which Speaking involves both monologue and conversation. The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) suggests groups of strategies in learning foreign languages as follows:
  • Group of strategies to learn receptive skills (Listening, Reading): (1) Planning (defining communication context, predict, hypothesize, orient the communication contents), (2) Listening, Reading (finding clues and making inferences basing on such clues to understand the transferred messages), (3) evaluate by analyzing the interrelations among the clues that have been listened or read in the predicted communication context before to see if the hypothesis is appropriate, (4) correcting (self-correcting, adjusting information if inappropriate).
  • Group of strategies to learn productive skills (Writing, Speaking) include: (1) planning (defining communication context and implementation methods, evaluating learners’ previous knowledge, predict exchange activities that are likely to happen), (2) Writing, Speaking (speaking in learners’ turn, cooperating with other interlocutors, sharing ideas with the interlocutors, manage unexpected factors, asking for support if needed), (3) Evaluating by controlling the communication situation and the activities during the time, effectively manage the required objectives, (4) Editing (speaking/ writing more clearly, asking other interlocutors to speak/write more precisely, self-correcting mistakes).
Learning foreign languages require certain c-haracterized learning strategies that first-time learners, even adults, may not have known before. For instance, compensation strategies may help supplement the knowledge or skills have been missed (Sheils, 1996). A person who wants to buy an “iron” but he/ she does not know the word; instead, he/ she can describe by known words such as: “a device made of metal, hot, put on clothes etc. or speak the word “clothes” and use action to describe. Using synonyms, borrowing words, drawing, sound imitation are also compensation strategies for the lack of vocabulary.

Self-adjustment and the application of metacognitive strategies is an inevitable activity to reinforce learners’ learning autonomy. Metacognition is the ability to self-control individual behaviors, assess the suitability of their action complete the tasks or not. Then learners can self-adjust through different activities. Adult learners are often equipped with metacognitive strategies in learning, and they are also capable of self-adjusting in terms of objectives, learning methods and motivation. Online tutors often give guidance to learners so that they are more aware of applying the typical strategies of learning foreign languages (e.g. the aforementioned compensation strategies) or encourage themselves to actively speak, write as learning foreign languages requires much practice, open mind, tolerance of their own and others’ errors.

Assessment activities that online tutors can apply include mainly formative assessment and focus on checking and commenting speaking and writing assignment by learners. The majority of softwares in foreign languages teaching often provide ready made reading, listening, vocabulary and grammar self-study packages in the form of multiple choice questions with automatic answers and checking. In speaking skill, pronunciation or sentence drilling are checked by automatic softwares with advanced sound recognition. In writing, simple writing activities such as gap filling, re-ordering sentences can also be automatically checked. However, free speaking activities (conversations, free monologue) or free essays cannot be evaluated by devices, yet requiring tutors’ check. Summative assessment is normally directly implemented to avoid cheating after the course ends.

Providing supplementary materials or resources is the tutors’ final function. Normally, e-learning and teaching softwares provide sufficient resources to learners. For example, besides main lesson, supporting materials in listening, reading, vocabulary, grammar, culture and civilization are also available in the softwares. However, individual learners during the course may have certain demands when they do not yet master some concepts or they simply want to extend the topics and learn new study methods. Then tutors can provide learners with materials or suggest whe-re the resources (often online ones) are or show them how to find more resources.

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Quyết định 1400/QĐ-TTg của Thủ tướng Chính phủ ngày 30/9/2008 về việc Phê duyệt Đề án "Dạy và học ngoại ngữ trong hệ thống giáo dục quốc dân giai đoạn 2008-2020".

[1] Canufle (Campus Numérique Français Langue Etrangère) is a programt to train Master in teaching French as a foreign language implemented by the 7 universities in cooperation with National Distance Learning Center subsidided by French Ministry of Education.
[2] Wiki is a website in which users registered can make changes in the contents available on it. The changes, users, contents and time of change are saved for later reference.

Tác giả bài viết: Nguyen Thi Cuc Phuong, Ph.D. Hanoi University

 Từ khóa: foreign languages, in vietnam

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