About Our Project

Project Summary

The overarching focus of “Examining Language Teaching Technology Use in Post-Secondary English for Academic Purpose (EAP) Programs” is to examine, document and share the largely undefined use of language teaching technology in post-secondary English for Academic Purpose (EAP) Programs across Canada and the U.S. This study will explore the emerging landscape of technology-mediated EAP programs to identify program successes, limitations and emerging areas in need of further research.

Over the past fifteen years, in both Canada and the U.S., the number of international students in postsecondary institutions has risen exponentially, fueling the need for flexible, adaptive and pedagogically robust EAP programs to support the English learning needs of these students. This intense internationalization of higher education has deepened interest in the use of technology-mediated approaches to deliver EAP programs in a flexible and learner-centred manner. Technology-mediated programs can benefit academic English language learning in multiple ways: providing increased exposure to authentic academic language, enhancing collaboration and feedback, organizing and individualizing learning, creating learning communities and developing transferable digital literacies. However, very little is currently known about the impact and use of technology-mediated approaches in post-secondary North American EAP programs.

This study will adopt a systematic, multi-staged, comparative mixed methods research approach at gathering data from key stakeholders in a range of EAP contexts. The research will survey instructors, learners and administrators in a range of Canadian and U.S. colleges and university contexts to identify the outcomes, perceived benefits and limitations of technology-mediated EAP approaches. This will be followed by embedded case studies where key informant interviews, observations and focus groups will be conducted in three diverse post-secondary institutions that have adopted cutting edge EAP technology-mediated approaches. These approaches include the collaborative use of mobile technologies, game-based learning, virtual learning environments and adaptive technologies. These embedded case studies will more deeply explore how technology-enhanced practices are being implemented and viewed in specific teaching and learning contexts. Survey and site visit data will be correlated to triangulate findings and seek a more complete understanding of the benefits, limitations and potential of current technology-based EAP practices.

This project’s findings will inform curriculum designers, educators, administrators and learners about the current and emerging trends in technology-enhanced EAP programs, informing EAP innovation, curriculum development, teaching, research and internationalization strategies. Findings from the study will be published in three scholarly journals and presented at Canadian and international English language teacher and computer-assisted language learning conferences. In addition, findings will be updated on an interactive project website and shared through a national community of practice that will be launched through this research. The establishment of this community of practice is seen as a key outcome of this study to enable the ongoing examination of this dynamic field beyond this research.

 The establishment of this community of practice is seen as a key outcome of this study to enable the ongoing examination of this dynamic field

Objectives

“Examining Language Teaching Technology Use in Post-Secondary English for Academic Purpose (EAP) Programs” is a project for which I seek a two-year IDG. Its overarching goal is to examine, document and share the largely undefined technology-mediated approaches in post-secondary EAP programs. Doing so will improve understanding of state-of-the-art technology-mediated practices in language teaching, curriculum design, and research, given the urgent need to meet the demands of increasing numbers of international students in North American post-secondary programs requiring English language support. This study’s findings will also promote the creation of a community of practice that will research and refine teaching approaches in this emerging field to meet the 21st century needs of post-secondary English-language learners.

Computer-assisted language learning, including distance learning, blended learning (a strategic mix of face-to-face and online classroom delivery) and web-enhanced approaches, has been used in second language education since the 1990s. With the emergence and prevalence of mobile technological devices and their subsequent integration into teaching practice, the terms “technology-enhanced” or “technology-mediated” language teaching (TMLL) have emerged to articulate the current state of technology-based approaches to language teaching and learning.

The three major research questions that animate this project are:

1. What technology-mediated approaches are currently being used in a range of North American EAP post-secondary programs? What impact are these approaches having on students, instructors and administrators?
2. What are the perceived benefits, limitations and potential of current and envisioned technology-mediated approaches in EAP Programs in relation to state-of-the art technology?
3. How can existing institutions, networks and/or online tools be used to create a learning network of EAP professionals to enhance and further develop technology-mediated EAP teaching, research and potential?

Investigating these questions will involve surveying a range of stakeholders (EAP learners, educators/researchers and administrators) and key informants in cutting edge Canadian and U.S. programs to identify effective and promising technology-mediated EAP teaching practices. In order to examine these questions more fully, the project will engage in case studies of three post-secondary institutions, each of which has agreed to participate in this research, and where leading scholars in the TMLL field are integrating innovative EAP practices.  These case study sites include Portland State University (Oregon, U.S.A.), George Brown College (Ontario, Canada), and the University of Ohio (Ohio, U.S.A). Recognizing the inherently dynamic nature of language teaching technology, the project will also explore existing online tools and professional networks that include Tutela.ca (the Canadian federally funded national online community for English and French language educators), and the newly established Language Flagship Technology Innovation Center (LFTIC) in the U.S. that is examining new pathways to language teaching technologies.  This center is lead by Dr. Steven Thorne, one of the primary researchers at Portland State University who will be a key informant in this study.  Resources such as these will be examined to establish a professional community of practice where technology-mediated language teaching approaches can be shared and developed beyond this study to meet the evolving needs of today’s multilingual post-secondary learners.

The anticipated outputs of this research will include three scholarly articles, four conference papers and an interactive project website sharing updated findings from this research and documenting state-of-the-art benefits and limitations of technology-mediated approaches in EAP programs.

 

Context

In Canada between 2001 and 2010 the number of international post-secondary students rose by 10.4% a year on average with international students accounting for 21.8% in advanced research programs (Statistics Canada, 2014). The Canadian Government would like to further double the number of international students in post-secondary Canadian programs within the next eight years (Morfini, 2014).  The U.S. has also seen dramatic increases in international student enrolments. In 2014/15, international students at U.S. colleges and universities had the highest rate of growth in 35 years, increasing by ten percent to a record high of 974,926 students (Institute of International Education, 2015). This intense internationalization of higher education has fuelled the growth of crucial post-secondary EAP programs and deepened interest in the use of technology-mediated approaches to deliver these programs in a flexible and learner-centred manner.

Stockwell (2012) summarizes how technology can benefit language learning in multiple ways: deepening exposure to authentic language; offering increased interaction with target language users; individualizing learning and enhancing transferable 21st century digital literacies.  Technology-mediated approaches can help offer exposure to a range of authentic language use, manage and organize learning, enhance assessment and feedback and create learning communities that can extend beyond the class. Although computer-assisted language learning has been a part of second-language teaching since the 1990s, as Kerns (2006) points out, the “rapid evolution of communication technologies has changed language pedagogy and language use, enabling new forms of discourse, new forms of authorship, and new ways to create and participate in communities” (p.183).  Similarly, as an English-as-a-second language (ESL) administrator remarked, “E-learning has the potential to change the texture of ESL classrooms by moving away from old stand-up-and-teach models to a more engaged model where learners become masters of their own destinies” (Lawrence, Haque & King, 2013, p.8).

Today technology-mediated language learning options offer ESL administrators, instructors, and learners a range of highly interactive, open source tools to build flexible, accessible, individualized online language learning options that can complement face-to-face classroom learning (Lawrence, Haque, & King, 2013; Wang & Vasquez, 2012). Moreover, technology-mediated language learning offers effective pedagogical advantages in terms of deeper, more autonomous, multimodal learning which engages learners, encourages collaborative work, and increases digital literacies (Potts, 2005; Siemens, 2005;Blake, 2009; Garrett, 2009; Senior, 2010; Grgurovic, 2011; Goertler, Bollen, & Gaff Jr., 2012;Wang & Vasquez, 2012; Lawrence, 2013a). A current collaborative project that I have been involved with is revealing that language teaching technologies also have the potential to encourage pluralingual and e-portfolio-based approaches in language learning where the learning of multiple languages can be showcased, enhancing confidence and building language learning strategies (Piccardo, 2013).

This project will identify innovative technology-mediated EAP practices in North America, their impacts, strengths, weaknesses and ongoing potential

Currently, very little is known about the impact and use of technology-mediated teaching/learning options in North American post-secondary EAP programs (Bates, 2011). My own research indicates a wide variance in the extent to which Ontario colleges and universities are putting technology-based approaches into practice in ESL and EAP programs (Lawrence, 2013a). In its 2009 report on the status of e-learning in Canada, the Canadian Council on Learning emphasized that “ICT’s [information and communications technologies] are broadening and redefining the learning landscape in unprecedented ways” (Canadian Council on Learning, 2009, p. 5). However, the study revealed that, while Canada is uniquely positioned to benefit from e-learning integration, in many areas of education it has fallen behind countries like Australia, the U.K., and France in terms of harnessing the potential of e-learning for economic and social development (p. 6). In general, research studies on technology-mediated language teaching reveals a fragmented approach and scant investigation of EAP contexts in higher education in Canada, the U.S. and globally. Steven Thorne and Greg Kessler note that language education is entering a particularly critical stage that is marked by an urgent need to examine the role that digitally mediated, collaborative tools play as learning tools (Thorne, 2008; 2015).  Mobile applications and game-based approaches to language pedagogy offer promising potential but need research to examine learning impacts and perceptions around these technologies as language learning tools (Kessler, 2012).  The greatest challenge for many English language teachers today is sorting through the wealth of technological resources that offer the most potential for their teaching context (Kessler, 2013, p. 617).  However, to date, there has been no comprehensive or systematic analysis of how technology can best be integrated into language learning at an EAP post-secondary program level.

This project will identify innovative technology-mediated EAP practices in North America, their impacts, strengths, weaknesses and ongoing potential. This research is directly informed by the scope and methodology used in my earlier work on a mixed methods, Ontario-wide study that examined the feasibility of integrating e-learning into Non-Credit, Adult ESL Programs across Ontario (Lawrence, Haque & King, 2013). This study will also directly build on current work I am completing in a SSHRC Partnership Development Grant exploring the potential of collaborative research hubs to examine and develop digital environments to help language learners pursue pluralingual, learner-centred pathways to language learning. The research methodology will also be informed by my extensive work examining the benefits, limitations and impacts of varied TMLL approaches in English and French language teaching and teacher education contexts (Lawrence, 2014; Lawrence, Young, Owen & Clayton, 2010; Turnbull & Lawrence, 2003; Lam & Lawrence, 2001).

Theoretical Approach

This study will draw on the post-modern theoretical frameworks of connectivism (Siemens, 2005) and complexity theory informed by sociocultural theory (Vygotsky,1978) that place the learning environment and the social interaction that ensues within this environment as the core catalyst in learning.  Complexity theory offers an alternative to the increasingly outdated simplistic, input-output, linear models of second-language acquisition (Kramsch, 2014), recognizing the need to look at the whole ecology of learning and the fact that “context is not a backdrop to learning but the very object of learning” (Kramsch, 2014, p.13). This concept is particularly relevant with the dynamic, continually evolving range of technology-mediated tools, EAP programs and diverse learners that create highly unique language learning environments where tools mediate interactions, learning networks and language learning processes. The study will be rooted in Garrison, Anderson & Archer’s (2000) Community of Inquiry framework, which argues for the creation of cognitive, social and teaching presence to create engaging, technology-mediated learning environments.

This research will analyze these three presences in each of the research sites in an attempt to understand the benefits and limitations of diverse technology-mediated EAP learning environments and to build a greater understanding of the theoretical systems and teaching practices that inform them

Findings will inform the work of curriculum designers, educators, administrators and learners about the potential of technology-mediated teaching and learning practices, identifying areas for future research, curriculum development and teaching practices. In addition, a major outcome of this project will be a national community of practice to share real-time experiences and strategies by Canadian practitioners that can help inform innovative, learner-centred program delivery to serve English-language learners in post-secondary programs across North America and elsewhere.  As an ESL administrator noted, there is a need to share successes, limitations and experiences, and to “not [to] reinvent the wheel” (Lawrence, Haque & King, 2013, p.27).

Our Team

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Geoff Lawrence

Geoff Lawrence teaches undergraduate ESL/EAL classes and graduate applied linguistic courses at York University in Toronto, Canada. Geoff is a teacher educator, researcher and curriculum designer interested in exploring the potential of online, blended and classroom-based second language teaching and teacher education programs. His research examines online/blended language teaching methodology, teacher beliefs towards educational innovation, identity, plurilingualism and intercultural learning in language and teacher education.

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Farhana Ahmed

Farhana Ahmed is a Ph.D. candidate at York University and is working as a research assistant in a multi year SSHRC funded project in the area of EAP. She has presented at conferences with OCAL, TESL Ontario, CALICO, New Frontiers in areas of students’ attitudes to native/non-native English teachers, Second Life, revisiting the Hijra Gender, Avatar interactions and teaching and learning. Her areas of interests are technology-mediated language learning and teaching, culture & identity and digital literacy particularly in the context of ELF (English as a lingua franca)

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Kris Johnston

Kris Johnston has taught in ESL and EFL contexts, and his currently teaching EAP at York University English Language Institute (YUELI). He is also a teacher educator and PhD candidate at York University. His focus is on web-based language learning and teaching, as well as the research and development of online educational technologies. He is currently developing online learning environments and web-based platforms for teaching and course delivery. He has been involved in several research projects as both a web developer and technical consultant. 

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Christina Cole

Christina Cole teaches Academic Listening and Speaking in the International Foundation Program at the University of Toronto. She has an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from York University, focusing on technology-mediated feedback. She has presented at TESL PHE, TESL Toronto, and TESL Ontario on topics as diverse as TESL Ontario’s new webinar series, building resilience through technology, and using screencasting to teach suprasegmental aspects of pronunciation. She was team lead in the development and launch of TESL Ontario’s inaugural webinar series.