I would like to express my gratitude to all those who gave me the possibility to complete this research. I want to thank Prof. dr. D. Gijbels and dr. S. De Maeyer for their advice related to the research techniques and statistics, Prof. dr. F. Boers for the linguistics and research approach and Mrs. M. Struelens, lic.Germ. fil. and Mrs. L. Van Genechten, lic. Germ. Fil. for supporting me in the field work.
An Enquiry Pinpointing the Challenges of a Split-class Setting: Communicative Teaching and Multimedia as Complementary Applications
Stephen Hargreaves, Belgium
Stephen Hargreaves is an educational researcher and lecturer at the Artesis University College of Antwerp. He is specialized in ICT, language training and course design using educational engineering. He co-wrote the ‘Stairway to English coursebooks’, De Boeck, 1999-2009 and published articles related to education and innovation. He is the ELOvanA.be webmaster and was awarded the Flemish ICT-prize 2005 for sharing his work and inspiring fellow teachers and trainers.
ICT in an educational context
ICT benefits in a language oriented context
Cracks in the ICT mirror: claiming the balance
ICT context in Belgium, Flanders
Blended learning, lifelong learning and class size
Split-class teaching methodology
Learning environment perceptions
This quasi experimental study was set up to explore the extent to which split-class teaching (SCT) is successful in training students’ four skills in language learning in this specific type of blended learning setting. The experiment is of a pre-, post-test design. Participants were 109 secondary school students, between 16 and 19 years old, with an artistic curriculum and an average of 2 hours of English per week. Data were collected using formative and summative testing covering a 4 month time span. Afterwards, the participants’ learning environment perceptions were gauged in a 14-item questionnaire. The four experimental and three control groups all had strong four skills results in formative and summative testing, with a slight advantage in favour of the experimental groups. The experimental groups significantly perceived the split-class as more motivating and more effective in a one factor scale measuring the language learning environment perception in general. This paper presents a thorough general overview concerning positive and negative ICT research outcomes and specific conclusions for ICT sustained language learning. Results are in line with other recent research findings. Nevertheless, this research focuses on a new approach linking communicative language teaching (CLT) and focus on from (FonF) with ICT in a novel language training environment. The paper ends with some advice on SCT implementation and new directions for further research are proposed.
Firth of Forth railway bridge (1890), Scotland
Due to the tragic collapse of the Tay Bridge, The Firth of Forth bridge, completed in 1890, was heavily over-constructed in an attempt to regain the public's confidence. Still, the Forth is a daring design. When completed, it was the longest span in the world. The Forth Bridge is one of the highlights of British engineering history, signifying what Victorian engineers were capable of.
Levy (1997) uses the analogy of bridge building for applying theory to CALL: The Romans built very effective bridges centuries before the dynamics of such structures were analysed and understood. The theories available at the time were not powerful enough to be able to inform the designers and the builders of the bridges. However, with the advent of a more complete scientific understanding of the properties of materials and the laws which govern how they deform under stress, the practice of bridge-building could be ‘codified’, that is the rules of thumb and the general principles derived from experience could be made explicit. Theories have now been devised that are directly applicable to the context of bridge-building. Such theories now enable bridge-building not only to be codified, but optimised so that bridges can be constructed in such a way that they perform their function with the most efficient use of materials and at minimum cost. The quest for an accurate ICT balance in language training is comparable with the evolution of bridge-building technology. Romans built their bridges using common sense, the Victorians using complicated mathematical equations. ICT implementation in language training is en route from a common sense to a more scientific underwritten approach. The introduction will show how similar approaches can result in a wide variety of results, positive and negative. We can't make any missteps in the course design or methodology in language learning as we are working with real people and real opportunities involved. A cyclic and iterative approach in improvement is suggested. Each positive ICT step is a new element in the digital education paradigm. "In my end is my beginning" ("En ma fin est mon commencement", Mary Queen of Scots, 1542-1587) or “What we call the beginning is often the end, and to make and end is to make a beginning” (T.S Eliot, The Four Quartets, Little Gidding, 1942). This approach guarantees a continuous quality improvement cycle where every single realisation is not the end, but the beginning of another new evolution in the process. ‘The newest technologies can be made to serve the most traditional pedagogies, and the philosophies of language teachers can shape the uses of technology within the language curriculum so as to preserve a rather behaviouristic view of language learning’ (Ortega, 1997)
Research on the efficiency of ICT in language education shows that, depending on the contextual environment, ICT is a powerful tool for acquiring knowledge and skills. Better learning productivity is seldom the result of a sole computer programme, it mostly covariates with other conditions such as better computer facilities, novel learning environments, students with thorough ICT skills and more ICT professional teachers (Kulik, 2003; Cox, 2004). New technology has infiltrated practically everything that human beings do. We cannot travel, communicate, teach or learn without it. Most of our students have not known life without personal computers (Hartley, 2006).
However, the professionalism of teachers seems to be a crucial element in positive ICT research results. Reviews clearly indicate the relationship between ICT benefits and the degree of the teachers' ICT integration during teaching (Cox, 2004, Becta, 2005, Drent, 2005). The teacher has a crucial part in the ICT output. If s/he shows ICT expertise during teaching, the pedagogical quality and learning output increases: learners learn more, learn faster, learn with more pleasure and feel more successful. But note that the same ICT sustained application performed under poor teacher ICT input can result in a worse or negative effect on students' learning results and education quality in general. This could explain why not all ICT oriented research has a positive outcome, a non existent or worse, a negative effect on learning results. Research on the correlation between the use of ICT and learning output reveals that there is no simple nor linear relation between these variables (OECD, 2006).
This paper discusses an experiment on the learning effects of language training using ICT, focusing on the four skills’ (reading, writing, listening and speaking) performance output and learning environment perception. Participants are 16-19 year old secondary school students taking English classes. The students were instructed using the split-class (multimedia) teaching (SCT) approach, enhancing communicative language teaching (CLT) and focus on form (FonF) at the same time. First, a general analysis is made about the use of ICT in education and its effects on the learning outcomes. The same is done for ICT and its influence on the students’ learning environment perception. Then we proceed to the more specific research related to digital didactic tools in language learning and their impact on the four skills pick up. Next we focus on the Belgian ICT context and position it on the EU25 axis to get a thorough and in perspective picture of the implementation context. Before split-class teaching is discussed in detail we introduce the most important trends in ICT and education. Finally, the introduction discusses communicative language teaching (CLT), focus on form (FonF) and multimedia aspects related to the split-class approach in detail.
This enquiry differs from most previous research as it combines the speaking, listening, reading and writing skills output of secondary artistic school goers with a quantitative data analysis and at the same time juxtaposes a control group with an experimental group in a quasi experimental ‘real life’ setting, emphasising the ecological nature of this research. The complexity of such research and difficult set up makes this experiment scarce and interesting at the same time. We now focus ourselves on the literature of the ICT performance output in a general educational context.
Students with a medium use of ICT outperform fellow students who seldom or never use ICT in an educational context. Too much use of ICT leads to an inadequate learning output even when compared to the 'no use of ICT context' suggesting that more use of ICT is not always the better option. The correct doses and mix of ICT in a learning context is an important issue and requires teachers' expertise (OECD, 2006).
Multiple contributions of ICT in organising education have been reported. ICT offers students attractive education with tacit inputs e.g. self-sustained learning, more efficient and effective organisation of education, richer and more flexible and adaptive learning environments for students. The results of a study by Schnitzler (2001) concludes that the horizons for internet education are endless. Students have been shown to learn better and faster and one-on-one human tutoring is suggested to be more effective than 1 teacher per 20 students (Moursund, 2004). Guttman (2003) concludes that ICT breaks through the constraints of space and time, enables anywhere, anytime learning and creates more active and independent learners, who whilst collaborating, learn from one another. Meta-analyses assessed the results of over 300 studies comparing computer-assisted learning with conventional teaching in a variety of instructional settings. The pooled results suggested working with computer-based instruction in the 1980s performed slightly better, but significantly, better overall than did students receiving traditional teaching (Lipsey & Wilson, 1993).
Similar results were reported by Fletcher-Flinn and Gravatt (1995). Here, the effects of learning with computer-assisted instruction appeared to be greatest with pre-school and kindergarten children, followed by learners with special needs. Gains were more modest with elementary school, high school, college and university students and students in adult training situations.
The use of ICT emphasises the construction of knowledge rather than its rehearsal and memorisation by isolated learners (Salomon, 2000); the design of the learning environment emphasises the integration of socially-distributed activities and student-propelled learning; and the technology is designed to afford team-based activities of search, design, construction, and communication, activities that cannot be carried out otherwise (Koschman, 1996).
Next to these benefits we also register the support during collaborative learning moments, tailored testing and optimising the communication between teacher and students. Problem-centred collaborative media, forums are to support structured collaborative knowledge building by having students communicate their ideas and criticisms. The virtual learning environment (VLE) provides the organisation and support for the complex array of individual and group discourse and development of ideas that constitutes a working knowledge-building community (mixture of forum and face to face). Students learn to identify their own beliefs, bring those beliefs into contact with others’ beliefs, and are proud of being in charge of their own learning (Lamon, Reeve, & Scardamalia, 2001).
What are the advantages of the knowledge-building approach and supporting technology? They need to learn facts and procedures. They begin to identify their own ideas and to compare and contrast their ideas with those of others; they need to look for inconsistencies, strengths, weaknesses, applications, limitations, and potential for further development between their ideas and those of others (Bereiter, 2002). Bryson and Scardamalia (1991) conclude that students create deeper explanations than others in classes without this technology, positive effects are especially strong for students categorised as low or middle achievers. Students who participate in computer-connected learning networks show increased motivation, a deeper understanding of concepts, and an increased willingness to tackle difficult questions (Roschelle, Pea, Hoadley, Gordin & Means, 2000).
Computer technology can encourage rapid interaction and feedback and engage students for extended periods on their own or in small groups. This can create more time for the teacher to give individual feedback to particular children (Schofield, 1995). Research suggests that learning proceeds most rapidly when learners have frequent opportunities to apply the ideas they are learning and when feedback on the success or failure of an idea comes almost immediately (Anderson, 1996). Remedial teachers can also benefit from flexible and supportive ICT materials.
Dutch secondary school teachers revealed in a countrywide interview conducted by 'Kennisnet, ICT op school' (2006) that the most positive ICT contributions are: more appealing education (75%), creating a richer learning environment (67%), improving self-sustained learning (67%), organising more efficient education (56%), introducing a more flexible and individualised learning process (49%), sustain tailored adaptive education (47%), stimulate collaborative learning (37%), testing made to measure (24%), intensifying communication between teacher and student (14%).
On the other hand, one of the aims of good teaching is to expand the horizons of the learner. Television does this by taking the viewer out of the classroom, and other newer technologies do it too, in different ways. The computer at home e.g. computer games, can enhance cognitive and spatial skills (Mitchell, 2005). Email is the most popular form of communication for 9-19-year-olds (2005). Girls spent less time than boys on the computer at home but use it more for homework (Kuiper, Volman & Terwel, 2005). Teachers who ignore these home activities in their instructional settings will doubtless be seen as out of date by their students. Secondary school goers use the internet mostly for seeking information (not for school) 97%, sending / receiving emails 87%, instant messaging 72%, playing online games 61% and downloading music 54% (Livingstone, Bober & Helsper, 2005).
However, collaborating with other schools in sharing and scaffolding knowledge is a capital issue in successful ICT implementation, resulting in ‘communities of practice’ or ‘professional learning communities’ and improving teachers’ professionalism (Tynjälä & Häkkinen, 2005; Oberon, 2006; Hargreaves, 2007). Research on the availability of computers reports that students with home computers show better digital skills when entering secondary education (Emmelot & Felix, 2006). To summarize this first flight of positive reflections, we conclude that ICT can create and support a collaborative, powerful, creative and sustaining novel learning environment with plenty of assets for all learners who, one way or another, feel familiar with ICT. In this next paragraph we want to change the focus from the general background to a more language oriented one.
Parr (2005) detected stronger gains in subjects like science and mathematics than literacy. Christmann, Badgett and Lucking (1997) gains for new technology in the teaching of English were in fact negative for three out of four studies considered in sharp contrast to those obtained for nine studies in science. Similar negative or equivocal results for English studies have been reported in another recent review by Torgerson and Zhu (2004). Here, in 18 high-quality studies, the effects of computer-based techniques were positive for the teaching of writing but much more mixed (positive and negative) for the teaching of reading and spelling. The results of these studies, usually, but not always, favour new technology.
Some topics are obviously suited for language courseware: vocabulary (Delbecque, 2002a; Labrie, 2000), morphology, foreign characters (Li, 1996), listening comprehension (Harben, 1999), reading comprehension, writing (Otlowski, 1989), communicative situations (Delbecque, 2002b), registers and styles, and dictation. These topics represent aspects or stages of the language learning process. Hubbard and Bradin Siskin (in Colpaert, 2004) believe the most promising uses for tutorial CALL to be the following: (a) helping the learner pick up conscious knowledge about the language, (b) helping the learner improve proficiency in the receptive skills and (c) helping the learner improve pronunciation.
The evaluation of effectiveness is an intricate problem. According to the Pedagora survey, 94 % of language teachers find language courseware ‘useful’ but only 45 % say that they notice improvement in students’ proficiency. Students mention that using the software changes their attitudes and results and report remarkably precise topics on which they find the courseware useful. These topics are, chiefly, writing and vocabulary (Simons, Colpaert & Decoo, 1999; 2001). According to the results of the Didascalia survey, 75 % of the respondents stated that school results have improved through the use of language courseware (Heughebaert, Simons, Aerts, Colpaert & Decoo, 2001).
The real world of the target language can now be brought into the students experience with the creation of meaningful tasks tailored to their interests and capabilities at different levels of interactivity (Felix, 1999). Mediation on the level of information consists of adapting or rewriting authentic texts according to the student’s skills and level (Colpaert, 2004).
What about the outcomes for facilitating the skills of learning (reading, writing and thinking) and the metacognitive skills (i.e. planning, organising, monitoring and assessing one’s own competencies)? For reading the results are not always as positive as some commentators would suggest. Overall spelling results showed a small, but non-significant, difference in favour of the computer-assisted groups. Writing using a word processor, facilitates editing, rewriting and spelling, giving more time for thinking about the content. New technology facilitates the skills of writing and does not necessarily change the nature of the finished product (Hartley, Howe & McKeachie, 2001). Goldberg, Russell and Cook (2003) concluded that, on average, pupils who use computers in learning to write are more engaged and motivated in their writing, and that they produce lengthier texts of higher quality. Ho (2000) described a project that linked up two primary schools via email. The children involved were highly motivated, that they had a positive attitude towards writing and that there were cognitive gains over time after careful planning of the objectives of the exercise.
Today’s online technologies afford opportunities for enhancing students’ access to up-to-date and even-up-to-the-minute cultural materials and realia. The use of these online authentic materials can help provide students with a level of cultural awareness that is most often acquired by means of experience abroad. In addition, communicative activities using these material can provide engaging opportunities for students to acquire the target language (Moeller, 1997).
Computers are added peripherally to support the instruction of certain curricular elements or to reinforce them following a classroom session. Computers used instrumentally place technology at the disposal of learners who use them as tools of communication, activity and creativity, as these engage in language learning and teaching driven by real communicative tasks (Debski, 1997).
Courseware should be designed to make a significant contribution to learning, teaching, testing and tracking activities in order to improve the language acquisition process and to match needs and expectations of both learners and teachers. The final goal is to increase effectiveness in terms of results (Colpaert, 2004).
This second part of the literature, focusing on the benefits of ICT in the language training world seems to conclude in favour of technology, stressing stronger learning gains, creating better and more powerful learning opportunities, offering real world target tasks and motivating students in a better way. Colpaert (2004) summarises and says it all with the words ‘increasing overall effectiveness in terms of better results for students’. This is our main focus of this research set up. However positive and colourful the first two parts may be in favour of ICT sustained learning, not all academics seem to go for the full bright ‘Technicolor’ view.
However, the overall positive and supportive picture is not as straightforward as this introduction might imply. In fact, the effects of ICT on learning vary widely. ICT cannot transform education in and of itself, it can only provide the information, afford certain activities, and set the stage for the design of novel learning environments. There is nothing omnipotent about the role of ICT and no real change in and of education can take place all on its own (Salomon & Ben-Zvi, 2006).
Not all of the researchers' studies conclude on ICT in education in a positive way. Technology in education has yet to prove its unique and worthwhile contribution to learning and instruction. The promises that were stated with the introduction of each technology far exceeded its actual contribution to learning and teaching. Effects of media on learning are either unknown or simply negligible (Olson, 1976). The prevailing metaphor of earlier days of computing as a Trojan Horse meant that computers are capable of 'making a difference' not for their own attributes but for the hidden (pedagogical) baggage they carry with them (Salomon & Perkins, 1996). Expecting computing to affect learning in and of themselves necessarily led to disappointment. Oppenheimer (1997) spoke of the 'Computer delusion' and Sherry Turkle (1995) concluded: 'The possibilities of using this thing poorly so outweigh the chance of using it well'. Techno-promoters’ dreams not always seem to be fulfilled. High-end technology has simply not had the type of widespread, fundamental effect on students that most techno-promoters covet (Peck, Cuban & Kirkpatrick, 2002). Research tends to support such voices of disappointment. Cordes and Miller (1998) carried out a meta-analysis of studies on computers and K-12 children and concluded their report by labelling it 'Fool's Gold'. Higgins (2003) concludes that the link between ICT use and achievements is generally very weak, that other interventions such as peer tutoring, reciprocal teaching, or metacognitive intruction lead to far better achievements, and that ICT can be more effective when properly used.
The innovative learning practices afforded by ICT do not seem to become manifested very often (Becker, 2000). There is a vast ocean out there of wasted good intentions and mediocre usages of ICT and only a few islands of success scattered here and there . The marriage between instruction and computing is still not a stable or satisfying one (Salomon & Ben-Zvi, 2006). After more than 35 years of computing, its overall effects are still negligible. Numerous explanations have been offered, ranging from the shortage of computers to teachers' reticence, and from the inherent incompatibility between technology and education to the inadequacy of available programs (e.g. Cuban, 2001).
Summarising and balancing all items listed in this positive-negative line up, we agree that when introducing ICT in an educational context, extreme caution and care are necessary. The following part focuses on the Belgian educational context, which has a rather conventional and cognitive approach to teaching, training and learning.
According to the European Commission (2006) the Belgian context is so that almost all schools in Belgium are equipped with computers and internet connection (74% broadband connection). Unlike many other countries ‘lack of teacher ICT skills’ and ‘no or unclear benefits in using ICT’ are not seen as key barriers by Belgian teachers. In Belgium the number of computers per 100 pupils has remained the same i.e. 10 per 100 pupils (which is below the EU25 average).
Belgian teachers are very active (80%) in searching the internet for material themselves. This shows a very proactive behaviour. Belgian teachers have positive attitudes about the different applications of ICT use in teaching and achieve high figures (above the European average) on attitudes that ICT should be used for letting pupils do exercises and practice (83%), letting students retrieve information in a self-directed manner (85%) and for collaborative and productive work by pupils (75%). The motivation for ICT use in schools is such that 80% of Belgian teachers see significant learning benefits for pupils using computers in class and as many say that pupils are more motivated and attentive when computers and the internet are used in class (European Commission, 2006).
According to the 'Access-Competence-Motivation model' (Viherä & Nurmela, 2001) there are three main categories of preconditions which need to be given for a school to make use of computers and the internet in the teaching process in classrooms, computer labs, etc. These are: access (to computers and the internet at school), competence (in using the computer software and the internet, and applying it for teaching purposes), and motivation (gauged through the attitude that using computers in classrooms results in significant learning benefits). With 35% of the teachers belonging to this group, Belgium ranks at 15th which places the country in the bottom half of European countries. Overall the UK with 60% ranks top and Latvia with 15% finds itself at the very end (European Commission, 2006).
This means that school managers from now on will have to focus on using ICT as an intricate part of education improvement. The foundations of a balanced ICT objective for education has to do with vision on education, knowledge and skills, educational software and ICT facilities.
Nevertheless, it is important to state that a lot of proof about the effectiveness of ICT in education is still unknown. During the last 10 years there has been a slight rise (3%) in teachers using computers. If this growth continues at the same rate, it will take education about another 15 years before all of the teachers will be using computers in class (Vier in Balans Monitor, 2006). The results of this brief Belgian summary suggest that this country is a lower European middle class performer when it comes to implementing and integrating ICT in daily lessons, suggesting a very conventional cognitive approach towards teaching and learning. Before concluding this extended literature study and introducing communicative teaching (CLT) and split-class teaching (SCT) there are two more important features which need careful attention, i.e. blended learning and class size. Both are of crucial importance to grasp the authentic concerns of SCT or split-class teaching.
Inflated use of autonomous learning has led to the emergence of blended learning, in which activities in face-to-face situations or traditional classrooms settings, are complemented by activities in other learning situations, according to the effectiveness of the medium and the requirements of the learner. This situation leads to the design of distributed learning environments in which the learner can be inside or outside the classroom, the teacher can be present or synchronously available or asynchronously, the materials and content can be available in the classroom or online, the co-learners are in the classroom or geographically distant (Colpaert, 2004).
Blended learning can be defined as teacher and technology working together. Davies, Ramsay, Lindfield & Couperthwaite (2005) refer to it as ‘blended instruction’. Teacher and technology each support or enhance the work of the other, integrating new technology with traditional instruction. Harrison, Lunzer, Tymms, Taylor Fitz-Gibbon, Restorick, J. (2004) conclude: ‘Overall the findings constitute very strong evidence in favour of the hypothesis: greater ICT experience is strongly associated with superior performance in public examinations.'
As we know, facilitating social skills (e.g. communications) is a principal item in modern pedagogy: most learning is done with and from other people, and learning is a social activity as well as a cognitive one. As Philip Jackson (1968) pointed out long ago, pupils in classrooms have to deal with problems arising from overcrowding, different sources of power, pupil-pupil and pupil-teacher relationships, and success and failure. There is much interest in extending the traditional work on learning in pairs and in small groups by using new technology (Kirschner, 2005). Studies that compared individual with group learning with new technology for various age groups e.g. Lou, Abrami & D’Apollonia (2001) found that learning in pairs was slightly more effective than learning individually despite the fact that there were differences according to: mixed-ability pairs did better than similar ability ones; groups did better than individuals on more difficult tasks; learners performed better on closed than on open-ended tasks; same-sex pairs did better than mixed-sex ones; groups with 3-5 members did better than pairs who, in turn, did better than individuals.
Lifelong learning and self-instruction are key challenges in education and training in the 21st century. Learning does not cease at the end of schooling, and more and more adults are becoming interested in continuing education, both formally and informally. Hargreaves (2004) argues that new technologies can contribute to lifelong learning by the very fact that they typically enhance the motivation to learn.
Van Eijl, de Voogd, Pilot, & Admiraal, (2004) define blended learning as a model that combines face-to-face learning with a VLE (virtual learning environment e.g. Dokeos, Moodle, Blackboard, Smartschool,...) intertwined with self-sustained and collaborative learning in a scheduled grid of weekly learning moments and evaluation activities.
Social interactions during collaborative learning are quintessential in socio-constructivist learning theories (Woolfolk, 2001). This interaction between students can establish higher cognitive objectives. The cooperative learning theory (Johnson and Johnson, 1994), emphasises the importance of the accurate organisation of collaborative learning and thus resulting in better learning results, higher motivation and improving self-confidence and interpersonal relationships. Students seem to learn better when they have to explain things rather than receiving information. Explaining and offering help by and to peers stimulates to organise their own knowledge, explore knowledge gaps and network relations between items (Moust, 1993). An open dialogue is required to achieve positive results in cooperative learning. Cooperative partners need to be verbally active, feel safe in the learning environment and hold an equal position while working on the task (Tynjällä and Häkkinen, 2006; Hargreaves, 2007). A team of 3 to 4 students is more effective than bigger groups. Other factors that need to be monitored when combining ICT and cooperative learning are: the duration of the cooperation, the entry level of the students, the group size, intermediate feedback and the assessment system. Students should be in control of the different steps in the learning process and get adequate feedback. Cognitive strategies should be imbedded and visual animations included. All these software properties significantly influence the students' learning (Van Eijl, de Voogd, Pilot, & Admiraal, 2004).
Class size: Registered effects of working in small groups and ICT (Lou et al., 2001) are mostly positive but the effectiveness of learning with ICT depends on the type of software, feedback, amount of student control over the learning, previous computer working experiences and the students' capacity. Results of earlier research of ICT and cooperative learning for English (Pincas, 2005) show that courses need an excellent structure and rhythm, students receive committed themes and tasks and discuss through the forum. Students are assessed on their weekly tasks and personal reflections. Weekly deadlines help limit the drop out rates, improve the learning process effectivity and stimulate students to continue their study activities (Hargreaves, 2005a). Discussion boards are interesting not only because of the direct advice people give, but mostly because of the different ideas and perspectives students encounter when reading the messages. It also triggers thought and it stimulates emotions. A pedagogy oriented approach focuses on best practices, using the most appropriate tools to their best potential to achieve sound pedagogical processes and outcomes (Felix, 2003b).
So far, we have reported the similarities between ICT and bridge-building technology. At the moment of writing the teacher's common sense and intuition still prevail over scientifically doctored experimental results of ICT in education. Reviews clearly reveal contradictory results in terms of ICT efficiency in education. For every positive outcome a negative one can be juxtaposed concluding that the teacher's professionalism and ICT expertise are still the principal elements in the training cycle. In general, it is accepted that ICT offers students attractive education, a more efficient and effective organisation, a richer and more flexible and adaptive learning environment. In a correct setting, students also learn better and faster and receive more effective tutoring. Breaking through the constraints of space and time, anywhere, anytime learning, more active and a collaborative working, emphasising the construction of knowledge to create deeper learning benefits rather than its rehearsal and memorisation by isolated learners are seen as major factors of improvement. ICT and computer technology encourages interaction and feedback and creates a setting for working in smaller groups. In ICT sustained language learning similar conclusions can be made as we also found out about the more general approach. Some language topics are better suited for ICT oriented lessons e.g. learning vocabulary, morphology, foreign characters, practising listening comprehension, reading comprehension, writing, simulating communicative situations, pronunciation, proficiency, registers and styles, and dictation. Further down the introduction we summed up that the 4 skills and metacognitive skills benefit from the digital world if applied correctly. ICT supports blended learning, lifelong learning and has a positive influence on class size. Smaller groups of learners have better results than large groups of learners. Communication and social interaction are primary elements in language learning. We will now leave the ICT track and focus on the current problems with language learning as found in the literature. Next on the list are the positive elements of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) and its well-known shortcomings. We discuss the Focus on Form (FonF) movement and position its positive assets in this study. Next we tackle the heart of this whole research design which is referred to as split-class teaching (SCT).
The Communicative approach - or Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) - according to Harmer (1983; 2001), stresses the significance of language functions rather than focusing solely on grammar and vocabulary. A guiding principle is to train students to use these language forms appropriately in a variety of contexts and for a variety of purposes. It is closely related to the idea that language learning will take care of itself, and that plentiful exposure to language in use and plenty of opportunities to use it, are vitally important for a student's development of knowledge and skill. Activities in CLT typically involve students in real or realistic communication where the accuracy of the language they use is less important than successful achievement of the communicative task they are performing. Thus role-play and simulation have become very popular in CLT.
According to Boers, Eyckmans & Godfroid (2007), the natural approach, which rests on the assumption that Second Language Acquisition (SLA) happens analogously to the way children acquire their mother tongue, has been translated for mainstream language pedagogy as what has become known as CLT (e.g. Littlewood, 1981; Nunan, 1989; Yalden, 1987: in Boers et al., 2007). CLT engages learners in authentic interaction discourse. In orthodox CLT, focus is on the meaning (i.e. the content and the function) of messages rather than the precise linguistic forms in which those messages are conveyed. As long as formal inaccuracies do not impede communication, they are of negligible importance according to CLT adepts.
The communicative approach or CLT have now become generalised 'umbrella' terms to describe learning sequences which aim to improve the students' ability to communicate, in stark contrast to teaching which is aimed more at learning bits of language just because they exist and without focusing on their use in communication. It has been widely accepted for some time that communicative activities are a vital part of a teacher's repertoire. After all, most language teaching aims to improve the students' communicative ability, whatever techniques the teacher uses to promote this. And CLT has also included snatches of drilling and focused language work despite the non-communicative nature of such activities.
CLT has come under attack from teachers for being prejudiced in favour of native-speaker teachers by demanding a relatively uncontrolled range of language use on the part of the student, and thus expecting the teacher to be able to respond to any and every language problem which may come up. In promoting a methodology which is based around group and pairwork, with teacher intervention kept to a minimum during, say, a role-play, CLT may also offend against educational traditions which it aimed to replace. CLT has sometimes been seen as having eroded the explicit teaching of grammar with a consequent loss among students in accuracy in the pursuit of fluency. Despite these reservations, however, the communicative approach has left an indelible mark on teaching and learning, resulting in the use of communicative activities in classrooms all over the world (Harmer, 1983; 2001).
The Focus on Form (FonF) movement (Doughty & Williams, 1998; Long, 1991: in Boers et al., 2007) puts CLT under attack and argues that setting tasks that exclusively focus on meaning or content (CLT) is unlikely to help learners push their interlanguage much. Ellis (2003) argues that CLT doesn't foster drawing learners' attention to formal features of the language, and suggests a more task-based learning where adequate time and effort is spent on formal structure. Also sufficient opportunities for attending the precise wording or formulated content incorporation and enhancement techniques are seen as major improvements. This prevents the risks of learners' errors becoming fossilised for grammatical structures and improving success rates of CLT's disappointingly low incidental vocabulary pick-up methods (Boers et al., 2007). The first time a language item is noticed it is quite likely to be forgotten again soon.
Quality language teaching addresses the useful approaches for the specific objectives. The Hercules project, home of split-class teaching, (Hargreaves, 1996; 1997; 1998; 2005b) agrees that the four skills (reading, speaking, listening and writing) are important, but at the same time concludes that in the current secondary school situation the speaking skill is not trained enough: no time, too complicated to organise, troublesome classes, and so forth are highly recognisable shortcomings. Highly structured multimedia oriented packages used to improve students' grammar and vocabulary cognition are an answer to CLT's vague language framework and obscure word pick-up.
This next part focuses on bridging communicative teaching and the use of multimedia through split-class teaching. Both factors, communication and multimedia are discussed in detail. Split-class teaching brings together both of these fundamental applications in language training, it aims at linking up the best of both worlds: a social and communicative ICT approach linked up with a strong structural (ICT) backbone.
Training secondary school youngsters is never an easy task. The starting point in terms of educating such heterogeneous groups is that they all have (had) different learning paths. During the school year 1996-1997 the Hercules project (Hargreaves, 1996; 1997; 1998) was started up for students between 18-25, attending English courses at a part-time vocational training centre. All students pick up information in different ways and speeds, all depending on their personal learning styles. Optimum differentiation is a strong tool when training such heterogeneous groups, as was the case during the project's start up.
Hercules put into practice. An extended discussion on linguistic approaches may not be in its place here, so we limit ourselves to a minimalistic listing of successful approaches in the past history of language training. Cognitive code stresses the mechanical drill exercises, constructivism links the awareness of the second language with the native tongue. A more humanistic view stresses the development of the human being during the learning process. Communicative teaching is the most widespread and accepted approach in curricula, and emphasises that a language is a tool of communication.
Split-class teaching is supported by a physical split-class or more recently an Open Learning Centre. The split-classes concept with multimedia and communications platform, equipped with a variety of optional tools for a thorough lesson (TV, DVD & video, CD player, dictionaries, games, CDs, workbooks, magazines, multimedia set, internet connection, VLE, wiki, ipod, podcasts, forum, portfolio, beamer & powerpoint, wireless laptops, mobile devices, PDA, webcam, chat, mail,...), linked to a (network) multimedia room (or the OLC) is the centrepiece of the methodology. The split-class or OLC variant with multimedia component can assist the language trainer by taking over some teaching tasks as there are: ‘listening exercises’ (a computer can produce moving images), practising ‘grammar’ with direct computer feedback and student progress sheet, building and spelling new vocabulary, dealing with pronunciation exercises (digitally recorded resulting in no wear on material), solving WebQuests (self-assisted learning tasks using the internet, ‘homemade’ hot potatoes exercises ,…)
The split-class methodology splits up one class group to create 2 or 3 smaller ones that are easier to handle for communicative training. While students are doing collaborative tasks, grammar exercises, listening exercises, building vocabulary or practising pronunciation exercises on the computer, the other (small) group of students gets extra attention for the speaking skill (dealt with by the trainer at the communications platform). The multimedia lesson deploys in the OLC or the language laboratory (with split-class modality). There are different ways to organise the computers in the language laboratory (= split class), but the closed split class seems to have the upper hand in secondary schools. It is a large classroom cut in two by a glass partition ’wall’. One half secures the communications platform controlled by the teacher-trainer (e.g. desks in U-formation) the other half houses the multimedia part with 12 computers, enough to split up half a class of 24 pupils. Screens are turned towards the teacher for ‘control’ reasons. ICT learners have minimal contact with each other, so there is little room for disturbances. Schools with a powerful learning area (OLC) can of course apply the centre for split-class teaching.
Figure 1. Floor plan split class
Students working on the communicative module will have a considerable advantage because the group is a lot smaller (Lou et al., 2001) than in a 'conventional' lesson (24 learners are in fact only a group of 12) and multimedia users can go through a module at their own pace, pausing or repeating the lessons when necessary (Kennisnet, 2006). The next lesson the two groups change classes so the 'communicators' become 'computer facilitators' and vice versa. The teacher still organises tests at moments (well) planned in advance. By using computers the students' output grows considerably as witnessed by the practitioners. Deeper learning (Bryson & Scardamalia, 1991) results have been reported. Students can follow their individual learning path and revise or improve where necessary. The system offers a wide variety of pros i.e. working in smaller groups (optimum differentiation), stressing the speech-, listening- and other skills, presenting new materials in an extra motivating way, the positive factor of multimedia (sound & vision), the extra flexibility in training / learning for teacher and student, active and self-sustained learning, working at home using the VLE or cd-roms,... just to state the most important advantages. Schools benefit from this firm investment i.e. students become stronger, deeper and mature learners. In the next part this paper tries to pinpoint the qualities of split-class teaching and discriminate significant learning benefits related to the four skills and learning environment perception between split-class students and non split-class ones in a quasi experimental setting. Is the teacher’s feel about split-class teaching’s pros (and cons) bullet proof and can scientific research confirm this feeling?
This article highlights the learning effects and students’ perceptions of the split-class teaching methodology. The study focuses on how well users acquire the four skills in language learning when being submerged in the split-class approach. We are also interested in the students' perception of the project’s novel learning environment. The following research questions are addressed:
(1) What are the main effects from the split-class teaching experiment on the students' learning output related to the four skills?
(2) What are the students' learning environment perceptions when undergoing the methodology?
When dealing with our research questions, we keep the following piece of advice in mind (Colpaert, 2004): How can we measure the effects of IT upon the foreign language curriculum? First, in addressing this question, we need to be concerned with the overall educational environment. What effect does the introduction of technology into the curriculum have upon such factors as methodological approach, teachers’ roles, workloads, collaborative engagement, student learning styles/strategies, retention rates, pedagogical innovation, academic accountability, and IT-based research. Second, in considering learning outcomes, it is important not to fall into the technocentricity trap of narrow computer versus non-computer effectiveness comparisons. We need to know how IT contributes (or not) to the realisation of our pedagogical aims. When measuring the effects of IT upon the foreign language curriculum, three basic parameters need to be considered: input, process, and outcome.
Participants were 109 students with an artistic KSO/TSO background in Antwerp (Flanders), Belgium. They were all in the 3rd grade (5th form) of Flemish secondary education and their ages ranged between 16 and 19. Their proficiency in English was estimated to be of intermediate level.
At the beginning of the term, all target students had been divided into seven groups that would be taking the same English courses, taught by two different teachers. The students were unaware that three of the groups had a control function, and that the other four were of experimental use, undergoing the split-class treatment. All groups were taught in the same time span comprising two teaching hours per week over a four-month period (minus school holidays, exam weeks, and so forth) and were subjected to an identical curriculum from September to December. Four of the seven groups were assigned to the experimental condition, while the other three were assigned to the control condition. This decision was made by the language trainers in order to have a practical and effective timetable for all people involved in the experiment.
To ascertain that all seven groups were initially on a par as far as the speaking, listening, reading and writing skills were concerned, we compared their scores in a proficiency test, assessing their four skills (pre-test). Dyslectic students did an extra separate test and their writing scores were not included in the data processing. The speaking skill consisted of a face-to-face conversation with the researcher about a fairly general subject (hobby, interests, things they like). Marks out of twenty were given by taking into account the students' performance along the parameters of fluency, accuracy and range of expression (lexical richness and syntactic complexity) each with equal representation.
All seven groups of students were exposed to the same programme, language input and curriculum. The same objectives were aimed at, using the same course materials except for the multimedia part, which was not included in the control groups learning path. The experimental groups were taught using the split-class methodology (multimedia and communicative teaching) and the control groups used a more traditional approach (communicative teaching without the multimedia component). The seven groups were split up between two teachers, one training two experimental groups and two control groups, the other two experimental and one control group. Both teachers had a minimum of three years of expertise in using the split-class methodology. The specific ways in which the lessons were built up in the experimental and control groups will be outlined below. First, we will discuss the course materials.
A maximum quantity of authentic language exposure was aimed for in both groups. Although the four skills were integrated in the course, considerable attention was given to speaking activities and grammatical structures (communicative language teaching's Achilles' heel). Similar quantities of reading and writing tasks were dealt with. Overall, an estimated 85% of classroom time was devoted to teaching in the split-class for the experimental group while the control group attained the lessons in a non-multimedia equipped classroom. All utilised classrooms had TV and video, CD-player and other aids necessary to support language training. The course material covered the items prescribed in the curriculum. Exercises formed part of the course material and were the same for both groups, except for the multimedia component used only by the experimental groups. In the experimental groups, the aim was to direct students' attention towards the multimedia component, thus focusing on form (FonF) using ICT, whereas in the control group no such attention was given to ICT. Although the actual methodological changes were drastic, implementing the new and old methodology when teaching both groups required a change of mindset of both the teachers and the learners. The teachers' job was to raise learners' awareness of using the multimedia applications in a correct way (no free-riding) and stimulate ICT use at home also. The control groups had the paper-and-pen alternative. The strategy the teachers engaged in with the experimental groups during this stage was identifying tools for 'out of class learning' and sustaining self-directed learning.
Research instruments - Measurement of proficiency
The four skills: assessing the learning benefits
The method is of a pre-, post-test design. All groups underwent the same pre-test assessing all four skills. Reading skills were assessed using a simple multiple choice test. Writing skills scores were taken from a simple essay students had to write. All students underwent an oral test and were assessed on the speaking skill. This test consisted of a face-to-face conversation with the researcher about a fairly general subject (hobby, interests, things they like). Marks out of twenty were given by taking into account the students' performance along the parameters of fluency, accuracy and range of expression (lexical richness and syntactic complexity) each item weighing the same in the final pre-test score. All students did a multiple choice listening test. For post test results summative December (examinations) scores were taken. Separate scores were administered for reading, writing, listening and speaking skills. The post-test also consisted of a grammar knowledge test, focusing on tense and aspect, modality and passives.
Students’ perceptions were measured by a self-made questionnaire containing 14 items on a six-point Likert scale. All items together measure one factor i.e. students’ learning environment perception. Items constructing the scale dealt with perceptions concerning: speaking, reading, writing and listening skills, lesson appreciation, class size, class level, pace, lesson attractiveness, language acquisition, problem solving, motivation, feedback, and lesson quality. The 14-item questionnaire recorded a Cronbach's Alpha of 0,793 indicating a thorough scale. The deletion rule of thumb was applied: no differentiation between item and scale exceeded the 0,05 level, so all 14 scale items were withheld. Sumscores were calculated resulting in the dependent learning environment perception scores.
Figure 2. Perception scale 95% confidence intervals for the mean scores on the perception scale for both conditions
Method of Analysis
All descriptive statistics of pre-, post skills’ tests and learning environment perception results were calculated applying t-tests measuring the differences between both experimental and control conditions. Next, dummy-regression analyses were performed on post-test scores for all separate active skills (speaking and writing) and passive ones (listening, reading), controlling the corresponding pre-test scores for every individual skill. Then, similar dummy-regression analyses were performed on the post test grammar comprehension scores, without pre-test adjustment and one with all post test skills results on grammar. Finally, a regression analysis was conducted on grammar comprehension, including the post-writing adjustment variable as being the best grammar predictor.
The perception concerning language education in general scale (all 14 items) underwent the Cronbach’s Alpha reliability statistics and 95% clear of means error bars. The perception scale’s effect size (Cohen’s d) was calculated and a t-test analysis between the experimental and control groups was conducted.
The results are summarised in Tables 1 & 2. The following research questions are answered in this sequence:
(1) What are the main effects from the split-class teaching experiment on the students' learning related to the four skills?
(2) What are students' learning environment perceptions when undergoing the methodology?
First, although we had no reason to suspect any major differences in prior knowledge between the experimental group and the control group in either class, we administered a skills’ test with Alquin magazine materials and Swan & Walter (1991) testing book 2 and used it as a pre-test. This confirmed that the experimental group and the control group had similar prior knowledge and skills for the listening and writing pre-tests. The experimental group scored significantly better for the pre-reading and pre-speaking as confirmed in Table 1. Of main interest to us here is the question whether the post-performance in skills gave the experimental students an advantage over the control students when it came to reading, writing, listening and speaking. The results of the post test means reveal that students’ performance on all skills and both conditions were small and non-significant, except for the speaking skill. Mean pre- and post-test scores on the skills in the experimental group and those in the control group are summarised in Table 1.
Table 1. Results of descriptive statistics and t-tests for pre- and post test skills
Second, the next data analysis involved measuring whether a significant difference in performance was displayed between the experimental groups and the control groups for all post-skills tested. All pre-tests were taken into account to ensure that all students were on a par for this experiment. A regression analysis was conducted using the dummy variable technique yielding a new variable with the control groups as reference. The results showed no significant results for listening (B = 0,004, p = 0,971), reading (B = 0,004, p = 0,967) and writing (B = 0,019, p = 0,800). The only significant result was noted for speaking (B = 0,089, p = 0,035) but the standardised Beta coefficient is quasi non-existent. This indicates that the experimental groups scored better than the control groups for speaking, albeit by a slight margin. Table 2 represents the students’ performances for every analysed skill.
Table 2. Results of dummy regressions for all skills per conditions
During the course of the experiment, the language trainers considered to mark students’ performances on grammar separately as it is a principal reference in the FonF-movement. The analysis without pre-test adjustment indicated no significant results (B = 0,024, p = 0,804). The post-writing skill seems to be the best grammar performance predictor (B = 0,353, p = 0,000) and (B = 0,601, p = 0,000), but again no significant result was found between the experimental and control groups.
Finally, we turn to the students’ learning environment perceptions with promising results. Error bars show a nearly 95% clearance of means per condition. Cohen’s d was calculated and with 0,47 it shows a medium effect. T-test results reveal that p <0,05 indicate a significant difference of perception between the experimental and control groups in favour of the former (p = 0,04). This result clearly suggests that students perceive the split-class learning environment as significantly better, resulting e.g. in more motivated students. See Table 1. Post-post tests were recorded but not processed nor included in the results.
In this contribution, we wanted to research the impact of split-class teaching on students’ overall skills performance and their perception of novel learning environments for English classes in a secondary school setting. We started from findings of earlier research that demonstrated the positive relationship between ICT in education in general (Lipsey & Wilson, 1993; Fletcher-Flinn & Gravatt, 1995; Lamon, Reeve & Scardamalia, 2001; Guttman, 2003; Moursund, 2004; BECTA, 2005, 2006; OECD, 2006; Kennisnet, 2006) and language teaching specifically (Moeller, 1997; Heughebaert, Simons, Aerts, Colpaert & Decoo, 2001; Hartley, Howe & McKeachie, 2001; Goldberg, Russell & Cook, 2003). But at the same time affluent negative proof was found on the same topic (Olson, 1976; Turkle, 1995; Oppenheimer, 1997; Cordes & Miller, 1998; Becker, 2000; Cuban, 2001; Peck, Cuban & Kirkpatrick, 2002; Higgins, 2003; Salomon & Ben-Zvi, 2006). Sometimes we even hit contradictory results in transferable or lookalike situations. We observed that none of these studies took into account the unique combination of communicative language teaching (CLT), the focus on form (FonF) and linking both with computer assisted language learning (CALL) in a synchronous delivery package. This means that all three mentioned components are dealt with by the teacher and students at the same time, involving different skills-based activities (Hargreaves, 1996). We addressed this type of teaching as split-class teaching or SCT. Knowing that successful and unsuccessful ICT implementation is separated only by a thin blue line, we wanted to study the effectiveness in terms of the skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking) and learning environment perception from the students’ point of view. The relationship between students’ effectiveness in terms of skills performance (output) and their condition (control vs. experimental groups) using a pre-, post-test design, were analysed by means of t-tests and dummy-regression analyses. In general, the results of both addressed research questions were in line with previous research (Lou, Abrami & D’Apollonia, 2001; Van Eijl, de Voogs, Pilot & Admiraal, 2004; Kirschner, 2005; European Commission, 2006), namely that differences between the experimental and control groups regarding students’ plain skills performance in the pre- and post part of the design are slightly, but not significantly (except for the speaking skill), in favour of all experimental groups (scoring higher means scores).
We acknowledge that the experiment was too tight in time elapse and it also involved an unbalanced partitioning between both research groups, leaving too few participants in the control group, and maybe too many in the experimental groups. This only allows us to draw premature conclusions from its results alone. Nevertheless, we do feel that the complex nature of this quasi experiment and the combination of the performance and perception results, lends extra support to our hypothesis that split-class students perform better and significantly outclass their control group counterparts when it comes to learning environment perception. These positive results seem to fuel previously made conclusions (Becta, 2005; OECD, 2006; Kennisnet, 2006) that good teaching and skilful ICT teachers are indeed of this world (Kulik, 2003; Cox, 2004) to make a difference in students’ output and perception (Lipsey & Wilson, 1993).
Sceptics may argue, of course, that a conclusion in favour of split-class teaching would be premature for at least five reasons: (i) teachers’ change of mindset; (ii) students’ ICT skills; (iii) adapt to self-sustained learning; (iv) lack of data on long term effects; (v) validity. First, our research design may have facilitated the experimental groups in favour, as both teachers have been addicted SCT-users for at least three years, leaving it somehow ‘unnatural’ for them to perform and organise their lessons in a more traditional format. Although this is the case, both teachers have already had a teaching career spanning over 10 and 20 years respectively, indicating mastery of previously released language teaching approaches (Harmer, 1983). Although the actual methodological changes were drastic, implementing the new and old methodology when teaching both groups required a change of mindset of both the teachers and the learners. The pen-and-paper control groups, however, were taught by language trainers whose current careers have been dominated by the former traditional approach, closing the door for critics that experience or lack of experience was a variable influencing outcomes.
Altogether, though, the results of our pen-and-paper control groups do suggest that traditional CLT can effectively be used as input for problem-solving tasks or skills training in general if the class group is limited to 15 students, as was the case with at least one control group and of course all experimental groups. Class size as such is a principal influence in students’ outcomes (Lou et al., 2001). Smaller groups perform better than larger groups and new technologies can contribute to lifelong learning by the very fact that they typically enhance the motivation to learn (Hargreaves, 2004). The teachers' job was to raise learners' awareness of using the multimedia applications in a correct way (no free-riding) and stimulate ICT use at home also.
Second, perhaps the encouraging results of the experiment were beefed up by the presence of a large number of IT-oriented students in the different artistic classes. Multimedia and audiovisual students are IT-pro classes as daily situations always involve processes administered by computers. On the other hand, control group photography students have also entered the digital world through their study. No budding photographer is complete without digital knowledge. All art students are regular visitors and users of the schools’ Open Learning Centre and virtual learning environment www.ELOvanA.be . All students are more or less on a par when it comes to ICT skills. Some learners, however, may not be familiar with all state-of-the-art gizmos but surely, schools play a crucial part in supporting the idea that ICT can make and supply better schooling by using it in school and different subject matters.
Next, with a view to evaluating the above points of scepticism about the use of ICT in language learning, we set up another, supplementary experiment meant to assess the potential contribution of SCT in the form of the perception questionnaire. However, it would perhaps be a pity if we did not briefly return to the experiment to compare the perception scores under both conditions. The results of the learning environment perception questionnaire clearly and significantly reveal that students in the experimental groups outperform their control group colleagues by far, indicating a more positive and motivating view towards SCT- supported English classes. Application of a t-test to the participants’ perception per condition show these superior scores. However, special care should be devoted to learners who may fail to adapt to the self-sustained learning programme. As with every new approach, the more and the earlier students start with the matter, the sooner mastery is accomplished. Most previous studies, however, conclude in a positive way when ‘traditional’ teaching is mated with a form of ICT (Harrison et al., 2004), resulting in blended learning and later on in lifelong and self-sustained learning. Meta-cognitive skills and collaborative learning (Lou et al., 2001) are near future keys to future learning for all of our students (Roschelle et al., 2000; Hargreaves, 2007).
Also, the data gathered from our own research does not permit, however, to draw a substantiated conclusion about skill performance and perception matters. The effects were examined after four months only. In order to chart the effects of SCT in the long term, a longitudinal study is required. With students being 5th graders and post-post tests on the tap, a further study is possible. So, the effectiveness in terms of better results has still got an open answer as post-post test results exploration are beyond the scope of this dissertation because of the rather longitudinal dimension of this experiment and the relatively limited time to finalise this work due to scheduled university deadlines. Further research into the critical success factors of SCT are necessary, as post-post tests suggest a significant advantage for the experimental groups (Bryson & Scardamalia, 1991; Lipsey & Wilson, 1993; Roschelle, Pea, Hoadley, Gordin & Means, 2000; Hartley, Howe & McKeachie, 2001; Goldberg, Russell & Cook, 2003; Becta, 2005, 2006; OECD, 2006) but will this be the case also when SCT is scrutinised for these items?
Finally, there is the validity issue: statements about internal validity must be interpreted cautiously as a result of the fact that students were not distributed at random over the experimental and control conditions (Gijbels, 2005). Although efforts were made to examine the comparability of the groups, the best guarantee of countering selection bias is random group distribution. This, however, is hardly possible in ecologically valid research. Another validity problem arises with all of the testing. Do all of the pre-, post-tests measure what they need to measure? And last but not least we have to mention the marking issue. Although extreme care was devoted to marking all four skills in a balanced and mutually communicated and agreed way, one can never rule out bias when it comes to correcting language items, especially the painstaking task of marking the speaking skills.
In this article, we have looked at a methodology called split-class teaching (SCT). It is a pedagogical approach combining the pros of both communicative language teaching (CLT) and computer assisted language learning (CALL). The former being recognised as a quality instrument for stressing the significance of language functions in a variety of contexts and for a variety of purposes, involving realistic communication aiming at successful language simulation and performance and the latter for its focus on form (FonF) highlighting a task-based learning approach where adequate time and effort is spent on formal grammatical structure using all available multimedia components thus eliminating the vague language framework and obscure word pick-up. While previous studies had already provided ample evidence of the ICT, CALL and CLT benefits, the present study was intended to explore potential benefits of the split-class teaching technique. We have investigated SCT’s main effects on students' four skills performance, using four experimental and three control groups. At the same time students' learning environment perceptions were assessed using a 14-item strong questionnaire, pinpointing their SCT experiences.
The experimental data reported in the study are quite encouraging with regard to the students’ split-class teaching (SCT) learning environment perception. Despite the not altogether stronger four skills performance of the experimental group, the participants in our experiment appeared to make good use of the SCT methodology. With regard to this question, the experimental data are somewhat less convincing, but they nevertheless suggest that split-class teaching is successful as experimental group students were not outperformed by the control group, on the contrary. For all items, the experimental groups were the best performers. It therefore seems feasible in a school context (and in novel learning environments design) to stimulate teachers, school managers and school organisers to disseminate, apply and invest in this motivating way of teaching languages. Our data suggest that this approach is in accordance with earlier positive ICT research in general, enhancing positive CLT and the FonF effect. We therefore recommend the following: (i) invest in novel learning environments enhancing split-class teaching; (ii) invest in people who disseminate theory and practice related to SCT; (iii) train-the-trainers in how to apply SCT in class; (iv) communicate the idea that ICT can motivate students in a better way and improve overall output; (v) train, recruit and appoint ICT and pedagogical masterful personnel only; (vi) organise a supra school organisers’ structure, facilitating ICT use and expertise in general at the level of the Ministry of Education, resulting in good communities of practice (CoPs).
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