Harrington, Anna M. “Problematizing the Hybrid Classroom for ESL/EFL Students.” TESL-EJ 14.3 (December 2010): 1-13.
Growing populations of ESL/EFL students, along with increased hybrid class offerings are pointing to a need within the TESOL community to explore how hybrid classes affect ESL/EFL students. Research focusing on ESL/EFL students within the online environment is lacking according to Harrington, with the research that has been done drawing from computer-assisted learning and problems that all students might face, instead of any concerns specific to ESL/EFL learners. She notes a number of authors who are writing in the field, voicing successes with technology and language learning for ESL/EFL students, but stressing that “the effect of dual instruction delivery has been ignored” (3).
Harrington explores the challenges of identity, individualization and muting within the hybrid classroom for ESL/EFL students, first looking at online instruction, student community, and identity. While some studies point out the benefits of an online environment, as one where shy students can have a voice and “marginalized students” can flourish (3); other studies argue that online classes emphasize students’ deficiencies in writing, creating spaces where students may not fully participate because of the writing challenges. Within the debate for face-to-face and online classes, Harrington sees hybrid spaces as an additional challenge, where students must constantly switch environments, not fully participating in either community.
ESL/EFL students become literate not only in the language, but also from “the norms and values of U.S. culture and in U.S. academic discourse” (Bao as cited in Harrington, 4). Switching in a hybrid environment, Harrington argues, doesn’t enable students to sufficiently create an identity in either, creating students who aren’t able to “function fully in either community” (4). Discourse switching for ESL/EFL students could put them behind in their ability to adequately learn to write in the necessary academic discourse, resulting in the “muting” of a student, or the lack of a student’s authorial self being successfully developed.
Stressed individualism in U.S. writing courses, Harrington posits is already of concern for ESL/EFL students who often come from cultures that stress group activities while U.S. writing courses favor “voice, peer review, critical thinking and textual ownership” (6). In online courses that can already seem isolating for any students, an ESL/EFL student’s isolation within a classroom community could lead to muting. This could take two forms according to the author: self or imposed.
The topics of identity, individualization and muting within a classroom for ESL/EFL students are new points of consideration for me. I have had ESL/EFL students in online classes, and can easily see how language limitations in discussions have the potential for imposed or self-muting of students. I am encouraged that there are untapped research areas to explore in the field and am seeing a lot of potential areas of research exploration within the ESL/EFL population, related both to library services and first-year writing classes. I would recommend Harrington’s article for those interested in tempering other views that fully support a hybrid classroom.