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.
Wang, Zhonghong and Paul Tremblay. “Going Global: Providing Library Resources and Services to International Sites.” Journal of Library Administration 49 (2009): 171-185.
Providing access to resources for students and faculty via distance or off-campus is part of a library’s basic service mission. Libraries are being challenged to rethink how to promote and implement resources, instruction and access to meet the needs of a global audience. Wang and Tremblay outline how library services are provided after a Global College is relocated to their campus. A growing international population on campuses offers opportunities and challenges for libraries to serve a more diverse student body.
Library services are provided 24/7 in most academic libraries through proxy servers on campus networks. However, providing library instruction off-campus is one area that can be challenging. Software solutions exist, such as videoconferencing, chat and email that make connectivity functionally easier, but libraries are also exploring how to customize options to better meet the different cultural and diverse needs of international populations. Wang and Tremblay provide a literature review that draws from research written about how international populations are served on U.S. campuses, but note that there is little research exploring how U.S. campuses in other countries impact an academic library’s services and mission. Australia, recognized as a leader in providing education to a global audience has moved librarians from thinking “in the parochial to the global” (175).
Supporting online library offerings via the Global College is a priority with the Dean, which makes it easier to engage faculty and librarians. While each Global College site has local offerings for library services and campuses, there is a need for centralized resources available through the Brooklyn campus, insuring that all students had access to databases, inter-library loan, library instruction, and research assistance. A group of librarians at the central campus are dedicated providers of services to the Global Campus and the authors list their best practices for providing services to a global audience. They stress the need to be proactive and work with faculty involved in distance learning, noting that collaboration and “working toward a common goal” are essential for success.
While little in the article comes as new information in terms of library services and off-campus offerings to an academic librarian, it does provide an overview of the benefits and challenges a campus faces when having a large global presence change how they can meet the needs of their new audience. Scalability of offerings is one point that is good for all librarians to remember, as it is tempting to want to individualize offerings, both in-person and online, but meeting the overall needs of a campus is most important. The offering of online modules for individual classes that are more customized for research topics than individual students is one way to meet this need and yet put a face and presence on the library’s resources and available help for the students in any location. There is growing research exploring online library services, but little focused on international students, or unique needs of student populations, so I am interested in continuing this avenue of research beyond this term.
Zhang, Jie. “Learner Agency, Motive, and Self-Regulated Learning in an Online ESL Writing
Class.” IALLT Journal 43.2 (2013): 57-81.
Framing a case study through Vygotsky and Leont-ev’s activity theory, Zhang examines computer-mediated communication (CMC) in ESL online writing classrooms. He provides a literature review comparing face-to-face and CMC, ESL classrooms, determining that student-focused responses to online classes are lacking. He interviews two students from his online ESL writing class, asking how much of a student’s experience in an online class is dependent on individual behavior as viewed through activity theory. Using activity, action and operation as ways to examine students’ class performance, he defines these by looking at activity as the motive, action as the process, and operation as the “doing” or moving toward the goal (63). He sees a student’s motivation as being connected to how he/she makes decisions as to investment in a class – in this case, the online environment.
In Zhang’s approach, by using self-regulated learning (SRL), students make decisions in a learning environment based on choices and/or goals they set during the class term. This is a “dialectical relationship” as learning contexts change, students lack full control, and thus outcomes are not stable. In classrooms using CMC, “online learning requires more learner control and self-discipline than traditional classroom-based instruction” and while more opportunities are available online, these may also result in students who are less disciplined, lose interest, or do not participate as they might in a face-to-face classroom (63).
From Zhang’s results looking at learner agency, motivation affecting performance and achievement, he finds that these factors are very different for the two students and impact their success in the class. Zheng concludes that “computer technology contextualize[s] learning for different people in different ways by empowering some and handicapping others” (73). He stresses that not all students are ready for the “autonomy and flexibility of computer-mediated learning,” especially ESL and first-year students who benefit from increased support and closer direction from classmates and faculty during their initial enrollment term. The article concludes with a list of suggestions to minimize student anxiety in an online course.
This article was useful in introducing activity theory to me; however I did expect it to be more focused on the specific writing challenges of ESL students in an online classroom. It was not evident from Zhang’s argument how ESL students were differentiated by activity theory from any other students. However, gaining insight into the different and sometimes unfathomable reasons why students sign up for classes and how motivation and learner agency can affect student performance in a class was worthwhile. Remembering that student success or failure in a class may have nothing to do with the class itself, online or face-to-face is somewhat comforting to keep in mind for future classes, rather than internalizing the reasons why some students disappear from a class, or choose not to succeed.