The USAGE OF Virtual Classrooms In ELT Education Essay

The use of virtual environments to aid as well as to complement language coaching and learning processes is becoming a recurrent practice and sometimes a policy in a number of educational institutions. This paper reports the results of your inquiry completed at the terminology center of a private school in Bogotá, which intended to describe EFL teachers' viewpoints regarding the promotion of autonomous, collaborative and meaningful learning by using virtual classrooms in the teaching of British as a foreign language. Conclusions show that the advertising of these three types of learning through the use of electronic classrooms still stand for issues in the framework this analysis was carried out.

Key words: Autonomy, collaborative work, important learning, technology, online classroom

El uso de ambientes virtuales para apoyar y complementar los procesos de enseñanza aprendizaje de lenguas se ha convertido en una práctica recurrente y en ocasiones en una política en muchas instituciones educativas. Este documento reporta los resultados de una investigación llevada a cabo en el centro de lenguas de una universidad privada en Bogotá, en el que se describen los puntos de vista de los profesores de inglés en relación al desarrollo de aprendizaje autónomo, colaborativo y significativo por medio del uso de aulas virtuales en la enseñanza del inglés como lengua extranjera. Los hallazgos muestran que en el contexto en donde se llevó a cabo este estudio, estos tres tipos de aprendizaje aún representan retos educativos.

Palabras clave: aprendizaje significativo, aula electronic, autonomía, tecnología, trabajo colaborativo

Introduction

The current world requires that educators be kept up to date in new styles of teaching-learning operations. One of them is the utilization of information and communication solutions (ICT) as a go with of the task done within the classroom. The school where this inquiry was completed has implemented the use of a virtual campus power by Moodle Program, where students can check extra materials and develop different activities by means of the utilization of a great deal of resources on the web, such as specific web-pages, wikis, message boards, blogs among others. Since 2003, one of the academics models of the college or university that has greatly implemented this virtual work has been the Language Center. This academics unit mainly offers programs for undergraduate students who openly choose to take these basic English lessons in the university or college and comply with the second dialect requirement to effectively surface finish their majors. You can find about 20 educators in the language center and they are encouraged to develop a virtual school room to complement the task they certainly in their four regular academic time. Thus, students are likely to devote almost all of their four 3rd party hours to work on the virtual class in which the educators may propose differing types of activities to improve language learning.

The implementation of this exclusive tool has symbolized some troubles for teachers in a number of aspects. First, challenging with press literacy has been evidenced. Some teachers held basic skills on the use of personal computers which appeared not to be fitted this matter's requirements. Second, an issue emerged whenever choosing appropriate material to include in the virtual class. On the net, teachers might come across very helpful activities with appropriate content however they are equally subjected to not so useful or reliable ones. Third, there is a huge problem in reshaping some traditional and common values towards the effectiveness of using virtual classrooms.

Taking the aforementioned description of the framework, this paper studies the organized inquiry carried out at the university or college whose goal was to give a critical accounts of the perceptions instructors at the Words Middle have towards the use of electronic classrooms as a teaching and learning strategy. More specifically, this newspaper describes the values which have been developed towards the use of Moodle platform. Since the institutional educational project is based on the advertising of autonomy, collaborative and important learning, we decided to explore how these elements have been dealt with in the work professors and students do in the digital class. These tenets provide as the theoretical support to our study.

Theoretical Framework

ICT in Education

The use of ICT has increased during the last years both at home and institution. Nowadays it's quite common to see people walking around using a technical device for conversing with others, to be up to date, or and then get some good fun; all this due to swift development of technology. Within the educational field it has also been visible; increasingly more schools and colleges are using scientific tools to work on different things or only as a matter of reinforcement for a few matters (Dudeney & Hockly, 2007; Segovia, 2006).

One of the new technologies is digital classrooms. Conventionally, electronic classrooms are conceived like "spaces" where students can take classes synchronically, by using certain software that allows them to work together as they certainly in a class constructed with bricks, as well as asynchronously. Virtual classrooms have been distributed across the world by universities and other corporations offering education to the people who cannot be present at traditional universities because of the distance, time or other factors (Hiltz, 1995).

However, inside our context, educators have become alert to the features new years have, as for example the actual fact they are what Dudeney and Hockly (2007) called digital natives. Because of this, they have taken advantage of some of the characteristics exclusive classrooms have plus they have decided to use them as a tool to bolster traditional classes. This new tool becomes a facilitator of teaching-learning processes because of the integration of different types of activities that allow students to develop different skills (Villaseñor, 1998). The usage of activities designed to be used in digital classrooms offers some advantages instructor must have at heart. For example, activities made for being used in combination with technology provides students interactivity and, at the same time, they can enhance critical thinking, creative thinking, research skills and interpersonal skills (Segovia, 2006).

Nevertheless, what a lot of people consider an edge for others is actually a disadvantage. This is the case of these teachers who could be consider as digital immigrants and who have difficulties every time they need to use cutting-edge technology in classes. According to Dudeney and Hockly (2007), this happens because some teachers are advertising illiterate: they don't know enough about how to make use of these resources; also, they sometimes consider that using technology in the classroom or outside this can be a waste of commitment and, in some instances, they think that as students know a lot more than they are doing about this topic they could be overshadowed by them. Nonetheless, these problems could become talents for educators who are focused on changing and looking for strategies to successfully implement ICTs, inside our case virtual classrooms, in their professional techniques (Dudeney & Hockly, 2007; Rueda, 2008).

Autonomous Learning

Kumaravadivelu (2003) expresses that autonomy will not mean total self-reliance or being only through the learning process. On the other hand, autonomy is circumstances that must be led at the beginning by the educator, who gives ways of students to be able to improve critical thinking, decision making and independent action. An autonomous university student can decide about self-learning procedures: what, how and just why learn something. Which means that a student becomes accountable for her/his own learning, expanding self-control and willpower, regulating and assessing consciously and intentionally the utilization of ways of achieve the training objectives, and obtaining her/his own probable through confronting weaknesses and failures to overcome them. In this regard, the use technology helps students to produce their own learning routes towards proficiency in the prospective words and, thus, go beyond teachers' instructions (Allford & Pachler, 2007)

In order to develop autonomy, learners can use some strategies such as cognitive, metacognitive, planning and self-regulation among others. Cognitive strategies lead students to understand and remember ideas in order to create knowledge. Metacognitive strategies offer information about progress to reach goals, they are used to organize, deal with and make decisions about their own learning processes. Planning strategies help students program and set up their own program in order that they to work in all the duties at a certain time. Finally, self-regulation strategies let students be aware about their learning techniques, analyze and evaluate them, to decide improvement actions, in the event they are necessary (Universidad de San Buenaventura, 2010).

Having in mind the aforementioned explanation, teachers cannot leave students alone in the learning process. Autonomy requires the creation of impressive activities that teach students step-by-step how to be impartial learners.

Collaborative Learning

Referring to collaborative learning, Olivares (2007) defends the idea that each learning is the major goal of any collaborative environment mediated by an teacher or, in this research, computers. In this fashion, individuals learn and reach an individual deeper knowledge of a given job through collaborative methodologies than when working on their own. Olivares also explains that collaborative learning searches for the creation of new knowledge by way of a social context, and this although group customers are expected to interact, there is absolutely no commitment to group members that every will learn and be successful therefore of the process. In his own words,

collaborative learning is not a structured group process; it is concerned with cultivating independence, and independence of thought through the collaborative process [] Specific university student success (learning) is NOT a central matter [] alternatively, the concern is that joint group activities lead to knowledge acquisition or problem handling that is superior to individual efforts (Olivares, 2007, p. 26).

Similarly, Watkins, Carnell and Lodge (2007) high light two main characteristics of collaboration. The first one refers to the actual fact that through it, something new is created that cannot have been created often. The second reason is that collaboration can only just happen when all the members can donate to a new distributed product. In agreement with Olivares (2007), Watkins, Carnell and Lodge (2007) improve the idea that when learners clarify their meaning-making to each other, their learning is richer and deeper, since this implies the challenge to acquire others make sense of specific understandings. The last mentioned has a specific research in the terms learning and instructing field. Swain (2000) suggested that collaborative dialogues or going beyond "the output hypothesis" lead learners to make improvement in their learning process, since through negotiation of so this means, they notice openings in their interlanguage and look for strategies to beat them. Therefore, learners who are involved in a task that really demands collaboration, must bridge multiple perspectives on the condition, and produce a common floor through dialect. Under these conditions their discourse becomes more thoughtful and conceptual than does that of individuals working together (Schwartz, 1995, as cited by Watkins, Carnell & Lodge, 2007).

Furthermore, in collaborative learning processes the role of instructors is important, even more if we take into account that cooperation cannot happen if the socio-affective procedures are dismissed. In this respect, teachers must exceed being expert transmitters of knowledge to students; they have to regulate and effect these procedures: cognitive, motivational and affective. It calls for these to be expert designers of intellectual activities, otherwise, the particular level and quality of relationship among students could lower, and thus, have an effect on the procedure of acquisition of knowledge (Orvis & Lassiter, 2010; Smith & MacGregor, n. d. ). Quite simply, academic collaborative strategies demand a job from the educator framed by being a guide, facilitator and generator of surroundings where negotiation of meaning and dialogic problem fixing happen.

Meaningful Learning

Ausubel, Novak and Hanesian (1978) present a learning way whose fundamentals are constituted by the knowledge individuals have built-in their daily encounters; and based on them, individuals are led to change, broaden and systematize it through instruction. Besides, this knowledge would be long-lasting depending about how significant the individuals think it is for their cultural context (Martínez, 2004). Ausubel (2000) explains that the relationship that should are present between what is known and what's to be learnt should neither be arbitrary nor literal. That's, meaningful learning is come to when individuals do not memorize principles by repetition (rote learning). On the contrary, it takes place when individuals have the ability to relate the essence of what is intended to be learned with knowledge they have already built and, thus, multiple cable connections are done.

After analysis to the basics of important learning and taking into consideration the nature of the study, you want to make reference to the ways meaningful learning might be fostered when using technology for educational purposes generally. Ashburn (2006) identifies meaningful learning when working with technology as seen as a six complementary attributes.

Intentionality: Using clearly articulated goals to steer the look of learning tasks and assessment of learning improvement.

Content centrality: Aligning the learning goals and duties with the best ideas, essential questions, and principles of the techniques of inquiry that are central to the self-discipline.

Authentic work: Constructing multifaceted learning duties that stand for the issues, problems and thinking skills required outside the classroom.

Active inquire: Utilizing a disciplined inquiry process for learning that builds on students' own questions and produces habits of brain that foster high degrees of thinking.

Construction of mental models: Embedding the articulation of cognitive models within the learning tasks.

Collaborative work: Coming up with learning tasks so that students' working mutually adds value to attaining the learning results. (Ashburn, 2006, p. 9)

All in all, the use of technology can be quite useful to provide learning environments students find important. However, it requires planning, collaboration and active jobs from both learners and teachers.

Methodology

After using online classrooms to aid traditional classes for quite some time, it was worthwhile conducting a descriptive study endeavoring to account for the beliefs educators have built towards this matter and the ways in which collaborative, autonomous and significant learning have been handled. As the primary intention was to describe this trend in this one institution, the method of develop the task was descriptive research study which is known as a study methodology that "can offer rich and revealing insights in to the public world of a specific case" (Yin, 2011, p. 49) in an all natural setting opposite to what happens in experimental research (Scott & Morrison, 2005). In this particular analysis, our particular case was to spell it out the views professors have about the execution of autonomous, collaborative and meaningful learning by using a virtual school room as a go with to the work done in the actual classroom and at the same time gather the beliefs that they had developed towards it.

The participants of this review were six professors who volunteered to participate and donate to the achievement of the project's goals. Besides the willingness to get involved, other parameters to choose the teachers were their many years of experience using electronic classrooms, three of these with an increase of than 3 years and the other three teachers with 1 to three years of experience, low and high eagerness to use them and professors who had proven to have computer skills as well as those who have reported some sorts of technical difficulties to make use of computers. There were four anxious and skillful educators and two teachers who were hesitant to use online classrooms, and who very often needed technical support. All these parameters were established to be able to take into account some of the multifarious factors that come into play along the way.

The process of data collection was done in three periods. In the first stage, a web questionnaire was administered. Its goal was to gather ideas the teachers had constructed about the use of any virtual class room as a go with to their action in their regular classes. Additionally, this device was beneficial to collect professors' preliminary insights about the possible strategies and actions that might be undertaken to incorporate the training process in the virtual school room autonomously, collaboratively and meaningfully (see Appendix 1).

In the next stage, we witnessed the types of activities the educators suggested in the digital classrooms. The experts used a format to record the weekly activities done in the digital classroom for about ten weeks (see Appendix 2). In such a format, we recorded the types of activities the instructors assigned to their students as well as the ways that autonomous and collaborative and significant work were included by mainly observing this content and the jobs the professors were likely to presume, as well as those they suggested students to obtain.

In the third stage, an interview was conducted. With the purpose to gather a description of the encounters teachers had got in the use of virtual class and with the thought of exercising the least degree of control possible on the interviewee's replies, semi-structured interviews were done (Nunan, 2007). Through this instrument we're able to deepen in to the insights professors developed in terms of the efficiency, effectiveness, critiques and limitations of the utilization of electronic classrooms to teach English at the university context (see Appendix 3).

Findings

In order to obtain the results of the study, the data collected through the three musical instruments was categorized, triangulated and validated following Content Analysis Approach (Gray, 2004). Thus, as there have been clear pre-established concerns in the inquiry, the info, from the various equipment used, was broken down, compared and contrasted. In this fashion, we could reach inferences about the info accumulated, which helped to systematically identify especial characteristics within them and ground the process of analysis (Grey, 2004). Because of this, the outcomes of this inquiry are offered by confirming, interpreting and discussing the educators' beliefs discovered about the use of online classrooms and the campaign of autonomous, collaborative and important learning in this environment. Besides, so that they can exceed the mere information, in every category examined we propose ways that the addition of the educational concepts of interest in this research can be improved.

Virtual Classrooms Represent Problems in Developing Multimedia Literacy and Breaking Traditional Views of Education

When professors were surveyed about their insights about the general use of technology in education and the utilization of virtual classrooms for vocabulary teaching specifically, their responses referred to two main issues: advertising literacy and the need to change traditional views in this respect. In terms of the past, teachers expressed their concerns about the need to be more familiar with the technicalities of using technology in their professional practice as it is apparent in the following excerpts

I think there's always a lot to learn there, it is a matter of discovering, if we don't know how to upload a listening track, there are a few technological tools we have to learn, but this is a matter of doing them (Tutor 6, interview).

I have to know all the various tools we have in there, second that we don't have enough information how to take benefit of the resources that Moodle platform offers (Educator 1, Questionnaire)

I guess planning might be difficult if we don't possess so many computer skills, because what I am doing is mainly like some links with exercises which may have recently been done (Professor 2, Questionnaire).

In the first circumstance, teacher 6 highlights the fact that when wanting to use technology in the class, it is necessary to explore the technical tools to be utilized and find out about them. This view is complemented by instructor 2 by specifically discussing the lack of knowledge he has about the usefulness of the resources provided by the system the institution uses. Because of this insufficient knowledge, teachers fell into the high use of links to webpages as the primary resource since it is one of the easiest activities to propose in terms of technological demands. It is even more noticeable after analyzing the particular Weekly Process Description Format shows: 100% of the individuals in this research mainly linked web pages in order to give more material to reinforce the topics worked in class. This happened over the ten weeks of observation. Besides, there is absolutely no proof assertive feedback given to the task students did there.

In mention of the change of traditional views of education, instructors reported knowing of the need to get started on looking at digital education and with it to the utilization of technology as a contextual demand in current educational techniques. To do so, teachers should open up their brains to other teaching and learning surroundings as the second comment below shows. Inside the same vein, professor 3 invites to trust in and rely on the utilization of exclusive classrooms more. That's, instructors should take the task of potentiating their technological skills and taking responsibility in it by stopping witnessing them as something others want to do.

Teachers have to deal with technology, they have to start to believe in the potency of the online work, they have to be prepared and they have to know how to design exercises, upload exercises in the VP and most of them do not know how to do it, and most of them are not enthusiastic about learning how to get it done because they think it is other educators' job (Professor 3, interview).

sometimes we disagree with some activities and we say no it's better in person or if we don't like computers very much it's a personal challenge to change our perspective (Professor 2, Interview).

Consequently, inside our view the use of technology in education brings along with it a point of view change in conditions of the surroundings in which teaching and learning may take place. Thus, by first understanding that the utilization of technology in education is a present world demand, educators can mediate its approval, so as to fight fears, understand its advantages, be familiar with its drawbacks and wrap up learning how to make use of it effectively. In this technique, we also need to be critical towards its applicability, the sorts of activities to be proposed, information to be utilized as well as materials and resources found on the web. It will always be smart to try to design our own material based on the particularities in our framework and, in this fashion, make more correct connections with the curriculum and syllabi. In other words, there should be quite strong bonds on the list of teaching learning process and curriculum, material, methods, instructing style, context, evaluation and assessment conditions. Through these elements, computer structured activities acquire their real value in the educational environments (Segovia, 2006).

Autonomous Learning is Respected but Under-promoted

It is commonly believed that certain of easy and simple elements to articulate with digital education is autonomy since students aren't "controlled" by the teacher. However, Autonomy is a complex concept that cannot be reduced to individuality or lack of supervision or advice. In our exploration regarding the ways that this concept was realized in the work teachers do and proposed their students to do in the online classroom, researchers found with myths, superficial visions and in a few circumstances real autonomy-related visions.

It was common to find professors who believed these were promoting autonomy in their exclusive classrooms by giving websites to students for them to have more alternatives to explore information (Professor 6, Interview); because "they are simply said to be exclusively or working independently" (Tutor 2, Interview) or because the work in the online platform "encourages students to study by their own" (Instructor 4, Questionnaire). This situation was also obvious in the observations done to the actions that teachers contained in the virtual classroom. It was witnessed that students were supposed to "autonomously" explore a couple of links to webpages whose content consisted mainly of vocabulary and grammar practice, activities which were assessed simply by the time spent, which is the one report the platform offers because of this kind of activities.

On the other hand, we're able to also identify some professors whose values towards autonomy were nearer to what the idea really entails. Instructor 6, for instance, identifies how, in his view, the material he uses in the electronic classroom may "request students to discover their talents and weaknesses, for example when they go and practice for one specific skill they certainly it because they feel they need it" (Instructor 6, Interview). Similarly, for educator 5, the effectiveness of a virtual school room depends on how useful the students find it (Instructor 5, Questionnaire).

In this framework, we found out that although there were two instructors who referred to autonomy as an activity to discover learning potentials and confront weaknesses and failures, there's a trend to misinterpret or reduce it to simply indie work. Specifically, in exclusive environments, it is just a challenge for teachers to first be aware of what fostering autonomy really is and, from this point, commence to help learners identify and use some alternative approaches for language learning. An excellent start is to help learners identify how they learn and exactly how these strategies can be implemented in the virtual classroom and over time guide these to take responsibility for learning, develop self-control and willpower, move beyond instruction and develop critical thinking skills (Kumaravadivelu, 2003).

Individuality is Privileged over Collaborative Work

Regarding the ways that collaborative learning has been contained in the work professors and students do in the class room, we found with the fact that it's still an issue. Most teachers survey not having fostered collaborative work in the academic activities they propose in the online classroom. That is obvious in what the professors 3 and 4 say below.

I am not very sure about the collaborative learning because most of the time they work separately, maybe dealing with community forums and chats. But I think these activities are the ones that are performed minimal (Teacher 3, Interview).

According to my experience, I have already been working in a person way not in a collaborative one. They could be promoted if we've a specific matter, procedure and objective to utilize them in order to reach collaborative or meaningful learning (Professor 1, Interview)

As can be seen, teachers see a lack in what they are doing in the virtual classroom in conditions of what collaborative work embraces. For instance, teachers 3 and 1 explain how specific dynamics are preferred over cooperation among students. Both of these participants, however, obviously point out some strategies and ways in which cooperation might be included to what they actually in the exclusive classroom, which at the same time may lead the learner to think it is more important, too. On this sense, the instructor 5 also says that "forums and chats or alternative activities in which they have to have interaction, if students are in charge of this type of activities I feel that could improve a whole lot" (Professor 5, Interview). In short, we discovered that although there is awareness of how enriching collaborative learning can be for vocabulary learning processes, educators do not foster this kind of learning in their practices. The previous was also visible in the follow-up done to the virtual classrooms where we discovered that 5 out 6 teachers proposed activities like forums, a maximum of three forums along the semester, most of them have the purpose of uploading individual writing projects, forgetting the principal intention of forums: interact with others.

Considering the fact that collaborative work has resulted to be an institutional concern in virtual classrooms and considering that language is used in social relationship, it's important to come up with pedagogical plans where even in virtual environments the target language can be used just how it is meant to work in real life. To do so, in a electronic environment, understanding the way collaboration and connections can be promoted in this space is the first step. Designing activities rooted in these principles would be a second step. Likewise, a 3rd basic step is to be sure the actions are being developed in the manner they are thought of. As a result, collaboration as a effortlessly social act where the participants discuss among themselves and study from the other person (Pacheco, 2005) would be at the core of the procedures in the virtual classroom. The digital classroom offers a couple of activities that can be used in collaborative learning, so professors need to explore them and take the time designing activities in which students try discourse and exchange of ideas by using technical resources.

Making Learning Important through Virtual Classrooms: AN EXTRA Challenge

Ausubel (2000) explains important learning as a process in which the backdrop knowledge from individuals, the coaching and learning purposes, types of procedures and materials are articulated in such a way that the connection between what's known and what's designed to be learnt is not arbitrary. It has been one of the main strengths we have found in the work being done at the university or college, where students' realities and desires are considered. It was obvious in a careful collection of materials, links related to music and videos that, at the same time work on vocabulary, grammar, and comprehension (observations done to each online classroom).

However, based on Ashburn's (2006) six traits of significant learning when using technology referred to above, we're able to infer that there surely is still a long way to travel before meaningful learning is effectively marketed in the online lessons educators have designed. Instructors have basically acknowledged that we now have some preliminary conditions to begin facing the challenge including the fact that the utilization of online classrooms is "an excellent resource and most students enjoy it because they are keen on technology" (Instructor 4, questionnaire), which "students feel very comfortable and self-confident dealing with computers" (Instructor 3, Interview). Despite this fact, to enhance meaningfulness in the learning activities suggested in the online classroom it's important to set clear goals, choose appropriate strategies to reach those goals, resemble real like responsibilities, work collaboratively and indicate upon the process (Ashburn, 2006).

Conclusions and Implications

All in all, from the instructors' perspectives, we're able to identify how even though they are using digital classrooms for quite some time now, they still perceive the necessity to be trained in how to use online classrooms and exploit this educational tool a lot more. Besides, they notice that the use of this digital environment is an ongoing educational demand; they show knowing of the importance of being open to the range of learning opportunities digital classrooms might offer as a go with to what they regularly do in their physical classrooms. Furthermore, this analysis has shown how teachers have built vulnerable perceptions of what promoting autonomous, collaborative and meaningful through a digital environment mean. Furthermore, professors' work evidences an lack of encouragement of cooperation among students.

The use of technology in education is an ongoing demand and, as a result, we, educators, are being called to incorporate them inside our everyday practices. The use of a virtual school room is just a means of achieving this goal. However, as this research has shown, use of this tool signifies some extra-challenges of different characteristics (pedagogical, scientific). This is present in the next aspects

Teachers assuming an active critical role. When using virtual classrooms in an institution, it should not be a responsibility of simply a reduced quantity of teachers or administrative personnel, instead, all educators engaged should take responsibility towards it, get employed in proposing activities in the virtual classroom, and become critical into the ways in which these virtual surroundings can be effectively used and fully exploited to improve vocabulary learning.

Seeing the electronic class as a maximizer of learning opportunities not only as a necessity from the college or university. The implementation of virtual surroundings, like the main one being talked about here, demands a change in conditions of how language learning occurs; virtual conditions can also play an important role in this effort.

Really boosting autonomy, cooperation and interaction. Virtual classrooms are tools that can be manipulated in order to take benefit of them whenever you can to improve students' academic development. Therefore, processes such as, autonomy, collaboration and relationship could be gradually integrated to the action being done in the online class room specifically in the setting up this study was carried out since these principles are part of the cornerstone of the Educational Task. This continuous integration could be enhanced, for example, by grounding decisions and actions in the final results of further clinical tests and representation.

Integrating the utilization of the online classrooms in the curriculum. The very fact of including and articulating the use of electronic classrooms in dialect teaching and learning routines might therefore imply a need to get this to participate the curricular recommendations of the educational approach of confirmed institution.

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