Student perceptions of interaction in an online foreign language learning environment



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A qualitative study of how first year foreign language students perceive different interactions in an online environment. In depth interviews were conducting with ten students after the completion of an online second semester Spanish course. Individual case studies recorded the unique experiences of each study participant and those experiences were then compared and analyzed for common themes. Emerging themes included the value of explanatory feedback programmed into the course, the use of message boards for making interpersonal connections, the difficulty of conducting online chats, the role and value of announcements and the importance of immediacy behaviors for creating social presence. The themes were then applied to the following research questions: 1) What is the effectiveness of the available interactions in a web-based Spanish course as perceived by community college foreign language learners? 2) How do these interactions work together to facilitate learning based upon their purpose? 3) How do these interactions work together to facilitate learning in an online foreign language learning environment based upon with whom or what the student is interacting? The results of this study included three attributes of effective interaction. The participants indicated a need to make a connection between their personal learning goals and the available interactions. Timeliness was also identified as a key component of effective interactions. Automatic feedback, archives for previous information and a quick turnaround on email correspondence were listed as important aspects that created a feeling of timeliness. The third attribute was identified as a low level of frustration when compared to the potential benefit of an interaction. The study participants indicated a willingness to endure some frustration if they thought it would be worth it in the end. Final recommendations suggested that designers of online foreign language courses should include non-linear instructional activities, carefully designed chat opportunities, quality automatic feedback and reading and listening passages that are level appropriate. Instructors should engage in behaviors that enhance the effectiveness of interactions by making regular announcements, helping learners draw connections between the interactions and their learning goals, maintaining and organizing archives and keeping response times as close to 24 hours as possible.