The “Immersive Experience” in Language Learning: Student Perceptions, Experiences, and Transitions between Online and On-Campus Learning Environments
Marsh, Sara Elizabeth
MetadataShow full item record
In this thesis I examine the various ways in which undergraduate students of German as a Foreign Language experience different learning environments (on-campus vs. online). Previous research has focused on how to design online courses to resemble traditional on-campus ones; factors that influence online dropout and retention rates; and the effectiveness of new technologies by comparing learning outcomes and student perception of online vs. on-campus courses. However, in today’s universities, more and more students are taking a variety of online and on-campus courses simultaneously and transition frequently between these two learning environments. My project focuses on three research questions: (1) how do students perceive the value and effectiveness of an online language learning (OLL) environment and how do they think learning online affects (or would affect) their learning process? How satisfied did they feel with the course environments in which they studied? (2) How do they choose their preferred learning environment, and how do they see certain courses fitting into their study plans? and (3) how do they experience transitions between environments, and how prepared did they feel before and after the transition? I distributed a survey (157 responses) to all current students in German at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and completed 23 follow-up interviews. I have undertaken a qualitative study of the resulting data. Along with key findings from the wider “Geroline” project (incl. analysis of 10 years of student records) results indicate that the majority of students hold ambivalent or negative views towards OLL. This was primarily due to perceived deficits in the interactivity, feedback, and motivation potential online courses offer, while students highly valued (to the point of elevating the effectiveness of) the traditional face-to-face (F2F) learning environment. Students placed a strong emphasis on the acquisition of oral communication skills and a desire for teacher-led, social, learning. Students in the sample therefore chose F2F as their default learning environment, and saw online learning as a less-desired and/or backup option. Students who took courses in both environments were much less satisfied with online courses, despite no detriment to long-term student success (i.e. grades) being found in the statistical data. Transitions also did not appear to pose any significant hurdles to students as they described them; rather they adjusted well to switching between course environments. Pedagogical implications for a program that combines both online and on-campus learning, as well as for course design in online environments, are discussed, along with suggestions for improving the perception by students and faculty of OLL as a viable course option.