Digital Media as Tools to Promote Writing Skills: Preliminary Research Findings

Aug. 10, 2016

Dr. Rinat Golan, specializes in teaching Hebrew as a mother tongue and as a second language, and researches sociolinguistic aspects of language acquisition at the Levinsky College of Education in Israel. She also participates in projects for the Ministry of Education in Hebrew language in secondary schools.

In recent years, most institutions of higher education have introduced the use of information and communication technology (ICT) centers through various information technologies alongside traditional teaching (Forkosh-Baruch, Mor, Zelikovitz, & Heilweil, 2011). It has been found that in the digital age, the use of ICT in online courses, is a means of promoting change in student-centered learning and teaching (Romero & Ventura, 2008).

Findings of a research focusing on what is being done in the ICT field at the colleges of education (Miodosser, Nachmias, Tobin, & Forkosh, 2006) have shown that ICT in institutions of higher education allow students exposure to innovative and varied teaching methods, an expanded role as learners and future teachers, and alternative ways of evaluating their achievements. The advantages of the online course have also been presented in a position paper compiled at Levinsky College of Education. These include increasing learning flexibility in time and space, modular building of the teaching units, an increase in channels and interactive media, maximum accessibility for the participants, and individual suitability and collaboration (ICT team at Levinsky College of Education, 2010).

The online course at institutions of higher education is therefore a combination of a system of teaching and learning: the lecturer supplies the contents via written lectures and referrals to knowledge sources, but the innovation in this course, as opposed to courses with similar contents in previous years or in other academic settings, resides in the broad use of forums, links, and online resources. The students are requested to perform individual learning tasks and participate in the discussions held in the forums. Thus, the dual aims of the course are achieved: (a) expanding learning boundaries and encouraging higher-order thinking by sharing the knowledge with the pupils and with the lecturer, and (b) raising the level of academic writing in order to publish as a result of writing about academic topics in channels that are viewed by all the students.

Among the possibilities afforded by the online course is writing in order to publish, that is, writing at a high and demanding level. This results in a rise in the level of the students' academic writing in their mother tongue since academic literacy focuses mainly on reading and writing (Yossifon & Doron, 2012). The latter authors' research shows that the students' exposure to mentoring and to the study of academic writing yields better evaluation of academic texts on the one hand and an understanding of the criteria of the academic text on the other. These skills are reflected in the online course by means of both assignments that have to be submitted and writing in the framework of the various forums.

The course, "Issues in Sociolinguistics", which constitutes the topic of this research, is one of the online courses offered at Levinsky College in the framework of M.Ed. studies in linguistic education in a multicultural society. The infrastructure for operating it is the online learning platform, Moodle, which serves as a course management system. It is utilized pedagogically in the components that are offered in the Moodle platformin the two main tracks – pedagogy of exposure to knowledge and pedagogy of interactive collaboration (Shamla & Forkosh-Baruch, 2011). The digital media of the course comprise the following elements: textual – weekly written lectures; auditory – face-to-face sessions; and visual –clips, presentations, pictures, and so on.

The aim of the qualitative research that investigated the properties of the above-mentioned online course is to examine how the ICT environment develops academic writing ability in a course on sociolinguistics – the study of the relationship between language and society and society and language with regard to topics such as second language acquisition, mother tongue, linguistic diversity, dialects, diglossia, language and identity, linguistic policy, and linguistic-educational policy. In other words, the research tools consist of the materials produced by the students in the course via an ICT platform. The writing products were subjected to a content analysis based on (1) categories that were determined a priori and (2) categories that emerged from the contents that were produced. Among the categories were increased learning flexibility in time and space, modular building of learning units, collaboration, dialogic, and so on.

The course described above facilitated the expansion of the learning boundaries from the point of view of location, time, and interaction. Students could participate in lessons from any location since all the contents of the lectures, as well as the sources, were accessible. From the point of view of time, each student reacted to what was written in the forum and was offered a platform for expressing his/her views and sharing knowledge whenever it suited him/her during the week without missing a lesson. In this manner, it was easy to plan the assignment at convenient intervals during the week and maintain the time frame.

Expanding the learning boundaries from the point of view of the interaction between the students and the lecturer and among the students themselves was achieved during the weekly forum, which included questions that obliged the students to relate to the contents of the week's lecture. The assignments were
of various types and necessitated reactions accordingly: (1) argumentative
writing with regard to dilemmas and topics associated with language and society; (2) presentation of personal examples for various linguistic uses;
(3) assignments requiring students to sharetheir experiences, knowledge, and memories concerning linguistic-social topics; (4) assignments requiring the students to relate to an article that was presented in the lesson – reinforcing or confirming the conclusions; (5) assignments requiring practice and experience in field research – collecting knowledge (linguistic usages), categorizing it, drawing conclusions, and publishing them in the forum – in other words, conducting "mini-research".

Participation in the course can be analyzed from three angles: (1) the pedagogical angle: beyond what is learned via lectures in the classroom; (2) the social-collaborative angle: dialogic and collaboration,whose character differs from that of the usual lesson framework; (3) the personal-individual angle: a broader possibility of personal expression, advancement, and expansion of individual self-learning.

With regard to expanding the boundaries of the interaction according to the pedagogical angle, it has been found that the online course is characterized by relevance, actuality, and authenticity; it has the potential to demonstrate and vary many more teaching methods via clips, songs, lectures, film extracts, skits, TV programs, and personal dogmas. To sum up the pedagogical angle, the improvement in academic writing also occurs through good written formulation following thinking, rewriting and editing, as well as for the purpose of publishing.
Expanding the boundaries of the interaction according to the social-collaborative anglerelates to collegial learning, knowledge sharing, acceptance of the "other" (immigrant, minority member), mutual credit, and support in the face of difficulties. As a result of reading the reactions, the students learn from one another in an effective manner.

Expanding the boundaries of the interaction according to the personal angle implies freedom of expression regarding any topic and in any language – even among those who are not inclined to make themselves heard in a regular classroom. It also means being exposed to and becoming profoundly acquainted with one another, which includethe quality of self-learning, empowerment of the student, and improvement in the interaction between lecturer and student.

The findings indicate an expansion of the learning boundaries from the pedagogical, individual and social points of view on the one hand and from the didactic point of view relating to the skills of academic writing on the other. We consider them to be of particular significance in a course dealing with language in the social and cultural context.

In summary, the preliminary research findings demonstrate that the online course described above accords actual added value to learning and contributes to the sum total of the quality of self-learning and its compatibility with the spirit of today's demands. The online course enriches the ways of learning and empowers the study experience.

Forkosh-Baruch, A.,& the ICT team (2010). Position paper concerning high-quality online learning.Tel Aviv: Levinsky College of Education.

Forkosh-Baruch, A.,Mor, N., Zelikovitz, Z., &Heilweil, I. (2011).Models of ICT centers in colleges of education.KivunimAkademi'im, Ktav ha'Etha Mekuvan beHachsharat Morim beYisrael [Academic Directions, Online Journal on Teacher Education in Israel].

Miodosser, D., Nachmias, R., Tobin, D., &Forkosh, A. (2006).Pedagogical innovation in combination with information and communication technologies. Tel Aviv: Ramot Publishers.

Romero, C., Ventura, S.,& Garcia, E. (2008). Data mining in course management systems: Moodle case study and tutorial. Computers & Education, 51, 368-384.

Shamla, A., &Forkosh-Baruch, A.Empowering teaching and learning in colleges of education via the Moodle system.Kivunim Akademi'im, Ktav ha'Et haMekuvan beHachsharat Morim beYisrael [Academic Directions, Online Journal on Teacher Education in Israel].

Yossifon, M., &Doron, S. (2012).Issues and challenges in improving students' academic writing.The MOFET Institute Newsletter, 48, 25-31.

Updated: Aug. 10, 2016


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