Online tutoring for foreign languages learning - Part 2

Teaching foreign languages is not a new career in Vietnam; but teaching and learning foreign languages online under the instruction of a tutor is a novel experience which is currently being applied in some popular languages-specializing universities. Or private companies develop personal online accounts and sell them to individual learners. This article aims to include four main points: (1) basic concepts of e-learning and online tutoring; (2) components of a learning management system (LMS); (3) roles of tutors in e-learning of foreign languages; (4) suggestions and warnings of e-learning activities in Vietnam. Some studies on online tutoring in Vietnam generally as well as within the scope of National Foreign Languages Project 2020 particularly are mentioned in the last section.
2.1. Model of e-learning

The model of traditional learning and teaching includes three main factors: teachers, learners and materials. These three factors interact with each other in diverse forms of learning-teaching environments depending on the policy and management culture of each institute as well as the cultural and social context of different locals or national institutions (Figure 1).

The model of e-learning also comprises of three factors: online tutors, online learners and learning management system. For the distinct feature of technology, two other related factors are proposed, including policy in the application of information technology and technical infrastructure for information technology (Figure 2).
Figure 1: Model of traditional learning and teaching
Figure 2: Model of e-learning and teaching
In figure 2, the most significant factor is learners for many reasons. First, modern education has switched the focus to learners instead of only concerning teachers’ activities in class. In addition, e-learning system has been developed to meet learners’ demands, individual learning conditions and increasingly diverse kinds of learners (Bourdet, 2007).

Compared to face-to-face learning and teaching mode, online learners may encounter considerable challenges which are likely to cause d-rop-outs: the lack of time, physical isolation, learning independence, the absence of direct instructions by teachers or the dearth of online tutor’s care and especially the lack of social interaction with online tutors and co-learners (Glikman, 2002).

It is supposed that the major difficulties can be overcome mostly thanks to the roles of online tutors and supporting tools in the platform. For example, physical isolation can be solved by group work (gathering all participants with the same objectives, similar learning styles, and compatible personalities to implement common assignments etc.). The principles of form groups are similar to those applied in traditional classrooms. Learners’ autonomy depends significantly on learning motivation, lesson planning and tutors’ instruction. Learning motivation involves intrinsic (interest or concern) and extrinsic motivation (awards, penalties, social pressure or certificates etc.). Additionally, if lessons are designed properly with increasingly challenging contents to guide learners to grasp the knowledge and skills on their own, learners will not be frustrated with too difficult exercises and they are also trained to become more autonomous (Tardif, 1992). Online tutors’ instruction also plays essential role in supporting dependent learners. They help learners to define learning objectives, methods and identify their weaknesses and strengths for encouragement and motivation. Face-to-face social interaction can be substituted by virtual social relationships through supporting tools such as group exchanges, sharing forums, email, chat (writing, audio, audio-visual). Facebook is a typical example of an online tool to successfully maintain virtual social communication. Virtual classroom is a miniature of the society. Therefore, psychological factor should be considered in design softwares so that they are not only learning places to acquire knowledge but also become social space to make friends, communicate feelings like sadness or happiness. Softwares should have certain sharing functions to keep this social relationship. In terms of time factor, the lack of time or the inability to arrange the schedule is one of the main causes of d-rop-outs. In case those learners cannot arrange the time, online tutors cannot give any help. However, if learners do not know how to manage the time, online tutors can support them in showing time management skill and tasks prioritization.

2.2. Components of a learning management system
As indicated by Ernst (2008), learning management system includes three elements based on 3 functions: administration tools, communication tools and assessment tools. We add one more element which is learning resources.

Learning resources refer to theoretical lectures, self-study packages, practices as well as other materials that learners can self-exploit or use as suggested by online tutors (dictionaries, supplementary readings or external links etc.). Depending on softwares, lectures or lessons can be available in ready-made and fixed programs. Tutors and learners cannot make any changes in the contents, only being able to decide to or not to use them. Often, they are commercial softwares with closed source codes. By contrast, open source coded softwares are flexible like Moodle allowing tutors to customize the teaching and learning contents basing on a comprehensive program. In other words, they can se-lect certain contents and hide others to suit learners’ demands. Online tutors can also plan their own lessons or supplementary exercises at will.

Administration tools are used to assist managers and mainly online tutors to deliver online instruction, check attendances, learning progress and managing learning contents. Since learners’ enrolment, online tutors must be able to follow learners’ learning process and the activities they have done. An effective software allows to “trace” learners in all activities to check if one learners has done certain activities or not, at which time, for how long, for how many times and the accomplishment status. If necessary, online tutors can assess learners’ attendance and participation based on the provided statistics. In terms of contents management, the tools should integrate dictionaries and glossary, index and search engine. Dictionaries can be design in two forms. First, dictionaries can be located on the left/ right margin of the website. Or the meanings will be popped up in a side box when learners point the cursor to the word in the document.

Communication tools allow all participants in the class/ course and online tutors to interact with each other during the time. There are two types of such tools: asynchronous and synchronous activities. Asynchronous activities are the ones that two persons communicate at different times. For example, learners send questions to online tutor but she/ he is unavailable at the time and cannot respond instantly. Such supporting tools can be messages, email, forum, schedule/ reminders. Synchronous activities refer to the ones which participants who are connecting with the Internet can do together simultaneously, which is rather similar to real direct communication. Supporting tools comprise of chat (writing and chatting), videoconferencing or sharing applications such as online interactive board (two participants at different physical locations can see the same board, write on or erase it) or wiki application in cooperative activities (the latter can modify what has been written by the previous).

Assessment tools involve self-assessment or assessment tools by online tutors. In self-assessment activity, there are possibly multiple choice questions with automatic se-lection of answers in reading, listening, grammar and vocabulary. Occasionally, the answers can simply be a short answer appearing on the screen or an external link to other materials that learners can read and compare to their responses. Besides, there should be submission space whe-re learners submit their written or oral presentations. Depending on certain foreign languages training softwares, learners may have to use supporting softwares such as document composing tool or voice recording, and then submit to the given space. If the softwares are designed efficiently, there should be voice recording or writing tools available in the system; after implementing the tasks, learners only have to press button “send” to save the assignments.

When se-lecting foreign languages softwares, it should be distinguished between self-study softwares and e-learning and teaching ones. In the market, there are multiple softwares that can be installed in the learners’ computers needless to connect the Internet. On the Internet, there are also various free foreign languages training websites, often without online tutors. Some may provide forums for exchanges among participants; or administrators can organize theme-based discussion activities. Most of the softwares with online instructors are online and paid ones, requesting participants to register for personal accounts. In principle, an efficient software should not only provide well-designed lesson plans but also be user friendly so that learners can use them without much effort or training.

In terms of IT technical infrastructure and IT application policies, these are necessary and sufficient conditions for the e-learning and teaching activities to take place. Weak telecommunication infrastructure with slow Internet connection may prevent e-learning and teaching f-rom happening effectively. The policies in IT application also play a significant role as they directly affect resources who are working for institutes with face-to-face training. Not all teachers are interested in applying new technologies. Compared to traditional model, online instructors have to invest more time and effort. If the welfare policies are not appropriate, teachers are not motivated to support the new teaching form.
Functions and roles of online tutors are discussed in details in the following section.

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Quyết định 1400/QĐ-TTg của Thủ tướng Chính phủ ngày 30/9/2008 về việc Phê duyệt Đề án "Dạy và học ngoại ngữ trong hệ thống giáo dục quốc dân giai đoạn 2008-2020".
Người đăng:Nguyen Thi Cuc Phuong, Ph.D. Hanoi University