Regarding the current language learning innovation, the improvement of method and technology is necessary requirement that can bring in high efficiency and learners’ interest. How can social networks based on web 2.0 technology contribute to the learning? If the answer is ‘Yes’, how and what aspects to apply?
In the frame of the research on information technology implementation in teaching French in Pacific-Asia region, a team consisting of Vietnamese and French specialists has conducted a learning skill course for 30 students. They come f-rom Vietnam and Thailand and are studying at four universities in Hanoi, Hue, Ho Chi Minh City, and Bangkok.
These students have participated in a distance learning course via Facebook for four months. The course is designed on ten problem-situation based assignments. They are linked to each other under a stimulation theme named ‘Robinsons in the Space’. The answers for these assignments are at high level of difficulty that require the effort f-rom students themselves as well as the cooperation among them: to give a name to a new planet, to make a farming, breeding, and guarding map for the planet; to obtain a cure for home-sick; to compose a song that encourages inhabitants’ spirit; to design a political regime for the new country-planet, etc. Thirty students are divided into five groups. Each group comprises six students f-rom different universities. A group is provided with one instructor and a learning space in Facebook, the class has a public Facebook group page.
The main goal of this experiment is to help students in apprehending the learning skills (stratégies d’apprentissage, Cyr and Germain, 1998) through a series of brand-new activities, in a strange environment, with new friends, and via new communicative channels.
In this paper, the main results in terms of learning skills are not mentioned but the analysis of the Facebook role in language learning f-rom the experiment.
2.1.1 The Facebook connectivity allows us to access the learners 24/7 and seven days a week
The social network Facebook has been more commonly used by young people everywhe-re at any time via access points such as personal computers, laptops, tablets, and smart phones, etc. This fact leads Facebook to a foreign language learning environment that allows students to take their learning 24/7 and seven days a week. A primary survey conducted prior to this experiment showed that 100% of the students in Department of French Studies at Hanoi University have Facebook account. According to Meirieu (1994) gaining initiative in time and location in learning helps students in strengthening their independence toward individualisation. Analysing activity log of those, who participated in the experiment, we realise that students spend four hours per week, while this indicator is two hours as the course requires. Regarding qualitative aspect, most of the students participating the survey say they prefer learning in Facebook as they feel no constraint.
2.1.2 Learners play roles as social actors
The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) develops a new approach of language learning that considers the learner as not only interlocutor but also social actor (European Council, CEFR 2001: 15). Facebook is a social network, thus Facebook users play the whole role of a member of that social community. In our experiment socialness is firstly expressed through the connection of group members by themselves in Facebook (since they did not know each other before) and then the active usage of target language as communicative tool. In learning process, an education community is steadily formed with a strong role of the most active members. The online learning allows students to learn by their own progresses. Thus, there is an inevitable fact that some students who study faster, while others slower. Under pressure of assignment deadline, the collaboration among members in a group is settled. A long experiment with a lot of difficulties and obstacles makes the members experience all positive and negative emotional stages, and express those feelings with target language in Facebook common learning environment.
2.1.3 Facebook tools allow us to use this social network as a multimedia LMS
Nowadays, there are many LMSes with full communicative utilities and group activity tools that support distance learning. However, the prices of these LMSes are very expensive. In the case of free LMSes, the interfaces are monotonous, the utilities are so complicated that students must take a long time to get used to.
Upon this experiment, Facebook can be totally used as LMS:
The Facebook informative and communicative tools allow fast connection, communication and collaboration among group members. Facebook also actively supports the writing skill practice, testing and assessment processes. This fact is corresponding to the new approach in language learning what appreciates the learners’ autonomy and collaboration among them. However, technology innovation must keep abreast with the learning method renovation. Effectively use of Facebook in language learning must be in line with leaner-centred content, teaching methodology, testing and assessment renovation, whe-re teachers play roles of instructors, consultants and supporters if needed. Furthermore, the learners must get used to Facebook applications and tools as well as essential knowledge about social network culture.