Measuring Oral Proficiency in Distance, Face-to-Face, and Blended Classrooms
World Languages and Cultures
Although the foreign-language profession routinely stresses the importance of technology for the curriculum, many teachers still harbor deep-seated doubts as to whether or not a hybrid course, much less a completely distance-learning class, could provide L2 learners with a way to reach linguistic proficiency, especially with respect to oral language skills. In this study, we examine the case of Spanish Without Walls (SWW), a first-year language course offered at the University of California - Davis in both hybrid and distance-learning formats. The SWW curriculum includes materials delivered via CD-ROM/DVD programs, online content-based web pages, and synchronous bimodal chat that includes sound and text. The contribution of each of these components is evaluated in the context of a successful technologically assisted course. To address the issue of oral proficiency, we compare the results from both classroom and distance-learning students who took the 20- minute Versant for Spanish test, delivered by phone and automatically graded. The data generated by this instrument shows that classroom, hybrid, and distance L2 learners reach comparable levels of oral proficiency during their first year of study. Reference is also made to two other ongoing efforts to provide distance-learning courses in Arabic and Punjabi, two languages where special difficulties in their writing systems have an impact on the design of the distant-learning format. The rationale for offering language courses in either a hybrid or distance-learning format is examined in light of increasing societal pressures to help L2 learners reach advanced proficiency, especially in less commonly taught languages (LCTLs).