Friday, April 26, 2013

Live from LTMOOC: Input, Output, and Effectiveness

Today, as part of the course work of the second week of LTMOOC, I joined a Google hangout where we discussed different activities language learners can do. The first two tasks asked us to

1.       Identify whether each is an input or an output (or both)
2.       Place them in order, from most effective to least effective.

I see a couple of problems with a task like this. First, does it make sense to talk about input or output in the case of drills? Yes, you have some input (e.g., the infinitive form of a verb) and some output (e.g., the first person singular indicative form of a verb), you read something (a word), you write something (a word), you click a button or choose from a drop-down menu. I wonder, though, if it really helps us understanding teaching and learning if we apply the terms "input" and "output" to every linguistic information perceived or produced. I'd suggest adding another category, such as "drill" or "exercise" (as opposed to "task"), for activities that are limited to the manipulations of linguistic form, even if this might involve reading or writing, listening to or speaking, small, decontextualized bits of language.

Second, I think that "effectiveness" is a very complex thing to judge. What is the actual learning outcome we aim for? Translation work, out of fashion since the communicative turn, can be a very effective task if the intended outcome is related to the ability to mediate between different languages, for example. What group do we teach? Grammar drills might not work as well with elementary school kids as with university students, project based learning might be difficult to realize with learners who assume that good teaching is strongly teacher-led and dependent on a textbook. A song might be comprehensible input for one learner, and meaningless though nice sounding gibberish for another learner. And any form of extensive learning might have a sad, sad learning per second ratio, but be a great learning activity anyway.

So, my answer to "how effective is this activity for language learning" will be, as it so often is: It depends.


Scott said...

Thanks for your feedback on the activity! I hope the discussion got you thinking about possible tasks to add to your repertoire and that the process of considering effectiveness helps you consider objectives as you assign tasks. If you have any thoughts of discussions or activities you'd like to do, please let me know!

Judith Buendgens-Kosten said...

I've just created a Google Doc which we can use to collect supplementary literature on the different topics covered by LTMOOC. This might be interesting for all MOOCers who want to delve deeper into the theoretical backgrounds and empirical findings concerning :)

So Long, and Thanks for All the Ghoti.