Higher Education and Second Language Learning

Promoting Self-Directed Learning in New Technological and Educational Contexts

by Rosario Hernandez (Volume editor) Paul Rankin (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection VI, 236 Pages


This volume explores the challenges involved in facilitating student learning of second languages at university level. Easy access to information and communication technologies inside and outside the classroom, alongside an increasing tendency for students to play an active role in shaping their own learning, are having a significant impact on second language learning and teaching in the twenty-first century. Although several recent publications have focused on technologies in education and student-centred learning, there has been very little previous research into how second languages are learnt within universities. This book aims to support teachers of second languages in higher education by setting out practical ideas that can be implemented in everyday contexts, as well as ensuring that pedagogical practice is underpinned by relevant theoretical frameworks.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction: Second Language Teaching and Learning for the Twenty-First Century
  • References
  • 1 The Use of Technology to Promote Critical Thinking and Creativity in Language Learning
  • Introduction
  • Critical-thinking skills
  • Creativity
  • Technology
  • Design thinking
  • 1. Identifying the problem
  • 2. Interpreting the findings
  • 3. Creating something
  • 4. Getting feedback
  • Writing in a foreign language
  • 1. Analysing
  • 2. Evaluating
  • 3. Creativity
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • 2 Dealing with ‘Educational Baggage’ in the Language Classroom: Developing Autonomy among International Students
  • Internationalization, student mobility and language learning
  • International students in Ireland: Background and context
  • Teaching foreign languages in an Irish HE context: Focus on learner autonomy
  • International students and the development of autonomy in intercultural language learning: An introduction to the case study
  • International students and their ‘educational baggage’: Findings from the case study
  • Reducing the potentially negative impact of ‘educational baggage’: Facilitating the development of autonomy in the international student
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • 3 Mass-Customized Second Language Modules: Adapting to a Changing Student Body by Enhancing Self-Directedness – the Example of Assessment
  • Increasing diversity in the student body
  • Mass customizing second language modules
  • Assessment
  • Self study
  • Supervised study
  • Case study: Mass-customized assessment in a German language module
  • Context and aim of the study
  • Mass customization of the assessment structure
  • Evaluation of the students’ choices
  • Evaluation of the mass-customized module
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • 4 Foreign Language Learning and Assessment through E-Portfolios at Undergraduate Level
  • Introduction
  • Literature review
  • Context
  • The pilot project
  • The project follow-up
  • Semester 1, 2012–2013
  • Semester 2, 2012–2013
  • Semester 1, 2013–2014
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • 5 Computer-Mediated Oral Communication for University French as a Second Language Learners
  • Introduction
  • Computer-mediated oral communication and Skype
  • CMC
  • Skype
  • Methodology
  • Participants
  • CMC task
  • Questionnaire
  • Results
  • Learners’ profiles
  • FRAN 305 learners
  • FRAN 218 learners
  • Student perceptions
  • Skype and pleasure
  • Skype and L2 anxiety
  • Skype and linguistic performance
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • 6 How Technology Can Enhance Learning through Assessment and Reflection
  • Assessment for learning through reflection
  • Using video recordings in learning situations
  • Context for the study
  • Assessment of oral presentations done in groups
  • Microteaching: delivery of a language lesson
  • Methodology
  • Assessing classroom tasks using video recordings: findings and discussion
  • Reflection-on-action
  • Affective factors related to student performance
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • 7 Using Recordings to Enhance Self-Directed and Reflective Learning
  • Background
  • The modules
  • Using technology
  • Affective concerns
  • Making the technology work
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • 8 Forums and Chats to Learn Languages: Functions, Types and Uses
  • Online written interaction
  • Forums
  • Features and types
  • General forums
  • Specific forums
  • Pros and cons
  • Chats
  • Discourse
  • Capabilities and types
  • Chat moderation
  • Practical recommendations
  • Social media
  • References
  • 9 The Employment of Social Networking for Language Learning and Teaching: Insights and Issues
  • Introduction
  • Teacher and learner considerations in online interactions via SNS
  • Participation
  • Collaboration
  • Motivation
  • Informality of SNSs
  • Teacher and learner expertise
  • Facilitating and moderating
  • Assessment
  • Validation by institution
  • Technological considerations
  • Choice and adaptation
  • Integration
  • Evaluation
  • Managing the use of SNSs
  • Quick tips for teachers
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • 10 Supporting Foreign-Language Learning through a Gamified APP
  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Educational background
  • Computer development
  • Design
  • APP-Design: VocabTRAINER A1 and Catch me, if you can!
  • Software architecture
  • The experience
  • Setting
  • Results from the survey
  • Conclusions
  • Acknowledgements
  • References
  • 11 Bumping into Classroom Walls: How to Win the Timed Race of Language Learning in the University Classroom
  • Space and time in facilitating learning
  • Spaces of language teaching and learning in contemporary university campuses
  • Functions of space at universities
  • Teaching and learning spaces
  • Student perceptions about learning spaces
  • Time in language teaching and learning in contemporary university campuses
  • VLEs as part of contemporary university campuses
  • Conclusions
  • Acknowledgements
  • References
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index


Introduction: Second Language Teaching and Learning for the Twenty-First Century

Society is undergoing numerous, rapid changes, driven by equally numerous social, economic and technological developments. Higher education has not been immune to this. Not only have the number of students in higher education increased dramatically in many parts of the world, but the developments alluded to above have led to significant changes in how people go about learning. It is widely recognized nowadays that education needs to prepare learners with competences for lifelong learning (European Commission 2006); in the context of higher education, this means the acquisition of knowledge and skills that are relevant beyond graduation. Thus, teaching has to embrace the above situation and address the needs of learners in ways that will be relevant for the twenty-first century. A further factor in this context is the increasingly globalized nature of our world, alongside the increasing need to work across borders, of which the ever-increasing number of students crossing borders to study is but one example. In Europe, specifically, the move towards plurilingualism has been reinforced through the ‘own language plus two’ concept.

The challenges faced by teaching and learning second languages within the context outlined above are strikingly similar to those faced by other disciplines in higher education. However, teaching and learning a language poses unique challenges since, unlike almost all other disciplines, its subject matter is so often also the vehicle of instruction (QAA 2007). Thus, it is frequently recognized that in learning languages there are more affective concerns such as anxiety and communication apprehension that are not so salient in other disciplines (Horwitz et al. 1986). Another factor to consider nowadays is that more flexibility in higher education programmes allows students to take languages as part of their degrees, even where their ← 1 | 2 → primary degree is not specifically in languages. The nature of specialist and non-specialist language teaching, or between language departments which see themselves as primarily oriented towards the study of literature and those departments for whom the main objective is to give students the tools to communicate successfully in another language and culture, presents challenges in language teaching in most higher education contexts. Furthermore, support for language learning is not so evident in countries such as the UK or Ireland, where resources are diminishing in relative terms, partly due as a result of the common perception that ‘English is enough’ (Nuffield Foundation 2000). Across Europe, financial pressures since 2008 mean that universities are having to do more with less; relatively speaking, teaching languages is expensive, requiring higher numbers of contact hours and smaller class sizes than many other subjects, without the ability to easily draw large external funding, and this runs against the trend of doing more with less.

Considering the factors outlined above, we can characterize the context of second-language teaching and learning in higher education as follows:

To conclude, developments in information and communication technologies as well as in socio-cultural pedagogical classroom practices, in particular learners’ increasingly active role in shaping their learning, are having an ever greater impact on second language learning and teaching in higher ← 3 | 4 → education. These developments increase the options available for learning languages but, in a context characterized by greater student diversity, pose considerable challenges to teachers who aim to ensure that ‘students are actively involved in a variety of educational activities that are likely to lead to high quality learning’ (Coates 2005: 26). The ready availability of such technologies inside and outside the classroom enables teachers to maximize their use in the classroom and to facilitate self-directed learning outside the classroom. As a result, the roles of the teacher and the learners have changed dramatically.

This edited book was born out of the idea of sharing pedagogical experiences that address how a number of academics involved in the teaching of second languages in general – and in teaching French, German, Italian, Spanish and EFL at universities, more specifically – have embraced the challenges and opportunities of facilitating student learning in a new technological and educational context. The twin focus of the chapters in this book, namely, technology and self-directed learning, drive and, at the same time, respond to the needs of this changing educational context. The chapters in this book explore many of the new possibilities and challenges in second language teaching and learning in higher education, including critical thinking, creativity, cultural barriers, customization of learning, space and time or how technology can successfully be embedded in sound pedagogical practices.

In Chapter 1, Badger and White argue that we are no longer primarily educating students for a career within a defined path. Indeed, the concept of ‘career’ itself has been called into question. Instead, they discuss how students need to develop creativity and critical-thinking skills which they can apply forward into new contexts. The chapter explores the use of digital tools to develop critical-thinking skills. Chapter 2 addresses the issue of cultural baggage carried by international students. Sudhershan and Bruen argue that the influx of students from other cultures creates educational challenges in the classroom and support the idea of addressing student educational baggage to facilitate their learning. In Chapter 3, Märlein discusses the importance of catering for a diverse body of students whose needs differ; he suggests that a way to address diversity is by mass-customizing learning; ← 4 | 5 → more specifically, he focuses on ways that assessment might be customized in order to cope with more heterogeneous student learning needs.

The following four chapters in this book explore the use of technological tools to facilitate learning. Ferrari and Zhurauskaya, in Chapter 4, recount the experience of moving to a digital e-portfolio where students have to record and show evidence of independence and guided learning. In Chapter 5, Jebali argues for a new definition of oral competence that takes into account the medium used to communicate, in this case the use of Skype. He argues that oral communication via Skype, blended with face-to-face activities, benefits all students, not only timid ones. Hernández (Chapter 6) examines the use of video-recording in promoting self-directed learning and reflection, through two case studies where video-recording is used as a tool to enhance formative and summative assessment of student work. Rankin, in Chapter 7, explores the relationship between the technology and human relationships in two oral-language modules, and argues that, as in so many things in life, context is everything.

The chapters by Cassany, Panichi and Berns and Palomo-Duarte put forward the idea of language as a social activity and explore student collaboration through tools more usually associated with non-educational social activities, namely social networks such as Facebook and smartphone APPs. Cassany (Chapter 8) explores the use in the language classroom of two popular and interactive digital tools (chats and forums) and gives a detailed classification of each and their usefulness. Panichi (Chapter 9) discusses the same area through the lens of the teacher and the technology, while Berns and Palomo-Duarte argue in Chapter 10 that one way to address the lack of classroom time available for target-language interaction is to build learning opportunities outside the classroom such as the language-learning APP which they describe.

Finally, in Chapter 11, Alderete investigates how university institutions place constraint on the space and time available for language learning and shows how there may be potential in virtual learning environments (VLE) and the learning tools within them to successfully extend language learning beyond the classroom walls. ← 5 | 6 →

Our hope is that this book will be of interest to teachers of second languages, including EFL/ESL, and to those working in university environments, either in language departments or larger school units, as well as language centres in those universities. Although we are conscious that a limited number of pedagogical experiences are examined, we have taken care to place the focus on the universal application of all the discussions. It is our belief that they offer the wider community of language practitioners sound pedagogical practices, grounded in theoretical perspectives, of how languages are learnt and taught.


Coates, H. (2005). ‘The Value of Student Engagement for Higher Education Quality Assurance’, Quality in Higher Education, 11 (1), 25–36.


VI, 236
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (January)
university level communication information
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2015. VI, 236 pp., 23 fig., 14 tables

Biographical notes

Rosario Hernandez (Volume editor) Paul Rankin (Volume editor)

Rosario Hernández is a senior lecturer in the School of Languages and Literatures at University College Dublin, where she teaches Spanish and second language studies. Her research interests include second language teaching and learning, assessment of student learning and the professional development of teachers. Paul Rankin has been teaching Spanish language and literature at university level for fifteen years, most recently at University College Dublin. His research interests lie primarily in translation studies, with a secondary focus on problem-based learning (PBL) in language learning.


Title: Higher Education and Second Language Learning
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