I completed my dissertation in 2008 at the University of Texas under the guidance of Dr. Zsuzsi Abrams in the Germanic Studies Dept. The title was "Virtual communication: An investigation of foreign language interaction in distance education".
Here is the working abstract of the article that I am writing:
The purpose of the present study was to investigate the interactional practices of Foreign language learners in an online Distance Education course. Additionally, this study sought to investigate whether a relationship exists between participant interaction and course completion and linguistic learning outcomes. The dissertation tracked the practices of 43 participants.
The data of the study included log reports from the course website that gave detailed information as to what tasks each participant completed on the course website. These log reports were then coded and analyzed to provide insight to the overall number of tasks students completed, the partner with which they were interacting, the purpose of their tasks, the collaborative nature of their tasks and the media types participants preferred.
The purpose of this study is two-fold. The first goal is descriptive: to gain an in-depth understanding of how learners spend their time in an online course to better understand how they use online materials and opportunities for communication to learn a language. There is little known about actual student practices in DE as the majority of research conducted relies on self-assessment measures or assumptions.
Many researchers believe that communication is vital for both FL learning and DE learning. However, some of the most recent studies on interaction have questioned whether more communication and interaction in DE is necessarily better, revealing that certain interactions are possibly more effective than others. To test this assumption, this study employed an inferential design to investigate the relationship of tasks in the online learning environment to course completion and learner outcomes.
The results of this research found three variables were significant predictors of both course completion and linguistic outcomes: total tasks completed, total assignments completed and language tasks. Additionally, foreign language, collaborative and asynchronous tasks also correlated to course completion and individual tasks to linguistic outcomes.
Further discussion of the research findings, along with a host of recommendations for further research in this field is presented for consideration.