Using digital technology for autonomous, out-of-class English Language Learning: the influence of teacher support at a Japanese university

Louise Ohashi

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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    This thesis provides insights into the extent to which English language learners (ELLs) in Japan use digital technologies for language learning, and the role that teachers can play to best support their autonomous use of digital technologies beyond formal learning environments. In doing so, it shares findings on the influence of one English teacher’s course-based support for the out-of-class adoption of online tools for study purposes. It also explores factors that motivated or discouraged ELLs from using digital technologies for English language development.

    This mixed method study was conducted at a women’s university in Japan between April 2014 and July 2015. Data were collected through three questionnaires, two sets of interviews and coursework generated during the teaching period. Questionnaire One was administered to 128 first-year students, and focused on their experiences of learning English using online tools prior to starting their university studies. Twenty-two of this cohort were students in my English writing course and agreed to participate in a 16-month longitudinal case study. In this course, I integrated elements designed to foster autonomous, out-of-class English language learning through digital technologies. Grounded in sociocultural theory, pedagogical decisions prioritised social interaction, primarily through students sharing their learning plans, actions and reflections online. During the 10-month course, the students wrote nine reports about their out-of-class English study and shared them in a Facebook group, where they received teacher and peer feedback and support. Questionnaires Two (end-of-course) and Three (six months post-course) explored how students’ use of online tools in English changed over time in response to teacher input during the course and the lack of input in the six months following the conclusion of the course. A smaller number of students agreed to participate in two rounds of interviews, the first after Questionnaire Two (six students) and the second after Questionnaire Three (five students). Quantitative data in this study are generally presented as descriptive statistics, with McNemar’s test used where relevant to test matched pairs for statistical significance. Interview analysis was done using open coding, then data sources were drawn together and interpreted through the lens of activity systems analysis (Engeström, 1987, 1991), which allowed students’ complex learning environments to be considered.

    The findings suggest that students’ use of online tools was very limited within formal English education prior to university and far from ubiquitous for learning outside of school. Despite this, all participants responded positively to the introduction of digital technologies in their university English course and chose to use them to work on their English skills outside of class during the course. This highlights an important role for teachers in supporting and guiding students in the use of digital technologies for autonomous language learning. Findings also indicated that interacting with classmates about out-of-class learning influenced students’ motivation and learning practices, emphasising the value of the teacher facilitating such interaction.

    This study shows that it is certainly possible for language educators to foster autonomous learning practices and play a supportive role that leads to students willingly using digital technologies to develop their L2 skills outside of class. However, it also shows that long-term support may be needed for learners to make sustainable changes in autonomously using digital technologies for language learning. The need for support found in this study was echoed by a desire for it from learners. Therefore, the study recommends that teachers and institutions consider how support could be offered within their own contexts. While the findings represent the account of one teacher-researcher and the students in her teaching context, there is potential for them to resonate with those in other settings, so they may prove valuable to those who wish to examine how they can further support language learners.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Charles Sturt University
    • Davidson, Christina, Principal Supervisor
    • Major, Jae, Co-Supervisor, External person
    Place of PublicationAustralia
    Publication statusPublished - 2019


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