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Blended Synchronous and Asynchronous Online Learning: Pre-Service EFL Teachers’ Perception (A Proposal)

 

INTRODUCTION

A. Background

Since the beginning of 2020, the covid-19 pandemic has been a global public health catastrophe. It has been disrupting almost all sectors, including education. To contain the spread of the virus, practicing social distancing is indispensable and schools are forced to create a big change in the system. In Indonesia, the ministry of education had proposed to shift the offline classes into online classes at every level of education since March 2020. Applying online learning (henceforth is abbreviated OL) or e-learning has become the most feasible solution during the pandemic because it enables students to access and learn the materials anytime and anywhere. It also allows students and teachers to communicate from a distance. Students can also read and respond every time (Lim 2017).

OL is classified into a triad of synchronous, asynchronous, and hybrid or blended learning (Perveen, 2016; Dorsah & Alhassan, 2021). Synchronous OL, such as live students presentations, live lectures, or live group seminars hosted through video conferencing or chat, enables students to interact with teachers or presenters and get questions answered in real-time. Thus, it necessitates real-time student-teacher presence. Asynchronous OL is facilitated via online discussion boards, news feeds, and instant-messaging tools. It is not time-bound. It offers students flexible time frames as they can access learning material, communicate, take and submit an assignment, and take assessments at their own pace. It also permits the teacher to send materials in various formats (text, audio, and/or videos). Most OL courses employ asynchronous modes (Parsad & Lewis, 2008) due to their flexibility which allows students to study at their leisure. Each of synchronous and asynchronous mode has its strengths and limitations. To optimize OL educators have begun to blend synchronous and asynchronous modes. Such a combination is popularly called blended or hybrid OL.

OL practice is not new in English education. It began with the introduction of the internet and mobile technologies into language learning and teaching in the 1990s (Pardede, 2020). It soon flourishes as it opens the way for new and innovative methods of teaching and learning. More and more educators employ it to teach English, especially by combining it with in-class learning. However, synchronous and asynchronous OL is still challenging to both teachers and students who are not ready. The problems become more evident due to the quite sudden decision to shift from face-to-face classes to OL classes amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Atmojo and Nugroho (2020) found that the major challenges faced by secondary school's students learning online during the pandemic were the unavailability of the smartphone, the unstable internet connection, inability to afford sufficient internet quota, their low digital literacy, and unpunctuality in attending online classes. Bailey and Lee’s (2020) study revealed that instructors with experience in teaching online expect fewer challenges compared to instructors with no online teaching experience. Additionally, Nambiar (2020) found that quality and timely interaction between student and instructor and technical support are highly necessitated.

B. Research Problems

Since students are among the main stakeholders of learning, their perception is one of the most important success factors in any learning method implementation, including OL. Students' perceptions of OL systems and materials highly affect their level of engagement, while engagement is crucial to student learning and satisfaction in online courses because online students have fewer chances to be engaged with the school and teachers (Martin & Bolliger, 2018). However, most previous studies about blended OL in the field of English education during Covid-19 pandemics were conducted outside of Indonesia and often focused on teachers' perspectives and experiences. Among the few studies conducted in the EFL learning context, most were carried out at the secondary school level. Studies conducted to investigate students' perception of blended OL in EFL teacher education in Indonesia are very rare. This study was carried out as an effort to fill in the gap.

Considering the crucial importance of perception as one of the most important success factors in OL and the scarcity of studies focusing on the perception of EFL students of higher learning of blended OL in Indonesia, the problem to investigate in this study is EFL students’ perception of the students of OL implementation during the Covid-19 pandemic at the English Language Education Department of Universitas Kristen Indonesia

C. Research Objective

The present study aims to uncover the advantages and disadvantages, challenges, suggestions, and needs of OL implementation as viewed from students' perspectives.

The results of the study would hopefully provide both theoretical and practical significance to various parties. Theoretically, the findings are expected to give language teachers or educators insight into learners' perception of OL instruction. Practically, the results of this study are expected to provide the participants valuable information that can help them to form appropriate attitudes towards OL; give English educators valuable information to advance new practices and methodologies in blended OL for making a difference in learning in today’s EFL learning and teaching; and provides other researchers the foundation of further studies.

D. Research Significances

The results of the study would hopefully provide both theoretical and practical significance to various parties. Theoretically, the findings are expected to give language teachers or educators insight into learners' perception of OL instruction. Practically, the results of this study are expected to provide the participants valuable information that can help them to form appropriate attitudes towards OL; give English educators valuable information to advance new practices and methodologies in blended OL for making a difference in learning in today’s EFL learning and teaching; and provides other researchers the foundation of further studies.


LITERATURE REVIEW

This section describes the review of the literature that is used in this study. It starts with the nature, types, and advantages and disadvantages of online learning.  After that, some previous studies on students’ perceptions of online learning are summarized. Finally, based on the literature review, the conceptual framework and research questions are presented.

A. Literature Review

Online Learning (OL)

Online learning (also popular as e-learning) OL is a type of “distance learning” - the umbrella term for any learning that takes place across distance and not in a traditional classroom. It refers to education that takes place over the Internet by using digital tools for teaching and learning. Stockley (2003, p. 1) defined OL as” the delivery of a learning, training or education program by electronic means. E-learning involves the use of a computer or electronic device (e.g. a mobile phone) in some way to provide training, educational or learning material,” while Koohang and Harman (2005) suggested that OL is “the delivery of education (all activities relevant to instructing, teaching, and learning) through various electronic media”. A more comprehensive definition is offered by All (2008) who describes OL as the use of the internet to access materials; have interaction with content, teachers, and other students; and to gain assistance in the learning process to gain knowledge, make meaning, and progress through the learning experience. These definitions designate that OL enables learners to freely access, formulate, organize, and create experiences through the use of information and communication technologies.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, various educational institutions had been using partially or fully online classes to facilitate the process of language learning (Farrah & Al-Bakri, 2020). In a “partially online” course existing resource materials available either in print or non-print are integrated with some elements of online learning. This can include a learning management system or simply a mailing list usage for some asynchronous discussion (Naidu & Oliver,1999). On the other hand, in a “fully online” course most of the learning and teaching materials are provided online and the activities are carried out online.

However, OL in the present study is slightly different from the OL carried out before the Covid-19 outbreak. This study investigates OL implemented under the shift of learning activities from face-to-face instructions into full online interactions due to the spread of Covid-19. In the OL, the schedules are mostly fixed though students can join the class from anywhere. In addition, students' and teachers' readiness has varied the practices of

OL in Indonesia is varied and the learning environment is dissimilar. What is more, the pandemic has spread so suddenly that OL should be implemented immediately and adequate training could not be covered.

Types of Online Learning

OL environments are divided into a triad of synchronous, asynchronous, and hybrid learning environments or blended learning (Perveen, 2016; Dorsah & Alhassan, 2021). Synchronous learning environments provide real-time interaction, which can be collaborative (Salmon, 2013). such as a student's presentation followed by a class discussion or an instructor’s lecture with a facility for questions-answer session. Hyder (2007) stated that synchronous session requires student-teacher attendance at the same time and is live, real-time (and usually scheduled), facilitated instruction, and learning-oriented interaction. Since communication in Synchronous learning mode is carried out in real-time, it is more similar to traditional teaching.

Synchronous modes are very critical to bring teachers and students to interact in the virtual spaces. Various studies (Barbour et al, 2012; Hen & Johnson, 2012) suggested to include the ynchronous modes as they affect student motivation, perception, engagement, and sense of contribution. Moreover, the intensive practices of individual reflection and collaborative dialogues, and negotiation in blended e-learning support students' language skills and conceptual development.

Asynchronous environments are not time-bound and students can work on the learning activities at their own pace (Perveen, 2-16). Due to its flexible modus operandi that allows students to study at their leisure, asynchronous learning/teaching has been the most predominant form of OL (Hrastinski, 2008; Parsad & Lewis, 2008). Asynchronous environments provide students with readily available material in the form of audio/video lectures, handouts, articles, and PowerPoint presentations. These materials are accessible anytime anywhere via LMS or other similar channels. Asynchronous communication is also self-paced so that it accommodates learning differences and allows cognitive room for the careful construction and understanding of content. However, asynchronous OL can be challenging for it needs strategies to keep students engaged and interested (Perveen, 2016).

Realizing that synchronous and asynchronous classes have their strengths and limitations, to optimize OL educators have begun to blend synchronous and asynchronous modes. Such combination is popularly called blended or hybrid OL.

Blended or hybrid learning, is conventionally understood as a learning process that combines face-to-face and online learning. Bonk and Graham (2006) defined blended learning as a combination of two historically different teaching-learning process models, namely the traditional learning system (face-to-face) and the distributed learning system. For them, blended learning basically combines the positive aspects of face-to-face learning and online learning. In the same vein, Watson (2008) accentuated that blended learning combines the best components of online learning and face-to-face learning. Thus, with blended learning, the weaknesses in face-to-face learning can be overcome by the advantages of online learning. On the other hand, the weaknesses of online learning can be overcome with the advantages of face-to-face learning.

Yet viewed from a broader perspective, blended learning is essentially a combination of strategies for delivering the right material in the right format to the right people at the right time (Kahn, 2005). In this view, blended learning combines a variety of delivery media that are designed to complement each other and encourage an optimal learning process. In line with this, Howard et al (2006) stated that blended learning concerns with “effectively leveraging the strengths of differing kinds of learning activities and venues in achieving some overarching learning objectives”. In this sense, the combination of synchronous and asynchronous online learning is blended learning conducted through the internet. Synchronous learning occurs simultaneously at the same time between students and teachers/lecturers, although it doesn't have to happen in the same place (Littlejohn & Pegler, 2007). Synchronous learning is differentiated into two types: synchronous physical format (Khan, 2005), in which the students and teachers interact face-to-face, and online or virtual collaboration synchronous (Staley, 2007), like audio/video conferencing, chatting, live online learning. Asynchronous learning, which allows different learners to experience the same teaching material at different times and places (Smaldino, et al., 2008), is divided into collaborative asynchronous (such as online discussion forums, mailing lists, e-mail, etc.) and independent asynchronous (such as simulations, online tests, searching materials, materials in the form of pdf, doc, html, video, animation, etc.) (Staley, 2007). When virtual collaboration synchronous learning is combined with asynchronous learning, blended online learning occurs.

Advantages and Disadvantages of OL

Dhull and Shaksi (2017) listed various advantages and disadvantages. According to them, OL is considered a blessing due to the many advantages it offers: (1) accessibility that permits students to learn anytime and anywhere; (2) personalized learning that enables a student to determine and process his/her learning style, content, aim, current knowledge and individual skills; (3) cognitive abilities development due to the possibility for students to find unlimited information which they can access just by the click of a button; (4) cost-effectiveness obtained  because less money is spent in traveling and in buying books; (5) research promotion due to ease of publishing online; (6) development of basic computer skills; (7) equal opportunity to all for students are not treated differently based upon caste, creed, race, sex, religion, and disability, etc.’ (8) self-pacing which is facilitated by the fact that OL allows students to work and learn at their own pace without the time restriction; and (9) globalization.

According to Dhull and Shaksi (2017), besides the advantages, OL also shows its disadvantageous side, i.e., (1) poor communication as a result of the unavailability of face to face interaction between students and teachers; (2) feeling isolated caused by the lessening face to face interaction with classmates and teachers; (3) lack of motivation triggered by the ease to get distracted towards any other thing. (4) lack of quality caused by the tendency of some online instructors not to take their lesson preparations as seriously as they could; and (5) poor accessibility of the internet, particularly in remote areas.

Previous Studies on Students’ Perception of Online Learning

Since students are among the main stakeholders of learning, their perception is one of the most imperative success factors in any learning method implementation, including OL. Martin & Bolliger (2018) found that students' perceptions of OL systems and materials highly affect their level of engagement, while engagement is crucial to student learning and satisfaction in online courses because online students have fewer chances to be engaged with the school and teachers. Banna et al (2015) accentuated that engagement is the key solution to the issue of learner isolation, dropout, retention, and graduation rate in online learning. Sanders and Morrison-Shetlar (2002) confirmed that students’ attitudes towards technology are influential in determining the educational benefits of online learning resources and experiences. 

Various research results have shown that students' perception is crucial because it helps teachers to evaluate the teaching-learning process. Akkoyunlu and Yilmaz (2008) accentuated that “The degree of learners’ expectations, satisfaction, opinions or views on courses has played an important role in evaluating the effectiveness of learning processes”. Moreover, when students perceive their experience as enjoyable, satisfying, and personally fulfilling, they tend to interact more, which results in enhanced learning”.

Some studies have been conducted in various regions to investigate the perception of online learning during Covid-19. The study by Aminullah et al. (2019) showed that although some teachers held positive attitudes toward OL, some others still encountered many problems, including lack of support from the institution, lack of ICT equipment, and also lack of adequate training. Involving 43 native English speakers who teach EFL in South Korea, Bailey and Lee's (2020) research revealed that instructors with experience in teaching online expect fewer challenges compared to instructors with no online teaching experience. The researchers, therefore, recommended instructors with no online teaching experience start with LMS discussion forums and closed-ended quizzes. Atmojo and Nugroho’s (2020) study focuses on the teaching activities and challenges in secondary schools during the pandemic. The results show that the major challenges faced by students were the unavailability of the smartphone, the unstable internet connection, the inability to afford sufficient internet quota, their low digital literacy, and unpunctuality in attending online classes.

Another study was conducted by Nambiar (2020) focusing on instructors' and students' attitudes towards online classes amid Covid 19. Involving 407 students and 70 instructors from different colleges and universities in Bangalore city, the results show that quality and timely interaction between student and instructor and technical support are highly necessitated. Involving 82 students from two services English courses at Hebron University, Zboun and Farrah (2021) examined the advantages and challenges of online classes from students' point of view. The results revealed that students faced various challenges with online learning, and they preferred face-to-face classes.

B. Conceptual Framework

Since students’ perception is one of the most important success factors in the implementation of any learning method, understanding the perspectives of students about OL practices is very crucial. To uncover them, explorations of students’ perspectives concerning the OL implementation are required. In this study, the perception of the students of the English Language Education Study Program of Universitas Kristen Indonesia of the experiences they underwent while learning in the OL environment amid the Covid-19 outbreak will be explored. Data will be collected and triangulated employing three methods: a questionnaire, semi-structured interview, and students’ written reflection. The collected data will be analyzed using the content analysis technique.

C. Research Questions

As stated earlier, this study aims to uncover the advantages and disadvantages, challenges, suggestions, and needs of OL implementation as viewed from students' perspectives. To ensure the objectives, this study is guided by three research questions: (1) What are the major advantages and disadvantages of OL implementation according to the students of the English Language Education Department of Universitas Kristen Indonesia? (2) What challenges do the students encounter in attending OL amid Covid-19? (3) What are the students' recommendations to overcome the challenges of OL? and (4) what do the students need in OL beyond the classroom?

 

RESEARCH METHODS

A. Research Design

This study will employ a descriptive case study design, which is defined by Yin (2008) as "an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context, especially when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not evident" (p. 18). This design befits the study for it allows the participants to express their perceptions of the experiences they underwent while learning English in the OL environment amid the Covid-19 outbreak.

 

B. Research Context and Participants

This study will be conducted in the Indonesian context, particularly in the teaching of English as a foreign language in the English Language Education Study Program of Universitas Kristen Indonesia. Data will be collected in the age of covid-19 pandemic where learning in higher education is still moved from face-to-face learning to online learning beyond the classroom. To get the data, 10 students will be purposively selected from each of the four batches. Thus, this study will involve 40 students of the English Language Education Study Program of Universitas Kristen Indonesia. The participants will be selected based on a single and primary criterion, i.e., they have experienced the three modes of OL--synchronous, asynchronous, and hybrid during Covid-19 pandemics.

 

C. Data and Research Instruments

The data to be collected in this study includes the advantages and disadvantages, challenges, suggestions, and needs of OL implementation as viewed from students' perspectives To collect and triangulate the data, three methods will be utilized to collect the data: a questionnaire, semi-structured interview, and students’ written reflection. The questionnaire will consist of various statements that the participants will respond to by deciding on one of the five options arranged in 5 Likert scales.

 

D. Procedure

The questionnaire will be distributed and responded to online in Google Forms. The semi-structured interviews will involve eight participants (two students from each batch). It will be conducted online through live video conferencing in about 30 minutes for every interviewee. Students’ reflections will be administered at the end of the semester when this study was conducted by asking the participants to write their reflections on their experiences in online learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

E, Data Analysis Technique

The obtained data will be analyzed by employing the content analysis technique proposed by Miles et al. (2014) that is conducted in three simultaneous flows of activity: (1) data condensation, (2) data display, and (3) conclusion drawing. In this study, data condensation will be carried out by accumulating, simplifying, and extracting the information gained from the questionnaires and transcriptions of the written reflection and interviews. The data display phase will be carried out by systematically rendering the information gained in the previous step. Conclusion drawing will be conducted by making conclusions based on the problems identified and the result of the discussions.

 

F. Potential Ethical Issues

…………………………………………………………………….

 

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