This study aims to explore the English learning achievement, learning attitudes, perceptions, and challenges faced by college students experiencing both synchronous and asynchronous distance English teaching in Taiwan during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ninety freshman students in two General English classes of a university in central Taiwan participated in this study. Quantitative data of pre- and post-English achievement tests and a learning attitude questionnaire designed for the pandemic were collected to analyze the learning achievement and learning attitudes of the students. In-depth semi-structured interviews were also conducted and analyzed through Grounded Theory to probe into the perceptions of students pertaining to distance English teaching amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This study adopted a mixed-method research strategy to cross-validate both qualitative and quantitative data in order to further strengthen its findings.
Upon completing an eight-week course of involuntary distance learning, the difference between the pre- and post-English achievement test results of the participating students was significant. The learning attitude of the students was relatively positive for the constructs of ease of use, usefulness, and level of interaction. Moreover, students who re-visited teaching videos developed a more positive attitude toward their online weekly formative assessments. Low achievers with regard to their English ability held a highly positive attitude toward the text-based message function on the synchronous meeting software. Other qualitative findings include the following: (1) online courses could amplify some existing problems occurring within physical classrooms, (2) online learning will facilitate the adaptive learning experience, (3) the pandemic will expedite the need for, and acceptance of, ubiquitous learning, (4) the pandemic raises awareness of the reality that autonomous learning will be key for future learning, and (5) the physical campus cannot 100% be replaced by online learning, as reflected in the learning experience deriving from the pandemic.
Distance learning has long been available. However, prior to the year 2020, very little research had been conducted on distance learning during pandemics. Furthermore, due to the low number of cases of COVID-19 in Taiwan, Taiwan has been one of the few countries worldwide that could maintain physical classroom teaching. This phenomenon, in the meantime, could also potentially lead to the level of digital learning related experience and research in Taiwan falling behind that of other countries in the long term due to a relatively lower need for executing distance learning. This empirical research attempts to provide evidence-based results for future reference on pedagogy design of distance English teaching in the post-pandemic era. The group of participants involved in this study was composed of students from various colleges, consequently revealing more comprehensive perceptions of college students toward distance education.
Implications for Policy/Practice
The implications of this study include the following. First, both online and physical learning have their merits. Thus, blended learning could be an ideal mode for retaining the essence of both online and onsite teaching. Second, language instructors should strengthen online interactions to build an active learning community. Third, students need to be taught self-directed learning skills so that they can become autonomous, independent life-long learners. Fourth, educational technology should be employed to enhance teaching impact and intensify learning motivation and interests.