Collaborative learning: intercultural virtual student peer-assisted learning, an international collaboration

Carmen Álvarez-Mayo, Lecturer in Spanish, Department of Language and Linguistic Science, University of York, UK
Dr Maria Gonzalez-Chacon, Dr Irene Perez-Fernandez and Dr Antonio Jimenez-Munoz, Lecturers, University of Oviedo, Spain
Andrea Llano Busta, PhD student, University of Oviedo
Laura Montes Menendez, former student, University of Oviedo, EFL teacher

Abstract

During the academic year of 2013-14, with the support of my Department — Language and Linguistic Science — and the UoY Rapid Response Fund, TANGO, an online project of peer-assisted language and intercultural learning was designed and piloted with Universidad de Oviedo (Asturias, Spain).

Now that five years have passed, I would like to draw on the implications — personal, academic and professional — that being involved in such a project has had both on students and tutors. We will hear insightful reflection by — former — students who engaged in TANGO, as well as colleagues from Oviedo that will describe their experience, using examples and providing evidence on the impact that TANGO has had on in their careers.

“Students worked in a professional manner and acquired transferable skills to help them become autonomous learners: they worked independently and in small teams, were fully in charge of their work, research and practice; organised and agreed their work schedules; used a variety of documents; researched topics individually and in collaboration with their partners; discussed their ideas and experiences in both languages and were creative presenting their findings and writing their essays. While doing all that, students used and developed IT skills to publish and share their work; behaved professionally, exercising respect and understanding with one another and became more aware of diversity (…) The students who participated in TANGO practised ‘self-regulated learning’: “learning that occurs largely from the influence of students’ self-generated thoughts, feelings, strategies, and behaviors, which are oriented toward the attainment of goals” (Schunk & Zimmerman, 1998, p. viii).

In 2017 the European Commission published a feasibility study into virtual exchange and in 2018 the Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange project was launched in Europe and Southern Mediterranean countries. Virtual exchanges have now become the norm in many language learning programmes/degrees.

Álvarez-Mayo, Carmen. (2016). TANGO, an international collaborative bilingual e-learning project. In Goria, Cecilia; Speicher, Oranna; Stollhans, Sascha (Eds), Innovative language teaching and learning at university: enhancing participation and collaboration (pp. 37-48). Research-publishing.net. https://doi.org/10.14705/rpnet.2016.000403

Report

Link to Padlet

Carmen received Rapid Response Grant funding to develop TANGO (Themed Autonomous Navigation Global Opus), a long distance collaborative e-learning project to further language study between students at The University of York, UK, and students at The University of Oviedo, Spain. Using TANGO, University of York students practised their Spanish language skills whilst learning about Spanish cultural topics such as food, music, hobbies, art, film and literature. Similarly, in return, students at The University of Oviedo discovered Yorkshire and its cities, British political geography and traditions. Students in both countries studied and researched a variety of topics and completed tasks using the online platform. They discussed what they had discovered with their partners and shared opinions and experiences. Furthermore, they helped one another, clarifying any issues they encountered, in a student-led learning partnership.

Carmen leading the workshop on intercultural virtual student peer-assisted learning.

Carmen collaborated with other three lecturers at The University of Oviedo, Mar, Irene and Antonio who outlined their experiences of working on the TANGO project. Andrea and Irene discussed the benefits of TANGO — they found that their students developed a range of abilities including time management skills, project management skills, oral and written communication skills, discussion skills and most importantly, teamwork skills and intercultural competency, working with students from another country. Antonio also described a follow-on project, COIL (Collaborative Online International Learning), where students at The University of Oviedo worked with students at The University of West Virginia, USA. The students developed a business plan and pitched their idea to their peers at both Universities. Antonio discussed the challenges with arranging these oral presentations at a convenient time for students in two different time zones.

“I had the opportunity to collaborate with Carmen in an innovation project between the University of Oviedo and the University of York (2014-2015), I was the coordinator of the pilot project in Oviedo and Carmen, who also devised the project, was the coordinator in York. She has always been a helpful and supportive coordinator. Her generosity to share her expertise has been outstanding, as well as her skills to plan, supervise and manage the different stages of the project. Since our previous collaboration in 2014-2015, Carmen has been in touch on several occasions to foster different partnerships in terms of scholarship. Most recently, she has encouraged us to participate in the Learning and Teaching Conference of the University of York, where a group of lecturers from Oviedo and former students will reflect on professional practices related to innovation in teaching English as a second language” (Dr Mar González Chacón, Lecturer at Universidad de Oviedo, Spain).†

Portrait of Maria
Portrait of Andrea
Portrait of Irene
Portrait of Laura
Portrait of Antonio

Virtual collaboration from Mar, Irene, Antonio, Andrea, and Laura

Laura and Andrea discussed their experiences of the project, from the student perspective. Laura highlighted that in addition to developing her English language skills, she also developed her IT skills and time management skills whilst organising online video conferencing meetings with her student partner at The University of York. She also described the benefits of having a partner who was from another age group. Andrea highlighted that she had developed her intercultural understanding, in addition to enhancing the linguistic skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening. She also spoke about lifelong learning skills — she continues to contact her York student partner via email five years after the project.

“All in all the TANGO project provided me with a solid linguistic and cultural base to face the rest of my degree, as well as with study habits that were absolutely useful over the years thus encouraging me to engage in other activities such as the COIL or Collaborative Online International Learning project that I completed a few years later. Most importantly, it has taught me about the importance of personal bonds when it comes to undertaking any project. In this hyper-connected world that we are living support networks can lead you to greater accomplishments than those you would obtain if you were to work on your own, because you share your knowledge, you benefit from someone else’s and you can tell that on the other side of the screen there is someone who cares” (Andrea Llano Busta, former TANGO student from her presentation at the 2019 UoY L&T Conference, Session B4: Collaborative learning: intercultural virtual student peer-assisted learning. An international collaboration)

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