Boosting Engagement in Research in a Synchronous Online Foreign Language Class: Using an E-Conference Format, Peer-Reviewing and Pressbooks

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In the COVID new normal, many courses have changed modality or had to displace the face-to-face classroom in an e-campus. The problematic for Humanities courses that heavily rely on research and collaboration is how to redefine the connection between instructor and students, and how to create fruitful research collaboration among students in a delocalized synchronous or asynchronous classroom. This formative assessment incorporates cooperative learning (Siddique & Singh 2016, Goodsell 1992, Kessler 1992) and provides a learning environment that promotes students’ initiatives, responsibilities, decision making, and ownership, to improve complex knowledge learning, creative thinking (Cooper 1995), and professional skills (Kagan 1992). The experiment was positively conclusive in improving students learning skills in research, and their oral and written skills in the target language, French.

Link to example artifact(s)

Instructor: Charlotte Trinquet du Lys

Course: FRW 3100. Survey of Early Modern French Literature, Online synchronous modality

In order to foster research and collaboration in the virtual classroom, I created a series of formative assessments for my literature survey that increases students’ responsibility and ownership over their experience in learning (Richards & Rodgers, 2001). The small class consisted of 9 juniors or seniors in the French & Francophone Studies Program at UCF and was held synchronously via Zoom.

The typical 4-5,000-word term paper became a semester-long assignment involving six stages: abstract, draft, final paper, peer-review, virtual conference presentation, and publication.

After being exposed to the historical background of the studied literature and to research techniques, students are required to produce an abstract for their conference presentation/article publication. This first stage happens one month into the semester, which compels students to critically think early on about their research. Additionally, they must produce a reading list of three peer-reviewed articles on their topic of research, enticing them to start the process of their research from step 1. This step is followed by a draft (end of month 2), which after instructors’ comments and corrections, becomes a final draft that will be peer-reviewed by class partners (end of month 3). Students then use the feedback received by both instructor and student-partner to edit their final draft into a publishable article and create a conference presentation (mainly with the use of a PowerPoint).

During the last month of the semester, students cooperate to create a name for their e-conference, elect a president, and organize their research into panels, which some of them will chair (presentation of the panel and panelists’ bio, respect of allotted time per panelist, and manage a Q&A session; they are required to create questions for each panelist in case the rest of the class, the audience, has none). The whole class also divides among each student the formatting of the conference proceedings, or article publications, using the UCF-licensed Pressbooks (title, front page image, design, format, introduction, copy-editing, etc,). The whole class collaborates on the production of research, from the first critical thinking to its dissemination, making students’ learning visible outside of class (the Pressbooks is an open resource and anyone can see the volume). For this formative assessment, students received immediate feedback during all steps of the process from the instructor and from their peers. They also were required to give feed-back which increases their cognitive knowledge as a group, their sense of belonging, and an added confidence in their language skills. Their responses provided timely information about their progress status. All the coordination of the conference and proceedings was done mostly a-synchronously via Canvas discussion board.

The direct evidence used to evaluate the learning process was written work samples (abstract, article, discussion board, peer-review, PowerPoint, Pressbooks) and observation (class discussions on research, collaboration among students, e-conference presentation, and Q&A). Indirect evidence was gathered via class / online discussions and the end of the semester anonymous students’ evaluations. The students’ rate of satisfaction with this learning experience was high, with testimonies such as: “deeper appreciation of French literature”, “learning [of] the course material fun and interesting”, “very useful feedback on all of our work”, “[the instructor] tried and succeeded at keeping us students engaged with the course.”

Quantitative data analysis was based on the number of students finishing the assignment, compared to previous years (that I took as control groups), and the ratio of increased grades. Only one student out of nine did not complete the last stages of the assignment (paper presentation and publication), due to a medical issue. All other students’ grades improved by an average of 3% (half a letter grade) for the entire assignment, compared to previous years. Qualitative data analysis was based on the e-conference presentation and the published article, and specifically on the research level produced and the professionalism of the work delivered. The quality of students’ writing in French but also including professionalism such as copy-editing, and respect for MLA format for in-text citation and bibliography, was drastically improved, and the incorporation of secondary readings doubled compared to previous semesters, proving that the students were willing to go beyond the required assignment to improve their research and its final product.

Such an experiment proved to be a positive pedagogical formative assessment for fostering research at the undergraduate level. The students’ commitment to research and its quality was enhanced because the six steps’ assessment took the learners from a ‘mock-up’ setting to a final product set in a reality that goes beyond the gradebook and the classroom walls: they not only participate in research together, instead of individually, but they worked together to own the final product. With this formative assessment, not only the set goals of fostering qualitative learning and student engagement were achieved, but student initiative, responsibility, decision making and confidence were added benefits to the student overall learning experience.

The conference proceedings can be viewed here:

Link to scholarly reference(s)

Artzt, A. F., & Newman, C. M. (1990). Implementing the Standards. Cooperative Learning. Mathematics Teacher, 83(6), 448-52.

 Cooper, J. L. (1995). Cooperative Learning and Critical Thinking. Teaching of Psychology, 22(1), 7–9.

Goodsell, A. S., Ed. (1992). Collaborative learning: A sourcebook for higher education (2). University Park, PA, Pennsylvania State University, National Center on Postsecondary Teaching, Learning, and Assessment.

Kagan, M., & Kagan S. (1992). Staff Development and the Structural Approach to Cooperative Learning. In: Professional Development for Cooperative Learning: Issues and Approaches. Ed. Brody, C. & Davidson, N. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Kessler, C. (1992). Cooperative language learning: A teacher’s resource book. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Richard, J.F, & Wallian, N. (…). Emphasizing Student Engagement in the Construction of Game Performance. In: Teaching Game for Understanding Theory, Research and Practice. Griffin, L, & Butler, J., Eds. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Richards, J. C., & Rodgers, T. S. (2001). Approaches and methods in language teaching. Boston, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Siddique, M, & Singh, M. (2016).  Learning in Enhancing Students’ Essay Writing Skills in Pakistani Colleges. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention, (5)8, 68-70.

Slavin, R.E. (1980). Cooperative Learning. Review of Educational Research. 50(2), 315- 342

— (1995). Cooperative Learning: Theory, Research and Practice. United Kingdom: Allyn and Bacon.


Trinquet du Lys, C.M. (2021). Boosting engagement in research in a synchronous online foreign language class: using an e-conference format, peer-reviewing and pressbooks. In A. deNoyelles, A. Albrecht, S. Bauer, & S. Wyatt (Eds.), Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository. Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida Center for Distributed Learning.

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