The Interplay between attention, experience and skills in online language teaching

Shi, Lijing; Stickler, Ursula and Lloyd, Mair E. (2017). The Interplay between attention, experience and skills in online language teaching. Language Learning in Higher Education. Journal of the European Confederation of Language Centres in Higher Education (CercleS), 7(1) pp. 205–238.



The demand for online teaching is growing as is the recognition that online teachers require highly sophisticated skills to manage classrooms and create an environment conducive to learning. However, there is little rigorous empirical research investigating teachers’ thoughts and actions during online tutorials. Taking a sociocultural perspective, this study explores the interplay between the attention focus of language teachers during synchronous online tutorials and their reflections on their own teaching practices. Eyetracking data show that patterns of attention focus on different areas of the screen (representing technical facilities, social interaction and content) are related to practitioners’ experience in online teaching including familiarity with a particular platform. In particular, those with less online teaching experience display greater attention to technical areas than their more experienced colleagues.
These findings are confirmed in the teachers’ reflective interviews, stimulated by watching gazeplot videos of their online tutorials. Their reflections also yield deeper insight into reasons for particular actions. Thematic analysis was used to relate the reflections on teaching strategies to the levels of online teaching skills (Hampel & Stickler 2005, New skills for new classrooms: Training tutors to teach languages online. Computer Assisted Language Learning 18(4). 311–326). Our research has extended Bax’s normalisation (2003, CALL – past, present and future. System 31(1). 13–28. doi: 10.1016/s0346-251x(02)00071-4) of the use of technology in face-to-face classroom learning into online learning environments. Mirroring the ontogenetic development of increasing digitalisation, teachers in online environments appropriate the skills necessary to free cognitive resources for attending to social and pedagogic aspects of their teaching.

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