Conceptualising online literacies an investigation into Thai EFL students' web-based research practices

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The use of Web as a source of information has commonly been integrated into Thai English classrooms to enhance students’ learning and expose them to “real world” language. Unfortunately, this important issue has never been systematically addressed through detailed and sustained research. This means that teachers of English as a Foreign Language do not have an effective research base from which the tools essential to support the development of the necessary literacies in the digital age can be developed. The purpose of this study is to gain an in-depth understanding of the literacy practices that need to be developed in order to make effective use of the Web as a source of information. Drawing on a Multiliteracies framework, this study examines the kind of practices that were employed by Thai EFL students in the completion of language tasks that required them to use Web-based resources. The rich data gathered on the common practices and challenges that students faced in using Web-based resources provides insights into the skills and knowledge essential to the development of online literacies. The research that forms the basis of this thesis is set in a Thai university and the participants are undergraduate students majoring in TESOL in their first year of study. The data was collected using two types of verbal protocols. A Think-aloud protocol was used to collect the practices that the students engaged in while completing Web-based research tasks, while stimulated recall was used to collect retrospective recalls of the reasoning behind the practices. These tools allowed the researcher to gather rich data on the spot without having to rely on participants’ memories. Five phases of online literacy practices were identified. Consistent with online literacy studies in different contexts, three main skills were found necessary for the task of online research include the ability to search and locate information, the ability to evaluate online information and the ability to effectively use retrieved information for the intended purposes. Significant findings from the study relate to the direct relationship between the practices employed in different phases. These results showed that the lack of skills hindering the completion of one phase was found to have an impact on the outcomes of other phases and the timing and quality of the overall task completion. Thus, attending to the development of discrete skills is insufficient to the development of online literacies. Other important findings highlight that the students relied heavily on various compensatory strategies in order to make up for skills and knowledge gaps that were hindering their progress. The limited English proficiency, the sheer amount of information on the WWW and the lack of ease experienced by many when reading from a computer screen are some of the reasons given for the use of compensatory strategies. Nevertheless, all of strategies deployed by students in this way were transferred from the printed environment. It is not surprising that many of these strategies were found insufficient to the job of assisting the students in sifting through a huge amounts of information that awaits them in the online spaces they enter when the commence their searches. Such results are interpreted as highlighting the need for the conscious and explicit development of online literacy practices specific for EFL contexts. The data collected from students working on online tasks provided the foundation for the conceptualisation of effective practices that is taken up in the latter part of the thesis. It is necessary for EFL teachers to acquire a comprehensive understanding of effective literacy practices within online environment in order to support the students’ development of those required literacies. This study has the potential to inform pedagogies specific to the context of ELT in Thailand and EFL teaching in similar contexts. These implications will help EFL teachers to develop a clear understanding of the online practices that occur outside classrooms in order to support students’ learning needs in the online environment.
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