It’s with nostalgia beginning to build in my heart that I introduce the avid readers of New College’s student blogs to my thesis. I began blogging for New College my second or third week of classes as a first-year, and now I have turned in both my thesis prospectus form and my Institutional Review Board application to do research on human subjects as a third-year, almost fourth-year student.
I am thesising on Second Language Acquisition, a field that deals with the pedagogy and learning of languages. Initially, when I was an alternate for the Chinese Critical Language Scholarship (CLS), I was planning on returning to China and teaching English to children, where I would also conduct my thesis experiment. Professor Heidi Harley and I were beginning to amass articles and fill out forms to prepare for such a thesis when I received an email saying that my status as an alternate for the CLS was changed to recipient, i.e., I was bumped up!
So, the past few weeks have involved changing my thesis project around and redesigning it completely. Now, I will be working with four sections of Spanish (two beginner and two intermediate) along with one section of Chinese (beginning Chinese). For the Spanish classes, I will be creating them intelligent flash card decks using the program Anki. Two sections will have decks whose cards use phonological (oral or listening) stimuli on the front of the cards and two sections will have decks whose cards use orthographic stimuli (written). The experiment is to see if students use the decks and find them helpful, and to see if practicing and reviewing vocabulary with listening flashcards can improve students’ scores on listening vocabulary exams without hampering their scores on orthographic tests. Furthermore, past studies have used self-report vocabulary tests and I may use self-report vocabulary exams and translation vocabulary exams to see how reliable the self-report tests are in predicting scores on the translation test. Regardless of my hypothesis, I expect students to find the decks extremely helpful and keep using them as they progress to other levels of Spanish.
For the Chinese class, I will be the TA. I will be focusing on vocabulary acquisition in the TA sessions and will be using interactive role playing games to see how they assist with learning. Past studies have shown interactive games to be useful for children and online multiplayer role playing games to be useful for adolescents and adults learning English, so my study seeks to examine the role of interactive role playing games in a classroom setting on college students learning Chinese.
My studies’ data could be valuable because: many studies in SLA focus on the growing number of English language learners worldwide, so a study on Spanish and Chinese learners in the states provides a look at SLA through a different lens; it could lead to more widespread use of Anki and intelligent flashcards, in addition to a more useful way of creating intelligent flash card decks for language learners; I will also be comparing the difficulties experience by Spanish students with those experienced by Chinese students, data that will be insightful for Chinese and Spanish language teachers who would like build their classes around their language and the difficulties associated with that language for learners whose first language is English, or at least western.
This experience will be useful to me personally because: I will gain no small amount of experience working with statistical tests and statistical programs; I will learn more about language pedagogy, especially Chinese language pedagogy; I will be writing a thesis of seventy to one-hundred pages that, along with my baccalaureate exam, will serve as the coda to my New College career.
The experience will be useful to New College because: there will be an information session on Anki for all of the language professors and students to learn more about the free program and its multifaceted build that has so much potential for language study; students in the Spanish class will hopefully retain much more vocabulary while using the decks not only throughout the course in the fall but throughout their study of the Spanish language in the long term; Chinese students will hopefully enjoy fun and interactive sessions full of learning Chinese and will be encouraged to keep studying the difficult language, a path from which students are known to stray between the fall and the spring beginner classes.
And, now that I have my thesis prospectus and IRB form in, I can go full steam ahead. I am already excited about my thesis sponsor, Heidi Harley, because she has been extremely helpful and willing to go the extra mile to help me do such a broad project. Of course, we may be planning for too much, but it is better to cut out the excess or the unmanageable rather than wish you had accomplished more.
And with that, I leave you readers to the first (probably of many) blogs that will deal with my fourth-year thesis project.
Questions, comments, concerns? email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.