Vocabulary Learning

The influence of Information and Communication Technologies in Vocabulary Learning of Students at Vietnam National University, Hanoi


This innovation assignment aims at examining the effect of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) on the new way of learning and teaching vocabulary. Basing on the hypothesis that ICTs will have a positive influence on learning and teaching vocabulary, the innovation was implemented in 10 weeks from 24 Feb to 4 May with 33 second-year students at Vietnam National University, College of Technology, Faculty of Telecommunication and Technology. After a brief review of literature related to the issue, the paper reports on the design, materials and results of the experiment through the two tests (pre-test and post test) and questionnaires for the students done by the researcher.

This bottom-up innovation was a combination of the social interaction model (White, R. V, 1988, p. 65) and problem solving model (White, R. V, 1988, p. 63) and considered as an immanent change. After identifying students' problem in learning vocabulary, the researcher came to be adopter, implementer and change agent of the innovation and used Hot Potatoes as a treatment to solve the problem; 33 students were treated as clients, adopters and resisters.

I. Introduction

Learning vocabulary plays a significant role in language learning and this has been pointed out by several linguists (Wilkins, 1972 and River, 1983). Shoebottom (1996) emphasized the role of vocabulary by defining that the more words you know, the more easily you can read and write, and express your own idea. However, English has thousands of words to learn and learning vocabulary turns out to be a suffering process to English learners. This is not an exception for the second students at Vietnam National University, College of Technology, Faculty of Telecommunication, especially when they study English for Specific Purposes (ESP). Vocabulary is mentioned as one of main problems connected with learning and teaching ESP. “… ESP learning and teaching implies learning and teaching the vocabulary of a special text. However, there are no easy points as far as living human languages” (Makeeva, 2006). Having no concern with familiar words in daily life, these students now encounter a great deal of new terms they hardly meet before taking the course. In addition, the students are passive in the class; therefore, learning vocabulary turns out to be a big problem.

I have been teaching English for Electronics and Telecommunications (EET) for the second students at my university since the very beginning of this semester and get a great amount of complaints about their vocabulary learning: “… English for specific purpose is much more difficult than the basic one as it contains a great amount of weird words…”; “… the average of approximately 50 words per unit is too much for me…”; “… It is extremely hard for me to remember all the words covered in each unit…”; ”… we just learn words by heart and then forget them…”; “… I tried to write and re-write the words, remember them, but day after day, they disappear in my mind…”.

All these above complaints reflected a truth that students at VNU, CT were failed to be motivated in learning vocabulary since they were used to the traditional method of learning. Hence, we tried to change the way of learning vocabulary of EET by applying Hot Potatoes in self-study of students. Researcher used Hot Potatoes, a mean of software with six applications, to design creative exercises basing on the content of the lessons and then asked students to do at home as a vocabulary review method with the hope that this would improve students' vocabulary learning.

Research Question

The study aims at investigating the effect of Hot Potatoes in students' vocabulary learning in self-study. Specifically, it aims at answering the following question:

Can applying Hot Potatoes in self-study help students at Vietnam National University, College of Technology improve their vocabulary of English for Electronics and Telecommunications?

II. Literature Review

1. Innovation and its features

a. Definition of innovation

Different researchers have different definitions about innovation (Roger 1983, Hurst 1983, Fullan 1982), among these, Nicholls (1983) defined an innovation as ‘an idea, object or practice perceived as new by an individual or individuals, which is intended to bring about improvement in relation to deliberate' (cited in White, R. V, 1998). According to Shukla (2009), ‘innovation may be defined as exploiting new ideas leading to the creation of a new product, process or service'.( http://www.paggu.com/getting-into-roots/what-is-innovation-why-innovation-is-important/) From my point of view, innovation is an intentional effort using an intervention or a new idea to solve the current problem and get better result.

b. Characteristics of innovations

Markee (1997, p. 93) has pointed out that there are five core characteristics of innovations: (1) relative advantage, (2) compatibility, (3) complexity, (4) trainability, and (5) observability; each of them is really important since ‘they influence all users' decisions to adopt or reject any kind of innovation' (Markee, 1997, p. 94). People will not adopt an innovation if they will gain no advantage from it, or it is too complex and difficult to observe. Therefore, change agents must take these core characteristics into consideration when they are about to adopt any innovation.

c. Models of innovation

This bottom-up innovation is a combination of the problem-solving model and the social interaction model (White, 1988).

The social interaction model ‘highlights the influence and importance of social relation in the transmission and adoption of innovation' (White, 1998, p.65) and it is different from the other models because it ‘explains what motivates clients' actual adoption behaviors, not how to manage change per se… the social interaction model has no strategy of change or leadership style associated with it' (White, 1998, p. 96). Thanks for this model, many ideas have been shared across country and worldwide; and among them are using Hot Potatoes in vocabulary learning and teaching. The researcher did hope that this new idea would be popular due to the social interaction model.

Along with the social interaction model is the problem-solving model. According to White (1998, p. 63), ‘a problem solving approach is at the basis of action research, whose aim is to make use of research in modifying and improving curriculum practice, thus having a direct relationship to innovation and reform'. He added ‘the focus of action research is on the identification of problems by teachers themselves rather than on those defined by an outside consultant or change agent'. In this circumstance, the researcher, an inside change agent, used action research to identify the problem with her class and implemented an intervention using Hot Potatoes as a treatment to make the change.

d. Types of social change

Without any help from the outside, this innovation is considered as an immanent change since the user herself identified the problem with vocabulary learning of her students and proposed applying Hot Potatoes in vocabulary learning as a solution to the problem.

e. Cultures and innovation

Innovation is affected by many factors, and among these are cultures of classroom and cultures of learning. Talking about this point, Tudor (2001, p. 130) stated: ‘students' culture of learning plays a powerful role in guiding their behaviors in the classrooms as well as their evaluation of the actions and behaviors of other participants… participants may not be explicitly aware of the principles on which they are operating. Their culture of learning may thus constitute a powerful but potentially hidden agenda, one which underpins their actions, but which they may not have analyzed explicitly'. This suggests that the researcher, during the implementation, should take the differences between students in terms of beliefs, attitudes and expectations into account. This also suggests that researcher should learn about classroom as ‘learning about classroom is an essential aspect of finding how to teach' (Holliday, 1994, p.107).

2. Vocabulary learning and Learning vocabulary of English for specific purposes

3. ICTs and Distance Learning

1. Vocabulary learning and distance learning

2. Previous studies

3. The innovation and its features

a. Types of social change

4. Learning vocab

5. ICTs and Distance learning (self-study)

6. Previous studies

III. the innovation and its features

1. the aim of the innovation

2. Roles of skateholders

3. types of social change

4. Model of innovation

IV. Methodology

1. participants

2. design and materials

3. procedures

4. scoring and data analysis

V. Results and discussion

VI. Conclusion and implications for teaching

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