Macau Portuguese e-Learning
Isabel Dillon Lei do Rosário
University of Saint Joseph Macau
Online learning, or e-learning, has grained in both popularity and credibility over the last decade. Today it is an option that many universities and colleges are using to supplement the variety of academic programs that are offered to students and to also improve the quality and diversity of learning materials used by academic programs. Since 2009, the government of Macau has sponsored a Portuguese e-Learning program that offers students the opportunity to immerse themselves in the Portuguese culture via virtual classrooms. Based upon a brief questionnaire given to students of this program, the format and functionality of this program is very effective, but slightly outdated in terms of what technology it is using. This study evaluated student perceptions of the quality of educational material that is delivered through the Portuguese e-Learning Program and the viability of the technology that it uses.
In 2009 the Macau government introduced the Portuguese e-Learning Program to offer students in the region the opportunity to learn Portuguese, which is the official language of Macau. Since Portuguese is not a part of the local culture, students greatly benefited from the online learning platform that connected them to cultural references and native speakers of the language. This learning model also provided a more comfortable learning environment for helping students of the area master their third language. Since the inception of this program little research has been done on its effectiveness or even upon the perception that students have about this program. The only data that is available to support the validity of this program is provided by existing literature on eLearning. The literature that was reviewed indicated that e-Learning platforms are highly effective at keeping students motivated and working towards learning goals, as they are able to work at their own pace and they have instant access to all learning materials and assignments2 8. The result is that students learn more effectively and efficiently when engaged in e-Learning programs than when taught in a classroom setting. While some social concerns have been raised about the use of e-Learning platforms, such as not having physical contact with the professor and peers, the e-Learning format is still viewed as a practical solution for teaching foreign languages that are not commonly spoken in the student’s country. 1 2 3 4 5 To test this conclusion, this study evaluated student perceptions of the quality of educational material that is delivered through the Portuguese e-Learning Program and the viability of the technology that it uses.
2. Literature Review
The e-Learning paradigm delivers curriculum completely through a specially designed online platform 4 17. The value that is offered by this educational model is that it infuses the program with flexibility in terms of when and where the learning modules can be accessed and completed. In a study conducted by Hsu 5, the e-Learning paradigm was shown to be an effective learning model for working adults, because of its flexibility. However, what was also demonstrated was that online learning produces more meaningful interactions between students and their professors, as interactions are purpose-driven as opposed to being motivated by perceived obligations to participate in class 5. For example, most students interact with their professor only out of obligation to answer a question in class. As a result, they are more likely to forget the context and content of the interaction shortly after it concludes. This does not occur, however, when the student has a purpose for the interaction, as she is invested in the outcome. As a result, the student is more likely to produce a lasting benefit by interacting with her professor and peers. This increases the performance of the student and improves the perceived value of the academic program.
Online learning not only provides the flexibility that students need to integrate academic programs into a dynamic life with personal and professional responsibilities, but it also provides students with a balanced academic experience. This balanced experience is produced by the fact that students have the option to communicate with their professors via chats, the phone and email when they need it, but are not forced to interact with the professor if help is not needed 5. According to Poon 8, McGill and Klobas 9, Edginton and Holbrook 2, the ability to interact with professors is an essential component to a learning program as it provides the student with access to the guidance and encouragement. These things are necessary to promote student motivation, satisfaction and progress. For this reason it is important for e-Learning programs to provide students with the opportunity to communicate with academic advisors, tutors and professors.
The effectiveness and appeal of the e-Learning paradigm is not only based upon its flexible design, but also upon the methods and tools that it uses to deliver learning materials to students3 13 18. These methods include open system learning platforms like Moodle, which allow professors to post learning modules that include lectures, video demonstrations, documents and interactive learning programs 1. Computer-supported collaboration platforms, such as Google Docs, can also be used to help students collaborate on group projects, to exchange ideas and to engage is peer editing processes. Finally, e-Learning programs can utilize real time video and voice chat programs to connect students with professors, peers, experts and native speakers of foreign languages 7 10 15.
Research has been done on e-learning’s convenience and flexibility, as well as the concomitant users’ satisfaction, with Learning Management Systems (LMSs), especially among non-traditional students. There has also been a research on LMSs. LMSs has also examined the users’ adoption of the technology, the development of the LMS applications and systems 11 14 15 16 18. These tools can be used to promote more effective learning and to also meet the social needs of the students participating in the e-Learning program.
In Macau, the Government has implemented a Portuguese e-Learning program designed to provide local students with access to an effective learning opportunity for this non-native language. Online access to native speakers of Portuguese and access to cultural references and materials provided by video, live chats and interactive lessons, provided students with the opportunity to immerse themselves in the Portuguese culture. The e-Learning model is a good option for Macau students learning Portuguese, because this area has no real life model of this culture in place.
A qualitative survey study was conducted of students who have been exposed to this program. Fifteen students between the ages of 10 and 21 completed a brief questionnaire relating to their perceptions of the effectiveness of the learning platform and the quality of the technology used. This population was made up of 80% Chinese and 20% Pilipino students residing in Macau. The results from the 10 question survey were tabulated and evaluated using basic descriptive statistics. The most important trends identified were then graphed and discussed.
Table1. Students enrolled in this program
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Data collected about the completion notes of course materials from e-learning program for the following academic years 2009-2010; 2010-2011; 2011-2012 and 2012-2013.
The data collected include the number of students signed up for access of the language program’s material and the completion rate for each school year. The data was analyzed for statistical trends in student completion rates.
The initial visual review of the data, the student enrolled clearly illustrated two distinct trends. The first trend was the enrollment in the identified program fluctuated radically from one school year to the next. The second trend was that the year completion rate of the program declined by more than 50% with the tree years observed. These trends suggest that student’s motivation and interest are not well established in this program.
4. Data Analysis and Discussion
The first issue that was revealed by the survey results was that the Portuguese e-Learning Program only utilizes voice recognition and interactive technology applications.
Figure 1. Types of technology
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Of the materials presented to students, 73% involved voice recognition technology and only 27% involved the use other interactive applications.
Figure 2. Student’s opinion – Voice recognition
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Of the students surveyed, 40% had a neutral opinion about the effectiveness of voice recognition technology in learning Portuguese online, while the remaining 60% of respondents found it to be effective, very effective or completely effective.
Figure 3. Student’s opinion – Interactive Technology
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The students also felt that the interactive technology used was also generally an effective method of learning Portuguese online.
Figure 4. Student’s opinion - Current technology
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Finally, students commented on how current the technology used in the program was. The results indicated that technology is not as current or as diverse as students would like.
The results from the survey indicated that students are learning effectively from the Portuguese e-Learning program. However, the concern raised about this program is that it is not using all of the technology that is available, and it is not using the technology that students like to use, such as touchpad technology. The appeal and effectiveness of this program could therefore be improved if new technology was introduced to the curriculum.
Portuguese teaching in Macau, parental help given to children was not enough. Outside schools, students aren’t in a Portuguese environment –so they don’t speak Portuguese often. Students have too much homework; they do not only have English online studies, but they have Chinese online studies too, as well as low motivation. Another factor goes to the quality of teaching 12 and the motivation given by the teacher. The motivation given by the teacher is important.
There are a lot of social learning networks that schools use nowadays – for example, Moodle and Google Docs. However, do the teachers really know how to use those social learning networks? Does the school provide the social learning networks to the teachers and students?
To change the situation of low user participations, my opinion is that Macau government should adopt strategies or methods for the continuation of Portuguese e-learning study in Macau. Increasing students' motivation on e-learning and take new method such as blended learning, implement Moodle or relative technologies, give support to teachers and invest more in educational technologies. Challenge local schools and teachers to use these great new networks. Students will greatly benefit from the online learning platform that connects them to cultural references and native speakers of the language. Learning networks also provides a more comfortable learning environment for helping students master their third language.
Portuguese classes in Macau, in some schools aren’t taken as academic classes – they are taken as optional subject. Some students don’t take importance in Portuguese courses due to the fact that whether you pass Portuguese classes or not, you are still able to go onto the next grade. Some schools and parents want their children to learn Portuguese since Portuguese is one of the official languages in Macau. Most graduated students in universities would prefer to become a civil servant.
Macau needs more bilingual speakers that speak Chinese and Portuguese since most of Macau’s inhabitants do not know Portuguese. According to local newspaper “Tribuna de Macau”, Vong Chon Kit, member of the Advisory Council of Community Services of Central Zone, suggested that Portuguese is a compulsory subject in high school. The official recalls the importance that China attaches to Portuguese, and feels that the generalization of the Portuguese language in Macau is not enough.
For those students who are good in the Portuguese language, the government of Macau should give more attention and support to them since careers in Macau such as translators and law related careers will need to know Portuguese.
Congresswoman Mrs. Melinda Chan also advocated a change to the educational system to start learning the Portuguese language early in schools 19. The Basic Law contemplates Portuguese as the official language, continue to use this language, but the generalization of Portuguese is not enough in Macau comparing to the number of schools of higher education in mainland China that have undergraduate teachings of Portuguese increased from 20 to 30 universities 19. Chinese authorities attach great importance to the training of bilingual professionals. How about the government of Macau? How can we increase students’ motivation to learn Portuguese? Suggest introducing a teaching strategy that blends the teaching of Portuguese with some games and other learning tools to increase students' interest in the foreign language. This could create more opportunities for the students to learn and use the language.
The volume of trade between China and Portuguese-speaking countries has increased significantly in recent years. In addition to the future, Macao will be the platform for more trades between China and Portuguese speaking countries. The government of China wants Macau to become a Chinese-Portuguese speaking platform. Due to that being said, that is why in recent years, the government of Macau started promoting Portuguese classes. One of the promotions happened the last academic year 2012-2013. The government of Macau cooperated with Portugal’s University Catholic of Lisbon. The government of Macau selected 12 local students to learn Portuguese at University Catholic of Lisbon in Portugal for master degree in education and 3 other students study in foreign languages for master degree –both courses are being studied for 6 years. My opinion is that the government of Macau should subsidy for more than 15 students. The numbers of students (15) are not significant for Macau’s future needs because some of the students might not go towards the education career. Another promotion course by the Education Youth Bureau (DSEJ) cooperated with Macau Portuguese School (EPM) by opening several classes for local students to learn Portuguese after school. This course is designed for local students who are interested in the future to study translation-interpretation, law, public administration or to study courses at universities in Portugal. It is also designed for local students who are interested in studying Portuguese, wants to have a better understanding, knowledge and master speaking the Portuguese language.
So hopefully the quality of teaching in Portuguese will get better, students will study hard and take importance in Portuguese classes. The students greatly benefited from the online learning platform that connected them to cultural references and native speakers of the language.
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