Learning vocabulary with technology

Expanding on vocabulary is essential to English language learners looking to improve their communication skills. A UREP-funded research team, representing students and faculty from Weill Cornell Medical College-Qatar (WCMC-Q), along with faculty from Qatar University, and the College of the North Atlantic Qatar, searched for ways to take advantage of online learning and incorporate it into the vocabulary-learning process.

This study investigated the use of the online platform for electronic flashcard design: Flashcards are an excellent and time-tested vocabulary learning tool. In their traditional format, written forms of words in one or two languages can be combined with pictures. However, online flashcards can be enriched with sound and animation. Electronic cards are interactive and can be used for learning as well as testing vocabulary acquisition. In this regard, online flashcards out-perform traditional flashcards.

Although it is assumed that students can create useful flashcards, UREP research indicates that it would be difficult for students to create their own electronic flashcards effectively. With a population sample of pre-university students in Qatar, this study evaluates the effectiveness of two different types of online flashcards: researcher-designed and student-designed. Do students benefit more from online researcher-designed flashcard activities than they do from online flashcards they design themselves? This study compares the effectiveness of these two types of flashcards with respect to acquisition and retention of target words.

During the project, subjects studied were tested on three sets of vocabulary words. The first set was comprised of a control procedure in which no flashcards or innovations were introduced. In the second set, subjects were assigned to study from online flashcards prepared by the WCMC-Q student researchers. In the third set, subjects prepared their own online flashcards and studied them. Achievement tests were administered after each phase.

In all, seven measurements for each subject were taken: initial vocabulary command of high-frequency words, initial command of common academic words, phonetic coding abilities, results for the control procedure, results for the first experimental procedure (researcher-designed online flashcards), results for the second experimental procedure (student-designed online flashcards), final results of academic vocabulary test.

An initial analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to determine whether there was a significant difference between the control procedure, use of researcher-designed flashcards, and the use of student-designed flashcards. T-tests were used to compare results from each of these procedures with the other. These identify whether students benefitted more from the control procedure, use of researcher-designed flashcards, or flashcards they designed themselves.

The T-tests indicated there were no significant differences between the control procedure and researcher-designed cards (P value = 0.6322), but student-designed cards yielded significantly (P value < 0.0001) weaker results than both the control procedure and the researcher-designed cards. Overall, however, there was a significant growth in academic vocabulary between the pre-test and post-test.

Although the research so far has assumed that self-designed cards are most conducive to learning, the results of this study suggest otherwise. It appears that the students learn best when using either their own favorite strategies or the researcher-designed flashcards. Therefore, if students are asked to design their own vocabulary flashcards they may require significant training in how to design them and they would be encouraged to use them for revision. Alternatively, students may acquire words more readily by using online flashcards prepared by a teacher or an expert user.

The outcome of this project is a better understanding of how, with the aid of technology, applicants for undergraduate programs in Qatar can more effectively prepare for English language universities.

Marina Dodigovic, Abir Gaafar Abbas, Patrick Maurin Murphy, Lawrence James Metzger, Pelly Shaw, Jane Elizabeth Pringle, Monica Ledwell

Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, Qatar University, College of the North Atlantic

UREP 06-046-6-004
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  • MAY 2015