Project Based Learning: A quest for motivation when teaching Spanish as a second language at an Australian university

Author: Carolina Castro Huercano

Castro Huercano, Carolina, 2021 Project Based Learning: A quest for motivation when teaching Spanish as a second language at an Australian university, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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A Project Based Learning (PBL) approach to teaching and learning has attracted the attention of a considerable number of researchers influenced by its reported positive effect on learners’ motivation, autonomy, and engagement. In Higher Education, the adoption of a PBL approach to teaching and learning is scarce, particularly in the domain of second language acquisition (SLA). This research investigates both the perceptions of students and teachers at an Australian university when involved in language learning tasks designed according to PBL principles. To date, PBL research in SLA has focussed mainly on the students` perceptions when in a context of English as a second or foreign language and not on languages other than English (LOTE), and there is no significant research on the practical implications for the teaching practice.

In response to this, this thesis comprises two complementary studies. Study one uses a mixed approach, collecting both quantitative and qualitative data to address the questions about the benefits and challenges for teachers when using PBL for SLA at Higher Education. A new online questionnaire was designed addressing questions that were related to the effects of PBL on students' and teachers’ motivation, the challenges and benefits they found in their teaching practice, and the effect of digital tools in their PBL classes. The participants of the questionnaire included 36 respondents from 13 different countries. The results support the idea that PBL, when used in teaching and learning an L2, can increase motivation and engagement, that despite the difficulty that working collaboratively for a long time involves for students and teachers it is also a valuable skill that can result in more motivated behaviour and that the use of digital tools is devoted mainly to the logistics of studying.

Study two involves the practical applicability of PBL instruction in the context of a class of university students at an Australian university of intermediate-level Spanish-language learners during two semesters, done in collaboration with two instructors from the same institution. This study’s main goal was to understand better and improve teaching. The analysis of the surveys and interview data suggests that university students experienced both challenges and gains during this learning experience. Specifically, participants’ views indicate that the PBL experience had a positive effect on their second language (L2) willingness to communicate (WTC), impacting positively in their ability to develop autonomy and self-confidence in producing linguistic output in the L2.

The conclusions of these two complementary studies show mixed results about the positive effect of PBL instruction on the context of teaching and learning Spanish as an L2. Even though the group of experienced PBL teachers from around the work reported many benefits associated with their use of PBL in their classes, the results of the class implementation at an Australian university also suggest substantial challenges like the negative emotionality towards working in teams, the anxiety and fear originating from a pedagogical shift and how the participant´s preconceived ideas about education can profoundly impact the outcome negatively.

Keywords: project-based learning, applied linguistics, Spanish as a foreign language, Spanish as a second language. educational technology, active learning pedagogies, foreign language teaching, Higher Education

Subject: Spanish thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Dr. Olga Sánchez Castro