Missions virtuelles, set in the larger context of the Alliance Française MERLIN site of graduated coursework in French (A1, A2, B1, B2, cf. the CEFR proficiency scales, which correspond more or less to the ACTFL scales of Novice High through Advanced Mid), offers fourteen (14) virtual missionsi.e., online learning tasksarranged by order of difficulty.
The major skills addressed are reading, writing, and cultural competency development, although pair work during mission completion, subsequent discussion and other oral work could be integrated by the teacher.
All explanations and directions are in target language, except the top page. The sites deriving from France and other Francophone countries are, as well, in target language. Some have English language versions available (British or US flag as an iconic link in a corner).
The site collects student input as the learner enters it. Once completed, a full output is provided with correct responses alongside, which the learner could and into the instructor.
The site could be easily projected for in-class work but students or pairs would eventually need individual access.
For learners to confront 14 real life situations (organizing a party, a week-end excursion, responding to an employment ad, renting a place, etc.) requiring information gathering from real websites, thereby enhancing learner confidence all the while providing concrete tools to manage everyday life in French. This site encourages the independent learning process as the learner discovers and interacts with cultural materials.
Target Student Population:
Prerequisite learning is found in the Guided Courseworks (http://www.alliance-us.org/Merlin/ActivitiesGC.htm). Still, it relates well to most standard first and second year French curricula. The first three missions could be used in beginning levels but only with careful and diligent instructor scaffolding and preparation.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:
Prerequisite learning is found in the Guided Courseworks (http://www.alliance-us.org/Merlin/ActivitiesGC.htm)that accompanies the Missions virtuelles. Still, it relates well to most standard first and second year French curricula. The first three missions could be used in beginning levels but only with careful and diligent instructor scaffolding and preparation.
Type of Material:
MERLIN contains simulations of real-world activities(organizing a party, planning a trip, hiring an employee, building a biography to make a presentation ). A quest through French/Canadian culture is also featured.
High School, College General Ed, College Lower Division, College Upper Division
Note from one reviewer:Assignments in class/or over chapter/week/month assignment to be done individually or by group and then presented to the class (my students and I really enjoyed it). The most advanced project requires correction from a teacher (composition) and a good level in French.
It requires only a regular PC or Mac with Internet access and a sound card.
Evaluation and Observation
The overall concept of this site is excellent and it has been very well designed. They goals and objectives are clearly delineated. They correspond to the Common European Framework of Reference of proficiency standards. The lessons that correspond, although taken from the textbooks used by the Alliance Française, follow a standard trajectory and common thematic units for most language courses, regardless of textbook or materials. They can be easily integrated into beginning, intermediate, and advanced learning levels (ACTFL scales).
The directions provide sufficient information to let learners execute these very intriguing, apropos, real-life tasks.
There are excellent links (when they work: see critique below). Almost all tasks offer a nice self-evaluation tool of learners work.
There is no clear indication of the proficiency level or requisite background for the tasks in their delineation. They may rise in level of difficulty but the level is not made explicit in the task description. Still, many can serve at various levels.
The Mission mariage may be off-putting to some learners who do not ascribe to traditional couplings. It limits the partnering to male/female and all Europeans, despite a large and growing non-European population in France and the French acceptance of homosexuality. This may skew the learners perception of the changing French socio-cultural landscape. Vacances, too, assumes a nuclear family, which to some teenagers and post-secondary students may lessen the appeal since a fun vacation might not include parents and small kids.
There are too many bad or outdated links or references. Wikipedia is constantly moving. The 2007 text on the Television task no longer corresponds to the text that students research. The song in the Recyclage task has been taken down. The sound on the Travail mission does not work nor does the link to the three professions link to a video. The Piaf videos have been taken down, as well.
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
There are clear goals and objectives stipulated at the onset of each mission. The background information and directions are precise and sufficiently detailed. Frenquently a culture capsule of high quality is offered for contextualization and learning. The links chosen are excellent. if they work. Ther is a very useful self-evaluation of learners work at the end of each mission: this is very much in line with the CEFR 'Can-do" statements and subtending attitude. The MERLIN site has a whole section for teachers, with very sound pedagogical strategies.
As a teaching resource, this is definitely instructive insofar as understanding the acquisition process, which is well detailed in the CEFR levels and the questions to determine
Highly motivated students would find many of the missions quite enjoyable and instructive but this is not a site for unguided learners, by and large. Good scaffolding and preparation are intended (this is, after all, a site for teachers to assign to their learners).
The user will find very complete/elaborate and yet accessible missions based on defined goals. Grammatical purposes are smartly mixed with vocabulary acquisition and cultural apprehension. The increasing challenge is very motivating. Learning through a quest or a game has been proven very efficient. It is very easy to identify with the actor of the mission.
Students (and teachers) will be highly frustrated by the broken links and missing videos and song, especially since the learning tasks are so compelling.
As mentioned already, there are two main concerns: one is the social concept and the other has to do with the outdated and/or broken links. The links do need to be updated.
Still, all in all, the active learning techniques are pedagogical sound and very apropos. Students and teachers alike would enjoy engaging in most of these missions virtuelles.
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
The interface itself if intuitive. The learner has only to remember to come back to the AF site to input data, which then updates and eventually posts on a mission-completed screen. Screens and sites to be accessed are mainly very interesting and visually pleasing.
The main problem extends from broken links and removed videos and song, as already mentioned.