Post-secondary education is facing unprecedented and exciting change with the emergence of online learning platforms such as 3-dimensional virtual learning environments (3DVLE) and ePortfolios as extensions of the physical classroom. This dissertation explored the affordances of these two online learning environments in the context of second language learning and teaching. The concept of affordance is defined in this dissertation as a characteristic of the space that facilitates learning. Upon a review of 3DVLE and ePortfolio studies, five key affordances were identified which have been linked to reported learning benefits. To position the affordances in practice and for research purposes, this dissertation reviewed the theoretical landscapes from the fields of education, second language acquisition (SLA), and computer assisted language learning (CALL).
This manuscript dissertation includes one unpublished article, one published article and two published chapters. The unpublished article provides context for the trajectory of research included herein (Hartwick, 2017). The published article (Hartwick, 2018) investigates research methods used in traditional classroom-based interaction studies to identify suitable approaches for studies in 3DVLEs. The published chapters are case studies of the two online learning spaces. In the first instance, we explored learning theories in relation to affordances of 3DVLEs to substantiate practice (Hartwick & Savaskan Nowlan, 2018). The second chapter describes an ePortfolio practice done-well based on evidence from student surveys and instructor assignments (Hartwick, McCarroll, & Davidson, in press). To further our understanding of learning potential in these spaces, research is best situated at the intersection of theoretical elements (e.g., critical thinking, Dede, 2007) and characteristics of affordances (e.g., immersion, Dalgarno & Lee, 2010). Early studies suggest that the affordances of 3DVLEs and ePortfolios will facilitate achievement of 21st century skills such as self-reflection, when practice is done well (Hartwick & Savaskan Nowlan, 2018; Hartwick, McCarroll, & Davidson, in press).