Chapter 4. Textbooks, tasks, and technology
This chapter reports on an action research study conducted in the context of English as a foreign language (EFL) tertiary education in Mexico. It examines the educational value of blending technology into a task-based instruction module that was designed around a pre-during-post-task model, following the main tenets of task-based language teaching (Ellis 2003; Van den Branden,Bygate & Norris 2009). The participants were three intact classes of pre-intermediate-level EFL students at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) who completed 8 two-hour classes on a module of their textbook targeting grammar learning (simple past, past continuous, and <i>used to</i>). The module culminated with a writing activity, which served as the springboard for the design of an innovative <i>Story Telling Contest</i> task online. At the end of the textbook module, Group A (<i>N</i> = 25) engaged in this task-based, technology-mediated instructional design, Group B (<i>N</i> = 23) experienced the same task-based design but with no digital tools, and Group C (<i>N</i> = 25) did the writing activity in the original design offered in the textbook. The three groups were compared by collecting student perceptions through questionnaires and by measuring grammar learning via a pre- and post-test of narrative past tense use. A subset of 7 learners who experienced the task with the support of technology was also interviewed a few months later. The triangulated evidence suggests that, while all three instructional approaches led to similar linguistic gains in the use of narrative tenses, Groups A and B perceived the task design to have helped them develop rich new competencies, more so than the technological element. Students in Group A reported some additional value in the technology-mediated TBLT experience, including the improvement of their digital skills and the easy delivery of instructional material to carry out the task. This action research study contributes to the understanding of ways in which a task mediated by digital tools can enhance language learning in the context of traditional textbook-bound curricula.