Editor’s Note: The editors appreciated the depth of this study and look forward to research data that will clearly delineate specific functions and levels of learning for students in computer mediated communication for foreign language learning.
Computer Mediated Communication and
Mode of CMC
Lee, 2004; Schwienhorst, 2004; Smith, 2003
Weasenforth, Biesenbach-Lucas, & Meloni, 2002
Support active learning
Bikowski & Kessler, 2002
Promote reflective learning
Swaffar, Romano, Markley, & Arens, 1998
Jonassen, 2004; Weasenforth, Biesenbach-Lucas, & Meloni, 2002
Enhance learner autonomy
Arnold, 2002; Payne & Whitney, 2002; Warschauer, 1996
Beauvois, 1995; Schwienhorst, 2004
Foster collaborative learning
Darhower, 2002; Leahy, 2008; Warschauer, 1997
Abrams, 2005; Savignon & Roithmeier, 2004; Weasenforth et al., 2002
Presented in Table 1 is a summary of the pedagogical features of CMC reviewed from key studies. The principle pedagogical features to be discussed are believed to support the SCT view on CMC in education. It is also argued that there is a cause-effect relationship among these didactic features of CMC.
Research has shown that learners’ motivation can be more positive in the CMC context than in FTF interaction (Beauvois, 1998). Interaction with a real, often international, audience in the target language via CMC may linguistically and socially affect the quality of online negotiation and students' motivation toward CMC (Lee, 2004). This authentic and meaningful type of interaction also supports learners to become more responsible and willing to engage in their own learning (Chen, 2005). Besides, many studies have reported that the level of motivation and attitudes towards learning during a CMC task is enhanced due to the interactive nature of the activity (D. M. Chun, 1994; Lee, 2004; Sotillo, 2000), which contributes to the reduction of shyness and anxiety about computer use. Another motivating factor of CMC is novelty; learners are exposed to a different type of language learning activity (Meunier, 1998). These aspects of the activity could be said to be unique, such as interacting with different people, meeting people from other countries, chatting in real time and using the computer to communicate. Students are fascinated by how the system works and are reported to write more due to the novelty factor (Felix, 2005), which then augment learners’ active learning.
3.1.2 Active learning
CMC is reported to support active learning, in which learners take the initiative to explore and manipulate information in the learning process. The literature on conditions for language learning and acquisition indicates that learning takes place when learners are active (Egbert, 2001; Lee, 2005; Warschauer, 1996); and active learning is one of the crucial elements creating a successful online learner-centred language learning environment (White, 2007). The electronic medium allows for more lateral exploration access as structured by learners who are given more freedom to discover alternative pathways to develop their one learning styles. Egbert (2001) also claimed that CMC can often make it easier to develop meaningful tasks during which language learners of any language level are active and have opportunities to interact. This idea is endorsed by Lee’s study (2005) on learners’ perspectives on online active learning. Lee confirmed the use of web-based instructional tool, like Blackboard or WebCT, not only facilitated the development of students’ language skills and reinforced their cognitive skills but also supported an active learning environment. It is reminded in Lee’s conclusion that “for online active learning to occur, both effective pedagogical principles including specific instructional goals and procedures, as well as technological tools must be thoughtfully taken into account at the stage of implementation” (p. 152).
3.1.3 Reflective learning
Reflective learning engages learners in evaluating their experiences, and is a trend in language learning. This style of learning, as one of the metalinguistic functions (Yamada & Akahori, 2007), is supported in CMC environments where learners have more time to reflect on others’ work than in FTF conversations. The idea is endorsed by Jonassen (2004), stating that CMC, especially ACMC, allows more time for reflection and referring to other electronic sources of information. Moreover, the asynchronous nature of the CMC medium not only allows learners to prepare their messages more carefully in a word processor but also is believed to invite quiet students to play more active roles since their more reflective learning styles are easily accommodated (Weasenforth et al., 2002). Finally, it is proved that with the social-oriented development of CMC technology, such as wikis and blogs, learners are able to more easily access people and knowledge in ways that encourage creative and reflective learning practices that extend beyond the boundaries of the school and the limits of formal education.
3.1.4 Learner autonomy
Learner autonomy, a central but complicated concept in online learning (White, 2003), is defined by Sinclair (2000) as the notion of taking responsibility for one’s own learning and also associated with a number of other terms, such as learner independence, independent learning, lifelong learning, learning to learn, thinking skills. Advances in CMC technologies are encouraging the development and promotion of autonomy in language learning (Arnold, 2002; Benson, 2007; Chiu, 2008). Chiu’s study (2008), for example, asserted that there is a positive connection between CMC and learner autonomy in language education and that the use of networked computers not only shifts the authority from the teachers to learners but also provides opportunities for interactions, especially among learners. Online language learners automatically become partly interdependent of the teacher because of the easy availability of supporting tools such as online dictionaries, word processing tools, and the Internet which give students control over their own learning (Chapelle, 2001). In other words, it can be seen that the roles of the teacher as provider of information and the student as receptacle thereof have shifted radically in CMC environments (Nguyen, 2008). In addition, according to Toyoda and Harrison (Toyoda & Harrison, 2002), CMC technologies are getting more and more user-friendly, which results in the fact that the more learners get to know the tools, the more autonomy they develop. With CMC technologies, individuals are given the opportunity to move out of their individual comfort zones in order to participate productively and effectively in the learning process (Hoven, 2006).
Furthermore, by looking at three different approaches to learner autonomy, including an individual cognitive, a social-interactive, and an experimental-participatory perspective, Schwienhorst (2004) claimed that combinations of CMC technology and pedagogy can lead to more successful implementations of learner autonomy principles. In general, CMC provides an environment that promotes learners’ autonomy with the teacher as the facilitator (Warschauer, 1999), through which learners will be able to “experience autonomy in order to become more autonomous” (Murphy, 2008, p. 83) in a process of the so-called autonomisation as the results of their getting opportunities for more control, more participation, and more interaction via online exchanges, all of which are believed to be premises for collaboration.
3.1.5 Collaborative learning
Motivation, participation, reflection, and autonomy all play significant roles in collaborative learning (Figure 3); and all have been evidently researched in literature. In fact, online collaborative learning research in education in general and in language learning in particular has been widely published. The text-based nature of CMC has meant that collaboration has become a prime source of data for researchers from both interactionist and sociocultural approaches who are investigating second language acquisition. Online interaction environments, which involve active construction of knowledge, can be potentially used as a powerful tool for collaborative learning and group communication. CMC, according to Kaye (1989), can provide a valuable dimension to collaborative learning as it both fosters more equally distributed turn-taking and supports more thoughtfully composed inputs. Similarly, Harasim (2007) claimed that this technology provides a new way for interaction between teachers and learners and among learners themselves and this new form of online environment creates a new domain which facilitates collaborative learning.
Reviews on online collaborative learning started with Warschauer’s (1997) influential study, which discussed five distinguished features of CMC that were believed to enhance collaboration: (a) text-based and computer-mediated interaction, (b) many-to-many communication, (c) time/place-independence, (d) long distance exchanges, and (e) hypermedia links. Warschauer presented CMCL by using a conceptual framework starting with famous theories of input and output and leading to sociocultural learning theory. Later studies (Beatty & Nunan, 2004; Greenfield, 2003; Harasim, 2007; Marmini & Zanardi, 2007; Sotillo, 2006) have also shown the promising capacities of CMC in collaborative learning.
3.2 Benefits of CMC in language development
Numerous studies have been devoted to CMC in language education so far (Kern, 2006; Kern & Warschauer, 2000; Luppicini, 2007; D. E. Murray, 2000; Romiszowski & Mason, 2004; Stockwell, 2007; Thorne, 2008a, 2008b). CMC is reported as a student-centred tool in language learning to facilitate interaction, discussion, and collaboration among learners from a variety of backgrounds. This enhances the social component of any course and gives learners access to multiple perspectives (Jonassen, 2004). All of the pedagogical benefits of CMC discussed above clearly support, augment, and enhance language development via electronic exchanges.
Presented in Tables 2, 3, and 4 below are both metalinguistic aspects that are believed to be effective for SLA and language areas and skills that language learners are able to develop through CMC environments (D. M. Chun, 2008; Lamy & Hampel, 2007; Levy & Stockwell, 2006; Thorne & Payne, 2005).
3.2.1 Metalinguistic aspects
A substantial number of CMC research has examined various metalinguistic aspects of language development, including negotiation of meaning, sociolinguistic environment, and intercultural competence (Table 2). A variety of studies, from either an interactionist approach or a sociocultural viewpoint to SLA have been conducted on negotiation of meaning and CMC (D. M. Chun, 2008). Covering the topic from different focuses and angles, previous studies have been proving that CMC, both ACMC (Kitade, 2006) and especially SCMC (Blake, 2000; O'Rourke, 2005; Pellettieri, 2000; Sotillo, 2005; Tudini, 2003) facilitates interaction and negotiation of meaning. Interestingly, as far as task types concerned, research ahs shown that while SCMC and ACMC may complement each other in completing different tasks leading to successful linguistic objectives (Ingram, Hathorn, & Evans, 2000).
CMC is also known for providing a profitable environment for sociolinguistic development (Kitade, 2000; Smith, 2003). Learners reflect less anxiety and increase self-esteem, thereby liberating the minorities (Honeycutt, 2001) during electronic communication than in face to face interactions, which has led students, often reluctant to participate in oral discussions, to contribute more actively in electronic discussions (Al-Sa’di & Hamdan, 2005). Similarly, data analysis in the study by Kitade (2000) revealed three salient distinctive interactional features of CMC which facilitated encouraging conditions for developing positive attitudes towards language learning: no turn-taking competition, text-based interaction, and a lack of nonverbal cues. Finally, intercultural competence (Abrams, 2006; Kramsch & Thorne, 2002; Ware & O'Dowd, 2008) is evident through CMC research as these tools provide “convenient, authentic, direct, and speed access to native speakers and their cultures” (Kramsch & Thorne, 2002, p. 100). According to D. M. Chun (2008), though many studies have focused on intercultural competence via both ACMC and SCMC, attention has also been paid to intracultural CMC in the EFL/ESL classroom (Abrams, 2006).
Mode of CMC
Blake, 2000; O'Rourke, 2005; Pellettieri, 2000; Shekary & Tahririan, 2006; Sotillo, 2005; Tudini, 2003; L. Wang, 2006
Sotillo, 2000; Toyoda & Harrison, 2002
Kern, 1995; Kitade, 2000; Warschauer, 1996
Intercultural & intracultural competence
Kramsch, A’Ness, & Lam, 2000; Sotillo, 2005; Thorne, 2003
Abrams, 2006; D. M. Chun & Wade, 2004; Kramsch & Thorne, 2002; Thorne, 2003
Itakura, 2004; O'Dowd, 2003; Ware & Kramsch, 2005; Ware & O'Dowd, 2008
3.2.2 Language areas and components
A number of studies, taking a more cognitive approach to SLA, have suggested an increase in linguistic competence, both quality and quantity, among learners (Table 3). The influential study by Kern (1995) revealed that CMC-supported learners created more language production that the FTF group. Kern found out that SCMC discussions produced between two and four times more turns, more sentences, and more words than in the oral discussions. This conclusion is later confirmed by Abrams (2003), who claimed that students produced more language in CMC environments, especially the SCMC, than the control group. Another beneficial effect is that CMC also fosters the improvement in linguistic and grammatical development, which is proved in Kern’s (1995) study, showing learners’ language production was at a greater level of sophistication regarding grammatical accuracy and complexity. Similarly, Shang (2007) demonstrated that the nature of CMC application promoted written accuracy and sentence complexity. In addition, previous studies also indicate that the delayed nature of ACMC exchanges appears to give learner more chances than SCMC to produce complex language (Sotillo, 2000).
Expectedly, not all studies release positive results. It is reported in Fitze’s (2006) study, for example, that there is no statistically significant difference in the number of words produced by students in CMC versus FTF discussions. However, the greater range of vocabulary is found in electronic exchanges than in FTF discussions (Fitze, 2006; Fuente, 2003; Li, 2000). Moving beyond the text-based CMC out to voice chat rooms, Jepson (2005) focused on the pronunciation when comparing the patterns of repair moves of non-native speakers in text chat rooms versus voice chat rooms. It is concluded that there are a higher number of total repair moves made in voice chats than in text chats, and that these repairs in voice chats are often pronunciation-related. To sum up, based on previous studies, CMC environments enhance the improvement and development of various language areas and components.
Mode of CMC
Bax, 2003; Fiori, 2005; Fitze, 2006; Kern, 1995;
Abrams, 2003; Dussias, 2006; Honeycutt, 2001; Sotillo, 2000
Gonzalez-Bueno & Perez, 2000; Li, 2000;
Fitze, 2006; Fuente, 2003; Toyoda & Harrison, 2002
Fotos, 2004; Li, 2000
3.2.3 Language skills
Both written and spoken language skills are enhanced through various CMC in language learning projects (Table 4). In fact, there is a common tendency to associate CMC with the development of specific language skills (Levy & Stockwell, 2006). Authentic communication through CMC, especially ACMC, is reported to develop writing skill due to the fact various forms of text-based CMC resemble written language and allow more time, more autonomy, and more opportunity for learners to brainstorm and discuss the topic among groups, in comparison with in-class teacher-fronted writing classes (Davis & Thiede, 2000). Also, the teacher is able to participate in collaborative activities, thus models the writing process in real time and real situation, thereby creating the Vygotsky’s concept of ZPD. Improvement in reading abilities is also provided via CMC. Authentic interactions in ACMC, such as email, blog, and wikis, provide meaningful reading for learners (Levy & Stockwell, 2006). In addition, during text chat exchanges, learners are more adept at skimming and scanning at rapid speeds in order to follow and participate fully in the conversation thread (Godwin-Jones, 2008).
Furthermore, possibility for cross-modality transfer between real time, online conversational exchange text and oral language production has recently mentioned in various CMC projects (D. M. Chun, 2008; Lund, 2006; Thorne & Payne, 2005). The hypothesis that SCMC may improve speaking proficiency has been tested by Payne and Whitney (2002), who found that participants in a chatroom have a significantly higher oral proficiency than those just spending time in traditional oral classes. This obvious benefit of CMC for speaking competence is confirmed by Dussias (2006), who suggested that the language competence mediated via CMC appeared to readily transfer to spontaneous oral language production. In general, as learners traverse the boundary zone, they introduce language elements from one modality to another (Lund, 2006).
Mode of CMC
Davis & Thiede, 2000; Meunier, 1998
Godwin-Jones, 2008; Greenfield, 2003
Fotos, 2004; Gruber-Miller & Benton, 2001
S. Chun, 2003; Jepson, 2005; Payne & Whitney, 2002; Tudini, 2005
Abrams, 2003; Dussias, 2006
To recap, the text-based nature of CMC brings about many meaningful applications in language education. This medium, according to Blake (2000), Hampel and Hauck (2004), and Y. Wang (2004), not only amplifies students’ attention to linguistic forms, but it also stimulates increased written production of the target language as well as creates a less stressful and more equitable environment for discussion. It can therefore be seen from the tables that CMC has been used widely in developing most of language areas and skills, except for listening skill which is normally supported and developed through other forms of visual and audio technology (Blake, 2000).
The discussion has shown that CMC with its particular characteristics, modes, and scopes possesses potential benefits applicable to language development, from metalinguistic aspects to language components and skills. The conclusion drawn from the article will hopefully sketch an overall picture of naturally integrating CMC into language education. This will then foster a confident attitude among language institutes and teachers in bringing various CMC types into language classroom settings.
However, as far as SCT is concerned, “one size fits all” is not certainly pertinent to the prospect of integrating CMC into language education in all contexts. This opens a wide avenue of inquiry for language practitioners and researchers. In other words, more comprehensive studies about the introduction and application of CMC into language learning and teaching in different sociocultural, institutional, and individual contexts are required. Let us take research on computer mediated collaborative learning in language development as an example. Even though collaborative approaches to foreign language learning via various forms of CMC have now been well established with a theoretical underpinning (Warschauer, 1997), there are still questions left unanswered. What actually is CMC in regard to collaborative learning? What are the unique social activities of the online collaborative environment? What theories and forms of collaboration can be applied in the CMC environment? What are learners really doing in the process of online collaboration? How do learners view CMC and what are they doing in collaborative processes? Does proficient collaboration in CMC contribute to language improvement? How may differences in learners’ sociocultural backgrounds affect the learning process? How can SCMC and ACMC complement each other in collaboration? And most importantly, how can CMC be naturally immersed into the collaborative learning so that the use of computers should not be framed as a special case but rather as an integral aspect of foreign language education? As a result, further research on authentic online collaborative learning is needed.
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Long V Nguyen has been a lecturer in English at the University of Danang, Vietnam since 1996. He received his MA in TESOL Studies from the University of Queensland, Australia in 2005. Long is now a doctoral candidate in the Applied Linguistics program at the School of Language Studies, Massey University, New Zealand. His research interests are in the areas of educational communication and technology use in foreign language learning and language teacher education.
Long V Nguyen
School of Language Studies
Palmerston North City