Language learning and technology. Student activities in web-based environments
Abstract: The impact of the web as a communicative arena, based on the use of social software, has changed conditions for communication on all levels of society; privately, at work and in education. This has opened up for multicultural communication, frequently with English as the lingua franca. Exploring how the web and web-based technologies afford learning activities is something that is related to practical and theoretical interests in the field of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL). These interests are also the foundation for this thesis. The aim is to contribute to the understanding of how web-based environments can change the conditions for language learning. Within a socio-cultural framework, the thesis explores activities and student interaction in web-based learning environments in language learning for engineering students in higher education in Sweden. The main research question is how web-based language learning activities contribute to the development of language competences. There are four more specific questions: How are web-based technologies situated in language learning environments? What forms of activities and student interaction evolve? How can web-based peer reviewing contribute to language learning? How can intercultural exchanges contribute to language learning? The empirical foundation of the thesis comprises four case studies of educational designs including student activities in blogs and wikis. Data consists of logs of student driven web-based activities and interviews. The first study investigates how students use a wiki as their joint workspace. The results show that the students either use the web page or the discussion forum on the wiki, entailing both a form-based and a content-based focus. Three types of activity patterns emerge: contributing and writing together; evaluating and peer reviewing; and arguing and discussing. The second study explores rationalities of student co-production of texts on a wiki. The patterns of interaction in groups can be characterized either as co-operation or collaboration. The results show that the collaborating groups are more frequent in giving peer response. When writing together,collaboration with contributions from diverse perspectives changes the dynamics not only of text production but the text in itself. This has potential for language learning since the students become involved in many levels of text production, from very detailed linguistic aspects to discursive and semantic aspects. The third study investigates student interaction in a poetry blog exchange with native-English speaking students from the US. In the blogging activity, the students share their interpretation of poems by a Swedish poet. The analysis of the blog postings uncovers four themes of student interaction: blogging in an educational environment; displaying cultural belonging; forming threads that thematize content and meaning of poems; and discussions of language and translation issues in an intercultural environment. Study four investigates an intercultural exchange, targeting student peer-reviewing in a wiki. The procedure of giving comments to and receiving comments from peer students from another culture offers diversity to text revision processes. Being engaged in an intercultural peer review exchange offers opportunities in getting an insight into different ways of expression, conditions of giving and receiving feedback, cultural differences when meeting someone from outside of one’s own disciplinary field and from another country and with another language background. This is in line with core issues of intercultural exchanges that concern mastering expressions of other cultures than one’s own. The four studies contribute to the understanding of how web-based environments can be used in language learning. They display a range of productive student interaction such as discussing, collaborating, and responding through text. In conclusion, they demonstrate that educational designs utilizing web-based writing technologies offer a space to develop discursive, linguistic and cultural competences.
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