Promoting interaction in the EFL classroom: Dutch-French telecollaboration

Conference presentation, S. Whyte & L. Gijsen
New Directions in Telecollaborative Research and Practice:
The Second Conference on Telecollaboration in University Education
Dublin, April 2016

In a recent keynote at this year’s EuroCALL conference, O’Dowd (2015) looked back on nearly 20 years of telecollaborative experience, or online intercultural exchange, and charted its development from niche activity to mainstay of the foreign language classroom, at least as far as higher education is concerned.

Like most researchers, O’Dowd identifies two purposes for telecollaborative exchange, that is:

  1. “to engage learners in ‘authentic’ interaction with native speakers or with learners from other countries” and also
  2. “to give them first-hand experience of ‘real’ intercultural communication.”

The bulk of discussion in this paper, as in the literature in general, focuses on the second objective. Telecollaborative research has focused on

  • learning about the target language culture (Kramsch, 2014),
  • understanding those from other cultures as a window on one’s own culture (Guth & Helm, 2010), and even
  • the mediating role of technology itself (Kern, 2014).

Comparatively few studies focus specifically on language learning per se, and those that do often underline difficulties in promoting productive learner-learner exchanges which involve genuine negotiation of meaning or effective peer feedback, for example (Belz & Reinhardt, 2004).

Moreover, research in telecollaboration also frequently highlights the limitations and drawbacks of online communication, due to

  • technical constraints and problems,
  • a predominance of what some see as artificial exchanges which are limited to personal registers (Hanna & de Nooy, 2009), and
  • related concerns with unchallenging task design which fails to engage participants in genuine collaboration (Ware & O’Dowd, 2009).

If past approaches to telecollaborative exchange have been found wanting in these respects, then a new direction for this form of exchange might take the form of a focus on language to the exclusion of cultural and intercultural concerns, and on creating space for learner interaction over other affordances of telecollaborative tools. Second language research has established a number of recommendations for effective instruction, including the need for purposeful interaction in a communicative context with interlocutors outside the classroom (Lee & VanPatten, 2003; de Bot). All of these requirements can be addressed through telecollaboration.

The present study reports on a telecollaborative exchange involving EFL learners in classes taught by some thirty secondary school student-teachers in France and the Netherlands. The student-teachers were enrolled in courses on technology for language education in their respective institutions, and they collaborated in a virtual environment to:

  • share information about their learners,
  • devise learning tasks involving interaction between learners in different countries, and
  • document instances of target language communication and learning.

Data include

  • student-teacher contributions during the course (video presentations and classroom clips,
  • synchronous and asychronous group exchanges in the virtual environment),
  • the teaching and learning materials they designed and published as open educational resources, and
  • reflection on the implementation of activities from a task-based language teaching perspective.

Additional information is provided by participant attitude questionnaires on language teaching and learning, the role of technology, and their views of course outcomes.

References

Belz, J. A., & Reinhardt, J. (2004). Aspects of advanced foreign language proficiency: Internet‐mediated German language play. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 14(3), 324-362.
De Bot, K. (2007). Language teaching in a changing world. Modern Language Journal, 274-276.
Guth, S. and Helm, F. (2010) (eds.) Telecollaboration 2.0: Language, Literacy and Intercultural Learning in the 21st Century. Bern: Peter Lang.
Hanna, B. & de Nooy, J. (2009). Learning language and culture via public internet discussion forums. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Kern, R. (2014). Technology as pharmakon: The promise and perils of the Internet for foreign language education. The Modern Language Journal, 98(1), 340-357.
Kramsch, C. (2014). Teaching foreign languages in an era of globalization: Introduction. The Modern Language Journal, 98(1), 296-311.
Lee, J. F., & VanPatten, B. (1995). Making Communicative Language Teaching Happen. Volume 1: Directions for Language Learning and Teaching. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
Lightbown, P. M. and Spada, N.(2000). How languages are learned. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
O’Dowd, R. (in press). Learning from the Past and Looking to the Future of Online Intercultural Exchange.
O’Dowd, R. & Ware, P. (2009). Critical issues in telecollaborative task design. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 22(2), 173–188.
Skehan, P. (2009). Modelling second language performance: Integrating complexity, accuracy, fluency, and lexis. Applied Linguistics, 30(4), 510-532.. PDF
Stolz, C. (2014). Are these 17 statements about language acquisition true? TPRS Questions and answer.
Other

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