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:
- “to engage learners in ‘authentic’ interaction with native speakers or with learners from other countries” and also
- “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.
- 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.