Understanding language learners’ interaction in SCMC

A sociocultural study

Brianna Janssen Sánchez, University of Iowa

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The emergence of computer-mediated communication has brought exciting new models of interpersonal interactions for language learners, which have considerable implications for L2 acquisition. This poster presents a study that explored language learners’ interactions and how their immediate social environment, especially their interlocutor and the computer, impact their interaction. Sixteen intermediate level Spanish language learners completed SCMC opinion exchange tasks and findings revealed a variety of interactional features including intersubjectivity, off-task discussion, social cohesiveness, use of humor, use of English, and relationship building.

Stimulated Recall interviews shed light on learner perspectives and showed that both the interlocutor and the computer influenced the learner interaction during the task. Students reported that words or phrases indicating intersubjectivity were used to emphasize agreement and show personal feelings. Students also decided to discuss off-task topics and use humor because they were prompted by something they saw in their off-task internet use, because they wanted to make their partner feel good or happy, or they wanted to be funny, exaggerate, or make the task more fun. Polite formulas were used in order to gauge partners’ thoughts on an issue, or complement or acknowledge an opinion. Students reported the reasons that they used English in their reports were because they did not know how to say a word, wanted to keep the conversation flowing, or they did not know if their partner would know the word in Spanish.

Finally, 15 out of 16 students reported using the Internet for both on-task and off-task activities including online translators or dictionaries, email, Facebook or online class notes. Based on the results from this study, it is evident that learners are conscious of their social world and that SCMC is a place for real social communication in the target language.

Brianna Janssen Sánchez

Ph.D. Candidate in SLA
University of Iowa

5 thoughts on “Understanding language learners’ interaction in SCMC”

  1. Very interesting. Thank you for your presentation. I have several questions:
    1. Why did you use asynchronous written stimulated recall as opposed to interviewing each participant in real time either written or spoken?

    2. Do you know if these students had participated in SCMC in Spanish before your project, e.g., in some of their Spanish classes?

    3. In light of your findings, what suggestions do you have for L2 instructors who are (considering) using SCMC with students? How do you suggest that such a task be assessed?

    I’ll try to be here at 9 PDT when you start the livechat. I just wanted to go ahead and mention questions that came to mind after viewing your presentation. Muchas gracias!

    1. Merica, Thank you for your thoughtful questions. I’ll do my best to answer them here. Please feel free to comment again if you still have questions.

      1) I had studied what I would consider the ‘normal’ way to do stimulated recall which would be to interview the participant in real time while observing their chat transcript or a video of their chat like you mentioned, however, because of practicality of the research project, and the fact that stimulated recall should take place as soon as possible after the actual event, I wanted to try to do it this way instead. I think the students also valued being able to write their comments honestly rather than have to tell me in person that they were off task for example.

      2) The students had not participated in SCMC for a language class before this project. They commented that they really enjoyed it (preferred it actually) and they thought they had the chance to talk more than when they do the speaking activity in class face to face. However, I did not measure this in my study. Students did have access to virtual office hours with the instructor throughout the semester using this same platform, but in the case of my students, no one had ever attended those virtual office hours. In a future study, I would likely have students fill out a background information study that addresses this type of question. Thank you for bringing up this interesting point.

      3) I can give a few suggestions to L2 teachers considering using SCMC in their classrooms. I would suggest using SCMC activities as a supplement to in class communicative activities. SCMC gives learners a chance to communicate with each other but at the same time, they have more time to consider their response, see what they have written and make a decision as to whether they want to send it or edit it. Because students are writing in a style that is much like oral communication, they add even more skills to their repertoire of language production. Students might also suffer less anxiety than they might when speaking in the target language face to face with a peer especially when they are giving their opinions about controversial topics. All of this (which has also been noted in SCMC in SLA literature) in conjunction with the findings, that students participate in SCMC with social interactive features in the similar way we find in natural social situations, leads me to believe that this would be a valuable activity.

      As for assessment, there are many perspectives one might take. This particular activity was not assessed. However, participants did know they would be turning in their transcript. Since these types of activities can be assessed in so many ways, I would just like to note that using stimulated recall activities actually as part of the activity and/or assessment could be an interesting way for students to dig back into their conversations and look at different aspects such as the ones discussed in this paper or some aspects of grammar, how they asked or answered questions, or how they used communication strategies (or not) in times or language breakdown. This would turn the activity into more of an autonomous way to study their own language production.

  2. Excellent presentation! I noticed (anecdotally) some of the same interactional strategies in my advanced Spanish course “Hispanics in the US”, particularly the agreement with the partner, complimenting, and showing personal feelings. I also find your data collection method very interesting and effective with the inclusion of the questions in their transcripts rather than an interview as a recall activity.
    Thanks Brianna!

    1. Thanks for your comments, Sylvia. It is quite interesting that you have found similar results with your advanced Spanish students. I have also been working on extending this research with different populations and am finding interesting results on how different students interact socially in a different way when communicating in their L1 and L2.

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