Thursday, August 21, 2008

Exercise 2.4.2 - Kern (2006)

Question: What do you think about the future directions of CALL research?

There has been a shift in focus in the role of technology in learning, from tutorial applications (instruction, feedback, testing…) to that of tool (access) and medium (providing places for interpersonal communication, multimedia publication, distance learning, community participation and identity formation). Current research has therefore been becoming more attentive to learner’s interactions with technology and what that technology can enable them to do. E-mail has made it possible for people to communicate with each other in writing, whereas Chat/Skype/Video Conferencing has facilitated synchronous communication activities… It is very clear that interaction and communication is happening, but not so clear how this communication is translating to beneficial and holistic learning outcomes for the L2 learner, or how the use of this technology is assisting/hampering effective communication and identity formation, and what positive or negative effects there are for specific contexts? This appears to be the new role of research in CALL for the future. To understand not only what interaction is happening, but also the impact of that communication on language, learning, and the individuals involved – A Sociolinguistic perspective, rather than just an Interactionist one. Kern (2006) summarizes the future of CALL Research into four main areas: Transversal relationships (how one proficiency can transfer to another), reading and writing electronically (emergence of new discourse patterns in CMC that affect reading and writing), curricular issues (implications of electronic literacies) and sociopolitical issues (access to technology).
The uses of technology are wide and varied, and are changing the way that people are communicating and learning, and affecting what people learn. Ss sending text messages often start looking for shortcuts, that tend to make communication faster, even though it may not be grammatically correct. How does this kind of communication affect writing and reading competence? People are gaining access to an ever-increasing resource (the web), and new technologies are opening new doors. There are whole communities that are interacting with each other from different parts of the world, and very specific niches being created all over the net. People have such varying levels of electronic literacy (computer, information, multimedia and CMC), that it is becoming more important to understand what electronic literacies our Ss have upon entering our classes/programs (as this contributes to learner differences), and how we can develop them or new literacies within our students (Warchauer 2003, as cited in Kern 2006). Each person has their own identity within their own social contexts before coming into contact with new technologies or our specific curriculum. Is that identity malleable enough to adapt to different kinds of interaction, and how does that identity react to the new contexts?
Another major consideration that was highlighted by Kern was the socio-cultural perspective, and developing an idea of how to better understand the social constraints and opportunities that affect intercultural communication. The research of the future will have to understand that having connectivity between people from different cultures, will mean that competency/performance is influenced by more than just the input and output, but also such things as differences in communicative genre’s, medium, task type, linguistic style, and cultural characteristics. A virtual classroom in “second life” for example, will bring together people from all kinds of backgrounds (culturally/technologically). People will have a place, and a target language, but the limits of each particular virtual classroom will be influenced by the individual identities of the participants and the way those identities interact in the context of a virtual world (just like in a normal ESL classroom, but incorporating their technological identities). Some cultures are context bound and others are not. Japanese for instance is heavily dependent on contextual cues that leave English-speaking learners lost. How will English learners enter a Japanese context and participate effectively? This is not only a research question for CMC, but a general question for sociolinguistics. It is just that these new virtual worlds are making it easier for people to connect.
The other social force that I see in new technologies is that of what I call the “Facebook phenomenon”. People are connecting in contexts such as these, but guidelines for social communication have not yet been established, and people are entering these virtual environments without clear ideas about what is permissible, what is abrasive, what is effective communication? More research needs to be done on not only the positive aspects of getting people together, but also what Ware (2003,2005 as cited in Kern 2006) considers the many forms of CMC that can facilitate missed communication.
The classroom of the future will undoubtedly extend beyond the four walls, and into virtual worlds that include people from all over the world. Harnessing new technologies, and making those technologies as effective as possible for all participants will be the new goal for teachers and researchers alike. Researchers will need to understand not only electronic literacies, but also cultural/technological identity within new and specific environments.

Kern, R. (2006). Perspectives on technology in learning and teaching languages. TESOL Quarterly, 40(1), 183-210


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