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LINGUIST List 25.1297

Mon Mar 17 2014

Review: Applied Linguistics: Nguyen (2013)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <jsalmonslinguistlist.org>

Date: 10-Oct-2013
From: Stefano Maranzana <stefanomaranzanagmail.com>
Subject: Integrating Computer-Mediated Communication into Foreign Language Education
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-599.html

AUTHOR: Long V. Nguyen
TITLE: Integrating Computer-Mediated Communication into Foreign Language Education
SUBTITLE: A Vietnamese Sociocultural Context of Higher Education
SERIES TITLE: LINCOM Studies in Second Langauge Teaching 18
PUBLISHER: Lincom GmbH
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Stefano Maranzana, University of Arizona

SUMMARY
“Integrating Computer-Mediated Communication into Foreign Language Education”
by Long V. Nguyen is a very well written book offering ways to employ modern
technology in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) pedagogy. The book
investigates how both synchronous and asynchronous computer-mediated
communication may complement each other, leading to collaborative learning in
the classroom setting. Particularly, the investigation revolves around three
important attributes of collaborative learning (Ingram & Hathorn, 2004):
participation, interaction and synthesis of information. The book is organized
in twelve chapters.

Chapter One is an introduction, outlining the following research questions:
“1) What is the nature and contribution of online synchronous discussion in
comparison with traditional face-to-face discussion in collaborative learning
in the EFL classroom? 2) What is the nature and contributions of online
asynchronous peer-review in comparison with traditional pen-and-paper
peer-review in collaborative learning in the EFL classroom? 3) To what extent,
and in what ways, do online exchange processes lead to improved English
language achievement? 4) What are the students’ reflections on and perceptions
of CMC collaboration in the EFL classroom?” (p. 4).

Chapter Two, “Sociocultural Background,” provides the context for the
research, where it took place as well as the cultural, sociological and
cultural backgrounds of the participants. Nguyen discusses English language
education and the discrepancies between Vietnamese government requirements and
the actual level of English graduates. Even though at the conclusion of
tertiary education Vietnamese students have a minimum of eleven years of
English instruction, there is clear evidence that a large number of these
students can hardly communicate in English. It appears that this problem can
be attributed to traditional teacher-fronted and examination-oriented teaching
methods. The application of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) methods in
the classroom is also considered problematic by Vietnamese teachers of English
who need to manage oversized classrooms (35-50 students), and thus prefer to
rely on more traditional teacher-fronted methods. Research on the role of CMC
in collaborative language learning might be a viable resource to surmount
these challenges.

The research presented here was carried out at the University of Danang (UD)
in Vietnam. The chapter provides demographics on the city of Danang, its
university and the students. Although most of the lecturers of the English
Department have a Master’s degree in TESOL from locally or overseas, for
reasons mentioned above, the proficiency of graduates remains low. The use of
computer technology, though regarded as important, is still limited, both at
the managerial level and in the classroom. Face-to-face classroom interaction
is therefore still the principal form of communication between teachers and
students. Despite encouragement from instructors, Vietnamese students are
uneasy speaking up in the classroom, as precision is considered more valuable
than speaking a great deal and inaccurately (Lewis & McCook, 2002; Tomlinson &
Dat, 2004). Nguyen’s book explores whether CMC can address some of the
problems and improve the level of proficiency of Vietnamese EFL students.

Chapter Three, “Sociocultural Theory of Learning,” introduces the pedagogical
framework, tracing back to the theories of Piaget’s (1932) constructivist
theory and Vygotsky’s (1978) sociocultural theory (SCT). In past years, SCT
has had significant influence in the fields of education, and more recently in
the fields of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and computer-assisted language
learning (CALL). Vygotskian theory assumes the interconnectedness of the three
parts of development, i.e., cultural-historical, interpersonal and
intrapersonal. SCT stresses the value of social interactions in generating a
learning environment within a wider social and cultural context. The chapter
discusses SCT, examining mediation, activity theory and the zone of proximal
development (ZPD) within the scope of language acquisition, laying emphasis on
the importance of collaborative learning.

In Chapter Four, “Current Approaches to Language Education,” the author
stresses the relationship between collaborative and communicative language
learning. The focus of language teaching should be on meaning rather than on
form. CLT has long been regarded as a learner-centered and comprehensive
approach, embracing different methods, motivations and learning styles, taking
into account the needs of the classroom and students. CLT emphasizes
communication in real life situations, using five key features: 1) An emphasis
on learning to communicate through interaction in the target language; 2) The
introduction of authentic texts into the learning environment; 3) Attention
not only to the language but also the learning process itself; 4) Bringing the
learner’s own personal experience to the classroom as a component of the
learning process; 5) The attempt to connect classroom language learning with
language outside the classroom (Nunan, 1991).

Nguyen situates CLT within the sociocultural framework as CLT breaks from
theories based on universal generative grammars and innate language
acquisition and focuses on artifact-mediated participative language learning.
SCT-based CLT pedagogy assumes that 1) Language is best learned via social
interaction and negotiation of meaning; 2) Learning is typically mediated by
social and cultural tools; 3) Collaborative learning with peers activates the
ZPD, improving linguistic performance; 4) Collaborative learning plays a
fundamental role in CTL language classroom settings. In CLT, teacher-centered
pedagogy is replaced by group-based and pair-based learning, where social
interaction becomes a means of knowledge-formation and the student plays an
active role while the teacher acts as a facilitator. Moving away from the
traditional language learning methods, collaborative learning is gaining
popularity, shifting the power in the classroom from the teacher to learners
whilst encouraging learner autonomy.

Chapter Five gives an overview of “Computer-Mediated Communication” in
language teaching. Researchers seek to understand how computer-mediated
communication (CMC) can contribute to education from various disciplinary and
methodological standpoints. CMC can be seen as communication between human
beings through the means of networked computers. It can be synchronous or
asynchronous, providing freedom from temporal and spatial limitations and
giving access to a variety of media (hypertext, video, images, etc.). These
features make this mode an ideal springboard for collaborative learning.
Nguyen provides an extensive review of the research literature dealing with
the characteristic of CMC and the benefits that this medium can bring in to
language development. Specifically, he surveys studies of CMC on: 1)
Metalinguistic aspects (negotiation of meaning, sociolinguistic environments,
intercultural and intracultural competence); 2) Language areas or components
(grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation); 3) language skills (writing, reading,
speaking listening). The chapter covers research pertaining to
computer-mediated collaborative second language learning, showing how this
medium may enhance students’ participation and interaction.

Chapter Six illustrates the research methodology and describes the procedures
of the study, with a discussion of the method of data collection and analysis
in conformity with the research questions. Mixed methods research was applied,
i.e., taking into account “multiple viewpoints, perspectives, positions, and
standpoints” (Johnson et al., 2007, p. 113). Both qualitative and quantitative
data were gathered and analyzed to study and assess the process and product of
collaborative learning between two EFL classes of the TEFL program at the
College of Foreign Language (CFL) the University of Danang. The control
classes employed traditional face-to-face and pen-and-paper collaborative
practices, while the CMC classes used synchronous and asynchronous modes.
Demographic statistics follow in the chapter, as well as data on the students’
English language proficiency, collaborative learning experience, perceptions
of networked computer, and computer proficiency. Yahoo! Messenger was selected
as the medium for synchronous communication, while a wiki (PBWiki) was used
for asynchronous interaction. Criteria for the selection of these media are
described in detail. The data collected consist of a pre-project
questionnaire, synchronous discussion transcripts, after-chat interview,
asynchronous peer-reviews, final collaborative products, a post-project
questionnaire, a post-project interview, and the observations of the
researcher. Since this work dealt with collaborative learning and the
interactive features of both SCMA and ACMC, the conceptual framework for
analysis adopted in the research was Mangenot and Nissen’s (2006) three levels
of collaboration: socioaffective (i.e., how students get along with their
peers), organizational (i.e., planning, monitoring and evaluating of the
task), and sociocognitive (i.e., how students resolved the tasks in
collaboration).

Chapter Seven, “Synchronous Discussion,” discusses results of the chat
discussion. The main aim is to answer the first research question regarding
the nature and effectiveness of SCMC interaction in comparison to face-to-face
discussion. 20 groups from both classes (computer-mediated and face-to-face)
are analyzed, identifying participation and interaction. The CMC class spent
twice the time as the control class discussing the required task, but produced
almost half the number of words. The number of words per turn produced by the
control group was approximately three times higher than the CMC group. These
figures challenge previous studies that found SCMC can promote greater
participation (Kern, 1995; Lee, 2002; Smith, 2003). A possible reason, Nguyen
argues, could be that the students had no previous experience with SCMC in
academic environments. Furthermore, with no facial expressions and gestures
available in SCMC, the students needed more time to think about their output.
Member participation, however, was substantially more equal in SCMC than in
face-to-face interaction, confirming that SCMC affords more equal
participation structures. Statistics on the interactions are provided. As per
the nature of the interactions, the online groups had to employ a variety of
communicative tools to negotiate a common ground and produced a significant
number of socioaffective and organizational interactions that helped build,
sustain and develop the online community of collaborative learning.
Furthermore, analysis confirmed that the groups using SCMC performed
significantly more negotiated discussions than the face-to-face group.

Chapter Eight, “Asynchronous Peer Review,” looks at the viability of wikis as
a potential collaborative tool by analyzing the peer review process of the 20
groups in the study. The wiki did enhance the collaboration of the students,
with a higher number of comments generated via the wiki compared to the
paper-and-pencil groups. The CMC groups also generated a substantial number of
comments associated with socioaffective and organizational matters, which was
not the case in the paper feedback. The wiki mode of peer review created a
multi-way interactive mode of learning that cannot be replicated on paper. The
comments that appeared in the wiki (encouragement, consensus-seeking,
agreement or rejecting other participants’ comments) created a social and
cognitive environment that enabled mutual support leading to a higher level of
autonomy, the effectiveness of collaborative peer review systems and a higher
level of information synthesis.

Chapter Nine, “Final Collaborative Products,” analyses and discusses 20 final
essays written by each group of the two participating classes. The chapter
addresses the third research question, to determine improvement in English
proficiency of the CMC group compared to the control group. The essays of the
control group were written as a first draft by one group member who would
revise his or her work before passing it to the leader of the group for
editing. In the wiki mode, although one student was the originator of the
first draft, all group members revised collaboratively the draft at the same
time. Quantitative and statistical analysis does not show any significant
difference between the essays of the two classes, with the exception of a
higher number of words per essay generated by the CMC class. The qualitative
analysis showed that the use of language was analogous between the two
classes. CMC compositions were superior in terms of content, but inferior as
regards to organization and structure compared to the non-CMC ones.

Chapter Ten is “Learners’ Perceptions and reflections” and examines the
participants’ opinions and considerations vis-à-vis the CMC environments,
dealing with the fourth research question. The data for analysis consists of
the questionnaire and interviews with 14 volunteer students who participated
in the CMC class. Overall, many participants found the experience engaging and
motivating, as opposed to the traditional teacher-oriented classroom, which
was regarded as more tedious. Interestingly, the participants were equally
divided as to the preference for SCMC or ACMC and they generally saw both as
generating confidence and enthusiasm for the collaborative learning process.
The students claimed to have improved significantly their computer skills,
though they could not perceive any improvement in their English language
skills, due to the short time of CMC class (12 weeks). Furthermore, they
stated that they felt more involved in the learning process through
collaboration.

Chapter Eleven, “Lessons Learned,” discusses the book’s research aims, i.e.,
to explore the effectiveness and perceptions of CMC environments in EFL
collaborative learning. Interactionists believe that language development is
acquired through interaction among learners and between learners and the
teacher. CMC environments help overcome the classroom boundaries by “(1)
bringing the world into the classroom, (2) taking the classroom into the wider
world, and (3) most importantly, expanding the world right within the
classroom” (p. 190). Moreover, by keeping most of the learning activities
online, learners could complete their learning and collaborative pursuits
anytime and anywhere, and remain connected throughout the unfolding of the
collaboration. CMC is to be seen not only as a tool of mediation, but also as
a content-rich environment that enables learning and collaboration. Nguyen
argues that the online collaborative learning in this research reached a
higher degree of satisfaction as regarding the ZPD, through active negotiation
of meaning via social and cultural tools.

The concluding Chapter Twelve contains the author’s reflection on his research
and adds implications and recommendations for future research. Nguyen is
satisfied with the outcomes of his study and believes that it benefitted the
students as they were able to go beyond the traditional classroom setting and
expand into the broader world beyond it. Through the scaffolding assistance of
more experienced participants (i.e., other students or the teacher), the
students were able to achieve a degree of competence that would have not been
reached on their own. In sum, the application of CMC in language education is
in line with the sociocognitive views articulated in the Vygotskian framework.
Nguyen advocates the application of mixed methods research for foreign
language education inquiry, where sociocognitive, socioaffective and
organizational aspects of collaborative learning need to be assessed.
Pedagogically speaking, the research confirms that integrating CMC into
collaborative learning is practical and promising. Nevertheless, preparation
needs to be done in order to maximize this pedagogical potential, with a look
at which platforms are better to be used in line with the teaching objectives.
Further research needs to be carried out to increase generalizability of its
outcomes, i.e., by collecting data from a larger sample and over a longer
period of time. Another suggested line of research pertains to peer feedback
and the extent to which learners actually revised their writing to conform to
the recommendations received. Finally, Nguyen proposes to investigate more the
pedagogical affordances provided by wikis, being one of the most important Web
2.0 technologies.

EVALUATION
Nguyen’s book aims at exploring how Computer-Mediated Communication, both
synchronous and asynchronous, may impact Communicative Language Teaching
within a Vietnamese EFL university setting. Overall the author has achieved
his goals with the book, though of course, as he acknowledges, it has some
limitations. Though the author found evidence that the CMC group did
collaborate more and manifested more enthusiasm to learn through synchronous
and asynchronous modes, the author asserts that due to the limited amount of
time of CMC (12 weeks), it was not possible to determine any significant
language improvement in the group.

The scope of the book is not limited to the Vietnamese situation or only to
EFL. I recommend this book for all scholars interested in computer-mediated
language acquisition research for it provides extensive theoretical background
and clear detail on how the research was implemented. The book features many
charts and diagrams offering visualizations of the data analyzed.

Nguyen’s book is also practical for second language acquisition students just
embarking in the study of technology and language learning and seeking a
general overview of the state-of-the-art. The bibliography is well-chosen and
up-to-date, ranging from SLA principles to Sociocultural Theory, CLT and CMC
in language education. Furthermore, owing to the dual focus of the research,
the literature reviewed includes investigations on asynchronous CMC (wikis and
blogs) and synchronous CMC (chat).

Finally, the text is written with such clarity that it is accessible to
foreign language educators who are interested in incorporating online
technologies to enhance their classrooms and programs. Contemporary language
teaching methods need to take advantage of CMC technologies to create
stimulating learning environments and turn to students’ current needs and
learning styles.


REFERENCES
Ingram, A.L., & Hathorn, L.G. (2004). Methods for analyzing collaboration in
online. “Online Colloborative Learning: Theory and Practice”, 207.

Johnson, R.B., Onwuegbuzie, A.J., & Turner, L.A. (2007). Toward a definition
of mixed methods research. “Journal of mixed methods research”, 1(2), 112-133.

Lee, L. (2002). Enhancing Learners' Communication Skills through Synchronous
Electronic Interaction and Task‐Based Instruction. “Foreign Language Annals”,
35(1), 16-24.

Lewis, M., & McCook, F. (2002). Cultures of teaching: Voices from Vietnam.
“ELT journal”, 56(2), 146-153.

Kern, R.G. (1995). Restructuring classroom interaction with networked
computers: Effects on quantity and characteristics of language production.
“The Modern Language Journal”, 79(4), 457-476.

Mangenot, F., & Nissen, E. (2006). Collective activity and tutor involvement
in e-learning environments for language teachers and learners. “Calico
Journal”, 23(3), 601-622.

Nunan, D. (1991). “Language teaching methodology: A textbook for teachers”.
New York: Prentice hall.

Piaget, J. (1932). “The moral judgment of the child”. London: Routledge &
Keagan.

Savignon, S.J. (2007). Beyond communicative language teaching: What's ahead?.
“Journal of Pragmatics”, 39(1), 207-220.

Smith, B. (2003). Computer–mediated negotiated interaction: an expanded model.
“The Modern Language Journal”, 87(1), 38-57.

Tomlinson, B., & Dat, B. (2004). The contributions of Vietnamese learners of
English to ELT methodology. “Language teaching research”, 8(2), 199-222.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). “Mind in society: The development of higher mental
process”. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Stefano Maranzana is a PhD student in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching
and Italian language instructor at University of Arizona. His main research
interests include English as a Lingua Franca, technology in SLA,
telecollaboration and Sociocultural Theory.
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