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Review of Social Networking for Language Education
Edited by Marie-Noёlle Lamy and Katerina Zourou, the volume aims to explore whether and how social networking promotes language learning. Through various chapters that focus on not only theoretical insights but also empirical data obtained from a variety of methodological approaches, the book touches upon issues such as the relationship between social networking, language learning and teaching, and how socialization in social media contributes to language education. The volume is composed of four parts, entitled ‘The Wider Ecology of Language Learning with SNS’, ‘Pedagogies and Practitioners’, ‘Learning Benefits and Challenges’, and ‘Overview’; it contains 10 chapters in total.
In Part I, ‘The wider ecology of language learning with SNS’, Chapter 1, by Jonathon Reinhardt and Hsin-I Chen, is entitled ‘An ecological analysis of social networking site-mediated identity development’ and investigates the social networking site (SNS) practices in Facebook and RenRen of a Chinese student doing her Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics in the USA. Through an ecological approach and a qualitative perspective, how this participant invested in a new identity was analyzed. The results of the study indicated that the participant used Facebook and RenRen to make new friends and as a means to socialize with other students to create her own identity as a Ph.D. student. As for the socialization process, the participant developed and presented her intercultural and multilayered identities (human, friend, girlfriend, student, teacher, and cultural and community participant).
In Chapter 2, entitled ‘Architecture students’ appropriation and avatars- -relationships between avatar identity and L2 verbal participation and interaction’, the authors, Ciara R. Wigham and Thierry Chanier, analyze the verbal interactions in SecondLife and VoiceForum of architecture students learning in L2. This chapter, like the previous one, focuses on identity construction in addition to the contribution of avatar appearance and nonverbal means of communication. The participants included eight female and nine male students aged 21 to 25 years old. The data were collected from group reflective sessions, recorded screen and audio output, and pre- and post-course questionnaires, as well as text-chat logs saved from reflective sessions. The results indicated that the participants attributed great importance to the use of avatars for L2 communication and that avatar appearance changed the way they addressed each other as well as their interaction in L2, suggesting that when the participants do not rely on their first world identity, their verbal interaction increases.
Chapter 3, ‘Online reading groups and network dynamics’ by Chris Lima and Marie- Noёlle Lamy, responds to how online reading groups (ORG) relate to historical reading groups, the role of online media in this relation, the online networking features of the ORG and how these features affect English Language Teaching (ELT) teachers’ professional development. One hundred twenty-six members of the ORG site participated in the study, and the data collection instruments included the documentation stored on the website, online survey, and the short pieces of writing provided by some of the participants on their participation in the ORG. The results revealed that the traditional practices of reading groups, such as sharing ideas and reading materials, were well suited to online media and that some members extended their online activities to offline activities and vice versa. The results also indicated that SNS such as Facebook does not seem to serve ELT teachers for professional development better than traditional websites such as forums.
In Part II, under the theme of ‘‘Pedagogies and Practitioners”, Chapter 4, ‘Bridging design and language interaction and reuse in Livemocha’s culture section’, is engaged with Web 2.0 language learning communities, particularly Livemocha, focusing on the section in which users can see other members’ cultural photos and/or share their own photos, in order to explore places around the world. The authors, Katerina Zourou and Mathieu Loiseau, examine whether different designs of Livemocha’s culture section affect language interaction and try to specify technological and pedagogical designs that will lead to an active social networking site. To this end, 105 culture threads in the culture section were randomly selected, and only the data that were open to public were subject to analysis. Following the data analyses, several design suggestions were made regarding social learning and feedback, one of which proposed including feedback loops in the design to sustain new users’ activities.
In Chapter 5, ‘Profiles in social networking sites for language learning- Livemocha revisited’, Richard Harrison aims to determine the role of user profile in SNS, focusing on how it affects the interactions between learners and peer experts. In this regard, he revisits a previous study conducted by Harrison and Thomas (2009) that discussed how user profiles and identities affected language learning and points out that in Livemocha, because of the lack of users that could help others, the users were in search of ‘experts’ to help them. The participants of the study included seven students in postgraduate applied linguistics, which deals with the use of technology in language teaching and learning. The study benefited from an enthomethodological approach and focused on how users interacted in Livemoacha. The data were collected from classroom observations, discussions, and presentations. The results showed that user profiles were at the very heart of interactions as they reinforced initial relationships that fostered learning.
Chapter 6, ‘It’s not just the tool: Pedagogy for promoting collaboration and community in social networking in CMC’, brings a different perspective to the use of technological tools in collaboration. The authors, Carolin Fuchs and Bill Synder, use the SNS Google Wave in their study, whose participants include pre-service language teachers in the USA and in Taiwan; they propose that how learners use the tool beyond pedagogical tasks matters more than which tool they use. Based on action research, the study focused on the participants’ collaborative exchanges, and the data were collected from the questionnaire where the participants were asked to reflect on the tools they used and on their exchanges. According to the results obtained, the participants highly valued Google Wave as it provided them with immediate communication and the opportunity to discuss projects; however, the results revealed limited evidence of social networking, leading to the conclusion that including a SN tool into the curriculum or a course did not ensure social networking.
Part III, under the theme of ‘Learning Benefits and Challenges’, opens with Chapter 7, ‘A study of the use of social network sites for language learning by university ESL students’, which focuses on examining the online communities Busuu, Livemocha, and English Café. The authors, Min Liu, Matthew K. Evans, Elianie Horwitz, Sunjung Lee, Monica McCrory, Jeong-Bin Park and Claire Meadows Parrish, investigate how university ESL students use these SNS for language learning and their perceptions regarding their experiences. The participants included twenty-one ESL university students from 11 countries that attended an Intensive English program in a southwestern University. The data were collected from the three ESL courses in which the participants used the aforementioned sites over six weeks to perform structured learning activities in class as well as outside. The findings demonstrated that all three sites allowed the participants to communicate with others, to make friends, and to collaborate with other users. However, the participants said that the main aim of using these sites was to practice language skills, rather than only socialize.
In Chapter 8, ‘Online and offsite: Student-driven development of the Taiwan-France telecollaborative project beyond these walls’, the authors, Meei-Ling Liaw and Kathryn English, examine how groups of students in two different countries construct meaning, present themselves, and develop their relationships with each other. The participants included forty-eight English majors in Taiwan and eighteen students of engineering or management in France. These two groups of students aimed to develop their intercultural communication skills in addition to learning through text-, audio-, and video-based exchanges. The data collected included the texts published by both groups on the official website of the project and the Facebook site created by the students. The results of the study revealed distinctive differences in the two sites, the official website, and the Facebook site, regarding the participants’ attitudes. On the official website, the interaction was mostly unidirectional since the participants only posted the tasks assigned by the instructor and focused on the assignments. However, on the Facebook site, initiated by the students, the exchanges were informal and more interactive.
Chapter 9, ‘Formative assessment within social network sites for language learning’, moves the discussion to how formative assessment is conducted on SNS. The authors, Paul Gruba and Cameron Clark, reflect on their own experiences as learners in Busuu, Livemocha, and Babbel and discuss how they go through three areas “placement”, “progress”, and “interaction”. The participants included the authors as beginner learners of Spanish. The results indicated that the participants considered peer assessment unsatisfactory and unrewarding, and the assessments on these sites were rather short and were provided in a model answer. Moreover, the responses provided as feedback by other users lacked consistency.
In Part IV, under ‘Overview’, Chapter 10, ‘Social media-based language learning: Insights from research and practice’, reviews all the previous contributions of the book in terms of research (types of research, themes explored, and data collection issues) and design and pedagogy (mediation, types of networking and community building, forms of interaction, genres, formal and informal learning). The authors, Marie-Noёlle Lamy and François Mangenot, reconsider all the contributions in the aforementioned perspectives and suggest different ways to make use of social networks, such as class-based exploitation of informal practices from the social web, small-group collaborative projects, and the introduction of learners to sites that include verbal productions and genres as models.
This collection is a useful textbook for postgraduate courses in foreign/second language learning as well as researchers in the field of language teaching and learning willing to analyze learner exchanges as well as learning experiences on online platforms, SNS.
The major strength of this book lies in the empirical investigations into learner experiences on SNS. We have a variety of books recently published on the use of technology in language learning and teaching (just to name a few, Thomas, 2009; Stockwell, 2012; Thomas, Reinders, & Warschauer, 2012; and very recently, Toetenela, 2014). This book builds on and extends the knowledge collected through these books and articles through data-based investigations using a variety of methods.
Each chapter in the book provides an effective overview of the issue being investigated with summaries of the points in key readings; this is followed by the study described in detailed. The studies discussed in each chapter are either researcher manipulated or naturally occurring. Moreover, the issues discussed include a variety of disciplinary resources such as sociology and educational technology, following qualitative and quantitative research methodologies.
Another strength of the book is the fact that the studies presented use a variety of research methodologies. For example, Chapter 9, entitled ‘‘Formative assessment within social network sites for language learning’, benefits from an autoethnographic survey of the researchers’ own experiences on some of the SNS, which will give some researchers the courage to conduct studies using this approach as most have difficulty accessing subjects. In this regard, the book also provides ‘food for thought’ for those interested in the application of a variety of research methodologies in their current and/or future studies on the use of technology in language learning and teaching.
Regarding improvements for the future editions of the book, I suggest that the effect of SNS on learner motivation be addressed. The editors, in the introduction part, explained that they did not receive any contributions, although the call for chapters also asked potential contributors to address this issue. Another suggestion is the inclusion of a glossary at the end of the book, including the terms that are specialized or newly-introduced.
Overall, this collection is an invaluable source of empirical studies for researchers, teachers, and graduate students interested in using social networking tools in language learning and teaching. Thus, the book will be of utmost value for those in search not only of studies that will inform them about recent literature but also of empirical investigations that can be used as a model for future studies.
Stockwell, G. (Ed.). (2012). Computer assisted language learning: Diversity in research and practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Thomas, M. (Ed.). (2009). Handbook of research on Web 2.0 and second language learning. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.
Thomas, M., Reinders, H., & Warschauer, M. (Eds.). (2012). Contemporary computer assisted language learning. New York, NY: Continuum.
Toetenela, L. (2014). Social networking: A collaborative open educational resource. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 27(2), 149-162.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Ferit Kılıçkaya is currently working as an associate professor at the department of English language teaching at Mehmet Akif Ersoy University, Burdur, Turkey. His main area of interest includes computer-assisted language learning and testing, language teacher education, and language teaching methodology. He has published several book chapters, articles, and reviews in journals such as British Journal of Educational Technology, Educational Technology & Society, Teaching English with Technology, and Educational Studies.