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Review of Digital Genres, New Literacies and Autonomy in Language Learning
EDITORS: María José Luzón, María Noelia Ruiz-Madrid and María Luisa Villanueva TITLE: Digital Genres, New Literacies and Autonomy in Language Learning PUBLISHER: Cambridge Scholars Publishing YEAR: 2010
Daria Dayter, English Linguistics, University of Bayreuth, Germany
''Digital Genres, New Literacies and Autonomy in Language Learning'' is a collection of articles on various aspects of the young subfield of second language acquisition (SLA), computer-assisted language learning. The intended readership includes not only applied linguists but also teachers of modern languages and other educators who wish to implement e-learning in their work. The book incorporates two approaches to the subject: in Part I more theoretical, with chapters on genre and text typology, learner autonomy and the essence of digital literacy; and in Part II more practical, with an overview of case-studies and specific e-learning tools. Thus the book caters for the interests of both groups of readers. Since the book editors and the authors of four chapters are members of the Group for Research and Pedagogic Applications to Languages (GIAPEL), the collection deals extensively with the projects run under the auspices of this research group. Among other topics, the volume discusses the development of 'wreading' competence, fluidity of genre in internet, digital literacy and its role in autonomous learning, and necessary qualities of web-based tasks and difficulties of navigating a hypertext. On the whole, the collection touches upon a variety of key issues of computer-supported learning and can be recommended to student readers as well as other SLA researchers.
The book is divided into two parts, ''Part I: Theorizing about Genre and Cybergenre, New Literacies and Language Learning'', and ''Part II: Designing New Tasks for the New Language Learning Framework: Cybertasks for Language Learner Autonomy.''
As the editors state, the book ''is an attempt to incorporate and draw relations between research on digital genres, autonomy, electronic literacies and language learning tasks, combining theoretical reflections with pedagogical research'' (p. x). In order to fulfil this purpose, they open up the discussion with an introductory chapter (pp. 1-22) which aims to map the key concepts mentioned in the title of the book -- learner autonomy, new literacies and autonomous learning. First, the authors introduce GIAPEL -- a group of Spanish scholars that was founded in 1991 and focuses on examining plurilingualism and autonomy training from linguistic, cognitive and pedagogical perspectives. In terms of linguistic background, the group is interested in discursive and textual entities which form the pragmatic and cognitive frameworks for learning, and therefore the concept of digital genre is in the centre of investigation. Setting the tone for other contributions, Villanueva, Ruiz-Madrid & Luzón agree on the need for an inclusive theory of genre which addresses three dimensions: ''i) the purpose intended by the producer; ii) textuality features (i.e. textual regularities or patterns, interdiscursivity, multimodality, interactivity and hypertextuality); and iii) patterns of usage'' (p. 10). From a pedagogical perspective, the researchers propagate lifelong learning which is inseparable from learner autonomy. In line with the insights of earlier studies (e.g. White 1995), they emphasize that self-instruction should not be confused with learner autonomy and call for autonomy training as ''deconditioning from a teaching culture'' which should develop ''multilingual and multicultural mediation skills within exolingual communication; the skills typical of an integrated plurilingual competence that promote different strategies in alloglossic situations […]; critical skills to manage information sources; strategic information organisation and appropriation skills; and skills in the selection of the guidance, counselling or accompanying forms in accordance with learning contexts and objectives'' (p. 5). Finally, the purpose of teaching new literacies is recognised as the formation of a 'wreader', ''an active responsive reader who performs acts where the boundaries between reading and writing/creating text blur'' (p. 14).
The discussion of digital genre is picked up by Maingueneau in Chapter 2 (pp. 25-41), ''Types of Genres, Hypergenre and Internet'', when he asks whether traditional typologies of genre are applicable to the fluid online discourse. In an attempt to synthesize research in the fields of literature and discourse studies, the author outlines two ''genre regimes, subject to quite different rules: conversational genres, on the one hand, and instituted genres, on the other'' (p. 29). He suggests that for Web texts, where genre constraints are getting weaker, only two theoretical concepts are relevant: that of 'hypergenre', an overarching category that loosely frames a wide range of texts (p. 32), and that of 'scenography', the way the producer chooses to embody the genre on linguistic and discursive levels. Thus, in online discourse a scenography may overrule the 'generic scene' -- the norms prescribed by a particular hypergenre, leading to endless variation within a recognisable Web genre (p. 34-35). Indeed, the validity of such analysis has been indirectly demonstrated in research on computer-mediated communication (CMC), e.g. by Puschmann (2009) who investigated the subversion of the blog genre by corporate blogs.
Chapter 3 (pp. 43-61) ''New Text on the Block: Problems and Issues while Navigating to Read'' problematises the issue of hypertext reading. Reviewing the existing body of knowledge on hypertext reading, Altun identifies the main hindrance to comprehension of non-linear hypertext: students often ''perceived it as a maze and experienced disorientation'' (p. 48). This confusion may be caused by the fact that in contrast to a traditional text, in hypertext ''definite beginnings and endings might not exist. Instead, the reader is provided with navigational tools allowing him or her to move through an almost unlimited information space'' (p. 45). The author reports the results of a study that focused on hypertext reading patterns by undergraduates (Altun 1999) and concludes that it is necessary to train students separately when hypertext is introduced into the learning process: ''Because the form is new, it proves problematic for readers as well as writers who are unfamiliar with the structure and procedure the non-linear hypertext entails. It causes disorientation and prevents learners from sharing, discussing, and negotiating meanings in a classroom setting'' (p. 57). In addition, the level of computer literacy and previous experience with internet is a significant factor in the success of reading and constructing meaning of non-linear texts.
In their paper on ''New Literacies and Autonomy in Foreign Language Learning'' constituting Chapter 4 (pp. 63-80), Benson & Chik explore the opportunities which Web 2.0 provides for autonomous language learning and which, notably, are exploited by learners without any formal pedagogical guidance. Rather than outlining the pedagogical implications of such a phenomenon, as for instance Sturm et al. (2009) do, Benson & Chik put the learner perspective in the spotlight. Looking at young Hong Kongers who developed their linguistic and pragmatic competence in English by means of participating in online communities of the World of Warcraft computer game and Fanfiction website, the authors demonstrate that Web 2.0 can make foreign language (FL) relevant to a learner in ways that classroom teaching never would. While ''FL learners are very often isolated from other users of target languages and, consequently lack opportunities for concurrent situated language use'' (p. 72), globalized online spaces prove to be a perfect environment for ''self-directed naturalistic learning'' (p. 74). Benson & Chik weigh the objections to such learning affordances against their obvious benefits and call for further research on this ''hidden underbelly'' of FL learning.
In Chapter 5 (pp. 81-100), ''Supporting Autonomy Development in Online Learning Environments: What Knowledge and Skills Do Teachers Need?'', Bailly examines the constraints and limitations of autonomous online language learning. Such constraints include poor availability of online resources, absence of certain discursive genres on the internet, extreme complexity that comes with great quantity of information, and impossibility of using authentic Web resources without a certain level of L2 (pp. 85-86). She suggests the use of teaching blogs to assist the development of autonomy in online learning and supports her argument with the results of an empirical study conducted at a high school in France. One important conclusion of the study is the demand to train teachers with higher degree of digital literacy.
In the last chapter of the Part I, Chapter 6 (pp. 101-125) ''The CIBERTAAAL Project: Helping Students Become Wreaders'', Coy & López present the CIBERTAAAL project (Cybergenres and Technologies Applied to Autonomy in Language Learning), the aim of which is to investigate the linguistic aspects of digital texts and students' strategies in hypertext reading; and to offer informed suggestions for cybertask design. Coy & López outline their methodology for achieving these research goals, and analyse the architecture of two educational websites. They find that ''students who were more familiar with ICT [information and communication technology] used more external links and carried out more 'free' searches on the Internet to solve the task'' (p. 123), but also that the language level of a particular student does not always correlate to their manner of task-solving.
Part II begins with the contribution by Ton Koenraad ''Tools and Strategies to Support the Implementation of Web-Based and Task-Based Approaches in Modern Language Education'' (pp. 129-151). Koenraad describes the Dutch LanguageQuest project, a government-funded initiative to support teachers in integrating online resources in their teaching practices. One of the focal points of the project is the development of LanguageQuests -- a subtype of a WebQuest, an online-based task widely used in other areas of internet-assisted learning and considered to have a very high potential for FL learning (see e.g. Luzón 2002). Finally, the author reports on the makeup and uses of the LanguageQuest Assessment Tool which is intended to facilitate the improvement of LanguageQuests.
''Webtasks for the Development of Language Learning Autonomy in the Digital Environment'' is the title of Chapter 8 (pp. 153-174), written by Maria José Luzón & Maria Ruiz-Madrid. They address the proposal by Villanueva (2009) concerning the pedagogy of complexity, and suggest a new model of web tasks which is aimed at developing linguistic and semiotic skills as well as high-order capabilities of information elaboration and management (p. 161). As the two cornerstones of such tasks they name rich authentic input and appropriate pedagogical scaffolding.
Chapter 9 (pp. 175-196), ''Designing Cybertasks for Learner Autonomy: Towards an Activity Theoretical Pedagogical Model'' offers practical advice on the designing of cybertasks. Basing her claims on Cultural Historical Activity Theory (Vygotsky 1978, Leontiev 1978, Luria 1976), Blin proposes four key principles for a successful cybertask that promote autonomy and motivate students: (1) object-centred activities; (2) extensive student collaboration; (3) carefully planned focus shifts which help students develop digital literacies; and (4) internal and external contradictions built into the task through pedagogical scaffolding (pp. 186-187).
With Chapter 11 devoted by the editors to an overview of the book and outlining avenues for future research in the area, Chapter 10 (pp. 197-224) is the last substantive contribution in the volume. In ''Task-Based Development of Language Students' Critical Digital Multiliteracies and Cybergenre Awareness'', Orsini-Jones raises the problem of insufficient digital literacy among staff and students. She points out that while ten years ago teachers could still motivate their students by using then-innovative e-learning, nowadays it is educators who struggle to keep up with the students' superior digital literacy. Moreover, ''students can ''resent'' what they perceive to be institutional e-tools'' (p. 201). Orsini-Jones follows Hartley (2007) in outlining three e-learning zones among which students constantly navigate: The Museum -- the institutional world of control and assessment; The Playground -- the collaborative, informal environment including Facebook, MySpace etc.; and The Secret Garden -- the personal, private, exclusive, e.g. an iPod. She warns that as most university learning takes place at The Museum and The Secret Garden, ''the will of undergraduate students to keep their academic learning spaces separate from their playgrounds [...] should be respected'' (p. 202).
As the book's preface and concluding chapter state, its main objective is to break ground in unifying three related fields of research, namely digital genres, autonomous learning and digital literacy, ''that, although closely intertwined and crucial to understand online language learning, are frequently discussed separately, with little reflection on the need to combine them'' (p. ix). However, there definitely are comparable works that may constitute competition to the present collection; among them, notably, Thomas (2009) which in 600 pages pulls together papers on digital literacy, read/write Web (similar to Coy & López's wreading problem), and Web 2.0 in SLA.
Another claim made in the concluding chapter concerns the current lack of ''a multidimensional framework for the analysis of digital genres that accounts not only for linguistic features, but also for Web-enabled features [...] and patterns of social interaction'' (p. 233). Although the need for further research in this area undoubtedly exists, it would appear sensible to see the chapter on genre (Dominic Maingueneau) incorporate the most prominent of existing attempts at such multidimensional Web genre typology, a faceted classification scheme for computer-mediated discourse (Herring 2007). At the same time, it is important to remark that Maingueneau's contribution proves especially interesting for this lack of connection to a well-known study: unlike many contemporary papers in the area of genre studies, in addition to famous Anglophone research (Swales, Dewitt, etc.) Maingueneau draws on less-known French scholarship (Petitjean 1989, Rastier 2001, Maingueneau 1998), thus bridging a gap that unavoidably arises between publications in English and other languages.
Among small drawbacks of the volume I may note a few typos and misspelt names of scholars (e.g. ''Bazermann'' p. 27. ''Rossenblatt'' p. 49), along with multiple bulky abbreviations and frequent 'blackboxing' of claims with strings of citations, which hinder reading flow. Some of those abbreviations are used without prior explication (e.g. ICT on p. ix), and although it will not constitute a problem for most of the readers familiar with the field of computer-assisted SLA, it may be confusing to other applied linguists or especially to student readership.
Nonetheless, ''Digital Genres, New Literacies and Autonomy in Language Learning'' has a unique value which lies in exploration of problematic theoretical issues and extensive overview of preceding research. The contribution by Arif Altun stands out as a paper indispensable to anyone looking to be introduced to the research on hypertext reading thanks to its comprehensive literature review and reliance on empirical studies. Probably the most valuable for applied linguists and educators, and also the most insightful and challenging, are the papers by Benson & Chik and Orsini-Jones. Both papers identify vital issues in web-assisted language learning which for all their enormity are very easy to overlook. The desire of language learners to keep their Web 'playgrounds' separate from learning spaces, emphasised by Orsini-Jones, should be brought to the attention of every language teacher. Importantly, along with the warning, the author suggests helpful ways to overcome the problem. Finally, Benson & Chik direct readers' attention to language learning which the student undertakes outside of the classroom, completely independently, which usually escapes the eye of researchers who concentrate on guided learning.
Altun, Arif. 1999. The socio-cognitive aspects of hypertext use in an advanced undergraduate ESL reading classroom: a case study. Cincinnati, OH: University of Cincinnati doctoral dissertation.
Hartley, Peter. 2007. New technology and the modern university. Paper presented at the Next Generation Environment Conference, JISC.
Herring, Susan. 2007. A faceted classification scheme for computer-mediated discourse. Language@Internet 4: article 1.
Luria, Alexander. 1976. Cognitive development. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Luzón, Maria José. 2002. Internet content-based activities for English for Specific Purposes. English Teaching Forum 40(3). 20-25.
Maingueneau, Dominic. 1998. Analyser les texts de communication. Paris: Dunod.
Petitjean, André. 1989. Les typologies textuelles. Pratiques 62. 86-125.
Puschmann, Cornelius. 2009. Lies at Wal-Mart. Style and the subversion of genre in the Life at Wal-Mart blog. In Janet Giltrow & Dieter Stein (eds.), Genres in the Internet, 49-84. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Rastier, François. 2001. Arts et sciences du texte. Paris: PUF.
Sturm, Matthias, Trudy Kennell, Rob McBride & Mike Kelly. 2009. The pedagogical implications of Web 2.0. In Thomas (ed.), pp. 367-384. Hershey: Information Science Reference.
Thomas, Michael (ed.) 2009. Handbook of research on Web 2.0 and Second Language Learning. Hershey: Information Science Reference.
Villanueva, Maria Luisa. 2009. Tâches et cybergenres: Une perspective actionnelle. Le Français dans le Monde/Recherches et Applications 45. 72-82.
Vygotsky, Lev. 1978. Mind in society: the development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
White, Cynthia. 1995. Autonomy and strategy use in distance foreign language learning: Research findings. System 23(2). 207-221.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Daria Dayter has received her first degree from the Russian Christian
Academy for the Humanities, Saint-Petersburg, Russia, and her M.A. from the
University of Bayreuth, Germany. She is a research assistant at the English
Linguistics department, University of Bayreuth, Germany. At the moment she
is working on the PhD project on time reference in Twitter and blogs. Her
research interests include language in the internet, computer-mediated
communication, youth language, and politeness theory.