LINGUIST List 22.2573

Tue Jun 21 2011

Review: Applied Linguistics; Language Acquisition: Luzón et al. (2010)

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        1.     Daria Dayter , Digital Genres, New Literacies and Autonomy in Language Learning

Message 1: Digital Genres, New Literacies and Autonomy in Language Learning
Date: 21-Jun-2011
From: Daria Dayter <>
Subject: Digital Genres, New Literacies and Autonomy in Language Learning
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EDITORS: María José Luzón, María Noelia Ruiz-Madrid and María Luisa VillanuevaTITLE: Digital Genres, New Literacies and Autonomy in Language LearningPUBLISHER: Cambridge Scholars PublishingYEAR: 2010

Daria Dayter, English Linguistics, University of Bayreuth, Germany


''Digital Genres, New Literacies and Autonomy in Language Learning'' is acollection of articles on various aspects of the young subfield of secondlanguage acquisition (SLA), computer-assisted language learning. The intendedreadership includes not only applied linguists but also teachers of modernlanguages 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 ofdigital literacy; and in Part II more practical, with an overview ofcase-studies and specific e-learning tools. Thus the book caters for theinterests of both groups of readers. Since the book editors and the authors offour chapters are members of the Group for Research and Pedagogic Applicationsto Languages (GIAPEL), the collection deals extensively with the projects rununder the auspices of this research group. Among other topics, the volumediscusses the development of 'wreading' competence, fluidity of genre ininternet, digital literacy and its role in autonomous learning, and necessaryqualities of web-based tasks and difficulties of navigating a hypertext. On thewhole, the collection touches upon a variety of key issues of computer-supportedlearning and can be recommended to student readers as well as other SLAresearchers.


The book is divided into two parts, ''Part I: Theorizing about Genre andCybergenre, New Literacies and Language Learning'', and ''Part II: Designing NewTasks for the New Language Learning Framework: Cybertasks for Language LearnerAutonomy.''

As the editors state, the book ''is an attempt to incorporate and draw relationsbetween research on digital genres, autonomy, electronic literacies and languagelearning tasks, combining theoretical reflections with pedagogical research'' (p.x). In order to fulfil this purpose, they open up the discussion with anintroductory chapter (pp. 1-22) which aims to map the key concepts mentioned inthe title of the book -- learner autonomy, new literacies and autonomouslearning. First, the authors introduce GIAPEL -- a group of Spanish scholarsthat was founded in 1991 and focuses on examining plurilingualism and autonomytraining from linguistic, cognitive and pedagogical perspectives. In terms oflinguistic background, the group is interested in discursive and textualentities which form the pragmatic and cognitive frameworks for learning, andtherefore the concept of digital genre is in the centre of investigation.Setting the tone for other contributions, Villanueva, Ruiz-Madrid & Luzón agreeon the need for an inclusive theory of genre which addresses three dimensions:''i) the purpose intended by the producer; ii) textuality features (i.e. textualregularities or patterns, interdiscursivity, multimodality, interactivity andhypertextuality); and iii) patterns of usage'' (p. 10). From a pedagogicalperspective, the researchers propagate lifelong learning which is inseparablefrom learner autonomy. In line with the insights of earlier studies (e.g. White1995), they emphasize that self-instruction should not be confused with learnerautonomy and call for autonomy training as ''deconditioning from a teachingculture'' which should develop ''multilingual and multicultural mediation skillswithin exolingual communication; the skills typical of an integratedplurilingual competence that promote different strategies in alloglossicsituations […]; critical skills to manage information sources; strategicinformation organisation and appropriation skills; and skills in the selectionof the guidance, counselling or accompanying forms in accordance with learningcontexts and objectives'' (p. 5). Finally, the purpose of teaching new literaciesis recognised as the formation of a 'wreader', ''an active responsive reader whoperforms acts where the boundaries between reading and writing/creating textblur'' (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 whethertraditional typologies of genre are applicable to the fluid online discourse. Inan attempt to synthesize research in the fields of literature and discoursestudies, the author outlines two ''genre regimes, subject to quite differentrules: conversational genres, on the one hand, and instituted genres, on theother'' (p. 29). He suggests that for Web texts, where genre constraints aregetting 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 thegenre on linguistic and discursive levels. Thus, in online discourse ascenography may overrule the 'generic scene' -- the norms prescribed by aparticular hypergenre, leading to endless variation within a recognisable Webgenre (p. 34-35). Indeed, the validity of such analysis has been indirectlydemonstrated in research on computer-mediated communication (CMC), e.g. byPuschmann (2009) who investigated the subversion of the blog genre by corporateblogs.

Chapter 3 (pp. 43-61) ''New Text on the Block: Problems and Issues whileNavigating to Read'' problematises the issue of hypertext reading. Reviewing theexisting body of knowledge on hypertext reading, Altun identifies the mainhindrance to comprehension of non-linear hypertext: students often ''perceived itas a maze and experienced disorientation'' (p. 48). This confusion may be causedby the fact that in contrast to a traditional text, in hypertext ''definitebeginnings and endings might not exist. Instead, the reader is provided withnavigational tools allowing him or her to move through an almost unlimitedinformation space'' (p. 45). The author reports the results of a study thatfocused on hypertext reading patterns by undergraduates (Altun 1999) andconcludes that it is necessary to train students separately when hypertext isintroduced into the learning process: ''Because the form is new, it provesproblematic for readers as well as writers who are unfamiliar with the structureand procedure the non-linear hypertext entails. It causes disorientation andprevents learners from sharing, discussing, and negotiating meanings in aclassroom setting'' (p. 57). In addition, the level of computer literacy andprevious experience with internet is a significant factor in the success ofreading 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 opportunitieswhich Web 2.0 provides for autonomous language learning and which, notably, areexploited by learners without any formal pedagogical guidance. Rather thanoutlining the pedagogical implications of such a phenomenon, as for instanceSturm et al. (2009) do, Benson & Chik put the learner perspective in thespotlight. Looking at young Hong Kongers who developed their linguistic andpragmatic competence in English by means of participating in online communitiesof the World of Warcraft computer game and Fanfiction website, the authorsdemonstrate that Web 2.0 can make foreign language (FL) relevant to a learner inways that classroom teaching never would. While ''FL learners are very oftenisolated from other users of target languages and, consequently lackopportunities for concurrent situated language use'' (p. 72), globalized onlinespaces prove to be a perfect environment for ''self-directed naturalisticlearning'' (p. 74). Benson & Chik weigh the objections to such learningaffordances 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 LearningEnvironments: What Knowledge and Skills Do Teachers Need?'', Bailly examines theconstraints and limitations of autonomous online language learning. Suchconstraints include poor availability of online resources, absence of certaindiscursive genres on the internet, extreme complexity that comes with greatquantity of information, and impossibility of using authentic Web resourceswithout a certain level of L2 (pp. 85-86). She suggests the use of teachingblogs to assist the development of autonomy in online learning and supports herargument with the results of an empirical study conducted at a high school inFrance. One important conclusion of the study is the demand to train teacherswith higher degree of digital literacy.

In the last chapter of the Part I, Chapter 6 (pp. 101-125) ''The CIBERTAAALProject: Helping Students Become Wreaders'', Coy & López present the CIBERTAAALproject (Cybergenres and Technologies Applied to Autonomy in Language Learning),the aim of which is to investigate the linguistic aspects of digital texts andstudents' strategies in hypertext reading; and to offer informed suggestions forcybertask design. Coy & López outline their methodology for achieving theseresearch goals, and analyse the architecture of two educational websites. Theyfind that ''students who were more familiar with ICT [information andcommunication technology] used more external links and carried out more 'free'searches on the Internet to solve the task'' (p. 123), but also that the languagelevel of a particular student does not always correlate to their manner oftask-solving.

Part II begins with the contribution by Ton Koenraad ''Tools and Strategies toSupport the Implementation of Web-Based and Task-Based Approaches in ModernLanguage Education'' (pp. 129-151). Koenraad describes the Dutch LanguageQuestproject, a government-funded initiative to support teachers in integratingonline resources in their teaching practices. One of the focal points of theproject is the development of LanguageQuests -- a subtype of a WebQuest, anonline-based task widely used in other areas of internet-assisted learning andconsidered 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 LanguageQuestAssessment Tool which is intended to facilitate the improvement of LanguageQuests.

''Webtasks for the Development of Language Learning Autonomy in the DigitalEnvironment'' is the title of Chapter 8 (pp. 153-174), written by Maria JoséLuzón & Maria Ruiz-Madrid. They address the proposal by Villanueva (2009)concerning the pedagogy of complexity, and suggest a new model of web taskswhich is aimed at developing linguistic and semiotic skills as well ashigh-order capabilities of information elaboration and management (p. 161). Asthe two cornerstones of such tasks they name rich authentic input andappropriate pedagogical scaffolding.

Chapter 9 (pp. 175-196), ''Designing Cybertasks for Learner Autonomy: Towards anActivity Theoretical Pedagogical Model'' offers practical advice on the designingof cybertasks. Basing her claims on Cultural Historical Activity Theory(Vygotsky 1978, Leontiev 1978, Luria 1976), Blin proposes four key principlesfor a successful cybertask that promote autonomy and motivate students: (1)object-centred activities; (2) extensive student collaboration; (3) carefullyplanned focus shifts which help students develop digital literacies; and (4)internal and external contradictions built into the task through pedagogicalscaffolding (pp. 186-187).

With Chapter 11 devoted by the editors to an overview of the book and outliningavenues for future research in the area, Chapter 10 (pp. 197-224) is the lastsubstantive contribution in the volume. In ''Task-Based Development of LanguageStudents' Critical Digital Multiliteracies and Cybergenre Awareness'',Orsini-Jones raises the problem of insufficient digital literacy among staff andstudents. She points out that while ten years ago teachers could still motivatetheir students by using then-innovative e-learning, nowadays it is educators whostruggle 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 amongwhich students constantly navigate: The Museum -- the institutional world ofcontrol and assessment; The Playground -- the collaborative, informalenvironment including Facebook, MySpace etc.; and The Secret Garden -- thepersonal, private, exclusive, e.g. an iPod. She warns that as most universitylearning takes place at The Museum and The Secret Garden, ''the will ofundergraduate students to keep their academic learning spaces separate fromtheir playgrounds [...] should be respected'' (p. 202).


As the book's preface and concluding chapter state, its main objective is tobreak ground in unifying three related fields of research, namely digitalgenres, autonomous learning and digital literacy, ''that, although closelyintertwined and crucial to understand online language learning, are frequentlydiscussed separately, with little reflection on the need to combine them'' (p.ix). However, there definitely are comparable works that may constitutecompetition to the present collection; among them, notably, Thomas (2009) whichin 600 pages pulls together papers on digital literacy, read/write Web (similarto Coy & López's wreading problem), and Web 2.0 in SLA.

Another claim made in the concluding chapter concerns the current lack of ''amultidimensional framework for the analysis of digital genres that accounts notonly for linguistic features, but also for Web-enabled features [...] andpatterns of social interaction'' (p. 233). Although the need for further researchin this area undoubtedly exists, it would appear sensible to see the chapter ongenre (Dominic Maingueneau) incorporate the most prominent of existing attemptsat such multidimensional Web genre typology, a faceted classification scheme forcomputer-mediated discourse (Herring 2007). At the same time, it is importantto remark that Maingueneau's contribution proves especially interesting for thislack of connection to a well-known study: unlike many contemporary papers in thearea of genre studies, in addition to famous Anglophone research (Swales,Dewitt, etc.) Maingueneau draws on less-known French scholarship (Petitjean1989, Rastier 2001, Maingueneau 1998), thus bridging a gap that unavoidablyarises between publications in English and other languages.

Among small drawbacks of the volume I may note a few typos and misspelt names ofscholars (e.g. ''Bazermann'' p. 27. ''Rossenblatt'' p. 49), along with multiplebulky abbreviations and frequent 'blackboxing' of claims with strings ofcitations, which hinder reading flow. Some of those abbreviations are usedwithout prior explication (e.g. ICT on p. ix), and although it will notconstitute a problem for most of the readers familiar with the field ofcomputer-assisted SLA, it may be confusing to other applied linguists orespecially to student readership.

Nonetheless, ''Digital Genres, New Literacies and Autonomy in Language Learning''has a unique value which lies in exploration of problematic theoretical issuesand extensive overview of preceding research. The contribution by Arif Altunstands out as a paper indispensable to anyone looking to be introduced to theresearch on hypertext reading thanks to its comprehensive literature review andreliance on empirical studies. Probably the most valuable for applied linguistsand educators, and also the most insightful and challenging, are the papers byBenson & Chik and Orsini-Jones. Both papers identify vital issues inweb-assisted language learning which for all their enormity are very easy tooverlook. The desire of language learners to keep their Web 'playgrounds'separate from learning spaces, emphasised by Orsini-Jones, should be brought tothe attention of every language teacher. Importantly, along with the warning,the author suggests helpful ways to overcome the problem. Finally, Benson & Chikdirect readers' attention to language learning which the student undertakesoutside of the classroom, completely independently, which usually escapes theeye of researchers who concentrate on guided learning.


Altun, Arif. 1999. The socio-cognitive aspects of hypertext use in an advancedundergraduate ESL reading classroom: a case study. Cincinnati, OH: University ofCincinnati doctoral dissertation.

Hartley, Peter. 2007. New technology and the modern university. Paper presentedat the Next Generation Environment Conference, JISC.

Herring, Susan. 2007. A faceted classification scheme for computer-mediateddiscourse. LanguageInternet 4: article 1.

Leontiev, Alexey. 1978. Activity, consciousness, and personality. EnglewoodCliffs: Prentice Hall.

Luria, Alexander. 1976. Cognitive development. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Luzón, Maria José. 2002. Internet content-based activities for English forSpecific 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 genrein the Life at Wal-Mart blog. In Janet Giltrow & Dieter Stein (eds.), Genres inthe 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 pedagogicalimplications of Web 2.0. In Thomas (ed.), pp. 367-384. Hershey: InformationScience Reference.

Thomas, Michael (ed.) 2009. Handbook of research on Web 2.0 and Second LanguageLearning. Hershey: Information Science Reference.

Villanueva, Maria Luisa. 2009. Tâches et cybergenres: Une perspectiveactionnelle. Le Français dans le Monde/Recherches et Applications 45. 72-82.

Vygotsky, Lev. 1978. Mind in society: the development of higher psychologicalprocesses. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

White, Cynthia. 1995. Autonomy and strategy use in distance foreign languagelearning: Research findings. System 23(2). 207-221.


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.

Page Updated: 21-Jun-2011