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Communication and Collaboration In CALL

As you read about the CALL project below, reflect on how students communicate and work together during the activity.

ESL students in Mr. Ehman’s class in New York are involved in their Mystery Character assignment. They are conducting Internet and library research on a character that they have chosen from current political events. In each group, one student is assigned to research the character’s background, one to discover information about the character’s current situation, and one to uncover interesting little-known facts about the character. Group members will pool their information in order to pose as this famous mystery person. They will create a Google Doc and share it with their native-English-speaking electronic pals (e-pals) in Ohio with clues in English about their character’s identity.

Their e-pals will use clues from the document, reference materials from their library, texts, classmates, and other resources to form questions to ask the mystery character. While trying to guess who the mystery character is, students are required to complete an individual written analysis and then pool their answers with the group to decide what questions to ask. They also decide together what names to guess. After an exchange of several messages in the Google Doc, the native speakers will eventually guess who the mystery person is. Once they guess correctly the roles will be reversed, with the native-English-speaking students creating a new document with clues and sharing it with the ESL students, who will try to guess the name of the new mystery character.

► Overview of Communication and Collaboration In CALL

As evidenced by the theoretical framework outlined in chapter 1, social interaction is a crucial component of language learning environments, including those enhanced by computer-mediated communication (CMC) technologies (Chapelle, 1998; Gass, & Mackey, 2015; Stockwell, 2010), both synchronous (at the same time, such as chat) and asynchronous (learners posting at different times, such as forum/discussion board interactions). Sadler (2007) notes that:

CMC gives language learners access to more knowledgeable individuals, either native speakers of the target language or more advanced nonnative speakers, than they might be able to encounter in a face-to-face environment, thus increasing their potential ability to learn. Indeed, in some environments, CMC provides the only possibility for access to NSs. (p. 12)

Whereas the term communication implies simply conveying knowledge either one way or through an exchange, the term collaboration is less easy to define precisely. For the purposes of this book, collaboration will be taken to mean the process during which learners interact socially to create shared understandings (Nyikos & Hashimoto, 1997) by engaging in problem solving and knowledge building (Sun & Chang, 2012; Swain, 2000). Social interaction, one of the principles of classroom language learning outlined in chapter 1, includes two or more participants communicating by negotiating meaning, clarifying for each other, and working in other ways to understand each other. Many educators believe that technology’s capability to support communication and collaboration has changed the classroom more than any of its other capabilities (Du & Wagner, 2007; Godwin-Jones, 2003; Kessler, 2009, 2018; Reinders & Hubbard, 2013). In fact, it is how educators make use of that capability that can change classroom goals, dynamics, turn-taking,  interactions, audiences, atmosphere, and feedback and create a host of other learning opportunities.

Likewise, the focus on social interaction as the basis for collaboration fits well with the TTS-LL (Healey et al.,  2011); Goal 3, Standard 3 requires that “language learners appropriately use and evaluate available technology-based tools for communication and collaboration” (p. 1) Moreover, social interaction meshes well with the tenets of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE, 2018) standards 5 and 6; the ISTE standards for students require mastery of digital communication tools, including being able to “communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals” and “use digital tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively in teams locally and globally” (see https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students).  By interacting and negotiating meaning with others in the target language, according to Warschauer (1998), learners can

  • take advantage of modeling
  • gain new, comprehensible language input
  • use language creatively
  • work together to understand new experiences and derive meaning from them
  • solve language and content problems
  • gain control of a situation or person
  • learn to use language appropriately
  • transfer information
  • focus on language structure and use

Clearly, these benefits derive from interacting with other people who can respond creatively and originally in a focused way. Research shows that the interaction between learners and their interlocutors is beneficial to second language development (Mackey, Ab-buhl, & Gass, 2012; Van der Zwaard, & Bannink, 2016). The variety of computer technologies that we use today both in and outside the classroom can potentially provide us with unprecedented opportunities for communication and collaboration. However, the effectiveness of the collaboration tool depends on many variables.

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Communication and Collaboration In CALL by Joy Egbert and Seyed Abdollah Shahrokni is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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