Capitalizing on Tandem Learning in Virtual Environments 1
The concepts of “tandem learning” and “learner autonomy” have been widelydiscussed in regards to foreign language learning. Broadly defined, tandem learningis the process whereby two people with complementary language skills try to learnthe other’s language through mutually beneficial interaction (Chung, Graves,Weshce, & Barfurth, 2005). Thus, an Irish learner of Spanish may be combined witha Puerto Rican learner of English so that the two can learn from each other,“alternating between the role of L2 learner and L1 expert either face-to-face, by e-mail, via chat systems or the MOO, [or] by audio- or video-conferencing”(Schwienhorst, 2003, p. 431). Tandem learning operates closely alongside theprinciple of learner autonomy, the capacity of the learner to “develop a particularkind of psychological relation to the process and content of hislearning” (Little,1991, p. 4). In other words, learner autonomy stems from responsibility for one’sown learning and the subsequent capability of reflecting on that learning.Within tandem learning environments, learner autonomy is closely aligned with theconcept of reciprocity, the idea that “each learner has to support their partner asmuch as they wish to support themselves” (Schwienhorst, 2003, p. 431). If thePuerto Rican student wants constructive feedback on her written English, forexample, she must be prepared to provide equal feedback on her partner’s writtenSpanish. Since the early 1990s, tandem learning has been studied extensively invirtual environments, particularly in e-mail exchanges, chat rooms, and object-oriented multiple-user domains (MOOS) (see Schwienhorst, 2002; Schwienhorst,2003; Schwienhorst, 2004 and Chung et al., 2005 as a few examples). While thisresearch has provided a rich body of knowledge about tandem learning, there is stillmuch more territory to be explored in the way of tandem learning in
virtualenvironments that have emerged within the last few years, such as virtual worldsand tandem learning websites. To expand on current literature on tandem learningin these emerging environments, I propose to write a thesis that focuses on threespecific environments in which tandem learning can be employed:
afree online virtual world;
a social networking site devoted specifically toboth asynchronous and synchronous tandem learning; and lastly, a foreignlanguage MOO called ____ that will serve as a control for the other twoenvironments.