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Research Proposal (Rough Draft-06!08!09)

Research Proposal (Rough Draft-06!08!09)

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Published by: awilker on Jun 08, 2009
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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:
Second Life,
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.
Capitalizing on Tandem Learning in Virtual Environments 2My intent with this research is to determine which features of these virtualenvironments contribute most effectively to second language acquisition. In order toaccomplish this, I would like to conduct a qualitative empirical study that willinvolve three case studies on Second Life, LiveMocha, and ___, respectively. I willthen provide an analysis of my results, including implications for future research. Inthe rest of this proposal, I further outline recent research concerning languagelearning in virtual environments, focusing specifically on tandem learning andbriefly discussing some of its current applications and results. Additionally, I explainmy prior research and experience regarding foreign language acquisition andcomputer-assisted language learning (CALL). I then present my methodology forundertaking the proposed thesis along with a tentative schedule of completion andpossible chapters and structure. Finally, I explain potential benefits of my research.
Literature Review
In recent years, a surge in academic studies of computer-mediated communication(CMC) technologies has greatly improved our understanding of their potential forenhancing learning. In many cases, CMC has been shown to improve interactionamong students and teachers by facilitating an online environment in whichstudents feel free to express themselves openly, without fear of judgment.Overbaugh and Lin (2006), for instance, found that CMC can lead to lower anxietyand increased participation among students who feel uncomfortable participating intraditional, face-to-face classroom settings. In addition, such technologies havedemonstrated benefits ranging from improved critical thinking abilities (Jin, 2005, p.60) to constructive knowledge gains (Benbunan-Fich & Hiltz, 2003). Specific CMCtechnologies such as chat rooms, instant messaging, object-oriented multiple-userdomains (MOOs), and massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs),have been studied in increasing depth within the last 15 years, and their emergencein classroom environments is growing rapidly.
Language Education through CMC
Much of the research on CMC in educational settings has focused specifically onlanguage learning (Campbell, 2003; Bryant, 2006), with most research in this areafalling into the category of writing instruction in students’ first language. ThroughCMC technologies, it is argued, students are able to take advantage of emergingtechnology while also enhancing their ability to learn language in a social context(Bryant, 2006; Markus, 2003). Synchronous CMC technology especially, which is
Capitalizing on Tandem Learning in Virtual Environments 3“time and place dependent,” has been shown to produce “a marked increase instudents’ interactivity” and a willingness to “interact and ask questions” (Newlin &Wang, 2002, p. 326). As advances in CMC educational technology have grown,educators have begun taking advantage of new media such as virtual worlds toencourage language learning.Broadly defined, virtual worlds consist of an online, or “virtual,” space in whichusers are able to suspend, replicate, or build on reality through direct involvementwith the environment (“Virtual Reality”). Through such study, researchers haveidentified several benefits of virtual learning, including the capability of buildinglanguage skills through reflection of exploratory action as well as interaction withother users. Legenhausen and Kotter (2000), for instance, discovered that MOOsallow students to improve linguistic abilities in the foreign language because they“can ask each other about the meaning of an unknown word or phrase, requestclarification, or open up a dictionary in a separate web browser whilecommunicating” (p. 2). Similarly, Bryant (2006) found that MMORPGs “create asimulated environment of language immersion where students are given theopportunity to apply their language skills toward ‘real life’ goals within an extensivecontext” (p. 1).
CMC and Tandem Language Instruction
Despite growing literature on computer-assisted language learning (CALL), littleresearch has focused specifically on foreign language acquisition and its relationshipto CMC technologies that employ tandem learning. As indicated by Rourke (2005),tandem language learning “is an underexploited but potentially very powerful use of computer-mediated communication in second-language pedagogy” (p. 432). Basedon the principle of direct, one-on-one interaction, Vassallo and Telles (2006) positthat tandem learning is the process whereby two people learn each other’s native,or competent, language by means of bilingual conversation sessions (p. 3). Tandemlearning is hailed for its ability to promote both autonomy and collaboration, and itis precisely its ability to promote both individual and collaborative interaction thatmakes it ideal for second language acquisition (Bryant, 2006; Vassallo & Telles).Because students must contribute to their partner’s learning in order to receiveinstruction themselves, they become responsible for the extent of their foreignlanguage learning (Vassallo & Telles). Furthermore, tandem learning offers the

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