Capitalizing on Tandem Learning in Virtual Environments 1

The concepts of “tandem learning” and “learner autonomy” have been widely discussed in regards to foreign language learning. Broadly defined, tandem learning is the process whereby two people with complementary language skills try to learn the other’s language through mutually beneficial interaction (Chung, Graves, Weshce, & Barfurth, 2005). Thus, an Irish learner of Spanish may be combined with a 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 email, via chat systems or the MOO, [or] by audio- or video-conferencing” (Schwienhorst, 2003, p. 431). Tandem learning operates closely alongside the principle of learner autonomy, the capacity of the learner to “develop a particular kind of psychological relation to the process and content of hislearning” (Little, 1991, p. 4). In other words, learner autonomy stems from responsibility for one’s own learning and the subsequent capability of reflecting on that learning. Within tandem learning environments, learner autonomy is closely aligned with the concept of reciprocity, the idea that “each learner has to support their partner as much as they wish to support themselves” (Schwienhorst, 2003, p. 431). If the Puerto Rican student wants constructive feedback on her written English, for example, she must be prepared to provide equal feedback on her partner’s written Spanish. Since the early 1990s, tandem learning has been studied extensively in virtual environments, particularly in e-mail exchanges, chat rooms, and objectoriented multiple-user domains (MOOS) (see Schwienhorst, 2002; Schwienhorst, 2003; Schwienhorst, 2004 and Chung et al., 2005 as a few examples). While this research has provided a rich body of knowledge about tandem learning, there is still much more territory to be explored in the way of tandem learning in new virtual environments that have emerged within the last few years, such as virtual worlds and tandem learning websites. To expand on current literature on tandem learning in these emerging environments, I propose to write a thesis that focuses on three specific environments in which tandem learning can be employed: Second Life, a free online virtual world; LiveMocha, a social networking site devoted specifically to both asynchronous and synchronous tandem learning; and lastly, a foreign language MOO called ____ that will serve as a control for the other two environments.

Capitalizing on Tandem Learning in Virtual Environments 2 My intent with this research is to determine which features of these virtual environments contribute most effectively to second language acquisition. In order to accomplish this, I would like to conduct a qualitative empirical study that will involve three case studies on Second Life, LiveMocha, and ___, respectively. I will then provide an analysis of my results, including implications for future research. In the rest of this proposal, I further outline recent research concerning language learning in virtual environments, focusing specifically on tandem learning and briefly discussing some of its current applications and results. Additionally, I explain my prior research and experience regarding foreign language acquisition and computer-assisted language learning (CALL). I then present my methodology for undertaking the proposed thesis along with a tentative schedule of completion and possible 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 for enhancing learning. In many cases, CMC has been shown to improve interaction among students and teachers by facilitating an online environment in which students feel free to express themselves openly, without fear of judgment. Overbaugh and Lin (2006), for instance, found that CMC can lead to lower anxiety and increased participation among students who feel uncomfortable participating in traditional, face-to-face classroom settings. In addition, such technologies have demonstrated benefits ranging from improved critical thinking abilities (Jin, 2005, p. 60) to constructive knowledge gains (Benbunan-Fich & Hiltz, 2003). Specific CMC technologies such as chat rooms, instant messaging, object-oriented multiple-user domains (MOOs), and massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), have been studied in increasing depth within the last 15 years, and their emergence in classroom environments is growing rapidly. Language Education through CMC Much of the research on CMC in educational settings has focused specifically on language learning (Campbell, 2003; Bryant, 2006), with most research in this area falling into the category of writing instruction in students’ first language. Through CMC technologies, it is argued, students are able to take advantage of emerging technology 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 in students’ 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 to encourage language learning. Broadly defined, virtual worlds consist of an online, or “virtual,” space in which users are able to suspend, replicate, or build on reality through direct involvement with the environment (“Virtual Reality”). Through such study, researchers have identified several benefits of virtual learning, including the capability of building language skills through reflection of exploratory action as well as interaction with other users. Legenhausen and Kotter (2000), for instance, discovered that MOOs allow students to improve linguistic abilities in the foreign language because they “can ask each other about the meaning of an unknown word or phrase, request clarification, or open up a dictionary in a separate web browser while communicating” (p. 2). Similarly, Bryant (2006) found that MMORPGs “create a simulated environment of language immersion where students are given the opportunity to apply their language skills toward ‘real life’ goals within an extensive context” (p. 1). CMC and Tandem Language Instruction Despite growing literature on computer-assisted language learning (CALL), little research has focused specifically on foreign language acquisition and its relationship to 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). Based on the principle of direct, one-on-one interaction, Vassallo and Telles (2006) posit that tandem learning is the process whereby two people learn each other’s native, or competent, language by means of bilingual conversation sessions (p. 3). Tandem learning is hailed for its ability to promote both autonomy and collaboration, and it is precisely its ability to promote both individual and collaborative interaction that makes it ideal for second language acquisition (Bryant, 2006; Vassallo & Telles). Because students must contribute to their partner’s learning in order to receive instruction themselves, they become responsible for the extent of their foreign language learning (Vassallo & Telles). Furthermore, tandem learning “offers the

Capitalizing on Tandem Learning in Virtual Environments 4 benefits of authentic, culturally grounded interaction, while also promoting a pedagogical focus among participants” (p. 432). Tandem Language Learning in Virtual Environments In recent years, online tandem learning in particular has emerged through interactive websites and 3-D virtual worlds. In tandem, students work together with a language learning partner from another country—by telephone, email, or another electronic media (“eTandem learning,” n.d.). LiveMocha, a tandem website developed by CEO Shirish Nadkarni in 2007, is considered one of the most popular e-tandem websites today (Naone, 2007). Central to LiveMocha are the three basic principles of tandem learning: reciprocity, bilingualism, and autonomy (Campbell, 2003, para. 9). After creating a free account on the site, users can indicate which language(s) they speak fluently and which they would like to learn. They are then paired with other users who speak their target language and who would like to learn their partner’s native language. Both the student and his/her language partner have the ability to then evaluate each other’s language ability in the target language through various written language exercises. Participants are also able to communicate via microphone so that they can practice their verbal skills in the target language before receiving constructive feedback. According to a recent software review by Jee and Park (2009), “the design of LiveMocha and its suggestive activities are rooted in several…theoretical backgrounds, specifically sociocultural theory by Vygotsky (1978)” (para. 6), which presupposes that human development is highly tied to a social dimension. With its focus on community learning, LiveMocha provides “interaction-rich communication” (Long, 2000) as well as serves as an “a strong motivational tool (Holec, 1981) in foreign language learning” (as cited in Jee & Park, 2009, para 7.). In this virtual learning environment, learners can check their progress regularly, connect to the broader community, and receive ongoing constructive feedback on their foreign language progress. In particular, “text, audio, and video chat with like-minded learners in LiveMocha contributes to several benefits consistently emphasized in literature about CMC: an opportunity to produce comprehensible output to make oneself understood (Leahy, 2004), heightened noticing of problematic language production…and ultimately increased input, output, and negotiation of meaning in the SLA (Kern, 1995)” (as cited in Jee & Park, para. 7).

Capitalizing on Tandem Learning in Virtual Environments 5 Another environment in which tandem learning is possible, but not the central focus, is Second Life, a three-dimensional virtual world in which users are free to communicate, build, and explore. According to the Second Life website (2009), hundreds of educational institutions are currently using Second Life. Since its creation by Linden Lab in 2003, Second Life has experienced a surge in foreign language instruction, and several educators have created virtual foreign language classrooms and laboratories to promote foreign language learning through the program (EXAMPLES HERE). Although many researchers acknowledge Second Life’s potential to enhance foreign language instruction through simulations, however, little research has been conducted that focuses specifically on tandem learning within the environment or that compares its effectiveness in second language acquisition (SLA) to specific tandem learning websites such as LiveMocha or to foreign language MOOs. Therefore, a gap exists among the literature. Research that comparatively addresses the relationship between a social networking tandem site like LiveMocha, a virtual world like Second Life, and a foreign language MOO could pave the way for futuretandem applications that literally combine the best of virtual worlds by identifying which elements of each medium contribute most to second language acquisition. ADD INFO. HERE ABOUT THE FL MOO YOU WISH TO STUDY?! Moving Forward: Identifying the Most Beneficial Features of Each Environment Although a few studies have investigated foreign language learning in LiveMocha, Second Life and foreign language MOOs independently, none has directly compared these three specific environments to evaluate which, if any, is more effective in promoting foreign language acquisition through tandem learning. If left unexplored, educators may be missing out on the incredible benefits of these learning tools in creating learner autonomy and promoting SLA. As Schwienhorst (2002) suggests, foreign language learners “should be given the choice of working with a wide range of authentic and personally meaningful language materials, in a number of media” (p. 136). Furthermore, learners should be given means of exploiting these materials in a variety of ways. “As language learners,” Schwienhorst posits, “students should be enabled to plan, monitor, and evaluate their learning process” (p. 136). An evaluation of different media such as LiveMocha, Second Life, and a foreign language MOO such as ____ can help educators and students make informed

Capitalizing on Tandem Learning in Virtual Environments 6 decisions about which media they choose to employ when learning a second language.

Prior Research and Background
Ever since I took my first Spanish class in high school, I have been interested in foreign language learning. Since that time, I have taken over 21 hours’ of foreign language coursework in foreign languages, studied abroad, and completed three separate research projects related to foreign language acquisition. I believe that through learning another language, one improves his or her native language skills by becoming more aware of the linguistic conventions that allow him or her to acquire the second language. My strong interest in foreign language acquisition, coupled with previous research in both computer-mediated communication (CMC) and foreign language learning, make me uniquely qualified to conduct research on tandem learning in virtual environments. Personal Experience Learning a Second Language When I graduated from high school, I knew that I would continue taking more foreign language courses in college, whether or not they were required. Once in college, I decided to minor in Spanish, and the summer before my senior year, I studied in Salamanca, Spain where I lived with a host family. As I communicated with my host brother in Spanish, something unexpected happened: hebegan to learn more English! Whenever I failed to comprehend something he said in Spanish, he would try to explain the concept in the few English words he learned in college, and I would “correct” any mistakes he made in grammar or syntax. He returned the favor when I fumbled in Spanish, and through this dialogue, we both improved our ability to communicate verbally in the other’s native language. This idea of mutually beneficial language improvement is at the heart of tandem learning, and my personal experiences with language learning in this way will serve as a framework on which I base the research for my thesis. Research on Foreign Language Learning As an undergraduate student, I completed a Senior Seminar paper about the influence of communication apprehension on students’ SLA. Specifically, I completed a case study of a Spanish 121 class and investigated students’ levels of communication apprehension when conversing in both their native language, English, and their target language, Spanish. Through this study, I discovered that

Capitalizing on Tandem Learning in Virtual Environments 7 the majority of students in the classroom experienced higher levels of anxiety when communicating in the target language. From my results, I generated several implications for future research and foreign language educators, including the need for foreign language instruction built into a real-world context. Building on the Senior Seminar paper, I conducted a miniature case study of a conversational Spanish course at Clemson University last semester. In this study, I once again investigated students’ levels of communication apprehension in their L1 and L2 but focused on students with an intermediate grasp of the target language. Although yielding similar results to those from the Senior Seminar study, the miniature case study provided more qualitative data to complement the quantitative data because it employed interviews with eight of the thirteen students in the class. It also furthered my knowledge of foreign language acquisition and alerted me to some of the factors, such as foreign language anxiety, that may impede students’ SLA. Research on CMC & Virtual Environments In my Teaching Professional Writing course at Clemson, I completed a recommendation report detailing ways Clemson University’s Advanced Writing Program could decrease feelings of student isolation in the online classroom through collaborative synchronous and asynchronous activities. Through analysis of various studies related to online collaboration and CMC, I gained a wealth of knowledge of various forms of CMC and their benefits, ranging from increased student confidence, lessening of communication apprehension, and improved academic performance. Similarly, in my Composition Theory class, I completed a project (found at that provided resources for first-year composition instructors to incorporate Second Life in their classrooms. Through the completion of this project, I learned a lot about Second Life’s potential for improving language skills, and this research can serve as a springboard for the study of foreign language acquisition in this platform. It can also pave the way for the case studies I plan to complete on tandem learning in LiveMocha and in the foreign language MOO.

In order to complete my thesis, I propose a four-step qualitative empirical process in which I will define all terminology related to my research, identify the benefits and

Capitalizing on Tandem Learning in Virtual Environments 8 limitations of current tandem environments in encouraging SLA, conduct three separate case studies of virtual environments currently using tandem learning, and finally develop an analysis of my results and provide implications for future researchers and educators. My goal with these steps will be to identify the characteristics of Second Life, LiveMocha, and the foreign language MOO that most contribute to foreign language acquisition and those that can be improved upon to enhance student learning. 1. Define existing terminology: In order to begin my research, I will conduct a literature review that defines common terms related to foreign language instruction and online environments, using electronic, empirical, and print sources. Specifically, I will define terms such as computer-assisted language learning (CALL), tandem learning, e-tandem, virtual worlds, virtual reality, massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), and second language acquisition (SLA). I will collect information from electronic journals and books, accessed through the Clemson University library databases. I will also look at recent print magazine, newspaper, and journal articles related to these terms. Lastly, I will interview a few experts who have written some of the electronic and/or print sources I locate. For example, I plan to interview Klaus Schwienhorst, who has written several books and journal articles related to tandem learning in virtual environments. By gathering information through electronic, print, and empirical means, I hope to triangulate my information, providing a richness of data that could not come from simply one type of source. As the bulk of work from this step will form the introduction/literature review section of my thesis, it is imperative that I triangulate to avoid a narrow view of the current state of tandem learning in virtual environments (Johnson-Sheehan, 2008). 2. Identify current benefits and limitations of using tandem virtual environments for second language acquisition: Once again using electronic, print, and empirical resources, I will next identify current trends in second language acquisition in virtual environments, focusing specifically on those environments that employ tandem learning. Through a qualitative analysis of data collected, I will determine current benefits and limitations of using virtual tandem environments for second

Capitalizing on Tandem Learning in Virtual Environments 9 language acquisition. I will consider questions such as “What features seem to best contribute to the attainment of foreign language skills?” and “What features are not evident that should be included?” and “What features are evident but could be omitted or improved?” This part of the research will be largely descriptive, but I will once again conduct interviews with experts in foreign language acquisition who have experience with tandem learning in virtual environments. My aim with this step of the research is to determine gaps in tandem learning in virtual environments that can be improved upon and to identify beneficial features of tandem learning environments so I can later determine if they are evident in the three environments in which I conduct case studies. 3. Conduct case studies of virtual environments that employ tandem learning. In order to determine the attributes of virtual environments that best contribute to tandem learning, I plan to conduct case studies of three virtual spaces that either currently employ tandem learning or that have the capability to. I have purposely chosen three environments that have different levels of tandem learning integrated into them. LiveMocha, for example, is based entirely around the principle of tandem learning. The foreign language MOO is designed to encourage foreign language learning but not necessarily tandem learning. Lastly, Second Life has the capability to incorporate tandem learning, but this has thus far not been a central feature of the environment. For each separate case study, I will employ a combination of empirical and descriptive means to provide a thick description of the environment. For the empirical portion, I will examine conversation logs of students in each environment while taking field notes. Notes will be informal, but I will aim to provide in my notes a detailed description of the interaction between participants. I will note any particularly interesting contributions and interactions within these logs. In addition, I will interview the students responsible for the logs to gauge their feelings on the quantity and quality of learning they are receiving in the environments. In addition to interviewing students and examining chat logs for all three environments, I plan to interview instructors who currently use these three environments as supplements to traditional foreign language classroom instruction. I will analyze why they choose to use each particular environment, what they think

Capitalizing on Tandem Learning in Virtual Environments 10 are the most beneficial features of each, and where they think the technology is headed. 4. Conduct analysis of results. After gathering sufficient interview and observational data from the three platforms, I will begin analyzing the results to determine which features of each environment are most conducive to foreign language learning. This portion of the research will, once again, be largely qualitative as this approach seems to lend itself best to thick description (Lauer & Asher, 1988). Since foreign language MOOs, Second Life, and LiveMocha are such highly interactive, content-rich environments, a thick description is necessary to truly represent the complexity of their potential for learning a foreign language; a merely quantitative approach might neglect to account for the complexity of factors that contribute to foreign language acquisition. When comparing the data from each case study, I will draw mainly on anecdotal evidence to guide my analysis of which features of each environment are most conducive to foreign language acquisition. I believe I will be able to complete the four steps outlined above within the following timeline:

Possible Schedule

15: Secure IRB approval

31: Chapter Three 31: Draft to chair

28: Chapter Four 28: Draft to chair

15: Chapter One 15: Draft to chair

10: Defense(?)

31: Chapter Two 31: Draft to

30: Chapter Five 30: Draft to chair &

20: Revisions

Capitalizing on Tandem Learning in Virtual Environments 11 chair committee

Possible Structure


Introduction: Tandem Learning in Virtual Environments

10 pages


Tandem Learning & Virtual Reality: A Case Study of Second Life

25 pages


Tandem Learning & Social Networking: A Case Study of LiveMocha

25 pages


Tandem Learning & Object-Oriented Spaces: A Case Study of an FL MOO

25 pages


Conclusion: Data Analysis & Implications for FL Pedagogy

10 pages

Research Outcomes
In summary, I believe a close analysis of three specific tandem learning environments will provide valuable information for educators who wish to provide supplemental instruction for their foreign language students. After completing my data analysis, I will be able to discover and expand on the relationship between virtual tandem learning and students’ foreign language acquisition, and I will have information on ways to effectively incorporate tandem learning into my classroom if I choose to pursue a career in foreign language instruction in the future. Overall, my

Capitalizing on Tandem Learning in Virtual Environments 12 findings will provide implications for future research in foreign language instruction, virtual environments, and tandem learning. In addition, my research should result in the following outcomes:

Most students will feel their foreign language skills are enhanced by tandem learning, but the ways in which the tandem learning is carried out in Second Life, the foreign language MOO, and LiveMocha will differ depending on the student’s personality, their language partner(s), their motivation to learn the target language, their level of previous experience with the technology, and their willingness to learn through new media.

Each virtual environment studied—Second Life, the foreign language MOO, and LiveMocha—will contain features that help facilitate tandem learning. By the same token, they will each have some features that will not yield themselves to effective tandem learning and that can be improved upon.

Through interviews and class observations, I will identify the attributes of each platform that seem to benefit students the most, thereby providing useful suggestions for other teachers who wish to incorporate these technologies in their foreign language classrooms.

For researchers of foreign language pedagogy, my study will build on current knowledge of tandem learning in virtual environments. It will also, for one of the first times, comparatively examine the specific platforms of Second Life, LiveMocha, and a foreign language MOO. In this way, it will hopefully serve as a building block for future research related to virtual environments and second language acquisition.

In addition, students may benefit themselves by learning an approach that helps them become more autonomous learners, thereby taking more control of their foreign language acquisition. If implemented correctly, virtual tandem learning may also help such students improve transfer of communication skills to other classes and the workplace in which they might interact with people who speak different languages.

For readers of my thesis, my study will provide a thick description of virtual tandem environments that will hopefully inspire them to conduct similar studies of their own, whether about tandem learning, foreign language acquisition, virtual environments, or another similar topic.

Capitalizing on Tandem Learning in Virtual Environments 13 In addition to the educational benefits described above, for me this research will provide an opportunity to satisfy the thesis requirement for the Masters of Professional Communication program at Clemson University, thus allowing me to graduate. The eventual thesis may also result in future publication, which would further shed light onto the use of tandem learning in virtual environments and bring recognition to the MAPC program, the graduate school, and Clemson University. *** Thank you for taking the time to read my proposal. I look forward to hearing from you and taking the necessary steps to begin the proposed research.

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Capitalizing on Tandem Learning in Virtual Environments 14 Johnson-Sheehan, R. (2008). Writing proposals. 2nd ed. New York: Pearson Education, Inc. Legenhausen, L., & Kötter, M. (2000). Virtual classrooms in foreign language learning – MOOs as rich learning environments. Pilgrims Ltd. Retrieved May 31, 200, from Little, D. (1991). Learner autonomy I: Definitions, issues, and problems. Dublin: Authentik. Markus, K. (2003). Negotiation of meaning and codeswitching in online tandems. Language, Learning & Technology. International Tandem Network. Retrieved May 31, 2009, from

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Additional Sources for Thesis

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Capitalizing on Tandem Learning in Virtual Environments 16 Hansson, T. (2005). English as a second language on a virtual platform—tradition and innovation in a new medium. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 18(1-2), 63-79. Hrastinski, S., & Keller, C. (2007). Computer-mediated communication in education: A review of recent research. Educational Media International, 44(1), 61-77. ParisTech. (2000). Language learning in tandem. Retrieved May 31, 2009, from Purushotma, R. (2007). Foreign language learning with new media and video games. Retrieved May 31, 2009, from Kaplan, D. (2007). LiveMocha uses social networks to teach you languages online. Retrieved May 31, 2009, from Kern, R. G. (1995). Restructuring classroom interaction with networked computers: Effects on quantity and characteristics of language production. The Modern Language Journal, 79(4), 457-476. Khine, M. S., Yeap, L. L., & Lok, A. T. C. (2003). The quality of message ideas, thinking and interaction in an asynchronous CMC environment. Education Media International, 40(2), 115-25. Leblanc, M. C. (2001). Do students really learn a foreign language through roleplaying? Academic Exchange Quarterly. Retrieved May 31, 2009, from Lee, L. (2002). Enhancing learners’ communication skills through synchronous electronic interaction and task-based instruction. Foreign Language Annals, 35(1), 16-24. Livemocha. (2009). Wikipedia. Retrieved May 31, 2009, from Luppicini, R. (2007). Review of computer mediated communication research for education. Instructional Science, 35, 141-185. National School Boards Association (2008, September). For ‘digital natives,’ educational games stimulate thinking, interests. American School Board, p. 55. Nike, A. (2007). Reducing foreign language communication apprehension with computer-mediated communication: A preliminary study. System: An International Journal of Educational Technology and Applied Linguistics, 35(4), 469-486.

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Capitalizing on Tandem Learning in Virtual Environments 18 Wang, Z. (2007, May). Anonymity effects and implications in the social identity model of deindividuation: From crowd to computer-mediated communication. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, San Francisco, CA. Warburton, S. (2009). Second life in higher education: Assessing the potential for and the barriers to deploying virtual worlds in learning and teaching. British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(3), 414-426. Waters, J. K. (2007). On a quest for English. T H E Journal, 34(10). Retrieved June 3, 2009, from Wrench, J. S., & Punyanunt-Carter, N. M. (2007). The relationship between computer-mediated-communication competence, apprehension, self-efficacy, perceived confidence, and social presence. Southern Communication Journal, 72(4), 355-378. Zha, S., Kelley, P., Park, M. K., & Fitzgerald, G. (2006). An investigation of communicative competence of ESL students using electronic discussion boards. International Society for Technology in Education, 38(3), 349-366. Zhang, T., Gao, T., Ring, G., & Zhang, W. (2007). Using online discussion forums to assist a traditional English class. International Journal on E-Learning, 6(4), 623-643.

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