Capitalizing on Tandem Learning i

Capitalizing on Tandem Learning in 2- and 3-D Virtual Environments: An Investigation of LiveMocha and Second Life

Beth Wilkerson English 839 Dr. Jan Holmevik June 23, 2009

Capitalizing on Tandem Learning ii Abstract Broadly defined, tandem learning is a process whereby two people who speak different languages learn each other’s language through bilingual conversation sessions. Within the last 15 years, tandem learning has emerged in virtual environments, particularly in object-oriented multiple-user domains (MOOs). Although MOOs have been found effective in promoting second language acquisition (SLA), they are now being replaced with new technologies, such as tandem learning websites and virtual worlds. This proposal suggests a historical study of the evolution of tandem learning in the MOO, followed by a comparative study of tandem learning in LiveMocha, a 2-D social networking website, and Second Life, a 3-D virtual world. It first outlines recent research concerning language learning in virtual environments, focusing specifically on tandem learning and briefly discussing some of its current applications and results. It then includes a methodology for undertaking the proposed thesis along with a tentative schedule of completion and possible chapters and structure. Finally, it explains potential benefits of the research and offers a working bibliography.

Capitalizing on Tandem Learning 1 Introduction The summer before my senior year of college, I studied in Salamanca, Spain where I lived with a host family. As I communicated with my host brother in Spanish, something unexpected happened: he began to learn more English! Whenever I failed to comprehend something he said in Spanish, he would explain the concept in the few English words he knew from 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. Broadly defined, tandem learning is the process whereby two people with complementary language skills 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 faceto-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 the principle of learner autonomy, the capacity of the learner to ―develop a particular kind of psychological relation to the process and content of his learning‖ (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). Since the early 1990s, tandem learning has been studied extensively in virtual environments, particularly in object-oriented multiple-user domains (MOOs) (Schwienhorst, 2002; Schwienhorst, 2003; Schwienhorst, 2004 and Chung et al., 2005). While this research has provided a rich body of knowledge about tandem learning, much territory remains to be explored in virtual environments that have emerged within the last few years. To expand on current literature on tandem learning, I propose to write a thesis that first provides a historical perspective of tandem learning in the MOO and then builds on that research by examining two specific environments in which tandem learning can be employed today: Second Life, a three-dimensional online virtual world; and LiveMocha, a two-dimensional social networking site. My intent with this research is to examine whether three-dimensional tandem environments are necessarily more conducive to second language acquisition (SLA) than two-dimensional

Capitalizing on Tandem Learning 2 environments and to provide implications for foreign language instructors who wish to incorporate these and similar technologies in their classrooms. In order to accomplish this, I will conduct a literature review that traces the history of tandem learning in the MOO and then complete qualitative case studies on both Second Life and LiveMocha. Next, I will provide an analysis of my results, including implications for foreign language instructors and future researchers. 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. 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) to constructive knowledge gains (Benbunan-Fich & Hiltz, 2003). Specific CMC technologies such as chat rooms, instant messaging, MOOs, and massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs), have been studied in increasing depth within the last 15 years, and their emergence in classroom environments is growing rapidly. Primary Language Learning 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 ―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

Capitalizing on Tandem Learning 3 encourage language learning. 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 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). Foreign Language Learning through CMC 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. A possible explanation for this is that many educators fear losing control of the classroom by placing their students in a potentially chaotic virtual environment in which they learn language skills that are less than ideal (Bryant, 2008). Because of such fears, tandem language learning ―is an underexploited but potentially very powerful use of computer-mediated communication in secondlanguage pedagogy‖ (Rourke, 2005, p. 432). This is a shame because tandem learning‘s ability to promote both individual and collaborative interaction 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 benefits of authentic, culturally grounded interaction, while also promoting a pedagogical focus among participants‖ (Vassalo & Telles, p. 432). Tandem Learning in Virtual Environments In recent years, tandem learning 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 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

Capitalizing on Tandem Learning 4 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 ―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). 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 this platform. 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 focused specifically on tandem learning within the environment or compared its effectiveness in SLA to 2-D environments like LiveMocha or to foreign language MOOs. Therefore, a gap exists among the literature. Research that comparatively addresses the relationship among a social networking site like LiveMocha, a virtual world like Second Life, and foreign language MOOs could pave the way for future tandem applications that literally combine the best of virtual worlds by identifying which elements of each medium contribute most effectively to SLA. Moving Forward: Examining Tandem Learning in 2-D and 3-D Virtual Environments 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

Capitalizing on Tandem Learning 5 which, if any, is more effective in promoting SLA 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 foreign language MOOs can help educators and students make informed decisions about which media they choose to employ when learning a second language. Methodology In order to complete my thesis, I propose a four-step qualitative process in which I will define all terminology related to my research, conduct a literature review on the history of tandem language learning in MOOs, complete two separate case studies on LiveMocha and Second Life, and finally develop an analysis of my results and provide implications for future researchers and educators. My goals with these steps will be to provide a history of tandem learning in virtual environments, to demonstrate how tandem learning can be employed effectively in both 2-D and 3-D environments, and to provide implications for foreign language instructors and future researchers. 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 section of my thesis, it is imperative

Capitalizing on Tandem Learning 6 that I triangulate to avoid a narrow view of the current state of tandem learning in virtual environments (Johnson-Sheehan, 2008). 2. Outline the history of tandem learning in the MOO: Before delving into tandem learning in Second Life and LiveMocha, I will examine the roots of tandem learning in virtual environments by conducting a historiographical analysis of foreign language learning in MOOs. In this stage, I will once again triangulate my sources, relying on electronic, empirical, and print means. Using a variety of references will help ensure that I provide more than a simple play-by-play of the MOO‘s development. Instead, it will help me to create a thorough description of how the MOO has paved the way for tandem learning in virtual environments today. As in Step 1, I will interview experts in the field, such as Klaus Schwienhorst. Lonnie Turbee, Cynthia Haynes, and Jan Rune Holmevik, as a way to demonstrate the evolution of foreign language instruction in the MOO. Through this step, my main goal will be to provide a historical context for the case studies that follow in Step 3. The bulk of the work from this step will contribute directly to chapter three of my thesis. 3. Conduct case studies of LiveMocha and Second Life: In order to demonstrate the potential of both 2-D and 3-D environments for tandem language learning, I plan to conduct case studies of a 2-D environment, LiveMocha, and a 3-D environment, Second Life. I have purposely chosen environments that have different levels of tandem learning integrated into them. LiveMocha, for example, is based entirely around the principle of tandem learning while Second Life has the capability to incorporate tandem learning but has not thus far seen this as a central feature. 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 the two environments, I plan to interview instructors and students who currently use them. I will analyze why they choose to use each particular environment, what they think are the most beneficial features of each, and where they think the technology is headed. The data

Capitalizing on Tandem Learning 7 collected from these two case studies will contribute most directly to chapters four and five of my thesis. 4. Conduct analysis of results: After providing a historical context for my study and gathering sufficient interview and observational data from the case studies, I will begin analyzing the data from the case studies. My aim with this step is to determine how tandem learning plays out in both the 3-D environment, Second Life, and the 2-D environment, LiveMocha. Through this analysis, I will discuss whether 3-D virtual environments are necessarily more conducive to SLA than 2-D environments. My aim with this final step is not to elevate one type of environment over the other but to demonstrate how each can be uniquely beneficial to foreign language instruction. 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 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 SLA. When comparing the data from each case study, I will draw mainly on anecdotal evidence to guide my analysis of how tandem learning evolves in the environments and how it contributes to SLA. This final step will contribute directly to chapter six of my thesis. Proposed Project Plan and Chapter Outline





Proposal to Chair

10 pages


Proposal to Committee

With Chair‘s permission

10 pages N/A

08/01/09 09/01/09

IRB Approval

This will be necessary to obtain chat/email logs and to use interview transcripts for the case studies on LiveMocha and Second Life.

Capitalizing on Tandem Learning 8 Chapter Two: Methodology This chapter will detail the historiographical approach I will use when completing a 10 pages literature review on the history of the MOO in foreign language learning. It will also detail the qualitative and empirical methods I will use when conducting case studies in LiveMocha and Second Life (interviews, chat logs/email conversations) to evaluate foreign language learning in a 2-D and a 3-D environment.


Chapter Three: History of the MOO in Tandem Learning

This chapter will delve into the history of 15 pages foreign language instruction and learning in the MOO. It will create a context for tandem learning in virtual environments currently in use. Specifically, it will provide a framework for my case studies of Second Life and LiveMocha, which I will examine in depth in the following two chapters.


Chapter Four: Tandem Learning in 2-D: The Case of LiveMocha

This chapter will explore the use of LiveMocha, 20 pages a social networking website geared toward tandem learning. It will examine LiveMocha’s potential for SLA based on findings from chat and email logs as well as interviews with users on the site.


Chapter Five: Tandem Learning in 3-D: The Case of Second Life

This chapter will explore the use of Second Life, 20 pages a 3-D virtual world that is increasingly being used for educational purposes. It will examine its current use of foreign language instruction in the platform and explain its potential for tandem learning in particular.


Chapter 6: Analysis: Is 2-D Better Than 3-D?

This chapter will analyze the data collected 15 pages from the case studies conducted on LiveMocha and Second Life, comparing and contrasting the results. It will aim to squelch the idea that 3-D virtual environments are necessarily more conducive to foreign language learning than 2D environments by demonstrating the benefits of each. This chapter will also provide implications for foreign language instructors and future researchers.


Capitalizing on Tandem Learning 9

Chapter 1: Introduction

This chapter will briefly preview the topic, methodology, and overall structure of my thesis.

10 pages


Chapter 7: Conclusion

This chapter will wrap up the previous six 10 pages chapters by highlighting the overall structure and main conclusions of my thesis.


Draft to Chair

Approx. 100 pages


Full Thesis to Committee

With Chair‘s approval



Thesis Defense

With Chair and Committee‘s approval

Approx. 100 pages

Early April

Research Outcomes In summary, I believe a close analysis of tandem learning in a historical context as well as in a new 2-D environment and 3-D environment will provide valuable information for foreign language educators who wish to provide virtual 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‘ SLA, 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 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 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 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.

Capitalizing on Tandem Learning 10  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 and LiveMocha. In this way, it will hopefully serve as a building block for future research related to virtual environments and SLA.  In addition, students may benefit themselves by learning an approach that helps them become more autonomous learners, thereby taking more control of their SLA. 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. It will also provide them with general guidelines for implementing tandem learning in their classrooms. 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. *** Overall, I believe my strong interest in foreign language acquisition, coupled with previous research in CMC and foreign language learning, make me uniquely qualified to conduct research on tandem learning in virtual environments. 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.

Capitalizing on Tandem Learning 11 Bibliography
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