Sunday, February 17, 2013

Week 5, Part 2: Tasks, Activity Theory and Electronic Literacy

At the end of week 4, I gave a brief presentation on an optional reading (Muller-Hartmann & Schocker-v. Ditfurth, 2010) about TBLT research in CMC.  The authors outlined the socioculturally oriented framework of activity theory (AT) and examined research through an AT lens.  It was my first encounter with the term AT, so I was a little surprised to see it again in our DuBravac reading for this week.  It was helpful to look back at the Muller-Hartmann & Schocker-v. Ditfurth article and review their argument for framing TBLT in AT.  What I found especially interesting was the initial discussion on the expansion of computer literacy to electronic literacy and multi-literacies.  

In the past, I have been an advocate for computer literacy, organizing and volunteering with computer classes for adults in my community.  In these classes, the goal was to master the machine/software/websites necessary for completing tasks at work, school, or home.  But electronic literacy seems to be less about "reading the machine" and more about reading the meanings conveyed through CMC tasks (and learning to express meaning as well).  For me, this is key.  Language mediates the task, yet the tool of technology has the ability to impact the language user's behavior and even transform the task.  

We also discussed tasks in our Curriculum and Administration class this week, noting that there is no clear consensus in the field as to the definitions of tasks and TBLT.  With this in mind, I was interested in how DuBravac would define a task, and I appreciated his distinction between tasks, or "linguistic activity... oriented toward a non-linguistic goal" (p. 84), and exercises, which are also linguistic activities, but oriented instead toward linguistic goals.  I thought about these definitions in light of what I've heard throughout the semester-- that technology is to facilitate language learning, not vice-versa.  If we include electronic literacy in our definition of language learning, and if we acknowledge that both tasks and exercises are valuable in language learning, then I think these definitions work well, especially in an AT framework.  Perhaps an exercise could prepare learners for a task, but in a task (whether computer-mediated or face-to-face), the role of language is to mediate.  

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