Sunday, March 31, 2013

Week 10: Listening

This week we discussed listening and CALL.  I was surprised that a large part of the week was dedicated to podcasts and that there were so many podcasts specifically for ESL learners.  Since buying a smart phone a few months ago, I've only recently started listening to podcasts on my walks between buildings on campus.  I was also interested in students' responses to podcast use in online courses (discussed in Corbeil & Corbeil), especially in terms of how it made them feel about the professor-- some students said that it was nice to hear their professor's voice or that it let them know their professor cared about the course.

Another new thought from the week was that authenticity is not a dichotomous categorization.  Robin, for example, lists five types of authenticity: authentic, semi-authentic, authentic with scaffolding, non-authentic, and authentic materials with authentic support. I'm not a fan of defining semi-authentic materials as "feeling authentic" to native speakers.  What may feel authentic to one native speaker may not to another.  For example, at the TESOL convention I saw a presentation where a teacher filmed a non-scripted conversation for pedagogical purposes, yet to many people in the audience, the conversation still felt scripted.  I also think there may be a blurry line between authentic materials with scaffolding and authentic materials with authentic support.  A teacher may choose authentic support (e.g., captions) in order to scaffold an activity for pedagogical purposes.  Or, a teacher could provide students with several examples of authentic support and then allow students to choose the form of authentic support that works best for them.  This scaffolding could be a combination of authentic scaffolding and teacher-created scaffolding/sequencing.  Because the notion of authenticity is so important in language teaching and learning, I think these additional categorizations are important, but I also think the definitions could use more reflection and clarification.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Week 9: Reading and Vocabulary

This week we discussed CALL activities for teaching Reading and Vocabulary.  In our class discussions it was not hard to come up with lists of how we can use technology in the L2 reading and vocabulary class-- the internet provides authentic texts for students to read, smart phones and tablets provide easy access to dictionaries and translators, and concordance lines from corpora  help students discover the meanings of new words.  Many of us use these technologies daily in our classrooms and know they can be convenient and motivating for students.   However, I was not aware of the translating application discussed in Chun’s article that provides students with a multiple-choice question for the correct translation of a word.  Rather than merely reading a translation and moving on, when students click on a word (at least I'm assuming that's how it works), they are provided with two different translations and must choose the correct one for the word in context.  Learners are then provided with feedback as to whether or not they chose the correct word.  Chun notes that this encouraged deeper lexical processing.  Although in one sense the use of a multiple-choice question may slow learners’ reading, it may also speed up the reading process if learners are able to grasp the correct meaning of a word rather than trying to comprehend a passage with the wrong meaning in mind.  It seems this would also work well for a dictionary that provides L2-to-L2 definitions.  I’m wondering how the translating program works if there is no direct translation for a word.  It also makes me wonder how a multiple-choice translator or dictionary would impact learners’ strategies for “regular” translation and dictionary use in the future.  Would it make them question the accuracy or appropriateness of their conventional translators?  Would they be more likely to read all the definitions in a dictionary entry rather than just reading the first definition and moving on? Another thing I appreciated about Chung’s article was its organization.  She began by outlining Grabe’s implications for reading instruction from reading research (e.g., ensuring fluency in word recognition and activating background knowledge) and then aligned CALL studies with those categories of implications.  In our disussions of CALL and SLA a few weeks ago, we talked about the importance of placing CALL research within larger SLA frameworks, and so I appreciated the way CALL research was situated within existing implications from research.  This provides an organizational framework for synthesizing both CALL and non-CALL reading and vocabulary research.  

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Week 8: Asynchronous CMC

This week we read and heard presentations on asynchronous CMC studies where native speakers of different languages communicated and collaborated via discussion forums, wikis, or blogs.  Several questions about written corrective feedback arose in our discussions, including what makes someone "qualified" to provide linguistic feedback and how to communicate expectations regarding type and quantity of feedback.  Technology aside, these are important questions for any writing teacher or tutor (of both L1 and L2 writers).  For example- some university writing centers hire peer writing tutors (e.g., undergraduates who have taken x amount of English classes or who have been recommended by their professors), and some university writing centers (like NAU's) hire graduate students who are also teaching a composition course.  Additionally, some students (especially L2 writers) do not see the need to go to the writing center if they have a friend who is a native English speaker and can therefore help them with their English writing.  So- are all of these people equally qualified to give writing feedback?  Were the students in Diez-Bedmar & Perez-Parades' (2012) study qualified to give feedback simply because they were native speakers?  I think in order to answer this question we must consider whether or not the people giving feedback have a clear understanding of writers' needs and expectations.  And the writers themselves must have a clear understanding of what their readers expect from them so they can communicate these needs and expectations to those providing feedback.  I once thought I was a good writer because I had a knack for condensing long, awkward sentences into concise, readable ones.  When I provided written feedback to my peers and classmates early on in college, it was almost always at the sentence level.  As I began writing for more and more purposes throughout college, and then began teaching and tutoring students in a variety of settings who were writing for a variety of purposes, I saw the need to first help writers understand the type of feedback they need before diving in and providing feedback.  In my very first blog post here I commented on Ebgert and Yang's (2004) call to return to the "basics" of language teaching when incorporating technology in the L2 classroom.  While I find it interesting and important to compare how students interact and provide feedback with different web tools, I think these comparisons should only be made after the purposes for writing have been communicated and feedback needs have been articulated-- as they should be in non-CMC environments as well.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Week 7: Synchronous CMC

As I sit down to write this week's reflection, I'm thinking about several things: the readings I did for last week, the BBLearn discussion board activity that followed, and the readings I just did for the coming week.  Therefore, although last week's topic was synchronous CMC, I'm thinking about asynchronous CMC as well.  Oftentimes reading about CALL sends me dreaming about possible jobs and wondering what technologies I could incorporate (many of my classmates and I are currently looking for jobs for when we graduate in May).  Reading about synchronous and asynchronous CMC lends itself to this daydreaming because of the "authentic audience" element.  To me, this is one of the most exciting things about CALL.   

I think text-based synchronous CMC has the potential to be a nice medium between the "on-the-spot" pressure of FTF communication and the drawn-out discourse that occurs through drafting and revising.  Video and voice CMC offer the convenience of communicating with people from around the world, but the communication itself is a little like FTF communication-- just with less clarity and often a bit of a time delay (in my experience).  Therefore, I see synchronous video and voice CMC as having only two advantages over FTF communication.  One is convenience and the other is to practice tasks that normally occur via voice and video chat (e.g., phone/skype interviews).  It's great that we have so many synchronous CMC tools, but they should not replace efforts to facilitate FTF communication with speakers of the target language.  

As someone who tends to have a high-consideration rather than a high-involvement style of conversation, I'm a big fan of asynchronous CMC.  For me, asynchronous CMC allows for deeper reflection on content. I took a seminar course in my undergrad where grades were entirely based on participation in discussion board forums.  Aside from the fact that I did not have internet access at my apartment, I really enjoyed learning through reading others' posts and taking the time to reflect and comment on them.  I also enjoyed the discussion forums in our SLA course last semester.  We never had enough time to finish our discussions in class, and the discussion board allowed me to think more about some of the questions that had arisen.  I could also articulate my thoughts in a way I couldn't when I was in class.  However, many of my classmates were not fans of the discussion board.  Some of the posts were lengthy, and it could be too time-consuming to read.  They thought it was much easier to just hash things out in class.  

A few days ago I commented on our CALL class discussion forum that the decision to incorporate synchronous vs. asynchronous CMC depends largely the feasibility and the particular language learning goal, and after reflecting, I think there are more considerations to add to this list, including degree of convenience, degree of authentic language use, and individual conversational and learning styles and preferences.