Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Exploring Students' Language Awareness through Intercultural Communication in Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Exploring Students' Language Awareness through Intercultural Communication in Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning

Article excerpt

Introduction

The potential of computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) has dominated the new discussions on second language (L2) learning in higher education over the past decade (Ayala & Yano, 1998; Cekaite, 2009; Dlaska, 2002). The purpose of practicing CSCL for L2 learning is to generate peer communication in the target language for meaningful purposes in and out of the class (Liu & Sadler, 2003; Zeng & Takatsuka, 2009). From the socio-cultural constructivist perspective, language learning and acquisition are described as the construction of shared meanings through social interaction among students (Tannenbaum & Tahar, 2008; Vygotsky, 1978). Through the reciprocal and intensive interactions raised in CSCL, students from diverse backgrounds and countries engage in intercultural communication to discuss a specific topic for meaning negotiation (Osman & Herring, 2007; Solimeno, Mebane, Tomai, & Francescato, 2008).

Intercultural communication refers to "the symbolic exchange process whereby individuals from two (or more) different cultural communities negotiate shared meanings in an interactive situation" (Ting-Toomey & Chung, 2005, p. 39). In this study, the term "intercultural communication" refers to the communication among students from diverse backgrounds (majors, colleges, and universities) and countries (China, Denmark, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Thailand, Vietnam). In the CSCL environment, intercultural communication takes place when students engage in the task of learning English for Specific Purposes (ESP) that has its own culture such as an organizational culture or hospital culture. In the CSCL community where various contexts of ESP are discussed, students might become engaged with different cultures to raise their language awareness, exchange and share knowledge of ESP (de Laat, Lally, Lipponen, & Simons, 2007; Pifarre & Cobos, 2010).

Language awareness is accordingly stimulated through the intercultural communication in CSCL (Bull & Ma, 2001; Ho, Nelson, & Mueller-Wittig, 2010; Phielix, Prins, & Kirschner, 2010; Wenger, 1998; Yang, 2010). Language awareness, which refers to learners' development of an enhanced consciousness of the forms and functions of language, helps students reflect on language in use (Callies & Keller, 2008; Lucas, 2005). Enhancement of language awareness can be process-oriented involving students' monitoring of explicit knowledge in analyzing and describing language accurately, or product-oriented involving self-assessment of language performance (Kiely, 2009; Roberts, 1998). Some collaborative learning activities in the CSCL environment such as role-playing, task-based activities, or group discussions where students are engaged in context-based learning were designed to raise students' language awareness in ESP (Bosher & Smalkoski, 2002; Colomar & Guzman, 2009; Hyland & Hyland, 1992; Jackson, 2005). In expanding language awareness through these activities, language learning is improved as well as the broad domain of pragmatics and more specifically intercultural communication (Hamilton & Woodward-Kron, 2010; Littlewood, 2001).

Students seldom think about their language unless they are asked to do so explicitly or by way of learning activities (Hartley, 2001). Recent studies have suggested the development of CSCL to engage students in intercultural communication with the aim of raising their language awareness (Raybourn, Kings, & Davies, 2003; Schreiber & Engelmann, 2010; Wang & Chen, 2010). For example, Liaw (2006) presents the impact of the CSCL community on fostering EFL students' intercultural competence through reading articles on topics about their own culture and communicating their reflection with peers of another culture. Her findings demonstrate that students not only acquire different kinds of cultural meanings on the levels of lexical, syntactic, and textual organization, but also obtain knowledge about cultural differences. …

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