Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Appraising Adult Second-Language Learners' Subjectivity and Ability in Virtual Worlds

Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Appraising Adult Second-Language Learners' Subjectivity and Ability in Virtual Worlds

Article excerpt


This paper uses Appraisal analysis to explore adult second-language learners' realisations connecting self and ability when using Second Life. In particular, possible selves theory was used to discover whether learners realised a variety of selves. Studies of avatar subjectivity have focused on appearance and bricolage as vehicles for virtual subjectivity. Motivation theory articulates relations between various selves including the here-and-now self and desired selves which may function as self-guides, if a learning task is seen as realistic. In all, 40 student blogs were analysed using computational methods. This study found support for both approaches. Six frequently-occurring positive, and three frequently-occurring negative connections between self and ability are explored through examples. Conclusions are that virtual subjectivity is more goal-oriented and less involved with appearance and game-play in older users, older users accept social limitations on self, and second-language learners' metacritical awareness may impact their ability to understand language tasks as realistic.

Keywords: avatars, second-language learning, virtual worlds, possible selves, motivation, second language learning, Appraisal analysis

1. Introduction

This paper explores statements about subjectivity and ability among adult second-language learners in a Multi-User Virtual Environment (MUVE), Second Life (SL). Previous research indicated that, while virtual environments facilitate learning through pleasurable activity, adult second-language (L2) learners have little rime to spend learning new technologies, and can view themselves as lacking technical ability (DeCoursey, 2012). Language learning theories have recently been re-theorised based in the psychology of the self, in particular the idea that L2 learners imagine a variety of potentially viable selves while learning a language (Dömyei & Ushioda, 2009). Possible self theory has articulated how a sense of discrepancy between the here-and-now or "real", and other selves including the ought and the desired, motivate imaginations that assist L2 learners to navigate new tasks. This multiple-selves approach is used here to analyse 40 blogs written by adult second language learners about their experiences in SL. Self has also been crucial in research into learning in virtual worlds. Much research has treated avatar subjectivity, particularly users' engagement with virtual appearance, presence and interactions. MUVEs assume a relation between the avatar as a projected self and the here-and-now person at the keyboard. The person at the keyboard is the L2 learner. Given the increasing use of MUVEs in teaching, and the place of lifelong learning in society, it is important to explore connections between subjectivity and learning in virtual contexts.

2. Literature Review

Games using avatars have had a significant cultural presence in Asia since the 1990s (Chan, 2006). MUVEs and avatars are increasingly used for teaching purposes (Johnson, Suriya, Won Yoon, Berret, & La Fleur, 2002). The feeling of connection between self and avatar facilitates learning (Veletsianos & Miller, 2008). The virtual self is represented visually by the avatar and textually by synchronous chat (Meadows, 2008). The technical affordances of a highly developed MUVE like SL allow a detailed, customised visual expression of self including such aspects of identity as ethnicity, gender, age, height and many specific facial and body traits, expressions and gestures (DeLucia, Francese, Passera, & Tortora, 2009). Expression of avatar subjectivity is also mediated by choices made in verbal interactions, which continuously feed back and shape future choices (Bailenson, Beall, Loomis, Blascovich, & Turk, 2004). These elements of virtual subjectivity predicate a sense of personal and social presence (Anetta, Klesath, & Holmes, 2008). MUVE users treat virtual interactions as they do real social environments (Alvarez-Torres, Mishra, & Zhao, 2001). …

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