Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Revisiting Synchronous Computer-Mediated Communication: Learner Perception and the Meaning of Corrective Feedback

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Revisiting Synchronous Computer-Mediated Communication: Learner Perception and the Meaning of Corrective Feedback

Article excerpt


Effectively exploring the efficacy of synchronous computer-mediated communication (SCMC) for pedagogical purposes can be achieved through the careful investigation of potentially beneficial, inherent attributes of SCMC. This study provides empirical evidence for the capacity of task-based SCMC to draw learner attention to linguistic forms by offering opportunities for corrective feedback and incidental recasts, highlighting learners' errors. The findings open up the discussion on the meaning of feedback considering learners' perceptions and the unique SCMC features. The findings indicate that learners do not attend to corrective feedback that promote "the corrector" and "the corrected" relationships. Rather, they benefit from incidental recasts that coincidentally contrast with their ill-formed L2 production. This study also challenges the previous assumptions regarding certain SCMC features believed to be beneficial to learners. Features like split turns increase learners' cognitive load and make it difficult for learners to follow the flow of the conversation. Considering split turns of SCMC and learners' different perceptions on tasks, this study calls for reframing recasts in SCMC and more sensitive research methods for investigating SCMC interaction.

Keywords: synchronous computer-mediated communication (SCMC), linguistic feedback, learner perception

1. Introduction

The use of computer-mediated communication (CMC) has increased both inside and outside of classrooms as computers and the Internet has become increasingly accessible (DeBell & Chapman, 2006). In the field of second language acquisition (SLA), synchronous CMC (SCMC) has drawn significant attention from teachers and researchers as a socially mediated form of instructional activity. This meaningful, socially constructed, and motivating form of communication aligns with current theoretical and pedagogical trends in SLA. Moreover, a growing number of studies have proven the benefit of SCMC for SLA, suggesting that SCMC promotes interaction among learners and attention to linguistic input, which are thought to be central to the social and cognitive concerns of SLA (Kim, 1998; Warschauer, 1996).

To explore the role of SCMC as a new language-learning tool, many studies grounded in interactional theory have investigated SCMC, focusing on the types of interaction, linguistic feedback, and learner uptake in responding to feedback (e.g., Lai & Zhao, 2006; Pellettieri, 2000; Smith, 2003). However, most of these interactional studies have investigated SCMC as a cognitive process, failing to pay attention to social factors' influence on learning processes. Criticizing the limitation of interactional studies in face-to-face situations, Tarone (2009) claimed that "attention is not just a cognitive process, but rather is sociocognitive in nature, in that social factors such as audience and formality of the social context affect the amount of attention paid to language form" (p. 43). In other words, the social context can influence learners' attention by mediating how input, output, and feedback work for SLA.

Although Tarone (2009) did not intend to include computer assisted language learning (CALL), her criticism of the limitation of the interactional approach should be considered in CALL research. SCMC is different from face-to-face interaction and a relatively new context of interaction. The interlocutors during SCMC are not physically present in the same place and use text to interact. In addition, learners may have different expectations of SCMC, which might lead to different learning experiences. This interaction environment means that the kind of input, output, and attention paid during SCMC can differ from those in face-to-face conversation. Therefore, it is important to investigate SCMC as a new social context in order to understand how learners make use of SCMC for SLA rather than applying the same definitions and methodologies used in face-to-face conversation to SCMC environments. …

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