ESL Learners' Interaction in an Online Discussion Via Facebook

By Omar, Halizah; Embi, Mohamed Amin et al. | Asian Social Science, September 2012 | Go to article overview

ESL Learners' Interaction in an Online Discussion Via Facebook


Omar, Halizah, Embi, Mohamed Amin, Yunus, Melor Md, Asian Social Science


Abstract

This study aims to investigate ESL learners' participation in an information-sharing task conducted via Facebook (FB) groups and their feedback on the use of FB groups as the platform for the activity. An intact group of 31 learners taking a communication course at a public university participated in the study. Data analysed in this paper were derived from a threaded online discussion and an open-ended questionnaire. Descriptive statistical analysis showed the learners' substantial contribution to the group discussion despite their limited language ability and technical problems. Thematic analysis revealed that the use of FB as a platform for the information-sharing task received very positive feedback from the participants, thus suggesting it would be a promising virtual tool and environment to promote interaction in English learning. More activities using FB groups should be assigned for learners to practice and use communicative language. Promoting awareness of available online tools and modelling effective use of the tools are suggested to help enhance learners' online interactions.

Keywords: online discussion, Facebook (FB) groups, social networking tool, language learning, interaction

1. Introduction

The proliferating use of social networking tools among youth has prompted educators to incorporate these in a variety of educational endeavours. In institutions of higher learning, learners' heavy reliance on these tools is now common since the tools provide a platform to connect with classmates, course mates, lecturers, and administrators. Despite resistance to and scepticism over the incorporation of these social networking tools for classroom practice, language teachers and lecturers, for instance, have made attempts to explore and utilise these tools to enrich their teaching and assist learners in improving their language learning (Lockyer & Patterson 2008; Nakatsukasa 2009). Online discussion (OLD) via these tools could help expand learning and knowledge acquisition beyond the four walls of traditional classrooms (Perez 2003; Supyan & Azhar 2008) by encouraging learners to interact with their peers and lecturers in the target language.

This paper, therefore, attempts to shed light on an information-sharing activity conducted via OLD using FB groups and involving an intact class of tertiary level learners at the National University of Malaysia (UKM). The learners' participation in the task and their feedback on the use of FB groups as the platform for the activity were investigated. Some pedagogical implications and suggestions to further enhance learners' online interactions were also outlined.

2. Literature Review

Computer-mediated communication (CMC), defined as 'the exchange of information between individuals by way of computer networks' (Rovai 2007: 78), comprises synchronous (real time) and asynchronous (delayed time) communication. Synchronous CMC, such as instant messaging, chats, and video conferencing, refers to real-time communication that requires user participation at the same time. Asynchronous CMC, on the other hand, refers to delayed written communication, which does not require user participation in real time (Romiszowski & Mason 2004). Information is transmitted by participants at the pace and time most convenient to them (Hiltz et al. 2007), such as via email or an electronic discussion board.

In the context of Malaysian universities, asynchronous CMC, such as OLD, seems to be more feasible and convenient as its flexible feature enables learner interactions with instructors, classmates, or peers 'anytime and anywhere' (Ranjit & Mohamed Amin 2008; Wu & Hiltz 2004) without any spatial or time limitations. Despite technical limitations such as network restrictions, bandwidth constraints, or public computer facilities, learners can participate in OLD using their own netbook or laptop since each faculty and residential college has Wi-Fi zones. …

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