Future Foreign Language Teachers' Social and Cognitive Collaboration in an Online Environment

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University of South Carolina Scholar Commons Faculty Publications Linguistics, Program of Future Foreign Language Teachers' Social and Cognitive Nike Arnold University of Tennessee Lara Ducate
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University of South Carolina Scholar Commons Faculty Publications Linguistics, Program of Future Foreign Language Teachers' Social and Cognitive Nike Arnold University of Tennessee Lara Ducate University of South Carolina - Columbia, Follow this and additional works at: Part of the Linguistics Commons Publication Info Published in Language Learning and Technology, ed. Dorothy Chun, Mark Warschauer, Volume 10, Issue 1, 2006, pages Arnold, N., & Ducate, L. (2006). Future foreign language teachers' social and cognitive collaboration in an online environment. Language Learning and Technology, 10(1), Retrieved from Language Learning and Technology, 2006 This Article is brought to you for free and open access by the Linguistics, Program of at Scholar Commons. It has been accepted for inclusion in Faculty Publications by an authorized administrator of Scholar Commons. For more information, please contact Language Learning & Technology January 2006, Volume 10, Number 1 pp FUTURE FOREIGN LANGUAGE TEACHERS' SOCIAL AND COGNITIVE COLLABORATION IN AN ONLINE ENVIRONMENT Nike Arnold 1 University of Tennessee Lara Ducate University of South Carolina ABSTRACT Discussion boards provide an interactive venue where new and future language teachers can reflect, evaluate, solve problems or simply exchange ideas (e.g., Bonk, Hansen, Grabner-Hagen, Lazar, & Mirabelli, 1996; DeWert, Babinski, & Jones, 2003; Kumari, 2001; Pawan, Paulus, Yalcin, & Chang, 2003). In addition, encouraging future teachers to learn with technology before teaching with it allows them to become comfortable using various computer applications. This article examines transcripts from a semester-long asynchronous discussion between foreign language methodology classes at two different universities. Social and cognitive presence in the discussions was analyzed using Garrison, Anderson, and Archer s Framework of a Community of Inquiry (2001). The results indicate that students engaged in a high degree of interactivity as well as all types of social and cognitive presence. These findings indicate that students not only progressed in their cognitive understanding of the pedagogical topics, but also employed social presence, the more dominant of the two, to aid their discussions. The topics seemed to play an important role in the type of cognitive activity evident in the discussions. These results differ from those of studies which found that students did not engage in interactivity (Henri, 1995; Pena-Shaff & Nicholls, 2004) and others which noted low levels of social presence (Garrison, et al. 2001; Meyer, 2003). INTRODUCTION Preparing future foreign language (FL) teachers for their careers is a complex process which requires reflection, opportunities to apply theory to real-life situations, and a network for the exchange of ideas and support. To promote this professional growth, a variety of tasks have been incorporated into teacher training courses and programs. The purpose of this study is to add to the growing body of research on ways to integrate technology in teacher education programs by examining discussion boards, a form of asynchronous computer-mediated communication (ACMC), and their potential to promote social interaction and cognitive growth among new and future teachers. There are two reasons why technology should be an integral part of teacher training. First, many computer applications, especially asynchronous computer-mediated communication (e.g., , electronic bulletin boards), promote interactive learning, which is central to the professional development of future and current educators. Electronic discussion boards provide an interactive venue where new and future teachers can reflect, evaluate, solve problems or simply exchange ideas (Bonk et al., 1996; DeWert et al., 2003; Kumari, 2001; Liou, 2001; Mitchell, 2003; Pawan et al., 2003). Through such collective online discussions, future teachers experience the cognitive and social benefits of collaborating with their peers, which is the focus of this article. In addition to providing opportunities for dialogue, technology has become an integral part of learning and teaching. This was reflected in President Clinton s America s Technology Literacy Challenge (1996), Copyright 2006, ISSN when he demanded that teachers receive the necessary training and support to use computers in their classrooms. When future teachers learn with technology before teaching with it, they are able to experience technology from the students point of view and thereby evaluate its uses and benefits from a user perspective. This is an important step in preparing teachers for the effective use of educational technology (Kassen & Higgins, 1997). As a result, these teachers are more likely to incorporate technology into their own teaching (Lam, 2000). LITERATURE REVIEW Collaborative Learning Computer-mediated communication (CMC) is a widely used educational tool because it lends itself to instruction based on sociocultural principles. It has been suggested by Vygotsky (1978) and explored by many researchers (Adair-Hauck & Donato, 1994; Aljaafreh & Lantolf, 1994; Anton & DiCamilla, 1998; Coughlin & Duff, 1996; Warschauer, 1997, 2000) that learning takes place in a social environment and is facilitated by dialogue. During this exchange of ideas, each individual interlocutor is able to internalize the new jointly constructed knowledge. Learning is therefore mediated by the context in which it takes place, the tools used to aid the learning process, such as dialogue, books, electronic messages, and Web pages, as well as by the participants involved in the learning process (Bonk & Cunningham, 1998). This collaborative learning process is often facilitated by scaffolding, when interlocutors provide prompts, hints, explanations, questions, and suggestions to assist each other in solving the current problems (Bonk & Cunningham, 1998; Donato, 1996). Collaborative learning tasks encourage learner autonomy (Henri & Rigault, 1996), build teamwork, alter the role of teachers and students, allow students to scaffold, facilitate class discussion, and promote critical thinking (Bonk & King, 1998). When students scaffold each other, they can ultimately reach higher-level understandings of tasks or solve problems they would have been unable to solve alone. When done through writing instead of speaking, as is the case in CMC, the writing process changes from an independently performed task to one that promotes use of the input and reflection of other students. Computer-mediated Communication CMC has been used in a wide variety of contexts to replace or supplement face-to-face communication. In schools, colleges and universities across the world, teachers have used electronic exchanges, , bulletin boards (ACMC) and real-time chats (synchronous CMC), in a variety of disciplines such as communication (e.g., Pena-Shaff & Nicholls, 2004), medicine (e.g., Koschmann, Kelson, Feltovich, & Barrows, 1996) and foreign languages (e.g., Abrams, 2001, 2003; Lee, 2002). CMC has also been implemented in teacher training and education courses in a variety of ways, for example, to discuss teaching scenarios (Bonk et al., 1996), engage students in discussions with experts (Lomicka & Lord, 2004), reflect on teaching experiences and observations (Liou, 2001), collaborate and provide feedback on group projects (Curtis & Lawson, 2001), and for group problem-solving (Kang, 1996). Why use ACMC? The fact that many educators see CMC as a valuable type of educational technology is partly due to certain inherent features of the medium, which affect and shape participants interaction. Especially ACMC, used in the current study, provides a time lag between reading a posting, formulating a reply, revising it, and finally sending it. This lack of time pressure allows more time for reflection (Duffy, Dueber, & Hawley, 1996; Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001; Meyer, 2003), which is often lacking in the dynamic and fast-paced discussions typical of classrooms. Since ACMC is time and space independent, it is also a convenient way to connect people who otherwise would not be able to meet. This has given educators the opportunity to expand their classrooms to include a virtual space, where their Language Learning & Technology 43 students can meet experts (Kumari, 2001; Lomicka & Lord, 2004) or other students, as is the case for this study. Of course, ACMC also has certain disadvantages. But as Salaberry (2000) pointed out, an apparent drawback of technology can sometimes be used as a pedagogical advantage. The fact that ACMC does not provide participants with immediate feedback from their peers and/or teacher can be perceived as a disadvantage of ACMC. However, this encourages the interlocutors to compose clear, succinct messages to convey meaning (Koschmann et al., 1996; Meyer, 2003). As is the case for many written forms of expression, making a record of one s thinking is more powerful and intentional than is usually possible in spoken communication (Wells & Chang-Wells, 1992). There have been many reports of successful implementations of ACMC, with different cognitive benefits. exchanges or discussion boards often include lively information exchanges (Kanuka & Anderson, 1996; Pawan et al., 2003), which display in-depth processing (McKenzie & Murphy, 2000) and critical thinking (Liou, 2001; Newman, Johnson, Cochrane, & Webb, 1996; Newman, Webb, & Cochrane, 1995). Reading others comments, ideas and experiences also exposes students to multiple perspectives (DeWert et al., 2003; Mitchell, 2003) and helps to broaden students knowledge and deepen their understanding (Gunawardena, Lowe, & Anderson, 1997; Kanuka & Anderson, 1996; Mitchell, 2003). In addition, the opportunity to build on each other s ideas (Pawan et al., 2003) and to learn from each other (Sengupta, 2001) can result in the co-construction of knowledge (Kamhi-Stein, 2000; Pena-Shaff & Nicholls, 2004; Sengupta, 2001), as mentioned above in regard to collaborative learning and scaffolding. Apart from the cognitive benefits described above, students and teachers alike have witnessed the positive social impact ACMC can have. Asynchronous electronic exchanges seem to foster the building of a learning community, where participants offer each other support and praise (Cole, Raffier, Rogan, & Schleicher, 1998; McKenzie & Murphy, 2000; Sengupta, 2001). Although it has been argued that the lack of social context cues such as frowning, smiling or nodding makes ACMC a reduced register (Ferrara, Brunner, & Whittemore, 1991), these fewer social cues often lead to greater equality in participation than in the traditional classroom (Kang, 1996; Warschauer, 1997) further contributing to the social network of the ACMC community. This body of findings illustrates how CMC creates the opportunity for a group of people to construct knowledge together, thus linking reflection and interaction (Warschauer, 1997, p. 473). Therefore, it seems to be a good fit for promoting the type of student-centered learning that is central to the sociocultural theory of learning and teacher education. Inconclusive Research Findings While there have been many studies reporting on the cognitive and social benefits of ACMC, this research is far from conclusive. In fact, there are studies whose findings contradict the positive accounts of ACMC implementations just described. Some have reported that in ACMC participants rarely explain or elaborate on their own contributions or challenge an opinion (Curtis & Lawson, 2001; Kanuka & Anderson, 1996; Pawan et al., 2003). Sometimes ACMC discussions tend to consist of mostly independent messages making them one-way interactions (Pawan et al., 2003, p. 129). Consequently, this lack of interactivity hinders the co-construction of meaning (Henri, 1995), the negotiation of meaning (Kanuka & Anderson, 1996), or even advanced cognitive processes (Weasenforth, Biesenbach-Lucas, & Meloni, 2002). These inconsistent findings might be due to differences in how exactly ACMC was implemented, such as how it was integrated into a course, methods of assessment, task type, teacher involvement in the discussions, group composition and dynamics, and time allotted for the discussion. As Warschauer, Turbee, and Roberts (1996, p. 9) point out, the appropriate and effective use of computer networks is partly a technical issue, but primarily a pedagogical one. . This suggests that the decisions we as teachers Language Learning & Technology 44 make about how to use ACMC (e.g., group size, task) play an important role in determining the outcomes of that activity. In addition, such inconsistent findings on the quality of learning through ACMC might be due to the different theories and frameworks researchers have used to analyze the transcripts of ACMC exchanges. Analyzing ACMC Discussions To analyze ACMC discussions, researchers have used various focuses and types of data. When investigating ACMC, one important aspect is the participants perceptions of the value and benefits of such activities. For this purpose, researchers have used questionnaires (Mazzolini & Maddison, 2003), interviews (Lam, 2000; Macdonald, 2003) and think-aloud protocols (Schallert, Reed, & the D-Team, 2003). To investigate the actual discussions, the readily available transcripts have often been used for analyses. Earlier research especially tended to focus on those aspects of online communication that were easily measured and quantifiable (Kern, Ware, & Warschauer, 2004), such as the number of postings, threads or logons, the length of entries, and patterns of turn taking. But these quantitative indicators provide an incomplete picture, since they do not account for the messages content. Already in 1992, Mason warned that this type of analysis is problematic because student activity might be mistaken for student learning. To overcome this flaw, there has been a shift in recent years to focus on the quality of production and learning. This has allowed researchers to investigate whether ACMC s promise to promote effective learning remains potential or is a reality. Such studies have included descriptive accounts of the discussions (Cole et al., 1998; Kamhi-Stein, 2000; Matsuda & Matsuda, 2001) or relied on content analysis frameworks based on current trends in education (e.g., critical thinking, collaborative/cooperative learning, learner-centered learning, co-construction of knowledge) (Kanuka & Anderson, 1996; Meyer, 2004; Newman et al., 1996; Newman et al., 1995; Pawan et al., 2003; Sengupta, 2001). Theoretical Framework In order to select the most appropriate framework for this study, it was necessary to evaluate several analysis frameworks. As shown by Meyer (2004), who analyzed online discussions using four different frameworks (among them Bloom s taxonomy (Bloom & Krathwohl, 1956) and Garrison et al.(2001)) and compared the results, there is not one best framework for analyzing ACMC. The choice of framework depends on the type of discussion and the learning objectives, since each framework focuses on a different aspect of student involvement in the discussion and how the student expresses his/her thought process in the postings. Because this study was concerned with examining higher-level thinking and social aspects of CMC, the frameworks that dealt with reflection and critical thinking were most relevant to the current analysis. Although various frameworks have been employed to investigate cognitive processes (e.g., Mitchell, 2003; Sengupta, 2001; Weasenforth et al., 2002), the framework developed by Garrison et al. (2001) was used for this study because: (1) it is specifically designed to analyze online interactions, (2) it is the most widely used framework for ACMC analyses (Garrison et al., 2001; Meyer, 2004; Newman et al., 1996; Newman et al., 1995; Pawan et al., 2003), and (3) it includes categories for analyzing social presence within the dialogue, a necessary component for negotiating meaning and co-constructing knowledge according to Garrison et al. (2001). METHODOLOGY Participants This study was conducted in the fall semester of 2003 with two graduate level courses, one taught at University One (U1) and the other at University Two (U2). Both were mandatory three-credit-hour classes on foreign language teaching methodology designed for incoming graduate teaching assistants Language Learning & Technology 45 (TAs). With three hours a week of traditional instruction as well as online discussions, these classes extended from the classroom into an online environment. While the U1 course was specifically for German TAs, the class at U2 was offered through the foreign language department for future TAs in the French, German, and Spanish programs. At U1, five female graduate students participated in the discussions. Since all of them were natives of Germany, they had to conduct the electronic discussions in a language other than their native language (i.e. English). All except for one student had just arrived from Germany and began teaching first semester German classes right away. From the U2 course, 18 students participated in this study, 5 males and 13 females. Three of them were undergraduate students, who had obtained special permission to receive undergraduate credit for the class. The other 15 participants were graduate students. The U2 students represented quite a heterogeneous group from the French program (5 students), German program (2 students) and Spanish program (12 students). While most students were Americans, five were non-native speakers of English, their native languages being Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. Before beginning their studies at U1 and U2, all international students passed the TOEFL test with scores of 250 and higher, well above the minimum requirements of 230 and 193 for U1 and U2 respectively, and passed an additional proficiency exam administered by their universities. The age of the participants was also very heterogeneous, from undergraduate students in their early 20s to non-traditional students in their 40s pursuing a second career path. Unlike most of the U1 students, the U2 students were not teaching yet. Instead, they were assisting and observing other teachers. However, several had previous teaching experience. Task Students engaged in five different online bulletin board discussions with the topics and assessment guidelines set by the teachers (see Appendix A for topics and Appendix B for the rubric). The goal of the discussions was to engage students in interactive reflection of class material and its practical applications as well as to provide a support network for the new and future teachers, where they could discuss their questions and concerns with other students also in the beginning of their teaching careers. The instructors provided the triggering questions but did not participate in the discussion in order to communicate to the students that the students and not the teachers were in control of the discussion with the freedom to take topics in any direction in which they were interested, and that they were responsible for the outcomes of the discussions. The topics were related to reading assignments and themes the two teachers had discussed in their classes and spanned a variety of teaching methodology topics ranging from theoretical to practical concerns. The first discussion was mainly for students to get to know each other and to discuss their opinions about the advantages and disadvantages of being a nonnative or native speaker as a FL teacher. This was not a topic students had read about or discussed in class. Several weeks later, after both classes had discussed theories of learning, they were asked to apply a learning theory (behaviorism, constructivism, socioconstructivism, etc.) to something they had learned (how to drive a car or dance the tango, etc.) and analyze it accordingly. The purpose of this topi
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