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Communities of practice online: Reflection through experience and experiment with the Webheads community of language learners and practitioners

Teresa Almeida d'Eça, Susanne Nyrop, Rita Zeinstejer

Online communication tools that facilitate interaction of participants in a virtual community and their role in language learning

Week 3: Mon Feb 3 to Sun Feb 9, 2003

Week 3 wrapup:

See the 'official' page at:

Click on the logo for Teresa's original map (which should have interactive push pins)

Suggested readings

Here are some pre-week 3 readings to help you relate better to the subject; for additional readings please reference the URL above.

Teresa has also suggested a few papers published in the January 2003 issue of Language Learning & Technology. The first two are of a practical nature, the other two are case studies related to email and discussion lists:

1. Internet Audio Communication for Second Language Learning: A Comparative Review of Six Programs - Gary A. Cziko and Sujung Park (

Abstract: A vast and largely untapped resource for second language learners has recently become available: native speakers of languages being learned who have access to the Internet. To explore the potential of this new resource for second language learning, we reviewed six free programs for Windows and Macintosh computers that permit synchronous audio (and some video) communication via the Internet. It was found that although the audio (and video) quality varied both among and within the programs reviewed, the communicative contexts created by these programs can provide second language learners with an inexpensive means for useful audio interaction with native speakers of their second language. We provide recommendations for program choice according to user needs and preferences, with an emphasis on tandem language learning, a context in which participants take turns being both second language learner and tutor of their native language.

2. Designing Task-Based CALL to Promote Interaction: En Busca de Esmeraldas - Marta Gonzalez-Lloret (

Abstract: Developing effective language teaching materials based on second language acquisition principles is a priority which needs to be addressed in all language teaching areas. The field of computer-assisted language learning (CALL) is no exception. "En Busca de Esmeraldas" is a CALL activity delivered via the Internet and based on principles of language teaching (Doughty & Long, 2002; Long, in press) and on Chapelle's (1998) proposals for developing multimedia, grounded in SLA research. The first part of this article presents the steps necessary for designing an effective language learning tool to foster communication and negotiation, taking into consideration the importance of supporting integral education, using tasks, providing elaborated input and feedback, and promoting collaborative learning. The second part of the article reports on a study conducted using such a tool to determine whether communication and negotiation occurred, and whether the negotiation was similar to that reported in previous studies that claim such negotiation facilitates the comprehension process.

3. Collaborative E-mail Exchange for Teaching Secondary ESL: A Case Study in Hong Kong - Roseanne Greenfield (

Abstract: This article presents data from a qualitative case study examining secondary ESL students' attitudes toward and perceptions of a collaborative e-mail exchange between a Form 4 (10th grade) ESL class in Hong Kong and an 11th grade English class in Iowa. The exchange was based on a researcher-designed instructional model, utilizing widely accepted theories and methods for modern second language instruction: cooperative learning, communicative language learning, process writing, project-based learning, and an integrated approach.

After exposure to the exchange, Hong Kong students were questioned about (a) changes in attitude towards computers and language learning; (b) effect of computer background on attitude, interest, and motivation; (c) perception of their acquired reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills; and (d) attitude towards cooperative learning. Data was collected primarily from pre- and post-model surveys and personal interviews.

The majority of Hong Kong participants said they enjoyed the exchange, gained general confidence in English and computer skills, and felt that they made significant progress in writing, thinking, and speaking. They were, however, ambivalent as to whether it improved standardized exam-related skills such as grammar usage and discrete language functions. As the project progressed, students with strong computer skills indicated less satisfaction than those with weak computer skills.

4. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Electronic Discussion and Foreign Language Learning by Barbara E. Hanna and Jiluana de Nooy (

Abstract: Amongst the opportunities for cross-cultural contact created by the burgeoning use of the Internet are those provided by electronic discussion lists. This study looks at what happens when language students venture out of the classroom (virtual or otherwise) to participate in on-line discussion groups with native speakers. Responses to messages and commentary by moderators and other participants on the (in)appropriateness of contributions allow us to determine what constitutes successful participation and to make suggestions regarding effective teaching strategies for this medium.

A case study examines the threads started by four anglophone students of French when they post messages to a forum on the Web site of the French newspaper Le Monde. Investigation of these examples points to the ways in which electronic discussion inflects and is inflected by cultural and generic expectations. We suggest that successful participation on Internet fora depends on awareness of such cultural and generic mores and an ability to work within and/or with them. Teachers therefore need to find ways in which students can be sensitized to such issues so that their participation in such electronic discussion is no longer seen as linguistic training, but as engagement with a cultural practice.

Some of Teresa's post-workshop reflections on how the session went:

There was a lot of interesting discussion about several aspects of CMC, as can be seen in the three Web pages I had to create just for this topic. Nigel generated controversy about chat and language acquisition, and it sparked an interesting defense of chat, which has been an ongoing thread with us.

Webcaming and weblogs/blogs (variations of CMC) were two other good points brought up with the latter producing immediate effects: Buth started her first blog. But also short-run effects: Daf, Aiden and I recently started personal and student-centered blogs, respectively.

Another unexpected topic - webpage design - was brought up by Elizabeth's reference to the fabulous Power of Ten Web page. And it is having repercussions in these last couple of days, now that we are a bit more relieved and under less pressure. All of a sudden, many of us are interested in a workshop on FPage and Dreamweaver. I really welcome that, besides considering it another sign of the vitality and motivation of this great community!

A 'special' moment in the week for me were the chats I had with Scott and Jason, because I seem to have persuaded them to become visible and participate. Thus the topic on 'Newbie intros' in the wrap-up.

On a less positive side, I was expecting more chats. I did devote quite a few hours daily to being available online and ready for a chat, but few opportunities came up. There was an interesting one between Daf, Damian and I about his first attempt to create a student CoP online. Damian and I picked up on the topic three days later.

Sus and Rita, my co-moderators, also had a couple of chats with other Webheads. The one on blogs and blog environments online helped me sort out ideas on the topic and look at some of the software available. However, it was the paper suggested by Maria Irene that really got me in the mood to try one out with my students.

This is one of the great things about this community: we're always getting good ideas and feedback about things that we may not put into practice immediately, however, the idea and knowledge remains stored at the bottom of my brain (an expression I normally use) ready to be brought up again and put into action at an appropriate time.

Moderating a week was an eye-opening experience that demanded organization, commitment, some sense of leadership and some improvisation to spark things when they seemed to be dying down. Aside from the preparation, it was also a much more time-consuming process than I had imagined, especially organizing the wrap-up page. However, I think it is (and will be) very useful to have each week's threads together in one page, just a click away. It was a great idea that Daf adapted from Vance's numerous pages created in the past year and that the following moderators continued. Have you all really thought how much learning, practicing, doing and reflecting on the part of all of us is condensed in the Web pages we have created in the past 14 months? They're a precious resource! And I would never have learned half of the stuff in a f2f program!

Teresa has asked that this reflection from her posting on wrapping up Week 3 be added here:

Before passing on the ball to the week 4 quartet, a special word for Vance! I thought I had a pretty good idea of how time consuming and at times burdensome/heavy your job as coordinator and e-moderator was, but this week gave me a much better perspective of the work load you've had for so many months mostly on your own. Well, I can only say that my admiration for you and the work you've been doing is even greater now and I sincerely bow to you on a job superbly well done for so long! :-)

(Thanks, Vance)

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