Synchronous computer-mediated team-based learning in the Spanish foreign language classroom
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This study presents an Activity Theoretical (Cole 1996; Engeström 1987) examination of team-based computer-mediated communication (CMC) in Spanish. The use of team “chat” activities, where the teacher is absent, provided socially-based opportunities for language practice and afforded social support for learners throughout the semester. The team chats created opportunities for social interaction that encouraged learners to bridge the gap between what they could do alone and what they could accomplish collaboratively with others, thus promoting the emergence of a Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky 1962). This study analyzed the quantity of speech and the quantity and type of speech actions produced by the learners. The chats were characterized by equal participation. The absence of the teacher in the chats encouraged learners to take on teacher roles and to divide the labor in order to construct knowledge collaboratively. Generally, two learners in each team were found to assume teacher roles. They produced higher percentages of discussion maintenance actions, on-topic moves, and elicits, and offered more linguistic support and scaffolding than their teammates. Learners overall tended to avoid the L1 and they produced high percentages of socializing actions, suggesting that the team- based chats generally fostered team solidarity. In interviews, learners confirmed that teams provided emotional as well as linguistic support and noted increased confidence and proficiency in Spanish, citing the team-chats as the cause. Although the chats were characterized by intense social interaction, negotiation routines rarely occurred. Some evidence, however, of the incorporation of pragmatic, lexical and grammatical features was found, in addition to a unique form of negotiation, which evolved as a result of the collaborative team effort. This collaboration pushed learners to focus on form and to “output” (Swain 1995), perhaps causing interlanguage modification. Although AT offers a valuable descriptive tool for the contextualized examination of language use in the chats, the fact that it does not make any predictions for language learning illustrates its limitations for an examination of language acquisition. This study proposes that AT be combined with a more predictive framework, such as the Pushed-Output Hypothesis (Swain 1995) to provide a more productive and fruitful examination of team-based language use and acquisition.