Acknowledging attitudes and accessibility : motivational characteristics of deaf college students studying English and the potential of computer-mediated communication
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Deaf individuals’ relationship with English has historically been problematic, in large part because of the lack of full accessibility to the language. However, language takes up not only communicative space, but also psychological space in our lives. The psychological dimensions involved with English language learning for deaf individuals are largely unknown. This study addressed this gap by exploring psychological dimensions involved with language learning for deaf individuals while concurrently exploring the role of computer-mediated communication in enhancing direct and interactive accessibility of English. The psychological dimensions of interest in this study originate from self-efficacy theory (Bandura, 1977), possible selves (Markus & Nurius, 1986), and the L2 Motivational Self System (Dörnyei, 2005, 2009a). This study had three main goals: 1) to examine the motivational characteristics of deaf language learners, 2) to assess whether those characteristics would change over time, and 3) to assess the role of CMC in language learning experiences. This study took place over the course of a semester in college classes designed for deaf students studying English. Selected classes were asked to use online chat as an instructional tool. Measures were administered at the beginning and the end of the semester, and students were asked to participate in focus groups to discuss their experiences. A mixed methods approach that made use of quantitative and qualitative methods was used to capture the complexity involved in second language learning for the deaf student, including contextual influences. Overall findings indicate that deaf students’ self-images, self-efficacy beliefs, attitudes, and motivated behaviors about English were positive, but significantly influenced by the context in which language use occurs. When the environment was seen as accessible, beneficial, and enjoyable, deaf students were able to utilize greater levels of individual agency towards the aim of learning English. Computer-mediated communication emerged as an affordance that enabled “seeing English,” indicating dynamic, interactive engagement with English when ideal conditions were met. Thus, CMC appears to allow for a language learning experience that is available and accessible for deaf learners, and can provide opportunities to prime possible selves as English language users.