Effect of task-type and group size on foreign language learner output in synchronous computer-mediated communication
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This quasi-experimental study of task-based learning aimed to determine to what extent task-type (jigsaw, decision-making and opinion exchange) and group size (partner and small group) impact both the quantity and quality of learner discourse in synchronous computer-mediated communication (SCMC). SCMC is a tool used increasingly in foreign language instruction for creating environments that encourage interaction between learners (Salaberry, 1996). According to Nobuyoshi and Ellis (1993), using content-based tasks in interaction develops learners’ communicative strategies and contributes to learners’ language development, by allowing them to apply linguistic knowledge in spontaneous speech and providing them with exposure to new linguistic forms. In the current study, 62 students in third-semester German completed six 30- minute online discussion tasks designed to stimulate use of new vocabulary. Task-group configurations (e.g., jigsaw-partner) were counterbalanced among the five sections of the course. Transcripts were coded for foreign language, non-target language and off-task communication-units, holistically scored language quality and task completion, grammatical accuracy, lexical targets, negotiated interactions, and restricted lexical and grammatical composite collocations. Students also completed an initial survey designed to collect demographic data and initial reactions to SCMC use and a follow-up survey including questions regarding the use and usefulness of SCMC and its structure, use of German, task preference and resulting attitudes. 10 students completed a 30-minute interview conducted to elicit more information about their responses on the follow-up survey. Results of this study indicate that: 1) decision-making-partner tasks elicited a significantly higher amount of foreign language output and quality in language than the other task-group configurations; 2) the patterns of negotiated interactions differed in some ways from Smith’s (2001, 2003a) model; 3) there was no significant effect for taskgroup configuration for increasing the quantity or promoting a higher quality of negotiated interactions; 4) opinion exchange-partner tasks elicited the largest amount and most appropriate use of both lexical and grammatical composite collocations; and 5) learner reactions to task-based SCMC were largely similar to previous findings. Participants overwhelmingly preferred the open-ended and least constrained opinion exchange task. These results demonstrate that task-group configurations in SCMC have important implications for meeting pedagogical objectives.