"Irritating but helpful" : using a social media tool for peer and user writing feedback in a Spanish language course




Parrish, Claire Meadows

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Language students need formative feedback on written production during the drafting phase, before receiving summative feedback on the final written product. However, providing this type of feedback to students adds to instructors’ already busy workload. Peer feedback has been suggested as an alternative to instructor-provided feedback, but peers’ limited target language knowledge restricts the utility of this feedback. Native speakers may be more capable of identifying target language gaps than are nonnative speaking peers. Furthermore, Web 2.0 affords learners with tools to connect target language learners with native speakers of the target language. The goal of this study was to understand more about what occurs in the context of language learning via social networking websites. This exploratory case study examined feedback to written production received by 18 intermediate-level university Spanish language learners in an intact semester-long Spanish course using Lang-8, a website that supports language learning via social networking tools. The following four research questions were addressed: 1) Who responds to assigned student writings on Lang-8? 2) How much feedback do students receive? 3) What kinds of feedback do they get? 4) What is the students’ response to this feedback? The amount and types of feedback received from both peers and unknown website users were quantitatively analyzed, and these data were triangulated with student participants’ survey responses to four end-of-chapter and one end-of-semester surveys to reveal students’ reactions to receiving feedback on Lang-8. Findings indicated that participants received predominantly accurate feedback from both peer and user responder groups, and this feedback was generally perceived as useful by participants. Moreover, peers offered more global feedback related to content, whereas website users provided more local feedback related to form. Overall, participants’ reactions to receiving feedback was positive, but variation was observed in individual responses that was attributed to individual preferences related to response provider groups, feedback types, and language variations present when receiving feedback from multiple sources. Based on the affordances and limitations of using Lang-8 to receive feedback as revealed through this study, it seems that Lang-8 can afford instructors a way to outsource formative feedback for target language learners.


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