Culture, communication, community: Co-constructing knowledge and cultural images through computer-mediated communication
Lara Claire Ducate, The University of Texas at Austin, United States
The University of Texas at Austin . Awarded
This study, informed by sociocultural theory and research on negotiation of meaning and computer-mediated communication, investigates differences between two groups of third-semester college students who participated in a semester-long e-mail exchange: one group with native German speakers (NS) and the other with non-American, non-native German speakers (NNS). The premise of the study is that through meaningful, authentic Internet-mediated exchanges in German, students are able to improve their communicative competence and increase their awareness of both their own and other cultures.
Computer-mediated communication (CMC) is a learner-centered tool that allows students to: (a) build their own speech communities in the target language, (b) guide their own discourse topics, and (c) develop a sense of responsibility for their learning (Warschauer 1996, 1997, Beauvois 1998). Furthermore, through communication with members of a foreign culture, students better understand their own and other cultures (Steinig et al. 1998, Schneider & Von der Emde 2000, Furstenburg et al. 2001).
Analyzing the data according to sociocultural theory helps explain why collaboration through CMC is advantageous to foreign language learning and how e-mail exchanges enable students to explore other cultures with their peers. One tenet of sociocultural theory states that using language as a tool to carry out a task, for example a discussion of culture, facilitates learning. During the exchange, students interact with their native German or non-native German speaking peers to reinterpret their previous notions about foreign cultures and the target language. These interactions, in addition to building their knowledge of cultures, can improve students' interlanguage: their intermediate knowledge of German.
An analysis of the e-mail exchanges indicates that students discussed a wide variety of topics. In addition, they were able to initiate topics according to their interests, which led to a deeper understanding of their own and the other culture. Students do not normally engage in these tasks in a foreign language class. Additional research exploring discourse strategy training and discourse topics in a CMC context could elucidate these findings further.
Ducate, L.C. Culture, communication, community: Co-constructing knowledge and cultural images through computer-mediated communication. Ph.D. thesis, The University of Texas at Austin.
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