Theoretical perspectives and new practices in audio-graphic conferencing for language learning.
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This article will start with the situation at the Open University, where languages are taught at a distance. Online tuition using an audio-graphic Internet-based conferencing system called Lyceum is one of the ways used to develop students' communicative skills.
Following Garrett's call for an integration of research and practice at EUROCALL 1997 (Garrett, 1998) – a call which is still valid today – the present article proposes a conceptual framework which can support the use of conferencing systems such as Lyceum in language learning and teaching. In the first part of the article, I examine several pedagogical theories supporting language learning, that is, second language acquisition and sociocultural theories, and multimodality, and apply them to the practice of audio-graphic computer-mediated communication (CMC) as used at the Open University. I also build on previous research, which, however, is still dominated by written CMC. What Erben stated in 1999 is still true: that audio-graphic technology 'remains under-researched and under-theorised.ï¿½ (Erben, 1999:230). Firstly, I therefore examine studies on written CMC and secondly those that have been conducted on audio-graphic CMC in order to identify the benefits and challenges of these media.
Both the pedagogical theory and previous studies of CMC have informed the design and implementation of online tuition at the Open University. Thus the second part of the article reports on a research project on Lyceum, which took place in 2002. The goal of the project was to evaluate the use of audio-graphic conferencing in practice, and this in turn has instigated both improvements in the software used and in student support as well as further changes to the task design. I present some findings and discuss both the challenges of audio-graphic conferencing that were encountered and the benefits that were identified.
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