Making meaning online: computer-mediated communication for language learning

Hampel, Regine (2014). Making meaning online: computer-mediated communication for language learning. In: Peti-Stantić, Anita and Stanojević, Mateusz-Milan eds. Language as Information. Proceedings from the CALS Conference 2012. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, pp. 89–106.



Over recent years a great deal of our communication activity has moved online, and various forms of online communication have also been introduced into education. Not only are they being used in distance settings to bring students and teachers together but increasingly also in more traditional teaching and learning contexts to give learners more opportunities for interaction (e.g. with native speakers for language learning purposes) and to prepare them for the world of work. When looking at the online tools available today, it is clear that there has been an increase in multimodal communication (Kress & van Leeuwen 2001) as well as a shift in modes, with written (and often asynchronous) communication taking over some of the functions of spoken language, pictograms (such as emoticons) replacing paralinguistic elements of speech, and avatars simulating body language. This article takes a sociocultural approach – which assumes that learning has to do with how people appropriate and master tools in a given culture or society (Saljö 1999) – to explore the impact of computer mediation on communication in online language teaching and learning settings, where the issue of using new tools (or familiar ones in a new context) is complicated by the fact that learners interact in a second language. Computer hardware as well as software have an impact on how we make meaning, and I use the concept of affordances to examine the particular communication possibilities which online tools support or inhibit. In particular, I examine how conventionalized forms of meaning-making are challenged and what the implications of this are for interaction and collaboration, discourse, and in terms of community building and affect. The conclusion highlights the importance of teacher training, the development of learner literacy, and task design. Finally, I suggest that the pedagogy of multiliteracies could be used to support the integration of technology in language learning and teaching more generally.

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