Learning and Teaching Languages in Technology-Mediated Environments: Why Modes and Meaning Making Matter

Hauck, Mirjam (2019). Learning and Teaching Languages in Technology-Mediated Environments: Why Modes and Meaning Making Matter. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000ea0c


The developing argument presented in this thesis is based on seven articles, eight book chapters and one set of conference proceedings, some single-authored and some co-authored, on language learning and teaching in technology-mediated environments, published between 2004 and 2018. The publications chart my evolution as a researcher and practitioner at the Open University UK. There are several threads which weave themselves through my scholarly journey and which are reflected in the selected work:

Thread 1: multimodal competence and language learning and teaching with technology
Thread 2: task-based approaches to language learning and teaching with technology
Thread 3: teacher (and learner) preparation for language learning and teaching with technology
Thread 4: learner (and teacher) autonomy in language learning and teaching with technology.

The narrative cloth in the presentation of the publications draws these threads together and illustrates how they interconnect across my work. They are linked by my concern for online language learners’ awareness of the opportunities and demands of the learning environment and the impact that such awareness, or lack thereof, has on the learning process.

The empirical studies presented and discussed in my work use mostly qualitative research instruments. They take forward the knowledge in the field by offering original insights into the interrelationship between language learner awareness and control over the learning context understood as awareness of online modes and their potential for meaning-making, communication, interaction and collaboration. This interrelationship is not only relevant for language learning in virtual environments per se, it also has repercussions on online learners’ development of intercultural communicative competence, their digital participatory competence and social presence online, and on their autonomy.

Underpinning my work is a view shared by a growing number of researchers and practitioners in online learning and teaching of languages and cultures that a radical pedagogical shift is required: it is not sufficient to see the new technology-infused learning spaces as replicates of conventional face-to-face settings. Such a shift has to be informed by new learning theories which capture the dynamic nature of the enterprise in the wake of unabating technological advancements (e.g. Guichon, 2009; Hampel & Stickler, 2005; Hubbard & Levy, 2006; Hubbard, 2009; Kern, 2015; Sun, 2011). Moreover, I argue, it will need to include the systematic raising of learner awareness of learning context.

The presentation of the selected articles, book chapters and conference proceedings in Chapter 4 is divided into five parts in line with the thematic foci of the publications: (1) contextual knowledge, (2) multimodal competence (3) multiliteracies (4) digital literacies (5) participatory literacy and social presence.

The publications in Chapter 4, section 4.1 – Hauck (2004), Hampel and Hauck (2004), Hauck (2005), and Hauck and Hurd (2005) – focus on the concept of contextual knowledge and are informed by two studies: one carried out with students when the former Department of Languages (DoL) at the Open University offered learners a choice between face-to-face and online tutorials via an audiographic conferencing application (Lyceum); the other one carried out with OU tutors, most of whom were at the time unfamiliar with using Internet-based conferencing for language learning and teaching purposes.

The work presented in section 4.2 – Hampel and Hauck (2006), Hauck (2007), Hauck and Youngs (2008) and Hauck and Hampel (2008) – concentrates on multimodal competence as well as the interface between multimodal communicative competence and intercultural communicative competence online. While Hampel and Hauck (2006) is a theoretical contribution, the other three publications are based on a telecollaborative exchange linking participants from three different parts of the world (the Tridem project). The former helped frame the empirical study at the center of the two articles and the chapter that followed.

The publications in section 4.3 – Hauck (2010a) and Hauck (2010b), and Fuchs, Hauck and Müller-Hartmann (2012) – explore multiliteracies with multimodal competence understood as a core element of multiliteracies. They draw on data from a four-way telecollaborative exchange between teacher trainees and language learners in order to illustrate why telecollaboration provides the ideal set-up for fostering such competence development and therefore also online learner and teacher autonomy.

This leads to an examination of digital literacies in Kurek and Hauck (2014) and Hauck and Kurek (2017) in section 4.4. Both chapters are, again, theoretical contributions to the field of technology-mediated language learning and teaching. We conceptualise digital proficiency as mastery of modes and meaning-making – in other words multimodal competence – and as a precondition for autonomy. In Kurek and Hauck (2014) we present a task framework for instructed learner reflection to this effect, ideally in telecollaborative settings.

Finally, in section 4.5 – Hauck and Warnecke (2012), Hauck, Galley and Warnecke (2016), also a theoretical contribution, and Hauck and Satar (2018) – my co-authors and I explore a subset of digital literacies, namely participatory literacy as reflected in multimodal competence, and its relevance for social presence in online language learning and teaching contexts.

An example of how these themes interlink with the aforementioned threads is the task-based approach to multimodal competence development (Threads 1 and 2) in telecollaborative settings which is advocated in all three publications in section 4.3.

Together, the publications make a substantial contribution to the field of language learning and teaching in technology-mediated environments, through the centrality they grant to the learning context, and increasingly also to multimodality (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2001; Kress, 2009) as an overarching approach to conceptualising context-related challenges for both students and teachers.

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