Opening virtual sites for language learning and sustainable development

Giulia Messina Dahlberg & Sangeeta Bagga-Gupta (Jönköping University, Sweden)

By going beyond the normative rhetoric of the developmental potential of digital tools, the six individual papers in this colloquium build upon theoretically framed discussions of empirical analysis where the relationship between sustainable development and language learning inside and across virtual and physical sites are centre-staged. Sustainability here is understood in terms of an inclusive, environmentally friendly access that virtual learning sites afford. It also points to a conceptualization of language-use or languaging which centre-stages a long-term learning trajectory. Given the current scenario when information and educational resources are a click away for many children and adults in the global North particularly, the following types of issues are scrutinized in the individual papers: what are the ways in which children and adults engage with learning inside and across virtual and physical sites in the context of everyday practices? What are the roles that time, space and place play in language learning inside and across virtual and physical sites? In what ways do memberships in virtual-physical sites sustain language learning from sustainable developmental agendas?

The papers in the colloquium frame language learning in terms of participation in global/local communities where social interaction and communicative practices are understood as the central loci of learning. In particular, the papers move their analytical gaze on social interaction mediated by digital technology in and across institutional, formal as well as informal contexts of everyday life. This choice of focus originates in an understanding of learning and participation as inseparable – equally important components that ought to be studied as they transpire in interaction rather than as accounts of an activity. Furthermore, the analytical gaze in all the papers is on the centre as well as on the boundaries of social life where micro- as well as meso- and macro-scales of analysis are engaged with. This means that the analytical gaze in these papers shifts from in situ interactional trajectories to a set of encounters across contexts, over time and, further, to a more global scale, where the examination of artifacts such as language related policy documents are focused.

All six papers attend to the follow central themes: (i) ways in which children and adults deploy linguistic resources in different sites; (ii) representational challenges in research that focuses language learning across virtual-physical sites; and (iii) examination of online-offline language learning in terms of how, for whom and for what purposes in relation to societal expectations vis-à-vis institutional education at a time of global-local transitions.


Language of Amor and Eros. Romantic interludes in Second Life

Ylva Lindberg (Jönköping University, Sweden)

This study focuses on the social interaction and communicative practices in the digital multimodal and multimedial three dimensional world Second Life (SL). In its early implementation, the world appealed to users attracted by the mottos: ”Your life. Your imagination”. ”The only rule is that there are no rules”. The world offered the residents new possibilities to create their world autonomously and in collaboration with others, using digital tools both from inside and outside the world. This boundary breaking inclusive and participatory stand is persisting in the newer version of SL. Nevertheless, today’s SL-culture puts the social aspect to the foreground and the processes of creation of the virtual world is less obvious. Furthermore, users join the world from many more countries in more recent days, compared to the beginning. Such diversity offers several possibilities for language learning. The study explores how the theme Amor and Eros is realized in SL through communication, visual features and interactions both corporal and verbal. The loose communities and their activities in the present SL-world are sustained by themes, among which Romance is one of them. Nine in-world regions, liked by more than 50 people on the SL official web site, are chosen to study how the residents engage with one other in order to realize the theme Amor and Eros. The study aims at identifying practices and patterns in this process. The material consists of fieldnotes, screenshots, written conversations, and screenrecordings, created during the immersed sessions. Furthermore in-depth interviews with avatars have been carried out in the field. The results contribute to the knowledge about how a theme engaging emotions can be a drive to sustain language learning, about how languages are used and learned, and, finally, about multimodal communication and love on-line.


A multivocal approach in the analysis of online dialogue in the language-focused classroom in higher education

Giulia Messina Dahlberg (University of Skövde, Sweden)

The study presented here is interested in understanding the ways in which social interaction in technology-mediated institutional settings is constrained and afforded by what Pennycook defines as ’critical moments’ in the educational experience. Learning Analytics is concerned with quantitatively harvesting individuals’ traces that can, qualitatively, be understood as instances of potential learning. This means that learning analytics, as a sort of middle space between educational research and technology, is the result of a series of assumptions that, in turn, create the standards that look for the learning experience. Drawing on Social Learning Analytics and on the concepts of heteroglossia, contingency and chaining, this paper critically discusses a methodology that allows the analysts, and ultimately learners and educators, to follow and visually represent the mobility of the learners-in-concert-with-tools across space, time and language varieties and modalities in technology-mediated communication. The empirical data focused on here is drawn from a large project which includes 40 hours of naturally occurring interactional materials, generated through screen recordings of online sessions of an Italian for Beginners course offered by a Swedish university in the videoconferencing platform Adobe Connect. Preliminary findings suggest that the environment, both in terms of what happens inside and outside the virtual learning site, is of primary importance when it comes to the organization of the interaction among individuals in terms of what becomes the participants’ focus during the encounters. A visual representation through a multivocal approach of this mobility of learners, topics and tools will, it is suggested, support learners, educators and designers in locating where and when in the interaction ’critical moments’ have occurred, in order to understand how such shifts in focus support or hinder the learning experience.


I wuz like oh taam to go to skool.” School diaries and blogs as spaces of languaging and learning

Annaliina Gynne (Mälardalen University, Sweden) & Sangeeta Bagga-Gupta (Jönköping University, Sweden)

This paper focuses on the language learning spaces that children are afforded and that they actively co-construct inside physical educational sites and in virtual settings in the 21st century. The study is a part of a larger Swedish Research Council supported project, DIMuL (Doing Identity in and through Multilingual Literacy Practices), where we have previously explored young people’s doing of multilingualism as well as social positioning inside and outside school contexts. Using a sociocultural theoretical lens on learning and communication, the project has examined the nature of languaging, meaning-making and identity work among a group of 11-13 year old ”multilinguals” across time and physical-virtual spaces. Data generated takes ethnographic perspectives, including netnography, as methodological points of departure. The central aim of the study is to investigate aspects of young people’s situated and distributed ways of engaging in self-reporting and identity work within the formal institutional practice of diary writing and private practices of personal blogging. In this study we specifically focus individual children’s languaging trajectories across physical and virtual language learning contexts by scrutinizing their school diaries and personal blogs, both of which can be considered spaces where individuals showcase their life agendas, such as self-concept, agency and emotions. Bridging the offline-online continuum and analytically discussing languaging, meaning-making and identity work in two different, yet interrelated framings, the study center-stages a multidimensional analysis of individuals’ language learning across contexts. In the paper, two issues are attended to: First, the chained interconnectedness of textual and other semiotic resources in writing in and across virtual and IRL spaces is explored as a dimension of languaging generally and language learning specifically. Second, from a Bakhtinian perspective, the paper illustrates and discusses the dialogical nature of school diaries and personal blogging as tools for self-exploration, reflection and confession, intertwining children’s private and public voices.


Student activity types in social network sites – written bias, digital vernacular and sustainability

Sylvi Vigmo (University of Gothenburg, Sweden)

This paper explores the conditions for languaging in digitally mediated contexts from the perspective of young students engaged in international collaboration. For decades, there was a debate about spoken language, an activity that previously had less space in instructional contexts, but which has received increased attention as well as discussion, and therefore also contributed to changing teaching practices. The approach taken in this presentation departs from revisiting the discussion about the written language bias in linguistics (Linell, 1998), and explores the contexts and conditions for writing in social network sites as an activity bearing resemblances to spoken language. Given the digitally mediated space for interaction and communication, the contexts for learning and teaching have not only become more diverse, they also imply other frames for engagement in, and outcome of spoken as well as written language. There is also question how sustainable the CEFR is as regards changing conditions for languaging, in this case, the use of English. While it can be claimed that the CEFR has contributed to a shared European ground, as a reference point, there may be reasons to investigate how the framework addresses the diverse digitally mediated conditions for teaching and learning languages, which were not a hand when the framework was developed. Indications for languaging in digitally mediated contexts as found and discussed in research in this area, have yet to be addressed to include language learners’ digital vernacular (Thorne, 2011). The overarching question for this presentation is to examine Swedish students’ actual language use in social networking sites, with data from case studies. The investigation is done by exemplifying students’ activity types in social network sites, and discuss these types against the background as outlined above, that is a written linguistic bias, digital vernacular and the sustainability of the CEFR.


Sustaining online communities through language economization

Jonathan White (Högskolan Dalarna, Sweden)

My presentation looks at language economization processes in computer-mediated communication, and how they function to build and sustain communities of learners of English. I concentrate on two such processes, ellipsis and reduced forms, which are classic examples of speech-like language practices, and see how they are used in academic seminars conducted through textchat. I present evidence that the students use these processes to build and sustain a community which does not usually follow the linguistic norms of their native English-speaking teachers or of their own cultural norms (Vietnamese and Bangladeshi cultures). The learners are new to net-based language learning, yet demonstrate that they are forming a strong learner community through negotiating their own practices in the use of reduced forms which are a classic feature of computer-mediated communication. They also clearly develop their own cultural norms as an affordance of net-based language learning by addressing their teachers using such reduced forms. This goes strongly against their native cultural norms of respect for teachers and other authority figures. Similarly, elliptical ”utterances” function to develop understanding of discourse topics through asking and answering questions and developing the discussions, and also to increase the cohesiveness of the community through back-channel support and other supportive comments. These lead, I argue, to the social autonomy which creates the conditions for individual learner autonomy. Thus, this work supports the contention that computer-mediated communication is a way for communities and individuals to form their own cultural and linguistic identity, in this case through the use of certain linguistic features.


Immobility for language learning and sustainability

Megan Case (Dalarna University/Örebro University, Sweden)

While there are entire fields dedicated to mobile learning in the digital age, an often-overlooked affordance of modern technology is IMmobility; i.e., giving people access to learning opportunities while staying home. Removing the need to travel to a campus has obvious positive effects on a learner’s carbon footprint. This is true for all areas of study, but there are particular advantages to immobility for language learners: they have the possibility of engaging in target-language cultural, political and social discourses and immersing themselves in target-language environments without the cost and environmental impact of an airplane ticket. This, in turn, has profound implications for making active global citizenship a possibility for everyone with an internet connection, not only those with the physical and financial resources to travel. Based on case-study narratives, and using activity theory as a framework for understanding students’ personal learning environments, this paper focuses on the non-academic target-language activities that participants engage in from home, and the tools which they use to do so. Preliminary results indicate that even students enrolled in beginner-level language courses are able and willing to engage with speakers of the target language beyond course assignments and without teacher assistance by making use of online tools, breaking down an already-questionable boundary between the concepts of ”language learner” and ”language speaker”.