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1General introductionThe widespread use of distant or mobile technologies has greatly facilitated L2 or foreign language education with new affordances, making sustainable interaction and almost infinite learning resources available. However, the latest global challenges call for an alternative or complement to physical mobility programmes where ubiquitous learning is possible. Virtual exchange (VE) has emerged as a process in which language learners from different geographical locations and cultural contexts make online interaction and collaboration in a target language. Terms such as telecollaboration, tele-tandem and online intercultural exchange are considered synonyms or different modes of VE (O’ Dowd, 2021). Therefore, Second Language Teaching and Learning through Virtual Exchange, edited by Shannon M. Hilliker, is a welcome, up-to-date and stimulating addition to existing literature regarding VE in the foreign language teaching and language teacher education fields. This edited volume, providing insightful ideas from a multitude of empirical studies on how online interaction promotes language learners’ autonomy, language proficiency, digital literacy skills and intercultural competence, as well as language teachers’ professional expertise.2Book introductionExcepting the introduction and conclusion, this edited volume comprises 13 chapters, which can be divided into three domains: language and VE (Chapters 1–5), culture and VE (Chapters 6–9) and teacher education and VE (Chapters 10–13). The introduction provides a brief explanation of the background, participants and the modes of the VE projects in each chapter, stating that all these activities are theoretically and practically solid and concrete enough to be translated to other contexts.Chapter 1 presents a case study in which learning-oriented assessment (LOA) is applied to support second language education in VE between Japanese learners in New York and English learners in central Japan. LOA emphasizes the authenticity and complexity of task design, the clarity of task objectives and multi-faceted assessment to provide feedback to learners. Students in the exchange create and upload videos about their school life and later make asynchronous interactions through oral or written comments on others’ work for eight weeks. Hence they develop their language literacy both cognitively and affectively. The results indicate that VE could facilitate LOA to increase learners’ intrinsic and extrinsic learning motivations, and further enhance their language literacy.Chapter 2 explores how Japanese students improved their language skills and intercultural communicative competence through telecollaboration with Colombian students. The project was conducted using process drama theory, for which participants were required to carry out writing-in-role activities weekly for three semesters by writing on cultural-related themes, reading and commenting on others’ productions and making reflections on their own learning experiences. The results show that VE could help Japanese learners overcome their demotivation towards language learning and improve their language and intercultural communication abilities holistically.Chapter 3 makes a discourse analysis of the WhatsApp messages between American and Spanish students to investigate their engagement and attitudes within the appraisal framework. Students of different cultural backgrounds interacted in language learning activities such as pre-reading, debates or gap-filling tasks on cultural-related themes. Their text-based distant chat reveals that students made a greater number of evaluations of the facts and expressions of personal thoughts rather than judgements on others’ behaviour, which is a positive indicator of their active engagement and tolerant attitudes throughout the telecollaboration. However, their conversations still focused more on the themes and touched less on cultural issues.Chapter 4 draws on how English-as-a-foreign-language learners in China “appropriate” written genre structures of the academic statement of purpose and business letter by receiving pedagogical support from American student teachers through VE. Here, “appropriation” is defined as the acquisition of the writing features and conventions of specific genres. The findings show although students made some inappropriate expressions in their academic statement of purpose writing (e.g., descriptions of personal information or emotions), they could, on the whole, apply models and guidance to achieve their writing goals, especially in business writing, where they did quite well. This chapter also suggests some directions for future studies on the relationship between task design and task implementation.Chapters 2–4 prove the effectiveness of virtual writing instruction, and Chapter 5 addresses the feasibility of a virtual programme in activating beginning-level Chinese learners in the US to “speak out”. The programme adopts a hybrid mode with both synchronous interactions and asynchronous sessions. Paired with one native speaker, each learner in the programme had two virtual meetings through Zoom weekly, in which participants mutually raised interview questions and finished cultural comparison tasks. Learners also made video presentations via the FlipGrid website and submitted IT reflection reports after each talk. The ten weeks of interaction yielded an increased length and enhanced lexical richness in students’ oral productions and also led to their initiative in using the target language for communication. This project successfully provided opportunities for students to obtain linguistic support and establish intercultural relationships through pair-work, and it further developed their language competence and learner agency.Moving on to intercultural communicative competence, Chapter 6 introduces the integration of a virtual project into English for Specific Purposes (ESP) courses, or courses where English is taught for vocational or professional purposes. To cultivate Cypriot and Spanish students’ subject-specific knowledge and intercultural communicative competence, this project adopts a theme-based model. In this model, students are involved in business scenarios to complete tasks such as making entrepreneurial proposals or solving problems, with various contextual factors considered within an ecological framework. The students’ increased cultural awareness and content-based knowledge suggests a synergy between intercultural and ESP learning through virtual collaboration, while this won’t be ensured unless educators intentionally proceed with curricular and co-curricular efforts.Chapter 7 expounds on how to develop interculturality in an English-as- a-foreign-language setting among university students from China, Japan and Russia through a collaborative video podcasting project. In this project, students were grouped according to their nationalities. Each group exchanged ideas by creating and posting videos on historical and cultural topics related to their own countries and commenting on other groups’ work. The pre- and post-survey demonstrates the benefits of this telecollaboration in supporting participants to make cross-national interactions and revise their mental images of other cultures in a positive way, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when other forms of communication are not available.Chapter 8 details a pioneering attempt to integrate global literacy in a technology-mediated language class in the Lusophone world. The tele-tandem project matched US and Brazilian university students and let them investigate and provide solutions to social-political issues, aiming to arouse their enthusiasm to take action within the global competency matrix. Students could use both English and Portuguese during the collaboration. As the scheme proceeded, students did become more responsible and willing to engage in social-political activities. It is implied that the participants’ global competency could be tracked from a long-term perspective for a better understanding of the ramifications of the different interactive activities.Chapter 9 outlines the design and implementation of a virtual experience by explaining how the problems arising in a 12-week multilingual and multicultural curriculum between Sevilla and New York students were tackled. From an action research lens, the designers identified the factors influencing the cross-cultural dialogue, such as media familiarity, digital affordances and other restrictions during COVID-19, and made on-the-spot adjustments, such as providing scaffolding in the tasks and combining different media. In addition, students themselves also bridged the gap in communication by exerting their content or technological skills, as well as their linguistic repertoires. This case study highlights faculty cooperation and students’ creativity in such pedagogical practices to realise mutual understanding and empathy.In Chapters 10–13, teacher education in relation to VE is discussed. Chapter 10 introduces a teacher preparation programme in which sustainable development goals (SDGs) were utilized to develop content for virtual activities. The SDGs are a universal set of targets relating to future international development, containing 17 goals covering a broad range of sustainable development issues, such as no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, etc. For six weeks, four L2 teacher candidates in the US, Colombia and Poland worked in one group. They needed to choose four SDGs, integrated them into language classes by planning actionable items later, and comment on their VE experiences at the end of the project. The weekly discussions with a final presentation enabled them to reflect on their duties and develop their content-based pedagogy and professional identities. Moreover, they also saw the SDGs not just as topics for linguistic exchange but as points to be educated for the whole society.Chapter 11 elaborates on how the VE partnership between language teacher candidates in the US and English language learners in Colombia benefited both sides to con-construct knowledge through appropriate teaching strategies. In this ESP-oriented programme, teachers applied focused strategies (questions, examples and native language connections) to educate international business majors. The above strategies proved to be useful in bridging the gaps in communication among interlocutors of different English proficiency and putting together two streams of expertise (students’ knowledge of business and teachers’ knowledge of language teaching) to enhance learners’ communicative business English skills.In Chapter 12, a teacher development programme among mainstream teachers (i.e., teachers whose content areas are not foreign language teaching) is outlined. This programme aims at developing linguistically responsive pedagogy among American K-12 mainstream teacher candidates through their exchange with English learners from Russia. The weekly paired virtual conversations turned out to be effective. The mainstream teachers increased their linguistic and cultural sensitivity, enhanced their confidence in establishing rapport with multilingual students and came to a better understanding of the importance of comprehensible input, a welcoming learning environment, and explicit instruction in the content-area course. The study calls for more linguistic-related training in mainstream teacher preparation for working better with multilingual students.Chapter 13 intensively examines the affordances of VE in forming a community of practice among English-as-a-foreign-language teacher trainees in the Czech Republic and Poland. In this virtual community, teachers worked in groups on one specific topic (language skills, teaching resources, class management, learners’ progress) and yielded a pedagogical output in that area with a problem and solution format, which would be assessed by peers. Participants’ feedback posited the compatibility between virtual experience and peer assessment in contributing to their professional expertise.The conclusion summarises the general findings and limitations of virtual practice in the three separate sections and suggests promising directions for future study. Part 1 about language and VE presents the importance of clear task instructions, achievable objectives, scaffolding, and feedback in developing learners’ language skills through virtual practice. Part 2 about culture and VE examines prerequisites for a successful cultural exchange (e.g., students’ shared content and language proficiency, appropriate topics for discussion). Without these prerequisites, participants may not engage in the interaction, let alone raise their cultural awareness. Part 3 about teacher education and VE displays how well-designed linguistic and cultural exchanges can equip teacher candidates with craft and clinical experience through interacting with actual students and receiving feedback from faculty members, whereby these teachers learn beyond the course content from different perspectives.3Critical evaluationThis book mainly focuses on the advancement of VE in assisting foreign language education. The themes start from discussing language instruction, move to cultural communication, and finally elaborate on teacher development. The insightful ideas derived from the reviewed studies offer a sustainable option for both teachers and learners in designing and implementing pedagogical practice, particularly in the post-pandemic era. Each selected study shows a well-knitted format, and most research can be replicated with reference to the very detailed appendixes attached. This book also bridges the gaps in exploring the affordances of VE in less-studied contexts (e.g., Portuguese-speaking countries), which paves the way for future studies in the following respects.First, it takes a fresh outlook on how technology can facilitate language education and teacher development in the new era, especially during the pandemic. In one sense, the virtual exchange can simulate authentic scenarios for the interlocutors, by which both sides can develop their language literacy and expertise, as well as motivate themselves to engage in a vivid context. In another sense, this modern educational paradigm propels cooperation between peers by considering the needs and preferences of all the participants involved. They can contact their partners synchronously or asynchronously at their own convenience from different geographical locations. These cross-sectional and collaborative projects ensure fairness for all the participants by providing equal opportunities for them to discuss and explore historical and cultural topics, which would otherwise be impossible. This echoes with the request for equity in education.Second, it pinpoints the trend for a comprehensive scope in technology-mediated language education and research, big enough to matter but small enough to win (Schenker, 2012). At the theoretical level, the book plots a structure with a multi-disciplinary framework and mixed approaches, for various theories (linguistics, social psychology, cognitive science and ecology) are employed. Moreover, data from both qualitative and quantitative dimensions (e.g., questionnaires, interviews, observations, reflections) are collected, enabling persuasive findings throughout all the chapters. At the practical level, this book mainly selects case studies, fully considering the individual differences of the participants. In these cases, the objectives involve not only knowledge or skills but also global literacy or cultural awareness, transferring from orienting content to a broad sense of developing global citizens. In addition, the findings highlight a joint force among all participants instead of relying only on teachers or task designers to achieve the task goals. These virtual interaction processes are depicted in such a detailed manner that readers can follow the relevant criteria to design their own virtual activities in educational contexts.Last, it explains what leads to a reciprocal pedagogical practice. To realize a successful web-based instruction, some predominant elements should be fully considered, such as individual differences, purposeful activities, scaffolding and feedback (Tang et al., 2021). After all, it is unreasonable for students of different language proficiency to do the same tasks online, or for multilingual students to receive the same pedagogical instruction as native speakers. Therefore, language teachers should be more cautious about grouping and provide more options for students to exert their agency, as well as demonstrate their true abilities; mainstream teachers should enhance their sensitivity to language- and culture-related phenomena to create a harmonious atmosphere for multi-lingual students to lower their anxiety (Kohn & Hoffstaedter, 2017); students should think critically to overcome cultural stereotypes instead of mechanically acquiring facts or issues; researchers or faculty members should scaffold learning with specific tactics (questions, pictures or examples) and materials (rubrics or guidelines) for the participants to consolidate the partnerships and devise on-the-spot solutions autonomously.This book can also be refined in certain areas. For example, although the case studies are appropriately selected to explain different patterns of virtual practices, whether these findings are consistent and operable across a larger variety of participants needs justification. Further, due to certain practical restrictions, the time span of some selected longitudinal studies lasts for only several weeks, or three semesters at most. Thus, a multi-dimensional observation of participants’ behaviour and output through longer exchange sessions could be carried out in future studies. Besides, more research can be done in some less-discussed context, such as the one where Chinese is used as a lingua franca (Rienties & Rets, 2022), thereby ensuring a more comprehensive look at VE.
Journal of China Computer-Assisted Language Learning – de Gruyter
Published: Dec 1, 2022
Keywords: culture exchange; language education; teacher education; virtual exchange
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