Herding cats: A descriptive case study of a virtual language learning community
John Henry Steele, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, United States
Indiana University of Pennsylvania . Awarded
This virtual ethnographic study describes what it is like to study in a virtual language learning community. Data was generated through participant observation, online interviews with selected students, and analysis of publicly available documents related to the community.
An analysis of both the class activity and the synchronous interviews led to the discovery of six general insights. (1) Multiple means of interaction are important in virtual classes, but each student should be allowed to select which means of interaction he/she will (or will not) use. (2) Change is an inevitable and necessary part of virtual communities if they are to continue for more than a few months. (3) Language learning communities take a conscious effort to develop and maintain. (4) The context-poor medium of virtual interviews requires that the interviewer compensate by paying more attention to the text he/she receives. (5) Virtual interviews require attention to time, including the time it takes to conduct the interview, the time it takes to gain the trust of community members, and a consideration of what time zones are involved in any interview. (6) Since the members of the community will have a wide range of technological equipment and experience, the teacher (or researcher) needs to adjust his/her plans to what is available to a specific student.
Online teachers and researchers should take the following recommendations into consideration in planning their class/study. (1) Have a Back-up Plan. (2) Establish Ground Rules at the Start. (3) Allow Sufficient Time. (4) Take Time Zone Differences into Consideration. (5) Provide for Multiple Means of Participation, but Make Specific Means of Participation Optional. (6) Provide a Means for Students (and Teachers) to Get to Know Each Other. (7) Provide Extra Time for the Interviews. (8) Consider Using Email as an Interview Technique.
Steele, J.H. Herding cats: A descriptive case study of a virtual language learning community. Ph.D. thesis, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
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