This chapter provides a basis for thinking about the dynamics and boundaries of foreign language learning in virtual learning communities of the future. It is suggested that their members increasingly create and operate in so called Virtual Third Spaces. Teaching and learning in these environments requires an adaptive pedagogy that goes beyond mere enthusiasm and technophilia to render them successful. Adaptations in pedagogical practice are proposed in three categories: (1) affective, (2) cognitive, and (3) operational. Consideration is given to the roles of both the learner and educator. Attention is also drawn to an important ethical dimension pertinent for the online virtual environment, but seldom mentioned in the language learning literature: data and information privacy. The chapter concludes by imagining some online language learning futures.
On the Web, Virtual Third Spaces are created within virtual learning communities. Virtual learning communities strive toward being supportive and collaborative groups of learners, practitioners, and/or professionals who come together for a common purpose. They engage in sharing ideas and using their individual experiences, knowledge, and resources to address or solve specific problems or to undertake a particular project creatively and collaboratively (Wenger, 1999). While these communities currently require expensive setups, the next-generation technologies are getting smaller; are more intuitive, less costly, and increasingly mobile; changing the way many people will conduct their affairs in the future, with important consequences for students. Virtual learning is one aspect of that change. Virtual learning communities have arisen for several reasons, some of which are outlined by Lewis and Allan (2005), such as:
Working and communicating with others, even across national borders
Pursuing cooperative and collaborative partnerships
Solving problems together efficiently and effectively
Decreasing the cost of travel and other incidentals
Allowing for continuous learning and professional development
For language learners, some additional reasons can be mentioned, such as:
Providing novel platforms for mediated language learning
Creating exciting transcultural communicative spaces
Facilitating intercultural communication
Increasing opportunities for complex, real-life, immersive encounters
Key Terms in this Chapter
Cookie: Short sequence of information stored on a person’s computer after he or she has visited a Web site. Cookies can have privacy implications.
Social Networking Site: Sites such as Second Life®, MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube that provide a forum for people to share thoughts and experiences with others by communicating and socializing on the Internet.
Language Learning Environment: The physical and/or virtual setting in which language learning occurs.
Online Learning: Learning delivered by Internet-based technologies.
Virtual Third Space: A a largely porous entity on the Web. It may be entered as a real or virtual person. It facilitates and supports learning. Collaboration is inquiry-driven and process-orientated. Participants are frequently used as resources. Links to secondary clusters of social networks or external information resources are common. A strong group identity usually exists. Communication is often mediated, brief and informal.
Privacy: “The interest that individuals have in sustaining a ‘personal space,’ free from interference by other people and organizations” (Clarke, 2006).
Asynchronous Learning: Learning takes place intermittently, with a time delay for interactions between instructor-learner, learner-learner, or learner-network technology. Asynchronous Web-based learning is a special form of asynchronous learning that occurs in cyberspace with learners using computers, networked communication technologies, and the World Wide Web to access remote learning opportunities, other people, and resources at will.
Synchronous Communication: Real-time communication during which two or more learners communicate with each other at exactly the same time. In this chapter, it specifically refers to communication in the online environment.
Virtual: Not concrete. For example, virtual learning does not take place in a building, but instead is held over the Internet.
Blended Learning: An approach to learning that combines various off-line and online delivery media and modes that are designed to complement and support each other to promote learning. It may include traditional face-to-face instruction, synchronous e-learning, online collaborative learning, asynchronous self-paced study, or, when used in the workplace, specific just-in-time performance support tools.
IP (Internet Protocol): Describes the international standard for addressing and sending data via the Internet.
Data Privacy: Personal data should not be automatically available to other persons or organizations. Even if data have been processed, each individual should be able to exercise his or her right to control access to data and related information.