Debates in English Language Education: A Multimodal, Collaborative Ecosystem

Debates in English Language Education: A Multimodal, Collaborative Ecosystem

DOI: 10.4018/IJCALLT.2020100103
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Discussing and reasoning remain essential activities in a 21st educational and professional ecosystem, which are often supported by multimodal communication. This paper links learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL) to a professional and communicative approach through the debate task, which is supported by a ubiquitous CALL/MALL environment. This study will show the proposed structure of the debate in order to establish interdependent and collaborative work that can be successfully planned by means of combining 21st cognitive and communicative skills that will enhance students' EFL performance in Higher Education. Students' decisions to explore target content, role positions, and the production of well-linked communicative messages in EFL will be shown at upper intermediate level B1+/B2. The empirical data suggests that interactive patterns and argumentative rebuttals in English encourage a multimodal educational and professional ecosystem for 21st century learners, who use face-to-face and technological devices to interact with each other and to access ubiquitous information.
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Interactions are crucial at the time of defining higher education professionals. Conversation and further debates happen everywhere both in formal or informal situations when speakers try to convince others with arguments or decisions (El Majidi, de Graaff & Janssen, 2015). Debates also imply communicating messages and exchanging emotions in a society immersed in massive knowledge flows, constant advances in information technologies and a high level of interpersonal communication (Keltner & Haidt, 2001; Lopes et al., 2004, Valeyeva et al., 2016; Valeyeva, Kupriyanov & Valeyeva, 2017). This entails that multimodal verbal and non-verbal communication takes place among people when having a conversation or when using an online chat or a video call to show our reactions at the time of inferring information.

When communication is applied to foreign language education, the learning environment is linked to cognitive abilities, on the one hand, to language skills, on the other, and also, to the management of emotional skills, which can help students to improve their anxiety, their awareness of cultural differences and, consequently, their language acquisition (Khorsandi & Qarabagh, 2014). Nowadays, higher education learners in subjects oriented to English as a Foreign Language (EFL) or English for Specific Purposes (ESP) must demonstrate understanding of the content, knowledge building and effective communication skills by means of CALL/MALL approaches since computers and mobile devices play a key role in language acquisition today.

If the debate task is implemented (between two opposing teams: in favour & against) and if learners want to be part of the most inspiring 21st century workstation (Aclan & Aziz, 2015a) coherent arguments are exchanged among different participants either face-to-face or online. This study will explore the debate as an interdependent collaborative task that intertwines social, intellectual and educational skills under the scaffolding of EFL multimodal (written and oral; face-to-face and online) communication. The proposed steps of this communicative learning task will be detailed with the intention of helping 21st century learners to tackle not only cognitive and communicative EFL skills in English but also, emotional abilities when communicating information in the foreign language. The research questions are:

  • RQ1. What factors of a ubiquitous CALL/MALL communicative approach contribute to the successful results of discussing, reasoning and concluding rebuttals in the EFL debate?

  • RQ2. Can students’ confidence be built by implementing the debate task so that learners can show their self-assurance communicative skills and apply for the jobs offered successfully?


The Debate Task And Collaboration

A task is not an exercise but a combination of planned activities that are individual or/and group focused with the aim of improving both knowledge and abilities (Crokes & Gass, 1993; Seedhouse, 1996, 1999). Numan (1989), Lee (2018), and Bygate (2013) share similar definitions for a task when revealing that it comprises different learners’ actions linked to meaning rather than form. These actions or activities are based on understanding, management and creation or interaction with the purpose of making meaning. In Van den Branden’s (2006) words: ‘a task is an activity in which a person engages in order to attain an objective, and which necessitates the use of language’ (p. 6). A task, therefore, requires that a number of interactional and communication skills should be performed by participants. A task should be exposed and there should be an audience, either face-to-face class members or an online examiner, for instance. These interactions can be symbolic (with another text), physical (with another object, for example, in a laboratory), or with other students to achieve a common goal (Coughlan & Duff, 1994, p. 174). In foreign language acquisition, a collaborative task must be relevant to students’ needs and must elicit students’ pre-task skills and their learning/researching strategies so that communicative results are produced in a meaningful and interdependent environment.

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