Effectively Utilizing a Socially Mediated Network: Facilitating Meaningful Collaboration Among Pre-Service Student-Teachers and University EFL Students

Effectively Utilizing a Socially Mediated Network: Facilitating Meaningful Collaboration Among Pre-Service Student-Teachers and University EFL Students

Dustin De Felice (Michigan State University, USA), Wesley A. Curtis (University of South Carolina, USA) and Luz María Ortiz Alcocer (Universidad de Quintana Roo, Mexico)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9814-5.ch010

Abstract

Cooperative learning has evolved over the years to include web-mediated elements within traditional and virtual classrooms. In this chapter, authors discuss a collaboration that used computer-supported collaborative learning through an online socially-mediated network. This collaboration served as a bridge between two universities from different countries. Not only did this collaboration link the students from each university together, but it provided language learners and pre-service student-teachers with the ability to benefit from the unique connection between them (i.e. students needing to learn language and teachers needing to practice teaching a language). Authors discuss the collaboration, the framework, and the format of this cooperative learning project. Much of this discussion is rooted in the experiences of some of the students who participated in its evolution with the intent to provide a direction for implementing such a type of collaboration in other institutions.
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Introduction

What do trilingual Mexican university students in a rural area have in common with pre-service student-teachers at an urban university in the United States? Both groups utilized a socially-mediated network to create a learning space designed to facilitate the attainment of their academic goals. The students in Mexico needed to practice and develop their English language skills (especially in developing cultural competence and conversational abilities), while the U.S. students needed to interact with and develop strategies for teaching English language learners. As this particular case highlights, collaborations can easily exist in virtual spaces through any number of available platforms.

Collaborations can also serve as a bridge between universities from around the world. While there are many types of virtual outlets, the availability of socially-mediated networks have made collaborations an integral part of daily life for many (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Twitter, VK, WeChat, etc.). Students, faculty, and administrators often turn to socially-mediated networks in their personal and professional lives for many reasons (Sykes, Holden, & Knight, 2019). As Langhorst (2009) noted, people tend to gravitate toward virtual networks. In this way, a socially-mediated network could be an appropriate choice as a bridge between universities because many educators and learners appear to have a preference for such collaboration simply because of its virtual nature. These virtual networks can also serve to link language learners while allowing for the practice of language skills (De Felice, 2012, 2013). Additionally, these virtual networks provide an opportunity to have meaningful and more authentic experiences for students from rural areas who are learning a foreign language they cannot or only infrequently encounter in their local communities.

The underlying assumption for creating a university-bridged collaboration is that such an arrangement would support the educators’ and students’ needs while providing an inexpensive, yet expansive learning space. Taking advantage of various platforms, applications, and programs, these collaborative environments can be structured to include any number of components that take into account the needs of today’s language classroom (Ioannou & Stylianou-Georgiou, 2012; Rojano-Caceres, Ramos-Quintana, & Vargas-Cerdán, 2012). First, students can be engaged in learning while being around the platforms within a face-to-face environment (many times, educators can work with their students in laboratories or classrooms at their universities). Second, educators and students can work in/through their network while being at a distance from each other. In this manner, the platform can act as a mediator for connecting the geographically distinct entities and may serve as an anchor for this type of cooperative environment. Third, given the advances in software development, the platform can act as a ‘member’ in a cooperative group. This membership can be in the form of a quiz maker, an application where the learner interacts with a specific component or a space for uploading content, among others. Lastly, the collaboration can serve higher purposes for the educators and language learners, especially in terms of learning a language (De Felice, 2012).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Socially Mediated Network: This term refers to online communities that are housed in virtual spaces where a number of Web tools are combined within one site. The features of a socially-mediated network include the ability to construct profiles, view other users’ profiles and posts, interact with other users and modify or add to the site content. The typical Web tools in such a network are a blend of synchronous and asynchronous components that are combined in a multimodal framework. These networks are often referred to as social networking sites in some research areas.

Cooperative Learning (CL): Much like collaborative learning, CL focuses on students working in groups to complete activities, tasks, or assignments. These groups are structured so that each student is responsible for a specific portion of the activity. The final outcome of this approach allows the students to benefit from multiple perspectives, resources, and skills.

Pre-Service Student-Teachers: These university students are enrolled in education programs and major in various specific degrees (from early childhood to secondary education). Upon completion of their degrees they will most likely enter a classroom as a teacher holding a specific teaching license. Pre-Service Student-Teacher as a term is used to distinguish these students from the children/adults who are their students in the field. This distinction is important during the time these pre-service student-teachers begin their internship where they are no longer students, but they are also not yet recognized as a teachers in their own right.

Computer-Supported Cooperative Learning (CSCL): Using cooperative learning as a foundation, CSCL refers to building, constructing, or sharing knowledge through social interaction that is supported by technology (whether in the form of computers or through virtual applications, platforms, or tools). This type of learning can utilize any number of formats and be completed synchronously or asynchronously.

Synchronous Interactions: These interactions are characterized by working at the same time (though not necessarily the same place) on activities, tasks, or contributions. In a sense, these interactions are the opposite of asynchronous interactions in that they must occur with the active participation of another member. Types of synchronous interactions include chatting, instant messaging, direct calling, virtual classrooms, etc.

Asynchronous Interactions: These interactions are characterized by working at any time and/or place on activities, tasks, or contributions. In a sense, these interactions are the opposite of synchronous interactions in that they can occur at the participant’s convenience and do not require the active participation of another member (just the tools themselves). Types of asynchronous interactions include blogs, discussion boards, comment walls, audio-drop boxes, etc.

Collaborative Learning: This term refers to classroom work, assignments, or tasks that require students to work to create one unified project. In other words, the students submit an assignment that was jointly created into a final end result. This type of learning is usually part of structured group work and differs from cooperative learning, though both terms have been used interchangeably in research and in the field.

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