Is synchronous computermediated communication a viable instructional mode in the language classroom? A facilitator and learner perspective
Increasing enrolments at tertiary institutions in South Africa have seen
a proliferation in the number of courses offered via blended learning systems. This paper reports on one such system at the University of the Free State in which a thirdyear module, Computer-assisted Language Learning, was offered via WebCT in 2007. During synchronous communication, a simulation was devised in which learners had to (a) complete activities in a foreign language (Latin)1, and (b) discuss the feasibility of learning a foreign language in synchronous WebCT Chat. Employing a conversationanalytic perspective, the logs were analysed to determine whether the interaction reflected in them replicated that characteristic of face-to-face classroom interaction. Once the discourse study had been completed, the logs were used to determine learners’ perceptions of synchronous learning. As a follow-up exercise, some of the learners wrote an assignment in which they had to weigh up the strengths and weaknesses of the networked environment for language learning. The findings of both analyses confirm the notion among some researchers that ‘[c]ontroversy surrounds the relative learning benefits of synchronous...text-based discussion...’ (Johnson, 2008: 166).
Keywords: blended learning, CALL, synchronous CMC, WebCT Chat