Novice language learners’ off-screen verbal and nonverbal behaviors during university synchronous Japanese virtual education
Suzuki Chenoweth, Satomi
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Web-based distance language courses have been widely adopted in university education, yet there are unknowns as to how students’ second/foreign language (L2/FL) learning takes place during online language classes. Particularly, concerns may arise when synchronous class instruction is mediated with audio-conferencing software without a web camera. In such a classroom environment, the interaction is accomplished without visual clues such as facial expressions and gestures, and how learners are situated in the physical environments is unknown. Such concerns have been addressed in a small, yet growing number of studies on computer-based L2/FL instruction. The majority of research has documented learners’ online discourse and performance, whereas very few researchers to date have looked at the off-screen behaviors and activities of L2/FL learners in their physical environment while they sit in front of their computers at home or in their offices. This dissertation reveals and highlights the importance of off-screen verbal and nonverbal behaviors of focal students in their physical environments when logged into an online Japanese class; the class is mediated by audio-based conferencing software. The primary data consist of video recordings of three focal students filming themselves using a video recorder in front of their computer screens during class sessions. Student videos were synchronized with archived sessions of online instruction that included the instructor and other classmates (~60 hours). Other data included essay assignments, surveys, and interviews. Multiple theoretical and methodological lenses were applied to the data, including conversation analysis (e.g., Heritage, 2005; Sacks et al., 1974). Analysis of interaction between a student as a nominated speaker and the instructor suggests that the online forum for instruction was characterized by teacher control that was reinforced by the software characteristics. However, focal students’ off-screen behavior suggested that they gained significant affordances from the online format, namely, opportunities to freely vocalize their speech without being heard. For instance, the learner’s off-screen speech was dialogically elicited by other participants’ online interactions while the learners privately examined and contemplated their own and others’ language use. The study illustrates the potential of online learning to promote increased learner agency and autonomy. It reveals rich information about beginning students’ learning behaviors that are not normally demonstrated in classroom environments.