Negotiating contradictions in a Japanese-American telecollaboration
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Intercultural telecollaboration is increasingly recognized as a meaningful mode of second/foreign language teaching and learning. Yet despite positive experiences with tellecollaboration often reported in existing research, technology-based intercultural projects have also encountered problems and tensions at a number of levels. This dissertation documents and analyzes such problems in one telecollaborative project, and argues for closer attention to the complex emergence, development, and negotiation of tensions in situated online exchanges. The study drew upon activity theory (Vygotsky, 1987; Yamagata-Lynch, 2010) and its notion of contradictions—situated, historically accumulating tensions (Engeström, 2001) to analyze an eight-week telecollaborative project between 20 American learners of Japanese and 33 Japanese learners of English. Transpacific pairs of students participated in discussions on Google Hangouts and a series of supplemental tasks. Data comprised questionnaires, weekly journals, emails, essays, end-products, and individual interviews. A three-stage grounded theory data coding strategy (Strauss & Corbin, 1998) was used to identify major tensions. Multidimensional analysis of tensions encountered in the telecollaboration project revealed two major contradictions: intra-institutional contradictions originating in learners’ pre-project assumptions and expectations, and inter-institutional contradictions that emerged during interaction. Major intra-institutional contradictions included learner anxiety about language proficiency, technological challenges experienced by some Japanese participants, and negative attitudes toward the project among Japanese participants. Inter-institutional contradictions, on the other hand, revealed gaps between institutions’ understandings of project requirements and procedures, division of responsibility for tasks, and tolerance for off-topic interactions. The study finds that each contradiction underwent unique emergence and negotiation that could be best understood in terms of broader interactions between institutions. It also emphasizes the multilevel emergence and negotiation of contradictions from the individual (e.g., learner motivation), to the classroom (e.g., local group dynamics), to the institution (e.g., language valuation, cultures of language learning, cultures of technology use), and to interactions (e.g., task orientation). The dissertation concludes with implications for theory and research on intercultural telecollaboration, and for effective implementation of future telecollaborative projects.